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Amelia Earhart Myths from the Pacific War

Background:  On July 2, 1937 Model 10 Electra 1055 piloted by Amelia Earhart with navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae Airfield, New Guinea and was never seen again. Earhart's last radio message was estimated to be within 200 miles of her destination Howland Island. Most likely, she ran out of fuel and perished at sea or in the crash. Since no confirmed evidence of her aircraft or remains has ever been found, myths have emerged about her, related to the Pacific War.

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Amelia Earhart Myths from the Pacific War

 

Spy for President Roosevelt
Claim:  Amelia Earhart's around the world flight was cover for her to spy on the Japanese.

Facts:  The Japanese cooperated in Earhart's search.
During July 1937, relations between Japan and the United States were still favorable. When she was reported lost, the Japanese assisted with the search. Japanese oceanographic survey ship Koshu assisted in the 1937 search in the Mariana Islands, but failed to find anything.

When Emperor Hirohito's younger brother, Prince Nobuhito Takamatsu, a staff officer at the Naval General Staff, received the news of Earhart’s disappearance, he persuaded Fleet Admiral, Prince, Fushimi Hiroyasu to order Kamoi to search for Earhart. The order contained no information about where she was lost, and a few hours later, was canceled.

In a larger historical context, during 1937, the Japanese Army and Navy were heavily committed in China, and not interest in provoking the United States. After the attack on the USS Panay during December 12, 1937, the Japanese quickly apologized and paid reparations to the United States less than four months after the incident. In this climate, if the Japanese had a personality like Earhart, why would they hold her? Finally, when the Japanese did capture a high level spy (like Richard Sorge) he was offered for trade on three occasions to the Soviet Union.

Likely, the 1943 Hollywood movie Flight for Freedom likely spawned a myth that Earhart was spying on the Japanese in the Pacific at request of the Roosevelt administration, as part of the plot of this fictional movie. By 1949, both the United Press and U.S. Army Intelligence had concluded this rumor was groundless.

No documentation at the F. D. Roosevelt Presidential Library supports the claim that Earhart was asked to spy by President Roosevelt. Jackie Cochran, an aviatrix and one of Earhart's friends, made a postwar search of numerous files in Japan and was convinced the Japanese were not involved in Earhart's disappearance.

 

 

Guadalcanal & Tulagi
Claim:  Amelia Earhart was spotted alive during 1943 on Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

Click For EnlargementFacts:  New Zealander Merle Farland was a nurse assigned to the Methodist mission in the Solomon Islands during 1938. When civilians were evacuated from the Solomons in 1942, she decided to say at her post on Vella LaVella, and was 36 years old. She aided coastwatchers and helped downed Allied airmen. Later, she was evacuated to Guadalcanal. Her appearance started a rumor that Amelia Earhart had been found alive!

References
Lonely Vigil page 138-139: "At Tulagi and later Guadalcanal, where she stayed overnight awaiting transport to Noumea, she caused something of a stir. She was after all the only woman among 30,000 troops and it was quite understandable when one malaria-wracked boy glanced up from his stretcher and declared 'Now I know I am delirious'. As other caught a glimpse of her pert look the tousled hair a new rumor swept the island: Amelia Earhart had been found alive."
New Zealand in the Pacific War page 31 (oral history of Dr. Author Talbot, who Farland worked with)

 

 

Saipan
Claim:  Earhart and/or her Electra were captured by the Japanese on Saipan. There are several variations on this story, from several military veterans and authors.

In 1987, US Army postal unit Thomas E. Devine wrote Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident which includes a letter from the daughter of a Japanese police official who claimed her father was responsible for Earhart's execution. He believes he witnessed the burning of Earhart's Electra on Saipan in 1944, torched apparently on order of the US Secretary of the Navy.

U.S. Marine Robert Wallack claimed he and other soldiers opened a safe on Saipan and found Earhart's briefcase.

U.S. Marine Earskin J. Nabers claimed that while serving as a radio operator on Saipan in 1944, he decoded a message from naval officials which said Earhart's aircraft had been found at Aslito Airfield, that he was later ordered to guard the aircraft and then witnessed its destruction.

In 1966, CBS Correspondent Fred Goerner wrote The Search for Amelia Earhart claiming Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed when their aircraft crashed on Saipan while it was under Japanese occupation.

In 1990, Unsolved Mysteries included an interview with a Saipanese woman who claimed to have witnessed Earhart and Noonan's execution by Japanese soldiers.

