Although not by any means a fighter, the Mitsubishi G4M was heavily armed, the G4M1 variant which Circe encountered being equipped with 7-7mm (0-303in) machine-guns in the nose, dorsal blister and beam blister positions, as well as a 20mm cannon in the tail turret. Circe would have stood little chance against such firepower.
Short S.23 G-AETZ Circe, following the application of grey/green camouflage, fin flashes and its registration to the fuselage above distinctive red, white and blue recognition marking stripes. It was in these colours that Circe was lost on the Tjilatjap-Broome leg of a shuttle flight between the two on February 28, 1942
A rare photograph of G-AETV Coriolanus being refuelled from the demasted pearling lugger Gerardo at Broome during the fortnight of shuttle services to Tjilatjap. Trapped in Australia, Coriolanus was transferred to the Australian register as VH-ABG in August 1942, and became the only Empire flying-boat to survive the war in Australia. It was finally retired in January 1948, the last airworthy Empire Flying Boat anywhere in the world.
Short S.23 Empire Flying Boat G-AETZ (c/n S.842), named Circe, has its port outer Bristol Pegasus engine run up at Imperial Airways’ maintenance base at Hythe before the war. The aircraft made its first flight on August 16, 1937, and operated its first commercial service the following month. By November 1941 it had been put into camouflage.
Photographs of Circe are comparatively rare; this example, taken at an unidentified location before the flying-boat’s adoption of camouflage, shows a mooring rope being thrown to the Radio Officer, who is standing in the bow mooring hatch. The aircraft’s captain would supervise the mooring process from the cockpit above.
Another image of Circe in happier times - G-AETZ taxies away from Southampton’s Berth 108 at the start of a pre-war Empire Air Mail Scheme voyage to Australia or South Africa. Behind, the Union-Castle Line’s RMMV Capetown Castle also readies for another, much slower, journey to South Africa.
A poor-quality but rare photograph of Circe at the Qantas flying-boat base at Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, taken in 1940 during the Horseshoe Route period. Control launch C.A.1 is moored alongside the door, with Shell refuelling vessel Renown beside the flying-boat’s starboard bow.
In camouflage with fin flashes and red, white and blue identification stripes beneath the registration, Circe awaits its next voyage at the Qantas terminal at Rose Bay, Sydney, in November 1941. Unarmed and carrying civilians, the Empires were still targets for Japanese fighters, as the loss of Corio on January 30, 1942, proved.
Short S.23 G-AEUF (c/n S.848), named Corinthian, left Tjilatjap a few minutes ahead of Circe on February 28, 1942. Although it survived that day, it was destroyed in an accident while alighting at Darwin three weeks later.