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Plane Crash 1943

The Plane

The photo below shows a P-47 Thunderbolt mass produced by the USA during World War II. It was a robust fighter heavily armoured, robustly armed and nicknamed the "Jug" because of its rotund fuselage. It had a radial air cooled engine and various upgrades were produced with over 15,000 of them sent to war. Although they were not used in Australia this one Ron Alvisio saw was being repaired at Eagle Farm and would have come from the battle front.

P-47 Thunderbolt_540
The P-47 was a classic 'war horse' in the air war. Today it is hard to imagine the thousands that flew and fought in the skys during World War II. It is harder still to imagine what it was like in the cockpit during a battle or how the pilot felt when his plane was in the process of crashing; Lt Scherr found out. Photo courtesy of the U S Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Thomas Hamilton noted when the plane crashed.

Thomas Hamilton kept his diary mainly as a record of both business matters and family matters. He also included local matters such as this rather dramatic event in the life of the local community. They had read about such things in the newspapers and seen them on the Newsreel at the Dawn theatre, but this time it was real and in their own backyard.

Thomas Hamilton made the following entry in his 1943 diary and clearly notes that a plane crashed, when it crashed, where it crashed and the death of the pilot. He also mentions a couple of other family items on that fatal day.

Plane Crash reported by Thomas Hamilton in his diary 13-11-1943
Thomas Hamilton kept his diary from 1890 to 1951 and always wrote clearly.

Nov 13 1943: Joe Carseldine & Patricia called on their way home to Bald Hills & showed us my first great grandson. Thank God for allowing me to live to see it & give him my first kiss. One of three Americans testing new planes crashed in Sparkes paddock close to the Military Camp the Pilot was killed & plane burned, terrific blaze & black smoke arose. Jim, Clara & family stayed here while the others went to Stafford.

Ron Alvisio's Description of the Crash

In the late afternoon of Saturday, 13/11/1943, a US fighter plane crashed in Sparkes' Paddock, now 7th Brigade Park, and the pilot was killed. As a commemoration of this tragic accident the street that now connects Hamilton Road and Murphy Road is called Kittyhawk Drive; but from the time it was named there has been controversy over the type of plane that was involved.

The Chermside & Districts Historical Society Inc has tried to establish the identity; Kittyhawk or Thunderbolt. Several people have offered opinions but one, Ron Alvisio, a 16 year old in 1943, gave us the most comprehensive account of the tragedy.

The Alvisio house was, and still is, on the northern side of Ellison Road on the hill half-way between Murphy Road and Newman Road, about 3 houses from Piccadilly Street. Ron, with his father and two brothers, was in the backyard, probably playing cricket, when the plane appeared. They were used to planes coming over the house on test flights from Eagle Farm where there was a Repair and Salvage Unit. (The 81st Depot Repair Squadron, the biggest Depot Repair squadron in Queensland was situated at Eagle Farm or Camp Ascot as it was called by the Americans.)

At first they took little notice but it soon became apparent that this one, the only one in the air at the time, was in trouble because it was a lot lower than usual with one wheel retracted, one extended and the motor was backfiring. The plane swerved towards Sparke's Paddock, the army camp, and then there was an ungodly bang and a loud explosion, followed by black smoke rising above the trees. They jumped on their pushbikes and set off to see what had happened. By the time they arrived at the crash site the fire brigade was using foam to extinguish the large blaze.

They easily got through the barbed wire fence and managed to join a rather large crowd of people at a point about 20 or 30 feet from the plane. Ron recollected that the location was about 100 yards on the north side of Hamilton Road and about 200 yards east from the present Kittyhawk Drive.

The plane had hit the corner of the Army amenities block and Ron could still clearly recall the sight of the white pedestals in the Officers' toilet section; fortunately no one was using the toilets at the time. The plane was sitting on the ground right way up but was partly hidden by foam used to put out the fire. A couple of soldiers came with a blanket and used it to screen the cockpit as the pilot was dead and had been very badly burnt.

As the soldiers began to shepherd the people back towards the road Ron noticed that there were bits and pieces of the plane scattered on the ground. Ron souvenired a bit of the plane which turned out to be the tip of the bead site for a gun; it was still warm when he picked it up.

Because Ron was waiting till he was old enough to join the RAAF, which he later did, he practiced aircraft recognition, with models of about 100 planes that he had made. He noted that the crashed plane was a single seater, with a single radial air cooled engine and it was definitely a P47 Thunderbolt. This ruled out the possibility of the plane being a Kittyhawk because they had an in-line, liquid cooled engine. Later he acquired a spare parts manual for the Thunderbolt (P47) which shows the souvenired bead sight in situ, along with the ring sight, on the guns; this adds further credence to his identification, although he qualifies this by noting that the Kittyhawk could have used the same bead site.

Ron is adamant that there was no US presence at the crash site, all the work was done by Australian Army personnel including the ambulance. He adds that the US officials would have come later as the aircraft was a US plane.

