A Mr. Ken White from Thangool near Biloela, a local historian, was one of the driving forces behind the search for the Beautiful Betsy after he learnt of her demise during an interview he held in 1972 with a grazier who lived in the area Bill Lloyd, that she was possibly lying somewhere in the Kroombit Ranges. I will add to what Mr. White learnt as a result of the interview later.
It would appear from 1972 on that Mr. Ken White did a lot of investigating into looking for Betsy and had corresponded regularly with Betsy's first Pilot, Joe Roth, as well as the Australian Department Of Defence. On Betsy's discovery he informed Mr. Roth and received the following reply.
Monday August 14, 1995
To Ken White:
Your letter of June 25' 1995 was delivered to me this morning via U.S Mail from Helen Thompson. The letter was carried to the 380th Reunion in Oshkosh by Bill Horswood and handed to Helen for forwarding.
Keep in mind that most of this happened fifty two and a half years ago. Most of my time with Beautiful Betsy is clear in my mind but some of the facts can be a little cloudy. Anyway here goes.
I signed for the plane in Topeka, Kansas in the early Spring of 1943. BB was a product of Henry Fords plant in Willow Run, Michigan. The plant mass produced the plane. How many they turned out and how fast escapes me. When I signed for the plane it seems to be the price on the invoice was $125,000.00. A far cry from todays costs. For the next two or three days we "swang" the compass's, "slow time" the engines and gave it a thorough going over.
Shortly after, we left for Hamilton Field, California, just outside of San Francisco. We picked up additional flight equipment, were briefed on our route to Australia and took off two days later at about 20;00 hours for Hickam Field in Honolulu.
Flying with us was our squadron CO, Zedd Smith. Also I think we had the squadron S-2 officer with us. Seems to me the trip took around fourteen hours. We came over Diamond Head, made an identifying turn and landed. Staying there for a couple of days while they gave the engines a 100 hour inspection. Then to Christmas Island, the Fiji Islands (Vidi la voo the spelling is wrong but I think that was the name of the field) the New Hebridese, and our last leg into Ipswitch, Australia. This was Easter weekend of 1943.
Am not sure how long we stayed in Ipswitch but our next stop was Charter Towers. We flew several instrument missions and then moved up to Bachelor Field. We landed just at Tea Time so had to wait a spell to be shown to our parking spots. Anyway we were treated royally and the RAAF shared their liquor ration with us. From there finally to Fenton Field. Think the reason we were delayed getting to Fenton was that the 319th Bomb squadron of the 90th Bomb Group was located there and they didn't have room for us.
I wish I could give you a list of the missions Betsy flew but I'm afraid you'll have to go to the records for that. Seems to me each time we flew we set a distance record. First to the Celebes-Macassar-, to Java. We missed the first Balikapapan, Borneo raid because I made a heavy landing in Darwin and bent the frame.
Betsy was probably the only B-24 that ever flew on her back. We left Port Morseby in a multi ship - - think there were to be close to 100 B-24's - - raid. Everything went well until the leader took us into a cloud bank and it was every man for himself. Going from visual to instrument flying confused me and the first thing I knew we were on our back. About that time the co-pilot gets on the rudder and we swing to the other side. About that time I pulled off all my engines, put the nose down and pulled out about 2,000 feet lower going about 210 MP. We had a full bomb load and our gas tanks were full so we were about as heavy as you get. Our tail gunner was injured getting out of tail turret. Our only casualty other than a lot of wet pants.
"Beautiful Betsy was named after my wife Betty. There is a picture of her , I think, in the Darwin Museum. Betty died in 1982, at age 63, of cancer. A delightful woman.
I left the 528th in December of 1943 and came back to the States just before New Year of 1994. I returned to the South Pacific in the fall of 1944 to a Work Group stationed on the Island of Biak. I visited the 528th one time after that. Don't think I saw BB.
This is the end of the story. Betsy was a wonderful ship and probably treated us, her crew, better than we treated her. If any theory is put forward on why Betsy crashed I'd like to hear it.
I'd love to come back to Australia. However, I just had my 80th birthday last week and don't move around to well. However, I plan to be at Savanah, Georgia next summer for the reunion.
