Kiwi Corsair in the Jungle -
By Ewan M. Stevenson
SEALARK EXPLORATION INC, November 2021
WWII aircraft wreckage is strewn down a steep slope in the jungle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. On this site, New Zealand director EWAN STEVENSON of SEALARK EXPLORATION INC assists the U.S. DPAA team with local knowledge, WWII aircraft expertise, Melanesian language translation and cultural knowledge. The site is identified as Vought F4U Corsair. Is it MIA? [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 26 July 2017].
The site is remote and access by helicopter saved days of sea travel. Then the usual unavoidable trek up steep, muddy, jungle-covered mountain to the site. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
The crash crater contains a fair amount of Vought F4U Corsair fragments including shiny stainless steel firewall pieces. At the distant end is the tail wheel assembly. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
A Guadalcanal Melanesian in the crash crater which is fairly deep indicating a high-velocity crash into the jungle. SEALARK EXPLORATION is good at working with local people and collaborating on sites. Good repoire with the local people can mean the difference between success and failure on these sites. A mass of Pratt & Whitney engine fragments combine with Vought aircraft pieces and yellow life raft rubber. Everything is meticulously examined by the specialist DPAA team. A defining serial number maybe amongst the debris. Invariably no aircraft material is removed from site, as the focus is entirely human osseous material. Who’s plane is this? . [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
The shattered tail wheel group. No tail hook was found indicating a land-based squadron, probably not a U.S. Navy plane. The hydraulic cylinder for retracting and extending the tail wheel can be seen. Some wartime ground crew described the Corsair “A hydraulic monster”, certainly they took more to maintain than the ole Grumman “Ironworks” F4F Wildcat. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
Some remains of the lift raft, probably a U.S. Navy AN-2-2A type. Thousands were manufactured by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, OH. The pilot was attached to and sat on the life raft, whilst the parachute was under that as well. It was not exactly a soft cushion to sit on for hours at a time on a flying mission. The fact that it is still on site indicates the pilot did not exit the aircraft. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
Every part on site is meticulously examined by the dedicated DPAA team for clues such as serial numbers. You find countless numbers embossed, stamped, and stencilled on numerous pieces. Most are part numbers like this Vought Sikorsky “VS 17230”. The number only confirms a F4U fighter and does not identify a particular plane. The rivets in the middle are round heads and the dimple in the head indicates a certain level of heat treatment and material of the rivet. The flatter rivets look more like those called ‘Brazier Head’. The single dimple identifies Type ‘AD’ rivet, made of Aluminium alloy No. A-17S, which is heat treated and has a shear strength of 25,000 pounds per square inch. Selection of the correct rivet was critical otherwise it could be under-strength or of the incorrect alloy which could create galvanic corrosion issues. It is an American method of classifying rivets and not found on Japanese aircraft. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017; p. 60 of TM 1-435, Technical Manual – Aircraft Sheet Metal Work, February 10, 1941].
A plan view of the crash crater. The scattered fragments of yellow life raft stand out. The jungle is steaming hot and wet all the time. It is not easy working in the mud and steam, and requires a level of fitness and ‘enthusiasm’. There are also lots of these small ‘fire’ ants in the Solomons, which are hard to see and unknowingly brush onto you from the vegetation. Then they ‘bite’ and the ‘fire’ from the sting seems to last forever. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
Pieces of Corsair have exploded out from the crash site and are dispersed through the rainforest. Gravity and flood water pushes pieces downhill and into an adjacent mountain stream which is typically dry until the wet season. Ewan Stevenson climbed down the steam some 80 meters or so and found it strewn with sections of Vought-Sikorsky aircraft. The fragment pictured is from the upper wing gully region. It is probably the starboard wing. Note the black non-skid walkway. Studying wartime photos of Corsairs reveals little consistency in how the non-skid walkway was applied. Sometimes it is applied next to the fuselage on the starboard side, sometimes in the ‘gully’ of the wing and often not at all. Corsair pilots typically climbed into the cockpit on the starboard side using hand holds and steps. There was a certain technique to it. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
A RNZAF pilot climbs aboard his F4U-1A Corsair in the South Pacific circa 1945. Note the black non-slip area under his left foot. His life raft is clipped under his backside with the parachute over the top. It was all quite heavy and in the high heat of the South Pacific, quite uncomfortable.
