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Richard Leahy
New Guinea Heritage & History
Click For EnlargementThe Leahy name is synonymous with Papua New Guinea history and exploration. Richard Leahy lives in Lae, and over the past decades, has been involved in the discovery of dozens of WWII wreck sites, MIA sites and the work of U.S. Army CILHI / JPAC to recover remains to return them to the United States. On December 30, 2009 Richard Leahy was severely injured in the crash of Cessna A185E Skywagon P2-MJL in Morobe Province, PNG and made a full recovery in hospital.

Tell a little about yourself and your background
Click For EnlargementI was born in Sydney on June 22, 1941 on the day that Hitler invaded Russia. Returned to what was then the Territory of Papua New Guinea a few weeks later only to be evacuated with my mother (still going strong by the way) early in 1942 soon after Japanese took Rabaul. My Dad, Mick Leahy remained here, joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and spent the entire war working with General MacArthur's staff principally in New Guinea but later in the Philippines.

He was invited to be present on the USS Missouri for the signing of the surrender document by the Japanese. However his great priority was to return to his family and his business in New Guinea and he was I think actually demobilized in the Philippines. He may have returned to Australia first. The American Military subsequently awarded him the Medal of Freedom for his services with them during the war.

My father by the way was Mick Leahy who together with his brother Dan and Jim Taylor were the first white men to walk through the highlands west of Kainantu which had previously been penetrated by the Germans. Dad died (he is buried here) in 1979.

What got you interested in the WWII history of New Guinea?
Click For EnlargementThe single event that I recall as having formed the basis of my interest in WWII history with particular emphasis on the SWPA and Australia was a "picnic" dad took us on in 1947 when we lived in Lae. Together with my younger brother Tim and my mother we went out to Nadzab air base in Dad's jeep and had our picnic somewhere in the middle of what was then a huge number of Fifth Air Force Aircraft that were dumped (immobilized and scrapped) at the cessation of hostilities.

This resulted from the agreement made between aircraft manufacturers and the United States Military whereby following the end of hostilities almost all aircraft that were no longer required for any other purpose were to be immobilized and scrapped. Guns and ammunition were either buried or tipped into deep rivers or the sea. Instruments and radios were generally removed and shipped back to the U.S.. Aircraft were badly damaged by either simply pushing them into rows using bulldozers, or cut up using cordex. The dumps were then tendered out to scrappers and within a few years the great dumps of Jacksons, Nadzab and Biak (to mention only three) had disappeared almost without a trace. I do remember one P-38 at Nadzab that appeared to be almost undamaged. It had been pushed up onto other aircraft, it's airframe was not distorted. Many years later I purchased a quantity of black and white photographs from a New Zealander who flew around PNG in a Qantas C-47 in 1948. One photograph was of the Nadzab dump, and there quite clearly was my P-38.

Lae itself during the late 1940s was a little boy's heaven, and a mother's nightmare. There were tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition of all calibers laying around, mortar bombs, hand grenades, infantry weapons, trucks, jeeps, tanks and just about every kind of war machine material that you could possibly imagine. Of no particular interest at that time were the many hundreds of aircraft lost in the jungle and the sea.

You are a pilot yourself, mention a little about that
I started flying training at Lae in 1959 in a Tiger Moth operated by volunteers from Mandated Airlines and TAA. Finished my training at Archerfield Airfield in January 1960 and had a full Australian private pilot license by the end of January. I converted onto Cessnas at Bankstown Airfield during 1960. I bought a Cessna 182, VH-BVE from ANSETT / MAL in 1967. This aircraft was originally operated in PNG by Madang Air Services. Whilst owned by ANSETT if served as a runabout for the ledgendary Dick Glassey. Passed my Australian commercial in 1968 and was granted a service licence by the department in the same year. I flew the 182 commercially for three years and after that began to operate Cessna 185's. I still have one today and have chalked up around 15,000 on this type over the years. I have also operated Cessna 402s, 206s, Beech Barons and Islanders. My work flying light aircraft into small village airfields has enabeled me to enquire as to the existance of aircraft crash sites and it is by this method that most of my sites have been investigated. I have also visited a few Japanese aircraft but they do not seem to be particularly interested in recovery operations at this time.