Facts:  No independent confirmation or documentation has ever emerged for any of these claims. Photographs of Earhart during her captivity have been identified as either fraudulent or having been taken before her final flight. The "grave of the two aviators" was investigated by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) during November 2004 and failed to find any bones.

Commentary on the Saipan Theory
Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR adds:
"There are dozens of WWII veteran's accounts of alleged Earhart-related incidents and most follow the same pattern. An enlisted man discovers something - a briefcase or a log book in a safe, a photo taken from a Japanese prisoner, a grave pointed out by a local witness to Earhart's execution, etc. He brings it to the attention of an officer who takes custody of the object or site and swears the finder to secrecy. The enlisted man never hears anything further and after many years decides he must come forward with what he knows. There is never a photo or a receipt or even the name of the officer - just a good story. The veterans aren't lying. They sincerely believe that the recollections they have are accurate. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren't - but without hard evidence there is no way to tell."

Author Bruce Petty adds:
"When I lived on Saipan, I used to get all sorts of e-mail and letters from people--some WWII vets asking me what I knew. In some cases, vets and islanders had stories to tell, but none that could be substantiated. I argued with the HPO and others when we lived there that if in fact Earhart and Noonan were held in the jail on Saipan and then later executed there, then they should do an extensive excavation of the grounds around the jail and the nearby--now abandoned cemetery--the same cemetery where the remains of F6F navy pilot Woody McVay was found. However, my suggestion was never followed up. If I were you, I would stick with 'Most likely, she ran out of fuel and perished at sea or in the crash,' and leave it at that.

I read The Search for Amelia Earhart, and I also know the Saipan native who was quoted in a magazine article that led Goerner to research and write the above book. In the 1990s, when I was researching my book Saipan Oral Histories of the Pacific War, I flew to California and interviewed this woman. She is the younger sister of Juan Blanco, one of the people whose stories in my Saipan book (page 27). The woman's husband also happens to be the brother of Vicky Vaughan, another person whose story is in my Saipan book (page 17). I interviewed this woman and got absolutely nothing out of her that I could write about. I also know Manny T. Sablan, who was a messenger boy for the Japanese police on Saipan at the jail. His story is also in my Saipan book (page 34), and tells about the U.S. airmen held there, and he also served as Goerner's interpreter during his multiple visits to Saipan. He told me that he thought Goerner made up a lot of what appeared in his books due to the lack of solid information that just was not there."

 

 

Earhart made "Tokyo Rose" broadcasts as a prisoner
Claim:  Earhart had made propaganda broadcasts as as "Tokyo Rose" for the Japanese.

Facts:  Dozens of women broadcast propaganda for the Japanese and were collectively known as "Tokyo Rose" by the Allies. They played popular music and made propaganda broadcasts. No documentation of Earhart's use in Japanese propaganda broadcast was reported by US military investigations postwar, that charged other "Tokyo Rose" women. Postwar, this myth was also investigated by reporter George Putnam, who found no supporting evidence.

 

 

Emirau Island
Claim:  PT-Boater John O'Keefe reported that he found a photo of Earhart while stationed at Emirau Island

Facts:  The photograph O'Keefe found is not available for study. Prewar, Emirau had substantial European contact and settlement, including a mission station and copra plantation, both operated by Europeans. During 1940, approximately 500 men, women & children were placed ashore there after their ship RMS Rangitane was sunk.

 

 

New Britain Island
Claim:  During a 1945 patrol, Australian Army Corporal Don Angwin saw aircraft wreckage on New Britain, 40 miles southwest of Rabaul. He recalled seeing 'Pratt & Whitney' and finding a metal tag. After reporting the wreck, another member of his unit recorded notations on a map including 'Ref 600 H/P S3H1 C/N1055'. This map was acquired by Angwin in 1993. During 1990, after seeing a TV documentary about Amelia Earhart, he contacted researchers and told his story in several Australian newspapers. Angwin, who died in 2001, never refuted his belief that the aircraft wreck he saw in 1945 was Earhart's Electra.

Australian David Billings has searched for this wreckage based on Angwin's claim. Billings maintains a website AE Project: The New Britain Project to present his theory and raise funds for future searches. Contacted by email, Billings declined to be interviewed.

Facts:  No photographs of the metal tag are available for study. No photographic or physical evidence of Electra wreckage on New Britain has been presented.

