Thursday, March 26, 2009

Whenuapai Liberator crashes, c.1943

Image from Wiki.

Jayne posted this comment to the Kaimai Crash post:

"There was another tv show called Secrets of NZ which documented a shocking plane crash of civilians classed as enemy aliens in WW2.
It was covered up for a long time (haven't been able to find anything online so far) apparently the plane crashed shortly after take off in NZ and all on board were killed, pilots, civilians, the whole lot.
From memory it was an American plane and the bodies were just taken away and buried. They spoke to a couple of witnesses who were still upset at the fate of the children."

I responded:

"The closest I can come to this is apparently the crash of a US Liberator at Whenuapai where some Japanese interned in NZ from Tonga were on board. A book was apparently written about it: here."

I called a friend and fellow researcher tonight who knows a fair bit about Whenuapai's history, and asked for more info.

Apparently, there were two Liberator crashes at Whenuapai airport c.1943 (which, during World War II, was Auckland's only main airport). One remains classified -- but the bombs on board when it crashed are said to have been heard all over Auckland. The other involved the civilian casualties.

According to the researcher, those on board included Japanese and Taiwanese, brought in from all over the Pacific, and apparently they were involved in a planned exchange for allied troops. The bodies after the crash were cremated secretly at night, then the ashes were stored, and returned to their respective countries only after the war.

All around, a sad incident.

Update, September 2010: Further post on the Whenuapai wartime accidents, here.


  1. Thanks for that, Lisa, excellent work :)
    I'll ask at our local library for that book, it was a very sad event for everyone involved.

  2. 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand has details of two crashes at Whenuapai in 1942 and 1943:

  3. My grandfather was the co-pilot of this crash, he was interviewed by a new zealand tv show doing a story on this. He often talked to me about it when I was younger.

  4. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for stopping by to let us know. If you want to, feel free to tell us more.

  5. Very interested to read this, because I've been trying to find out whether Kendrick Smithyman saw this appalling crash, and whether the sight might have helped turn him off the air force, and all things to do with flying.

    Do you fancy having a coffee/beer/some lunch (my shout!) and discussing Smithyman and matters relating to your own research interests? I'd be delighted if you did! My e mail is if you feel like dropping a line...

  6. Hi maps, expect an email from me soon. Cheers!

  7. Hi
    I was in the RNZAF many years after this happened. While at Whenuapai (from 1967-72 approx) there was old aircraft wreckage visible just off Herald Island. I was told this was a wartime bomber that had crashed. However, I was told there was aonther WW2 bomber that crashed in farmland at the other end of the Whenuapai runway, and this one reputedly had a large load of weapons on board as there was an enormous explosion. Further, my father was in the RNZAF at Whenuapai during WW2 as an air traffic controller, then was posted to Gualdalcanal; the day prior to his departure a Lockheed Ventura crashed through the curved roof of the southern concrete hangar. For many years the repair of the roof was visible both form inside and outside. I have tried to find info on these events, never had any luck.

  8. Thanks for your comment. I notice that there are loads of file references on Archway to accidents happening at Whenuapai during World War II. I'll see if I can pull them together in a list with dates for another post, and send you the link. Cheers.

  9. My grandmother helped identify the dead in that plane crash on August 4th 1943...she was married to a Japanese who was one of the POWs on Soames Island....
    There is a fictional book about the Japanese/alien internment in NZ called "The Swap" written by Wendy Catran based on fact ..and the plane crash is mentioned the book..All names are of course changed.
    It is also recorded in the book "Tact and Tenacity" a book about the 1st 60 years of Women police in grandmother helped Edna Pearce (she was in the 1st intake of policewomen)set up and run an internment camp at Pokeno for the Japanese women...
    When the plane crashed my grandmother and her husband acted as interpreters between the police and survivors and helped identify the dead..
    In 2006 the NZ Police presented my grandmother with an award and thanked her for her volunteer help during that time...
    She has lived in Japan since 1946....but periodically visited NZ..
    If you google her name.. Jessie Banno..and check out the Police 10 4 that comes up it will tell you about her

  10. Hi Rhonda. Thank you very much for your comment -- your grandmother sounds like she was an amazing woman. There's information about her service here.

  11. She is an amazing woman...she will be 100 next year...
    Yes I was fortunate to be given the video of her receiving that award by the reporter who did the story on TV1

  12. If you like, Rhonda -- I'd be delighted and honoured to publish a guest post by you here on Timespanner about her. Feel free to contact me at

  13. This just received from a reader, Mitchell Hutchings:

    "Hi – I’ve just read your post about the 1943 crash at Whenuapai. My father grew up in Greenhithe and was an avid plane spotter. He was a teenager when the crash occurred and always told us how he and his mates rowed over from “Devil’s Back” to the crash site once the military cordon had been lifted. They obviously went at low tide as he recounted having a good look all over the plane. He delighted in scaring us kids by describing how they lifted up a piece of wing and found a severed hand beneath! For many years we had an old fuselage door from the plane, which was a good source of hard-to-find aluminium after the war. I also have the navigator’s map folder that Dad retrieved and cleaned – a somewhat macabre souvenir from a wartime accident.

    "There is still part of the wreckage visible at low tide just off the Hobsonville approaches to the Upper Harbour Bridge. At least that’s what I’ve always understood it to be. Many years ago it was way more recognisable as a piece of aircraft."

    Cheers, Mitchell.

  14. Hi, I am leading a project at Hobsonville Point Secondary which is investigating and doing archaeology around the crashes from Whenuapai. We have been out to investigate the wreckage by the Upper Harbour Bridge and found that it is a piece of a wing - but we can't identify if it is in fact from the Liberator or some other crash. Any help with this would be much appreciated.

    We are also planning to go and see if there are any other pieces we can find in the mud-flats off the end of Pohutukawa Rd - any confirmation that we might be looking in the right place would also be greatly appreciated!


    1. Hi Tracey,
      See this Flickr link, from Archives NZ.

    2. Use to trudge out to the wreck in the 1950s and use to sit on what we thought was part of a wing when we were about 9 years old the mud was up to our waste.
      Graeme Bourk.