ChapterXI: Missing Aircraft and other Mysteries
(click images to enlarge)

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 correct.

Return to Menu
Next Chapter
Previous Chapter