“I ran into an old chap several years ago who claims that as a boy he witnessed the “Yanks” constructing large bitumen lined trenches at the base of a hill. He went on to say that before sealing these renches, they were filled with all the latest delivery, new model tanks, artillery and aircraft (I presume to be Pershing tanks and Grumman Bearcats) in case of a Japanese uprising.”
“A friend of Adamas Jorgensen purchased a 1942 Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle from an Army Disposals Auction in the early 1980’s. The motorcycle was sold ‘as is’, unassembled in crates with U.S. Army stencilling. Where did the Army ‘get’ these cycles?”
The above is from Peter Dunn’s www.ozatwar.com website.
As you can see from even this tiny snippet of material, there is no shortage of rumours, myths and urban legends about buried or stockpiled equipment in Australia left over from the Second World War. These stories have caught the imagination of generations of Australians and similar stories have been told right around the country since 1945. Some foolhardy individuals have spent their entire life’s savings searching northern Australia and the Pacific Islands for phantom Spitfires and B24 bombers based purely on half-remembered events or tall tales reluctantly told at the bar of the local pub for the price of a pot or schooner – or three.
Over the last 60 years, these fanciful stories have become an entrenched part of Australian folklore. Many folk in rural Australia lay claim to knowing someone who “knows someone” who dug up a brand new Willys Jeep or Harley Davidson motorcycle (allegedly brand-new and still in its crate) during the 60s, 70s, 80s or even the 90s.
The question still begs, so what is the origin of these urban myths?
It is a well-documented, but scarcely-known fact that when the Second World War came to a sudden and unexpected end in 1945, the Allies were gearing up for an amphibious invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. To support this invasion, almost unimaginable amounts of vehicles, weapons, munitions and aircraft were stockpiled in US base areas right through the Southwest Pacific Area – including Australia, which was a massive United States staging area from 1942 onwards.
After the cessation of hostilities, the lend-lease equipment provided to Australian forces and the Royal Navy Pacific Carrier Air Groups was disposed of by whatever means possible. Under the terms of the Lend Lease Agreement, war material was to be either rendered inoperable, paid for in full, or returned to the custody of the United States Foreign Liquidation Commission.
Few post-war nations could afford to pay for the equipment and the United States was rarely interested in having the material returned. That usually left one option, Destruction.
In the Pacific Islands, this usually meant vehicles and aircraft being crushed or burned and abandoned in situ, which later proved to be a boon for the various metal salvaging concerns in the 1950s. The bulk of the lend-lease equipment on Australian soil was melted down for scrap or disposed of by sea dumping off the continental shelf. Only a tiny fraction of the total equipment issued to Australian and Commonwealth nations through the United States Lend-Lease program was kept on charge for the peacetime defence forces. This is also a well-documented fact.
“At the end of the war I was part of the dumping program off Townsville, we pushed new trucks, jeeps, planes boxes of watches and cameras’ like you would never thought possible. This went on 7 days a week and around ten hours per day. We did have a break when some rough seas came up. The waste was something that would nearly make you cry.”
So, the question must be asked: If all of the Aussie, Kiwi and Brit warplanes, vehicles and tanks were dumped overboard, burned or crushed, where do all of the “Harleys and Jeeps in crates” stories come from? The answer can be found here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/dfat/treaties/1946/6.html The document referenced here is the 1946 Agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of the United States of America on Settlement for Lend-Lease, Reciprocal Aid, Surplus War Property, and Claims.
The document referenced above clearly states that although all surplus material was to be disposed of under the original terms of the lend lease agreement, any material delivered to Australia after September 1946 was thereby the property of the Australian Government. Initially, the Australian government was able to obtain some of the more useful items such as jeeps, trucks and certain types of aircraft from former lend-lease stocks enroute from the USA so it was able to keep its armed forces reasonably wellequipped for its major peacetime duties.
The existing Lend Lease disposal operations were largely finished when the 1946 Settlement Agreement finally came into force. Then the United States Foreign Liquidation Commission dropped a bombshell – it announced that it would be transferring all of its remaining Australian based US Army equipment to the Australian Military Forces as of late 1946, presumably to speed up it’s own disposal programme under “Operation Roll-up”. Most of the equipment was brand new, but of an obsolete type, such as P-40 fighter aircraft and 1942 model Harley Davidson WLA motorcycles. The RAAF and Army had been modernising and standardising their equipment to certain specific models of aircraft, tanks, etc. since 1944 and the newly-transferred equipment was not required for the peacetime defence force.
The amounts of the equipment in question were enough for twice Australia’s wartime force, meaning that even if it were of a “modern” type, it would be too expensive to store and maintain. The advent of the Jet Era saw this equipment fall even further into obsolescence. The Australian government was left with a problem: The disposal of twice the amount of military equipment than it had just taken two years to dispose of.
So what happened to all of this US war equipment? It is possible that some was sold or transferred to developing countries as military aid, but the truth is that a full accounting of the fate of the equipment has never been made public. Indeed the very fact that it was transferred to Australia by the United States was only revealed by a thorough targeted research operation by Australian Bunker & Military Museum researchers in 2002.
There have been enough former military personnel from the immediate post-war era through to the mid 1990s that have come forward with information about crates with US Army markings being held in dead storage underground at current and former military bases, that it is highly probable that this transferred US equipment was swept under the carpet by basically hiding it. Former munitions tunnels; semi-underground ammunition stores and even mine shafts appear to have become the “storage” location of choice for this equipment. Once placed inside these facilities, the entrances were sealed off and due to wartime Operational Security measures, the sites had rarely if ever been marked on publicly accessible maps. This type of disposal/storage is perfectly logical and gels nicely with what we have been told by knowledgeable insiders and through snippets gleaned from official records.