Commentary on the New Britain Theory
Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR adds:
"It's amazing how this fish story has grown since I first became aware of it at least twelve years go in 1997. At that time, it was nothing more than a recollection by an Aussie WWII vet, Corporal Don Angwin, being on a patrol in the jungles of New Britain in 1943 and coming upon an airplane engine - no airplane, no wreckage, just an engine. He made some notes on a map case (which apparently still exists) of information he found on a data plate and made some inquiries when the patrol returned. He was told that the information indicated that the engine was a Pratt & Whitney Wasp. That, of course, was the kind of engine on Earhart's Lockheed Electra but it was also one of the most common light radial engines in the world. The strongest argument against Earhart coming down in New Britain is that it was a physical impossibility for her to get there from where she is known to have been at the time of her disappearance. She departed Lae with enough fuel for roughly 24 hours of flight time. Twenty hours into the flight, based on the strength of radio signals received by the Coast Guard [cutter Itasca] and her own position report, she was within 200 miles of Howland and 2,000 miles from New Britain with four hours of gas left. Unless she somehow managed a ground speed of 500 mph for the return trip (economical cruise for the Electra was 150 mph) she did not crash on New Britain."

Click For EnlargementMichael Claringbould of Aerothentic Publications and author of Leave Amelia Alone:
"If the data plate DID exist with the data: '600 H/P S3H1 C/N1055' then that is the serial number of the engine NOT the aircraft. NO engine carried an aircraft's serial as they were often interchanged."

Brian Bennett adds:
"B-17E 41-2429 wreckage was well scattered and was consistent with the aircraft having blown up in the air. From the lat/long position if you run a radius of about 500 metres then this will safely enclose the wreckage scatter of the B-17. This includes the area of interest of David Billings and his "Earhart Project". I was of the opinion years ago and still am that it is highly unlikely that the engine that David speaks of that is from the Electra that Amelia Earhart was flying--is in fact one of the engines from B-17E 41-2429. We were on site for two weeks and did not find all the wreckage let alone all the engines. The river is the Powell River or Henry Reid River."

Keith Hopper adds:
"The area where he believes it to be, is right on the Mevelo River, Wide bay, East New Britain. This the exact location where B-17E 41-2429 crashed August 7, 1942 exploded mid air. I have long suspected that the wreckage located by the Australian patrol in 1945 was probably related to Pease's B-17. Their were also Dutch Electras captured by the Japanese in Java, which MAY explain a possible Electra wreck in the Bainings Mountains near Mavelo River. One aspect of his search which amazed me, was his utter devotion to not sharing his thoughts with the local villagers of the area. All his in situ searches have been conducted without the help of local villagers. I could not have located ANYTHING in PNG without the help of the land owners."

There was an Australian Army Corporal Donald Arthur Angwin, WX27859.
The Australian War Memorial (AWM) collection contains only item PR01384 "a compilation of personal and official records relating to WX27859 Corporal Donald Arthur Angwin's investigation of a citation for an award for his service during the Cowra Breakout". AWM or National Archives Australia (NAA) has no other items in their collection related Angwin reporting an aircraft wreck.

There are Missing In Action (MIA) aircraft from World War II yet to be found in New Britain.
But, Amelia Earhart is not one of them. Her last radio message placed her within 200 miles of Howland Island (2,000 miles from New Britain). Any aircraft wreckage on New Britain is most likely from a World War II American aircraft wreck.

Many World War II aircraft used Pratt & Whitney engines in New Guinea
Aside from the Electra, Pratt & Whitney engines were used in many Allied aircraft types that operated in New Guinea during World War II including: A-20, B-24, B-26, C-46, C-54, DC-5, F4F, F4U, F6F, Ford Trimotor, OS2U, P-47, PV-1, SB2C-4, SOC and UC-64.

Other Electras did operate in New Guinea 1936-1943 but none were lost
Prewar, Electra VH-UXH operated from Wau and Port Moresby during September 1936 - October 1937. During 1941, Super Electra VH-ADT and Super Electra VH-ADS provided air service from Sydney to Rabaul during 1941.

PacificWrecks.comDuring the Pacific war, VH-ADT and VH-ADS participated in the evacuation of civilians from New Guinea during January to February 1942. Afterwards, VH-ADT continued to operated from Sydney to Port Moresby during February to March 1943. Three Electras: VH-UXH, VH-AEC and VH-AAU operated from Port Moresby and flying to Dobodura as an unarmed transports. No Electras were lost prewar or during World War II in New Britain or in present day Papua New Guinea.

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Last Updated
February 18, 2014

 

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