Guam and the Trust Territory
Operating twin-engine amphibian planes, Transocean's air and ground personnel flew a challenging mission for the
United Nations and the Department of Interior after the war by providing scheduled air service to the far-flung Marshall, Marianas, and Caroline Islands of the South Pacific. These islands, which became known collectively as Micronesia, were scattered over 3,000,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, but the islands themselves covered just 687 square miles of land area. There were 2,148 islands, atolls, and islets, eighty-four of them inhabited by 51,764 people of mainly Melanesian, and partly Polynesian ancestry. Orvis Nelson tapped 25 year old Captain Edward Landwehr in 1949 for the job of setting up the new inter-island airline nicknamed "The Jungle Airline." He was chosen for the task because of his Navy training and because he had experience flying amphibians. After months of planning, obtaining aircraft, and finding housing for the crews, Landwehr pronounced the airline operational. Within 6 weeks every flight was filled.
The Chamorros were the first inhabitants of Guam, and they are thought to have come from Asia in makeshift boats about 2000 B.C. The Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, led the first expedition to Guam, arriving in 1521. Spain made the island a possession in 1561 and ceded it to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Because of its remoteness and distance from the mainland, it was placed under the administration of the U.S. Navy.
Guam was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941, and captured on December 10. U.S. forces landed on Guam on July 21, 1944 but did not complete the recapture of the island until August 15, 1944. Guam was a familiar stop for ATC pilots such as Orvis Nelson from the time the U. S. had regained possession of' Guam until the fighting stopped the following August.
Natives living on some of the more remote islands had not seen an airplane in years, so the arrival of a Transocean flying boat was a social event, with as many as 50 natives paddling their outrigger canoes through the surf or across a lagoon to greet the ship with the same welcome given the trading vessels of the past. Transocean's planes carried 4-man crews and flew a scheduled route transporting 10 passengers at a time, along with cargo and the mail. From their base in Agana, Guam, the flight crews piloted PBYs and Albatrosses
Facts and Figures on the TRUST TERRITORY
Northern Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall Islands
Total Native Population
Islands & Islets
Inhabited Atolls & Islands
Square miles of Land Area
Square Miles of Ocean Are
Major Populated Islands & Atolls
on scheduled 5-day runs, leaving every Monday for ports of call at Truk, Ponape, and to Majuro, the end of the line some 1,800 miles away. At each island they would remain overnight.
Water landings were made at Ponape, while air strips were used on Truk and Majuro. Return flights were made on
Fridays. Scheduled flights were also made to Saipan, Yap, Koror, and occasionally a few of the smaller islands.
Transocean was respected for its on-time schedules, under the direction of station managers such as Jesse Morrison, George Winter, and Dick Laskelle, as well as for the fine aircraft maintenance provided by mechanics Gordon Lincheid, Paul McDougal, Carl Barefield, Gene Weaver, and others. Barefield and Weaver were commended by Trust Territory officials for heroic service beyond the call of duty when they dived under water in a shark infested area to repair the landing gear of one of the flying boats.
The incident occurred when Captain Gil Thomas radioed that his inbound flight from Yap to Guam was having nose gear trouble and would have to make a landing in Apra Harbor instead of the Naval Air Station.
The 2 men raced to the harbor, stopping only long enough to buy swim trunks and rent skin diving suits and equipment. They were alongside the plane as soon as it skimmed to a stop in the water. One stood guard against sharks and barracuda while the other worked under water on the landing gear. Repairs were completed in 45 minutes, and the flight proceeded to the air station, arriving less than one hour late.
Mercy flights were undertaken in emergencies to such outermost islands as Tinian, Rota, Ulithi, Anguar, Peleliu, Kwajalein and Ebeye to transport ill or injured natives to a hospital. Transocean once flew milk to the babies of Koror when supplies ran short; another time, they carried medicine to subdue an epidemic of an upper respiratory ailment among the natives on the island of Ulithi.
