Home' Aerogram : Aerogram 2008 3 September Contents Aerogram September 2008
Aerogram June 2008
Concluding Ian Townsend’s investigation into final resting places and the
warbirds restoration industry
There was a lot of action against the Japanese in North
Queensland in 1942.
During one of the air raids on Townsville that year, the ABC’s
war correspondent Chester Wilmot happened to be out in
on the town with his recording machine, a big disc like a
record player attached to a microphone.
The air raid siren went, and like everyone else in Townsville,
he went out into the street to watch. He described the raid
as it happened.
It’s an amazing piece of reporting. You can hear the bombs
falling in the sea and the sounds of the anti aircraft guns,
someone starts firing a machine gun, and then American
night fighter P-39 Airacobras go up chasing the Japanese
“You can hear the drone of our fighter as it turns around to
get another attack. The first fighter’s still holding it in its bead
and seems to me to be losing height,” reports Wilmot.
Standing beside him and watching the Japanese bomber
caught in the searchlights is an American fighter pilot. The
American called Jimmy watches one of his buddies in a P-
39 shoot the enemy bomber.
“What did you think of that then?” asks Wilmott.
“Good shooting,” says Jimmy.
“Did you think, as I did, that he put one burst right into the
tail of the plane?”
“I believe he got his 20mm shell in there, looks like one
exploded there at the end of it. “
In fact, after the war the Japanese confirmed that the shot
killed the rear gunner. The Americans defending the
Townsville air bases drove the Japanese away.
A number of American Airacobras went up to defend the
city and they’re now a highly collectable warplane.
One of the American fighters who went up that night was a
pilot called Charles Faletta. A few months earlier in 1942,
Faletta had led an inexperienced squadron of American
pilots to Horn island, but they couldn’t land in the bad
weather and he had to find a place on Cape York to crash
land. They ran out of fuel.
Faletta brought his Airacobra down in the Jardine Swamps
and decades later it was recovered by a collector called Syd
Beck, who now runs an amazing military museum near
Mareeba, west of Cairns.
That Airacobra of Faletta’s is the main attraction. Syd Beck
says he was offered $5 million for it 20 years ago, but didn’t
want to sell it. He hasn’t had any offers recently.
“I made it quite clear that there was no market,” he said
Another collector of warbird memorabilia up north is diver
and documentary maker, Ben Cropp, who lives at Port
Ben Cropp has made a name for himself finding and filming
shipwrecks over the years, but lately he’s turned his
attention to warplanes. There are just so many of them.
The first thing you see when you walk into Ben Cropp’s
living room is the muzzle of a machine gun that he raised
from a Mitchell bomber not far from Port Douglas. The
incredible thing is that even though this gun is steel, there’s
hardly any rust on it. The magazine that contained the
bullets still opens and closes. He and his sons regularly dive
on the wreck and have found a lot of ammunition and even
the pistol of the pilot.
“The remarkable thing about the pistol that my son Dean
found,” said Ben Cropp, “is we had a photo of this plane a
week before it crashed, and in the cockpit you could see
this pistol in a holster, hanging in the cockpit. And Dean
went down and found that exact pistol.”
The sea here is littered with wrecked planes, many of them
still listed officially as missing. It’s enthusiasts like Ben Cropp
who are largely responsible for finding these planes, and he
feels a responsibility to protecting them when he can.
A year ago, Ben Cropp found a plane wreck that might turn
out to be one of the most extraordinary every found. Near
the tip of Cape York he believes he’s discovered an
American B-17 bomber that was flown by a U.S. General.
General Howard Ramey vanished after leaving New Guinea
Ben Cropp’s convinced that he’s found General Ramey’s
bomber, the ‘Pluto’. If it is Ramey’s plane, there are ten
bodies with this wreck.
“There are ten dog tags there, but it takes a lot of digging
because the dog tags sink down to the bottom of the
plane, or the bodies float away and the dog tags go with
them, so either way it’s difficult. But we will, we’re
determined, we’ve done three trips to this plane, we’re
going back again this year, but we’ll be financed by America
this year. An American group has taken a lot of interest.
They’re called Moore’s Marauders, and for them it’s ‘bring
them back home’. “
Moore’s Marauders is one of the groups actively searching
for the remains of America’s war dead. Even 65 years after
the end of the Second World War, there are 78,000
American servicemen still missing in action and perhaps
10,000 around the Solomons, New Guinea and Australia.
Moore’s Marauders is a private group. If they find evidence
of remains, the American military comes in to recover the
bones and take them back to the U.S.
Moore’s Marauders is trying to prove whether or not Ben
Cropp really has found General Ramey’s B-17.
“It would bed a major find,” said the group’s founder,
Kenneth Moore. “There were only two US Generals lost
during World War II and General Ramey was one of them.
A very colourful figure too, by the way.”
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