Sunday History Photo / AU

Submitted: Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 08:02
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The 49'ers started as the 49th Fighter Pursuit Group in the US Army Air Corps when Major Glen Davasher took command of the newly formed group on 20 November 1940 at Selfridge airfield in Michigan, USA. It was formed from parts of the 94th Pursuit Group.
On 16 May 1941 the 49th Pursuit Group relocated in 75 trucks to their new home base at Morrison airfield at West Palm Beach.
At Christmas time 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbour, orders were received for the 49th Pursuit Group to mobilise.
On 4 January 1942, the 49'ers boarded trains and set out for California, arriving in San Francisco on 8 January 1942. They stayed in the County Livestock Pavilion, affectionately known as the "Cow Palace". While in San Francisco they signed on 75 new pilots and 587 more enlisted men.
Embarkment orders were issued on 10 January 1942 and on 12 January 1942 they headed by truck to the Matson Ship Line docks. The majority of the 49'ers boarded the USAAT Mariposa and the remainder boarded the USAT Coolidge.
They mostly thought that their destination was a base in the southern Philippine Islands but the Japanese put finish to that plan.
On 28 January 1942, the ship's captain advised Major Wurtsmith that their course had been changed and their new destination was Melbourne, Australia. On 31 January 1942, the convoy sighted the Australian coastline at Cape Howes. As they travelled south along the coastline they could see the blue outline of the Snowy Mountains. On 1 February 1942, after passing Wilson's Promontory, their escort, the USS Phoenix, left them and they were joined by two tug boats to escort them into Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne.
Fighter aircraft and light bombers, originally destined for the Philippines were diverted to Brisbane and Townsville. Once assembled they would be flown west for the journey to Darwin (Base One). From Brisbane they would fly 400 miles due west to Charleville. Then a further 550 miles to Cloncurry, still in Queensland. Aircraft assembled in Townsville would fly 400 miles directly to Cloncurry. The next leg was a 500 mile hop to Daly Waters in the Northern Territory and then finally the leg to Darwin.
This route was part of what was known as the "Brereton Route" from Brisbane to Java.
The Corporal in charge of the refuelling crew at Cloncurry in November 1942 described the "Brereton Route" as follows:-
"You won't have any trouble finding your way to Darwin. Just follow the trail of crashed Kittyhawks, you can't go wrong."
By March 1942, about 330 Kittyhawks had been delivered to various Units of the USAAF in Australia. 140 of these were lost during training accidents in Australia.

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The Stuart Hwy is just on the other side of the tree line , left side of photo

The 8th Pursuit Squadron had arrived in the Darwin area on 17 February 1942 and discovered that their permanent base was still being built. They were then assigned to a small airfield outside of Adelaide River. This 2 runway airfield was established by the RAAF, plans were submitted in 1940, and it's location was on Mt Bundy Station, I'm not sure how long the 49th was here at Mt Bundy , it may have been only for a few weeks because the airstrips were un-useable during the wet season because they are situated on a flood plain, so they were abandoned sometime late 1942. While the squadron was here they performed maintenance and carried out adjustments to the .50 Cal machine guns, after locating the exact site where the target was setup I have found some rounds in the area, They had a camp set up at the Southern end of the Airstrip and I have located the sites where they had a Duty Pilot's Tower and a camp. Incidentally this tower is listed in the A.W.M as being at Strauss Airstrip near Noonamah.

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On 6 June 1942, Lieutenant C.C. Johnson of the 8th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group, USAAF made a heavy landing at Adelaide River airfield. It was badly damaged but Johnson was uninjured.
The wreck was taken away by truck by the 43rd Air Maintenance Unit Depot from Pell airfield a few miles up the track from the crash site. The Kittyhawk was repaired and returned to the 8th Fighter Squadron a few days later.
On 9 June 1942, 2nd Lt. William H. Payne of the 7th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group was killed when his Kittyhawk #41-5557 crashed at Brocks Creek in the Northern Territory, 20 miles south of Adelaide River.
He was taking part in a high altitude flight to test some new oxygen equipment. It is presumed that the oxygen equipment failed and he blacked out. His Kittyhawk slammed into the ground and exploded on impact. Little was recognisable in the crater left by the impact. Payne's body was torn apart by the impact and explosion.
Payne had recently been hospitalised for yellow jaundice and had also suffered from the effects of high altitude.
Payne's remains were buried in the Adelaide River American cemetery.
What was left of his aircraft was later salvaged by the 43rd Materiel Squadron based at Adelaide River.

