The Long Way Round: Ice Cold in Auckland

Stuck on the wrong side of the world in WW2, the crew of the California Clipper gambled everything on circumnavigating the world.

John Bull
John Bull
Aug 10, 2014 · 16 min read
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Auckland, 14th December 1941

Since arriving at Auckland a week earlier, Bob Ford had settled into a regular morning routine. Every day he would wake early and eat breakfast. He would then stroll over to the American Consulate message centre to see if orders for the California Clipper and her crew had finally arrived.

Auckland Library. 20,869 miles to go

The librarian raised her eyebrows.

Getting anonymous

Whilst Ford, Mullahey, Brown and Mack had been busy at the library, the rest of the crew had been stripping paint — an effort to remove all obvious signs that they were an American plane. It was hard, slow work, they explained to Ford upon his return, but they’d been making good progress.

Gladstone, Australia. 18,784 miles to go

Although the evacuation from Noumea had gone to plan and they had reached Gladstone without a hitch, Ford was worried.

Darwin, Australia. 17,235 miles to go

The eleven hour flight to Darwin had been a quiet one. Rod Brown and Jim Henricksen had spent most of the journey scouring the makeshift charts they’d copied or liberated from Auckland Library — an attempt to learn as much as possible about their route and the destinations they would be landing at. The second part was important, because they lacked the relevant radio frequency guides for this part of the world so it was entirely possible they’d have to land at each of their stopovers blind. For a flying boat the size of the California Clipper this was risky business. If they struck a piece of debris, a hidden sand bar or a reef during landing, then at best it would rip through the hull like a tin-opener and destroy the plane. At worst it would flip the flying boat as it tried to land, killing the whole crew almost instantly.

Surabaya, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). 15,951 miles to go

Commandant Colonel Koenrad was in the squadron operations room at the Royal Dutch Naval Air Station at Surabaya when an unknown contact was reported by his combat air patrol.

“And of course, that area is heavily mined”

After the scare with the fighters Ford was just happy to have landed outside the harbour without incident. Still, he had expected more of a welcome than this. At both Gladstone and Darwin their arrival had been greeted by the sight of a boat racing out to meet them from the harbour. As Ford looked out of the cockpit window, however, all he could see here was a man standing on a patrol boat parked some distance away in the inner harbour waving at them.

The fuel problem

“Swede,” Ford said with concern as the patrol boat carried the men ashore for breakfast, “they can only give us 90 octane gas.”

En-route to Trincomalee. Approximately 14018 miles to go

BANG!

Lapsed Historian

Because history is fun. Honest.

John Bull

Written by

John Bull

Writer and historian (military & transport). Editor of London Reconnections and Lapsed Historian. I focus on ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Lapsed Historian

Because history is fun. Honest.

John Bull

Written by

John Bull

Writer and historian (military & transport). Editor of London Reconnections and Lapsed Historian. I focus on ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

Lapsed Historian

Because history is fun. Honest.

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