Unplanned

A Mk.V Spitfire over northern Australia, similar to that which Flying Officer Morton force landed near Gundare Station in south-west Queensland (author’s collection).

In early June 1944 the RAAF’s No.457 Squadron, one of three Spitfire units recalled from Britain for homeland defence, began exchanging its near-obsolete Mk.V aircraft with more effective Mk.VIIIs. As deliveries of the latter began arriving in the Northen Territory, squadron pilots would ferry equal numbers of the former south for overhaul and re-assignment – typically to Operational Training Units or mainland fighter squadrons.

Originally from Emerald in Central Queensland, twenty-one year old Pilot Officer Alexander Henry Morton (405639) was one of ten 452 and 457 squadron pilots tasked mid-July 1944 with ferrying Mk.Vs south to No.6 Aircraft Deport at Oakie [sic] in south-east Queensland. Delayed by one day, and escorted by a Beaufort bomber, the ferry flight left Sattler (N.T.) at 0740 on July 12th on a 1,590 nautical mile route tracking via Tennant Creek, Cloncurry, and Charleville.

Only seven of the eight planes that departed Cloncurry the following morning however, made it to Charleville that day. A corresponding entry in the squadron’s Operational Record Book records…’A signal has been received that P/O A.H. MORTON, flying A58-208, is missing in the vicinity of AUGATHELLA (Q) and that a Beaufort is conducting a search. A further signal has been received stating that P/O A.H.MORTON had made a forced landing, wheels down, in a paddock near AUGATHELLA. The airplane is undamaged and the pilot is unhurt.’

NAA BP243-1, K1065 PART 1 Page 277

The senior seargent at Augathella police station takes up the story….

…at about midday on the 15th. Instant, seven fighter planes piloted by R.A.A.F. Pilots, flew over Augathella and circled the town on several occasions. All of the planes then left. Shortly afterwards two of the planes were seen to return. I then received a telephone call from R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Charleville, informing me that the two planes were off their course, and asking me to arrange for smoke signals to give them the wind direction at some suitable landing ground near the town, as it was thought that they were short of petrol.

I immediately with the assistance of other town people, hurried by Motor Truck to Holley Downs Station two miles from Augathella and had smoke signals ready. At that time the planes had gone out of view. I left men at the scene, ready to light smoke signals should the planes again come in view. I then went in the truck to Holley Downs Station Homestead close by, and contacted the R.A.A.F. Headquarters, Charleville, by telephone. They informed me that the two planes had landed safely at Charleville aerodrome, but they informed me that there was still one plane missing.

A plane was sent out from Charleville shortly after, and after circling about Augathella located the missing plane on the ground at Gundare Station, and the Pilot signalled them that he was all right. The plane had landed about 20 miles from Augathella, and about four miles from Gundare Station Homestead. Flying officer Gould, who was in the searching plane gave directions to Pilot Officer Morton, who had made the forced landing in the Spitfire Fighting Plane, of the direction to take to Gundare Homestead, and then flew back to Charleville.

Lieutenant Mines of Augathella, who is head of the V.D.C. at Augathella, was at Gandare Station at the time, and located Pilot Officer Morton on his way to the Gundare Homestead, and took him to the homestead. The pilot was none the worse for the experience, and was unhurt, and had landed the plane undamaged.

Pilot Morton contacted the R.A.A.F. Charleville and with Lieutenant Mines of the V.D.C. arrangements were immediately made for a V.D.C. guard to be placed on the plane. At 6.pm. members of the R.A.A.F. Charleville arrived at Augathella, Flight Officer Gould being in charge. I had a conversation with him on his arrival and he assured me that everything was all right, and that he was going out to Gundare to pick up pilot Officer Morton to take him to Charleville, also to make arrangements for petrol to be taken to the plane to have it refueled to have it flown to Charleville.

I accompanied the RAAF men to Gundare Station, where I saw Pilot officer Morton who was unhurt, and he informed me that he had sufficient petrol to get to Charleville had he known the direction, but he did not know his location, and seeing a suitable landing ground he decided to land which he did without mishap.

We attempted to get to the site of a plane, but owing to the recent rain we were unable owing to the boggy state of the ground to get to the Plane. As there was a V.D.C. guard on the plane we brought Pilot Officer back to Augathella.

Sergt. 2/C 2513
Augathella Station

(Queensland State Archives: ID 320040)


Morton completed the half hour flight from Augathella to Charleville on May 18th, departing from there at 10 am the following day for No.6 Aircraft Depot, Oakie [sic] where he landed one hour and fifty minutes later.

Having survived the out-landing at Gundare Station, Spitfire A58-208 made another forced-landing the following month (due to engine trouble) while being delivered from No.6 Aircraft Depot to 85 Squadron in West Australia.

Since he is referred to in these squadron and police records as ‘Pilot Officer’, Morton – and his commanding officers – might have been unaware that his promotion to Flying Officer had in fact been formally gazetted just a few weeks earlier (Government Gazette. 29 June 1944, Issue No.127, page 1326).

He returned to Central Queensland after the war and became a farmer at Sunny Hills, Ridgelands, north-west of Rockhampton.


Down on the Downs, twice.

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. 

Assembling one of the 192 P-40Es diverted from Mindanao in the Phillipines, to Brisbane, Queensland in January 1942 (AWM P00264.015).

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. 

Twenty-seven year old Lieutenant Carl Parker Gies had, only a few months prior to these events, been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for ‘his heroic action with the United State Air Corps in the Phillipines’.

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.’