Sunday History Photo / Qld

Submitted: Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 08:55
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Little Eva" was a USAAF Consolidated B-24 Liberator which, returning from a bombing mission, got lost and crashed having exhausted its fuel supply on 2 December 1942 north-west of Burketown, Queensland (near the Gulf of Carpentaria).
The crew had taken to their parachutes before the crash. The survivors, now in two groups, set out on foot. Two of the crew travelled east and came across people after twelve days. The other party travelled westerly, with the only surviving member being found some five months later.

The aircraft, part of the 321st Squadron, 90th Bombardment Group based at Iron Range was returning with four other B-24s from a bombing raid on a Japanese troop convoy about 80 km north of Buna, Papua New Guinea. "Little Eva" lost touch with the other aircraft and returned to the base on its own. A severe thunderstorm disabled the radio, causing the flight to lose its way and run out of fuel. Lieutenant Norman Crosson, the pilot, gave orders to bail out. Most of the crew members parachuted to safety, however one was killed when his parachute snagged on the aircraft and another who did not jump was killed when the plane crashed at about 2:45am near the Burriejella waterhole.
Although the crew had been instructed to meet at the crash site, only Crosson and Sergeant Loy Wilson arrived there.

Note: in the lower photo you see a brown tank, I think this was the CO2 auto fire extinquisher, I have one here at home from B-24 "Nothing Sacred" that crashed near Fenton NT.

The other survivors had decided to head for the coast about 24 km (15 mi) away. Both groups of survivors believed they were on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula and close to Cairns.
Crosson and Wilson had extremely little food and water. They walked east to what they felt should be the east coast of Cape York and quite by chance this route took them almost straight to Escott Station, 15 km west of Burketown, where they arrived after a trek of some 60 km on 14 December 1942. Exhausted and with badly blistered feet, they were driven to the four-bed Burketown hospital for medical attention and flown back to Iron Range a week later. Their rescue sparked a search for the other men which would continue for some five months. The missing men were Staff Sergeant Grady Gaston, 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Speltz, 2nd Lieutenant Dale Grimes, 2nd Lieutenant John Dyer, and two other unaccounted crew members. Their resources consisted of two .45 calibre pistols, a few bars of chocolate, a jungle knife, a fish hook and line, and some matches.

After the crash Gaston's party travelled in a westerly direction until they reached the Gulf of Carpentaria and then followed the shoreline. They were fortunate enough to shoot a young bullock on their fourth day out, gorged themselves on as much meat as they could and pressed on. Concerned about carrying unnecessary weight, they took no meat with them. A day later they discarded their pistols as being rusty and useless. Heading north-west along the beach, they were forced to swim across a number of rivers—managing to avoid the crocodiles common in those waters.
On 15 December 1942 a large search party consisting of seven men of the North Australia Observer Unit (NAOU), fifteen Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) members, a local policeman and two aborigine trackers set out from Escott Station to find the crash site.
The officer heading the search was Lieutenant Stan Chapman of the NAOU and he made his headquarters at Burketown. Five days into the search he enlisted the help of Ian Hosie, a Flying Doctor and soon located the wreckage. Here they found six parachutes and two charred corpses which they buried at the site. Lieutenant Frank Comans of the NAOU set out with a small party to follow the tracks of the survivors. This they managed to do for more than 130 km. The wet conditions made for difficult tracking particularly at stream crossings and the trail was finally lost at Settlement Creek near the border between Queensland and Northern Territory.

The survivors found a shack on 24 December where they made a base. Grimes, the bombardier, was drowned in Robinson River when the current took him out to sea and he was too weak to swim back. His body was later recovered. Lt Dyer died on 10 February and Speltz (co-pilot) in the night of 24/25 February. Grady Gaston, the ball turret gunner, was rescued on 23 April 1943 when he was discovered by stockmen looking for stray cattle and taken over time to Cloncurry. From there he was collected by the USAAF on 11 May.

Note:...I have read the book, highly recommended

The book is “Savage Wilderness” by Barry Ralph, published by University of Queensland Press. It is the ultimate World War II survivor story.
On December 2, 1942 the US Bomber B24 “Little Eva”, returning from a mission over New Guinea, got lost returning back to its base in northern Queensland and it crashed north of Doomadgee. The area was deserted. The plane had come down in a dangerous, merciless area. They actually thought they were coming down on the east coast near Cooktown, whereas they were a very long way away.

There were some reports among station owners of a plane coming down but the investigations by the Queensland Police at first could not find any trace of a plane. US authorities were anxious that the plane be located quickly not only because of rescuing the crew members but also because it had a special sort of targeting device which the Americans did not want the Japanese to know about.
The wreck was eventually located over six weeks later. The gun sight was retrieved and the search party buried four bodies. Two crew members were located and they lived on for several decades.
One by one the air crew died. Dale Grimes was the first to die – drowned crossing a river. This was around the fourth week of the trek and the remaining survivors did not even have the strength to bury the body. His body was later found by an Aborigine. Local authorities were mystified that a US Air Force person should be washed up on their shore. They were aware of the “Little Eva” crash but that was in Queensland, weeks earlier.
Then on February 10, John Dyer died. On February 24, Arthur Speltz died in his sleep of exhaustion. By this time the team had given up walking because they were all so exhausted. They stayed near a water hole.
Grady Gaston was the sole survivor. He lasted 141 days. He lived on uncooked snakes, fish and whatever else he could find. On March 21, an Aborigine found him.

Gaston survived the war and returned to Frisco City, Alabama. He delivered mail for 40 years. In a rare recollection of the tragedy he guessed at why he had managed to live: “The others were city people. They wouldn’t eat snakes and the like. I was born in Frisco City, with a population of about 2,000 people. I would chew anything, ‘cause it was the only way to stay alive”. He died on January 8, 1998.

