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16: Ivan and Margot moves to Australia

When several machines were destroyed on the ground, it became obvious that to go on flying unarmed machines from unarmed civilian bases would mean the destruction of the entire fleet. The service from Batavia was terminated on 15 February 1942 and it was agreed to transfer the KLM base to Australia.

Jap air attack on Andir Airfield

American B-17 Flying Fortress bombed at
Andir Airfield, Bandoeng, 17 Feb 1942

Ivan, who had watched from his verandah a heavy Jap air attack on Bandoeng while Margot and the servants sheltered in the cellar, decided it was time his wife was moved to safety. He put her name on the evacuee list next day. A week later the servants were serving supper when an urgent message reached the bungalow: Captain and Mrs. Smirnoff report to the airfield in one hour. Bring warm clothing.

Six planes were to go from Andir Airfield, Bandoeng, that night, Ivan's would be the last. It was frightening, sitting in the darkened airport, listening for the drone of a Jap bomber, bitten by mosquitoes - and remembering that he had not had time to eat his own supper. But he managed. Long before the mechanics had completed their check on Ivan's machine, he was sitting comfortable in a corner, scoffing down sandwiches and caviare, regretfully refusing a bottle of champagne.

He climbed into the machine relaxed and refreshed, and made the eight-hour journey to Broome, Northern Australia, easily and uneventfully.

From Broome he took off for Alice Springs, right in the middle of the bare desert; it was not marked on his map, no passenger airline had landed there before. After lunch they were off for a direct flight to the new headquarters in Sydney. Ivan flew his planeload of evacuees safely to Sydney and made sure that his wife was settled, with other wives, in a comfortable hotel.

Then he left for the northern coast and flew, night after night, back and forth over the long, lonely stretch of sea from North Australia to Java, bringing out the last evacuees, the office staffs, and ground personnel as airfields in Netherlands Indies territories were gradually worked to a standstill. He flew with no weather forecasts, no radio link to help him. It was a matter of weeks, days, maybe, before the Japs overran the whole archipelago. Every flight might be his last.

In the end a total of eleven aircraft owned by KLM/KNILM were saved from the Japanese and flown to Australia (two DC2, two DC3, three DC5 and four Lockheed-14 Super Electra). Those aircraft possessed a significant component to Australia's meagre air transport fleet. All machines arrived in Australia without passenger seats and the sole means of passenger restraint was a length of rope tied down the centre of the cabin!

The Douglas DC-5 was a beautifully looking high-wing machine first flown in 1939. For different reasons only 12 machines ever left the Douglas factories. It was also known as 'the forgotten Douglas'.

Douglas DC5

The new DC5 undercarriage has afterwards been copied on e.g. the modern
ATR-42 from Avions de Transport Regional consortium, shown below.


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