John Douglas January 2003 Wreck Diary
Port Moresby Development & Wreck Discovery
In Port Moresby's Fairfax Harbour; there is a Oil refinery being built. At the moment they are constructing a wharf. The traditional landowners are geting some casual work there and one also works for me as a driver/Mechanic and occasional wreck tech. He advised me,just before the new year that a barge working on site had snagged on an aircraft wreck with its anchor.
I imediately knew which wreck [more or less] this was. In February 1942, while the battle lines were still being defined in the south pacific, a swarm of Zeros from Rabaul had made a raid on Port Moresby.Acting on previously gathered data, they cleared their guns on an old shipwreck on the reefs offshore, and swooped on several RAAF Catalinas anchored in the harbour. Two were set on fire and sunk, while a third was damaged. One of the zeros was shot down [the first over Port Moresby] and the pilot survived,was sent to Cowra, where he was killed in the breakout there later on.
I went out early in the new year and dived the wreck.Its a partially melted Catalina just offshore from the refinery site. The cockpit is fairly tidy, but the wings have collapsed onto the main body as a result of the fire, and the rear section is mostly burnt out. The Elsan toilet survived intact! Viz was not great, but I subsequently heard of another diver who had gone to the site before me, when conditions were much better, and the vizibility was then about 30 feet. Also, the first
This to me is an historic wreck, one of two destroyed in Fairfax Harbour by enemy action. There are several other plane wrecks about, but they were lost in training or non operational activities.Port Moresby endured well over 150 Japanese airraids. The other Catalina has still to be located, and this wreck is on of the remaining relics of this time. Its causing a bit of debate,with the local divers [and historians] wanting to protect it as a good dive on a historic wreck, while the refinery wishes to see it removed. some discussion at a high level is occuring even as you read these words .Watch this space...
I also spent ten days working at a Goldmine in the Ramu Valley, near Gusap this month as a consultant. Such trips are always a good chance to ask the locals a few questions about wrecks!.I'm looking for a USAAF P-39 that went missing on a flight from Shaggy Ridge [a major Australian / Japanese battlefield] to Nadzab, on behalf of the pilots brother; so I'm looking for any clues relating to plane wrecks in this area. I thought that I had found the wreck this time. The P-39 pilots crash details emerged shortly after the war, but the site has been lost since then. It seems that his remains were located and possibly buried by Australian forces ,at some unknown location. I received a story of a plane, that had crashed and burnt in this area, with the locals advising that they had recovered the badly burnt body of the pilot and handed the remains over to Australian forces at nearby Kiapit.
However the plane is a P-47; not a P-39. This wreck will be a challenge to identify, due to its shattered condition, and a certain amount of scrapping that has occurred.There are 6-8 MIAs flying P-47s in this area who are canditates, and my feeling is that this is a MIA plane. There are no other wrecks of P-47s on my files in this area. I see that some twisted MGs survive, and often the later war records list MG serials of missing planes, so it may be possible to identify this wreck. If it is an MIA, then a hunt will occur to locate his buried remains, which could be at Kiapit or as an unknown airman in one of the offical cemetries in the Pacific.
When I left the goldmine, I left a disposable camera with one of the local villagers ,who knew of a wreck,in the forrested foothills over the Ramu river from the old Gusap strip. I'll pick up the details on my next visit.
John Douglas writes WWII wreck related new briefs for Pacific Wreck Database from his home in Port Moresby. Learn how to help Douglas' efforts and Wreck 'Tec network, donate your old 35mm camera, video equipment or financial help - support this effort!
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