Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain:
Who Wrote on the “Electra” Map?
A U.S. Army map with handwritten notations that distinctly point to Earhart’s lost aircraft is almost certainly authentic based on a solid chain of custody since 1945, identifiers unique to the aircraft, and arcane ancillary data that has been validated in the Australian War Memorial archives. The “Electra” map has always been viewed as authentic by veterans in the patrol unit that found the crashed aircraft in 1945, previous sponsors of the aircraft search, and members of the search team. The notation refers to the content of a metal tag retrieved from that crashed aircraft.
The map notation was never questioned because the map was firmly in the possession of Len Willoughby, a veteran from “D” Company, 11th Infantry Battalion, since retrieving it from a pile of discarded battalion materials and equipment in Rabaul, New Guinea, at the end of the Pacific War.
Willoughby took ownership of the map soon after the Japanese surrender, when all five companies of the 11th Battalion were together at their Rabaul encampment while guarding and processing the return of prisoners of war to Japan. Willoughby kept the map for 48 years before sending it by post (mail) to a fellow soldier in his unit, Donald Angwin, in 1993. Don had a cursory look at the map and placed it with the rest of his papers until 1994, when David Billings joined the search.
The handwritten notation was wedged into the folded, narrow margin of a map of the battalion’s military operating area. When the penciled writing on the map was discovered in 1994, the surviving 11th Battalion veterans did not know who had jotted down the words (from the metal tag) onto the map. The written notation has always been accepted as genuine in terms of time period and distinctive content by those involved in the Earhart Electra search. The question of ‘who’ wrote those significant words had never been explored. A pointed question was raised by a potential sponsor this year, and as a result, a fresh look as to the origin of the map writing was conducted.
We researched potential sources and reviewed the 11th Battalion and 5th Division files for February, April, May and June 1945 of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) digital archives to see if matching handwriting could be found. The intermediary HQ unit between the 11th Battalion and 5th Division where relevant reports should have been sent – the 13th Brigade – could not be easily found and were not in an organized state at the archives – misfiled exceptions were found. In any case several likely handwriting matches were soon realized in the available digital documents in the 11th Battalion records. Most of the military signal forms – the form and format where official orders, instructions, log entries or messages are written or typed – were recorded as “SITREPs” (SITuation REPorts) for the 11th Battalion. These reports were usually handwritten and printed (vs cursive) at the battalion-unit level, and it soon became clear in the review, that of the several people writing reports on signal forms, one person’s distinctive style matched the handwriting on the map edge. It also was seen that a SITREP, when hand-written (or typed) on signal forms, had to be signed in a cipher or “as-written” authorisation square (one of two boxes on the message form) by an officer-in-charge, which makes sense, as confusion or a security breach would arise if an unchecked or unauthorised member wrote, issued or mis-directed a signal message.
There were differing authorising signatures on the message forms, but the distinctive printed handwriting on the map appeared in the majority of the signal forms sent out from the 11th Battalion at the time. These messages were clearly being approved by different officers but only one or two individuals wrote the actual content in the April and May SITREPs in 1945. Most were signed by Captain Blackie, who was the Adjutant to the 11th Battalion and served in the Headquarters Company where all signals from “11 Inf Bn” emanated. Several were signed by Lieutenant Brown, Blackie’s deputy (listed as Assistant Adjutant). With little doubt, the writer of the message content on the signal forms – and the map as you will see – belonged to the Headquarters Company of the 11th Infantry Battalion.
Another probable handwriting match appears on a signal form with a “SITREP 59” reference, in the AWM April 1945 file. This message is the reference to the GI 1009 message number seen on the “Electra” map notation and aligns with that writing style with matching patrol references and some of the numbers and letters in appearance. This message was signed by Lieutenant Brown. Again, Lieutenant Brown did not write the content in the message; he merely reviewed and approved it. A few other officers appeared in signature blocks on various messages throughout the months, but Blackie and Brown were the most prominent for the 11th Battalion messages.
One signal form near the end of the AWM file was entitled “REVSIT No.7” and was written from the “INT sec” to “All Companies”.
Sergeant (Sgt) Jones signed many of the REVSITs, and also appears to have been the creator of said REVSITs. His writing and signing of these messages appear to be mostly administrative in nature, and most not transmitted or relayed outside of his battalion units. A “Corporal Allen” signature also appeared twice in the left-hand signature block on other messages where we assess “less” sensitive messages are signed. Corporal Allen’s printing style was markedly different from that of Sergeant Jones
There are more than 70 writing examples in the battalion message files that resemble each other, with at least 8 signature examples in April that were signed as “Jones”. Looking further into the AWM file, we find a list of “Personnel Engaged on Intelligence Duties.” Second from the top of this list is: “WX41955 Jones H.M. Sgt.” The fourth soldier down the list is a Cpl (Corporal) Allen.
