The following article by Ron Cuskelly was first published in
AIR Enthusiast No. 70 July-August 1997

Last year's (1995) celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of WWII provided many opportunities to reflect upon the events of more than fifty years ago. As aviation enthusiasts, we all look to today's "warbirds" like the Spitfire and Mustang as icons of the wartime era. Whilst the men and women who served during WWII graciously accept the expressions of gratitude of later generations, only they can fully appreciate what we have been commemorating, for they will tell you that "You had to be there". Similarly, although today's warbirds are representative of the era, few were actually "there". Indeed, the reason most of these warbirds survive is that they were not on active service at the front. One survivor which was there in the thick of it when Australia's future looked bleakest and the mood of the people could best be summed up by the two words "Brisbane Line", is a veteran Douglas DC-3 which was largely overlooked during VP anniversary celebrations. In May of 1942, this DC-3 was busily ferrying troops to New Guinea and returning with wounded. It is popularly believed that this same DC-3 was later called to higher duties as the personal aircraft of the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur. (Although there is considerable circumstantial evidence of a "MacArthur connection", hard proof has been elusive. Clearly though, even without a MacArthur connection, this DC-3 is historically significant). The aeroplane now resides at the Queensland Air Museum in Caloundra where she awaits restoration to static display standard. To fully appreciate the historical significance of what is now Australia's oldest DC-3 and the twelfth oldest DC-3 in the world, one must go back to 1937.

On 24 April 1937, a brand new DC-3 (manufacturer's serial number 1944) took to the air for the first time at the Douglas plant at Santa Monica. The same day, the aeroplane was accepted by Douglas' European agent, Fokker, who in turn delivered it to the Dutch airline KLM as PH-ALW. The following day, the aircraft departed for New York where it arrived on 28 April to be dismantled for shipping to Holland on the S.S. Pennland. On arrival at Waalhaven, Rotterdam, the DC-3 was re-assembled by KLM engineers, one of whom was a young John Gyzemyter who subsequently enjoyed a long career with KLM, KNILM and Qantas. (After his retirement, John settled in Brisbane where he now lives within walking distance of the author! This amazing "small world" coincidence did not emerge until after QAM had acquired the DC-3 and the author began researching its history).

After a successful test flight, the DC-3 was ferried to Schiphol where it later entered service on KLM's Amsterdam-Batavia route as the Wielewaal (Golden Oriole). (KLM's DC-3s were given bird names beginning with the last letter of the registration). The Wielewaal was one of nine DC-3s which were configured with only eleven luxury sleeper seats for passenger comfort on the week-long trip to the Netherlands East Indies and as with other KLM DC-3s it featured a right hand door. The Wielewaal's inaugural service (flight 456) departed Schiphol on 3 July 1937 under the command of Captain Van Veenendaal, carrying 459 kg of mail and an unknown number of passengers.

With the outbreak of war in Europe, all flights to Batavia originated in Naples and major overhaul work was transferred to KLM's East Indies subsidiary, KNILM in Bandoeng. In June 1940, the Wielewaal was re-registered PK-ALW and placed under the operational control of KNILM although it remained KLM property and retained KLM livery. When it was feared that Italy was about to enter the war on the side of Germany, KLM moved its base from Naples to Lydda in Palestine. On 8 February 1942, the Wielewaal departed Lydda under the command of Captain Evert Van Dijk on what was to be the last service to Batavia. Advised that he could not land in Singapore as planned because of advancing Japanese forces, Van Dijk awaited further clearance in Calcutta. Cleared to depart via Akyab, Van Dijk later arrived at Medan where he encountered a group of 36 women and children awaiting evacuation to Batavia. To accommodate the extra load, the heavy, bulky sleeper seats were removed and abandoned at Medan. The Wielewaal arrived safely in Batavia on 15 February 1942, the same day that Singapore fell. During her time on the East Indies route, the Wielewaal made 34 return trips to Batavia carrying a total of 26,294 kg of mail.

