In early November 1941, Major General Lewis Brereton, the Commanding Officer of the U.S.F.E.A.F. in the Philippines came to Australia to survey a route between Australia and the Philippines to ferry aircraft from the USA. He discovered that much work had to be done to prepare airfields at Batchelor, Darwin and Port Moresby for the transit of heavy bombers.

Major General Brereton left his B-17 Flying Fortress #40-3067 at Archerfield Airfield in Brisbane and his party travelled south in a B-18 Bolo and a Lockheed Hudson as they were told the B-17 was too large for most airfields south of Brisbane.


Photo:- via Rod Jackson

General Brereton's B-17 Flying Fortress #40-3067
parked at Archerfield Airfield 20 - 24 November 1941


Photo:- via Roger Marks

General Brereton's B-17 Flying Fortress #40-3067
parked at Archerfield Airfield in November 1941


Photo:- via Eric Allen

General Brereton's B-17 Flying Fortress #40-3067
parked at Archerfield Airfield in November 1941


Brereton had talks with Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Burnett and the Air Staff regarding the above problems with the airfields which had already caused damage to some bombers due to the state of the runways. He also discussed the arrangements for unloading fighter aircraft at Townsville and Brisbane and plant and machinery for the assembly and of aircraft, the need for additional dispersal airfields, the establishment of training centres and the need for a major repair depot in Brisbane. Brereton's requirements were based on one heavy bombardment group, three fighter groups, three bomber reconnaissance squadrons and associated service groups.

Fighter aircraft and light bombers, originally destined for the Philippines were diverted to Brisbane and Townsville. Once assembled they would be flown west for the journey to Darwin (Base Section One). From Brisbane they would fly 400 miles due west to Charleville. Then a further 550 miles to Cloncurry, still in Queensland. Aircraft assembled in Townsville would fly 400 miles directly to Cloncurry. The next leg was a 500 mile hop to Daly Waters in the Northern Territory and then finally the leg to Darwin. The following are details of 3 groups of aircraft that travelled to Darwin via Daly Waters:-

In mid February 1942, a group of 25 Kittyhawks left Amberley on their way to Perth to be partially disassembled and placed on ships for Java. Major Pell of the 33rd Provisional (Pursuit) Squadron, led the second flight of 15 Kittyhawks. When they reached Port Pirie, Major Pell and his group of 15 Kittyhawks were diverted to Darwin for convoy escort duty to Timor. They were then to be ferried to Koepang in Java. One of his aircraft crashed while at Port Pirie, killing the pilot and another 4 unserviceable aircraft were left behind.
Only 12 of the Kittyhawks made it to Daly Waters and of these only 10 made it to Darwin on 17 February 1942. 

On Christmas Eve 1941, Paul Irving "Pappy" Gunn was ordered to fly a load of passengers from the Philippines to Australia.

Gunn made it through to Brisbane. On 20 January 1942, twenty crated P-40 Kittyhawks arrived in Brisbane. Gunn round up a crew of American and Australian personnel and started to de-crate and assemble the Kittyhawks. More crated Kittyhawks were due shortly on another ship. Gunn also rounded up 25 pilots from the 17th Fighter Group who had recently arrived in Brisbane from the Philippines to help with the Kittyhawk assembly.

The Kittyhawks were fully assembled, and test flown by the end of January 1942. On 16 February 1942, 17 Kittyhawks, formed into two flights, and left left Brisbane to travel the Brereton Route via Charleville, Daly Waters to Darwin.

"Pappy" Gunn led one of the two flights in his Beechcraft (also known as a C-45). They arrived in Darwin 3 days later minus 3 Kittyhawks which had crashed along the way.

On 8 March 1942, Captain James Selman took off from Williamtown airfield with 25 Kittyhawks of the 9th Pursuit Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group to traverse the Brereton Route headed for Darwin. They travelled via Brisbane, where Lieutenants Bud Howk and John Sauber were left behind with engine trouble. They arrived in Darwin several days later. The 23 remaining Kittyhawks staged through Charleville, where another two aircraft had mechanical problems. 21 Kittyhawks then pressed on for Cloncurry, being lead by a B-17 Flying Fortress. There were two heavy landings at Cloncurry. Lieutenant Ed Smith's aircraft was written off. He was not injured and he then became a passenger on the B-17 for the rest of the journey.

Now there were only 19 of the 25 Kittyhawks left to continue the next hop to Daly Waters on 14 March 1942. During scattered thunderstorms, four Kittyhawks became separated and when low on fuel, they eventually landed on an isolated sheep station way off the Brereton Route. These four aircraft were recovered later. The other 15 Kittyhawks managed to land at Daly Waters in between passing rain storms. They radioed Melbourne again and were reminded that they must reach Darwin as soon as possible. A three day stopover at Daly Waters allowed much needed repairs to their weary aircraft.

On 17 March 1942, Lieutenant Spehr was on a test flight. He attempted an aerobatic barrel roll at low altitude. Unfortunately his engine stalled and his Kittyhawk crashed to the ground and burst into flames not far from the airfield. Spehr was killed immediately and was buried in the small local cemetery that evening.

On 18 March 1942, the remaining 14 aircraft headed off for the final leg to Darwin. Yet another aircraft had mechanical problems and failed to take off. Hence 13 of the original 25 Kittyhawks finally arrived in Darwin at midday on 18 March 1942. They received orders to start operational patrols immediately.

On 19 March 1942, the four lost Kittyhawks who had landed at the sheep station, arrived in Darwin after a transport aircraft had brought them some fuel. After an assessment of the damage at Darwin airfield caused by the many Japanese bombing raids, it was decided to move the 9th Pursuit Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group to Batchelor airfield, 50 miles south of Darwin.

Unfortunately, there was another serious accident at Daly Waters. 2nd Lieutenant Sid Woods made a crash landing on his arrival at Daly Waters. The Kittyhawk was written off and Woods' injuries caused him to be incapacitated for one month.

On 5 June 1942, Lieutenant Sells of the 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group made a forced landing in his Kittyhawk during a flight from Charleville to Cloncurry. He was following the Brereton Route to Darwin. His engine overheated and he made a forced landing near the small station of Longreach. The Kittyhawk was abandoned there.


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This page first produced 20 September 2002

This page last updated 13 January 2020