Click For EnlargementTell about your work with American MIAs
Since the mid 1970's I have worked closely (at times) with the US Army CILHI and during the years since have been responsible for the location and repatriation of around thirty American MIAs and a small number of Australians as well. All have come from aircraft crash sites.

Click For EnlargementMy first "patrol" with them was to three sites in the Finisterre mountains. At the time I thought that I had "found" all three. This turned out not to be so. In fact the only one of the three that had not been located was a C-47A "The Fireball Mail" 42-24215 under command. of a Lt. Campbell. The other two did contain unrecovered human remains so the visit to these sites turned out to be worthwhile.

The other two aircraft were a B-25J out of Finschaffen and a C-46 Commando 44-78490. This CILHI team was commanded at that time by Colonel Bill Flick and Major Johnny Webb. I returned to this site at a later time with a CILHI team under Colonel David Rosenberg. We remained there for five days but only succeeded in making one complete recovery, a Corporel Drain. Previously we had recovered a small section of jaw bone and the forensic people were able to establish that it belonged to the pilot, Lt. Campbell. This site still remains "unrecovered".

Click For EnlargementMy next find of note was P-38H Lighting 42-66562 ten miles south west of Maralinen. He was on his way from Nadzab to Moresby. He had a passenger as well. This aircraft was being flown by Capt. William Gronemeyer, an experienced pilot who was on his way out on R&R at the time. I have often wondered what happened to him. The flight from Nadzab to Moresby is not a difficult one at all, especially in a high powered ship like a P-38. WWII pilots have told me that the gyro instruments they had in those days were notoriously unreliable. He also said that pilots were expected to remain visual, that they received an absolute minimum of instrument training. I have also been responsible for the finding of two B-24s in the Maralinen (Tsili Tsili) area. Both of these aircraft have been fully recovered.

Speak about your recent work with CILHI
I finally travelled to the Engati site with US Army CILHI in May. There were only a few relatively small pieces in the area and nothing with a number on it. I was however able to ID the aircraft as being a P-38F, a G or an H model due to the configuration of the fixed aileron trim tab. I had previously taken CILHI to this same site however it was some distance away, maybe half a mile. The pieces at that site also belong to a P-38 due to the shape of one of the main undercarriage trunions that we found. Same aircraft I feel. It may have disintergrated in flight.

Book InformationI have a Schiffer publication entitled Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien in Japanese Army Air Force Service, by Richard M. Bueschel. On the front cover is a painting depicting a Ki-61 and a P-38 going down in flames and a second Ki-61 and second P-38 still in one piece. On page two is a short account af this action by a JAAF Captain Onozaki who is flying the Ki-61 still in one piece. He describes the action as taking place over the Markham valley. It is my guess that the P-38 we have visited twice is this one. My theory only.

CILHI are investigating a report of what may be a B-24 in the Finisterres between Sialum and Kabwum. Altitude not known at this stage.This is quite exciting because in my opinion it may be B-24J 42-73185 which was lost returning from a weather run from Mokerang Airfield to Peleliu area. Two of the crew bailed out near Long Island and they observed the aircraft heading towards the Finisterres. This was on the 19th June 1944. We may know more about this by weeks end. I am not at all involved with this site unfortunately.

CILHI have recovered one of the B-24s that I mentioned. Since than another B-24 has been located in the same area bringing the number to three no more than twenty miles apart. Yet another B-24 has been located about ten miles south of Lae. This has not as yet been visited. This is the third.

With the re-establishment of good relations between North Korea and the U.S.,with the possibility of war with Iraq, CILHI have been recalled from PNG and at this time no recoveries are in progress at all. It is hoped that they may return sometime next year. PNG has an ever worsening law and order problem and this may have influenced their decision to move out. A new government has been elected since CILHI left but those of us who live here do not expect anything to change too soon.