In preparation for the imminent invasion, KNILM's aircraft were painted in camouflage and fitted with additional fuel tanks. The camouflage colours and pattern were designed by the military who often used KNILM aircraft for troop movements. Whilst the registration PK-ALW was reapplied in white, all other markings including the name Wielewaal were deleted. The additional fuel tanks came either from the spares store or from damaged aircraft. The rearmost cabin window on each side of the DC-3s was removed and a gun mounting bracket and wind deflector were fitted. Whilst the guns were fired by KNILM crews during the course of their training by the military, they were never fired in anger. It was accepted that the guns were of limited use as their field of fire was restricted by the tailplane and thus were of no use against an attack from astern. Nevertheless, the crews drew some comfort from their presence and in the event of an attack from astern they could at least see who was shooting at them thanks to external rear vision mirrors fitted either side of the cockpit! Although all of the KNILM aircraft were used on evacuation flights to Australia, it fell to the Wielewaal to operate the last civilian flight out of the Netherlands East Indies. On 3 March 1942, Captain Eddy Dunlop flew the PK-ALW to an unfinished highway outside Bandoeng to await the arrival of the Lieutenant Governor General who was to be evacuated to Australia. However, it was not until 0100 on March 7, with heavy fighting less than 15 kilometres away, that the aircraft finally departed with its VIP cheerfully accepting the need for sitting on the floor. As with most of these evacuation flights, the sole means of passenger restraint was a length of rope tied down the centre of the cabin! After a flight of more than seven hours, the Wielewaal arrived safely in Port Hedland.

With eleven aircraft evacuated to Australia (two DC-2, two DC-3, three DC-5 and four Lockheed 14) KNILM possessed a significant component of the country's meagre air transport fleet. (It is worth noting that all KNILM aircraft arrived in Australia without passenger seats). Although KNILM initially operated their aircraft under charter to the U.S. military, General MacArthur was reluctant to allow so many valuable aircraft to remain in civilian hands and as a result, KNILM were coerced into selling their aircraft to the USAAF. This coercion took the form of a suspension of logistical support such as the impounding of one hundred cases of spare parts. Surviving documents suggest that all of the KNILM aircraft were to have been sold to the Australian government for a token 5 each, but the transaction was apparently overruled in favour of a sale to the USAAF. This purchase is reputed to have cost Uncle Sam $530,000.00 for ten aircraft (one Lockheed 14 had been written off) so it is especially ironic that the Wielewaal was subsequently loaned to the Australian Government free of charge! Under the terms of the contract, KNILM were required to test fly all their aircraft before the handover to the USAAF. As a manifestation of their outrage at having to surrender the aircraft for which they had fought so hard, the KNILM staff resolved to have all ten aircraft ready for a spectacular test flight over Sydney Harbour on 14 May 1942. After several aircraft buzzed the Dutch destroyer Tromp, a DC-2, a DC-3 and a DC-5 lined up on another target - the Sydney Harbour Bridge! In line astern, the formation proceeded to fly under the Bridge, once in each direction. The DC-3 in this famous formation was PK-ALW Wielewaal. (As the Flight Engineer on the DC-5, John Gyzemyter can make the outstanding claim that he flew under the Sydney Harbour Bridge twice in a DC-5 - a record unlikely to be beaten!) The following day, the DC-3 PK-ALW was handed over to the USAAF who designated the aircraft as a C-49H. Such was the urgency of pressing the DC-3 into service that there was no time for niceties such as the allocation of a formal USAAF serial number. Instead, the aircraft was identified by its manufacturer's serial number (1944) which was appropriated as a "tail number". The bureaucracy finally caught up with the DC-3 in June 1944 when it was given the "proper" serial number, 44-83229. The DC-3 began its military career with the 21st Transport Squadron USAAF who used it on trooping flights between Archerfield, Brisbane and New Guinea. During this time the aeroplane was under the control of the Allied Directorate of Air Transport (ADAT) who allocated the radio callsign VHCXE. The radio callsign was painted (without a hyphen) on the fin and rudder replacing the military tail number. Although appearing to be a civil registration, the callsign was for identification purposes only, as the DC-3 was at this time a military aircraft.

In May 1943, VHCXE was flown to the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory at Fisherman's Bend in Melbourne where the aircraft was converted from an airliner to a troop transport. (The passage of one year before this conversion was undertaken serves to emphasise the urgency with which the aeroplane was pressed into wartime service). This conversion entailed the removal of airline luxuries such as the galley and lavatory and installation of "side-saddle" seating. After the completion of these modifications, the DC-3 was loaned to 36 Squadron RAAF who operated the aircraft in USAAF markings out of Townsville with the new callsign VH-CXL (with a hyphen). The first flight with 36 Sqn was on 21 August 1943 from Townsville to Port Moresby and return. Curiously, all subsequent flights by the DC-3 were to Horn Island and it is surmised that this was because VH-CXL was the only aircraft in 36 Sqn which was not camouflaged. The DC-3 continued this shuttle to Horn Island until January 1944 when it was flown to Essendon and handed over to Australian National Airways who operated the aeroplane on its Pacific Islands Courier Service.

