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