Data collected by Robert Isdale and Pat O'Shea.

P-40 Curtiss_Kittyhawk_540
P-40 Curtiss Kittyhawk is a different aircraft with a liquid cooled, in-line engine and a much more streamlined form. Photo courtesy of the U S Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Another Eye Witness - Lt. Alex Loft

Another eye witness to the crash interviewed by Glenys Bolland was Lieutenant Alex Loft who was stationed at the camp awaiting transfer to New Guinea when the crash occurred. He retired from the army as a Lieutenant Colonel and is well able to remember what happened that day in 1943.

He has had a lot of flying experience and is adamant that the plane that crashed was not a Kittyhawk but rather a Thunderbolt. There was only one person in the plane and he could see the pilot's head as it was not slumped forward but was rigidly upright.

Alex said the plane came from the west, crossed Gympie Road flying parallel to Hamilton Road and dived at an angle of 45 degrees into the ground exploding in a fireball so intense that it was impossible to get within 50 feet of the wreck. He added that it did not hit a latrine and was closer to Hamilton Road than we estimated.

A Third Contender for the Prize - P-43 Lancer

The P-43 Lancer was the prototype for the Thunderbolt. Photo courtesy of the U S Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Another witness to the 1943 crash came forward in March 2010. Noel Shaw is a life long resident of Geebung having grown up on a local dairy farm opposite the intersection of Hamilton and Spence Roads.

Noel, aged 16 in 1943, was a keen model plane maker and had about 70 models which gave him a good knowledge of aeroplane details. He thinks that the crashed plane was a Republic Lancer P-43, the prototype from which the Thunderbolt P-47 was developed. Looking at the photos of the two planes it is easy to see how an ordinary person might confuse the Lancer with its descendent, the Thunderbolt.

On the afternoon of the crash, Noel was helping with the milking for the afternoon delivery. He heard and saw the plane come over the farm and noticed that it had only one wheel down and it was turned sideways causing him to think "he (the pilot) will have trouble when he tries to land".

Noel had a good view of the plane as it was coming from the direction of Sandgate-Shorncliffe towards Wavell Heights flying over the farm from Main Avenue to Hamilton Road at a height of 1600-2000 feet ( 487m-609m) and it must have made a 90º turn to reach the crash site. Noel could clearly see the underside of plane which enabled him to distinguish it from a Thunderbolt.

The Lancer was smaller that the Thunderbolt; the Lancer wings tapered on both edges to a broad wing tip while the Thunderbolt had wings that curved on both edges to a more pointed wing tip; something like the pattern of the Spitfire wings.

When the plane flew out of sight he went on with the milking and did not know it had crashed till he was going west along Hamilton Road delivering milk.

In 1939 Republic Aviation produced the forerunner of the Thunderbolt, the P-43 Lancer XP-47B, for the US Air Force as a fighter but it soon proved to be inferior to the German fighters and production was suspended after only 270 were made. Work began on a new model fighter the P-47B which was heavier, more than twice the weight of the Lancer, had a much more powerful engine, was more heavily armoured, carried much more fire power with an all up weight of 8 tonnes; the Jug was born.

The Thunderbolt was developed by June 1940; the first one flew in June 1941, they were introduced into the air force in 1942 and finally retired in 1966 after 15,686 had been produced. It went through several variations over the years, marked by changes of identifying letters in the name.

Comparision of P-47 and P-43

P-47........Thunderbolt.........P-43 Lancer
Wing Span....12.43m.............11m
All Up Weight..7,938kg...........3,300kg

One observer described the Lancer as an oddly proportioned P-47 Thunderbolt.

It would be quite easy for an ordinary observer to mistake the lesser known Lancer for the better known Thunderbolt.

The Location of the Crash

  • Eye witnesses agree that the crash was in the vicinity of Ballantine Street or Corrie Street on the north side of Hamilton Road. Mavis Rye locates it near the present electricity sub-station on Hamilton Road near Ballantine Street. Lindsay Staib thinks it was 100 or 200 yards off Hamilton Road about 100 yards past Kingsmill Street, somewhere about the Kedron Wavell RSL car park near Ballantine & Neilson Streets.
  • Ron Alvisio clearly remembers the line of white pedestals in the Latrine block which the plane clipped during the crash. This is supported by Joan Hamilton whose family was one the many which invited the troops into their home during WWII. One of the visiting soldiers mentioned that the plane hit his latrine (toilet).
  • The map of lower Chermside Camp shows two Camp blocks fronting Hamilton Road. Block F was bounded by Newman Road and the future Corrie Street while Block E continued across the future Ballantine Street to near the present Aquatic Centre.
  • The only latrines near either of these entrances into the Camp from Hamilton Road were on the east side of the future Ballantine Street. The Latrine building No. 212 was 400 feet or 122 metres north from Hamilton Road while the Latrine building No. 214 was 900 feet or 274 metres north of Hamilton Road. There is no foolproof way of identifying which building the plane clipped but either one is probably as close we are ever going to get to the exact location. I am inclined to think that building No. 212 is the more likely one.
  • It is possible that the route followed by the plane after passing over Alvisio's house in Ellison Road may have described a circular course to the south and west circling back to the Camp area which was a relatively clear area where he could land. Three witnesses saw the plane in trouble: Joan Hamilton from the tennis court at the school on the corner of Rode and Gympie Roads; Jean Tune from her home near the present Prince Charles Hospital; Lindsay Staib from his home in Sparkes Street.

