Stan Gajda

Guadalcanal Battlefield Visit 1998

Visit To Honiara October 12th - 25th 1998
I arrived in Honiara via Brisbane on Monday night at about 2030hrs local time and after being met by Bob Lindley we went to his place located immediately behind the King Solomon Hotel, right on the peak and overlooking the "Ravine".

Tuesday 13th - Went to the Gifu and met a chap named Vincent who wanted to accompany me into the bush. I went down the steep path leading to the river and at a point about half-way down, where there are some banana trees growing we turned off left and went into the jungle to search the steep slopes.

This is the same area I had visited in 1996 when I got my leg infected. This time the two of us searched for about three hours over an area of several acres and a large quantity of relics were located. These consisted of gas mask fittings and filters, hand grenades, knee mortar 50mm HE rounds, cartridges, helmets, cooking and eating gear, one good 6.5mm Type 96 mg magazine and a human skull.

I left everything except the skull, the magazine and some food trays that had Jap writing scratched on them. At the "table" in the Gifu village I also picked up a Jap grenade, the smaller smooth-bodied 50mm type that fits the Type 100 rifle grenade launcher that I found at Coffin Corner last April.

I got back to the house late in the afternoon and the skull was retired to the outside laundry and given the identity of "Mr Sato", the name we used whenever we were referring to him.

Wednesday 14th
Bob and I took a trip out to the Bonegi river to have a look at this reported US Army rubbish dump near the Sherman tank.

To reach this location you stop at the gate to the Bonegi-2 ship-wreck site, there is a small hut there with a barrier across the track. Opposite this turnoff, ie south, there is a gate in the wire fence, which is usually locked. Jump over the gate and pick up a track that wanders off to the left ie east, and follow along for a couple of hundred yards. This will lead gradually SE and you will approach a gap in the ridge(s) running generally E-W. Past some trees you will see the Sherman tank on your left. This would not be more than 600yds from the gate.

Past the tank and heading south you should pick up a faint track that heads south and gradually uphill. At about 150ft elevation the kunai gives way to bush and the track ends on top of a wooded hill. Look around mainly on the eastern side and down the steep slopes and into the valley. You will find many tons of junk here. I saw for example, fuel drums, jerry cans, cable reels, water bottles, coke and pepsi bottles by the hundreds, bread baking trays, mess trays, a wind powered washing machine, filing cabinets, wheels, vehicle parts, gearboxes and even a radial aero engine. You will probably find this site very interesting.

I did not take anything except a large hand-powered grain mill that Bob's wife wanted brought back. An islander from the Bonegi 2 wreck site had accompanied us up to the junk heap and he told us about a plane wreck that he could show us. We assured him that we would return the next day.

Thursday 15th
Picking our guide at the gate we continued to the Bonegi river and just before the bridge we turned left and headed south for about a mile. We parked at the river and headed further south on foot for about half a mile and then came to a small village. From here we followed a rough trail cut in the jungle for about another half mile and came out on a rough dozer track where logging had recently commenced. By climbing and cutting our way up a very steep hill for about 100 feet elevation we then reached the crash site of a Betty bomber.

The largest remaining part was the tail section which was upside down and still had "377" clearly visible in foot-high numbers on the fin. The gunner's station/tail-cone was nearby. The fuselage had crumpled and disintegrated on impact but there had not been too much fire and most of the wreckage has survived. Above the impact area was much of the port wing complete with the hinomaru outlined in white (30mm border).

Searching the nearest adjacent hill to the east we found the remains of the other wing and the nose section and central control pedestal assembly. A large tree close by showed impact damage about 60ft up and around its base were bits of metal sheeting crumpled up with round indentations. The appearance of the site gives the impression that the Betty was heading west and under attack and hit the tree. The nose and starboard wing were severed by the impact and the remaining wing and rear 2/3 of fuselage went over and down and hit the next hill near the summit.

We could not find any engines but these may have been flung some distance and although I did search along the hill slopes, I only found some additional wreckage. The bush is very thick and it was very hot in there. When I ran out of steam I gave up.

