Anxious nation? — V

So here's a very incomplete list of mystery aircraft sightings in Australia, along with how they were interpreted at the time. For the most part I've only included reports which were published in the press at the time (and not those which were reported to the authorities in wartime but not publicised).

  1. Koroit, Vic, 1906: an odd object which at one point 'assumed a shape somewhat resembling that of an airship'.
  2. 1909 wave, nation-wide: no single interpretation dominated but generally described as airships.
  3. Minderoo, WA, 1910: an airship, either a secret Australian invention or from a foreign vessel off the coast.
  4. SS Wookata, off Althorpe Island, SA, 1910: strange lights, described by one witness as being 'like German airships flying about'.
  5. Ballarat, Vic, 1911: an 'air-ship' or 'biplane'.
  6. Melbourne, Vic, 1911: an 'aeroplane'.
  7. Cairns, Qld, 1913: a 'mysterious object resembling an aeroplane'.
  8. Lameroo, SA, 1914: an 'aeroplane'. February, so before the outbreak of war.
  9. Mullumbimby/Billinudgel/Lismore, NSW, 1914: this time it's October, and there seems to have been much debate about whether the 'aeroplane' seen over a period of days (or weeks) belonged to Germany (no, because it would have dropped a bomb) or the Australian Army (then why wasn't it flying in daytime?). Another article intriguingly mentions 'the aeroplane or Zeppelin' alongside an 'awful carronading out to sea' heard at Tweed Heads, but let's not get distracted...
  10. Corporoo, QLD, 1915: an 'aeroplane' (though it is also described as an 'airship', I suspect this is as a synonym for aircraft). No defence implications.
  11. 1918 wave, nation-wide though most reports were from Victoria and, to a lesser extent, New South Wales. The implication was very definitely that the aeroplanes (rarely, Zeppelins) were German, possibly from raiders offshore.
  12. Broome, WA, 1927: two aeroplanes believed to be operating from a ship offshore, involved in opium smuggling.
  13. Flinders Island, Tas, 1928: an 'aeroplane engine' was heard followed by the sound of a crash. A search found nothing. This was connected to the missing New Zealand airmen Hood and Moncrieff, who the same day had taken off from Sydney in an attempt to be the first to fly the Tasman Sea. Interestingly, there were similar false sightings in New Zealand -- all very Andrée-like.
  14. Broken Hill, NSW, 1929: an aeroplane was seen trailing smoke and believed to have crashed, but an extensive search found no trace.
  15. Needles, Tas, 1931: yet another mistaken report of an aeroplane crash.
  16. Thursday Island, Qld, 1934: two aeroplanes seen by fishing boats, which also reported a 'Japanese sampan' nearby; the Defence Department was notified. Thursday Island is off the tip of Cape York, about as far north as Australia gets.
  17. Bowen, Qld, 1935: an 'aeroplane' reported to be 'in difficulties'; believed to be a hoax report as no such aircraft could be identified and this wasn't the first time this had happened.
  18. Darwin, NT, 1938: an aeroplane was heard and seen on two occasions, leading to many different theories being proposed. A long-distance reconnaissance from Palau was one of these, but the Japanese angle only had much traction in Darwin itself.
  19. Hobart, Tas, 1938: not-very-convincing attempts to suggest that an aeroplane seen diving on Hobart was from a foreign ship off the coast, but in any case the incident was said to show the city's defencelessness.
  20. Broken Hill, NSW, 1941: a 'mysterious object' seen in the air was thought by some to be 'an aeroplane'. This was reported on the very same day as the Japanese declaration of war, though no connection is evident (other than the article being surrounded by war news).
  21. Townsville, Qld, 1942: Japan isn't mentioned here either, but it's pretty obvious that's who the 'number of unidentified planes [...] seen over the Atherton Tableland' were assumed to belong to, if only from the black-out and other air-raid precautions which were undertaken.
  22. Townsville, Qld, 1942: this time two 'military type' aircraft were seen over Townsville; fighters and anti-aircraft guns failed to shoot them down. Despite the caveat ('If the planes were hostile') it does seem likely that these were Japanese aircraft. Townsville was bombed less than two months later.
  23. Port Augusta, SA, 1947: not described as any sort of aircraft at all, actually, just as five 'strange objects' (about the size of 'locomotives'). That's quite unusual but these were quite unusual objects, described as quivering, 'oblong with narrow points' and casting a shadow (at 9am). The consensus seems to have been meteors (though the state astronomer disagreed and also rejected a mirage theory). A few months later the flying saucer craze started in the United States and the Adelaide Advertiser was able to claim that 'Port Augusta "started something"'.

What does it all mean? I'll discuss that in the (hopefully) final post in this series.

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6 thoughts on “Anxious nation? — V

  1. Post author

    Thanks, Ted. It's possible -- looking at a map that does seem a reasonable route (inland via Longreach and Cloncurry probably wouldn't be much shorter, and probably more dangerous). There were USAAF bases around Townsville then; it looks like 39 and 40 Fighter Squadrons were there at the time of the incidents, their records may shed some light. I looked up the war diary of 31 Infantry Battalion (militia), which defended the Townsville area in 1942; it confirms the newspaper accounts but doesn't add any other details. (Of course the chocos might not have been told the full story either.) But it does reveal other interesting incidents, sightings of parachutists, intelligence warnings of a carrier strike, patrols sent out to investigate possible Japanese infiltration, a report that a Japanese aeroplane had flown low over a mob of cattle at Bobawaba -- south of Townsville but not too far inland. This is the trouble (for me) with these WWII incidents: I'm interested in the intrepretations placed upon mystery aircraft much more than the reality, and while it's clear that these aircraft were being interpreted as Japanese it seems a bit foolish to make a big deal out of this if the aircraft were, in fact, Japanese. Sometimes a phantom airship is just an airship...

  2. Christopher

    These do rather sound like examples of UFOs - even the aircraft (though some might be genuine). I've just been reading about similar examples in the Scandinavian countries in the period before WW2.

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  4. Post author

    Yes, the ghost fliers -- I noted these briefly in an earlier post. Interestingly, smuggling (albeit of alcohol) was also one explanation given at the time for these sightings, along with foreign incursions of one sort or another. It's something I'd like to know more about, but English-language information is sketchy. What have you been reading?

  5. Post author

    On the ghost fliers, I noticed this in Flight, 22 July 1937, 97:

    Norway has been puzzled by nocturnal visits of a large multi-engined machine, thought to be a new German Atlantic type under secret test -- someone with an analytical ear has identified it as having Diesel engines.

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