My last actual find was an A-20G enroute Nadzab to Saidor following repairs at Nadzab. The pilot, the only occupant ended up twenty miles north of Nadzab on the side of a hill at 8000 feet. He has not yet been recovered. Am currently working on another site in the area and have issued my "searchers" with a cheap camera. So far no luck though due to the presence of a large and fast flowing river near the site. They have promised faithfully to return soon!

Speak about your documentation of wartime sites
I have been in regular correspondence with Bob Rocker since around 1990. He has sent me an incredible amount of WW11 material over the years and is at present working on a book on the Air War in the SWPA which should be out early next year. Incidently I have accumulated over 1,100 books on various topics but principally on WW11 in the SWPA. I digress! Bob works with the Seattle based WW11 artist Jack Fellows. Since getting to know Bob I have taken around 1,500 photographs of the various wartime air and battle fields in this area and sent them over to Bob and Jack. He prefers slides. Jack required these to provide him with accurate background material for his paintings. Jack is not as prolific as Robert Taylor, however his work is very good.

In 1994 (October) together with a friend from Lae and an Indonesian Air Traffic Controller we set out to take aerial slide photographs of all of the USAAF, JAAF and RAAF airfields from Wewak to Jeffman Sorong, then north west to Ternate and Morotai, south to Ambon, east to Ottowari and Babo, then to Naberi and back to Jayapura (Hollandia) via the big valley that runs past
Carstens Pyramid, (over 16,000 ASL) Freeport Copper and Wamena. I was greatly excited when I was able to fly close to and photograph Lake Habbema west of Wamena. This is where Archbold ran the now famous expedition using an early model PBY which supplied the team from Hollandia (now Jayapura). It was important to me for another reason, and that was that my late dad Michael
(Mick) Leahy flew past Lake Hebbema in a USAAF B-25 on his way from Merauke to Hollandia during the war. Dad was a Sqdn. Leader in the RAAF (non-flying,hated aeroplanes) but spent the entire war with an American construction unit under Colonel (later General) Leif Sverdrup.

Dad was well thought of by the Americans and was invited to join them on the USS Missouri for the signing of the surrender papers in Tokyo Bay. For one reason or other he did not go and was demobolised at war's end in Manila. Dad took a lot of photographs from the B-25 using a big old format B&W camera. A lot of these photographs were of the lake and surrounding snow covered countryside. All very exciting stuff.

Talk about your Travels in the Philippines
My trips to the Philippines do not yield too much in the way of WWII material. There are NO wrecked aircraft anywhere, all long ago sent to the smelters. I would like to carry out a similar flight around coastal Philippines filming and photographing the wartime airfields. However the Fillipinos make it very difficult for foreign aircraft to move around and I feel that it is not feasable. GPS has made it a simple matter to locate these old and overgrown sites.

Speak about recent recovery happenings in Morobe Province
I have photographs taken by myself in 2000 of an accumulation of aircraft wreckage that covered about three acres, was around ten feet high and ended up filling I think seven twenty foot sea containers. The lot I am led to understand went to the smelter. The Museum in Moresby knew about the existence and location of this dump long before it was exported. They chose to do nothing. Most of the material came from Finschaffen. It was excavated and stored by a Melbourne group who intended to export it later. Locals at Finschafen stole as much as they could and sold it to a Lae based scrap dealer. The Melbourne group were authorised to take what they wanted by both the Moresby Museum and the Land Owners at Finschafen I do know that the government (through the museum) and the local land owners end up with a hell of a lot more money by selling the sites to restorers and collecters than they get by allowing scrappers to take it.

What upcoming projects are in the Works?
The other bit of exciting news is that B-24D 41-23752 lost on January 1st 1943 returning from a raid on Rabaul from Iron Range via Moresby is being searched for at this time and could possibly be located at any minute. There is one MIA at this site, Carol E. Doner. This information was supplied to me a couple of years ago by Mike Claringbould a couple of years ago. I am working closely with Rodney Pearce. Together we have taken quite a bit of underwater video of a few of the thirty odd wrecks he knows about. These include Beaufort A9-217 ditched off Kawa Island that was so successfully recovered last March by an Australian team led by Wing Commander Griffiths. Rod's always on the lookout for ships and aircraft and works with the local villagers as I do.


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