View Full Version : WWII fighters disposed of in Pacific

14th May 2015, 05:09
I was browsing through a 20-year-old copy of "FLIGHTPATH" today and came across an article about how a reputed 1,000 US-made fighters of various types had been dumped into the Pacific Ocean off Queensland after cessation of hostilities. I remember hearing about this some time ago and I am interested to know what ever happened.

Apparently a Victorian company named International Aircraft Recovery were involved in discovering the aircraft (resting on the ocean floor at a depth of around 330 metres). The RAN was also involved in helping to identify the locations of the aircraft. Several orders were also apparently placed with IAR for aircraft to be subsequently recovered as it was said that they were in "extremely good condition" due to their being under 330 metres of water.

I expect that there will be many people out there who are familiar with this subject and who may be able to shed some light on what has happened, if anything, over the ensuing 20 years. Any further information would be welcomed.


14th May 2015, 07:37
They were mainly UK carrier aircraft on lend lease from the US. When the war ended, the US didnt want them back so over the side they went.

14th May 2015, 08:38
Several orders were also apparently placed with IAR for aircraft to be subsequently recovered as it was said that they were in "extremely good condition" due to their being under 330 metres of water.

Seventy years at the bottom of the ocean doesn't suggest that they're likely to be in "extremely good condition".

14th May 2015, 10:21
I share your interest, dghob!

This is one of 'those stories' that pop up in the press, then are never updated! I do recall the articles appearing a while ago but no further news following - quiet frustrating.

Yes, it's a fair point about condition after decades of salt water immersion but is corrosion perhaps inhibited by effects of depth, like cold, salinity?? I really don't know!

14th May 2015, 10:36
I've seen newsreel footage of aircraft being dumped off a carrier so the evidence is around. Think they were Wildcat/Martlet or similar.

14th May 2015, 14:35
The Lend-Lease Act of February 1941 was enacted by Roosevelt to supply war materiel to the Allies at little cost, or with some reciprocal payment or services, to aid the Americans. Once America entered WW2, the reciprocal services to the Americans took on a more important tone. For example, Australia made 3 new civilian hospitals available to the U.S. forces, to the exclusion of Australian civilians. Much free housing, free food, and sizeable buildings were given to U.S. forces for their use whilst based in Australia. This was regarded as a sizeable level of reciprocal payment by the U.S. for Australian L-L equipment.

When Roosevelt proposed Lend-Lease, he explained to the public and the press that his plan was comparable to one neighbor lending another, a garden hose to put out a fire in his home.
Roosevelt said, "What do I do in such a crisis? I don't say - 'Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it' - I don't want $15 - I want my garden hose back after the fire is over."
This indicates that Roosevelt fully intended serviceable items to be returned to the U.S after the War.

However, a substantial number of heads of American industry, pressured both senior politicians and important senior military leaders, to ensure that no Lend-Lease equipment was ever returned to the U.S - as they feared the massive supply of war equipment being returned to America would depress new equipment demand, and prices - for perhaps 10 years of more.

There was one final important factor that few foresaw - a desperate shortage of shipping at wars end. Practically every ship that could carry personnel and cargo, was pressed into service to carry nothing but military personnel, who were desperate to return home, seeing as the War was over - and many had been away from family and friends for 3 to 4 years or more. As a result, a lot of L-L equipment was often abandoned where it lay, as troops had only one desire - to go home and enjoy their well-earned peacetime.

As a result, the combination of pressure from industry heads and the shortage of shipping, saw vast amounts of U.S equipment dumped.
Having spoken personally to many WW2 veterans when they still had fresh memories, many spoke of the large amount of L-L equipment dumped.
The dumping, however, was often frantic, dependent on the attitude of the local CO, and ill-thought-out. Much L-L equipment was poorly stored and deteriorated rapidly after Wars end. A lot was simply stolen as soldiers abandoned areas they had occupied, and there were few people left to guard it.

In the Northern Territory of Australia, Willys Jeeps were driven into deserted semi-jungle areas, the engine oil drained and they were left running with a brick on the accelerator.
Trucks, items of plant, and other types of machines met a similar fate. Some were simply burnt where they stood. However, after all the Americans left, locals merely retrieved salvageable equipment and repaired it to working condition.

Many of these items of equipment were well-worn, having endured at least 2 and sometimes, 4 years of war use. However, there was a lot of new L-L equipment, that was in storage in warehouses.
Some of this was destroyed by dumping, a lot was just abandoned to the care of the Australian Govt. Where ships and crew were available, L-L items were taken from stores and warehouses, and dumped overboard in deep water.
The Perth Canyon, West of Fremantle, Western Australia, is one resting place for quite an amount of new L-L equipment. My father spoke of witnessing the loading of substantial amounts of L-L equipment in Fremantle Port during late 1945 and early 1946. There were a lot new Jeeps and trucks dumped, many still in corrosion-resistant coverings and coatings. The water depth in the Perth canyon varies between 700 metres and 4000 metres, and much of the underwater landform is very steeply-sloped.

