An excursion along the Kokoda Track as part of the 2010 Anzac Day Commemorations, solved a mystery for me – however it has also opened a whole new range of possibilities in relation to the identity of a particular Japanese aircraft which met it’s demise on the ridge above Isurava, in Papua New Guinea.
IMAGE RIGHT: Kokoda Historical trekker, Andrew Hirst holding the Type 92 Machine Gun from the Alola Museum during a trek in October, 2008. When I first saw this relic in 2002, I formed the opinion that it may have been a surplus Australian Lewis Gun (originally manufactured for aircraft mounting) pressed into service during 1942 as a result of a shortage of automatic weapons.
When I first trekked along the Kokoda Track in 2002, I took interest in a relic condition machine gun, which looked for all intents and purposes to be a British Lewis Gun. History buffs amongst you may be able to picture a British fighter aircraft of World War One, which sported a Lewis Gun of this type – mounted on the upper wing of their aircraft. This particular type of Lewis Gun for aircraft use was devoid of the aluminium metal “sleeve” which encased the cooling vents along the barrel of the standard Lewis. I assumed that the gun was a ‘surplus’ weapon, which had been pressed into action during those dark days of 1942 when there may have been a shortage of automatic weapons. Indeed, with the AIF deployed in the Middle East being supplied most of the latest equipment (such as Bren Guns) – the Militia troops were initially issued with World War One era Lewis Guns (the 49th Infantry Battalion which initially garrisoned Port Moresby, were later brought up to Brigade strength and reinforced by the 53rd Infantry Battalion and the famous 39th Infantry Battalion, A.M.F) In fact, there is ample evidence to support the fact that the 39th Militia Battalion used their Lewis Guns to good effect in their initial confrontation with the Japanese near Awala ….. and throughout their actions at Kokoda Station, Deniki and Isurava.
IMAGE LEFT: A close-up of the Type 92 Machine Gun, showing the over-sized trigger guard – to enable access to the trigger whilst wearing gloves for temperatures at altitude. Note how a crack has formed between the actual trigger guard and the pistol grip. Evidence (combined with the ‘bent’ gun barrel) to support the suggestion that this gun was on board an aircraft which was subject of a crash. (Photo taken October, 2008)
I had long since known of the crash site of a Japanese aircraft, above Isurava. Initial reports suggested that this aircraft was a Mitsubishi A6M2 ‘Zero’ fighter, however I had also heard rumour of it being a ‘Val’ Dive Bomber. It was not until September of 2008 that I finally found time to visit this crash site; which is off the beaten track and up a very steep climb on the ridge between “wartime” Isurava and “current” Isurava Village.
The Medals Gone Missing Administrator with Kokoda Historical Trekkers: – Harry Cizerle, Jared Williams, Dale Cairney and Captain Josh Hawes (Australian Army) at the scene of the Japanese crash site in September, 2008. By this time, Bill James’ wonderful “Field Guide to the Kokoda Track” was in print and page 365 of the first edition recorded this aircraft type as being an Aichi D3A ‘Val’ dive bomber.
IMAGE RIGHT: The crash site is in such a position that not all Kokoda Trekking companies are able to visit it (especially those on a tight time schedule). The climb is very steep and arduous, but the wreck is a very satisfying reward for aircraft buffs who make the climb. Trekking companies Kokoda Historical (David Howell) and Komplete Kokoda (Soc Kienzle) are two companies which make every effort to take trekkers to this location (time and fitness permitting). So whilst I became a regular visitor to the crash site after October of 2008, I did not make the correlation between this aircraft wreck – and the “Lewis Gun” at the Alola Museum until nearly two years later.
