Touchdown at Tadji - an Eye Witness Account

 Tadji Title

78 Squadron pilots involved in the last dogfight in the South West Pacific (June 3rd, 1944) pose after their success - shooting down 10 enemy aircraft near Biak for the loss of just one - a pilot flying the author's personal Kittyhawk A29-401. Second from right in the front row is Jim Harvey, whose Kittyhawk Come in Suckers! had been destroyed just a month before. Arch Simpson was down south on leave and missed out on the turkey shoot. The group shot was taken at Hollandia up the coast from Tadji. In the background of this composite shot is the muddy, bomb cratered landing strip at Tadji with an American "Doug" or Gooney Bird set to take off - in June of 1944. Photos via Arch Simpson (also available at the Australian War Memorial)

In April of 1944, a 78 Squadron RAAF P-40N Kittyhawk, nicknamed "Come in Suckers!" met her end along the northern coast of Papua New Guinea landing on a muddy and miserable airfield known as Tadji. Her pilot, Flight Sergeant Jim Harvey of Melbourne, Victoria, suffered only minor injuries, but "Come in Suckers!" fared worse. The RAAF bulldozed the still smoldering wreckage off the runway to allow Harvey's mates to land immediately as they were out of fuel. The whole incident was witnessed from above by Flight Sergeant Arch Simpson. Simpson recently completed his memoirs of his days fighting the Japanese - an unpublished work written sparsely and beautifully - a gift to his grandchildren. Parts of his memoirs have become a gift to us as well - filling in the gaps of the story of the Kittyhawk that we have come to call the "Stocky Edwards" Kittyhawk.  

Tadji and The Last Flight of "Come in Suckers!" by Arch Simpson

We set off from Cape Gloster on the long hop to Tadji knowing that there was, as yet nowhere for us to land, -- no properly prepared strip, only an area that had previously been a small enemy air strip.

On the plus side there had been a previous softening up of the place by naval bombardment and air strikes, and we were reassured by the fact that our assault troops, ground support and strip building units had gone ashore and were rebuilding the strip. Even as we took to the air, additional landing barges were at the beachhead unloading all the necessary supplies to set up a brand new functional operational base.

So – away we went with blind faith.

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Blind faith indeed!. RAAF ground forces who went in with American storm troops began work on the airstrip at Tadji only a few hours after its capture. Here they use heavy equipment to level the field on the day of 78 Squadron's arrival - April 25th. More than likely, the Kittyhawks of 78 Squadron were on their way to Tadji when this photo was taken. Photo: Australian War Memorial

When we got to the point of no return on our westward flight -- not enough remaining fuel for us to safely get back to friendly territory – we contacted the landing party, and they informed us “Come on in, we will have the strip ready by the time you get here.”

So...  On we went, to arrive over our destination where this rather rough looking area of what looked like a road under construction awaited our arrival.

Billie and I were ordered to maintain a patrol while the others landed, for there was still only a narrow perimeter around the strip in our hands.

But then, Goodness*!   One of those landing suddenly flipped over onto his back without going far along the strip in his landing run. 
 
What had happened was the strip was right on the coast and only a couple of feet above sea level, and bomb and navel shell craters from the previous softening up were deep enough to penetrate the water table and allow them to fill with water.  The strip builders of the RAAF’s Airfield Construction Unit could only fix these with loose tramped earth and sand and hope for the best.   

Unfortunately wheels coming across one of these wet loose filled craters sank and bogged and over went the aeroplane.

Of course, with those of us still in the air running short on fuel, and the strip being only wide enough for one at a time, wreckages had to be unceremoniously bulldozed out of the way.

As Billie and I circled, covering the others as they landed, watching, and noting that those who did land right way up had to get some sort of help off the strip.  We made plans as to how we would attempt to stay right way up, especially as an audience had gathered to watch the excitement.  

By this time the strip looked like a muddy construction site, with deep wheel marks from those who had landed and from the tractors and bulldozers that had gone to their rescue.

I reckoned one of our standard turning approaches, tail high, ‘see a little of where you were going’ wheeler landings might be a bit risky so harked back to early training days and what were called precautionary landings.

The idea was to get the speed right back with everything hanging out -- lots of drag with full flap, gills, wheels, open canopy, low and slow in a nose high attitude, with a fair bit of power.  In that attitude and with power the prop is taking a bit of the aircraft’s weight, and giving extra airflow over the wing centre section and control surfaces and the aircraft is more or less in tail down landing angle anyhow, while on approach.

