Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Dear Mum and Dad

Do you remember when Len was on loan as an aerial photographer to the USAAF in Darwin in 1943 and they had to make a crash landing after that air raid on the Borneo oil fields held by the Japanese when they were chased off course by Japanese fighters?  Well, I was browsing the internet the other day and would you believe I found a website which told the whole story.  There were even photographs and I remember you having photos too but for some reason I don't have them.  Did you, Mum, perhaps give them to someone else in the family?  The main photos I remember were the crew of the "Shady Lady" and the one where the crew and the aborigines that came to their aid were standing beside the crashed plane:

If I remember correctly that is Len on the far left of the above picture leaning on the engine of the plane.  I noticed on the website you can obtain copies of photographs so perhaps I will try and do just that as it would be great to have them for the family album.

The story tells of how they set out at 05.00am on 13 August, 1943 from Fenton Airfield south of Darwin on a bombing mission against the oil refineries at Balikpapan (I have confirmed that was in Borneo).   The B24 was armed with six 500lb bombs and overloaded with fuel.  At the time, this was the longest bombing mission of the war that would cover a total of 2,700 miles.

"Shady Lady" was the last bomber to arrive over the target, as the results of the raid had to be photographed (by Len of course).  On the return trip the bomber encountered thunderstorms which blew the plane off course and forced them to overly Timor and they were intercepted by two enemy fighters that attacked for over two hours and most of the machine guns were inoperative.  Evading the fighters also consumed precious fuel.  (That bit about the machine guns doesn't sound very good).

Extremely low on fuel the bomber force landed onto the tidal salt flats on the Anjo Peninsula, near Drysdale (now Kalumburu) Mission and during the landing the nose gear collapsed and the nose turret fell off.  The crew was unhurt "aside from the "Australian Ruston" who suffered minor injuries".  (From what Len told us they had all gathered at the rear of the plane as it was considered it would be safer but when the plane nose collapsed they all slid down to the front and Len ended up under the pile of men and suffered a bloody (if not broken) nose.

The crew fortunately all survived and used their radio to contact Darwin, and the next day three aboriginals arrived at the crash site and took the crew towards water to the southeast.  Eventually the Drysdale mission lugger travelled down river to the crash site and transported the crew to the airfield at Napier Broome Bay and then trucked back to Drysdale Mission.

The plane was repaired and flown back to Fenton airfield and then on to Garbutt Airfield near Townsville but despite extensive efforts to repair the bomber it was salvaged for parts and then scrapped.  Officially, the bomber was written off the day of the crash landing on 14 August, 1943.

I know I was only 11 at the time but I remember clearly Len telling us about it when he came home on leave but he didn't tell us many of the details I have just learned about.  I do remember him telling us that the American airmen were awarded a Purple Heart each for their part in this particular air raid but as he was an Australian he couldn't be awarded this honour.  Instead he received a personal letter from General McArthur thanking him for his part in the mission.  I often felt that meant more to him than had he received a medal.

All I know I was so glad my brother survived to tell the tale and I was excited to read so much about an event of which he was so much a part.


  1. What a fabulous find. See....the internet knows everything lol.

  2. Yes, the internet never fails to amaze me Delores and this find filled me with so much joy. My half brother was nearly 21 years my senior but he was so wonderful to me when I was a youngster.

  3. What an amazing find. And how lucky they were. I don't think too many planes came down at the time with such a low injury list.

  4. I feel from what Len told us they had an excellent pilot. The way he told it the fuel gauge showed empty and that was while it was decided to try for a crash landing. Len also said the guys more or less said goodbye to each other just in case they didn't make it. I certainly was delighted to find this comprehensive account of the event and it brought back so many memories of my childhood.

  5. What an awesome story, how lucky we all are that they made it safely, brave men indeed. xx

  6. Thanks Rae....it is wonderful when a fantastic story such as this has a happy ending even though the poor aeroplane had to be chopped up for scrap. xx

  7. Hello, Mimsie, and thank you for stopping by my place. I started my blog for probably the same reason as you began this; to record the stories before they slip away. I've been sidetracked by custody of three grandchildren, but the stories get slipped in from time to time.

    This is a wonderful story, with a great ending. Thanks to all the great men who fought that war. My uncle was in France, my father held an essential job and railed he could not go "fight this damn war." Dad designed the electrical system for the great blimps that guarded convoys in the Atlantic. Now I need to see if they were used in the Pacific theater, too.

    I'll be back. See ya.

  8. I am so glad you enjoyed this story. There are so many aren't there? My husband was too young to be in the army during WW2 but was in the occupation in Germany shortly afterwards and saw some quite dreadful sights and how it affected the civilian population over there. It is always the innocent that suffer.
    I was interested to see you have custody of 3 grandchildren and can only imagine how much of your time must be taken up caring for them. I take my hat off to you for doing so.
    Thank you for popping in.