They Call It The Swamp Ghost, But It Became A Treasured WWII Find
It sat at the bottom of a swamp for decades with no one noticing it apart from a few locals in rural Papua New Guinea. The object held not only monetary value, but it was also an important part of world history. Some of the locals even started worshiping it and regarded it as a holy relic — something that would make it very difficult to move. But that didn’t stop two men from setting out to do just that. The swamp ghost, as it became known, caught the intrigue of many people around the world, but these two men made the treacherous trip to see it in person and they would discover something incredible. Read on to find out the tale of the swamp ghost.
1. An Unusual Sight
Back in 1972, the Royal Australian Air Force was doing a routine flight across a remote part of Papua New Guinea, part of the Australian Commonwealth at the time. It was an average day and everything seemed normal at first, but then something happened that would change everything.
At first, the people inside of the helicopter didn’t know exactly what they were looking at. It was unusual sight-seeing as they were deep within the forested areas of Papua New Guinea. All they could see for miles was solid green brush, but then something white and oddly shaped appeared in front of them.
2. Something Strange in the Swamps
Cautiously, not knowing what exactly they were looking at, they flew in closer to the shape that was laying so unceremoniously among all the trees and green nature. The object they were seeing was halfway submerged under the water. The area where they were was partially swamp land.
The swamps of Papua New Guinea are lousy with dangerous animals, including alligators, making the identification of the mysterious object found in the swamp difficult to verify. The country was a hot spot during WWII and a major place of conflict for the South West Pacific theater and the war left behind a treasure trove of items hidden deep in difficult to get to terrain, all just waiting to be discovered.
3. War Tourism
The visitors that started coming to the island after the war were coming for a very specific reason, one that you can’t find in many places around the world. Not for its sandy beaches or rich culture, but people started traveling to the island because of the wreckage of the war.
Thousands of war buffs arrive to the country on a yearly basis, all to explore the war wreckage that litters the islands, a number that is up from a mere 100 just ten years ago. The tourists enjoy exploring the Japanese, Australian and American military bases. Papua New Guinea has certainly become a hunting ground for people in search of war remnants, but after the Royal Australian Air Force spotted something hidden in the swamp back in 1972, two men were about to get themselves into one heck of an adventure a decade later.
Two particular men weren’t about to sit idly by while they knew that something large and mysterious was out in the swamp. Their names were Fred Hagen and David Tallichet. Both of them were experienced with old war relics and restoring them back to new condition.
Fred, an archeologist by trade, was always on the lookout for rare and old remnants from wars. The two together decided that they were going to set out into the treacherous swamp to find out just what was hiding out there. So, they gathered a team of locals and started to collect equipment to help them get there and start exploring.
5. A Daring Mission
With all of their preparation complete, the team headed out into the wilderness of Papua New Guinea, not knowing what they might find stuck in the swampy marshes. But they knew that whatever it was, it had been there for decades. The item found in the swamp several years earlier was taunting them.
Together they were going to venture into the unknown with nothing but a few tools and their combined brain power to protect themselves. So, David and Fred set out into the swamplands along with the locals they were able to hire to help with the navigation and labor once they arrived at the site. But little did they know
6. A Surprising Discovery
The mysterious item that was discovered by the Australians so many years ago lied waiting deep within the swamps of Papua New Guinea. The swamp is partially submerged in the water, making it almost impossible to reach. The crocodile-infested swamp is known to the locals as Agaimbo and few dare enter the swamp willingly.
In fact, the inaccessibility of the location and that the item being partially submerged in water were all factors that contributed to the preservation of the item that had been so long forgotten about. But Hagen and Tellichet weren’t about to let the item sit unexplored any longer.
7. The Big Reveal
Upon further investigation, it became clear that the item that was hidden in the swamp was actually a very large plane. Because of the plane’s location it became locally known as the “swamp ghost,” a possibly haunted plane that lurked in the shallow waters of the swamp.
Thanks to media coverage of the plane, many people began to travel just to see the plane in all its glory. But where had it come from and how long had it been there? These were just a few questions that Hagen and Tellichet were asking themselves as they embarked on their journey to find out more about the mysterious plane.