In November 1944, the aircraft was offered for sale by the U.S. Foreign Economic Administration and subsequently sold to ANA. During October 1946, ANA converted the DC-3 back to airliner configuration and relocated the door from starboard to port. The newly converted DC-3 entered service with ANA as VH-ANR "Oana" (To Inform). In February 1950, the aircraft tipped on to its nose while landing on a boggy airstrip at Van Rook Station in Queensland. After temporary repairs, VH-ANR was ferried direct to Essendon for permanent repairs. The aircraft continued to serve with ANA (later ANSETT-ANA) until April 1958 when it was leased to Butler Air Transport. In October 1958, VH-ANR returned to service with Butler as Australia's first Viewmaster DC-3 with enlarged cabin windows.

Towards the end of 1959, the Butler name disappeared and VH-ANR was painted in Airlines of NSW livery.




On 24 July 1972, VH-ANR was ferried from Sydney to Schofields, having been leased to two Airlines of NSW pilots (Alex Garriock and John Wilson) who intended to keep the DC-3 airworthy as a flying museum. The aeroplane was last flown on 14 December 1974 when it was ferried to Camden with its undercarriage locked down. Sadly, the flying museum project did not eventuate and in early 1981 ownership of VH-ANR passed to well-known Sydney aviation identity George Markey. Again plans for an airworthy restoration came to nothing and Mr Markey generously gifted the aeroplane to the Queensland Air Museum in February 1994. A QAM recovery crew arrived at Camden in August 1994 to dismantle the DC-3 for trucking to Caloundra where it arrived on 15 September.


As custodians of this famous DC-3, the Queensland Air Museum accepts that one of its responsibilities is to get to the bottom of the alleged "MacArthur connection". As stated previously, there is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence that suggests MacArthur did use this DC-3, but no documentary proof. What is well known is that MacArthur used a highly polished C-47 which was named "Shiny Shiela" and later a B-17 and a C-54 which were both named "Bataan". As the "Shiny Shiela" was not delivered until June 1943 and the B-17 much later, QAM researchers were presented with the tantalising question: What did MacArthur use before June 1943? When MacArthur was evacuated from the Philippines in March 1942, he travelled on a war-weary B-17 as far as Alice Springs, where he transferred to a train to complete the journey to his new headquarters in Melbourne. MacArthur's biography records that his first trip from Melbourne to Canberra to meet with Prime Minister Curtin was by car. Clearly, here was a leader in need of an aeroplane. Indeed, the MacArthur Memorial Museum in Norfolk, Virginia has located correspondence from MacArthur's office to the Chief of Staff, Allied Air Forces requesting that an aircraft be assigned to General Headquarters (GHQ). In June 1942, Air Vice-Marshal Bostock responded with the offer of a B-17 or a DC-3 with two new engines, fitted with seven regular passenger seats, new radio equipment and heating apparatus and a 1,000 mile safe range. The reply from MacArthur's office indicated that the B-17 had been inspected and found to be totally unsuitable and that the DC-3 would be inspected at Essendon on 18 June. Unfortunately, the letters do not reveal the identity of the DC-3. The next clue to a MacArthur connection arises from the time VHCXE spent at CAC being converted to a troop transport. Notes compiled by a CAC employee indicate that the day after VHCXE arrived at the factory, a new C-47 arrived to be "plushed up" for General MacArthur. It is popularly believed that the airline fittings removed from the DC-3 VHCXE were transferred to the new C-47. Furthermore, when this new C-47 emerged as MacArthur's "private" aircraft, it carried the DC-3's former callsign VH-CXE (now with a hyphen added). The DC-3 later emerged as VH-CXL (also with a hyphen added). Why the callsign was swapped is unknown, although it is tempting to imagine that someone at GHQ had developed an attachment to the CXE callsign. Certainly the existence of two CXEs (albeit not simultaneously) has created much confusion amongst historians and even amongst the pilots who flew them. Although this pointed to a GHQ link, the alleged MacArthur connection demanded further research. Crucial to this ongoing research was the outstanding support from the MacArthur Memorial Museum whose Archivist, James Zobel, provided a regular flow of information as he came across relevant documents. A major discovery was a series of wartime photographs from the papers of the late Colonel Joe Sherr. These photographs not only strengthened the GHQ connection but also provided what may be the only existing photographs of VHCXE in camouflage.



Another useful document is a flight log page which records a local flight out of Archerfield by DC-3 serial number 1944 on 24 April 1943. This document shows the pilot as Major Godman (GHQ) and the co-pilot as Major General Sutherland (MacArthur's Chief of Staff). Although this further strengthened the GHQ link, the MacArthur connection remained elusive. As Major Godman was known to have been one of MacArthur's personal pilots, QAM researchers set out to establish if Major Godman was still alive and if he could be contacted. While these feelers were being put out, previous correspondence with another researcher in the U.S. bore fruit with the arrival out of the blue of a letter from one Colonel Henry Godman USAF retired! In answer to the obvious question, Colonel Godman had this to say:

I did fly General MacArthur in the KLM DC-3 from Melbourne to Canberra to meet with the Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin. We stayed on the ground for an hour or two then flew directly back to Melbourne. On letting down from cruise level, I came down too fast and gave the General a nose bleed. I was chewed out by Lt. Col. Morehouse, the General's doctor. Most of the seats had been taken out. The General sat on the left side with a chair facing him or along side of him where the doctor could talk to him or one of his staff if called up. There were more seats in the rear for the staff.

