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by Barry Ralph
University of Queensland Press 2004
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The Epic Outback Search For The Crew Of Little Eva
B-24D "Little Eva" 41-23762 is one of the largest, least accessible and most well known World War II aircraft wrecks on Australian soil. Crashing in far north-western Queensland in December 1942, the fate of this Liberator’s crew is one of the great stories of human endurance during this perilous time.
I first read about this story in The Searchers, but it wasn’t until Barry Ralph’s recent book that I understood exactly what was involved in the aircraft’s first (and final) mission, it’s fate and the fate of the crew as well as the extent of the subsequent civilian and military searches.
Its crew of ten – Norman Crosson, Arthur Speltz, Dale Grimes, John Dyer, James Hilton, Grady Gaston, Charles Workman Jr, Edward McKeen, Loy Wilson and John Geydos Jr – had only just arrived at the Iron Range airfield in Queensland before taking part in their first operational sortie.
The mission to attack Japanese shipping off New Guinea on December 1, 1942 went terribly wrong and resulted in the aircraft being returning to Australia alone – and a long way off course. Of the ten aboard ‘Little Eva’, only three would survive the ordeal and eventually return home.
Barry Ralph includes research into the construction of the Iron Range field, the establishment of the U.S. 90th Bombardment Group (90th BG) "Jolly Rogers" and their early operations from the far flung airfield. Quite possibly the most interesting aspect of Ralph’s book is the research done into the searches for the aircraft and its crew that were conducted primarily by civilians and the Queensland Police - not the American or Australian military.
I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the ‘behind the scenes’ stories of aircraft wrecks in the Pacific, and those compelled by tales of human survival against the odds. Today all crew members of ‘Little Eva’ have passed on, though the remains of the aircraft still lay where it came to rest over 62 years ago.
Review by Daniel Leahy
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