Part 5 – Analysis of the Primary Evidence

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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.


The primary available evidence is, of course, found on the bottom of the “D” Company, 11th Battalion, 13th Brigade wartime map. The map is authentic, and the handwriting appears to have been written in 1945. The longtime map holder, Len Willoughby, who retrieved the map from a map case from a pile of discarded equipment in 1945, kept the map until he mailed it to Don Angwin in 1993. Neither of these gentlemen 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. We believe this alpha-numeric sequence references the details on the metal tag recovered from the engine mount by Warrant Officer Nurse on 17 April 1945. This three-group sequence translates to 600 Horsepower, Pratt & Whitney R-1340-S3H1, Construction Number 1055. Of these three groups, two are engine parameters and one is an airframe identifier. Construction Number 1055 is the airframe identifier and decodes to Model 10, 55th built. This airframe construction number IS Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E Electra aircraft. The eyewitness visual description from two of the Australian veterans present at the crash site strongly support this determination. Lets look closely at the notation.



Why is an Airframe Identifier Attached to an Engine Structure?

The question of why an airframe construction number on a metal tag was wired to an engine mount was puzzling until I called to mind that the aircraft, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E, suffered landing gear, wing, tail, engine mount and engine damage from her ground loop while attempting take-off from Hawaii. Then, Amelia was on her first attempt at flying around the world, west-about. She ground-looped the Electra and it was severely damaged. It was disassembled, packed up and sent back to the Lockheed Burbank factory.

Ground loops, where the landing gear collapses and/or the propellers strike the ground at power, bow, bend or break engine mount tubing trusses in addition to all the other damage that can occur.

Immediately after the ground loop in March 1937, the aircraft is shown resting on the ground with the right hand No.2 engine pointing skywards. There is a large pool of oil under the No.2 engine, indicating that the right side engine mount must have collapsed completely, the engine bulk piercing or crushing the oil tank, which is nestled within the mount, forward of the firewall. The left hand No. 1 Engine is shown to be only slightly out-of-line, and the corresponding engine mount had been pushed backwards buckling the firewall. Also, the left hand gear and wheel had buckled the outboard side of the nacelle in the area of where the engine mount tubing lower truss beam would be, meaning that the lower tubing was probably bent. [20Mar1937_Electra_Accident_Report_Maxwell]


During the repair process, the Electra was given a new engine mount for the No.2 engine. As Lockheed did not supply a new mount for the No. 1 engine, then this says that the No.1 engine mount was repairable. To repair the mount, it would be secured in a manufacturing jig at the bolt mounting points after the damaged sections had been cut out. New sections would be welded in by the oxy-acetylene gas welding method. Former President of the Amelia Earhart Society, Mr. Bill Prymak, furnished information that the engine mounts were made at an unnamed foundry in Los Angeles. It would be a normal practice for that originating foundry to be the place where the mount could be repaired as they would have the original production jig. Items sent for a gas flame welding shop repair would get fireproof metal tags not card tags, just as they would do today.

To identify the left hand engine mount as it was dispatched for repair, it would be necessary to identify the item to track it with any written Purchase Order detailing the repair required. I very much doubt that in 1937, an aircraft metal working foundry in Los Angeles would be inundated with engine mounts in for repair so basic identification would be all that was required on the item. The associated paperwork would have the detail.

Why is an Airframe Identifier Attached to an Engine Structure?

Lockheed were building a few variants of the basic Electra Model 10 in 1937. These variants had similar engines of differing horsepower – some 450 horsepower, some 550 horsepower and some 600 horsepower – so one requirement would be to identify the horsepower to be supported by the mount. What is the horsepower rating of the mount? “600 H/P.” The associated engine type also has differing mounting holes. Which one is it? “S3H1.” Which aircraft is it from? “C/N 1055“. What do we use to tag it? Not a paper card tied on with string since we are sending this engine mount to a welding shop where an oxy-acetylene flame torch is going to be used. So we will use a metal tag attached by wire. Hence, we etch or stamp “600H/P. S3H/1 C/N1055” on the metal tag made from a scrap piece of aluminum or tinplate and drill a hole in it and finally wire it to the damaged engine mount.

