ABMM has uncovered evidence for the existence of a secret Japanese “Bush” airstrip in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory as well as evidence of Japanese espionage activities in Far North Queensland.
PERSONAL FOR DPR FROM SO1 (PR).
a. Our telecon of 7 Nov 73, Arnhem Land airstrip.
at XXXXXX Station Arnhem land Jun 59 owner Mr. XXXX XXXXXX (now deceased – died 1966) mentioned Japanese aircraft bombing Katherine 1942-43 approx, had flown in from approx due east passing some few miles north of XXXXXX. XXXXXX alleged examination of aircraft by RAAF authorities disclosed they not carrier borne but land based aircraft not carrying drop tanks. Japanese aircraft crashed was bound for Katherine bomb load exploded, scattering aircraft wreckage over wide area. XXXXXX took me to crash scene where few unidentifiable pieces of metal still remained near XXXXXX water hole north XXXXXX Station homestead. XXXXXX also stated and corroborated by his brother in law, Mr. XXX XXXXX that natives coming into station from gulf coast had reported “plenty china men and big silver birds”. XXXXXX believed as natives were familiar with Japanese pearling/fishing fleets from pre war days and XXXXXXX bay massacre these reports could mean presence of Japanese airstrip on XXXX of Gulf of Carpentaria possibly due east of XXXXXX. toward mid-July army Cessna pilot then S Sgt, now Maj XXXXXXX XXXXXXX AA AVN Corps told me he had seen strange stilted huts inland from XXXX XXXX bay. subsequently XXXXXXX and I, in chartered Cessna from XXXXXXXXX Flying School Sydney (possibly reg. VH-XXX) flew range running north south parallel with XXXX coast of Gulf inland from XXXX XXXX bay.
We located a “village” of stilted huts on a meander of the XXXX River approx eight miles inland adjacent to what appeared to be a level and graded claypan area on which we landed. Together we cut way through dense undergrowth to “village” where several photographs, subsequently confiscated, were taken by XXXXXX and myself. Village consisted of approximately 12 huts, built on stilts with floor level about feet six inches six above ground level reached by ladder from ground. Noted that rungs of ladder all made from bush vines and timber had been lashed in position with diagonal lashings, started and finished with a clove hitch. Structures appeared to have been laid out with some purpose in mind. There were two large shelters at ground level approx 12’ x 12’ which although structurally identical with other huts were at ground level. On floor of one of these I picked up a spark plug which was of the screw headed aircraft type. There was no other sign of native occupancy. No natives were seen, the ashes of two fires were found – both old fires as rain marks were visible in the ash and there had been no rain for some weeks. After inspecting village for approx one hour we returned to aircraft and noticed a pole approximately 15’ high with a wire loop at its head. We agreed that this had probably been a wind sock, although no vestige of material was visible. Subsequently on my return to Canberra, late Jul 59, photographs of the village were seen on my desk by Maj XX XXXXXX of DRAC, who alleged that the huts were identical with those which POW were made to build by the Japanese on the Burma Siam railway.
My scepticism caused XXXXXX to have me verify his statement with Mr. XXXX XXXXX (now XXX, dept of external territories Canberra) who corroborated XXXXXX’s statement. Both were POW working on the railway. This caused my enquiry to DMI as to whether we had any knowledge of a temporary Allied war time airstrip in this vicinity. I was informed a few days later that we had no knowledge of any Allied airstrip even remotely near the area. The story previously written by Maj (now Lt Col) XXXXXX at XXXXXX before he left there about a week ahead of me was never released nor were the pictures. In 1961 I met in Sydney in company with the then Private Secretary to the Minister an officer who alleged, without any knowledge of this story, that he had been despatched from XXXX XXXXX mission with a small party of troops to look for a supposed Japanese airfield. I assumed that this probably arose from XXXXXX’s report based on what the natives had told him referred to above. This officer laughingly told me that he and his party had regarded the story as preposterous and had only been a few miles north of the XXXX XXXXX mission before camping for about three weeks, during which time they fished and lazed about. I asked him discretely had any parties been as far north as XXXX XXXX Bay. He scoffed and said that country was only good for the crocodiles and the blacks and nobody in his right mind would go there.
If this airfield was occupied by the Japanese and if this officer’s party did not go beyond XXXX XXXXX Mission it appears possible that such an airstrip could have been constructed and used during world war 2 as the Japanese knowledge of the coastline and its geography was infinitely better than ours until as recently as 1959 when the survey party to which I was attached began accurately mapping the area.
Reprinted with permission on War History Online