Francis Ronald (Frank) SMITH

Poppy

SMITH, Francis Ronald

Service Numbers: QX3854, QX3864
Enlisted: 2 March 1940
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 2nd/33rd Infantry Battalion
Born: Banana, Queensland, 24 August 1919
Home Town: Innisfail, Cassowary Coast, Queensland
Schooling: Innisfail State School
Occupation: Carpenter
Died: Accidental (Injuries - aircraft crash/ explosion) , Jacksons Airfield, Port Moresby, New Guinea, 7 September 1943, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
(Grave C1.C.8.) Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Bomana, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Innisfail Cenotaph
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World War 2 Service

3 Sep 1939: Involvement Private, SN QX3854, 2nd/33rd Infantry Battalion
2 Mar 1940: Enlisted
2 Mar 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Private, SN QX3854, 2nd/33rd Infantry Battalion
7 Sep 1943: Involvement Corporal, SN QX3864, 2nd/33rd Infantry Battalion, Kokoda - Papua New Guinea
7 Sep 1943: Discharged

Tragedy strikes 2nd/33rd Battalion while awaiting troop lift flight to Nadzab

The 2nd/33rd returned to Port Moresby in late July in preparation for the operations capture Lae, in New Guinea. On 7 September, while it waited near Jackson's Airfield at '7Mile' near Moresby to be flown to Nadzab, via Tsili Tsili, a fully fuelled and 'bombed up' US B-24 Liberator bomber crashed on take off among the trucks carrying the battalion. Sixty men, mainly from D Company, were killed and 92 injured. This represented a third of the battalion's fatal casualties for the entire war.

The remnants of the battalion were flown to Nadzab on 8 September and subsequently participated in the advance on Lae, which fell on 16 September.

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Bill Crooks Account of the Liberator Disaster 7 September 1943

Bill Crooks was talking to Corporals Frank Smith and Billy Musgrave, two 18 Platoon section leaders. All three watched the bomber as its exhausts, spurting sparks and flame, came on. Somebody yelled: 'Christ, it's going to hit us.' Bill Crooks was aware of somebody running down the hill past him on his right screaming: 'Look out! Look out!' The bomber at that instant came crashing through the trees its engines roaring. The left hand wing sheared off and the fuselage smashed down like an arrow into the trucksjust forward of 18 Platoon's truck. A great explosion rocked the area and a vast yellow flash lit up the surrounds brighter than day. For a moment only the sounds of falling parts of aircraft and other debris and the crackle offlames could be heard, and then almost together there broke out the screams and moans of men. Jn a second, all about the scene of this frightful disaster could be seen running men. All around the little gullies and re-entrants petrol was aflame. The dreadful sound of agonising screams of despair seemed to drown out all else. Within minutes the flames had reached the ammunition carried in all the trucks and it began exploding. Men, charging about on fire would suddenly disappear as either the grenades or 2-inch mortar bombs they were carrying in their clothes exploded. Others were rolling themselves on the ground to put out the flames would suddenly jerk as their bandoliers exploded.

So much was happening to so many people within seconds after this calamity that it would be impossible to write of it in chronological order. This author was in a commandingposition on the tailgate of the last truck to see it all, and was much later to give evidence at the Army court of inquiry. At the scene of this inferno so many brave things were being done by a great number of men that it is impossible to record them all. At the time none knew the extent of the damage. It had happened in an instant. Certainly none of the survivors of the six trucks of D Company which caught the complete fuselage or parts of the bomber can recall the explosion of the first two 500-pound bombs that blew up in the crash. Some remember the third 500-pounder exploding some minutes after the crash. The blazing aircraft had hit five of D Company's trucks, four of which were completely reduced to a heap of molten metal. Flames, debris and flying metal caught the men in the back of the last truck of D Companyand the last truck of C Company, which contained mainly 15 Platoon and some men of H.Q. Company and was ahead of the first truck of D Company. A number of men were hit with petrol or metal in the second last truck of C Company, which contained 10 Platoon of B Company. Across the gully, the elbow bend in the track had put A Company back and parallel with C Company. A Company's last truck carried some men of H.Q. Company who were also injured with burning petrol or metal.

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Biography

On the 7th September, 1943 a tragic aircraft accident occurred. A fully laden B-24 Liberator bomber operated by the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) 43rd Bombardment Group crashed during take off. Operating from “Jackson’s” or 7 Mile Strip (now Jackson’s Airport, Port Moresby), the stricken aircraft ploughed into four trucks at Durrand’s marshalling area, occupied by waiting troops of the 2/33rd Infantry Battalion AIF. As well as the USAAF crew, 59 Australians lost their lives and in excess of 90 men suffered horrific burns and other injuries.

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