Supply drops

The new coastwatching organisation had a number of supply problems. Naval stores did not carry articles that could be traded with the natives such as twist tobacco, knives, calico and beads, and arrangements had to be made to obtain these items. Another problem was parachutes, however the RAAF were able to design and manufacture a parachute of artificial silk for the Coastwatchers. The Coastwatchers also needed money so they could pay their native carriers and buy food from the villages. In The Coastwatchers, Eric Feldt writes that Paul Read on Bougainville even dynamited an office safe at Kieta when he needed funds.

[Eric Feldt, The Coast Watchers, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1946 p. 136]

Mail, maps and radio parts were also dropped by parachute. It was a tricky form of supply. Parachutes were scarce and the planes were needed for operational tasks. Supplies were dropped around the full moon and the place and time of the drop would be arranged by signal. Ideally the site would be an open space, clear of hills and fires would be prepared, ready to be lit once they heard the aircraft engines. The Catalina pilot would then fly back and forth, dropping a parachute of supplies on each run.

It didn't always work according to plan. In May 1942 at Guadalcanal, Sub-Lieutenant Paul Mason requested that supplies – food and trading items – be dropped to him. The pilot of the plane despatched to make the night time drop was unable to find Mason and finally dropped his supplies seventy miles (110 km) away from where Mason was based. After he received the signalled advice, Mason made his way to the spot by walking and riding a borrowed bicycle. Unfortunately he was unable to locate the drop and he made his way back to his post, empty-handed after his 220-kilometre trip. He received a successful drop containing food and mail some days later.

[Feldt, p. 136]

Neither were supply drops without risk for the aircrews. In his report from central Bougainville, Flight Lieutenant N C Sandford, 2 DK patrol, described a supply drop that went badly wrong on 19 December 1944.

On 19 December, Lieut. Bridge was asked to prepare to receive a drop on the following day. A RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) Venture circled the area at 9.5am. The first run was made from the main range over the dropsite towards the sea but no cargo was released. The pilot then came in from the lower end of the valley and made his run towards the mountains. The aircraft made a good approach with wheels down and bomb bay doors open but cargo did not start to drop until the aircraft was over 400 yards (365 metres) past the dropsite. The cargo continued to fall in separate bundles for some time and no attempt seemed to be made to retract the wheels despite the fact that the aircraft was heading towards the main range at low altitude. The aircraft rose at the last moment and appeared to clear the range but suddenly the starboard wing rose sharply and the aircraft disappeared from sight. Shortly afterwards I heard the crash and almost immediately a dense black column of smoke appeared. I immediately took a bearing on the smoke then called to Lieutenant Bridge, who had remained in the camp area and so had not witnessed the crash that the aircraft had crashed some 3 or 4 miles (approximately 5-6 km) away on bearing 26oM. 2WA was advised and PB's were instructed to proceed with all speed possible to the scene of the crash. A second party under Sergeant McPhee was formed to take food and medicines to and bring out any survivors.

At 11.20 hours a note was received from the latter party advising that two of the airmen – Hobbs and Murphy – had been killed and that the others – Scarlett, Nuttal and Gardiner – were badly injured. 2WA was advised and a Doctor and drugs were requested. The rescue party arrived back at Aita at 18.00 hours with Nuttal, Gardiner and the body of Scarlett who had died as a result of extensive 3rd degree burns. Nuttal was the more seriously injured of the two survivors and, despite all we could do he died from shock consequent to extensive burns at 22.30 hours.

Gardiner, suffering from a fractured femur, burns and shock became delirious at 23.30 but responded to treatment and by morning I was able to pronounce him out of danger. On 21st December 1944 in response to a suggestion from DSIO Nor Sols Lieut. Bridge gave order that a small strip would be cleared and local natives were recruited to prepare the site selected. A burial party was sent to the scene of the crash to bury Hobbs and Murphy and salvage what confidential documents might be in the aircraft and ensure that the I.F.F. equipment was destroyed.

Scarlett and Nuttal were buried at Kushi village under a grove of breadfruit trees. On my return to the area in January 1945 I had two hardwood crosses suitably inscribed and erected over their graves.

[NAA Item 37A B3476, 'Report by Lieutenant N.C Sandford, 2 DK Patrol, Central Sector, Bougainville Island, 12.1.44 – 18.6.45]

Sandford's report continues that attempts to construct an airstrip and problems with aircraft led to Gardiner, now the only crash survivor, being evacuated on foot. On 28 December a stretcher party carried him overland from Aita to Kurnaio Mission where a barge transported the patient to Torokina. The party arrived there on 1 January 1945 and Sergeant Gardiner was flown to New Zealand the following day.


Last updated: 1 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Supply drops, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 13 August 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/resources/coastwatchers-1941-1945/supply-drops
Was this page helpful?