After the short stay here at Adelaide River the group moved to Batchelor.
In the 5 months that the 49th Fighter Group spent in the Northern Territory they shot down 64 Japanese aircraft for the loss of 16 of their P-40 Kittyhawks.


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Reply By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 08:20

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 08:20
this tower is listed in the A.W.M as being at Strauss Airstrip near Noonamah.

I should have added.. but it was in fact at the Adelaide River airstrip that was on Mt Bundy.


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Reply By: lancie49 - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 08:28

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 08:28
There is lots of almost forgotten history to this country Doug. Thanks for your efforts in bringing some of it to our attention and reminding us of the sacrifices and hardships our earlier generations went through to give us the quality of life we all enjoy today.

There are some amazing stories out there in the sand and the scrub.

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Reply By: Member - jay D (VIC) - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 13:36

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 13:36
Hi Doug

Love your sunday post's. Look forward to them every week.


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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 15:51

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 15:51
Thanks Jay, I also have the tree behind "Smiley" located, although dead it's still there, I also have a photo of "Sarah" in the same location just off Haynes Road.
Other's I have are "Tojo's Hypo" , Hell's Angel" one with an Eagle on the side plus 4 or 5 un-named and a couple stripped down for service , all here on Mt Bundy, it's amazing the amount of stuff that comes to hand when you start looking.
About an hour ago prior to this writing I was near the target area and finally located the tree on the left side of the target, the one on the right is set back about 25m and is not part of the target, the right side has only flimsy sticks, next job is to run the metal detector over the tree trunk.

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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 19:41

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 19:41
The stories associated with the deliveries of these first American Kittyhawks shows an appalling amount of blundering, disorganisation, arguments about command, and location of the the Kittyhawks, amongst the Allied leaders.
If they'd been properly organised, they could have delivered a real kick in the guts to the Jap aircraft that bombed Darwin on 19th Feb, 1942.

As it was, General Wavell (British Supreme Commander of the ABDA [Australian-British-Dutch-American] command) and U.S. Air Marshall Peirse, (OIC of U.S. Army Air Forces, who was subservient to Wavell), gave instructions in mid-Feb 1942, for all aircraft being moved along the Brereton Route, to be diverted to Perth.
At this time the USAF didn't exist, the U.S. Army owned all the American Military aircraft.

After Wavells & Peirse's order, 33 Kittyhawks were flown directly to Perth from Brisbane and 32 were loaded on the U.S.S. Langley, which set sail for Java.

The Langley only got to just south of Tiljatjap, when it was attacked by the Japs and damaged so badly, it had to be scuttled. So much for Plan A. The Americans also lost 31 valuable USAAC officer pilots of the Kittyhawks shortly after the bombing of the Langley - when the escort ship the Edsall, was sunk a few days later by the same Jap force that had sunk the Langley.

The early Kittyhawks were a particularly unforgiving machine, particularly in the hands of gung-ho young Americans. The early Kittyhawks were carburettor fed, and during inverted flight at low level - as in showing off - the engine often suffered fuel starvation. Many a young American pilot met his death this way.

The P40-D & E were Allison 1710 powered, but to try and improve the P40's sluggish climb performance, the Packard-Merlin was fitted to the P40L & M series.
Then supplies of Packard-Merlins ran short, so the Allison was refitted to subsequent models. The Kittyhawks that fought in Australia in 1942 and early 1943 were mostly P40E series.

One has to remember, that despite the bravado and bragging of the Americans, their young pilots definitely played a big part in saving Australia from more Japanese air attacks. An old WW2 PNG veteran who worked on Airfield Construction, told me bluntly one time - "The American fly-boys saved Australia, don't ever be in doubt of that".

In the bombing of Darwin, only 11 Allied (all U.S.) aircraft were serviceable and only 10 got airborne - and several were either landing or taking off when the Japs hit. All 10 Kittyhawks were shot down, and only 5 pilots survived.
These were all American pilots, and they were all around 20 and 21 yrs of age - and most had very small amounts of hours of training behind them, and no combat experience.

