CRASH OF A DOUGLAS C-39
NORTH EAST OF ALICE SPRINGS
ON 25 MAY 1942
On 25 May 1942, VH-CCA 2062 Douglas C-39-DO (DC-2-243), #38-505, of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron of the 374th Transport Carrier Group crashed after takeoff north east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory while on a combat mission. The aircraft was overloaded and was a complete loss.
The aircraft had arrived at Alice Springs on 24 May 1942 after having made a forced landing the previous day during bad weather 5 miles west of Connor's Well approximately 50 miles north of Alice Springs after flying from Batchelor Strip. After being checked, without any apparent damage, it was flown to Alice Springs (Northern Territory) where it was again checked on the same day.
The aircraft actually was tasked to collect a Cargo load that was stranded at Alice Springs when C-53 #41-20053, also of the 21st TCS had to be diverted to Townsville on the 23rd May 1942.
Although this cargo was found to have been already picked up by Lockheed VH-ADT, with the balance going by land transport and delivered to Daly Waters, there was a request from Lt O'Neill whether there was any back loading to go back to Bachelor Strip. There was 20 cases of .303 cal Tracer (for the RAAF) and packets of bottled Blood Plasma needed urgently at Daly Waters. After receiving permission to backload from Archerfield airfield in Brisbane, Queensland they loaded the cargo onboard to deliver to Daly Waters. The aircraft also carried 15,000 Australian Pounds and 300 Pounds worth of silver.
It was planned to take-off on the following day, Monday, 25 May 1942 at 0100hrs. This was however was delayed until 0355 hrs. After taking off it was seen to bank to the north east of the airfield whereupon it crashed and exploded in flames at 0357 hrs on 25 May 1942. Only one body was not burnt beyond recognition, that of Sgt Rolfe M Smith, USAAF. The cased ammunition on board exploded and continued exploding for approximately 3 hours.
Photo:- via Gordon Birkett
The burnt-out remains of VH-CCA 2062 Douglas C-39-DO, #38-505, 21st Troop Carrier Squadron
All the crew were killed as follows:-
2nd Lt. Russell L. Callison
2nd Lt. William A. O'Neill (0-425102)
Pvt. Martin J. Law
Pvt. Rolfe M. Smith
A total of seven US personnel and two RAAF were killed in this crash . Another record show that a 2nd Lt. Aubrey Lawless Tobias (0-409780) from Brazos County, Texas was also killed in this crash. He was a passenger on this aircraft. He was a USAAF liaison officer to RAAF HQ at Batchelor at the time. Tobias's body was later reburied at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney, New South Wales (date unknown), before his body was returned to the States.
Terry Minchew has a copy of the special orders paper dated 14 April 1942 placing his uncle, 2nd Lt. Aubrey Lawless Tobias of 38th Infantry, at Base Section Number One, Birdum, Northern Territory, Australia on 10 January 1942.
The two RAAF Personnel killed in this tragic crash are as follows:-
Flight Lieutenant Duncan Matheson of 2 BGS (2161)
Leading Aircraftsman James Emannuel Skillen of Air Force Headquarters (2669)
The remains of the two RAAF personnel were interred at Alice Springs Military Cemetery at 1100 hours on 26 May 1942. The funeral arrangements were made by the Camp Commandant No. 11 C.A.L. of C Sub-Area, Alice Springs. Church of England Padre Captain Brooker led the funeral service. The pall and coffin bearers were drawn from the RAAF Liaison Department. The Last Post was sounded by an Army bugler. The two graves were given temporary wooden slab markers and suitably inscribed painted wood crosses were placed later.
Flight Lieutenant Duncan Matheson was on his way to Birdum to take up his new duties. LAC Skillen had received a telegram from his wife on 23 May 1942 at approximately 4 pm stating that she was seriously ill in hospital. LAC Skillen was granted leave to travel to Sydney to visit his sick wife.
Bob Livingstone provided the following history on this aircraft as follows:-
William A. O'Neill & 2/Lt.Russell L. Callison;
VHCCA 2062 Douglas C-39-DO (DC-2-243)
15/05/39 38-505 USAAC US$73,320.08;975hp R-1820-21
05/08/41 to PI
19/12/41 dep Nichols Field PI crewed Hoffman/Salvatore
22/12/41 arr Darwin
11/01/42 reported DES E/A Nichols Field
02/42 ATC AAF
07/03/42 Pearce-Port Pirie
25/05/42 CR Alice Springs on t/o; overloaded (2762lb);
remains of wreck still buried there;
7 US personnel & 2 RAAF all killed
2nd Lt Russell Callison had been involved in an earlier crash of a Kittyhawk at Amberley on 30 January 1942.
American Battle Monuments Commission
Russell L. Callison
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Forces
Service # 0-403883
21st Transport Squadron, 22nd Air Base Group
Entered the Service from: Illinois
Buried at: Plot B Row 0 Grave 274
NOTE:- Early official records for Flight Lieutenant Duncan Matheson incorrectly showed his serial number as 2151.
"Plane crash in Central Australia", Cootamundra Herald, 29 May 1942
"Plane Crash in Central Australia Officers Killed", The West Wyalong Advocate 28 May 1942
I'd like to thank Terry Minchew, Gordon Birkett and Bob Livingstone for their assistance with this web page.
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 22 May 2000
This page last updated 27 February 2020