Comparing the three intelligence documents
referred to at the beginning of the previous section yields an inventory
of aircraft captured at Tuluvu as follows: three each BETTYS, NICKS,
OSCARS, and SONIAS; a pair of TONYS and ZEKES each; and, single
examples of HELEN, NELL, and VAL. This totals nineteen aircraft.
These have been described above. The history of some of these aircraft
has been pretty clearly displayed. In other cases resort has been
made to a fair amount of speculation.
The initial question one might ask of this list is what happened
to the many aircraft mentioned as force landed at Tuluvu in the
text of the narrative. The obvious answer is that many of those
aircraft were suffering from only minor or otherwise repairable
faults and they were repaired and flown out. That leaves the question
of aircraft that were specifically mentioned as “badly damaged”
such as the very first aircraft to land at Tuluvu a Type 100 reconnaissance
plane or DINAH. It was not found. What happened to it? The answer
at this stage of research is we don’t know. The possibility
exists it was salvaged and most or all of it shipped back to Rabaul
on an MLC or other vessel. The Japanese were known in some cases
to ship badly damaged but repairable or salvageable aircraft all
the way back to Japan in ships returning with available capacity.
This could be the answer in other cases as well. Another answer
is that some of these aircraft may have been reduced to unrecognizable
scrap by bombing (a direct hit by a 1000 pound bomb might do that).
Two unserviceable NELLS were identified in aerial photographs on
August 4th and still at Tuluvu on the 27th of the same month. Yet
only one NELL was captured, or was it the only one?
The list of aircraft captured at Tuluvu contained in the official
Marine Corps monograph history of the campaign differs from the
list compiled in the previous section. The Marine Corps list mentions
only seventeen aircraft. That list is consistent with the numbers
of aircraft listed above in the cases of NICK, SONIA, OSCAR, plus
the HELEN and VAL. The Marine Corp list has only two BETTYS and
a single TONY. It has no ZEKES but adds one HAMP. Finally, it lists
two NELLS. There is no definitive way to reconcile these differences.
One might suspect the Marine HAMP was ZEKE mark 2 No. 3580, an easy
mistake to make with a damaged aircraft (photos that are apparently
of this aircraft show half of one wing missing and the other wingtip
apparently missing, making it very difficult to identify as a HAMP
or ZEKE). That does not account for the extra NELL, however (it’s
a little harder to mistake a NELL for a BETTY than a ZEKE for a
HAMP but stranger things have happened).
The list in the Marine’s official history of the campaign
is based on the 1st Marine Division’s after action report.
That report adds little additional detail and what it does add does
not aid in reconciling the different versions. It places all three
SONIAS on No. 2 strip (along with the BETTYS, HELEN, HAMP and VAL)
and does not mention Mt. Talawe as the location of one of the SONIAS.
Other than mentioning that the TONY found was serviceable and potentially
an important find, and, that two aircraft were possibly repairable
(one each NICK and NELL) the Marine after action report provides
no other detail on aircraft condition. It provides the general location
of airstrip No. 1 (for 9 aircraft) or airstrip No. 2 (for 8 aircraft)
but nothing additional. The entire discussion of captured aircraft
is contained in what amounts to an extended paragraph in a report
that runs for hundreds of pages. The Marines took the trouble to
gather information on aircraft captured at Tuluvu but in their report
the discussion of these aircraft is laid out in rather summary fashion.
This part of their report may have been closed out before the full
assessment of the TAI team was made and may constitute an incomplete
evaluation that was never revised in light of later evidence.
To add to the confusion of what aircraft were actually at Cape
Gloucester is the following. The U.S. National Archives has a collection
of actual maker’s plates from Japanese aircraft mounted on
cards. One of these cards is for a NELL 2-engine transport serial
number 5574 (no tail number given) found at Cape Gloucester! Is
this the missing NELL? More remarkably yet another card holds a
maker’s plate for type 1 (model 2) fighter No. 5653 built
by Nakajima, produced in June 1943 and test flown in July 1943,
found at Cape Gloucester. If this card is to be believed an OSCAR
Mark 2 that does not appear on anyone’s list of Cape Gloucester
aircraft was found there. The card is simply wrong. There is a “pro
forma” report on this aircraft. It was found on Long Island
on 27 January 1944. The confusion may have arisen because the same
TAI team inspecting Cape Gloucester made expeditions to Umboi and
Long Islands. The NELL card is probably erroneous as well. Recognizing
the uncertainty caused by such evidence, the author commends his
list of Tuluvu’s aircraft to the reader as the one based on
the best available evidence.
This monograph closes with the story of Tuluvu (Cape Gloucester)
and its aircraft told it is hoped, if far from perfectly, with more
detail and accuracy then heretofore while also providing new insights
on the larger air war over New Guinea and New Britain. This story,
despite a fair amount of detail, is filled with many gaps. Additions
or corrections to information presented here are solicited.
Historiology note. This work is, in part, a modest attempt to initiate
thought and dialogue on some common conventions used by Pacific
War historians that may tend to distort history. A couple will be
mentioned here. One of these is converting Allied codenames into
Japanese aircraft designations without actually determining the
type of aircraft involved. E.g., a HAMP in a contemporaneous Allied
report becomes a navy Zero 32 or A6M3 in a history based on that
report, though the actual aircraft involved in the action may have
been an army Type 1 fighter. This conversion makes it appear that
the author is not merely relying on the original report but knows
as a fact the Japanese aircraft type involved. If this is the author’s
intention, fraud is probably not too strong a word. If his intention
is something else then negligence or sloth may be more appropriate
terms. In the author’s opinion, it is a practice not to be
condoned. Another major factor distorting an accurate view of air
combat in the Pacific is the acceptance of combat claims as correct
or even as approximately correct (or equally fallacious, assuming
some simplistic standard such as 50% or 75% accuracy of claims is
generally applicable). The author is convinced until more work is
done in this area all relative assessments of aircraft, pilots,
tactics, and other factors must be considered suspect. In summary,
only with exploitation of all available sources and attention to
detail can an accurate picture of the Pacific air war be painted.
Repetition and acceptance of big picture conclusions that are based
on inaccurate details can hardly be expected to make those conclusions