A son, Glen R. Horton, Jr., of one of our members has just authored a book, "The Best In The South West" covering the 380th Bomb Group in World War 11. It is a most comprehensive book and is well written. It sells for $65.00 plus postage but I'm sure there is a copy available for you to borrow some where in Australia.
I hope this letter will have some value for you. It's all from memory. If I can be of any more help please let me know.
Kindest personal regardz.
It was while Ken White was interviewing Bill Lloyd, retired Rainbow Range grazier on his war years job as a coach boy, traveling horse back weekly from Gladstone to the township of Banana with mail and news papers that Ken noticed a large photo of Amy Johnson, an Australian aviation pioneer with leather aviator cap and goggles hanging on Bill Lloyd's living room wall.
After the interview Ken asked about the photo. Bill told how his son was a great fan of Amy Johnston and that he had many newspaper cuttings of her aviation career.
It was at this point that Bill said, "Did you know in World War Two a large aeroplane crashed
in the Kroombit Hills? I was out feeding our horses early one morning when I heard a loud rumbling noise coming, looking up I saw a large lowing flying aeroplane which looked to be
in trouble disappear through heavy fog cloud. On receiving my mail a week later, I read where an airplane flying from Darwin to Brisbane was missing. I would say that aeroplane crashed somewhere in the Kroombit Hills." Bill added, "You know a lot of planes were lost during the war years."
Why a then young Bill didn't report what he had seen, or, if he did, why nothing happened can only be put down to the isolation of the region, poor communications and the hectic activity of the war years in and around the Port of Gladstone.
Information tendered by Mr. Bill Horswood.
During World War Two an Australian pilot Mr. Bill Horswood then aged 24, was transferred to Fenton Field in 1943 as a member of the "Flying Circus", ( 5th. AF- RAAF- 380 Bombardment Group ) piloting Liberator Bombers on endless missions in the Pacific during 1943 - 44. Later he spent his flying time with an Australian Squadron. On one occasion in 1944 Bill was the pilot of the Beautiful Betsy on a transportation mission from Darwin to Brisbane. Bill Horswood made up to fifteen of these flights, so would have been well acquainted with this route.
The flight from Darwin to Brisbane could take between nine to ten hours depending on weather conditions, flight orders were always given to fly at night, the reason for this was unknown.
Bill finds it difficult to understand why Betsy crashed where she did. He feels that it was very unfortunate that she crashed in that location. Another 50 feet higher, three minutes in either direction and she would have missed the Kroombit Range.
Mr. Horswood also mentions Betsy's Pacific service. She clocked up numerous hours, but was retired from active service late in 1943 after a mishap resulting in the stretching of her fuselage. The Liberator had been flying in high wind in a tropical storm, when the pilot was forced to avoid hitting another plane. His evasive actions put Betsy into a tail spin. Betsy was stationed in Darwin and used for transportation duties only, after this incident.
Bill Horswood now living on Queenslands' Sunshine Coast, has retained his interest in the Liberator Bomber and has attended several 'Flying Circus Reunions'. On seeing Betsy's remains he was able to inform his former comrades of her final resting place. He also passed on to Joe Roth a video and photos taken by Mr. Ken White of the crash site. 1st. Lieutenant Joe Roth who was eighty years of age at the time has since passed on.
Home to the 380th Bomb Group for some eight months.
After receiving the video and photos of the crash site, Ken White received this letter from a grateful Joe Roth.
Tuesday September 19, 1995
Thank you for the pictures of the crash and the history of BB. Listed below are some corrections and answers to your questions.
We picked up "Betsy" in Topeka, Kansas instead of Lowery. We had come from Lowery to Topeka. Our field in Australia was FENTON, with an "e" instead of an "i".
During training in the States, empty, we used to cruise around 174 to 175 MPH. That is miles not Knots. Fully loaded, on a mission, our cruising speed was around 154 MP. If we could get the plane on a "step" we might register a couple of miles faster.
Assuming the plane was in a glide with full power at the time of the crash it probably would have been cruising at 185 to 190 MPH. It seems to me we used to fly from Fenton to Brisbane at about 12,000 feet. Maybe a little lower.
I knew none of the men aboard Betsy at the time of the crash. I did meet Mrs. Frances Owen in Denver, Colorado in September of 1994. She was the wife of an American navigator that was on the plane.
