McArthur goes to Australia

00680_1lby Bill In Oz

McArthur in his public communiques from Corregidor in January/February 1942 announced that he would stay at Corregidor in the Philippines and share the fate of his troops. But in late February Roosevelt ordered him to leave and go to Australia. In March 1942, he was instructed to go to Mindanao & fly to Australia from an airfield on the Del Monte pineapple plantation near Bukidnon. Traveling with McArthur were his family and 13 US Army officers from his staff and two naval officers.

McArthur and his party left Corregidor at dusk in three PT Boats on at 6:30 pm on 13 March 1942. The PT boats travelled at night & hid during daylight hours, because of the danger of being spotted by Japanese aircraft or warships. The PT boats travelled the western route past Mindoro & Panay island & then South through the Sulu sea. There was a severe storm during the journey with high 6 meter waves. The boats arrived at Cagayan De Oro on Mindanao on the morning of the 13th of March after a journey of 1200 kilometers.

McArthur then had to wait for the US Air force to send aircraft to pick him up from the Del Monte air field. Two B17’s arrived from Australia just before midnight on the 17th of March.The aircraft were unloaded and then MacArthur party quickly boarded. The aircraft took off again at 1.30 am. for the flight to Australia. The intended destination was Darwin but a Japanese air raid was happening there so they flew on another 50 miles to Batchelor airfield.They landed at 9.00 am after a journey of 2400 kilometers.

After he arrived in Australia, McArthur told the press “that his aircraft had been closely pursued by Japanese fighter planes and had narrowly escaped Japanese bombers as it was landing at Batchelor Field.” This story was good headlines stuff & captured the public imagination but it was all a lie. The wireless operator on McArthur’s flight from Del Monte Field in the Philippines, Master Sergeant Dick Graf, later said that McArthur’s story was a figment of his imagination. The flight to Australia was uneventful & McArthur’s aircraft was never under threat from the Japanese. ( James Dunn )

There is a photo of McArthur standing next to the US Air force B17 just after it landed at Batchelor airfield with his assistant General Sunderland.

(An Aside : Philippine President Manuel Quezon, his family, doctors, chaplain, and senior staff also escaped from the Philippines via the Del Monte airfield on Thursday, March 26, 1942. Quezon & his party escaped from Corregidor before MacArthur by a US submarine. they were then landed at Cagayan De Oro. Two US Air force B-17’s flew from Batchelor near Darwin to collect the Filipino Commonwealth government party. )

At Batchelor Field there were 2 new Australian National Airways DC3’s waiting to take the McArthur party to Melbourne. The DC 3’s cruised at 330 kilometers an hour with a range of 2,400 km. So flying to Melbourne would have taken about 3 days with a refueling & rest stops in Alice Springs and Adelaide. However Mrs MacArthur refused refused to fly any further. McArthur’s young son Arthur was suffering from severe airsickness. McArthur asked for cars to take them all to the nearest railway station. But the nearest rail way station was at the small town of Alice Springs 1600 kilometers away on an unsealed track across dry hot dessert country. The McArthurs then agreed to board the DC3’s to Alice Springs.

While flying to Alice Springs in the middle of Australia, McArthur had the opportunity to see the nature of the Australian continent below him : generally flat, dry & hot dessert country with no rivers and no large towns or cities. In fact the only sign of human presence were a few scattered homesteads of the large 1000 square kilometer cattle ‘stations’ or properties. Similarly in March 1942 the ‘town’ of Alice Springs itself had a population of just 950 people. But in March 1942 there were also roughly 3000 Australian military personnel recently deployed there because of the war. The only important thing about Alice Springs was that it was the end of the narrow gauge railway South to Adelaide.

At Alice Springs, the US party split up. On the 19th of March McArthur, his family and some close officers took a train organised by the Australian government. His son was still sick and his wife refused the offer of flying to Melbourne. The rest of MacArthur’s staff flew down to Melbourne via Adelaide in the DC-3’s McArthur and his family then traveled the 1531 kilometers of narrow gauge track to Adelaide in South Australia. It was not a luxurious train. It was just three wooden carriages with a steam locomotive. Passengers sat in a carriage with two hardboard seats running lengthwise along the carriage. The second carriage was a dining car with a long wooden table. It also had some washtubs full of ice and a wood stove for cooking. To move from one carriage to another the train had to stop.

This journey took another 70 hours. The train travelled through yet more hot flat ‘outback’ desert & salt lake country. There was no air conditioning. In March in this part of Australia the temperature can reach 48 degrees. At night because of the lack of clouds the temperature can fall almost to zero. So it was not a comfortable journey for the US Army commander & his family. They must have been exhausted.

But once again MacArthur had a hands on experience of the Australian ‘Outback.” and it’s physical nature. I think MacArthur realised that in Australia he had a a major military advantage he completely lacked in the compact and vulnerable islands of the Philippines : ‘Depth in defence’ with over 3000 kilometers of desert separating the North coast of Australia from the major populated areas & big cities in the South.

The MacArthur train stopped on 20 March at a very small town named Terowie then a major railway junction. Locals had heard from journalists that MacArthur was on the train and greeted him at the station. It was here in this tiny town that he was asked by Australian newspaper men if he would keep going to the USA. He then made his famous speech :

” “The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed “from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organising an American offensive against Japan, the primary purpose of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return.” ( Peter Dunn website)

Finally on the 21st of March, MacArthur’s journey ended eight days after leaving Corregidor, when his train arrived at Spenser Street Station ( now renamed Southern Cross Station ) in Melbourne. The total distance travelled was 7400 kilometers by small PT boat, planes & 3 different trains. He was welcomed by Frank Forde the Australian Minister for the Army.

I have looked at the various photos of MacArthur available on the WWW. All of them show a fit well built older man. And that is interesting. When the Americans & Filipino troops retreated to Bataan & Corregidor in mid January, they were all placed on a ration of 2000 calories a day. By mid March they were very malnourished and prone to disease like malaria and A G E. Look again at the photo of MacArthur immediately after his arrival at Batchelor on 21/3/1942 (photo above, credits: John Curtin). Or take a look a the Youtube film clip of MacArthur arriving at Spenser’s St. Station in Melbourne. He does not look thin or malnourished at all. He looks fit, strong and proud. Sometimes a picture really does tell a thousand words, if you know what to look at !

Thank you once more to Bill in Oz for this informative article!

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 15. February 2016