With a personnel Service Number it was a simple matter to insert the number into a search in the Australian National Archives and WX41955 revealed the “Attestation Form” completed by Harold Marks Jones when he re-enlisted (continued service in this case) in the Australian Army on 11th September 1944 at the age of 35. Harold Jones served in the Territorial Army and attained the rank of sergeant with the Service No. W 7917. HM Jones signed this Attestation document in two places and the signature matches the signature on the AWM April 1945 file documents. Harold Marks Jones was given the new “WX” number 41955 and his previous service rank of sergeant, and sent off with the 11th Battalion, just in time to embark for Jacquinot Bay, New Britain Island.
On the List of Personnel in the Intelligence Section there is one further handwritten note which is of interest. At the top of the list is the Service No., name and rank of an officer: “WX25649 Hopkins J.P. Lt.” In “Remarks” against the Lieutenant’s name is typed: Attending “A” Wing of LHQ (Land Headquarters) School of M.I. (Military Intelligence) Course 21, 5 March 45. This means that Lieutenant Hopkins was away on a training course in Australia from at least 5 March and into April 1945. There is a handwritten note above the information about the course which says: “Awaiting RTU after”… RTU means “Return to Unit”. So as handwritten notes were applied to the list from 1st May 45 when the list was re-issued with notations, this means that Lt. Hopkins was still away from the 11th Battalion and Sgt. Jones was the senior intelligence person in the 11th Battalion as no (new) officer’s name had been added to the list.
Further confirmation that Sgt. Jones was the temporary I.O. (Intelligence Officer) for the 11th Battalion is the Patrol A1 topographic information sheet with a handwritten note at the bottom to Sgt Jones, “Herewith copy of infor given to Capt Geikie for A1.” We read the name of the person writing the note as “Mott”. During the time period while Lieutenant Hopkins was away, Sgt. Jones was considered experienced and capable of carrying out the duties of an Intelligence Officer (I.O.). Lieutenant Hopkins resumed his I.O. duties upon returning to the unit on 16th May 1945.
Our team confirms that Captain Mott, the Topographic Survey Staff Officer was on temporary posting to 13th Infantry Brigade HQ at Tol Plantation (with the 11th Battalion) away from a position at 5th Division HQ at Jacquinot Bay during this time. He had an usually keen interest in what Patrol A1 had seen and done, as the various Patrol Reports and Diaries had shown (an article on Captain Mott is forthcoming). It is further likely that he told Sgt. Jones to keep him informed and may explain why the map was written on – as to draft a message to Captain Mott recording all the relevant SITREPs regarding the patrol and information from the U.S. Army saying the aircraft wreck was not “one of theirs” based on the date of 24 May 1945.
Therefore the “Electra” map handwriting substantiates four things:
- The map writing is conclusively linked to Patrol A1 (in April 1945) and the personnel of the 11th Battalion in April and May 1945, as the SITREP numbers and Captain Mott were closely interrelated at the time, unlike any other patrol activities reviewed in the archives.
- The map notes were written by someone who knew the details of what Patrol A1 had seen and found and, who would also know of any response from a higher headquarters (or U.S. Army in this case) by the 24 May 1945 date on the map. The 11th Battalion HQ, Intelligence Section, would have that information and continuity.
- The “Electra” map writing is almost certainly that of Sergeant Jones, acting Battalion Intelligence Officer in April and part of May 1945, and included Earhart’s Lockheed Electra nomenclature in “Ref: 600H/P S3H/1 C/N1055”. He wrote (or recorded) most of the situation reports of the time including those referenced on the “Electra” map.
- The writer (Sgt Jones) had to know Captain Mott relatively well as to address him in the map notation. Jones also had been instructed, likely in-person by Mott, to furnish the same (Patrol A1) topographic information to the company commander (Geikie) for a second time, probably related to the “heated” discussion between Mott and Geikie at the end of Patrol A1 – possibly because Lieutenant Backhouse (patrol leader) didn’t accomplish or follow the objectives of the patrol orders.
By the 24 May 1945 map notation, the original issue “October 1943” version of the MEVELO map had been re-issued (new map) as a “January 1945” edition with red overprints showing corrected detail in place names and rivers. Therefore the 1943-issue map which contained the handwriting on the lower margin was a superseded version and should have been tagged for destruction. Sgt. Jones still had a copy of this “old” version, which may have been taped or clipped to a backing board with its folded edges, where he wrote on the lower border. The map and associated SITREPs were to be given/sent to Captain Mott…did he get them?