I am enclosing a picture of myself taken August 5th on my 80th birthday. I can't seem to find anything on Betty, Betsy, but there is a picture of her in the Darwin Museum, and in a book called the "THE HIDDEN CHAPTERS" by an Australian named Robert Piper. Pipers address is 7 Brazel St, Higgins 2615 Australia.
Thank you for the information. I hope I have been able to answer most of your questions. Glen Horton, Jr., 5520 West 133rd Street, SAVAGE, MINNESOTA 55378, USA is the author of "BEST IN THE SOUTHWEST". The book sells for $70.00 plus postage. You can get particulars by writing to him.
It would appear just going by the content of Mr. Roths letter above, not only did Bill Horswood deliver the video and photos to Joe Roth, but also a list of questions regarding the operating of the B-24 Liberator from Ken White. Of particular interest to me was the cruise altitude of the transport flight from Darwin to Brisbane, which Joe noted at about 12,000 feet, maybe a little lower, the crash site would at best be 3,000 feet above sea level. Add to this the sighting of a young coach boy, Bill Lloyd of "a large low flying aeroplane which looked to be in trouble", and a picture begins to take shape. But more on this later.
In the November of 1994 Mr. Ken White received an official letter from the Australian Department Of Defence. The main content of this letter I have added below.
Thank you for your letter of 6 November 1994 regarding the recently discovered wreckage of the United States Army Air Force B-24 Liberator 'Beautiful Betsy'. Enclosed is a brief on the aircraft and the circumstances surrounding its loss which I hope will answer all your questions.
for Chief of the Air Staff.
Most of the information in the brief that accompanied this letter has already been covered on the home page of the this site, but some additional information on Betsy's roll in the war effort was added after her retirement from active service of only eight months, in which she flew 25 missions.
From Wing Commander, B. W. Hudson's brief.
The aircraft was a B - 24D liberator belonging to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) 380th Bombardment Group operating from the Northern Territory. Known as 'Beautiful Betsy', she was damaged on landing at Darwin on 13 August 1943. Consequently, she was converted for use in trials of an Australian designed slide which allowed the safe and accurate deployment of paratroopers. This technique was later used by similarly modified Liberators, of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 200 Flight, to enable Z Special Unit penetration of Japanese occupied areas in Timor, New Guinea, Borneo, Sarawak and the Islands to the North of Australia. Later in the war, 'Betsy' was stripped of her armament of ten 0.50 in caliber machine guns and used to transport supplies on so called 'fat cat' runs within Australia.
The brief does not make it clear as to whether Betsy took part in any of these missions, she was the test bird that was used to develop the slide that was to be fitted to other Liberators for these operations. That she was not stripped of her armament until a later date may suggest that she was involved at least in some of them.
Another report tendered (unconfirmed) after the crash by Sergeant Peter Alexander, formerly of the RAAF, from his diary dated 22nd. February 1945, would suggest that the Beautiful Betsy had major structural problems. The report reads as follows:-
"After 12 months in Northwestern area including eight months in charge of the HF/DF station at Groote Eytland (Island) in the Gulf it was my second stint in the tropics since 1942. I said my farewells to the operators and proceeded to the airfield in Darwin and tried to book a flight south to Adelaide or Sydney on an official RAAF transport which was in very short supply at the time. Anxious to get south I eventually was able to hitch a ride aboard an American Liberator Beautiful Betsy one of the 380 Bomber Group old veterans pensioned off from combat duties and utilized now for the fresh fruit and beer run to Adelaide. After obtaining flight leave I went to the rear end tail gun turret position. The vibration was really something and the fuselage rivets were rattling like crazy. I could not get back quickly enough to the flight deck".
This report was obtained from another web site on Betsy, by aerothentic.com and I don't have any information to its authenticity. On contacting the web site's owner regarding the report, how and where he obtained it. He told me that it was published in a news paper after Betsy's discovery. Not much help at the moment!
Archival Meteorological Observations report a subtropical low pressure system in the area during the 26th and 27th of that February. These low pressure systems can bring with them a line of severe electrical storm fronts that can extend the length of the coastal ranges. Kroombit Tops, being just a small section of the Great Dividing Range. The meteorological report states that 221 points (2.1/4 ins) of rain were recorded at Kroombit Tops between these dates. This would explain the heavy fog cloud spoken of by the then young coach boy, Bill Lloyd. Being mid summer the previous days heat would have steamed the ranges with cloud.