In 1937, the Electra was repaired mostly where it had been made and workers in the Lockheed factory would identify all components removed during the repair for in-house and out-sourced work with its construction number,“C/N1055“, and not from its civil aviation registration, “NRl6020.” This is standard procedure at an aircraft manufacturing company where aircraft are known by their Build Serial Number, not by their registration letters or numbers as the case may be. I have worked at aircraft manufacturing and have visited another manufacturers, and the aircraft assembly bays are always identified by the “manufacturer’s number.” In this case, Lockheed used the term “Construction Number” abbreviated to “C/N.” In modern times, we now use the term “Manufacturers Serial Number” abbreviated to “MSN”.

Putting It Together

I have been in aircraft engineering for 59 years, and as a professional I consider the small metal tag, wired to the mount tubing of the detached engine, and removed by Warrant Officer Nurse, was actually the metal Repair Tag which had been left on the engine mount truss after repair and re-installation. In aircraft engineering hangar procedures it is not normal in everyday paperwork to see airframe and engine component designators or related equipment-identifying codes come together in one place on a component. One such place where they do intersect is on a Repair Tag. An engine mount by its nature is classed as an engine component and so any airframe identifier listed on a repair tag would be there to show which aircraft the component came from (and belonged to), in this case “C/N1055.” It is quite normal for any component removed from an aircraft to have a Repair Tag.

Today, it is standard operating procedure to remove Repair Tags when refitting components back on an aircraft, and these tags or cards are sent with all the other “Check” and/or “Defect Repair” paperwork to the Aircraft Records Section for inclusion into the individual aircraft file. Yet still, very occasionally, these repair tags are left on components after the completion of work and a “find” order is issued by Records Section or Quality Assurance to retrieve the tag and to send it to the Aircraft Records Section. In my experience over the last ten years, I have known this happen about five times.

As previously confirmed, the Pratt & Whitney “Wasp” S3H1 variant is correct for Earhart’s Electra.   Initially when I commenced on this research, all evidence pointed to a pre-WWII horsepower rating for the R-1340 S3H1 as 550 horsepower. I could not understand why the writing on the map had “600 H/P.” next to the engine type code “S3H/1.” As I discovered, the explanation is simple: 600 H.P. is available with the S3H1 when using 100 Octane gasoline. The higher octane number (100 as against the normal 87) is a higher “anti-knock” or “pre-detonation” value. The full power obtainable with the 100 Octane fuel is in fact 600 horsepower. Lockheed Report 487: “Long Range Study of a Bi-Motor Airplane” concerned with the Lockheed Model 10E does state that the engines are indeed rated at 600 Horsepower.


Do not confuse the possibility that the patrol found an engine serial number with the repair tag (translated to the map) data. An engine serial number was neither seen or found nor was it expressed on any documentation from the Patrol A1 activities. The discreet details and sequence of engine type, horsepower and airframe number are extremely difficult to concoct. There is no possible way that an Australian infantryman would have known Earhart’s Electra 10E airframe construction number or horsepower rating or engine designation in 1945. We also have examined the possibility that C/N may have been confused as S/N, as a serial number for the engine; no such engine serial numbers exist for Pratt & Whitney engines then and now. We could only “wish” that the patrol did find an engine serial number…

 The Date on the Map

At about the time of the date on the map edge “[24/5/45],” 24 May 1945, the Australians were informed that “…the Americans say that it is not one of theirs…” or words to that effect. Therefore, a branch of the United States Army or Army Air Force had been informed of the engine (or aircraft) wreckage found by the patrol a month earlier.

Some five weeks after the Patrol A1 was completed, “D” Company personnel were at a beach near 13th Brigade and 11th Battalion Headquarters near to Tol Plantation, waiting for a barge to transport them further up the coast to the Unamitki River. They were approached by an unidentified officer from headquarters, who informed them that the U.S. Army had replied to the report of the find of the engine (or aircraft). The officer was reading from a signal (message), and told the assembled men that the US Army (which included the USAAF) had said that it was not one of their engines, therefore not their aircraft. The officer mentioned it was a Wasp engine and was most probably from a civilian aircraft. Some of the veterans reportedly heard that the aircraft could be a Lockheed as they were big users of Pratt & Whitney engines. They were told not to worry about it, as they had other things to do.