Felt uncomfortable, and I could not see a thing straight ahead with that bloody great nose up high in the air, but I could see some trees on either side, so kept going.   I felt the wheels, all three of them make contact, and straightway poured lots of power into the poor old girl, with the stick hard back in my belly, to give elevator help in keeping the tail down.  My faithful bird sloshed along for a short distance, but the part buried wheels soon prevented us going any further.  The tractors came to get us out of the way while Billie had his successful turn.

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Flight Sergeant Jim Harvey (in cockpit) poses with his beloved P-40 Kittyhawk Come in Suckers! (A29-414  HU-Z) along with maintainers of 78 Squadron. Harvey would fly "Come in Suckers" on 34 ops including its final mission to Tadji.  Photo via Pioneer Aero

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A close up of the artwork on the fuselage of P-40N A29-414 Come in Suckers! features a swan-diving, bare-breasted angel. James Denman Harvey flew for the Royal Australian Air Force, 78 Squadron and held the rank of Flight Sergeant during his time flying A29-414. The first flight he logged in A29-414 was on the 3rd August 1943 at Richmond, NSW and the first combat flight occurred on the 6th December 1943 from Kiriwina Strip, Kiriwina Island. A29-414 logged 35 flights before crashing at Tadji Strip, New Guinea on the 25th April 1944. James Harvey continued flying with 78 SQN and was discharged on the 22nd August 1945 with the rank of Warrant Officer. Photo: Pioneer Aero

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One of the 78 Squadron maintainers posing with Come in Suckers!. Appears to be the same maintainer standing on the wing in the photo of Jim Harvey and Come in Suckers! above. Photo: Pioneer Aero

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78 Squadron pilots on a jungle airstrip on Kiriwina Island (the largest island of the Trobriand Island Group, 25 miles long and 6 miles wide. Located 360 miles south of Rabaul) - author Arch Simpson stands at right. Photo was taken before moving on to mainland PNG. Photo via Arch Simpson

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At one of the dispersal bays at Hollandia airfield up the coast from Tadji, Arch Simpson (in cockpit) gets ready checking start-up settings as ground crew (an airframe specialist and engine specialist) prepare to wind the inertial starter crank (just forward of the wing fillet) on his own Kittyhawk - A29-401 HU-R. Photo via Arch Simpson

My good mate Jim Harvey was one of the unlucky ones to turn wrong side up, and a little of his blood was spilt when he bumped his head. Your head is pretty close to the ground in an upside down Kittyhawk, but for his troubles he was entitled to an American award - a Purple Heart.  This medal was awarded to any serviceman who spilt blood on the field of battle.  A verse of a song to the tune ‘Frankie and Johnnie’ we used to sing refers to the award.

                Kittyhawks are made by Curtiss,
                They’re made out of scrap iron and parts,
                And every time that you prang one
                Out pops a purple heart,
                Oh ease her down,
                Oh Hughie ease her down.


Or            Kittyhawks are made by Curtiss
                They’re stuck together with tar    
                And every time that you prang one
                Out pops a Silver Star
                Oh ease her down
                Oh Hughie ease her down 

    
Another verse       

                Maxie came in for a landing,
                He held off a little too high,
                To the blurp blurp blurp of his motor
                He prayed to the Lord on high,
                Oh ease her down.
                Oh Hughie ease her down.

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The sad end to the battle veteran Come in Suckers!. Dripping with fire fighting foam and surrounded by rescuers on April 25th, 1944, the Kittyhawk had just been be bulldozed out of the way (with Jim still inside it!) of pilots desperate to land. The entry in Harvey's logbook for that day states "Aircraft crashed and overturned after landing short of strip - pilot OK"   Photo via Pioneer Aero

Many were the songs we used to sing about aeroplanes, besides other more ‘dreamed about’ subjects such as the females of our species.

There was one titled ‘Wirraways Don’t Worry Me’ which referred to ‘going through the gate’ which meant opening the throttle to a maximum unsustainable power setting -- to the tune of ‘Bless ‘em all’

        They say that the Japs have some very nice kites.
        Of that we’re no longer in doubt,
        So if a Zero gets on your tail,
        This is just how to make out: -
        Be cheerful, be careful, be calm, be sedate,
        And don’t let your British blood boil,
        Just don’t hesitate, push her right through the gate,
        And you’ll blind the poor bastard in oil.


