AIR TECHNICAL INTELLIGENCE UNIT (ATIU), ALLIED AIR FORCES
SECRET OPERATIONS AT EAGLE FARM
Japanese aircraft rebuilt and flight tested at Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane

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visits since 16 August 2003

From early in 1943, the Air Technical Intelligence Unit (ATIU), still known at that stage as the Technical Intelligence Unit (TIU) started operations in a small timber hangar (Hangar No. 7) at Eagle Farm airfield set aside from the other larger hangers. ATIU had been formed in 1942 with members from the US Navy, US Army Air Forces, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and Royal Navy. Hangar 7 was built at right angles to the other hangars and also fenced off from the other hangars to minimise visibility of the secret activities going on inside the hangar.

Some RAAF Records in The National Archives of Australia also name the unit as "Technical Air Intelligence Unit" and "Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit (ATAIU)". Another variant that I have seen is Tactical Air Intelligence Unit or Allied Tactical Air Intelligence Unit.

It would appear that the early aspects of the work carried out by ATIU may have started in 1942 via the Engineering and Maintenance Section in Air Service Command in the McIntosh Building in Wickham Street in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. This assumption is based on the following entry for Lt. Clyde D. Gessel in the December 1942 Military Telephone Directory for Brisbane. Major Gessel went on to become a key member of ATIU at Hangar 7 at Eagle Farm:-

DECEMBER 1942 - TELEPHONE DIRECTORY - RESTRICTED

AIR SERVICE COMMAND, ENGINEERING AND MAINTENANCE
Enemy Equipment:      Lt. C.D. Gessel       McIntosh Building

 

Clyde D. Gessel

ATIU would recover damaged Japanese aircraft, mostly from New Guinea, and bring them back to Hangar No. 7 at Eagle Farm airfield to rebuild them so that they could be trialled to determine their strengths and weaknesses. They were also pitted against various American aircraft to determine combat strategies for American pilots. They were also used to train some American pilots to add some realism to their training.

Numerous flights of various Japanese aircraft were accomplished in Brisbane, including altitude tests, speed runs, rates of climb, simulated combat against other fighter planes and for photographic purposes. The rebuilt aircraft had their full armament installed to duplicate the original weights in order to give a true test of their performance.

Some of the reports of local Brisbane residents seeing Japanese aircraft flying over Brisbane were scoffed at by the local Police as being untrue, but the Brisbane Police were not aware of the secret operations going on at Eagle Farm airfield. To ensure that these Japanese aircraft were not shot down by allied fighter pilots, they were usually either escorted by another "friendly" aircraft or painted in "friendly" colours and markings.

One of the roles of TAIU was to produce drawings, determine models and obtain photographs for aircraft recognition purposes. Part of this process was to develop a simple name code for Japanese aircraft.

Technical Sergeant Francis Williams suggested that using people's nicknames would make it easy for service personnel to relate an aircraft type to a profile. Fighters and floatplanes were given male names, and bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and flying boats were assigned female names. At a later stage transport aircraft were named with a "T" name, training aircraft were named after trees and gliders were named after birds.

The Japanese aircraft naming system was apparently know as the MacArthur Southwest Pacific Code Name System. Capt Frank T. McCoy's Tennessee hill-country background showed up in some of the names that were chosen such as "Rufe", "Luke", "Nate" and "Zeke". The list became extensive with eventually of 50 names on the list.

Frank McCoy said that "Sally" was named after his Group Commander's wife , "Claude" was named after an Australian friend, and "Joyce" was named after a WAAAF who worked in his section. Many were named by Technical Sergeant Francis Williams. Williams name "Betty" after a well-endowed nurse that he knew.

In January 1943 Australian soldiers taking control of the Buna airstrip, came across numerous Japanese aircraft. One of them was a new model Mitsubishi fighter, the clip-winged model 32. This new Mitsubishi was initially assigned the code name "Hap", in honour of USAAF Commanding General Henry "Hap" Arnold. The Code name was hurriedly changed to "Hamp" at a later stage when General "Hap" Arnold expressed his dissatisfaction with the name.