Lieutenant Backhouse believed the metal tag was sent to the Americans as supporting evidence along with textual documentation, possibly a copy of the missing patrol report annex (Report 63A). The hope was that the Americans could account for a wartime loss that the patrol had stumbled upon. Ken assumed that the tag was sent from New Britain to Port Moresby by military-channeled surface mail in a courier bag. Actually, the nearest Americans were at Jacquinot Bay about 80 miles away and their LCM’s had regularly visited Wide Bay on a schedule of re-supply runs to Tol Plantation troops and to Kalai Plantation troops. These Americans of Company “B” of the 594th EB & SR had a very close working relationship with the Australian Army.

In any case, whichever American unit received the metal tag or the information concerning the metal tag, any official response back, if any, to the Australian unit normally would take some time. Of course, it was about five weeks when the men of “D” Company heard an official reply.


Addendum 20 May 2020


The writing on the map has never been questioned as to authenticity by any of the past veterans involved or by any member of the Project Team.  The notation has never been doubted because the map was always in the possession of a veteran from “D” Company for 48 years after finding it on the pile of discarded battalion materials and equipment in Rabaul at the end of the war.

This time of the finding of the map was in the period in 1945 after the Japanese surrender and when all five companies of the 11th Battalion were together at their Rabaul encampment.  That veteran, Len Willoughby, kept the map for 48 years before sending it by post (mail) to Donald Angwin in 1993.  Don had a cursory look at the map and placed it with the rest of his papers until 1994, until I joined the project.

When the pencilled writing on the map was discovered in 1994, the 11th Battalion veterans who remained, and are mentioned in this story, did not know who jotted down the words on the map.  The written notation has always been accepted as genuine in terms of time period and content by those involved in the project.  The latent question of ‘who’ wrote those significant words rested for many years since the start of the Earhart Electra Search Project until the question was raised by a potential sponsor this year and as a result, a fresh look as to the origin of the map notation was in order.

We researched the question and proceeded to review the 11th Battalion and 5th Division files for February, April, May and June 1945 in the Australian War Memorial digital archives to see whether a handwriting match could be found.  Several likely matches were soon realised.  Most of the signal forms were written as “SITREP’s” (SITuation REPorts).  These reports are, in the main, handwritten and non-cursive at the battalion-unit level, and it soon became clear in the review, that out of several people writing reports on signal forms, one person’s distinctive style matched the handwriting on the map edge.  It appears that Army policy was that a SITREP when 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 personnel wrote, issued or mis-directed signal messages.

In the AWM records, although the distinctive printed handwriting of the map appeared in the majority of the signal forms sent from the 11th Battalion, there were differing authorising signatures on the message forms. The messages were clearly being approved by different officers than the one who wrote the actual content.   There are similar handwriting examples on many pages of signal forms in the AWM files.  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). Without a 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 13 Infantry Brigade. This SITREP – 63 – was one of those noted on the bottom of our map in question. AWM

Another fine example of fitting writing was on a signal form with a “SITREP 59” reference, in the AWM April 1945 file.  This message is the reference to GI 1009 message number seen on the Electra map notation, and aligns to that writing style. This message was signed by Lieutenant Brown. However, again, Lieutenant Brown did not write the content of 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 SITREP number is the same as the one on the map. GI 1009 is the first notation on the map with the corresponding SITREP “59”, and the handwriting closely follows in style and structure. AWM

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”.

This 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

Sergeant (Sgt) Jones appears to have 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 outside of battalion circles.  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 Sergeant Jones

There are 69 examples in the April 1945 file which match the handwriting and 8 signature examples which are the same and read as “Jones”.   Looking further into the AWM file, and there near the end, is 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 it appears that 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

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 into the Australian Army on 11th September 1944 at the age of 35.  Harold Jones had previously served in the Army and had 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 that were compared.  Harold Marks Jones was given the new “WX” number 41955 and his previous service rank of sergeant and sent off to join his old 11th Battalion again, 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, similarities in the capitalized block letters were noted with the 11th Battalion messages. NAA

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 and in Australia from at least the 5th of March and into April 1945.  There is a handwritten note above the information about the course and the note 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 officer’s name has been added to the list.

