7 SEP 1943: World War II and a Liberator crash kills 59 Australians. The B24 Liberator crashed on take-off at Port Moresby hitting five trucks carrying men of the 2/33rd Battalion; 15 were killed instantly, 44 died of their injuries, and 92 were injured but survived. At the time of the incident the crash was believed to be the act of sabotage. Rumours quickly spread of Mexican saboteurs not sufficiently refuelling the aircraft, making it crash shortly after takeoff.
The overwhelming evidence supplied by those present which indicates the area was engulfed in burning aviation fuel totally refutes this rumour.
In fact, the official account in ‘The Footsoldiers’ specifically mentions “All around the little gullies and re-entrants petrol was aflame”. ‘The Footsoldiers’ also mentions the positioning of the trucks along the track. “The elbow bend in the track had put ‘A’ Company back and parallel with ‘C’ Company”. Men from the last truck of ‘A’ Company, and the second-to-last truck of ‘C’ Company “were also injured with burning petrol or metal”.
The description of accident in the Australian ‘Report of Court of Inquiry’ states “In addition to this petrol was sprayed over a large area and extensive fires occurred”.
In the afternoon following the crash, another rumour circulated among the men that all of the saboteurs had been rounded up and shot by U.S. Military Police.
There was a high level of censorship ordered by U.S. General MacArthur, Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, and Australian General Blamey, Commander of the Allied Land Forces. General MacArthur believed an accident of this magnitude involving a USAAF aircraft crashing directly into the truck-line of an Australian Infantry Battalion would have irreversible effects on the men’s morale.
The men were ordered not to discuss the crash and threatened with harsh disciplinary action should they attempt to write home about it. Families back home in Australia were contacted to advise that their loved ones had simply “died in a plane crash in New Guinea” or been “accidentally killed”.
One belief of these rumours is that they were started by high-ranking Allied Officers in an attempt to keep up morale by justifying the crash as an act of sabotage, and therefore unavoidable.
The rumour later in the day of the saboteurs being shot is believed to have been started as a way of giving closure to the tragic event. It was 12 September 1943 when the Technical Report Of Aircraft Accident Classification Committee was released.
The report states “With all causal factors having been considered the committee affixes the error as follows: Pilot 90%, and weather 10%”
Bob Livingstone, historian and author, has suggested a more modern explanation for the cause put forward by Lt. Col. Hawthorne. ‘Head-up Illusion’ involves a sudden forward linear acceleration during level flight where the pilot perceives the illusion that the nose of the aircraft is pitching up.
The pilot’s response to this illusion would be to push the yoke or the stick forward to pitch the nose of the aircraft down. A night take-off from a well-lit airport into a totally dark sky (black hole) or a catapult take-off from an aircraft carrier can also lead to this illusion, and could result in a crash.
“Head-up illusion is a physiological response which affects pilots not known in 1943. It was particularly common on Pacific islands and aircraft carriers where the runway ended at the ocean, but in a place as underpopulated as Papua New Guinea, the effect was, and probably still is, just the same.” Photo: Jackson airstrip, 7 miles from Port Moresby in 1943. More; http://ow.ly/RRnhz