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.
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 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.
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.
A million dollars worth of gold sits on the fork lift palette awaiting tie-down crews to move it inside the aircraft.
Under the watchful eye of an American military policeman, the gold-containing canisters are loaded at the Osaka International Airport.
Read Captain Joe Stachon's Account
Grossed out in weight, the plane with a layer of old 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 guard.
With the gold securely aboard, and the aircraft ready to depart, our American military escort poses for its picture.
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 press services.
Orvis Nelson congratulates TAL flight crew members Burr Hall, Beau Guinther and Tommy Sconce on safe flight of gold buillion.
*Story & pictures taken from By Dead Reckoning by Ralph Lewis