Further confirmation that Sgt. Jones was the temporary I.O. (Intelligence Officer) for the 11th Battalion is given on Pages 40 and 41 in the AWM file.  Page 40 has a note 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”.  Page 41 in the AWM file is the reverse of the notation page and it can be seen to have been folded, stamped as SECRET and addressed to: “I.O.  11Bn.” For delivery by D.R.L.S. (Despatch Rider Letter Service).  So 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 apparently provided another copy of a 14 April intelligence topography sheet to Sergeant Jones, acting IO, to give to Captain Geikie on 22 April – days after Patrol A1 had returned. AWM

Confirmation that it was Sergeant Jones, the acting 11th Battalion Intelligence
Officer who wrote the writing on the map confirms three things:

  1. The period is correct, the writing is by Sergeant Jones in the correct time period in 1945 and obviously on or after the 24th May 1945.
  2. The writing couples the “Ref: 600H/P S3H/1  C/N1055” to patrol A1 by the personnel of “D” Company 11th Battalion.
  3. The map notes are written by an Intelligence Section leader who knew the detail of what Patrol A1 had seen and found and, who would also know of any response from the U.S. Army that had been received.

Our team considers that Captain Mott, the Topographic Survey Staff Officer on temporary posting to 13th Infantry Brigade HQ at Tol Plantation from a position at 5th Division HQ at Jacquinot Bay, was also an Intelligence Officer at that HQ, who had an interest in what Patrol A1 had seen.  It is further considered that he had told Sgt. Jones to “keep him informed” and why Sgt Jones was  writing on the map was possibly formulating a draft message to Captain Mott recording all the SITREPs that had been made out concerning the patrol and information that had been received and that had come back from the U.S. Army regarding the aircraft was not “one of theirs” but including some detail which Captain Mott should be made aware of.

By the date 24 May 1945, 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 and therefore the 1943 -issue map which contains the handwriting on the lower margin was a “superceded” version and basically in a wartime situation “waste paper” and should have been tagged for destruction but Sgt. Jones still had a copy and wrote on the lower border.  On 16 May Lieutenant Hopkins returned and was now back in the I.O. seat.  Did Sgt. Jones still see it as his duty to inform Captain Mott?  Was it his intention to send the map to Captain Mott but did not do so because Captain Mott had left the area?  If information came in from the U.S. Army on the 24 May 1945 as per the date in the writing on the map that leaves two days before Captain Mott departed by barge for Jacquinot Bay on 27th May as he was returning to his post at the intelligence group at 5th Division HQ.  It is not known if Sgt. Jones managed to get a message to him before he left.

Did Captain Mott receive any message from Sgt. Jones relating to the find of the aircraft wreckage?

We will probably never know…

End of Addendum 20 May 2020


The Question of the American Visitors

Before the negative message response concerning the tag arrived back at “D” Company, there had been some immediate curiosity from the U.S. Army or Army Air Force as two American officers visited the “D” Company area at Kalai Plantation. Upon arrival they requested to speak to Lieutenant Backhouse. The visit was late April. Lieutenant Backhouse was not available as he was out on another patrol when they arrived. Strangely, these two US Army officers could not wait and left.

Between the time after the Patrol A1 Report was submitted on 19th April and the time of the writing on the map, 24th May, all of Backhouse’s patrol listings indicate one-day duration jungle patrols. However, there is one patrol – not logged – that we established he was a member of. A patrol to the Melkong River was scheduled as a two-day patrol. As alluded to, there likely would be only two source locations from where U.S. Army officers would come from to meet with Lieutenant Backhouse at the Kalai Plantation:

1) From a U.S. Army unit left in New Guinea as a liaison with the Australians in New Guinea.

2) From the U.S. Army 594th Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment (EB&SR) at Jacquinot Bay.