IMAGE LEFT: A close-up photo of the receiver and magazine mounting – leaving no doubt as to the ‘Lewis Gun design’ of a top mounted drum magazine, fed weapon. A stainless steel post is also seen, protruding from the left hand side of the weapon. Clearly proving that this machine gun was mounted to an aircraft. (Photo taken October, 2008)
So it was not until my trek with the April “Anzac Day” group of 2010 that a vital piece of the ‘jigsaw’ was located by our intrepid Papuan guide, Kila Amuli. Whilst inspecting the wreckage, Kila unsuspectingly lifted a piece of aluminium which revealed an intact and unfired round (bullet) in the mud. Handing this round to me, I immediately assessed it to be a British .303 “rimmed” round……which did not seem to make sense amongst a Japanese aircraft wreck. A further search in the mud where the bullet was found, revealed a “drum” magazine which I immediately considered to be that of a British Lewis Gun. With a bit of thought, I remembered the “bent out of shape” barrel of the Lewis Gun at the Alola museum. As Alola and Isurava are not far apart as the crow flies, I considered it highly possible that the Alola Museum gun had in fact been pilfered from this aircraft wreck. Either that, or the gun had been thrown from the aircraft (possibly in a bid by the crew to reduce weight?) prior to the plane colliding with the hilltop. As virtually nothing about this aircraft is known – what caused it to crash is still a mystery. There is NO evidence to suggest that it was shot down and there are certainly no known claims of it being brought down by Australian ground fire during the Kokoda campaign. Two possibilities exist ….. that it was low on fuel (which supports the possibility that the machine gun was thrown overboard above Alola to lighten the weight) but more likely, is the possibility that the aircraft was enveloped in thick cloud and struck the hillside (the pilot misjudging his height). Regardless of this speculation, I thought that perhaps the Lewis Gun had been captured by the Japanese in a previous conquest (such as Singapore) and the gun adapted for Japanese use. At this time, I was unaware that the Japanese had produced a 7.7 calibre rimmed round – which is virtually identical to the British .303 round and I was unaware of the Type 92 Machine Gun.
IMAGE RIGHT: The Japanese Type 92 drum magazine which is virtually identical to that of the British Lewis Gun. Whilst it is heavily corroded, the mud had stuck to some surfaces of the magazine and subsequently when this mud was removed – traces of “blueing” were still evident on the metal. Photo courtesy of Kokoda Historical trekkers Warrant Officer Michael Scott (R.A.A.F) and Emma Withnell taken during April 2010.
Whilst the magazine and it’s contents were in a badly corroded state, it was not until one particular round with a relatively clear primer caught my eye. This round clearly showed the stamping “7.7” which confirmed it’s Japanese origin. Upon my return to Australia, research into Nippon weapons of the Second World War indicated that the Japanese did in fact copy the British Lewis Gun and designated it the Type 92 Light Machine Gun. So the mystery of the Alola Museum gun, is a mystery no more and it is extremely likely that this machine gun and the drum magazine are from the same aircraft.
Justin Tynan who is the administrator of the U.S. based website “Pacific Wrecks” is an expert on Japanese aircraft. Whilst the find completely eliminates the possibility of the crash site being a A6M2 Zero fighter (which carried no hand held weapons, such as the Type 92) …. a second mystery came to light. The serial number of ‘5194’ is in fact a “Mitsubishi” manufacturer serial number. The Val (D3A) was made by Aichi ….. and not Mitsubishi. So does this rule out the aircraft being a Val dive bomber? The number 5194 can be attributed to two Mitsubishi types:- a G4M “Betty” bomber and a G3M “Nell”. Justin states the unlikeliness of it being a pre-war ‘Nell’ bomber. So that leaves us with the possibility of this aircraft wreck being a G4M ‘Betty’. However, there is clearly not enough wreckage at this site alone, for it to be a twin engined Betty bomber. Is it possible that there is further wreckage somewhere in the hills, yet to be found? The Betty was certainly armed with a number of Type 92 machine guns. So it is not conclusive at this time, what type of aircraft this wreck in fact is.
IMAGE RIGHT: The piece of aircraft wreckage bearing the serial number ‘5194’ (Image taken in September of 2008 – prior to the “Lewis gun” magazine being found). This piece of wreckage bearing the number 5194 was still present at the wreck in September, 2010. It is the only piece located at this time that bears such a serial number. Pacific Wrecks Administrator Justin Tynan is still investigating this wreck site to confirm the aircraft type.
So with the find of a missing piece of militaria – in the form of a Type 92 drum magazine …… it is very likely that the mystery of the Alola Museum “Lewis Gun” has now been solved. The question of “how did this type of machine gun end up in a World War Two jungle battlefield?” can possibly be put down to a Japanese aircraft, which met it’s demise in a crash near Isurava.
However …… exactly what type of aircraft – crashed into this hillside ??….. is still yet to be determined. The search for the truth continues
IMAGE RIGHT: The much larger Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber which had a crew of seven would have had four of these Type 92 machine guns, 2 x mounted in blisters or port holes, on each side of the aircraft fuselage, one gun in the nose and one gun on the dorsal portion behind the cockpit. A 20mm (Type 99) canon was mounted in the tail of the aircraft.
Wish to know more about the Type 92 Machine Gun? Please Click Here to this link on Wikipedia.
Wish to see this Machine Gun and aircraft wreck for yourself? Please Click Here to visit the Kokoda Historical website and Click Here to visit the Komplete Kokoda website.
My acknowledgement goes out to Justin Tynan of Pacific Wrecks for his keen interest and determination to help solve this mystery. Justin’s excellant website can be viewed by Clicking Here