Tell a little about yourself
and your background
I 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
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
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?
The 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
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
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.
Tell about your
work with American MIAs
Since the mid 1970's I have worked closely (at times) with the US
Army CILHI and
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.
My 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".
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
Army CILHI in May. There were only a few relatively small pieces
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.
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
feel. It may have disintergrated in flight.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
was exported. They chose to do nothing. Most of the material
came from Finschaffen. It was excavated and stored by a Melbourne
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
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.