In the first case, the most logical source would be Port Moresby as the 1st Australian Army had a liaison group there. This is some 500 miles from Wide Bay. The officers would need to be prepared for a stay at Kalai Plantation after traveling nearly 500 miles. It would not be a one-day task. This action would in all probability entail a flight by aircraft from Port Moresby to Jacquinot Bay which had an airstrip, and then a sea trip by barge or boat.

In the second possibility, the two officers may have come up from Jacquinot Bay on a regular re-supply run and take the next scheduled returning barge back to their unit. However the 594th “unofficial history” in my possession carries the statement that their barges (LCM’s) left Wide Bay on the 15th April for the “last” time as the Australian 41st Landing Craft Unit (LCU) took over from the American 594th. Of note, the 594th had three “fast” sea craft called J-Boats and there was also mention of a “Picket Boat” which was capable of over 20 knots speed.

No matter their origin, why could these two officers not wait? Anyone from Port Moresby equipped for a trip of a few days certainly would have waited until Lieutenant Backhouse returned from any of his short patrols. On the other hand, why would two “locally-based” officers (of the 594th) not announce that they would be back at a later date, and come back on one of the boats that they had? I needed to isolate the day in question.

Warrant Officer Keith Nurse remarked that Lieutenant Backhouse was in a bit of trouble with the chief topographer when he got back from Patrol A1, because he could not definitively state where the patrol had been except for a location on the Mumus River. As was revealed in archived message traffic, Captain Mott, the Topographic Survey Officer, had an extraordinary interest in the area and the observations of this unit’s first patrol in the jungle. Captain Mott reportedly became somewhat agitated and it resulted in a heated disagreement between Captain Mott and Captain Geikie, the “D” Company Commander.

As a result of this altercation, Backhouse was sent out on another patrol almost immediately. From the Patrol Report Ledger, and a letter report in the Australian War Memorial archives, we can get a good picture of what patrols Lieutenant Backhouse participated in from April 19th to May 24th.

Possible opportunities for the American officers to meet with Backhouse:Part05-Sketch02

We can see from this table that the most likely day for the visit to Kalai by the U.S. Army officers was 21 April – Backhouse was still on patrol.

As to the question of why the two officers could not stay and departed quickly is twofold. Officers traveling from Port Moresby would expect to stay a couple of days due to transportation scheduling and having a justifiable mission. Therefore the officers did not come from Port Moresby; instead they came from Jacquinot Bay – the 594th EB&SR. There also is a simple answer as to why they could not wait. Their unit, Company “B” of the 594th EB&SR, was under orders to depart Jacquinot Bay at 0330Hrs on 22nd April, bound for Finschaven and then Hollandia to rejoin their regiment there. We know with certainty that Lieutenant Backhouse was on patrol on the 20th and 21st, probably returning by 1800 hours on the 21st. Backhouse was definitely at Kalai on the 23rd as he wrote a letter report to his Company Commander, therefore the 594th officers could not have arrived on that day because they had already shipped out from Palmalmal at Jacquinot Bay, so the only “day of opportunity” for the officers to get up to Kalai was 21 April. How did they get up to Kalai so quickly as the barge trip is 10 hours at best and ten hours back? The answer is that the 594th owned three J-Boats – small fast boats – and there is also the mention of a “Picket Boat” capable of over 20 knots in speed (23 mph). Also, on the night of the 21st April at the 594th base at Jacquinot, a “Farewell Party” had been organized for the departing Americans. The 594th sailed away from Jacquinot Bay at 3:45 am, April 22. In view of the 594th Unit Movement Orders and the sea-transit time of what must have been 4 hours to get back to Jacquinot Bay after 4 hours to Kalai, and on hearing that Backhouse was not available, the two officers would be keen to get back in daylight; if not for the party arranged for their unit by their Australian hosts.

New Britain, 27 January 1945, “J” Boat (1 of 3) of the 594th Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, B Company. AWM-078675

The conclusion is that the American visitors were from the 594th EB&SR, as no other American personnel visited Backhouse after that missed opportunity either at Kalai or at Tol Plantation.

