During the 2nd World War (1939 – 1945) Townsville became a major Military Base – supporting the 3 Defence Services – Navy, Army and Air force.
At that time, Australia, which has a land mass similar in size to North America, had a total resident population of approximately 6.5 million people. Today – that number has increased to around 22 million.
Townsville – situated on the east coast and to the north of the State of Queensland was a city of 25,000 people. The present population is 140,000 and remains a major Military Base and Training Area for Australian and visiting Forces.
As hostilities progressed the USA was called on to assist the Allies. By early 1943 the Japanese forces were moving south towards Australia, via New Guinea.
With the advent of the influx of Australian Troops moving north, and the huge numbers coming in from the USA – Townsville grew almost overnight to become home to over 100,000 local residents and service personnel.
In December of 1942 the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) formed a number of new (additional) Air Force Units. One of these was the 345th Bomb Group. This Group was made up of 4 Squadrons of ‘medium’ bombers – B-25 Mitchell aircraft. The Squadrons were the 498th, 499th 500th & 501st.
At about the same time the USA formed their 5th Air Force and selected the Queensland Capital City of Brisbane Australia as its Head Quarters. Being designated an Air Force meant that it was a ‘self sufficient’ operation in its own right – being fully equipped and managed from within Australia. This USA 5th Air Force was to be responsible for the war effort in what was referred to as ‘The South West Pacific Battle Area’. This area took in Australia, New Guinea and the Coral Sea. Townsville was selected as its northern out post.
In April of 1943 the 345th Bomb Group were sufficiently trained and equipped to enter the war. With additional temporary fuel tanks fitted into their bomb bays – the first wave of aircraft began their journey to Australia. Unlike the modern aircraft of today – these planes were much slower and less fuel efficient – which meant they had to ‘Island hop’ across the Pacific Ocean – landing on primitive airstrips on some very small islands – where fuel stocks had already been shipped in for them.
The first contingent of aircraft arrived – firstly to the Archerfield (Brisbane) Air Force Base and then on to Amberley Air Base near Ipswich. After regrouping they then moved on to a new wartime base at Woodstock out side Townsville where they acclimatised to the Australian conditions and prepared to move into battle in New Guinea.
After only a short time in battle against the Japanese shipping it was realised that the B-25 Medium Bomber was not suitable for this type of warfare. So it was decided that all of the 345th Bomb Group aircraft (approx 80 in total) would return to Townsville for modification. This work was carried out at the USAAF 4th Air Depot – a huge workshop complex that was set up along what is now Duckworth Street – in the area between Bayswater Road and Dalrymple Road. This meant that aircraft ‘drove’ down Duckworth Street from the Garbutt Air Base (the current Air Port) or from the Stock Route Air Strip, which later became Dalrymple Road, as we know it today. The path from the Garbutt Airfield also involved aircraft crossing the very busy main north –south highway and the equally busy main coastal railway line.
It should be realised that there were a number of landing strips and facilities around Townsville by this time – to accommodate the huge number of Aircraft that were either based here or in transit to or from New Guinea. These included – the Garbutt Airfield, the Stock Route Air Field (Dalrymple Road), The Bohle Airfield (which is now the Bohle Drag Racing Strip on Shaw’s Road), the Weir Strip (Ross River Road near the Weir School), another complex was in the area where the Murray Sporting Complex is now. These were complemented by fully equipped facilities at Anthill Plains, Woodstock, Reid River and Charters Towers.
The 4th Air Depot (Duckworth Street) was a massive facility capable of affecting all kinds of aircraft assembly, repair and maintenance. This included the modifications required on the 345th aircraft – where by the planes were fitted with an array of 50 cal guns – thus converting them to ‘strafers’. This weaponry was of sufficient firepower to be able to cut a ship in half. At the same time as this modification was occurring the US had developed a ‘skip bomb’. This was a bomb that was dropped from almost water level and skipped across the water to the target (the Japanese Shipping).
During the course of these modifications being carried out, some of the crew were allowed to take R & R (rest and recuperation) leave. There were normally 5 crewmembers for each Bomber.
At approx 5.00am on Saturday the 7th of August 1943, 20 men from the 345/500th Squadron, 1 from the 345/499th and 2 men from 347/67th Fighter Squadron (23 in total) boarded a C-47 Transport Aircraft at the Garbutt Air Field (Townsville Airport). This C-47 from the USAAF 317/40th Transport Squadron was ‘crewed’ by 4 men – 2 Pilots, an Engineer and a Radio Operator. The aircraft – C-47, S/N 41-7733 took off with 27 US personnel on board.