On 20 July 1943 Captain William "Bill" Farrior test flew a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M3-32, "Hamp" fighter for 30 minutes. With the aid of an interpreter and a captured Japanese pilot, they were able to determine a suitable cockpit check list. Captain Farrior had been borrowed from a nearby fighter replacement pool when the original test pilot was killed in an AT-6 crash on the same day after refusing to fly the aircraft due to faulty brakes.  The "Hamp" was later flown against USAAF, US Navy and RAAF fighter aircraft in in simulated combat.

This same "Hamp" was damaged the next day (21 July 1943) during the second of two test flights for that day when the aircraft ground looped after a dead stick landing resulting in some damage to the aircraft. The engine cut out on a slow roll and never recovered due to carburettor problems. The right side landing gear was damaged sufficiently during the forced landing to require replacement. A grabbing brake probably caused the ground loop. There were no signs of a tendency to ground loop during the first two flights. 

In early 1943, the men in Hangar 7 rebuilt a Mitsubishi A6M "Zeke" from the recovered parts of five different aircraft captured at Buna, in New Guinea. It was then flown in combat exercises against a Mark V Spitfire. The "Zeke" was clearly superior to the Spitfire below 20,000 feet. This aircraft was sent to Wright Field in the United States aboard the escort carrier USS "Copahee" for further evaluation.

Two "Oscars " and a Kawasaki Ki-61"Tony" were also rebuilt in Hangar 7. The two "Oscars" were test flown around Brisbane in March and April of 1944. The "Tony" was sent by sea to Naval Air Station (NAS) Anacostia later in 1944.

Some of US Navy personnel from ATIU in Brisbane were relocated to the United States in June 1944 where they formed a Technical Air Intelligence Unit (TAIU) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Anacostia, near Washington, DC.

 

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Photo: AWM

Mitsibushi A6M3-32 Zero "Hamp" fighter
outside Hangar No. 7, at
Eagle Farm airfield

 

In October 1943, the Technical Intelligence Unit had the following key personnel based both on the second floor of the AMP building and at Hangar 7 at Eagle Farm Airfield:-

OCTOBER 1943 - TELEPHONE DIRECTORY - RESTRICTED

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH AIR FORCE, A-2 SECTION

Technical Intelligence Unit:
Major McCoy, Jr. F.T.        Room 209 AMP building
Lt. Mahoney, C.A.              Room 211 AMP building
Lt. Fournet, Jr., D.J.          Room 211 AMP building

Technical Intelligence Unit - Eagle Farm:
Lt. Gessel, C.D.                  Hangar 7

 

Clyde D. Gessel

 

Technical Air Intelligence Unit logo drawn by
D.W. Coffin, during his time on Leyte in the Philippines

The technician astride the aircraft's rear fuselage in the above logo holds an EAR (Enemy Aircraft Report), jotting down information from his two colleagues who are inspecting metallurgy and taking measurements on either side of a caricature of a Japanese pilot. D. W. Coffin was involved heavily in the field collection side of the units operations. The other piece of art associated with ATAIU was nose art on Col. Frank T. McCoy's personal DC-3 which depicted a souvenir hunting serviceman removing parts of the aircraft (does anyone have a photo of this nose art?). Frank McCoy's son told me that one of his father's aircraft was named "Junebug" after his daughter June.

 

Crash landing of a "Hamp"
at Eagle Farm airfield on 21 July 1943

 

In May 1944, the Air Technical Intelligence Unit had the following key personnel based at Eagle Farm airfield:-

MAY 1944 - TELEPHONE DIRECTORY - RESTRICTED

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH AIR FORCE, A-2 SECTION

AIR TECHNICAL INTELLIGENCE UNIT

Administrative & Information Office: (Eagle Farm)
    Lt. Col. McCoy, Jr, F.T.
    S/Ldr Clappison, N.O.
    Capt. Beesly, B.H.
    Capt. Hepford, S.F.
    Capt. Van Aken, W.D.
    Lt. Fournet, D.J.
    Lt. Mahoney, A.
    Mr. Perrier

Engineering Office: (Eagle Farm)
    Capt. Gessel, C.D.
    Lt. Heaton, J.A.

Armament Laboratory: (Eagle Farm)
    Capt. Britton, L.C.

Photo Laboratory: (Eagle Farm)
    P/O Sellwood, E.H.

Radio Laboratory: (Eagle Farm)
    Lt. Finger, C.J.