When a typhoon made the seas too rough for fishing and destroyed the crops planted by the natives of the tiny island of Kili, about 100 miles south of Majuro, a ship tried unsuccessfully for 5 days to put food ashore before Transocean was called upon. Captain Don Kosteff and his crew fed the people of Kili by rigging a dump chute in the tail of a PBY-5A and jettisoning more than 1,700 pounds of food to the beach through the tunnel hatch.
Leprosy was prevalent at the time among the natives on some of the Trust Territory islands, and a leprosarium at Tinian had been set up for their care. TAL transported afflicted natives there for treatment. Often, the authorities had to search for them for they would hide in the bush because they believed that they would have to stay in the hospital for years away from their families. Their confidence was restored once they were made to understand that the disease often could be arrested and that they could fly back home again if the treatment was effective.
This South Pacific paradise was sometimes marred by crime. At times, Transocean became involved. Once 2 crew
members from a Pacific Micronesian Lines' ship had a fight, and one knifed the other to death. Transocean was called
upon to return the body to Manila after first transporting it to Guam for embalming. Another call to Transocean came when a mentally deranged young man of 20 on Ulithi, found a gun and killed 2 people, one of whom was a member of the constabulary.
The boy had very long hair and wore only a loin cloth when he was captured. When TAL's PBY crew arrived he was tied to a tree and jabbering incoherently. Then he was led by the police to the flying boat, legs hobbled with a rope and his wrists handcuffed to his guard. The Transocean crew flew him to Guam where he remained under observation in a hospital for several weeks. When his doctors finally decided that the case was hopeless, they recommended that he be returned by TAL to Yap until the mental hospital at Saipan was completed and he could be committed.
Grateful natives often showed their appreciation of Transocean's services by giving feasts in honor of the crews with such exotic dishes as tiny fried bananas, French fried breadfruit, lobster, tropical fruits, and fresh coconut milk to drink. One native of Angar, an island in the Ponape group, showed his appreciation in a most unusual way. He led a Transocean flight crew to an armed 500-pound bomb, a war remnant hidden in the jungle just a few feet from where Transocean's planes parked for the night.
Lonely families employed by the Trust Territory government on the outlying islands also were recipients of the kindness of Transocean. In December of each year, flight crews would chip in to buy Christmas presents and fly Santa Claus to deliver them to the children of each of the 6 district centers.
Something unusual happened at the loading dock area of Truk Lagoon one day while Transocean's dispatcher, Stu
Jones, was on the island. A large crowd of locals, government officials, kids, and dogs were gathered around a group of natives who had just arrived by outrigger canoe. Jones asked the government man what was going on, and was told that the well-built and tall (for that region) natives had come all the way from Kapingamarangi (Kah-peengah-mar-an gee) atoll-about 200 miles-for the sole purpose of buying a few cartons of cigarettes. They apparently gave the journey about as much thought as anyone stateside would give to jumping into the family car for a trip to the corner store.
As the men moved about the dock area, the Trukese would part ranks and fall back as if in deference to their stature and powerful physiques. To Jones, the men from Kapingamarangi looked mean and tough.
The Trust Territory official asked one of the men about the object that was stuck in the waistband of his lava-lava
(wrap-around skirt). The native produced what he called Kapingi, brass knucks, a deadly device made of a certain tree bark, wrapped in strands of wire and fibers and imbedded with a murderous row of sharks teeth in just the right place.
When asked why they carried such weapons, the native answered, "Because we are such peaceful people." This seemed puzzling to the government man, and he asked what seemed to him a logical question, "Why, then, if you're so peaceful, do you carry such terrible weapons?" The native patiently replied, "That's what makes us so peaceful!"
When one of the aging PBY-5As Transocean had leased from the Navy began showing its age after flying thousands of miles in the service of the natives of the Pacific islands, the aircraft was sold by the Navy as surplus to the Thorne
Engineering Company of Los Angeles, California.
The amphibian was being ferried from Guam to Los Angeles by Captain Clark Dixon, copilot Chris Angelos, navigator Bob Edgerly, and engineer Russell Varner when one of its 2 engines conked out just after it passed the point of no return on the Honolulu-Oakland leg of the trip.