8. A Conflict Zone
It wasn’t long after inspecting the plane that it was discovered that it was actually a bomber plane from the WWII era, which wasn’t surprising seeing as Papua New Guinea was a major conflict zone between allied forces and the Japanese Empire during the war.
During the years that the bomber plane was sitting in the swamp, it became to be known as the holy grail of military aviation. This was due to it being well-preserved and inaccessible, and the plane had even come to be regarded as some type of romantic item that sat as a memorial to all the people who lost their lives in the war.
9. Impossible to Salvage
Due to the plane’s location in the swamp, it had long been regarded as impossible to move, as it was already almost impossible to get to. Not only was it situated in such an inaccessible area, it was also deemed impossible to salvage. Hagen even acknowledged that saying, “it was widely considered that it was impossible to salvage.”
But none of that was about to stop the two men from trying their best to salvage the plane and return it to pristine condition. And between the two of them, they had lots of experience with restoring planes. An immense amount, in fact.
10. David Tallichet
One of the men behind the planning of salvaging the plane was a man named David Tallichet. Tallichet, a World War II veteran, has lots of experience in dealing with planes and other aircraft. He has a business of collecting and restoring military aircraft and is very passionate about his work.
During one point of his life, he was the proud owner of over 120 planes. His collection included amazing aircraft such as a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a P-40 Tomahawk. He was thrilled to add another plane to his list of salvaged military aircraft. But he still didn’t know exactly what type of plane was stuck in the swamp.
11. Not Being Deterred
Upon further inspection of the aircraft, it was quickly discovered that the type of plane stuck in the swamp of Papua New Guinea was one of the exact same type of planes that Taliichet himself had piloted during the Second World War. The type of plane was a B-17E Flying Fortress.
With that in mind, both Hagen and Tallichet went to work on attempting to salvage the plane known as the “Swamp Ghost.” They started their endeavor in the 1980s, but it would take them decades to complete the extremely difficult task. Even though it was deemed impossible to salvage the plane, the two kept at it and weren’t going to be deterred by anything.
12. The Greatest Dream
According to Hagen, the restoration of the plane was their greatest dream. “Because for some reason it captured the imagination of people from around the world…” he told South California Public Radio. The B-17E was appropriately nicknamed the Flying Fortress.
According to local legend, the plane’s nickname was given to the aircraft after a Seattle Times journalist saw the plane during a test flight back in 1935 and remarked that it looked like a flying fortress. Even more amazing than the find and the restoration of the plane is its backstory and just how exactly the plane came to be located half-submerged in the far-off swamp.
13. The Japanese Attack
Just one day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Swamp Ghost was sent out on a special mission. Instead of flying with the Kangaroo Squadron that day, it was sent out on one of the earliest bombing missions of the Second World War.
Then, just a few short months later, disaster struck. The Japanese invaded the township of Rabaul, on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The invasion was a threat to all allied troops stationed in the country and something had to be done to ensure their safety. But it would be a disaster for the Swamp Ghost.
14. The Downfall
On February of 1942, the Swamp Ghost was dispatched to attack Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor on New Britain Island. But the majestic Swamp Ghost would tragically never return from its mission. Nothing quite went as planned on that day for the flying fortress.
The plane started experiencing problems when the bomb bay doors wouldn’t open. They had to make a second pass at their target before they were able to finally get them open. But by that time they had already drawn in anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese troops. Something that would bring about the downfall of the Swamp Ghost.
15. Technical Malfunction
A dogfight ensued after the Swamp Ghost made its second pass on its target, which luckily was successful as they were able to finally get the the bomb bay open, giving the enemy less time to counter-attack. The Swamp Ghost managed to take down three enemy fighters out of a dozen.
Then, suddenly, the worst happened. The Swamp Ghost was hit by enemy anti-aircraft flak. The plane didn’t explode, thankfully, but one of its wings was majorly damaged. The plane was now leaking fuel and headed for a crash landing in the New Guinean wilderness, unable to reach its destination.