But back to Tadji --- In just recent years this place has become an important site for the recovery of aircraft wrecks some of which have been rebuilt up to flying standards.

Mate Jim’s aircraft was one of them, and it was interesting when I was able to talk to the New Zealand people who recovered and started rebuilding his Kittyhawk, A29-414 and tell them that the missing piece hacked from the rear fuselage with 414 painted on it was at Jim’s widow’s home in Surfers Paradise...   Jim’s crew had cut the piece out of the upside down wreck and presented it to him as a memento, and one of the restoration team, Charles Darby recently called on Gladys’ where she passed the piece of aeroplane on to Pioneer Aero Restorations.

While we were at Tadji I can remember watching a shot up P38 Lightning attempting to land and running out of strip to come to grief in the scrub; a write off, but pilot ok,

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P-38 Lightnings of the USAAF land to inspect the runway days after the boys from 78 Squadron landed - here with VIP commanders to inspect the work of the airfield construction units - still at work widening and lengthening. Photo: via Arch Simpson

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One of 78 Squadron's Kittyhawks (HU-B, A29-477) is salvaged for parts at Hollandia. The pilot did not get out of the way in time as the next aircraft landed.  This accident illustrates two things... the limited view forward in a tail dragger fighter at touchdown and the rapid pace of landing a squadron of fighters low on gas. Photo via Arch Simpson

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The author notes about this photo taken at Nadzab prior to moving on to Tadji: "I am far left wearing (as most of us) my 'Mae West', a floatation device. I also have an 18 inch jungle knife strapped to my right leg.  We all wore 38 ammunition belts with concentrated food and surgical packs attached. Happy (in front) has a lanyard to his holstered 38 pistol. Bob and Geo also have holstered 38s on their hips  I wore my 38 under my left armpit, and was as quick to the draw as any!  not being keen on it on the left hip where it hung down amongst the flap and undercart gear in the cockpit.  Also under the arm we hold helmet headset and throat mikes. Other bits of survival gear we put where we could."   Photo via Arch Simpson

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Taken from a low flying Beaufighter reconnaissance aircraft, this view of Hollandia airstrip west of Tadji shows just how muddy, rut covered and cluttered these jungle strips could get. When Arch Simpson and the boys from 78 Squadron arrived, the field was strewn with more than 300 wrecked Japanese aircraft. The 78 Squadron air park was in the upper right of this photo. Photo via Arch Simpson

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The 78 Squadron parking area at Hollandia showing Japanese aircraft wrecks in the foreground. Arch Simpson's kite, HU-R can be seen at the head of the line up. Photo via Arch Simpson

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After Tadji, the Boys for 78 Squadron moved on to Hollandia. The two photos previous show us what it looked like at time of capture, while this shot taken not that much later shows new taxi ways (left) and an airfield crowded with USAAF "Dougs" bringing in supplies.  With only a single strip, operational squadrons were operating from both ends, landing and taking off in both directions. Photo via Arch Simpson

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A map including Northern Australia shows it proximity to Papua New Guinea. The battles along the Kokoda Trail (Port Moresby to Buna over the Owen Stanley Range) and the defeat of the Japanese on Papua New Guinea loom large in the military history of the Australia. The 78 Squadron airfields of Nadzab, Tadji and Hollandia line the coast of the heavily jungled, mountainous and dangerous PNG.   

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Arch Simpson's kite - Kittyhawk HU-R (A29-401) shown on a raid down the coast of Papua New Guinea. The painting was done by artist Geoffrey Pentland. Arch notes that the canopy set-up is not quite right - his kite was a P-40N-1 with scalloped and solid panels behind his seat. This painting shows a P-40N-5 with cutaway aft cockpit. Painting by Geoffrey Pentland


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Another painting by Canadian artist Allan Botting shows the Kittyhawk of Canadian ace James Edwards streaking across a barren North African desert floor. Though Jim Harvey's Kitthawk started out life with the RAAF, it is reborn as an RCAF Kittyhawk. Arch Simpson and his 78 Squadron mates have been magnanimous about this change in identity, stating that this fighter with two identities will fly to commemorate all the airmen of the Commonwealth who flew in the service of their countries. Built in the USA, Flown in Combat by  Australians, Saved and restored by New Zealanders, painted and flown in the markings of a Canadian. It does not get much better than that. Painting by Allan Botting.