At the impact site we could see that a lot of wreckage had been moved about by the Jap war graves people who had been in recently and recovered the remains of the crew. Even so I still found the lower end of a smashed leg bone. The buckles and harnesses were still there and the rear gunner's seat was dented and mangled. Many .50 and 20mm hits were visible in the tail area. Except for guns all the bits and pieces that make up an aircraft were still there scattered and mixed up in the wreckage.

Eventually we found a bent but complete 20mm drum magazine, ejection chutes for both 20mm and 7.7mm guns, gun mountings, live 20mm ammo and projectiles and a variety of fired 7.7mm cases. These cases proved very interesting in that some were dated the 2nd quarter of 1942, some were WRA 1942 and one was GB 1938 - a mix of Jap, British and American ammunition was used by the crew of this plane. I brought out the 20mm and 7.7mm gun parts and the 20mm ammo. Also some hand tools (spanners).

Friday 16th
I went alone to the "Grassy Knoll" area near the Tenaru river to see a native that reckoned that he knew of a plane wreck. He was not there but a chap named Peter said he could take me there so we set off. We climbed and hiked, fought through thick bush and skirted mud holes and eventually we stood at a swamp and Peter indicated that the wreck was on the other side. I told him that I wanted to see it so we then spent another hour skirting this swamp. In the meantime I copped a lot of insect bites etc. Very hot in here. While I was wondering whether I was ever going to get out of this place again, we came to a fence in the middle of the jungle and soon nearby were the remains of another Betty bomber. The largest part was the wing centre section with wing stubs, some fuselage and flooring panels and other bits of wing sections. Most has been carried off by natives for scrap. We did find a piece of instrument panel with an intact altimeter still in it. I brought this back with me.

On our way out we followed the fence and after about 1km we came to a small village. Behind the next hill was Peter's village. Why he took me on a five mile round-about hike up hill and down dale in and out of swamps is a mystery. He mentioned that he knew a spot along the fence line where he claimed there was a lot of Jap junk. I arranged to see him again the following week.

Saturday 17th
Started off from Michael Ben's place which is across the river at Tuvaruhu village at 0800hrs. Our guide was Patrick who went with us last April when we did the Galloping Horse expedition. He has proven to be a good man.

We followed the river upstream from Ben's place crossing eventually about eight times before we reached the point where the climb began up into the hills. This point was about 2km from Tuvaruhu and we continued up into an area called Mabao which is well SW of the peak of the Seahorse. Upon reaching the top at about 700 feet elevation it looked like we were south (by compass) of the Horse's Head and in the vicinity of the Jap bivouac area.

Very steep slopes all around here and many vertical drop-offs, the hilltops are connected with very narrow ridges and saddles. It is all heavy bush and some jungle throughout this area. There are many foxholes and some trenches. Slopes strewn with Jap junk in places. The stuff here is similar to the Gifu situation - refer to Tuesday 13th entry.

We found a Type 41 75mm gun in pieces in nice condition including the folding shield. Missing are the wheels and gun barrel. The trail was located on the edge of the slope overgrown in bamboo. The rest of the group did not want to wait for me to clear the undergrowth and pull the frame out so it was left. The trail spade is at Michael Ben's place. Somehow he carried this heavy item all the way down some years back. He can tell you the story and you can view this item along with a vast array of other stuff he has brought down from the Seahorse.

Down the slope a complete six-round ammo box was recovered. I have reason to believe that the barrel is also down this slope nearby (very steep). Searching an adjacent slope we found two more six-round ammo bins and one un-fired and un-fused 75mm projectile.
Not far away another shield was located but the thicket was not searched. (the group wanted to push on) It is likely that the second gun is also nearby. The guns mentioned in the battle report are listed as 70mm howitzers. This is not so for the bits I saw are definitely 75mm Model 41 guns.

Eventually we reached the peak just south of hill 43 and then descended to the southern edge of the clearing on hill 43. This is the highest clear part of the Seahorse. A good view all the way around except south. The kunai grass is chest high throughout this area and very thick. Not much use searching the ground unless its been burnt. A small cleared area showed up 75mm cloverleaf three-round package ends and other assorted junk. Very few cartridge cases here.

With reference to the story "Clean Sweep", Guadalcanal Echoes, we located the place between hills 43 and 44 and went down into the valley looking for evidence of that story. No caves or any relics were found and the lie of the land makes to story seem pretty unlikely to have happened the way is was described.

