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Michael J. Claringbould
Historian, Author and Publisher

Claringbould grew up in Papua New Guinea and took an interest in aviation from his earliest school days. In the late 1970s he was instrumental with the discovery and recovery of A-20G "Hell'N Pelican". A pilot, researcher and author, Claringbould is the author of several books on the 5th Air Force and WWII Pacific history, He is also founder of Aerothentic Publications and partner of Pacific Ghosts, He has also discovered several important aircraft wrecks.

What Was The First Wreck You Visited?
Click For EnlargementI attended early school in Papua New Guinea. We were taught history which of course was Eurocentric. When it came to WWII I remember how things like Dunkirk, Churchill, Battle for Britain etc were emphasized. On the other hill from the school was an aircraft wreck. I remember asking all the teachers, "there was war here, why aren't you teaching us about that, and how did the aircraft on the other side of the hill crash ?". The teachers could not answer either question.

This question suddenly struck me, because it hit me with the realization that the first aircraft wreck I visited was one of the hardest to identify. It is the wreck referred to in Port Moresby in the first question, and pieces of it still lie on the hill on the other side of my former Primary School - then named Boroko East, now part of Port Moresby International.

In Grade 6 three of us carried the other wing tip back to my backyard. From photos I took in those days I know that the wreck is that of a P-40E. Years later, I confirmed it to be P-40E A29-109 used by the RAAF in the early defense of Port Moresby. There are vast numbers of USAAC aircraft lost in New Guinea for which there are no records. This normally occurred whereby no crew were lost in the incident.

Click For EnlargementFurthermore, no-one in the whole of Port Moresby had answers to the crashed aircraft either. I became seized with the idea of finding the truth. That has stayed with me ever since.  I've visited sites all across the Pacific, including Fiji where, believe it or not lies the wreck of P-39D in the jungles of Viti Levu!

Views About The Sanctity of Wrecks?
Click For EnlargementI used to think they should be left alone. Then I changed my mind. After recovering A-2G "Hell'N Pelican" 42-86786 I changed it back again and wished we'd never lifted it from the jungle. Now I'm happy that we did. I'm afraid this is an emotive subject on which there are differing and passionate views, and most of which have a sound basis, even differing views. It is also a political matter.

Salvage of aircraft from the Pacific environment is the most difficult thing I've ever done. It is never easy. It is always expensive. The key word however is RISK. We were lucky to salvage The Hell'N Pelican in 1984. We came close to losing the entire ship, not to mention some of the team. Good question Justin, but you probably don't have enough space on your server for me to let fly on this issue! As to restoration, just one word - expensive.

Advice For Searching For MIAs
Click For EnlargementThis is a difficult question. The area is so esoteric, and very much misunderstood. The MACR is only the first calling card, for American USAAF wrecks. Once you obtain that you need an understanding of the unit involved, what was going on around at the time, the circumstances of loss etc etc. In some cases the site was discovered just post-war, but not reported. My recommendation is to contact me in the first place and I can at least put them in the right direction. I hasten to add that despite the enormity of my data bases, there are often cases with which I can offer no assistance at all. Paperwork in those days was not a strength of the units concerned. The reality is that they were more concerned with fighting a hostile enemy in a hostile environment.

I regret that the US government could do more to recover its lost airmen. I want to make it clear from the start that I regard the US military organization primarily responsible for this action: US Army CILHI / JPAC in Hawaii - to be completely professional. Put simply however, they could do with more funding. They are being asked to do an impossible job with a limited budget.

Some relatives are impatient with their perceived slowness, but I'm more than impressed with what they are achieving with what they've got. Their Director Johhnie Webb commands fine recovery teams, but at the same time shoulders a vast burden of responsibility towards the safety of these teams. And, in addition to WW2 they are reclaiming remains from North Korea, Vietnam . . . and everywhere else. I regularly consult with them, and them with me. Their field trips must high standards, and they do just this. I think what impressed me most when I visited them recently was their high morale and motivation. Fine people.

Click For EnlargmentDiscovery of Guadalcanal Wildcat
In 1998, I discovered the wreck of one of the US Navy's most famous aircraft wrecks: the first American aircraft shot down during the Guadalcanal campaign on 7th August 1942: F4F Wildcat 5192.  

Two weeks after the discovery, Saburo Sakai the Japanese pilot who had shot down the aircraft, Japanese ace Saburo Sakai, was presented with a small piece of the aircraft as a souvenir. Read an excerpt from Saburo Sakai's autobiography, about this dogfight. You Justin, are the only other person who I have told about the site. I wanted you to visit it so it could be properly documented by Pacific Ghosts.

Tell About Writing Your Books
Read ReviewBlack Sunday took eight years of research, although books take me less now as I have refined the process. They are still highly demanding. In a nutshell once the concept for a book is there I draw on veterans diaries (and recollections - with great care), official records and the plethora of contacts I now use world-wide. My sources are the best in the world. This is no boast. The numbers of those on the planet with serious interests in the aerial Pacific war are limited. We all know each other, and it's a small world.

Read ReviewIf I have an unanswered query or need to clear up a point I consult the world expert. For example, for a B-25 technicality I contact historian Bob Haney, for one on a Japanese air unit, author Henry Sakaida. For official records, the folks at US Army CILHI.

I should add that sometimes we are in disagreement over a point. There is no animus in such cases. We each state a viewpoint, sift the evidence, and publish what we think is best. If I am unclear on a point in my books, I will say so. This is considered a risky policy by larger publishing houses, but Aerothentic considers it a necessity.

For example, I am still in disagreement with authority John Stanaway over the date of a certain P-38 loss. John however has a diary extract which proves his point. I have no prime source documentary evidence for my case and still think I'm right, but time will tell. John is a classic example of my world-wide contacts. We've never met, but have exchanged occasional correspondence for the last ten years or so.

As with any publishing, there is always a compromise between expediency and historical accuracy. I operate Aerothentic Publications 'history for history's sake'. I have turned down offers from five major US publishing firms to write for them simply because I don't have the time. Aerothentic is about interesting and accurate history. That takes time, and lots of it. Now, the books are available via Pacific Ghosts.

Any Regrets Or Future Aspirations?
Click For EnlargementFirst, that history has lost the true flavor of the Japanese side of the air war. Most of the units were decimated, and so almost no veterans survive. Saburo Sakai is an example, but he is also a huge exception. Sakai was Navy however, and the Japanese army units were more badly decimated than their Navy counterparts. There are many intact Japanese aircraft in the Pacific. I have argued with many on this, but I maintain that in most cases our knowledge of their history will only ever be superficial.

Second, that so little of worth has been written on the Pacific air war due to the Eurocentric focus of US WW2 history. The men who fought there deserve better. There is another factor which is slightly more subtle. I constantly come across veterans who will tell me that this is the first time they have discussed their war with anybody. I know that there are many ETO vets in the same boat, but I genuinely believe that the unusually harsh conditions of the Pacific lent themselves to a post-war era in which the Pacific veterans kept to themselves more than their European counterparts because of what they had been through. Tome (and I'll get shot for saying this) the ETO was mostly aerial trench warfare in the skies. The Pacific theatre was anything but . . .

One aspiration: That one day clear recognition will be given to the efforts and sacrifices made by all in the Pacific war.

Thank you for the interview, Mr. Claringbould

Last Updated
May 22, 2017

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  Pacific Wrecks Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to bringing home those Missing In Action (MIA) and leveraging new technologies in the study of World War II Pacific and the Korean War.  
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