However, the Australian Govt decided (possibly before the Wars end) to acquire as much of the useable L-L equipment that had survived the War, to assist in the post-War recovery and development of Australia.
There was also the issue of U.S military-owned equipment that had been abandoned in Australia at the end of the War - and the Australian Govt set out to purchase this as well.
Australian Govt representatives spent a great deal of time in the U.S in late 1945 and early 1946, endeavouring to come to an agreement for the purchase by the Australian Govt, of all the residual and salvageable L-L equipment and stores, as well as the U.S military-owned equipment and stores left on Australian territory.

The Americans demanded a huge sum initially for all this equipment and stores - much to the despair of the Australian Govt representatives. However, after an extended period of bargaining, the Americans dropped their asking price for the equipment and stores to a figure that was around 5-10% of the initial asking price.
The Australians then agreed to pay this purchase price, and once this agreement was in place, the Australian Govt then arranged to sell the equipment through the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, which had been instigated in 1944 to oversee an orderly disposal of War equipment.

This Govt agency oversaw the auctioning and placing out to tender, of every item of War Surplus, as well as Australian Govt items deemed as no longer needed in peacetime.
The CDC sales operated on a regular basis from 1945 to 1949.

Military aircraft and items such as weapons were deemed to be a major problem as regards disposal to an Australian civilian population, and thus, nearly all were either destroyed and sent to scrap dealers to be melted down - dumped at sea - stripped for valuable scrap metals and components - or just plain burnt.

As far as items on the seabed being in "good condition" after 70 years in that location - then ones definition of "good condition" must be stretched quite substantially to believe that.
Sea water is exceptionally corrosive and little remains but the outline of frames after 70 years on the seabed, even in "favourable" underwater conditions.

Demobilisation of the Australian military after World War II - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demobilisation_of_the_Australian_military_after_World_War_II )

tail wheel
14th May 2015, 22:54
dghob. My father witnessed the disposal of aircraft at sea after the war, north east of Brisbane. Don't know about 1,000 aircraft.

Over the years fishermen have recovered aircraft parts entangled in nets, one incident comes to mind which was reported in the Courier Mail some years ago. The parts recovered were far from "good condition"!!

14th May 2015, 23:51
There is one area of marine submersion that could possibly result in a repairable find after 70 years of that marine submersion - and that is, where the item is buried in fine sediment that encapsulates the submerged item. The Mary Rose is a good example of this.
In addition, if the particular submersion point was close to the shoreline, where fresh estuarine waters regularly enter the sea, then the salt content of the water is regularly lowered or diluted, thus reducing the corrosion effect of the sea.

I spoke to an old veteran many years ago, who was an engineer in WW2, and he was a Milne Bay veteran.
He related a story where he was instructed to drive a near-new Caterpillar bulldozer ashore from a landing barge, as the Milne Bay invasion was launched.
He said he was informed the ramp would be dropped as soon as the barge bottomed out, and the water would only be chest deep at most, and he was instructed to drive the bulldozer ashore and commence clearing areas for the landing of following armaments and war materiel.

He told me the ramp dropped, he gunned the dozer down the ramp, and off the end - and the dozer promptly went out of sight! - into soft, estuarine silt, that he reckoned was at least about 20 feet (6M) deep!
He baled out and struggled to get ashore as the silt provided poor footing - let alone a surface suitable for landing other heavy items such as weapons, tanks and trucks.
He informed me how he abandoned trying to get ashore and climbed back onto the barge, and was then quite vocal to the CO, about how "the water was chest deep, alright!! - but you forgot to tell me about the 20 feet of silt!!"

Apparently, there was some hurried decision making that entailed the barges reversing and moving to another landing point that provided more suitable underwater footing for the landing.
Of course, all this was due to inadequate intelligence, mapping, and other vital geographical information - a large feature of the WW2 New Guinea campaigns.

I often wonder how that bulldozer has survived as regards preservation, totally encapsulated in that fine estuarine silt. I often wonder what else is buried in similar fine silt, in many other campaign zones, where it was encountered.
It's entirely possible there may be valuable historic aircraft buried in fine estuarine silt and fairly well preserved - a la the Mary Rose - if they were wrecked in estuarine locations close to shore.

As regards the instructions issued to the ships crews dumping surplus WW2 materiel, vehicles, armaments and aircraft - they were told to dump the items in water depth that ensured that any recovery attempts by entrepreneurial types would be thwarted.

15th May 2015, 06:23
Wasn't it also the case that the so called Military Industrial Complex, which then as now wielded immense influence , gave the nod to the politicians to 'lose' all the equipment so that new (and profitable) equipment would need to be ordered from the tax dollar to replenish the forces and to be ready for the next devil at the time, namely Ivan and his communist hoards ?