Dixon radioed Oakland that he had insufficient fuel to reach the mainland. A U.S. Coast Guard flying boat was dispatched and soon met the PBY and shepherded it to the freighter Harry Culbreath Victory en route from Pusan, Korea, to the Gulf of Mexico. The veteran flying boat put down safely alongside the freighter, despite 9-foot swells, and the crew stepped one by one into the ship's power launch without even getting their feet wet.
The freighter's crew then swung the crippled PBY onto its deck with a crane and continued its journey to the mainland. Cynically, the freighter company later claimed salvage rights and was said to have instituted a lawsuit against the U.S. government.
By June 1954, the first of 3 Grumman Albatrosses to be certificated by the Civil Aeronautics Administration for commercial operation arrived from the United States to replace the slower PBYs on TAL's Trust Territory routes. The 250-mph twin-engined amphibian had a gross weight of 34,000 pounds, a wingspan of 80 feet, and a range of 2,700 miles. It had gained fame as a military utility transport and air-sea rescue craft in the service of MATS. Later, it had received its certification and modification at TAL's subsidiary, Aircraft Engineering & Maintenance Company. That same year, Transocean received CAB authority to operate 10 round-trip vacation flights between Guam and Tokyo to provide the military and civilian population much-needed recreation and diversion.
These were two of the four SA-16s stationed in Trust Territory.
Above: N9943F Right: N9944F
Following Orvis Nelson's creed to do honest business anywhere in the world, and to fill a need – aviation or not –
Transocean established a division of Taloa Motors at Agana, Guam, for the sale and service of Dodge automobiles. The Taloa Motors Division newspaper advertisements claimed to "accept anything, absolutely anything, as a trade-in!"
Business was brisk.
By the late 1950s, the Trust Territory Division was operating 4 SA-16 Albatrosses throughout the Pacific. At the end of the decade, when Transocean Air Lines ceased operations because of bankruptcy, the Trust Territory Department of Interior gave TAL employees at Guam permission to continue their services for 90 days until the new contractor, Pan American Airways, could take over. A steering committee for their own management was formed by those TAL employees still at Guam. One of the names for the new TAL operation, submitted with tongue in cheek, was "Tropical Island Transport Service." Trust Territory officials promptly denied the request.
Left: Captain Clark Dixon and friends.
Ulithi, Caroline Islands, 1953
TRANSOCEAN AIR LINES
Taloa News Jan. 1953
THE TRUST TERRITORY
By Howard Waldorf
Doing a whale of a job on a most unusual and challenging mission for the United Nations and the free world are the air and ground personnel of Transocean Air Lines' Trust Territory Division.
Operating twin-engine amphibian planes hundreds of miles off the charted airways deep in the South Pacific, they are
pushing back the curtain of mystery that has hung over the Micronesian islands for the more than 30 years of Japanese occupation and are providing the vast area with swift and all-important scheduled air transportation. In addition, and equally important to the progress of mankind, they are continually doing beyond-the-call-of-duty kind deeds that constantly amaze the loin-cloth clad natives and Trust Territory officials alike.
A flight with these big-hearted pioneers over the boundless blue Pacific to the lush, tiny and so spectacularly isolated coral islands that dot the watery 3 million square miles their protecting wings cover, explains the great popularity they enjoy. This particular flight was the big one of their scheduled service to the district centers, under Transocean's contract with the efficiently operated and progressive Trust Territory of Pacific Islands government. A fiveday run, starting from the main base at Agana Field, Guam, the ports of call were Truk, some 800 miles to the south and east, then east to Ponape, the little known jewel of the Pacific and biggest of the Eastern Carolines (about the size of the city of Oakland and Berkeley combined) and to Majuro in the Marshalls, the end of the line, 1800 miles away.
The aircraft was the Taloa Ponape, one of the fleet of four World War 11 patrol planes extracted from mothballs by the
United States Navy and loaned for this United Nations operation.