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After crashing at Tadji, Come in Suckers! was pushed ignominiously to the side of the airstrip and eventually to the wreck dump - but not before its RAAF crew chief clipped the 414 serial numbers from A-29-414's skin. This souvenir was handed to Jim Harvey on the event of the squadron's 50th anniversary in 1993. Jim died in 1998 and his family has kept this piece of history. When it was discovered that his beloved Come in Suckers! would begin a second life, the small chunk of aluminium skin panel (in original condition) was mated to a corroded skin panel from the wreck after it was brought to Ardmore, New Zealand near Auckland - 65 years to the day that Come in Suckers! crashed. Photo via Pioneer Aero and Paul McSweeny




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Over the last two and a half years A29-414 (background) has been the subject of a painstaking restoration by Pioneer Aero Restorations and on the 23rd of April 2009 with Frank Parker at the controls it took to the air at Ardmore Airfield for its first flight in almost 65 years. Unfortunately James Harvey passed away in 1998 but on April 25th, 65 years from the day of his accident, his wife Gladys, son Robert and grandchildren Nathan and Travis are in New Zealand to see his aircraft fly. Gladys also bought with her the small piece that was cut from the wreckage and 65 years to the day these pieces are reunited.

This restoration of a US-built, Australian-flown aircraft by a small specialist New Zealand company honours all who served and the profile of these flying aircraft will ensure that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice are not forgotten thus allowing the ANZAC tradition to live on. This aircraft is owned now by Vintage Wings of Canada and is finished to represent an aircraft flown by Canadian Ace James "Stocky" Edwards - an aircraft with a dual identity that honours all Commonwealth sevicemen. Photo and text via Paul McSweeny




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The author, Flight Sergeant Arch Simpson, takes shade from the sun at a local air show - at Wangarratta Airport in the Australian state of Victoria. After the war, Arch states "I was "on the land"..., raising beef and fat lambs, but got a bit slow chasing around after sheep and cattle, so now I am a  "a gentleman of leisure". We have a son and three daughters and now seven grandchildren; three at university, and four at high schools." Photo Simpson family Archive 

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Page from Simpson's logbook with entries indicating that he flew Come in Suckers! on a number of missions out of Kiriwina Island to Nadzab in January of 1944. Photo Arch Simpson

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And now, 65 years after Come in Suckers! came to rest on her back in the mud and swelter of a jungle airstrip on the other side of the world, the Kittyhawk that once was flown by Jim Harvey and Arch Simpson, will fly again in the skies of Canada and the United States. She will wear Canadian markings to honour our heroes, but she will also fly for the heroes of the Royal Australian Air Force every time she goes aloft. Photo: Gavin Conroy


The Foreigner Trade

An insight into the life and days in the jungle strips of Papua New Guinea and the Islands of the Southwest Pacific - by Arch Simpson

There were many wrecked Japanese (and Allied) aircraft on the ground at these jungle strips. Enterprising fellows soon made use of bits of these wrecks.  It was known as the 'foreigner trade'   Small items of jewellery, rings, pendants and bangles were laboriously made out of aluminium from the Jap aircraft, and sold for what seemed like extortion!

A particular piece from the scissor arm on the undercarriage of an Oscar (It kept the wheels pointed fore and aft on the round shock absorbing oleo undercarriage leg) was the basis for elegant rings that idle hands used to file, scrape, bore, and polish.  Bits of a coloured toothbrush were shaped and inserted into carefully prepared beds to look like rubies or sapphires, and of particular value, Perspex (which enclosed aircraft cockpits) for diamonds, or perhaps other carefully worked 'Objet-de-art'

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A 78 Squadron Kittyhawk shares the ramp at Hollandia with the hulk of a Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar (Hyabusa to the Japanese) fighter. The RAAF moved in where the Japanese moved out. Maintenance has begun immediately on the Kittyhawk even before the RAAF could plow the Japanese aircraft out of the way.  Today, a wreck such as the Oscar would be worth its weight in gold, but in 1944 is was simply a great source of Perspex (clearly already raided in this shot) and ringed metal for trench art jewelry known by the RAAF as 'The Foreigner Trade". Photo Australian War Memorial

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An example of the "Foreigner Trade"  - A ring of gilded brass topped with a "stone" made from the plastic handle of a toothbrush - made by Leading Aircraftman  Raymond Rooke for his sister Maria. Rooke was stationed at Tadji from November 1944 until the end of hostilities. Photo: Australian War Memorial

Perspex was a trade name and is now known, politically correctly, as clear acrylic sheet and was used extensively around aircraft cockpits. 

