The so-called Richards Memo of Nov. 1, 1938 and retired Air Force Col. Rollin Reineck’s commentary on it appeared in the July 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I’ve always wondered why this document received so little attention. Maybe I’m missing something. Obviously, other researchers haven’t been enamored of it, and some must have found its credibility to be dubious, but Reineck was not one of them. Here then, as close to the original piece as possible, is the Richards Memo and Reineck’s conclusions, presented for your information and entertainment. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
FROM THE DESK OF . . . . . . . . . Rollin Reineck
The attached memorandum (following page), dated 1 November 1938, is very significant as it relates directly to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in several ways. This memo was written by Army Air Corps Colonel (before the days of the U.S. Air Force) H. H. C. Richards, who was assigned to the War Department as the Liaison Officer for the Australian Air Force. Colonel Richards sent the memo to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2), War Department, who was probably an Army two-or-three star general.
The purpose of the memo was to clarify a letter that had been sent to the Information Division of the Liaison Office, alleging that Amelia Earhart had been shot down by the Japanese.
Colonel Richards says that this is definitely not the case, as it is known that Miss Earhart’s transmissions were heard by Army personnel (Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel A. Cooper and Army Signal Corps Lt. Henry Lau), who were stationed at Howland Island on 2 July 1937. These officers reported that judging from the strength of the radio signals received, Earhart passed quite close to the island, some fifty miles or less. Further, the Army personnel reported that Earhart stated she was turning north, and they continued to hear her at intervals. Her signals became fainter each time received, until finally she stated she was out of gas. That was the last they heard from her.
The significance of this memorandum is as follows:
1. The memorandum was between high level, senior staff officers in the War Department about the fate of Amelia Earhart.
2. The Army personnel (officers) on Howland Island could distinguish between the volume intensity of Earhart’s voice, and make reliable judgments as to her relative distance from Howland Island.
3. It dispels the theory that Earhart ditched close to Howland Island.
4. It enhances the theory that Amelia Earhart did land or ditched some distance north of Howland Island.
Editor’s [Bill Prymak] Comment: Why is top brass still pursuing this 14 months after she went down?? Is there more to this than meets the eye? (End of AES July 1998 entry.)
In Chapter 7, “Implement Plan B” of Reineck’s 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived, he begins by stating that he believed that “Earhart had five to six hours of fuel remaining” when her call was heard by the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at 0843 Howland Island local time. He goes on to discuss Earhart’s alleged statement to Gene Vidal, who claimed that Amelia told him that “if she could not locate Howland, when she was down to four hours of fuel remaining, she would turn back to the Gilbert Islands. The author believes that Earhart remembered her secret conversations at March Field in Riverside, California, with Bernard Baruch and General [Oscar] Westover that advised: when you still have sufficient fuel remaining and you haven’t yet found Howland Island, implement Plan B, the alternate plan.”
She made no mention on her communications frequencies of 3105 and 6216 kilocycles (kcs henceforth) of her intentions of what she was to do when she couldn’t find Howland. However, it is believed by this researcher that Earhart disregarded all orders and used her new high frequency discrete channel that had been activated in her transmitter for communications, to tell Howland Island that she was headed north. It is believed that this high frequency channel was secretly installed, probably while she was in Miami, before her departure. The crystal for the new high frequency was inserted in place of the vacant 500 kcs low frequency crystal. The 500 kcs crystal became useless when Earhart eliminated her trailing wire antenna and decided not to use low (500 kcs) frequency, and use only high frequency for her communications and direction finding activity.
What was this “new high frequency discrete channel” that Reineck references, and why is no evidence of it in other researchers’ work? He can’t be talking about the well-known 7500 kcs high-frequency direction finder that she reported receiving Itasca’s signals on but “couldn’t find a minimum.” Reineck writes that he believes “she used this frequency to tell personnel on Howland that she was turning north and she continued to communicate her progress until she ran out of fuel.” Reineck went on:
These key messages are not recorded in the radio logs of the Itasca or Howland Island, but were heard by Army personnel on Howland as reflected in a memo from Colonel H.H.C. Richards to the Chief of Intelligence at the War Department. It was those short messages, heard by the Japanese, that not only helped the Japanese locate Earhart after she crashed at Mili Atoll, but told the Japanese that Earhart was turning north, probably for a specific purpose. The Japanese knew at this time that Earhart was not just searching for an alternate landing site, but purposely headed for a specific site that was within the Imperial Islands of Japan. Plan “B” had been compromised, because Earhart had disregarded all orders and broken radio silence.
Reineck cites the Richards Memo as the verification that Army personnel were on Howland, specifically Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel A. Cooper and Army Signal Corps Lt. Henry Lau, but he doesn’t mention Navy Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani, who was also on Howland at that time, and who was sent there by Admiral Richard Black to man the high frequency direction finder that Black had set up there. For more details on Reineck’s “Plan B” theory, see pages 103-113 of Amelia Earhart Survived.
What are we to make of Reineck’s theory, specifically as it relates to the Richards Memo? Has anyone ever seen statements from anyone on Howland that support his claims that they heard Earhart announcing that she was “turning north”? I certainly have not, but the ever-imaginative Reineck weaves an interesting scenario, one in which many of his speculations seem to fit — and we know that Earhart did land at Mili. But the Richards Memo has received scant attention from other researchers.
What do you think?