NEWSPAPERS FROM HOME
When the ten passengers (each one worth a story) and the cargo were checked aboard, the four-man Transocean crew came trudging up the ramp, weighted down with newspapers, magazines and packages. The reading material, for which they raid main line planes and vessels stopping at Guam and collect from their many friends is for the lonely American and European living on the remote islands, and how these people grab for it when the plane lands! The packages contained cotton dress goods, cooking utensils, knickknacks and what-have-you purchased for the natives, who gleefully await them. Always, when the Taloa TT crews return from a trip, their pockets are crammed with shopping lists for the islanders. Off the runway and on cruise on the long, droning run to Truk, another beyond-the-call-of-duty service reveals itself. This run passes through the spawning area of the deadly typhoons. Every hour the Transocean crews voluntarily take a series of observations on sky conditions, temperatures, turbulence, and they radio this information back to Fleet Weather Central, Guam. There this priceless information is analysed and passed on to the military and civilian crews flying the main Pacific airways, enabling them to avoid storms and expedite their flights.
A Transocean TT crew was the first to spot the recent devastating typhoon "Olive" which levelled every building on Wake, including Transocean's big installation, with 200-mile-an-hour blasts. The early warning given by the TT crew was credited with averting a terrific toll of lives in the typhoon's sweep through the Pacific. The kind deeds performed by the TT crews are not only the talk of the far-flung TT islands, but on Guam itself. This popularity at home stems from the crews' practice of bringing in loads of fresh vegetables from Saipan and distributing them to their friends. Saipan vegetables are the best in the Pacific and are a real treat.
MENU IN THE NATIVE STYLE
For the many acts of kindness, the natives of the various islands show their sincere appreciation by giving feasts in honor of the Transocean crews during overnight stops. On these occasions the captain of the crew is presented with - and required to eat - the head of a raw fish, with the eyes staring sadly and accusingly at him. The fare at these native feasts is out of this world and features such exotic dishes as tiny fried bananas, French fried breadfruit, lobster a la Ponape, and tropical fruits of all kinds. These meals for the kings are washed down with the milk of coconuts plucked from the tops of lazily swaying palms at the last minute to insure freshness.
One native of Langar, in the Ponape group, showed his special appreciation by leading a crew to an armed 500-pound bomb, a war remnant, hidden in the matted jungle growth a few feet from where Transocean's planes wallow up out of the water to park for the night.
The high regard the Trust Territory officials hold for the Transocean personnel was expressed by Humphrey W. Leynse, an executive of the TT government, in a laudatory article in a recent issue of the Micronesian Monthly. Leynse wrote, in part: "It is no small wonder that Trust Territory renewed the contract last July. Not only is it the most adaptable, free-flying outfit to be had, but its pilots and crews are about as nice a group of fellows one could hope to have visit once a week. Those small signs of thoughtfulness - like a head of lettuce, a tomato, or magazines for the grownups and candy for the kiddies - that sort of kindness one never forgets. And who doesn't remember last Christmas when Santa Claus came on a silver bird!
A TRIBUTE TO TRANSOCEAN
" . . . Whatever the future may hold, the Micronesian Monthly holds its hat high to the boys of Transocean and their record of superlative flying."
Leynse's reference to last Christmas recalled another typical Transocean TT kind deed, for all hands of the division
chipped in, bought presents and worked out a super duper Christmas for the lonely TT government families on the outlying islands. They flew Santa Claus to each of the six district centers and at each stop distributed gifts to circles of happy children, while the families beamed heartfelt appreciation from the background.
Although Transocean's TT division totals less than 30 persons, there seems no limit to the good work they pour out on this vital phase of the Trust Territory program to promote the health, welfare and future progress of the natives of the more than 1300 islands and atolls.
Their emergency flights - to the rescue of the displaced Bikinians starving on storm battered Kili island; to Ulithi with
serums; to numerous other islands to bring urgently needed help out of the blue - would fill a book. Like the kind deeds, Transocean's TT crews carry out these missions with a contagious, glowing spirit of friendship that is captivating the vast area they serve so well.
All Transocean can be proud of these newest members of the family.
"Taloa-Ponape", TAL's PBY-5A, flight crew and maintenance people at Guam, TAL's Trust Territory Operation for the United Nations and the U.S. Department of the Interior