Shortly after take off, as the plane was gaining altitude, it some how lost power and crashed in to the sea – into Cleveland Bay in the vicinity of the mouth of Alligator Creek – just off the coast line from Townsville. There were no survivors.
Sadly – this disaster was not the end for these unfortunate victims. The US Authorities had long been allocated a separate section of the Townsville Cemetery, as a resting place for their fallen. This section was suitably adorned with a flagpole complete with a Bald Eagle atop. The upper section of that flagpole still exists, relocated to a Boy Scouts Den. The lower section was also moved to a local Military Site, and is now surrounded by large brass plaques that commemorate the US War effort in the South West Pacific Region.
While the Townsville Cemetery records are rather vague, I have no doubt the victims of this crash were initially buried there along with hundreds of their comrades in arms.
In 1945 the US Military made the decision to relocate all their fallen to one site, and declared that a section of the Ipswich Cemetery (in the south of Queensland) would become their Australian War Cemetery.
A mammoth project was then embarked upon – and all bodies were exhumed from Cemeteries across the whole State, and reburied there.
When hostilities ceased at Wars end – the remains of all those now interred in the Ipswich facility, were again exhumed and after a fitting parade and service they were placed aboard a ship and finally taken home.
During the whole war period there was over 200 crashes in the Townsville Area (Ayr – Townsville – Ingham – Charters Towers). Another 200+ in Australian air space north of Ingham (Ingham to New Guinea) and approx the same number (200) in the area along the east coast of Australia south from Ayr.
Of those very costly (in human sacrifice) – in the 5 worst aviation disasters in Australia's short history, Numbers 1, 2 and this event as number 5, were all USAAF aircraft. Ironically – all 3 disasters occurred in the northern part of Queensland and within the same 6-month period of 1943.
While there was a large number of aircraft crashes and associated loss of lives, this event was somewhat unusual and more specifically devastating than the others.
Unusual in that most on board were from the same Squadron (345/500th) and, as fate would have it – each man belonged to a different aircraft flight crew. That is almost one from each of the 345/500th Bomber aircraft. This resulted in a situation where not only had the Squadrons manpower been greatly depreciated, but they were left with almost no aircraft that had a full crew complement. It was then a major task to find and train new men to bring their aircraft back to an operational standard.
The 345th Bomb Group was disbanded at the end of the War. Since that time – over 60 years on – the men from the 345th and in particular the 345/500th Squadron have maintained a very active Social Association, where by they (those that still survive today) hold regular reunions and produce a quartley newsletter and generally support each other in their old age. The Association leaders have also demonstrated great foresight, and have progressively and actively encouraged relatives of those who served – to join their Association. This initiative will no doubt guarantee that the memories and deeds of the 345/500th will live on for generations to come.
Not unlike the 345/500th, the memory of those taken in this disaster
will also live on – both at home and abroad. They will be remembered here
in Townsville Australia, by way of a fitting Memorial and regular Commemorative
Orders for the 1st wave of aircraft
Does anyone recognize these people?
The 4th Air Depot in 1943
The 345th Bomb Group aircraft are parked here, for modification to straffers.
Newspaper article about Tal Epps visit.
Tal Epps standing beside the Townsville RAAF museums main building which was
the WW2 Garbutt Airfield Gate House
Peter Murray, Tal Epps, Scott Roby
Tal Epps telling is story to the school group in the above newspaper article and interested parties.
Displays in the Townsville Australia Museum
One what I had published in the Townsville Newspaper (Townsville Bulletin) back August 2003 - when I first started this research project. The Bulletin published the cartoon on the same day - the 60th Anv of the crash. The photo is of a Mr Peter Aramiti - the guy who got me started - by showing me the entry in Warpath Across the Pacific. To that point he only thought there was 21 lives lost - not the 27 as I later discovered.
The other is a program of events planned for our City's 60 Anv of the end of the War Celebration/Commemoration - with the C-47 crash Memorial set down for Dedication on the Sunday 14th August.
LIVING HEROES – VP60
August 12th to 15th 2005 Living Heroes – VP60
is a Townsville City Council event that will mark the 60th anniversary
of the end of World War II and commemorate our veterans. It follows successful
events such as Coral Sea 92 and VP50, in 1995. The four-day celebration
will be staged from Friday 12, through to Monday 15 August, 2005.
Following is an initial program that has been designed in consultation with the RSL, Defence organisations and the Townsville community.
FRIDAY 12TH AUGUST
Troop Train and Historic Military Vehicle Convoy Arrival
Veterans will travel between Brisbane and Townsville in the tradition of a Troop train, followed by a convoy of Historic Military Vehicles for the commencement of celebrations.