“Little Eva” lies in the same spot that proved so elusive 74 years ago. Although it is listed as a tourist attraction, few people visit the wreck. It is very difficult to get to, best is by Helicopter.
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Reply By: Member - mechpete - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 09:40

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 09:40
I saw the episode of all4 adventure where they went in in 4wds to find the wreckage, an it is a difficult place to get to ,
truly amazing story , what those blokes had to endure !!
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Reply By: Scoof - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 09:54

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 09:54
What a great story Doug thanks, love reading your work every Sunday.
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Reply By: pop2jocem - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 10:59

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 10:59
Thanks again Doug. Well written and illustrated.

The wife and visited the crash site of the B-24 "MILADY" that went down on the Cox Peninsular NT. Apparently none of the crew survived the crash.
Unfortunately being pretty easy to access much of the wreckage has been souvenired over the years.

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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 18:02

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 18:02
Are you sure you don't mean "Shady Lady" , It belonged to the 380th Bomb Group that operated out of Fenton, it was low on fuel on returning from a Mission and landed on a Saltpan on Anjo Peninsular WA. there is a movie made about the event , I have not got a copy as yet, The wife of the pilot that landed there did visit ,

Shady Lady

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Follow Up By: Ron N - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 18:42

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 18:42
Doug - Nope. Pop has it right. It was "MILADY" that crashed on the Cox Pensinsula.
It's pretty easily accessed from Darwin via the Cox Peninsula Rd, I've done it in a 2WD hire car. Not much left now.

Crash of B24J Liberator, "MILADY"

Cheers, Ron.
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 20:41

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 20:41
Ron, yes I know he's right about "Milady" it's location on Cox Peninsula, and the crew all killed, I have visited the site twice and made a PLACES here on ExplorOz with some of my photo's, but I do not think any wives visited the site that I know of, the only one was Alice, the wife of Doug Craig , pilot of "Shady Lady"
Just been in touch with my friend in Brissy , he runs that website you got the link from Australia at War, Peter Dunn, and we both agree no wife from USA visited "Milady"
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Follow Up By: pop2jocem - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 22:06

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 22:06
Sorry Doug, my fault for the confusion. I should have proof read better before hitting the submit button.

It should have read "The wife and I" meaning my good lady not the wives of any of the crew. Left the "I" out.

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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 11:11

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 11:11
Poor buggers, it's hard to imagine what they endured. They disobeyed a lot of basic survival rules, and that's probably related to a lack of training and education, and a lack of understanding of the country they landed in.

It's interesting to read how many of the Americans during WW2 were simply amazed at the climatic conditions, the land and vegetation types, and the flora and fauna of Australia.

If they had all been equipped with basic survival packs and told to stay put, they would probably all have survived.

I know if I managed to find and kill a steer when I was lost, I'd be staying at that spot, until all the meat was either eaten, or sun-dried for future use!

Thanks Doug, another interesting read. I'd read part of the story before (just Gaston Gradys story), it was good to get the whole story.

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: Member - John Q (QLD) - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 14:15

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 14:15
Hi Doug,

Greatly appreciated your effort to put another interesting article together for our Sunday reading.

John Q
just crusin & smelling the flowers

1. At Halls Creek (Is he really lost?)
2. East of Cameron Cnr

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Reply By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 17:50

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 17:50
Here's the Google Earth Co-Ords
17°20'1.37"S 139° 0'2.66"E

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Reply By: Life Member - Talawana - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 18:59

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 18:59
Hi Doug, our land has lots of great stories to tell if it could talk. I am so pleased that these stories are now being told of these wonderful young men who lost their lives for our freedom in our wonderful country. When we were up at Cape York and Thursday Island a few years ago we saw and read lots of great stories of the men that lost their lives up there also.
Many thanks again Doug I do look forward to your Sunday History lesson.
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Follow Up By: Ron N - Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 23:12

Sunday, May 29, 2016 at 23:12
A former business partner - who is 96 yrs old and a veteran of New Guinea, where he worked for a time in an Airfield Construction Sqdn - was extremely blunt when I questioned him around 1984, about the Americans effort during WW2.

Despite the general perception that nearly every piece of film and audio about WW2, produced by the Americans, often describes how they pretty much won WW2 singlehandedly - Don's take was unabashed admiration of the American airmens bravery and successes during WW2 - particularly during the period right after the Americans arrived in Australia, and then New Guinea.

Don's words to me were essentially along the lines of - "Don't knock the Americans, particularly their fliers.
Those boys saved Australia with incredible bravery, when they flew off into the wide blue yonder, every day, to engage the Japs.
They not only had all the good gear - they didn't hesitate to put their lives on the line, when a lot of Americans were questioning why they were fighting for Australia, and not actually defending America."

The Americans military leaders understood that the Japs had to be fought back from Australias shores, as that was the thrust of the Jap advance.
There are many arguments about whether Japan actually intended to invade Australia, or whether they regarded it as a semi-desert full of very little, and of not much use to anyone.

The bombing of Darwin proved that that Japs fully understood that Australia had to be cowed and claimed as Japanese territory - as the Japs were well aware of Australia's strategic positioning as a potential base for American military operations.

They underestimated just how fast the Americans would respond with equipment and manpower to their drive downwards from the "East Indies" - and they underestimated just how ferocious and relentless the U.S. Air Forces attacks would become, on their bases and shipping to the North of Australia.

Naturally, the Aussies added to the combined air effort once we became better equipped - but those American fliers who were basically our only serious aerial resistance to the Japs during mid-1942, were as brave as they come, and we should never forget it.

Cheers, Ron.
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