WWII mystery

The Mystery of the WWII Japanese Fuselage

The Village received this object from Squadron Leader Frank Smith who retired to Miles after serving in the RAAF.

signature detailIt is section of aircraft fuselage that has been cut out of a plane. The ‘sign of the sun’ or hinumaru marking indicated that it is a section of an Imperial Japanese Forces plane from World War II. The discoloration and blackening marks over part of the hinomaru suggest that the plane was in a crash or on fire. It is particularly interesting because it is signed by 29 identifiable Australian people. They often include their service number with the signature and they are all by Australian Servicemen in the RAAF, their names and numbers are recorded.


Its very lightweight aluminum construction, composed of a thin skin with a series of strengthening ribs, is correct for Japanese WWII aircraft. They were built in this lightweight fashion in order to be capable of long distances at high speeds as this was required to support the expansionist campaign goals of Imperial Japan at this time.

We have always thought that the information on the original label which accompanies the object, the wing of a G4M Betty bomber the first plane to be shot down over Darwin in WWII. However, research into the Darwin air raid in January 1943 showed that none of the G4M bombers were shot down in Darwin during the raid, partly because they flew in at a very high altitude. Only Japanese aircraft carrier based planes were shot down in the Darwin raid.

This discovery led us to seek advice from an expert in Japanese aircraft who seemed confident that the diameter of the hinomaru marking (66cm) on the object indicated that the plane was not a G4M Betty bomber, but actually a G3M Nell bomber. Unfortunately none of the G3M aircraft were shot down in Darwin during the raid either, so we started to look into the people who had signed it. By comparing their dates of service enrollment and discharge, we calculated that they were all serving together in the RAAF between November 1943 and June 1945.

We then tried to find out a bit more about the 58OBU mentioned on the original label. We discovered that during WWII Frank Smith had been stationed at 58OBU, which was the host unit of the Mungalalu-Truscott Airbase, then known as Truscott Airfield, a secretly developed facility in the Anjo Peninsula of north east Western Australia which was used for lots of different missions as this extract from wikipedia shows:

It was used as a staging base for Allied bombers and flying boats, from bases further south, making attacks on Japanese targets in the Dutch East Indies. The site was chosen because it is the point on the Australian mainland closest to Java, where Japanese forces were concentrated. Aircraft from nearby RAAF fighter squadrons (and occasionally RAF units) were rotated through the base to provide air defence for the base. RAAF and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) heavy and medium bombers would stage through Truscott, often rearming and refuelling several times on bombing missions into Japanese held areas before returning to their home bases around Western Australia and the Northern Territory. B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were two of the most common airframes to stage through Truscott. Catalina flying boats operated from West Bay and Spitfire aircraft were the most common fighter rotated through the base for local air defence.
Whilst looking into the Truscott story we discovered that a Japanese Army Mitsubishi Ki-46 Dinah reconnaissance plane was shot down near Truscott on 20th July 1944. Interestingly this was the last plane shot down over Australia in WWII, and maybe there has been a confusion between first and last?

nt171-03It is tempting to think that our fuselage section comes from the 1944 Ki-46 crash; the plane was shot down by Spitfires into the sea and the wreckage was moved after the event at a low tide. Crash landing in the sea would have arrested it’s consumption by fire. Moving the wreckage by barge enabled the souveniring of the hinomaru marking by Australian troops from 58OBU. They were all serving in RAAF at the time, although we do not know that they were all at Truscott at the time of the crash. Maybe the fuselage section was signed by the various servicemen at the same time, perhaps as it was brought back to the base?

Another possibility is that the object originated a souvenir, picked up from one of many Pacific island wreck sites, which made its way to Truscott airfield where it was put on display and was signed by various people as they passed through. We may never know the true story.

Frank Smith presumably removed the object from display when the base was being closed down or it was given as a leaving present and he brought it with him to Miles.

The actual story behind the object still remains a bit of a mystery and we have put a lot of effort into discovering the truth, but perhaps having an unclear picture makes it somehow even more intriguing?

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