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by Jim Eames
U of Queensland Press 1999
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and their endless quest for lost aircrews in the Southwest Pacific
This book is the story of a thousand Australian airmen remained unaccounted for at the war's end in 1945, and the story of the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) search unit responsible for search and investigation of MIA and crash sites in the years following WWII. As the author states in his introduction, this is a story without heroes, the main characters were ordinary men who formed the RAAF searcher party, and solved hundreds of MIA cases.
The Searchers goes on to profile fourteen searches and recoveries from the first in the late 1940's, to very recent cases, like that of B-24D "Beautiful Betsy" 42-40387 discovered in 1994 near Rockhampton. And, profiles on some of the most infamous crash sites, like the tragic legacy of C-47 "Flying Dutchmen" 41-18564 and the door diary written by the wounded crew until they died of injuries and exposure.
The book reveals how many crash sites were also murder cases - as Japanese executed captured aircrews in most areas of the South West Pacific. Only three airmen survived in Japanese captivity of those captured in all of mainland New Guinea and to the East of Java.
Each chapter begins with the particular aircraft's WWII mission history which in itself are interesting, often tragic stories of hardship and survival. Then, the aspects of the wreck's current history with the RAAF search efforts or developments in the case that brought these missing sights to light, and the laboratory and investigative work necessary to reveal positive identification of wreckage and remains.
This book is not designed as a handbook for visiting these wreck site. Chapters lack consistant details that wreck hunters or historians crave - serial numbers, GPS, site specific information, or transcripts of official documents or reports. Despite this, it is still a excellent read for the narrative value of the stories and for tales of the expiditions to these forgotten wreck sites.
For anyone interested in Missing In Action (MIA) cases or the investigative process involved with tracing down war wrecks and remains, this book is an excellent read. The WWII stories themselves are tragic reminders of the brutality of war, hand of fate and the treacherous terrain and impassable jungle and mountains that makes up the landscape of New Guinea.
Review by Justin Taylan
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