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A Kiwi Corsair on a Reef -

Shortland Islands

By Ewan M. Stevenson

SEALARK EXPLORATION INC, November 2021

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FIGURE 1

Royal Solomon Islands Policeman Wilken “Willie” Miriki and a U.S. Department of Defence DPAA specialist examine unknown aircraft wreckage on a shallow coral reef in the Shortland Islands at the Western end of the Solomons archipelago. The wreckage was soon identified as Vought F4U Corsair, and port wing, upside down, with stowed landing gear. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 2

The port wing view from the opposite end. The trailing edge of bare ribs on the left was entirely covered in fabric- a surprisingly large area. The remains of the alloy skin on the wing leading edge on the right can be seen. The site is identified by SEALARK EXPLORATION INC as that of Flight Sergeant Ronald Ernest Hallett, NZ4215864, RNZAF. On 3 February 1945, he was killed here whilst on a strafing run, when he impacted the shallow coral reef. The aircraft reportedly exploded. None of the three 50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns remain in the wing and surprisingly no 50-cal ammunition was noticed on site either. At the time of the incident, the Japanese base complex in the Shortlands was still under Japanese control, as the American forces wisely decided to by-pass the area. It remained so until the end of the war. This might explain why the weaponry is missing. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 3

Flt. Sgt. Hallet was in No. 20 Fighter Squadron and his plane was a F4U-1D Corsair, NZ5400, BuNo. 50647, with Vought Manufacturing No. 5894. A feature of the F4U-1D model was an attachment pylon under each wing which could carry up to a 1000 pound bomb or a 154 gallon drop tank. The photo depicts the high-strength stainless steel bomb rack from a pylon – Part No. 33D5233 – archaeological evidence supporting a ‘D’ model. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 4

A painting by official RNZAF artist Maurice Conly of F4U-1D, NZ5405, flying over the fighter strip at Cape Torokina, Bougainville Island. Flt. Sgt. Hallet was based on Bougainville in February 1945 and his Corsair, NZ5400, would have looked like this. The site where he crashed and was killed is just a few minutes flight from Bougainville. The early F4U-1Ds, like NZ5405 and NZ5400 had semi-bubble canopies with two frames. These were a great improvement over the early ‘Bird cage’ models. Even better still was the full bubble, frame less canopies, which were manufactured with the later F4U-1Ds.

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FIGURE 5

Another piece of wing wreckage manufactured in Stratford, Connecticut, is studied. We are about to be soaked by a downpour from the South-east trade wind squall in the background. Flt. Sgt. Ronald E. Hallett was born in Hastings, North Island, New Zealand, on 23 May 1923. His parents were Edgar and Aileen Hallett. He originally trained with the NZ Army before travelling to Canada and undertaking pilot training. He served in the RCAF before returning to NZ in July 1944. Assigned to No. 20 Fighter squadron he was deployed to the South Pacific on 2 January 1945. He was killed a month later. He is commemorated on Panel 6 at the New Zealand War Cemetery at Bourail in New Caledonia. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 6

The rain burst hits the team. Shortland Islanders discuss local news with Policeman Wilken Miliki. Note the bomb rack parts left on the structure. No aircraft material was removed from the site. The team photographed, mapped, and recorded GPS positions for the various Corsair wreckage spread over a large area of reef. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 7

Unlike Japanese aircraft, there was a considerable amount of armor plate surrounding the Corsair pilot. The section in this photograph is the Center Armor plate which protected Flt. Sgt. Ronald Hallet’s back behind his aluminium seat. The rectangular hole was towards the bottom of the seat and part of the connection to the seat armor under the pilot. Numerous Corsair pilots owe their lives to this armor.  The top center armour plate is also intact. Being rather robust, such armor is often found on Corsair sites in the Solomons. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 8

The armor plate arrangement in the Vought F4U Corsair. It was highly costly and time consuming to train a fighter pilot, and saving their lives with armor made sense. The Japanese emphasized lightness with their aircraft, neglecting armour, but there was a cost in pilot’s lives. The Corsair weighed two and half times more than the A6M2 Zero, the common antagonist in the Solomon skies.

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FIGURE 9

Ewan Stevenson with the remains of NZ5400’s radial engine. Galvanic corrosion in this harsh environment has preferentially reduced the lighter aluminium and magnesium alloy parts to oxides. The engine is the 2250 HP Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8W Double Wasp with water injection. Note the walk across the shallow reef is treacherous with unstable coral and razor sharp coral heads as trip hazards. Coral cuts to the lower legs in the tropics can turn very infected in a short time and be life threatening. Tough footwear that covers ankles is imperative on this site. The two small reef sharks we disturbed were the least concern. [Photo 24 July 2016].

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FIGURE 10

The 13’4” diameter of the Model 23E50 propellor has been considerably reduced. The engine has been producing high power to bend the Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 6443A-21 or 6443A-21 alloy blades so severely. The blades are generally bent in the plane of rotation, as they have beaten the shallow reef on contact. This corroborates the report of Flt. Sgt. Hallett flying into the reef. It is surprising the hub and blades have sustained the high forces generated. In comparison, some deep water Corsairs that have been ditched, have their prop blades completely missing. It was a rare privilege to survey a Kiwi Corsair site in the South Pacific. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 24 July 2016].