The Bakers Creek Air Crash: America's Worst Aviation Disaster of the Southwest Pacific War. By Robert S. Cutler. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2016. Photographs. Maps. Diagrams. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Pp. 263. $29.99 ISBN: 978-1-5144-8961-1
This book details a 1943 non-combat aviation disaster in the Southwest Pacific and the efforts many years later to remember the victims. Returning some troops to New Guinea from rest and relaxation (R&R) in Australia, an ex-19th BG B-17C crashed on takeoff, killing 40 men. This work honors those who died serving their country.
B-17C 40-2072 survived the desperate fighting of the war's early days. Removed from combat as modern B-17E replacements arrived, it was assigned as a transport in May 1942 to the 22nd Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS). The B-17C's capacity and range made it a valuable part of the airlift capability hastily assembled for the defense of Port Moresby. By January 1943 the heavily used aircraft required frequent repairs. It probably should have been retired; but, deemed too valuable to spare, it soldiered on.
The recapture of Kokoda in early 1943 took the pressure off Port Moresby. Hard-pressed troops soon were given leave. The Army set up Red Cross-operated R&R centers in Australia. One such facility was in MacKay, on Australia's eastern coast. In March 1943 the well-worn 40-2072, now with the 46th TCS, began an almost daily run from Port Moresby to MacKay. It was makeshift: over three dozen men per trip sat on the floor, unsecured in the stripped interior. On June 14, 1943, the aircraft crashed just after takeoff from Mackay in a remote spot known as Bakers Creek, killing all but one of the 41 men aboard. Wartime secrecy prevailed, and the men's families were told only that they had died in an aircraft crash in the Southwest Pacific.
Hushed up for years--the records were classified until 1958--the accident faded from sight in America. In Australia the story was different. The aircraft crashed in view of many MacKay residents, horrifying and saddening them. After the war, their annual tributes to the men culminated in dedication of a monument at Bakers Creek in 1992. The U.S. effort to remember the victims started that year when a friend of some of those who died, two retired Army genealogy experts, and author Cutler combined their talents to locate and contact families. Their work inspired further efforts. 46th TCS veterans formed the Bakers Creek Memorial Association (BCMA) in 2000...