Diamonds on the Australian coast

Discussion in 'Stories' started by Marcel, Nov 6, 2015.

  1. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Ivan Smirnoff was Russia's fourth highest Ace in World War I. He was credited with shooting down 11 German aircraft.

    van was naturalised as a Dutch citizen. In early 1942, Captain Smirnoff had flown his DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft between Java and Australia evacuating Royal Netherlands Indies Airlines office and ground staff, along with civilians and service personnel.

    On 3 March 1942, Dutch Dakota DC-3 PK-AFV "Pelikaan" of the KNILM (Netherlands East Indies KLM) left Bandung in Java headed for Australia with a plane load of evacuees and a box of diamonds worth approximately £300,000. They managed to escape Java just 3 days before the Japanese took the Bandung area.

    At about 1:00 am, while the Dakota's engines were being warmed up, the Captain of the Dakota, Ivan "Turc" Smirnoff was handed a sealed cigar-box sized container by Mr. Wisse, the manager of Andir airfield at Bandung. The box was wrapped in brown paper and sealed in many places. Smirnoff was not aware of the contents of the box but was told "Take good care of this, it is quite valuable". He was told that an Australian Bank would take delivery of the box on arrival in Australia.

    Smirnoff threw the box into the Dakota's First Aid box, taxied the Dakota out to the runway and took off at about 1:15 am local time.

    Ivan Smirnoff had flown many of these evacuation flights to Australia in early 1942. He was evacuating KNILM office staff, ground personnel, some civilians and service personnel. His co-pilot for this flight was Johan "Neef" Hoffman and his radio operator was John "Jo" Muller. Amongst his passengers were five NEI-AF pilots and four civilians, one of which was an 18 month old baby.

    The wife of one of the Dutch pilots, Maria van Tuyn, sat in the only seat left in the rear of the Dakota, which had been stripped bare to save weight. All the other passengers were relegated to the uncomfortable wooden floor.

    As they approached Broome just after sunrise, the Dakota's radio officer received a short reply from Broome airfield as follows:-

    "Airstrip is okay for the time being"

    This message puzzled the crew of the Dakota. By now they had met up with the Australian coastline above Broome. As they followed the beaches towards Broome, they suddenly observed large black clouds of smoke when they were still about 80 kilometres north of Broome.

    They had unfortunately arrived at Broome just after a Japanese raid by nine Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter aircraft and a single Mitsubishi C5M2 command reconnaissance and navigational aircraft of the 3rd Ku, IJNAF. Three of the Zeros had stayed at a higher altitude during the raid to act as "top cover" for the other Zeros. As these "top cover" Zeros followed the coastline back towards Timor, they encountered the lazy Dutch Dakota. The Zeros first attacked the Dakota from the port side. Captain Smirnoff was wounded several times in his arms and hip. Smirnoff managed to put the Dakota into a steep spiral dive with the Zeros in pursuit.
    Mrs. van Tuyn was hit twice in the chest and her baby was hit in the arm. One of the Dutch pilot passengers, Dan Hendriks, was rendered unconscious after being wounded.

    A year after the incident, another passenger, Dutch pilot Lieutenant Pieter Adrian Cramerus, described his ordeal to an American newspaper reporter:
    The Zeros started to strafe the beached Dakota. The passengers and crew attempted to escape the Dakota in between strafing runs. A KNILM apprentice mechanic, J.F.M. "Joop" Blaauw, was hit in both knees while trying to escape the aircraft. Smirnoff and those left on board decided to take shelter in the water underneath the crippled Dakota.

    After the Zeros disappeared, Muller, the radio operator, retrieved his undamaged radio set and started to send SOS signals to Broome. Another passenger, H. van Romondt, a KNILM official, was asked by Smirnoff to recover the mail, log books and the "valuable" sealed box. As he exited the door of the aircraft, he was hit by a wave and the mystery box fell into the surf. As its importance was not known, the loss of the box was considered a small loss under the circumstances.

    They moved up the beach into the sandhills and erected a shade shelter using some parachutes from the Dakota. A bit later that morning a Japanese four-engined Kawanishi flying boat (code named "Mavis") spotted them and started to circle. It dropped two small bombs which fell wide of them.

    The Mavis returned later on and dropped two more bombs which failed to explode.