16. A Crash Landing
The Swamp Ghost was due to return to the New Guinean capital city of Port Moresby, but there was no way that the crew could make that happen with a punctured wing and the massive leaking of fuel. Then the pilot spotted a perfect place to make a crash landing.
Coming up on the Own Stanley Mountains, the pilot spotted a soft wheat field which he believed would be a perfect place to make a crash landing. But unfortunately, not everything was what it appeared to be. What the pilot had initially thought was a large wheat field ended up being something far more treacherous.
17. Middle of Nowhere
What the pilot thought was a wheat field ended up being a swamp. A swamp that was inhabited by deadly and ferocious crocodiles. The Swam Ghost made its crash landing in the swamp with a relatively soft landing. Miraculously none of the crew members were seriously injured.
As good as that may have been for them, the plane’s crew was now stranded in the middle of a dangerous swamp in the middle of nowhere. Not knowing where they were or where they were going, they set off to find civilization and help to get back to their base located in the capital.
18. A Brief Reunion
The entire crew devastatingly all caught malaria while attempting to traverse the dangerous swamps. Fortunately, they came across a native that assisted them and took them back to his village. The kind local helped treat the crew and nurse them back to health. From there it was time for them to be reunited with US forces.
The crew of the flying fortress was eventually reunited with the US forces in the New Guinean capital of Port Moresby. The crew was welcomed back as heroes but their celebration didn’t last long. They were almost immediately sent out on a new mission.
19. Lost in Time
While the crew of the Swamp Ghost was redeployed on a new mission, their Flying Fortress was all but forgotten, about half submerged in the distant swamp. As time went on and the war ended, no one thought twice about the Flying Fortress, and it was time to go home.
For decades the plane was known only to a few locals in nearby areas. US forces completely forgot about the plane and no effort was made to recover the plane from the wreck site. Then, in 1972 the plane was rediscovered by Australian troops flying over the swamp. The news hit international media and the Swamp Ghost became famous.
20. The Most Famous
When Hagen and Tellichet eventually got to the Swamp Ghost, they found that the aircraft was remarkably well preserved. Mostly because of being partially submerged in water and the difficult to get to location. But that didn’t stop locals from ransacking the inside of the plane.
All of the mechanics and weaponry inside of the aircraft had already been looted by the time Hagen and Tellichet arrived at the plane. But still, the Flying Fortress is one of only four other planes of its kind and of all the wrecks that took place over Papua New Guinea, the Swamp Ghost is the most famous of them all.
21. Battle Scars
The Swamp Ghost sat abandoned and long forgotten about for 64 years. It was located in the Agaiambo Swamp, around eight miles inland from the northern Papua New Guinean coast. But what Hagen and Tellichet didn’t know was just how much the plane meant as far as history goes. The Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii explains it best.
The Flying Fortress is “arguably the world’s only intact and unretired World War II-era B-17E bomber, a one-of-a-kind example of an aircraft that played an indispensable role in winning WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars,” the institute stated. But this wasn’t all.
22. A World War II Favorite
Boeing started producing the B-17 heavy bomber back in the 1930s. Since its introduction in 1938, the B-17 was still the third-most massively produced bomber of all time. It was used heavily during the Second World War, mostly in Europe against German forces. At least 12,731 aircraft were built.
During the war in the Pacific, the B-17 bomber was used in raids against Japanese shipping and airfields. The planes were stationed in Hawaii, Panama and Alaska. The bomber was a strategic resource in the war and was responsible for dropping 640,000 tons of bombs (out of 1.5 million total) on Nazi Germany. But what did any of this mean for Hagen and Tellichet?
23. A Vision of Modernization
The B-17 bomber was part of President Roosevelt’s vision to modernize the US military. The B-17 was a new generation of bomber that could carry a much more sizable payload and serve remote bases around the world. But Boeing didn’t just stop at the B-17; they continued to improve the engineering of the aircraft.
After the end of the war, the B-17 bomber was quickly phased out of use by the US Air Force. Most of the bombers were returned to the United States where they were sold for scrap and melted down. Only a few bombers remained in use, mainly for secondary roles such as transport, air-sea rescue and photo-reconnaissance.
