Inside General MacArthur's C-47



C-47 41-23421 Shiny Shiela with its short-lived nose art. (Picture: Henry Godman)

 

When General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia during the darkest days of World War II, transport aeroplanes were desperately scarce. The first aeroplane made available for his personal use was the DC-3 VHCXE (now at QAM as VH-ANR). Formerly an airliner with KLM and KNILM, the DC-3 had been stripped of its luxury sleeper seats so that personnel could be evacuated from the Netherland East Indies in advance of the Japanese invasion. In the event, MacArthur flew in the DC-3 on only one trip from Melbourne to Canberra and return on 17 July 1942. General MacArthur had important news for Prime Minister Curtin, news so secret that it had to be delivered face to face. MacArthur was to confide in Curtin that U.S. forces were about to launch an invasion of Guadalcanal. This was to be one of the pivotal battles of the war.

Like Prime Minister Curtin, General MacArthur did not like flying and on the return trip in the DC-3 he suffered a nose bleed which was treated by his accompanying personal physician. Apparently a war-weary DC-3 had only enhanced his dislike of flying. Just three days later, MacArthur moved his GHQ from Melbourne to Brisbane, a trip he made by rail! The two changes of gauge must have impressed him no end!

As the supply of aircraft from the United States began to ramp up, a brand new C-47 was allocated for General MacArthur's personal use. This aircraft was C-47A USAAF serial 41-23421 and Manufacturer's Serial Number 9283. It arrived at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne on 13 May 1943 and the very next day, MacArthur's old DC-3 also arrived at CAC. As would be expected, even a factory fresh C-47 would not be suitable for VIP use. This shortcoming was rectified by CAC and the conversion was completed on 5 June 1943, just 23 days after the aircraft was received! It is reported that some of the fittings from the DC-3 were transferred to the new C-47. This most likely included the hat racks which can be seen in the following photos. The seats may have come from the DC-3 but these were not the original KLM seats and could have come from any aircraft.

The DC-3 remained at CAC for a total of 89 days during which the most significant modification was probably the fitment of side saddle seating for trooping. After this overhaul, the DC-3 lost its radio callsign VHCXE and emerged with a new callsign VH-CXL for operation by 36 Squadron RAAF. The callsign VH-CXE (now with a hyphen) was transferred to MacArthur's new C-47. To some of the lower ranks in GHQ, the aeroplane was known as Sexy which probably explains why the callsign CXE was retained. The highly polished skin of the C-47 gave rise to the name Shiny Shiela, a name that was short-lived as General Sutherland, MacArthur's Chief of Staff, thought it unbecoming and ordered its removal along with the accompanying nose art!

The newly converted C-47 was flown from Melbourne to MacArthur's new GHQ in Brisbane on 6 June 1943 crewed by Major Henry Godman and Lt. Walter Seidel. Just two days later, MacArthur travelled to Sydney in the C-47 to meet again with Prime Minister Curtin. This was probably MacArthur's first flight in the new C-47.

General MacArthur's last meeting with Prime Minister Curtin was on 30 September 1944 when he flew from Brisbane to Canberra in the B-17 Bataan to "pay his respects" to Curtin who confided to MacArthur that he was seriously ill. John Curtin passed away on 5 July 1945.

 

Prime Minister John Curtin and General Douglas MacArthur warmly greet each other at Sydney on 8 June 1943 with the wing of the new C-47 in the background. (Picture: John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library 00376/69)



One of General MacArthur's pilots, Lt Col Weldon E. 'Dusty" Rhoades, referred to this aeroplane as "our deluxe C-47". The following photographs of the cabin of the new C-47 are from the collection of Maurice Lodge who
was an engineer with CAC all his working life. We thank his son Phillip for sharing these images.

 

The cabin looking aft. The hat racks and some other fittings may be from QAM's DC-3.

 

The cabin looking forward.

 

General MacArthur's desk on the right hand side looking aft.

 

The CAC employees who transformed a basic C-47 into a VIP transport in just 23 days. Maurice Lodge is pictured front right. It was speculated that the USAAF officer front left might be Lt Walter Seidel but his family are confident that this is not their father.

 

General MacArthur's Aircraft

 

Type
Serial No
MSN
Name
Entered Service
Remarks
DC-3 41-1944
1944
Nil
July 1942
Callsign VHCXE.
C-47A 41-23421
9283
Shiny Shiela (temp)
June 1943
Callsign VH-CXE (#2).
B-17E 41-2593
2404
Bataan
November 1943
Type XC-108. Scrapped.
C-54E 44-9027
27253
Bataan II
March 1945
Presumed scrapped.
C-121A 48-613
2605
Bataan III
September 1950
Current N422NA .


In addition to the above aircraft, MacArthur's GHQ had access to other aircraft as needs arose. As well as aircraft that were operated on an ad hoc basis, a B-25 and a B-24 were officially assigned to GHQ but MacArthur never flew in these aircraft. The B-25 was used for making quick trips around the theatre and the B-24 was modified to permit the carriage of passengers and freight. Both aircraft retained some or all of their armament. The B-17 Bataan was replaced by a later model B-17 (serial unknown) in August 1945 but it was not named as by then the C-54 was MacArthur's primary aircraft.

Of the aircraft listed in the table above, only the DC-3 and the Constellation survive. The DC-3 is displayed at the Queensland Air Museum as VH-ANR and the Constellation is undergoing airworthy restoration at Chino, California for its owner Lewis Air Legends of San Antonio, Texas.

 

 

Issue
Date
Remarks
1
13AUG19
Original issue