    Smirnoff sent two men inland to search for water. They were unsuccessful. Mrs. van Tuyn and Blaauw died that evening. Lieutenant Hendriks died the following morning.

    The following day, Smirnoff sent Lt. Pieter Cramerus, Sgt. G.D. "Dick" Brinkman, van Romondt and John "Jo" Muller off in two parties to reach Broome. They were ordered to keep going until they found Broome. A heavy shower that afternoon improved conditions for the victims and improved their water supplies.

    An aborigine travelling out from Broome had seen the dogfight and crash and reported it to officials at the Beagle Bay Mission. He had observed the downed aircraft and crew from a distance, too scared to approach them. A rescue party immediately left Beagle Bay Mission led by Warrant Officer Gus Clinch. He was accompanied by Brother Richard Bessenfelder and an aborigine called Joe Bernard.

    The rescue party ran into the two groups of men sent out by Smirnoff.

    On 6 March 1942 two RAAF Wirraways appeared over the crash site and dropped food, tinned milk and some messages. One of these messages read as follows:-
    "Relief party be with you tonight with food and medical supplies. Good luck, MacDonald, RAAF"

    Johannes Tuyn, Mrs. van Tuyn's baby, died that night. The rescue party from Beagle Bay Mission reached the survivors at 3 am on 7 March 1942. After medical treatment and food and water was distributed, it was decided to set out for Beagle Bay Mission at dawn. They slowly trekked the 40 kms back to Beagle Bay Mission. Two days later they were taken to Broome by truck.

    Some time later, Smirnoff was in Melbourne and received a visit from a police detective and a Commonwealth Bank officer. They demanded to know the whereabouts of the sealed box. Smirnoff told them his story.

    In the meantime, Jack Palmer a well known beachcomber in the Broome area sailed his lugger into the Carnot and Beagle Bays area. He spotted the wrecked Dakota. Being a beachcomber he salvaged what he could from the Dakota. It is presumed that he found the mystery box at low tide. Stories have been told that he shared some of his booty of diamonds with friends and some local aborigines.

    In mid April 1942 Jack Palmer made a visit to Army headquarters at Broome and asked to enlist in the Army. During an interview with Major Clifford Gibson he unexpectedly poured a salt shaker full of diamonds over the desk. They were confiscated and sent to Perth. Palmer was taken into custody by Lieutenant Laurie O'Neill who led an investigation into the incident. They took Palmer back to the crash site. They found pieces of torn brown paper wrapping and seals that came off the box. While they were there, the team salvaged some parts of the aircraft.
    Diamonds started to be found in a variety of locations:-

    - a Chinese trader had some
    - amongst aboriginal communities
    - in a matchbox in a train carriage compartment
    - in the fork of a tree (found after the war)
    - in a fireplace in a house in Broome

    Jack Palmer and his two accomplices James Mulgrue and Frank Robinson were committed for trial in the Perth Supreme Court in May 1943. Chief Justice Sir John Northmore presided over the court with a jury of six. All three accused were acquitted after several days. Captain Ivan Smirnoff and Major Gibson were amongst a number of witnesses called from all around Australia.

    Only £20,447 worth of diamonds were recovered by the authorities which means that there is in excess of £250,000 still missing today. This is now equivalent to over $10 million dollars worth of diamonds

    So if you're on the north coast of Australia, look around you, you might get lucky.

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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  3. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Andy. I just bought Smirnoff's book about his war exploits, it is a great description of this accident from his point of view. I'm going to look into that book you posted here.
     
  4. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    Great story! Thanks for posting!
     
  5. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    I agree, thanks!
     
  6. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Great story! Thanks for sharing.
     
  7. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Great stuff - just checking the Qantas timetable ..............
     
  8. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Fantastic story; first time I've heard this. Must buy the book.
     
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  9. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Smirnoff is an intriguing fellow. Born in Russia, became a hero on the ground and later as aviator in WwI. Then flew with the RAF, finally anding up with the KLM in The Netherlands. Got the Dutch nationality, married a Danish woman, was world renown for his exploids in the air (flight of the Pelikaan). Then rolled into WW2, became hero again, wnt back to the Netherlands, married an Amercan woman after his first wife died, and died himself on Mallorca. How international can you get? His character was rather .. uhm.. special s the word.
     
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