As to preservation, the mud/silt encasement does have wonderful effects on certain materials, but I'm of the understanding that at deeper levels, the salinity of the water reduces and that combined with the very cold temperature and no UV leaves certain items minimally untouched by time. As long as the metal frame of the aircraft was intact and the ID plate intact it seems like they're good to go in terms of restoration projects. Those buried Spitfires in Burma that were never found, were apparently likely going to be in a right old state, yet had they been found were to be deemed authentic despite the majority of new components used in the rebuild.


16th May 2015, 11:51
During my time with Air Nauru in the 1970's and 1980's, we did weekly charters using a 737-200 from Noumea to Wallis island (a French protectorate). Wallis was a major US staging post during the Pacific campaign against the Japanese.

As the US moved through the various island chains including the Solomon Islands and the Japanese military threat to Fiji and Samoa diminished, much American military equipment was left behind and either given to the locals or simply dumped. Wallis island was one such staging base left as the Americans moved on.

I recall talking to elderly Wallis locals who said a lot of equipment was dumped into a large lake situated in the middle of the island. Seems the American military commander on Wallis island offered trucks, jeeps and other assorted stuff at extremely cheap prices to the French governor of Wallis. Being French I suppose, the Governor tried to barter low prices to the exasperation of the US Commander who couldn't be bothered with such nonsense especially as a dollar a jeep (or similar) was pretty generous to say the least.

In the end the US commander told the French Governor to belt up and arranged for all vehicles to be tipped into the lake. That is anecdotal from people I met at Wallis on several occasions but obviously I am unable to confirm its accuracy.

PS. During the period Air Nauru served Wallis Island, there was a French Navy Avro Lancaster abandoned beyond the runway which over-ran following brake failure in the 1960 era. Attempts were made by a couple of Air Nauru pilots (Barry Tate was the main instigator) to take the Lancaster back to Melbourne for the RAAF museum at Point Cook. Barry Coran who was a civilian wartime aircraft collector based in Melbourne at the time also did his very best to do the donkey work involved and the Australian Navy were also involved. The French consulate in Noumea were approached for permission to remove the Lancaster and in turn they advised authorities in France who until then didn't have a clue about the Lanc on Wallis.

A French museum at Le Bourget got into the act and claimed the Lancaster for themselves but didn't have a clue where to start. A couple of years later the owner of the land at the end of the runway at Wallis threatened to remove the aircraft off his property and destroy it unless something was done. He wanted to build a house there I think.

Meanwhile the Australians involved who had hoped to get the Lancaster to Point Cook were disappointed that the RAAF Museum weren't interested due cost and other things so they gave up trying. Eventually I understand the French Navy sent a vessel to Wallis where the Lancaster was dismembered and put on the ship to France. The Lancaster is still being restored to static display at le Bourget and I have been in contact until four years ago with those involved in its restoration. The last I heard and saw the photos was the cockpit and nose section has been fully restored. I have several old photos of the Lancaster taken at Wallis and when I have time I will place them on this forum. But even though the Lancaster never got a home in Australia, at least the efforts by Barry Coran led to the Lancaster being shipped to a good home instead of rotting away in the bush at Wallis island.

More here: http://www.pprune.org/aviation-history-nostalgia/450258-french-navy-lancaster-wu-21-accident-wallis-island-south-pacific-26-jan-1963-a.html


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16th May 2015, 15:41
My Dad's ship, HMS Venerable, dumped all its aircraft into the Pacific after VJ Day. They were Corsairs and Fairy Barracuda's, plus new crated engines.

He was told this was to protect industry, but it may be relevant that the ship then went to help with the evacuation of Singapore and the space in the hangar was required.

17th May 2015, 23:51
In connection with disposals like this as well as normal seen salvage, I've often wondered why nobody could see a source in all the engines alone :-/

29th May 2015, 01:19
From memory a Corsair was pulled up from one of the dumping grounds off the Sunshine coast sometime in the early-mid 90's. It looked to be in reasonable condition when raised and was placed in either a swimming pool or a custom built tank to keep fresh water circulating over it for some years. Eventually it was auctioned off, l cant remember to who but do remember looking at the auction pics and thinking that there wasnt going to be a lot left.
I guess it wasnt a great sucess because lm not aware of them going back for any of the rest that lay there. I belive flightpath covered most of the story over the years, but which issues l couldnt say.(If l get time l'll rumage through the old issues for a look)

25th Jun 2015, 17:29
I worked with some Australian salvagers in Yandina in the Solomons recovering 'live' 90mm naval cannon shells, (I believe each casing was 11lbs of brass), that were bulldozed off the stern of a beached ship.

There were 1,000s of them.