Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
|Flying "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime"
Operation Gold Rush
In its role as conqueror, Japan had confiscated the valuable metal from a number of Southeast
Asian nations, moving the booty to the Osaka Mint in 1942, where it remained until January,
1950. At that time, the Government of Thailand (Siam), decided to move its share of the
impounded cache to the United States to bolster its nation's credit, and Transocean Air Lines
was awarded a contract to transport it. This flight from Osaka, Japan, by way of the Aleutians, to
Oakland, California, was one of 7 which moved a total of more than $46,000,000 in Siamese
gold across the Pacific.
Gold ... 6.6 million dollars encased in aluminum canisters,
lay neatly in rows. Fastened securely to the floor with metal
tie-downs, precious bars of the yellow stuff covered most of
the cabin floor in the airplane to a depth of 5 inches.*
Under the watchful eye of an American military
policeman, the gold-containing canisters are loaded
at the Osaka International Airport.
The weighing and loading process took about 2 hours and when all the gold was safely in the
trucks and when all the paperwork was complete, it was time to move out. Seven vehicles,
including 2 jeeps loaded with military police, formed a convoy and, with a motorcycle escort and a
dozen heavily armed guards, raced out of the mint compound with the sound of sirens disrupting
the morning calm.
Transocean company photographer, Ralph
Lewis, was allowed into the vaults of the
Osaka Mint, where the gold was stored, to
make a photographic record of its removal.
Locked entrances to each of several
steel-meshed cubicles bore a small wooden
sign identifying the owner of the gold stored
within. The gold was contained in about 90
canisters, each measuring 12" by 16" by 5".
Each one, as it came out of the Thai
enclosure, was weighed under the watchful
eye of a Thai government official before being
trundled out on steel-platform cars and
loaded into waiting U.S. Army trucks.
Uniformed American military guards, armed
with automatic weapons, were everywhere.
The army stood guard at the airport
as the canisters were transferred
one by one to the airplane. Gold is
not only very valuable, it is also very
heavy, like lead. Steel rods could be
inserted through holes in the end of
each canister so that 2 men, one on
each side, could manage the
considerable weight. Once inside
the aircraft, the gold bars were
anchored securely to the floor to
prevent them from shifting in case
we encountered turbulence. Within
an hour of the cavalcade's arrival at
the airport, the four engines were
fired up and the plane departed for
Shemya Island, 2,760 nautical miles
up the Aleutian chain.
In an effort to avoid publicity, Transocean had probably chosen to route most of these
flights north through the Aleutians rather than across the Central Pacific. Had it not been for
a forecast tailwind of 30 knots, they would have had to go into Sapporo for fuel, but at
13,000 feet, the flight made it direct to Shemya, an American military base, in 13 hours and
10 minutes. The crew turned in for the night, knowing there would be no news media there
to alert the world as to their valuable cargo.
Early the next morning the plane took off on the second leg of the journey with an 8-hour
forecast to Anchorage. Favorable winds continued as the plane flew high above a solid
stratus deck almost the entire distance. The monotony beneath was broken only once
when Iliamna volcano poked its snow covered cone up through the low lying cloud layer.
Seven hours and 40 minutes into the trip the plane touched down at Elmendorf Air Base at
Anchorage. Informing the tower that they were in transit with cargo, the captain requested
and was granted permission to park the airplane out in the boonies. It had been a tiring day
and the crew were all looking forward to a comfortable bed in a warm hotel. The tower
would dispatch a car to pick them up and, by the time they had completed the paperwork,
transportation was waiting for them.
Turning the key in the lock on the cabin door, the crew all climbed down the ladder. The
precious bars? They did not give them a second thought, and drove off to town for the night,
leaving more than $6,000,000 in gold, unguarded, on the airplane floor-quite a contrast to
the security measures taken in Osaka, and an unthinkable indiscretion in today's world.
Back at the airplane the next morning for the final leg to Oakland, every canister was still
in its place. Apparently no one had been the wiser. Not until the fourth or fifth trip did an
Anchorage newsman finally discover the gold shipments and feed the story to the national
A million dollars worth of gold sits on the fork lift palette
awaiting tie-down crews to move it inside the airccraft.
With the gold securely aboard, and the aircraft ready to
depart, our American military escort poses for its picture.
Grossed out in weight, the
plane with a layer of gold
securely fastened to the
floor, is about ready to
travel. At the price of gold
in 1950, the contents of
each canister was valued
at approximately $75,000.
The DC-4 taxies to the ramp in Oakland,
California, with its precious cargo of
canisters. Armed crew members stand
members Burr Hall,
Beau Guinther and
Tommy Sconce on
safe flight of gold
*Story & pictures taken from By Dead Reckoning by Ralph Lewis