It transpired that Colonel Godman had referred to flying MacArthur in the KLM DC-3 in a privately published biography in 1980, long before any contact from QAM. Although Colonel Godman has no record of the date of this flight, it could have been on 17 July 1942 when MacArthur is known to have attended the Prime Minister's War Conference in Canberra. (It will be recalled that a letter from GHQ indicated their intention to inspect a DC-3 at Essendon on 18 June 1942). Colonel Godman has located photographic evidence that the DC-3 was in a bare metal finish at some stage of its time with GHQ. This explains why the DC-3 was handed over to 36 Sqn without camouflage for it evidently arrived at CAC unpainted and there may have been no perceived need for it to be camouflaged at this stage of the war.


Having studied the first VHCXE in some detail, it is appropriate to examine briefly the history of the second aircraft to carry the CXE callsign, as some aspects of its history are relevant to the subject of this article and indeed Colonel Godman flew both aircraft during his time as General MacArthur's pilot. As an amusing aside, Colonel Godman claims to have been on first name terms with MacArthur. "He called me Hank and I called him General Sir!" When the new VH-CXE was being prepared for delivery, Major Godman asked that it be adorned with a nude, but only on the right hand side so that it would not be seen by boarding VIPs. The nude was accompanied by the name "Shiny Shiela" which was derived from the aeroplane's highly polished metal skin. Sadly, the nude came to the attention of Major General Sutherland who ordered its removal. The name "Shiny Shiela" may have been removed at the same time for the aircraft was more commonly referred to simply as "Sexy" although this name was never painted on the aeroplane. Recent correspondence from Frank Cicerello who was the radio operator on the "Shiny Shiela" states that the name "Sexy" resulted from attempts at pronouncing the CXE callsign! Perhaps this also applied to the first CXE and this may be the real reason why GHQ wanted to retain the CXE callsign! As for the "Shiny Shiela", sadly she was scrapped in Europe in 1948.




Now that QAM has established that the MacArthur connection is real, the Museum is continuing research into the aircraft's rich history. Important as this research may be, QAM recognises that its principal obligation is the preservation of an exhibit of world significance.
Having gone to so much trouble to establish the MacArthur connection, it may surprise some enthusiasts that QAM has decided to restore the DC-3 in its current Airlines of NSW livery. As the aeroplane has been significantly modified over the years, it would not be appropriate to paint it in wartime markings given that the door has been moved from starboard to port and all cabin windows were enlarged during the Viewmaster modification. Quite apart from the likely impossibility of determining the aeroplane's wartime configuration, it has survived remarkably well as a "time capsule" of its Airlines of NSW days and as such can be more faithfully conserved in its present form. Although QAM has not ruled out flying the aeroplane at some time in the future, the Museum's first priority is to provide cover for all its aircraft. As a result of more than twenty years storage in the open, VH-ANR has significant corrosion, which although not widespread, is concentrated in critical parts of the airframe such as the wing attach angles. Quite clearly, any airworthy restoration will be extremely expensive and will, in all probability, exceed the estimated cost of a new building planned to house the DC-3. As with all museums, QAM's main problem is a shortage of undercover space for restoration and display. Although QAM has on the drawing board a new building six times the size of its existing hangar, construction is stalled for want of funding. Construction of this building, which could begin immediately, is vital to the future of QAM for it will serve the dual purposes of bringing the entire collection indoors while making the existing hangar available as a dedicated restoration facility. Currently, museum members are faced with a familiar "Catch 22" situation of being unable to undertake any serious restoration because of the lack of a proper workshop, while anything that can be restored must be displayed in the open! Understandably, this is a source of considerable anguish and frustration for QAM's all-volunteer workforce who must watch their prized exhibits deteriorate in the open. QAM are particularly eager to hear from potential corporate sponsors who share the Museum's determination to preserve Australia's aviation heritage. Similarly, the Museum is keen to hear from any reader who can contribute anything to the history of the DC-3.


The above article was published in 1997. When QAM's Hangar 2 opened in 2004, DC-3 VH-ANR was one of the first aircraft to be moved inside. The aircraft is now permanently under cover.