What we seem to have with this episode is direct interest from one unit of the U.S. Army (594th EB&SR) that included a convenient visit to try and gain official or passing information for themselves or another requesting unit; and no interest, based on the tag information, in the form of a message response from another component of the U.S. Army some 5 weeks later. The research continues as to what surviving members of the 594th heard or saw about an aircraft wreck in April 1945.

Potential Sources of Aircraft Components in the Wide Bay Area

Civilian Aircraft

There were two Lockheed Model 10A aircraft in New Guinea operated by Guinea Airways based at Lae. These aircraft had Pratt & Whitney R-985 engines of 450 horsepower and both of these were evacuated to Australia at the outbreak of war in 1942. They did not return to New Guinea with any permanency during the war except that one aircraft did accomplish supply runs to the Poppondetta area during the battles for Buna-Gona-Sanananda, and other places in New Guinea away from the fighting zones. It returned safely to Australia. There were no known Japanese civilian aircraft with the same engine type in New Britain.

Military Aircraft

I have been unable to find any evidence that any R-1340 S3H1 direct drive powered aircraft other than Earhart’s Electra flew in New Guinea prior to or during World War II. There were some Australian Wirraway aircraft powered by licence-built Pratt & Whitney R-1340 S3H1-G engines. There were seven at Rabaul when the Japanese invaded on 23 January 1942. Of these, five were shot down over Rabaul, and two escaped to Port Moresby. One flew on to Australia and one remained in Moresby. These “G” engines were a geared variety (they had a reduction gear at the front of the engine) and drove a three bladed propeller developing 650 horsepower. Furthermore, the patrol identified a twin-engined aircraft, the Wirraway was a single-engined aircraft. Other Wirraways operated in New Guinea but were not sent against Rabaul.


Furthermore, an enquiry to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, brought an interesting response from a curator, David Menard. I have had several communications with David over the years. David looked through all the available listings of USAAC, USAAF, USAF, US Army, USN, USMC, and USCG, up until and including 1937, for any use of the R-1340 S3H1 engine, and all he found was some early biplane types and prototypes undergoing evaluation by the military. They had the “civilian” S3H1 engines, but when accepted into military service, those aircraft were then listed as having the AN-1 military version and designation of the Wasp engine. Each arm of the U.S. military used their own designations. David looked into the use of the AN-1 engine employed on any aircraft sent to New Guinea during the WWII conflict and could not find any use of that engine in New Guinea by any arm of the U.S. military.

When the Australian patrol’s mysterious nacelled engine and airframe were found, the Japanese had been on New Britain for 3 years and 3 months. Aerial activity against Rabaul started in 1942 with sporadic raids by four-engined Flying Fortress B-17’s operating from Australia and re-fueling at Port Moresby. Major aerial hostility did not start until late 1942 when the U.S. 5th Air Force achieved a worthy strength, and airbases were opened up on New Guinea Territory. The jungle wreckage find in 1945 was a bare aluminum nacelle and a bare aluminum airframe according to the veterans who actually saw the wreckage. In contrast, wartime allied aircraft were camouflage painted. I have been to USAAF wrecksites (B-24’s and a B-17) in Papua New Guinea and have seen wrecks of Japanese aircraft at their resting places at Madang and Kokopo. The museums in Port Moresby and Kokopo have aircraft out in the open. None exhibit the amount of corrosion described by Keith Nurse, “holed and filigreed.” It would be almost impossible for a wartime aircraft on New Britain to have corroded so badly after a maximum of three years. For Amelia’s Electra, it would have been there eight years. The bare aluminum cowling must have had a layer of impinged salt upon it to have been degraded so badly. Earhart was low over the sea after take-off from Lae until out of sight and she purportedly was also at 1000 feet whilst looking for Howland Island. Even today, wartime aircraft cowlings out in the open at Kokopo, near Rabaul close to the sea, do not exhibit that kind of corrosion.

Examining WWII Aircraft Wreckage at the Kokopo Military Museum


Part 1 – The Beginning | Part 2 – PNG History/Topography | Part 3 – Wreckage is Found
Part 4 – Tangible Evidence | Part 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
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