1965 Trek to the 'Swamp Ghost'
by Frank Gray
In 1965 I was stationed at Popondetta which the main town on the north coast of New Guinea. The surrounding area was the scene for some heavy fighting during the war years. I first become interested in the B-17 (Swamp Ghost) after seeing it on a day fight from Popondetta to Tufi. The pilot did a couple of low flights over it and marked it on his flight map.
On my return to Popondetta I and three other companions made arrangements to try to get to the aircraft. This would take three attempts before we finally made it. Our first two treks where met with disappointment. After travelling down the coast from Oro Bay by a 20 foot boat fitted with 40 HPoutboard.We motored up the Karaisa River until we reached the Karaisa village. From here on we needed to rely on the local natives to take our party further up the river. Which by this time was not much better than a creek, being the dry season. The village elders for the first two attempts were not willing to help due to suspicions believe about the swamp. We spoke to the elders asking them if they knew anything of the crew. Apparently they were given aid by some of the villagers.
On our third attempt we were granted help and set of up the creek or river or whatever you want to call it by canoes. After a couple of hours we came to the end of the headwaters which drains of the swamp. We and the natives started to cut our way through the sago palms and swamp grass in the direction of the aircraft. This was done with the aid of one of the natives climbing a tree and taking a fix on the aircrafts rudder. From the point where we left the canoes to time that we were standing on the wing. Would have been a distance of no more than ¼ of a mile but this took us just over four hours to cut through.
It was obvious that no other person had been to this aircraft before us. Everything was still in place just has it had been left all those years ago. Our plan was to do a shuttle back and forth to the canoes removing as much as possible items that could be man handled. This didn’t happen, we had planned to stay overnight but the natives wanted to return to their village. There would have been no way for us to get out of there without their canoes so reluctantly we had to abide to their demands.
Items that we did manage to remove were:
Norton bomb sight
navigation light off rudder
A couple of instruments (stolen from me at a later date)
Most interesting time for me was that everything that I touched worked, rudder elevator throttle mixture ailerons controls. We tried to remove the yoke that was spoken about but ran out of time. I think that if it could have been lifted out in one piece, it would have taken very little to get it flying again but now that will never happen. There was very little damage to the fuselage, just a few bullet holes in the rudder section. All of the machine gun where able to be operated, with all of the breechblocks working especially the top turret. I was able to manually operate the turret by the crank. The aircrafts belly was full of 50.calibre machine gun boxes. Left in the aircraft were maps radios parachutes and a lot of other items that I wish we could have removed but it wasn’t to be.