We were pretty sure that we were in the right place because only one area there fits in with the placement of the Yanks on the hills (OPs and foxholes) and the Japs down in the bush. The valley drops off steeply down to the river (700ft down!) and if there are caves etc further down then the action could not have occurred as described.

Anyway, from the grassy finger mentioned I could see the place I had been to in February 96 where we had picked up helmets etc and one complete 6.5mm Arisaka rifle. This area is about 4-500yds SE of hill 44 and there is a lot of hard going between hill 44 and this place. There is a cave in that vicinity but on the other side of the river and I have seen it.

We left the Seahorse by making our way north along the top of hill 44 which slopes downwards fairly steeply all the way to the edge of the bush. Here there is an enormous mango tree which was in season when we were there and we rested in the shade for a while.

From here the path increased in steepness until it was almost vertical in places. Going up this way would be very hard going. When the river was in sight below us the path was blocked by a very large tree that had come down and created a huge mess of branches and tangled undergrowth. Once this was negotiated it was straight down to the river to a large deep pool. Here we jumped in and stayed for about an hour cooling off. This is a good spot to rest for a while. From this pool it was about 1.5km to Ben's place.

If you want to have a good look around the Seahorse then an overnight stay on the peak or the bivouac area will be required. The wooded areas are where all the relics are and the action area is quite extensive and was not explored very much because others in our party were not particularly interested in tramping about the bush looking for relics. They were there mainly as a bush hiking exercise. I brought nothing back at all, because all helmets found were rusted through or damaged and I did not want to lug a 75mm ammo case all the way back to the river.

Sunday 18th
Bob and I returned to the village south of the Bonegi river to be guided to another plane crash site. There were supposed to be four separate sites including Pug Sutherland's Wildcat within a couple of miles of this village. Anyway, the guide was not home so we went to another village nearby to see Pug's plane. This location was also not known by these other people when it came to the crunch so on this day we saw nothing at all. Only a good brisk hike of about 4km carrying a lot of water and other gear was all we achieved.

Monday 19th
Most of the day was spent loafing about the house until Bob returned from work. This is the day I spoke to you on the phone about the Jap gun tractors. Late that afternoon we went out to the Poha River farm and easily found the tractors in the middle of a crop field.

There are five of these machines and are described in the Japanese Military Handbook that you copied for me. Four are of one type with Isuzu 6 cylinder diesel engines and the other one has an air-cooled Type 95 tank style 6 cylinder engine. It looks like the Japs damaged these things with explosives when they abandoned them at the start of the Maruyama Trail and then later the Yanks put a fair bit of small arms fire into them. Even so I was very impressed with these machines and I reckon that if I could get hold of all of the Isuzu ones that a goer could be built out of all the bits.

Because this place was on a farm we all went out there in shorts and thongs and of course I was the only silly one to get hurt out there. I got tangled up in barbed wire hidden in the grass nearby and damaged my leg in precisely the same place where all that trouble started in 1996, where else! Luckily by keeping it clean and taking antibiotics I have beaten it and today it looks like it has healed ok.

Tuesday 20th
An expedition was mounted back to the village south of the Bonegi river crossing again and as pre-arranged the other day. We met the right bloke but he tried to put us off and came up with a variety of conflicting tales until we could see that these people often just tell you a story to impress you, thinking that you won't be coming back to disprove them.

Well, it turned out that Pug's Wildcat has been entirely cut up and sold for scrap by the natives and only parts of the engine are left and that it was not worth the effort to trudge all the way to see just a little bit of rubbish.

Another twin-engined complete wreck we were told about - and I now doubt if it exists, was not possible to visit because of a "sudden land dispute". The fourth wreck is quite some way south and would require a full days effort to go and see and so was not considered.

So we decided to hike back to the No 377 Betty and have a better look around. Same procedure as before but the hill slopes were explored a bit more. I found a nice panel with three quite good indicating meters and rows of switches and profuse labels in Japanese. This was probably one of the panels from the flight engineer's station.
I left it under the tail-fin because I could not think of a reason for taking it with me. I am already overloaded with junk of that kind at home. You might pick it up yourself one day.

All I brought back this time was a piece of upper wing skin with good original paint and part of the outlined hinomaru, and some more tools. About two hours was spent at the site this time.