The DPAA team working hard in the mud to identify the site. There is a lot of sharp metal everywhere and the ground is slippery. This is a full time job for these specialists who are highly trained in this type of work. Many have worked on aircraft sites all over the world and have huge experience and skills. The tail wheel group is on the right. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017]
The metal bluing on this piece of unidentified equipment on site was incredibly good, having lasted over 70 years in the outdoor environment. Can you identify what this is? Please contact us. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
Co-director, Ewan Stevenson, of SEALARK EXPLORATION conducts an interview with a village elder at the nearby Melanesian village. Ewan was born on Guadalcanal and speaks the local lingua franca and naturally has an affinity with the people of the Solomon Islands and South Pacific. Such interviews can reveal crucial information about local WWII crash sites such as whether a pilot parachuted out and was rescued, or crashed with the plane. In this instance, the recollection was the pilot was a New Zealander, and the villagers buried his body besides the plane, which was later exhumed and recovered during the war. Further research by SEALARK EXPLORATION identifies the site as that of Flight Sergeant John Edward Dansey, NZ4216036. On the 4 January 1945, Flt. Sgt. Dansey, of No. 17 Fighter Squadron, flying F4U-1A, NZ5354, was practising cross-over turns with Corsair NZ5214 when they collided at 11,000 feet. Dansey’s Corsair crashed to the ground, whilst NZ5214 made it back to base. Dansey’s F4U-1A was BuNo. 49749 and had Vought Manufacturing No. 4996. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 25 July 2017].
Parts from the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8W Double Wasp radial engine and Flt. Sgt. Dansey’s parachute is kept in a local village house. The discovery of a parachute in a crash site can obviously be very useful archaeological information. There is no local interest in such artefacts; these items are being kept for illegal sale to foreigners. All WWII sites are legally protected from disturbance and recovery in the Solomon Islands, yet the black market for WWII warbird parts and relics is prolific and very active. The buyer of these items is likely to never learn the true provenance and thus a sad loss of WWII heritage occurs. The black market in WWII souvenirs has been going for decades in the South Pacific and in the reckless process very little heritage material is saved. One can easily see how illegally removing material from these heritage sites can severely affect the determination about what happened to the pilot and impede identifying the aircraft. Flt. Sgt. Dansey was born in Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand on 28 April 1923. He was therefore 21 years old when he was killed. His parents were Edward and Hilda Dansey. Flight Sergeant John Dansey completed his pilot training in Canada before returning to New Zealand and posting to Guadalcanal with No. 17 Fighter squadron on 31 December 1944. Five days later he was dead. He is commemorated on Panel 6 at the New Zealand war Cemetery at Bourail in New Caledonia. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 22 July 2017].
Close-up of Flt. Sgt. John Dansey’s parachute. It is awaiting a black market sale invariably to a foreigner. These items are taken into Honiara and the seller intercepts Europeans and other foreign nationals near the hotels and offers the item for sale. It is sold merely as a WWII parachute and there is no provenance provided. Where it comes from, the history, the site, the pilot’s name, when it was recovered is lost forever. As such, the value of the item is merely the value of an old, dirty parachute, but perhaps you could say it is from Guadalcanal!. Thousands of these black market transactions have occurred over the decades in the South Pacific, but the process does not conserve, or save, much of the historic WWII material heritage, perhaps a prime reason for the 1980 War Relics Act of the Solomon Islands. [Photo by Ewan Stevenson, 22 July 2017].
F4U-1A, NZ5361, of No. 21 Fighter Squadron / 31SU, Bougainville, 1945. Flight Sergeant John Dansey’s NZ5354 would have looked very similar. Note the 500 pound bomb load. The RNZAF were provided through lend-Lease agreement with an astounding 424 Corsairs. They were Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1As (like above with semi-bubble canopies) and F4U-1Ds and post war with Goodyear FG-1Ds. They were the prolific aircraft the RNZAF have ever had. They equipped 13 squadrons, most continuously cycling through American air bases in the Northern Solomons in late war. Sadly, the squadrons never left the South Pacific, whilst the frontline moved on thousands of miles towards Japan. The RNZAF was literally forgotten in the South Pacific. There was no Japanese aircraft remaining in the air, no Japanese shipping, so the Corsair fighters loaded bombs instead and for two years bombed and gunned isolated and starving Japanese garrisons left behind in the Northern Solomons. It was a complete waste of a well-trained, formidable air force. There was still Japanese AA fire to contend with and operational risk and New Zealand airmen like Flight Sergeants John Dansey and Ronald Hallett paid for it with their lives.