24. Holy Relics
Hagen and Tellichet’s salvaging operation was finally completed in 2006, but only four years later would they receive permission to return the aircraft to American soil. Another issue that they had during their operation was convincing the locals to let them remove the B-17 bomber.
To the local villagers, the bomber was a relic sitting on holy land. The villagers had to be persuaded to hand over the Swamp Ghost. The locals even performed a ceremony to appease the spirits in the swamp. But not everyone was happy with the chief’s decision to let Hagen and Tellichet remove the relic.
25. Son of a Local Chief
One man, who also happened to be the son of a local chief, set out to make sure that the B-17 bomber wasn’t removed. The man even went as far as to organize a group of people to help him intercept the plane before it could be moved to a barge offshore.
The efforts, however, were not effective. The bomber was lifted by a Russian-made military helicopter and moved by air to the barge that was awaiting them offshore. This left the chief’s son unable to stop the bombers removal, and he could only stand by and watch as it was lifted away.
26. Pearl Harbor
The very first showing of the B-17 Flying Fortress after it had been removed from the swamp in Papua New Guinea was a viewing in Long Beach California. Surprisingly, many of the people in attendance were friends and family of the original crew of the bomber.
Everyone in attendance was thrilled with excitement to see that the long-lost plane had finally been returned to the United States. The bomber remains as a memorial for a horrific war that claimed millions of lives. Starting in 2013, the B-17 Flying Fortress has been on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
27. A Full Restoration
Now that the plane has been returned and is safely stored in a museum in Hawaii, the owners of the B-17 bomber plan to fully restore the plane back to its former glory. A task that is no easy undertaking. The cost of restoring the plane is going to be very expensive.
In total, the cost to restore the World War II B-17 bomber might exceed $5 million. That, however, is just a modest price for restoring a relic of this sort. After the B-17 is fully restored it is due to be moved to the Hangar 79 on Ford Island.
28. Cargo Cults
Still today, many of the locals in the rural Papua New Guinea area are upset that the plane was removed. The plane attracted tourists from far off places and some local cultures even formed spiritual beliefs surrounding the plane. Such a concept is generally regarded as a form of “cargo cult.”
A cargo cult is a system of beliefs, generally formed in highly underdeveloped societies, in which its members hold superstitious beliefs about items that fall from the sky from more advanced civilizations, such as technology or cargo. Still, to this day, there are many cargo cults in Papua New Guinea.
29. War Wreckage
Papua New Guinea was a very important strategic territory in the South West Pacific theater during the Second World War. Over 600 US planes crashed over the country alone, not including other allied or enemy forces which all together would equal thousands of planes. But most of the wrecks go unnoticed by the local populations.
Due to the terrain in Papua New Guinea, many of the sites are located in near-impossible to reach areas. The country, while incredibly beautiful, is full of dangerous and impassible obstacles such as tropical rainforests, rugged mountain chains, savannas and swamps. Such terrain also has a negative effect on the country’s population.
30. A Nation Divided
One of the challenges of finding anything in the area are the physical boundaries of the area. The topography of the country negatively affects its population because it renders a singular national identity almost impossible to achieve due to the separation between the populations inhabiting the country. Currently, there are about six million people that live in Papua New Guinea, most of which live in remote and secluded areas.
Since the majority of the population lives in remote and isolated areas, there is very little unity among the people. Most people are loyal to their local clans and live a simplistic lifestyle of hunting wildlife and growing crops such as pawpaw, yams and other foods native to the area.
31. Caught in the Middle
The people of Papua New Guinea had led mainly isolated lives until foreigners arrived to the island. But when WWII came around, they found themselves in the middle of the conflict due to their strategic location between the Japanese Empire and allied Australia. The Papuans didn’t fight in the war for the most part, but they did help.
The Papuans assisted in the war effort by acting as service bearers — mainly carrying supplies and the wounded across the rugged mountainous terrain and steaming treacherous jungles. The country quickly became a graveyard and a memorial for the war. So much so, that it started attracting visitors.
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