“Reveille” Welcome Reception
An early evening reception hosted by the Mayor of Townsville Cr Tony Mooney.
SATURDAY 13TH AUGUST
Jezzine Barracks Open Day - An open day at Jezzine Barracks hosted by 11th Brigade.
Living Heroes Street Parade
Veterans and their families will take pride of place in the Living Heroes Street Parade along The Strand.
Salute to Living Heroes – VP60 Sky Show
A spectacular aerial display along The Strand culminating in the largest pyrotechnics display ever staged in North Queensland.
SUNDAY 14TH AUGUST
A Series of Commemorative Events
Commemorative events including historical site tours, unit reunions, dedication memorials and ceremonial events.
MONDAY 15TH AUGUST
VP60 Day Celebrations
A VP Day Dawn Service of Remembrance. Followed by a Veteran’s morning tea and re-enactment of the 1945 Peace Announcement in the Townsville Mall.
A schedule of complimentary events hosted by official partners will be confirmed no later than May 30th.
All travel bookings can be made with Harvey World Travel Townsville, phone 07 4772 3423.
Program Enquiries And Registration:
VP60 Office, PO Box 1268, Townsville QLD 4810
Phone: 07 4721 4000 Fax: 07 4721 4002
Just a progress report on the plans to commemorate those lost in the 1943 USAAF C-47 tragedy off Townsville, Australia.
Firstly an overview of the complete Townsville VP60 program can be found on numerous Web Sites (either within the site or via the links section) which will lead back to http://www.townsvillepresents.com.au/ At this stage the program shown is very much a broad brush one - but you will see that Sunday 14th August is set down for Memorial Dedications. And the C-47 dedication will be on that day.
I was provided an update by the Mayors Office yesterday.
And that included advice that they had received a tentative acceptance from the current head of the US 5th Air Force (sorry I didn't note his Name or Rank) - for his attendance for the overall 4 day event and in particular to be present at the C-47 Memorial Dedication.
While its yet to be fully confirmed - there is good prospect that he will be accompanied by a 5th Air Force 'Colour Party' (that will be afforded the traditional ceremonial 'Freedom of the City') and its also expected the 5th Air Force Band will be bought out.
That Band is well remembered for their performance during our City's VP50 Celebrations in 1995.
Council has commissioned an expert to present a couple
of Memorial designs and its hoped they will be available for selection/choice
in the coming
The actual Memorial site is still awaiting full formal approvals - which (again) are expected to come thru very soon. The preferred site is in a location known locally as Kissing Point. This is a raised headland that forms part of one of our Army Facilities, actually the first one ever established in Townsville. A site specifically chosen (back then) because of the fact it provided an expansive view of our immediate coast line and Cleveland Bay.
Its that reason that we have chosen it again for this Memorial. The complete flight path of the ill-fated C-47's final 10 N/Mile flight can be traced form this vantage point. Another important significance is it is the site of another Memorial - one that commemorates the whole US Military involvement in/with Townsville during WW2. That Memorial is built around the base of the very flag pole (relocated in 1992) that the victims of this disaster were buried under - when it stood in the then US Military Section of the Townsville Cemetery.
Some time ago I was approached to assist with another
aircraft crash Memorial. That of a RAAF Catalina that also crashed into
Cleveland Bay - with the loss of 13 lives. That project in now also taking
shape and it would appear it might also be located in the same Kissing
Point Precinct and also be dedicated on the same day. That will finally
see both disasters (the worst single US Airforce, and the worst single
RAAF disasters to occur in the Townsville region) formally and permanently
recognised. If it is possible to have them located adjacent to each other
- I think carries another little something - that lives were taken while
supporting each other
in War, their lives were taken in the same location, - and now their being remembered together.
So all in all - things are taking shape quite nicely - and its expected that formal information and invitations will be sent out from the Mayors Office in the near future. Unfortunately this has not happened earlier as I would have preferred - however I think we all understand that in this day and age things like this have to wind their way thru the formal and complex maze of procedure and process.
Attached is a rudimentary slide show (some of you will have already seen this) - which follows the path of the C-47's final flight. Points of note - the Garbutt Airfield, the Townsville Cemetery and Kissing Point is also highlighted.
Peter R Murray
24 Pankina Street
Ph (07) 47745355
I snapped the attached photos at a local Hobby Expo held this weekend in Townsville.
All 345th Aircraft - albeit modelled on 499th & 501st Sqdn ships. I actually know the modeller - and he is a big 345th fan - with other models under construction hopefully of the 500th.