23 DECEMBER 1942
CRASH OF DC-2, A30-6
AT STOCK ROUTE AIRFIELD,
TOWNSVILLE , QLD

 


Photo: via Tony Porter

 


Photo: via Tony Porter

 

23dec42.jpg (26617 bytes)

 

The above crash is described in Rod Cardell's book about the Stock Route airstrip which was located where Dalrymple Road now runs:-

"Wings Around Us" Page 128
An incident occurred on the morning of December 23, 1942, about which, most strangely, I had completely forgotten.  At that time I was host to my cousin of comparable age, visiting from Gladstone.  Although only able to visit during the school holidays, he was almost as enraptured with the Stock Route Strip and its environs as I was.  Recently in 1990 we cast our memories back over the years to yet again reminisce about those wonderful times.  'Do you remember the DC.3 coming to grief on our strip?' he enquired of me.  'No I do not' I replied and felt just a little upstaged.  He jogged my memory a bit harder, and slowly, as through the mists of time, vague pictures came back to me, somewhat in the guise of deja vu.

We had been standing at our front fence watching the Douglas land just in front of us.  It touched, ran a hundred yards or so, then the port undercarriage collapsed, it pivoted on the left wing tip and right wheel to end up facing towards us.  A tractor trundled out from the R.A.A.F. Base, hooked on, and ignominiously towed it away.

I could find no record of this in 36 Squadron's day sheets.   I wrote to Vyv Plum, former Engineering Officer, who remembered the incident, but was unable to ascribe a date to it.  What an education to hear from Vyv.  Only a few years away from celebrating his ninetieth birthday, he wrote:

Our old C.O., Harry Purvis passed away in Cairns a few years ago.  I had know him since about 1929, when we were mixed up with Smithy and the old Southern Cross.

George Redding, Editor of 36 Squadron news letter wrote that 'Collapsed undercarriages were rather prevalent'.  One could postulate a number of reasons why this occurred during the war, but I knew of no cases in civil airlines using the same, but much older aircraft.  One pertinent reason given by John Balfe, former DC.3 pilot with 36 Squadron, and no stranger to Stock Route Strip, was that they operated at 30,000 lbs 'all up weight'.  That was a hefty 4,000 lbs greater than their civilian counterpart, and a substantial difference in weight thumping down on the undercarriage.

I had written to John Balfe, author of "War without Glory" and also "And Far from Home", enquiring of the strip length.   From aerial photos and laborious arithmetic I estimated 3,780  ft.  John Balfe considered this too pessimistic, doubting a 30,000 lbs DC.3 would have the 'get up and go' from that distance.  He believed it was 5,000 ft conforming to the dimensions of the other satellite strips in the area.

Since then, the Townsville City Council's old records confirmed the length to be 3,660 ft.  It would seem therefore, that the DC.3 pilots operating out of this strip were more compromised than they had imagined.   Furthermore, a DC.3 is not capable of climbing out in asymmetric at an all up weight of 30,000 lbs!

To cite another reason why a DC.3s undercarriage might collapse, I would have to steal an anecdote from Alan Randall's nook of the 36 Squadron, "There and Back" -

A new pilot joined the Squadron at Townsville, sat in the cockpit like many an interested pilot before him, just running his eyes over the instruments.  Saw a lever on the floor and pulled it.  The DC.3 just lay down.

Some pilot!  Although this was reputed to have occurred at the Stock Route Strip, I never witnessed the incident.

 

The history of the aircraft that collapsed its undercarriage in front of my cousin and me was eventually made known  to me by George Redding, former radio-operator with 36 Squadron.  He knew of my interest and pursued the topic amongst official channels and from his former peers.  Norm Parker, one of the original fitters with 36 Squadron had first hand knowledge, and supplied the photograph.

 

dc2.jpg (10461 bytes)

DC-2 of 36 Squadron

 

DC.2, A30-6, with pilots F/O Arnold and F/S Thomas departed the Stock Route Strip on December 18th 1942, bound for Port Moresby via Cooktown.   Norm Parker was the fitter on board.  The starboard (right) motor had a bad oil leak in the nose section, and could run for no more than about four hours before requiring to be refilled.  The squadron was just so short of aircraft at that period of operation, that the time required to remove the nose section and fix the oil leak was just not available.