The history of the 49th Fighter Group -

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Reply By: Off-track - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 19:54

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 19:54
Once again another great SHP, Doug.

Not sure if you have followed the fairly recent news of a P40 found in Egypt but have a look here;

Could well be an RAAF one...
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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 20:06

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 20:06

We could be going a little off topic now...
could you email me

Thanks mate.
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Follow Up By: Off-track - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 21:12

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 21:12
Yeah I apologise for that Doug. The link posted along with just googling is about all I have on the subject thus far.
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Follow Up By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 21:15

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 21:15
Sorry, I should have made myself clear as to what I wanted , to discuss the link with you away from EO
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Reply By: Member - OnYaBike - Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 23:13

Sunday, Apr 29, 2012 at 23:13
Coincidentally I'm currently reading "Whispering Death - Australian Airmen in the Pacific War" by Mark Johnston.
Although of course America did have a big input, the Australians certainly did their share especially in the early days after Pearl Harbour before the Americans became involved. The Australians fought the Japanese with inferior planes and in terrible conditions of flying and living, as attested to by the photos. Superior planes were kept for the European conflict as the original plan was to defeat Hitler first.
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Reply By: Ron N - Monday, Apr 30, 2012 at 00:39

Monday, Apr 30, 2012 at 00:39
Yes, that's correct, the Aussies had to try and use inferior equipment in every facet of their operations, before the Yanks arrived.
We had things like Wirraways and Boomerangs as local products. Good to use as trainers, but not much chop against Zeros.
We had Fairey Battles, assembled in the Geelong IH factory - which had already been proven to be inadequate in Europe - so the Poms gave them to us!
The Fairey Battles were obsolete as soon as WW2 started in Europe - but that didn't stop the Poms from selling us 366 of them!

I can recall so many WW2 Vets telling me about how their jaws literally dropped when the Yanks rolled up, and started unloading vast amounts of new and fabulous equipment.

The airfield construction blokes were using ancient WW1 crap scrounged up from Road Boards around Australia - things like horse-drawn graders pulled by Cat 22's, steam road rollers, and hand operated towed scoops!
The Yanks rocked up with new Cat D7's and D8's, Cat 12 graders, concrete batching plants and even asphalt plants.

They unloaded Briggs & Stratton powered washing machines - when most Aussies hadn't even seen a washing machine!
The Yanks brought jeeps and trucks by the dozens - when the Aussies had been struggling with every well-used, commandeered commercial vehicle, the Australian military authorities could grab.

There's also a little known and little reported incident, which involved Wharfies, too. You'll find nothing about this in the papers of the day - it wasn't reported.
When the USAAT Mariposa and the USAT Coolidge arrived in Melbourne with the "49'ers" on board - the Wharfies refused to unload both ships - particularly the ammunition. The Yanks had to unload these two ships themselves.

It must have been some kind of Karma then, that 22 Wharfies were killed in one hit, in the attack on Darwin on 19th Feb, 1942.
I often wonder what the Melbourne Wharfies thought about that - given that their "dog-in-the-manger" attitude, slowed down the Americans arrival in Darwin!
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Reply By: Member - Doug T (NT) - Wednesday, May 02, 2012 at 13:00

Wednesday, May 02, 2012 at 13:00
To all who read this and seen the photo's, I must say I am very dissapointed in the thinking of the person who emailed me back from the AWM about my attempt to have the caption changed on their website.. They have a lot to learn about the trees and termites up here. or they didn't examine the photo at all.

Here is the link to Duty Pilot's Tower

Email as recieved

Dear Doug

Thank you for contacting the Australian War Memorial with reference to image NWA 0409, and the chance that our caption might be incorrect.

Curators have examined your photographs closely, and concluded that whilst it is possible that the tree which formed part of the tower is still standing today, it is unlikely that it would still be essentially the same size as it was 69 years ago. Similarly, we feel that a dead branch on the ground can reasonably be expected to have been destroyed by termites by now. In summary, we do not feel that strong enough evidence has been produced for us to make changes to an original caption.

Thank you for your interest in the Memorial’s collection.

Edwin Ride

Duty Curator

Photographs Section

Australian War Memorial

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