Fifth Air Force Laboratory: (76 Eagle Street)
    Mr. Hodgson, O.

Some of the other names of personnel who worked at Hangar 7 are as follows:-

John D. Mollett
Robert F. Henriksen
Moring P. "Bud" Clark
Miles H. Robbins
Dewey J. Fournet
Sgt Joe Capaldi
"Jell" Cuming (RAAF)
Sybil Brady (WAAAF)
Norman Ostle Clappison (271981 RAAF)
Walter Victor Abraham (74141 RAAF)
Selwood (RAAF)
Bolton (RAAF)
Millar (RAAF)
Rimmington (RAAF pilot)
R.S. MacDonald (RAAF pilot)
Ken James (RAAF pilot)

I would like to hear from any personnel who worked in Hangar 7 during WWII with the Air Technical Intelligence Unit or from family members of these people.

 


Photo:- from Sybil Brady

Sybil Brady (WAAAF) worked in Hangar 7 for a few months in 1944 in the
north west corner of the hangar. She assisted with the typing of records.

 

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A Japanese "Oscar" painted in American colours at Mareeba's "Hoevet" airfield
Another source has suggested to me that this photo may have been taken at Cairns
Photo by E. Daigle

 

More Details and Photographs of the "Oscar"
Courtesy of Sam Hepford

His father, Samuel Hepford, helped to rebuild the "Oscar"

 

Gerry Butler told me that Syd Marshall used to have an Oscar in his large collection at Bankstown many years ago. After Syd died he thinks Col Pay acquired the Oscar with the intention of rebuilding it to airworthy standard. Gerry believes that the Oscar was later sold to the Alpine Collection in New Zealand and that it is now in flying condition.

 

E-mails from Samuel Hepford
Son of Samuel Hepford who assisted with the rebuild of the "Oscar" at
Eagle Farm

 

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A captured Japanese Ki-61-3B "Tony" flying over Brisbane on 4 July 1944

 

WERE YOU OR A RELATIVE INVOLVED
IN WARTIME ACTIVITIES IN HANGAR NO. 7 AT EAGLE FARM?

PLEASE SEND ME AN EMAIL IF YOU WERE

 

WHAT EVENTUALLY HAPPENED TO THE "OSCAR"
AND THE OTHER AIRCRAFT? DOES ANYONE KNOW?

 

Click here to E-Mail me with

any information or photographs on the above

 

Inside Hangar No. 7 in July 2003

 

Inside Hangar No. 7 in July 2003

 

ef13.jpg (45378 bytes) Hangar No. 7 - northern end, 20 July 1999
ef05.jpg (46807 bytes) Hangar No. 7 and the other two hangars taken from the south eastern side, 20 July 1999
ef06.jpg (49494 bytes) Hangar No. 7 - photo taken looking northwards, 20 July 1999
ef07.jpg (69475 bytes) Australian Freight Services have their office in Hangar No. 7 which is now a Heritage Listed building, photo taken 20 July 1999
ef02.jpg (34538 bytes) Hangars at Eagle Farm on 20 July 1999. Note the Gateway Bridge in the distance behind behind the right hand hangar. Hangar No. 7 is at the left hand side of the two large hangars.
ef04.jpg (38462 bytes) 20 July 1999

The Courier Mail reported on 16 April 2005 that there had been preliminary talks between the Brisbane City Council, the Victoria Barracks Historical Society and the Aerospace Heritage Queensland about using Hangar 7. The two organisations would share the hangar with AHQ - Aerospace Heritage Queensland using it for restoration projects to restore civilian and Warbird aircraft. The Eagle Farm Aviation Society, Inc. (EFAS) was subsequently formed by AHQ - Aerospace Heritage Queensland to develop and then operate the Eagle Farm Community Heritage Centre located in Hangar 7 on the site of the old Eagle Farm airfield. This community heritage facility will be housed in the heritage listed “Hangar 7” which was used by the A.T.I.U. – Air Technical Intelligence Unit during WWII.

 

Eagle Farm Aviation Society
The Legend of Hangar 7

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Queensland Airfields WW2 - 50 Years On"
By Roger R. Marks

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank David Foster fro sending me the TAIU Logo and mention of the nose art on Frank T. McCoy's aircraft.

 

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This page first produced 25 July 1999

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