Map of World War II Chermside Camp

Data collated by Pat O'Shea

1943 Crash site_540_2 taken from Camp Chermisde Map
This map shows Block E of Camp Chermside in World War Two which extended west along the north side of Hamilton Road from the future Corrie Street towards the future Aquatic Centre. The track on the left is the on or near the future Ballantine Street. It shows the location of the two latrine and shower blocks, Nos. 212 and 214.

The Identity of the Pilot

The pilot of the P47 Thunderbolt was 2nd Lieutenant, Sol S. Scherr, Air Corps, USAAF. He was a member of the 317th Depot Repair Squadron which was stationed at Eagle Farm, or Camp Ascot, from 10th to the 19th November 1943 when they left for Townsville. Major Norman W. Kuebler was the Commanding Officer.

Lt Scherr was born on the 25-10-1921 at 1500 Boston Road, Bronx, New York, son of Louis and Tillie Scherr. He had two brothers, Arthur the older and Norman the younger.

His death was caused by an airplane accident five miles west of Eagle Farm, Queensland on 13-11-1943, three days after he arrived. The body was interred at Ipswich Cemetery marked by a headstone inscribed with a Star of David as he was of the Hebrew faith

The location of the crash in the report varies somewhat from the direction of Chermside which is North West of Eagle Farm but the straight line distance is about the same, nine kilometres or five and a half miles. Since no crash has ever been reported in the Wilston, Herston area which is a similar distance to the west, or any other site in Brisbane on the date above, then the Chermside site is the one referred to in the report.

Data collected by Glenys Bolland mainly on the internet.

Lt Sol Sherr stayed at Camp Ascot for only three days before he crashed
Camp Ascot or Eagle Farm was a major US base in World War II. This montage gives a glimpse into camp life, living in tents, eating in open canteens and cooking over open fires. Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library.

The Sequel

In early November 1947 the 10,000 ton freighter, Goucher Victory, arrived in Brisbane fully equipped to transport US war dead for reburial in the USA. It was to collect the 1,409 bodies from the US military cemetery at Ipswich, today's Manson Park, plus some from the southern states making a total of 1,884.

The US authorities hired 182 Australian labourers at twelve pounds per week to disinter the bodies. There was no shortage of applicants with those wages; at that time a labourer would be getting about half that amount. The work took a month and included specialists preparing the bodies for transport in steel coffins.

On the 23rd December a state funeral was conducted for one Unknown Soldier who represented the entire 1,884 who died defending Australia. The cortège proceeded from King George Square to Newstead Wharf farewelled by 30,000 silent respectful people. At the wharf the band played the Recessional, a firing party fired three volleys, a bugler sounded The Last Post and the cortege was carried aboard the Goucher Victory for the last long journey home.

The Courier Mail Editorial paid homage to the US fallen and reminded Queenslanders that the solemn ceremonies brought back memories of the time when US troops thronged the towns and cities in our hour of need. The editor went on those might have been Japanese troops if the Americans had not come and "made Australia the great base of that great Pacific counter-offensive which the genius of General MacArthur conceived and directed to victory."

At his father's request the remains of Lt Scherr were exhumed and transported from Brisbane on the vessel Goucher Victory to be finally interred at New Montefiore Cemetery, Pinelawn, Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

Data collected by Margaret Waddell-Wood of the Roma Historical Society

The Memorial at Chermside Qld Australia

The plaque measures 250mm X 160mm (10 inches x 6.5 inches) and is fixed to a stone plinth which is concreted in the garden of the Chermside Historical Precinct 61 Kittyhawk Drive, Chermside. The logo in the top left corner is that of the Fifth Air Force.

On Rembrance Day, 11th November, 2009 at the Kedron-Wavell War Memorial Shrine, Chermside we dedicated the memorial to Lt. Sol S. Scherr. Lt. Scherr lost his life nearby when the P47 Thunderbolt crashed on Saturday afternoon the 13th November 1943.

Lt. Scherr had only just arrived in Brisbane and probably didn't know much about this country which was so remote from his homeland. He was doing his duty which was to protect this land and its people from foreign invasion. He died in our defence, he gave his life that we might be free.

To paraphrase the words of Mustapha Kemal Attaturk when, in 1934 he addressed the mothers of the Australian dead at Gallipoli, we can now say of Lt. Scherr, having lost his life in this land he has become one of our sons. This plaque is a token of our appreciation of the sacrifice made by this young man, he was only 23, from the Bronx.