AT Cooktown, one of the main wheels sank through the surface of the dispersal road, and the aircraft became bogged.  To extricate A30-6 cost one day in time, and considerable effort.  At Port Moresby the next day they were grounded by inclement weather.  Norm Parker serviced his aircraft, then departed to meet up with an old friend recently transferred from 36 Squadron to No. 5 Mobile Works Aerodrome Construction Squadron which was currently laying down Wards Strip. So interesting was his tour of the project, that it was early hours of the morning before Norm 'hit the sack', only to be up again for a before daylight take off.  After departing Port Moresby, his immediate duties accomplished, and feeling the need for a little 'shut eye', he went back down the cabin and was soon asleep.

There were twelve passengers on board, all with their personal gear, and '... as most of them were Americans, there was quite a lot of it'.   The flight plan called for a landing at Cooktown to take on more oil for the starboard engine, but by the time Norm awoke, they weer  well south of their intended landing place.  He hurried to the cockpit, reminded the Captain of their need, but instead of returning to Cooktown, which was much closer, the Captain elected to continue to their home base, the Stock Route.

About thirty miles short of their destination, the red warning light of the starboard oil pressure gauge lit up.  The Captain wanted to continue using the engine for the brief time required, but Norm insisted it be shut down.   The DC.2 was not equipped with a feathering mechanism which would bring the prop of the 'dead' engine to a standstill, with the blades positioned to cause minimum drag, so the best that could be achieved was a wind,milling prop not noticeably slower than that of the 'good' engine.  This was a relatively inefficient method, hampering the flying characteristics and handling ability of the aircraft.

Following the required wartime approach to Townsville, a designated path not likely to encourage some twitchy anti-aircraft gun to open up on them, a turn to starboard was made over Magnetic Island, and Norm felt the DC.2 showed a distinct reluctance to pick up the starboard wing with its 'dead' motor, despite full opposite aileron.  Instead of the easy way out, landing into wind down a long runway at Garbutt, F/O Arnold, perhaps a little unwisely, chose to use his home strip, the Stock Route.

 

For the landing I was standing in the usual position for the fitter, between and to the rear of the two pilots, with one hand on the wobble pump handle [the emergency fuel pump].  I could see that the strip was coming up very fast, too fast, much faster than normal, and just before contact Ken Arnold exclaimed 'Christ'.  I was sure it was a prayer.  A30-6 hit the deck very hard, but nothing broke, and it stayed on the strip without a bounce, probably because of the dead motor.  We taxied to the far end of the strip, where a ver shaken crew and passengers alighted.

[Norm Parker]

 

Still throwing oil from the starboard motor, A30-6 departed the Stock Route Strip yet again on December 21st bound for Iron Range with pilots Keig and Wall.

Back at the home base, the airscrew and nose section were removed, and the seals replaced to cure the leak.  A test flight was organised with several army personnel on board as passengers for the purpose of achieving a full load test.  Flight Lieutenant Harry Richard Clarke was first pilot, and Flying Officer Jack Elwell Mullaney was co-pilot.  At completion of the test flight, the aircraft was landed in a slight crosswind, and after running straight for about fifty yards, then veered to port.  Corrective measures of hard right brake and full port engine eventually had the aircraft running straight again, but now about twenty-five yards off the strip, though parallel to it, when the port wheel hit a heap of road metal and the impact caused the undercarriage to collapse and the wheel strut to push straight through the centre section of the mainplane.

That was at 1045 hours, Wednesday, 23/12/1942.  'A30-6 was unserviceable for a very long time'.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Tony Porter for his assistance with this home page.

REFERENCE BOOK

"Aircraft of the RAAF 1921- 71"
By Geoffrey Pentland & Peter Malone

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

"Australia @ War" Research Products

I need your help

Copyright

 Peter Dunn 2015

Disclaimer

Please e-mail me
any information or photographs

"Australia @ War"
8GB USB Memory Stick

This page first produced 14 June 1998

This page last updated 13 January 2017