In early February 1942 an American single-seater aeroplane – low on fuel – force landed in a paddock on the Darling Downs west of Brisbane whereafter, the hapless pilot presented at a nearby homestead asking to use the telephone.
Two days later, at about 8 p.m. on Tuesday, 10th February 1942 an American Sergeant of Guard with three other Guards called at Jondaryan Police station (171 kms west of Brisbane) and informed the duty officer, Constable C Coop (2790), that they were endeavouring to locate one of their planes which they stated had made a forced landing thereabouts.
Having no knowledge of the incident, Coop immediately commenced inquiries and ascertained that an American plane had indeed force landed two days earlier in a paddock on Jondaryan Estates Station, just six miles from the Police Station.
After learning of this the Constable immediately telephoned Mr William Kent, Manager of Jondaryan Estates Station, who elaborated….
that an American [had] plane landed in the “Berry Bush Paddock”, on Jondaryan Station which is situated about six miles from Jondaryan at about 1pm on the 8th inst. and that an employee named John Coombs had been placed on guard at the plane in the night time, and that Pilot Holman, who was piloting the plane was guarding the plane during the day, and that the pilot was accommodated at Jondaryan Estates Homestead at night, and that the pilot was not injured and the plane was not damaged.
Since the plane was standing in about a foot of flood water in a black soil paddock it could be at least another week, Kent warned, before it could be towed out by tractor. He added that all traffic had been blocked from reaching the Station ‘owing [to] the Jondaryan Creek being in flood and water being 12 feet over the traffic bridge.’
The Sergeant of Guard also spoke with Pilot Holman at Jondaryan Station, the former satisfying himself ‘that everything was in order’. Since they could not get out to the plane, and as the pilot was uninjured, the Guard decided to return to their headquarters at RAAF Amberley, leaving pilot Holman in charge of the plane.
Kent, perhaps not unreasonably, had mistakenly assumed the Pilot had already reported the matter to Police when, on first reaching the Jondaryan Estate, he had immediately asked to use the station’s telephone. In the event it took another ten days for the paddock to dry out, Holman eventually departing for Amberley on 18th February 1942.
That, as far as Constable Cook was concerned, should have been the end of the matter – only its wasn’t. Although he had watched the plane disappear from view, its replacement pilot had barely flown 13 kilometers when he too was compelled – this time by engine trouble – to make another forced landing in a paddock north-west of Oakey.
Constable 3096 (surname illegible) from that town’s police station subsequently reported that:
…at about 1 pm. on Friday the 20th. instant, a single seater aeroplane was seen to circle over Oakey, and land to the North West of the township.
I later interviewed the pilot who informed me that his name is Lieutenant GIES, and that he was attached to the American Air Squadron at Amberley. He informed me that the aeroplane was the one that was down at Jondaryan through engine trouble, and that he had been there effecting repairs, and was intending to take same back to Amberley, when passing over Oakey the plane again developed engine trouble, whereby he had to make a forced landing. He requested that a guard be placed over the aeroplane, stating that he would go to Toowoomba, and thence to Amberley. He informed me that he had communicated with his head-quarters by phone and that a guard would probably arrive in Oakey at about 6 pm. that same evening.
I immediately proceeded to the scene, where I remained guard over the aeroplane until about 7-30 p.m. when Sergeant 2/C A.J. Logan arrived on the scene, with a local resident named Roy DAWSON, who has remained on guard since.
The aeroplane landed in a lucerne paddock in the property of Mr Francis BACH at ‘Woodbine’, Oakey. On landing the one [sic] wing structure two fencing posts which caused damage to one wing and other damage was caused to the plane.
Up to this time [i.e. Two days after the second forced landing] no American staff, or telephone communication has been received from them as to this aeroplane, or what they desire to be done with same.
A final report prepared by Sergeant A J Logan (1421) of the Oakey Police Station notes that the plane ‘was dismantled by members of the American Air Force and removed to Amberley on the 4th inst.’. It goes on to point out that…
The civil guard of Roy DAWSON was placed over this aeroplane on the verbal instructions given by Lieutenant GIES, of the American Air Force. He remained on guard for eight days, when he had to leave for other employment, the guard was taken over for two days by Alfred Wm. PORTWAY of Oakey, who was on guard for two days. Members of the R.A.A.F. under the direction of Flight Lieutenant CHAMBERS arrived on [sic] Oakey on the morning of the 2nd. inst. when they commenced to dismantle the plane.
I was verbally instructed that any expense incurred in connection with the care of this aeroplane, was to be charged to the American Air Corps.
Frustratingly, and unlike most other wartime Queensland police reports concerning plane crashes, neither the aircraft or its pilots are adequately identified in any of the several reports (Queensland State Archives Series16865 Item ID 2177680) concerning these incidents.
The subject aircraft was almost certainly one of the 192 P-40Es and 55 pilots diverted – from Mindanao in the Phillipines – to Brisbane in mid-January 1942.
Robert Kingsley’s seven-part blog, USAAF P-40s in Java, offers a much fuller account of these first Australian P-40s, noting that ‘The assembly of the P-40’s was in competent hands but the pilots, however, were a totally different story’ being ‘hardly out of flying training school and their flying time on P-40’s averaged about 15 hours. On top of this came the fact that they were badly out of practice after their long, slow voyage across the Pacific. The results were inevitable.’