The route flown by Betsy was called 'The Great Circle Route'. By its name it would appear not only was it the set route to Brisbane, but would have been well known to the pilots and crews of the 528th who were rostered to run these flights. Lt. Jack Owen who was the navigator on Betsy's last flight had the plane well on course, as reports state that Kroombit Tops is very near the great circle route.
During the 528th. Squadron's short stay in Australia in 1943, twenty one of the original thirty eight Liberators were lost in action, Betsy being the twenty second loss. Only sixteen of the squadron's original planes moved on to the Philippines, their next active station, as the war at that stage was slowly being pushed back to Japan.
Knowing what I know about the 528th. As little as that might be. I know the pilots and crews of these Liberators where men of considerable courage, flying and combat experience. Men who had flown numerous missions in tropical conditions over long distances, into enemy territory. It would seem inconceivable to believe that an experienced pilot as Lt. W. E. McDaniel, would have been type of man to drop some 9,000 feet in altitude in a mountainous region (as even some official reports suggest) from the cruise altitude noted by Mr. Joe Roth above, to get below cloud in order to gain a visual when he had an experienced navigator in Lt. Jack Owen who obviously knew their location and was on course.
In concluding this page (for the moment), trying to piece together what took place all those years ago from the reports listed above. I have broken them up into what seems to be the order they occurred in.
1. The Beautiful Betsy flew 25 medium to long range bombing missions in a period of eight months after arriving in Australia.
2. On one of these missions during a tropical storm, to avoid hitting another plane, Joe Roth the Pilot took evasive action which caused Betsy to fall upside down some 2,000 feet before he was able to regain control. Betsy's bomb bay and fuel tanks were fully loaded at the time. This extra weight I can only assume would have added to the incredible stress the airframe of the aircraft would have suffered as a result of this incident.
3. In the August of 1943, twelve of the squadron's Liberators were to carry out a bombing run on Japanese oil refineries at Balikpapan, Borneo. On leaving Fentom the planes landed at Darwin to take on bombs, ammunition and fuel. Betsy's landing at Darwin as stated by Joe Roth was a heavy one. "And bent the frame." Another report states, "Rupturing the fuselage with the tail skid." As a result Betsy was unable to continue on this mission. The same report also goes on to say after repairs where made Betsy was returned to active service.
The order in which the two incidents above took place is not clear. One report seems to conflict with another. Both incidents being given as the reason for her retirement from active service in different reports. Only a surviving member of Betsy's original crew would know the truth.
4. Which ever took place first at this point is not important, but as a result of one or the combination of both incidents the aircraft was no longer considered combat serviceable for bombing raids. She had suffered a lot of stress in and around the tail section of her fuselage.
5. Betsy was now put to work as a test bird. She was to have a meter wide slide cut into her belly just in front of the tail section. The reason for this is covered in Wing Commander Hudson's brief above. Just how the opening was cut and the slide inserted, the number of times it was modified, altered, moved slightly until it was perfected of course we will never know. Betsy had a hole cut in her lower fuselage, which the designers and builders of the plane would not of allowed for in her construction. I feel sure that when this hole was cut, any reinforcing that was deemed necessary at the time would have been added, as it was used on other Australian Liberators noted also in the Wing Commanders brief. With Betsy, it was cut in a previously damaged and stressed tail section.
6. On completion of these trials, Betsy was stripped of her armament and armour plate, then put to work as a general transport aircraft.
7. On her second last 'Fat Cat Mission' as they were called to Adelaide. An RAAF Sergeant, Peter Alexander in a bid to get south, hitched a ride on Betsy and tendered the unconfirmed report of a badly vibrating tail section on that flight.
8. The young coach boy, Bill Lloyd who stated. "Looking up I saw a large low flying aeroplane which looked to be in trouble."
On my visits to the crash site, I have asked the same question more than once. "What are you doing here?" To myself of course! From what I have learnt over the past few months, the caliber and experience of the men onboard Betsy that February morning. The reports of eye witnesses confirmed and unconfirmed, Betsy's war time history. It would now seem to me at least, that one very tied old war bird simply threw the towel in.