Yesterday's Air Force Operation
Meanwhile in New Zealand, Charles
Darby took an interest in old aircraft left at airfields
around New Zealand.
"The story of the operation probably began with my father Jack Darby who worked in New Guinea in the 1930s (He and Erroll Flynn were mates, and fellow plantation managers, Errol in New Britain and Dad in the Ninigo Islands). His descriptions and obvious love of the place inspired me to go there to see for myself, which I was able to do in 1963. Obviously, in the course of that visit I saw many aircraft relics."
Unknown to me, in the late 1960s that well-known New Zealand aviator Stan Smith (who currently runs DH84 Dragon biplane airliner on scenic & charter flights around Auckland), had been talking about me and my New Guinea knowledge with Leo Gay (a senior engineer with Northrop). Leo had been chatting with David Tallichet, and Dave decided to call me.
The story continued late one night in 1972/73. I received a phone call from someone with an American accent who asked bluntly if I could get a P-39 for him. I confess that I replied quite rudely to the effect that I could get him a whole bloody squadron of P-39s if he could pay the bills, and he said "Well, why don't you do just that, sonny". After that exchange, it dawned on me that this fellow Tallichet may in fact be serious and the conversation improved greatly after that!
Ultimately, it was agreed that we would plan a reconnaissance trip through the Solomons and PNG with David present at least part of the time, and David said that he would assign one of his employees to work with me on the recovery of airframes selected during that visit or in the course of later work. That employee was Montgomery "Monty" Armstrong. My agreement with David provided that my direct costs would be paid, and in lieu of any salary or wages I would be entitled to select a P-40 of my choice as 'payment'. However, its shipment costs to New Zealand would be at my expense. That is how I got my second P-40N A29-448.
In summary, for the recon trip I went through the Solomons and PNG with my Father (who could speak pidgin and some Motu, and could serve as Project Manager while I did the aircraft technical stuff), and aviation colleague Ken Jacobs, with David accompanying us part-way, and selected a range of airframes to recover. David then sent Montgomery Armstrong to the Solomons to recover a Zero that we had found in about 30ft of water, and I returned to NZ to plan the rest of the operation. Before I returned to PNG, the Solomons operation had "turned to shit" in a big way and Armstrong had moved on to PNG to start work there.
Tsilli-Tsilli 'River Raft' Salvage
In 1973, Darby & Monty Armstrong, funded by Tallichet began at Tsilli-Tsilli Airfield, where several P-40s and P-39s remained. They were salvaged by floating them down a river in rafts made of bush materials. Salvaged were: P-39N 42-18403, P-39N 42-18811, P-39K 42-4351 (parts only) and P-40N 42-104961]."
The largest portion of their work was at the former USAAF and RAAF base at Tadji. The salvage work was
relatively easy, as all the aircraft were near the road and barge
service was available to ship them to Lae for transport overseas. In exchange, the two paid village taxes and agreed to leave an externally complete B-25 Mitchell for display.
The intact aircraft salvaged from Tadji were:
43-21627 | P-39N
42-8740 | P-39N
42-19027 | P-39Q 42-19991 | P-39Q
42-19993 | P-39Q
42-19995 | P-39Q
42-20339 | P-40N
A29-405 | P-40N
A29-448 | P-40N
42-105915 | P-40N 42-106101 | P-40N
"Little Jeanne" 42-105951 | Beaufort A9-13 | Beaufort
A9-557 | Beaufort
Today, three of these planes
have been restored to flying condition, while the rest are unrestored
in storage or displayed statically or unrestored at museums in Australia, USA and UK. The book "The Whole Nine Yards" was published in 2002 about the restoration of P-40N A29-448 to flying status, one of the three.
When the Tadji salvage was completed, all the aircraft were barged to Lae, where they were then transferred to another ship for shipment to the United States. While in the Lae area, Darby also recovered Boomerang A46-174 from Nadzab. Plans also included salvaging Japanese wrecks, but the components were never collected. Also salvaged was Beaufort A9-226 from Vivigani Airfield.
PNG Independence and National Cultural Property
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks by Charles Darby page 58:
"Confusion regarding salvage right generally, plus the administrative difficulties involved, were largely responsible for the total clamp down on the export of war relics imposed by the Papua New Guinea Government in 1974, all such material now being classed as 'national cultural property'
In September 1975, as these
salvages were finishing, the Territory of New Guinea gained independence
from Australian colonial control, becoming Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Charles Darby recalls:
"PNG Independence came into force during the time we were organising and carrying out the operation. However, as the entire operation was completed under the auspices of Bill Chapman and the Air Museum of PNG, all arrangements that had been made prior to independence were honoured by the new PNG Government. The only problems we encountered were from a couple of 'white trash' individuals who were trying to ingratiate themselves with the new authorities. I never had any problem whatsoever with local people during this operation."
At the end of the seventies, many of Charles Darby's New Guinea photographs
were published in the first book on the topic, Pacific
Aircraft Wrecks. When in went to press in 1979, the
book sparked huge interest among the growing vintage aircraft movement
worldwide, inspiring countless dreamers and to see
these aircraft themselves. For others, it was a catalog of available wrecks left waiting to be salvaged.
In 1978, the PNG Museum opened a museum in Port Moresby. Its first curator was an enthusiastic Australian, Bruce Hoy, who had volunteered with Bill Chapman. On a limited budget, he succeeded in bringing many of the aircraft from Chapman's former Air Museum and Roy Worchester in Wewak had collected. His tenure lasted ten years. During that period created a superb museum display relics as the war left them. Also, he advised the museum on matters related to salvage until leaving the museum in 1988 to move back to Australia.
The decade ended with the first helicopter salvage of a wartime aircraft as an exercise by the the RAAF. The fuselage of a a Ford 5-AT-C A45-1 that was abandoned upside down, was lifted from the landing ground known as Myola Lake, and brought to Port Moresby to the PNG Museum for display in 1979, where it remains to this day. The following year, the wings were recovered and brought to the museum. This aircraft was never exported out of the country, and remains statically displayed at the museum.
Next Decade: 1980s: Salvage Boom
Return to History of Aircraft Salvage in Papua New Guinea