It was said that if you pranged, be patient when the rescuers arrived.  Firstly they would salvage any Perspex for their foreigner trade, then the radio for a personal wireless if lined up on musical short wave stations, then the pilot.

Perspex!  I remember having a bit of a problem one day taking off for an op further up the coast.  My dear old bird was most reluctant about getting the wind under her wings. She just did not want to fly, and we only just cleared the scrub and trees at the far end of the strip by a whisker. Instruments all reported things normal but when I went to wind the cockpit canopy forward; we always took off with the canopy open), horror! The two front attachment points had let go and the canopy was sitting up like a bloody great spinnaker sail on top of the fuselage behind me, held there by the two remaining rear attachment points.  I hastened to wind it forward so as to reach the jettison toggle, but when about three quarters home the whole thing caught in the vortex of the windscreen and crashed down on my head, causing much confusion and a lot of blood.

Still seeing stars I eventually was able to jettison the thing, and then indicate to Bob that it was not much use my continuing with them on the op, and returned to base.

My crew came about with questions of what's wrong, and with blood streaming down my face pointed to no canopy.  They promptly asked where, so I vaguely pointed to a stretch of jungle a few miles away, and to my amazement, they jumped in a jeep and headed off in that direction, for a Perspex hunt!   I should have applied for an American 'Purple Heart' medal after that episode!


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Another fine example of the "Foreigner Trade" held in the collection of the Australian War Memorial - A Heart shaped piece of Perspex with a kangaroo and the word 'AUSTRALIA' embedded in it. These have been cut from an Australian half penny. On either side of the word 'AUSTRALIA' is a red and a blue diamante. There is a hole in the top of the heart, which would have held a hook to hang it on a chain. Souvenir made by 71331 Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Raymond Rooke for his sister Maria. Photo: Australian War Memorial

Post Script

Arch Simpson wrote his unpublished memoirs so that his children, and in particular his grandchildren, would better understand the sacrifices, glories, kinship and history shared by he and his mates over 65 years ago. Here is a small excerpt from the beginning of his memoir - it may be the beginning, but it is also a good way to end. 

"There we were, piloting our trusty flying machines after a long patrol, weary but relaxing; unwinding, heading towards safe home territory after one of many monotonous ‘nil sightings’ but very necessary valley patrols. Watching over, and ready to protect this main supply route, the Markham /Sepik river valleys in central New Guinea.  We were returning to base at Nadzab and indulging in a bit fun flying in a line astern chase amongst a lot of cumuli/nimbus cloud tops at about twenty thousand feet.  A typical late afternoon tropical weather pattern.

We brushed over the brilliant, sharply defined white tops of these boiling clouds, climbing and bunting over build-ups, then belting up the dark ominous purple-grey cloud valleys and canyons with our wing tips leaving twisting vortexes as they brushed through the misty edges, --- enjoying the sense of freedom, speed and manoeuvrability; enjoying the quick control response of this willing little work horse, gun platform of an aeroplane, when, -- suddenly we broke out into clear air and could look down
a vertical cloud face; one continuous wall of cloud with, at the bottom, grey rain to the jungle floor.  We were given a true perspective of our actual height, and my first thought was; ‘Goodness*’!

 What am I doing away up here, teasing this massive build up of cloud alone in this comparatively tiny aeroplane?  I was a little intimidated by the beauty, power and size of that awesome cloud.

Well my grandchildren, too quickly growing up. One or other of you have often asked what it was like when I was young and experiencing what you are experiencing as you grow older.

Our life was very different, but you have asked, particularly about my flying during the war – so here are some of the experiences of my early life that I faintly remember.

As you read, perhaps you might forgive me, and maybe your young friends might also forgive their grandparents when we get a bit grumpy and with a faraway look on our eyes say “ When I was your age.....!""

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One of Arch Simpson's granddaughters throws a comforting arm over his shoulder as he gets up close to a P-40 Kittyhawk at Wangarratta. Arch lost mates and shared profound life experiences during his time fighting the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific. Photo: Arch Simpson Family Archive

Arch Simpson

* Any expression of alarm that suddenly comes to mind" ... often unprintable.

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