Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain

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COPYRIGHT 2004 – 2020
The contents of this website are Copyright to David Billings. No portion Of this website story may be used without permission. All Rights to the content of this story based on the Earhart Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft being on New Britain Island are Copyright to David Billings and the story is the Intellectual Property of David Billings.

Earhart’s Disappearance Leads to New Britain:

Second World War Australian Patrol Finds Tangible Evidence

Of all the various theories and searches regarding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra, only one endeavor has the tangible documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts to buttress the conclusion to their final resting place – the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea. In 1945, an Australian infantry unit discovered an unpainted all-metal twin-engine aircraft wreck in the jungle of East New Britain Island, in what was then called New Guinea.

The Australian infantry patrol was unsure of their actual position in the jungle and were on site for only a few minutes. Before they left the site they retrieved a metal tag hanging by wire on an engine mount. The Australians reported their find and turned in the tag upon return to base. The tag has yet to be recovered from the maze of Australian and American archives, but the letters and numbers etched upon it were transcribed to a wartime map. The map, used by the same Australian unit, was rediscovered in the early 1990’s and revealed a notation “C/N 1055” and two other distinctive identifiers of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E.

On 2 July 1937, while en route to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared shortly before they were to arrive at Howland Island – up to 2,600 miles and 20 hours after take-off. They were flying a modified Electra aircraft built specifically for the around-the-world journey. Had they arrived at Howland Island, their next stop would have been Hawaii, and finally California. A flight around the world would have been the first by a woman pilot. They undoubtedly encountered headwinds on the flight. The widely accepted last radio voice message from her was “…we are running on line north and south…” manually recorded 20 hours and 14 minutes after take-off by a United States Coast Guard ship at Howland.

This theory holds that Earhart and Noonan, after flying some 19 hours should have “arrived” close to Howland, but after an hour of fruitless searching for the island, Amelia invoked the Contingency Plan she had made and turned back for the Gilbert Islands. While there were no known usable runways between Lae and Howland except for Rabaul, there was at least the opportunity to ditch the aircraft near or crash-land on the numerous inhabited islands in the Gilberts along the way if needed, and there was more than sufficient range to reach Ocean or Nauru Islands. Earhart carefully husbanded the engines to extract the maximum range from the remaining fuel. The aircraft had an advertised range of some 4,000 miles in calm air; there should have been plenty of fuel to retreat to the Gilberts at a minimum. Among the myriad of alleged radio calls from Earhart after her last confirmed message were four radio calls heard by the radio operator on Nauru Island…one call was heard just under two hours from her “final” transmission, and some 10 hours later, three more final calls on the pre-selected frequency were heard by the Nauru radioman. The Nauru radio operator was one of only a few radio operators who had reliably monitored Earhart on her outbound leg to Howland – he knew the sound of her voice over the radio. In any event, her aircraft has been projected to have run out of fuel some 50 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain Island, and then crashed into the jungle.

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David Billings, a now retired aircraft engineering professional, has been analyzing the flight and searching for Earhart’s Electra for more than 20 years in the jungle of East New Britain. Dense jungle, harsh terrain, poor maps, imprecise archival information, personal resource limitations, and possible natural or manmade burial of the wreckage, have thwarted success. He has led many expeditions into the search area, and has refined his analysis to the likely wreck site using terrain mobility studies, geospatial analysis of aerial and satellite images, custom-built maps, and re-analyzed archival maps and documents. As an example, the Australian-held wartime map is authentic, and the handwriting reflects unmistakable discreet data points and little known references of military operations in 1945 East New Britain.

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The longtime map holder, the Second World War Infantry Unit clerk, Len Willoughby, retrieved the map from a map case on a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, and kept the map until he mailed it to former-Corporal Don Angwin in 1993 (and who revealed it to Mr. Billings in 1994). Neither of these former infantrymen had the motive nor “insider” expertise to create or introduce details concerning the Electra’s obscure component identification or situational nuances. The string of numbers and letters, “600H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055,” remains the most significant historical notation found to date in the search for Earhart’s aircraft. This alpha-numeric sequence almost certainly mirrors the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by one of the Australian soldiers on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, airframe Construction Number 1055. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft, and the engine type exactly matches as well. The eyewitness visual descriptions from three of the Australian veterans at the scene also strongly support this supposition. The date on the map, 24 May 1945, refers to the return answer to the Australians from the American Army, who did not believe it was “one of theirs.”

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Now that it is lookin like a CV Vaccine will be available and dispensed in time, and providing that the PNG Airline schedules gear up, David Billings is planning his next foray into East New Britain in 2021, the 84th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance.

New satellite maps, a possible LiDAR survey and more time on site will help in the search.

The search costs thus far have been borne primarily by David with some help from America, from team members and private donations, all of which has been expended on previous expeditions. Some funding will go a long way to assist in providing the answer…

David says:

“After much thought and new analysis of what we do know, a change of tactics is called for and a new search area has been selected. The area now selected was seen to have an area of “loose bare earth” in 1996 but not considered to be of importance as at that time, we were looking for an aircraft wreck on the surface.