It was during this trip and on our way back out that Bob discovered, during his Pidgin talk-talk with the guide (from the village) that the natives had pillaged the wreck when they found it earlier this year before the authorities were told about it.

Three Lewis-type machine guns and two handguns were recovered and sold to the Bougainville rebels. And all the live .303 ammo they could find and all the Lewis drum magazines. This then explained the complete absence of live .303 ammunition and of drum magazines of which there should have been about twenty in total. It is this type of magazine which I have been looking for for years.

It is bad luck that the natives have this attitude and I would reckon that none of them would have the skill or ability to make this rusted equipment work properly. Just greed for a bit of cash drives them to it and as a result valuable and scarce relics are lost. I did search at great length in an effort to find just one magazine in the surrounding jungle but I guess the natives did a pretty good job on this wreck.

Other machine guns in other collections such as the SDA Betikama museum have also had their guns stolen including even .50 guns. I guess I was very lucky to get my hands on that Type 96 from the Galloping Horse last April.

Wednesday 21st
Another trip to the Grassy Knoll area to see Peter as arranged previously to see the area of Jap relics along the fence-line.

After much delay and a lot of humming and harring Peter disappeared and his eventually brother finally admitted that Peter had "made a mistake" and that there is no area with Jap relics. Same as the episode of Sunday 18th !

I then drove up to the Gifu to see Vincent because he had promised to go back into the bush and look for more stuff for me. He was not home but out in the bush somewhere cutting timber with a chainsaw. However, his mother produced a rice bag full of junk he had brought back. Included was a Jap bayonet, a bore cleaning brush, food trays and mess kits, an operating rod out of either a Type 21 or 96 machine gun, grenades and some American gear. I could not get any of it because his mother did not know how much Vincent wanted for the items and I was told to come back on Saturday.

While I was having a look at all this, other people came over with their own goodies. One had a nice Jap water bottle with good brown paint and Jap characters scratched in, another brought an absolutely mint Yank grenade with perfect yellow paint.

Other people brought over an 81mm mortar shell with no fuse and a live 75mm HE projectile and an empty 105mm projectile. The lady next door had a real nice American naval 5" smoke shell that was empty but fused. I paid S$50 for this one and gave it to Bob as a present.

On the way out at a little garden on the left a chap came rushing out with a small collection of relics, mostly grenades and a Garand bayonet and a damaged pair of spectacles which looked definitely Japanese. He said he found them on hill 31. These specs had one glass still in them and they looked good so I gave him S$20 for them. Bob also liked them so I gave them to him as well.

Thursday 22nd
No excursions, day spent loafing and defusing the 20mm ammo and the 50mm grenade. No problems except got covered in yellow dye from the grenade picric acid. Still got bright yellow hands and feet! 20mm shells loaded with TNT and nitrocellulose powder. Everything came apart ok including the detonators.

All the stuff I've collected will be sent by air cargo. I could not get a permit because Lawrence was away on holidays. Bob said he will fix up the permit and sent the relics over to me here in Nauru.

Friday 23rd
No wartime orientated activities at all on this day.

Saturday 24th
Quick trip up to the Gifu with Bob to see Vincent about selling some of his war relics. He was still out cutting timber and we did not see him and we came home empty handed. Later that morning we all went off to see Fred Kona's war museum near Cape Esperance and then went on to Tambea.

The museum was ok, nothing else appeared to have disappeared but no activity of any kind going on there either. Bob had never been there and he spent some time having a look at the various items. The long 105mm Jap field gun is a real beauty, isn't it? If they let me have it I would soon having it looking like new and operating again.

At Tambea we saw only the remains of the Jap 70mm howitzer and the minimal remains of the Zero fighter. Nothing much there at all. Bob's dog got lost right at the beginning and we spent the rest of the day looking for it and so never did any exploration. We returned home without the dog. (It was found by his missus next morning)

Sunday 25th
Took the morning Qantas flight to Brisbane and connected with Air Nauru and returned to the island am Monday. With me came one complete 20mm round, the set of tools, some window perspex and a sample of the hinomaru colour paint on a small piece of metal skin all from the Betty bomber. Also by registered mail I dispatched the Type 96 machine gun magazine which should arrive here ok. (loophole!)

Stan Gajda
29th October 1998

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