The search area is quite remote and every expedition to this area costs a great deal.

Now retired, I need some financial assistance to be able to continue this very interesting project. We have good evidence but need adequate funding. All donations will be thankfully received and acknowledged.”

David Billings, November 2020.


Part 1 – The Beginning | Part 2 – PNG History/Topography | Part 3 – Wreckage is Found
Part 4 – Tangible EvidencePart 5 – Analysis | Part 6 – Lae to Howland Island
Part 7 – Howland area to New Britain – To the Gilberts…
Part 8 – Howland area to New Britain – Flying Westwards for Rabaul
Part 9 – Not Seen, But Not Forgotten
Part 10 – 2017 Expedition Overview
References
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Acknowledgements

I would like to express my greatest thanks to the men of the 11th Australian Infantry Battalion – specifically Don Angwin, Ken Backhouse, Keith Nurse, Roy Walsh and Len Willoughby.

Google Earth:  The Google Earth application has been of enormous assistance with this project in East New Britain by the project being able to look down on the search area for one, and within the project the ability to ascertain distances and locations for points of the Earhart story has been exceedingly helpful.

The Australian War Memorial contains valuable information concerning the efforts of the particular patrol  that found wreckage but also the information contained in the records offers a surrounding view of the events in New Britain at that time of crisis during World War Two.  The AWM records provided invaluable assistance.

The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), the organisation based in the U.S. that has carried out research over the years into the disappearance of the Electra and her two crew members.  TIGHAR documentation, and the ascertaining of pertinent facts from within the research contained on the TIGHAR site, is acknowledged.

David


COPYRIGHT 2004 – 2020

The contents of this website are Copyright to David Billings. No portion of this website story may be used without permission. All Rights to the content of this story based on the Earhart Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft being on New Britain Island are Copyright to David Billings and the story is the Intellectual Property of David Billings.

Earhart Search Leads to New Britain – Update

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.

This is an image of the copied lower section of the map from 1945. This map is referred to as the “Electra” map in this article. The notation clearly refers to Earhart’s Lockheed Electra “600 H/P. S3H/1 C/N 1055”.

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.

Captain Blackie signed this message (middle bottom) on 19 April 1945 to have it sent (in cipher) to the 13th Infantry Brigade. This SITREP – 63 – was one of those noted on the bottom of the “Electra” map. Note the formation of the lower case “f” in this message. AWM. Analysis by the Project Team.

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.

Lieutenant Brown signed this message on 16 April. This message’s SITREP number is the same as one on the map. GI 1009 is the first notation on the “Electra” map with the corresponding SITREP “59”, and the handwriting appears similar with phrases such as “see SITREP”. AWM. Analysis by the Project Team.
Reference GI 1009 was found in the AWM archives. Both documents have similar characteristics and have the same context such as noting the associated SITREPs – 58 and 59. The letters that are not interpreted to be similar may be the result of limited space in the folded border of the map. AWM. Analysis by the Project Team.

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”.

The signal message body (in 2 parts) is therefore a “REView of the SITuation” (REVSIT) and was issued from the 11th Battalion INT Sec (INTELLIGENCE Section) to all subordinate companies (HQ, A, B, C and D Companies) for information. This REVSIT report – a rehash and combining of their previous patrol reports into one – continues on the next page in the file but was not signed in the usual authorisation square by a known 11th Battalion officer. The rank notation looks to be “Sgt”. The signature name looks to be “Jones”. AWM.Analysis by the Project Team.

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.

This typed list of personnel names is dated “1 APR ’45” and to avoid having it typed out again that date is crossed out and “1 May ‘45” is handwritten above the mark-out. This list confirms that Sergeant H.M. Jones was a member of the Intelligence Section of the HQ Company of the 11th Battalion during the time period in which Patrol A1 was carried out. AWM.Analysis by the Project Team.

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.

While we do not know how much of the Attestation Form Sgt Jones filled-out for himself, similarities in the capitalized block letters are noted within the 11th Battalion messages. Note the capitalized “S”- similar to the “Electra” map notation. The lower-case letter “f” is strikingly similar to the same letter in the various SITREPs. NAA. Analysis by the Project Team.
Sgt Jones performed pre-deployment training in the Australian Northern Territory in August 1944. This example of his misspelled name, “Ones”, in the archives was one of many obstacles in researching the relevant people and places. AWM

 

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.

Captain Mott provided another copy of a 14 April topographic information sheet to Sergeant Jones, acting IO, to give to Captain Geikie on 22 April – days after Patrol A1 had returned. The origin of the first topographic information sheet was from the 13th Brigade Intelligence Section – the Intelligence Officer signature (before “Capt”) was matched to a misfiled 13th Brigade message in 11th Battalion records. AWM. Analysis by the Project Team.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

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COPYRIGHT 2004 – 2020
The contents of this website are Copyright to David Billings. No portion Of this website story may be used without permission. All Rights to the content of this story based on the Earhart Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft being on New Britain Island are Copyright to David Billings and the story is the Intellectual Property of David Billings.