Today we further explore the strong possibility that Amelia Earhart was not trying to find and land on Howland Island on July 2, 1937, but instead was engaged in an entirely different mission.
The below letter appeared in the July 1995 and July 1998 issues of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, but was initially published in the Jan-Feb issue of Shipmate, the official alumni magazine of the U.S. Naval Academy, accessible only to members. I don’t have the November ’86 Shipmate article referenced by R.B. Greenwood, a 1943 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, naval aviator and cousin of Mark Walker, who was lost in the 1938 Hawaii Clipper disappearance and whose fascinating conversation with Amelia Earhart is the main subject of this post. Bold emphasis mine unless indicated otherwise. Following is the AES presentation:
Letter in Shipmate Jan-Feb 1987 magazine, by R.B. Greenwood ’43, referring to an article in Nov. ’86 Shipmate – “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” by Capt. William B. Short, Jr., USN (Ret). (Bold in original.)
This article presents a most interesting account of one aspect of the Earhart story, the search. It also brings to light a common situation where the participants in a naval operation may not be privy to intelligence information concerning their activities. Apparently Capt. Short and his shipmates were not aware of the true circumstances of Amelia Earhart’s daring flight and the more likely position of her disappearance.
In the referred article, Capt. Short’s 5 July 1937 letter vents emotion about this “publicity stunt” and its effect on public confidence.
In the summer of 1938 my first cousin, Mark Walker, was visiting the family in Texas. We had a long discussion about his life in the Navy — flying off [the carrier] Saratoga in the early thirties, his employments in aerial photography, experiences as a Pan Am pilot in Sikorsky flying boats in Central and S. America, his current life as a China Clipper first officer, and test flights in the new Boeing Yankee Clipper which he was to captain on the Atlantic route. He was home because the test seaplane had suffered sabotage, and the schedule of test flights had to be delayed.
Walker was convinced that Japanese agents were responsible for the damage to his Boeing Clipper, and the subjects were raised about possible sabotage by Japan to one of the Martin China Clippers. He also talked about Earhart’s disappearance. He was convinced that she had been forced down by the Japanese. And, his opinion was much more than guesswork.
Early in 1937, Mark had been assigned to work with Amelia Earhart and her navigator Noonan on their Pacific area phase. He at once urged his friend Earhart not to risk the emphasis that Pan Am placed on flight safety by such a foolhardy “publicity stunt.” He told her that her equipment was barely adequate.
Her reply was direct. She had not proposed the flight. Someone high in the government had personally asked her to undertake the mission. Her navigator was an accomplished aerial photographer. The flight was to be laid out with two routes. One was to be publicized. The other was to be directed over intelligence objectives in the islands controlled by Japan. Positions on the published route could be translated to positions on the actual route. (Bold and underline emphasis in AES Newsletter presentations.)
As a side note, Mark Walker described how he and fellow Pan Am pilots had discussed how easy it would be for a saboteur to sneak aboard a China Clipper and with no more than a pistol, commandeer the flight and direct it to another destination. The clippers had all of the latest Navy instrumentation and communications equipment which he felt the Japanese wanted.
About a month after Iris visit home, Mark substituted for an ailing pilot as first officer in Philippine [sic] Clipper on a flight leg from Guam to Manila. The Clipper disappeared at the nearest point to a Japanese controlled island. Their position was known because their radio transmission stopped abruptly after reporting fair weather and their precise location. Contact could not be reestablished-although radio conditions were good. Walker’s prophetic conjecture had apparently come true. The cargo on that particular flight was Chinese gold bullion and a few high Chinese officials, including, I believe, the defense minister.
In the years that followed, several visits were made to Mark Walker’s father by Naval Intelligence officers. However, his father would never reveal the purpose of these visits because he had agreed to secrecy.
As regards the Earhart search, the Navy obviously knew more about the flight than was communicated to the search force participants. Perhaps the misguided search was a planned public diversion to reinforce the image of the United States as a peaceful, non-spying nation. This attitude apparently still covers other unpublicized intelligence probes into the Mandated Islands that were conducted in the pre-war period. (End of Greenwood letter.)
Paul Rafford Jr., the last of the plank owners of the Amelia Earhart Society to leave us, was impressed enough by Greenwood’s letter that he wrote about it in his 2006 book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio:
Yet Mark Walker, a Naval Reserve Officer, heard something different from Earhart. I heard about Mark from his cousin, Bob Greenwood, a Naval Intelligence Officer. Bob wrote to me about Mark and what he had heard.
Mark Walker was Pan Am copilot flying out of Oakland. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Mark claimed Earhart stated: “This flight isn’t my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it.”
“Earhart’s crack-up in Honolulu is a classic example of how minor events can change world history,” Rafford wrote. “Had she not lost control and ground looped during takeoff, Earhart would have left navigator Fred Noonan at Howland and radio operator Captain Harry Manning in Australia. Then, she would have proceeded around the world alone.
“Fate decreed otherwise.”
For much more on Rafford and others’ theories about Earhart’s March 1937 Hawaii ground loop and subsequent reversal of her flight plan, please see my Nov. 2, 2018 post, “Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?”
Charles N. Hill, author of Fix on the Rising Sun (2000), an often speculative tome that focused on the 1938 Hawaii Clipper disappearance and Hill’s strident ideas about what happened, had more than most to say about Earhart’s alleged words to Mark Walker. Hill is best known for his conviction that the “Hawaii Clipper did not simply ‘disappear:’ ” as he writes in his book’s opening pages, “she was hi-jacked [sic] to Truk Atoll by radical officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Her fifteen crew and passengers were murdered and entombed within a slab of wet concrete on Dublon Island, at Truk Atoll, and quite inexplicably, the United States Government continues to keep this secret for the Japanese government — and from the American People [sic] — as it has, since 1938.” (Italics in original.)
Prior to his five-page discussion of Mark Walker, first officer on the lost Hawaii Clipper, Hill presents the same 1987 R.B. Greenwood letter to Shipmate that twice graced the pages of the AES Newsletters.
“An extensive discussion of the details of Walker’s reported encounter with Earhart, which follows, has been provided because it is especially unique,” Hill wrote. “Many researchers have either indicated, or attempted to prove, that the last flight of Amelia Earhart was, in fact, a covert intelligence operation undertaken in the interest of America’s national security. Walker’s story is one of the few, if not the only, account (albeit hearsay), in which she is alleged to have admitted to be preparing for an intelligence flight over the Japanese Mandates.”
Hill then reintroduces the entire money paragraph in Greenwood’s letter, the one underlined and bolded above, and then launches into a parenthetical discussion, the more salient portions of which follow. For consistency, let’s begin with the final short sentences that Greenwood wrote in this paragraph, followed by Hill’s discussion:
Greenwood: “The flight was to be laid out with two routes. One was to be publicized. The other was to be directed over intelligence objectives in the islands controlled by Japan. Positions on the published route could be translated to positions on the actual route.”
Hill: [This was not only technically possible, but also consistent with anomalies in Earhart’s flight from New Guinea. As to the technical possibilities, the published routes specified a ground speed of 150 mph, yet Earhart’s own notes, written during the March 17, 1937, flight to Hawaii (and available to researchers at Purdue University), indicated a speed of “180 mph Boy oh boy . . . ” but, as she later noted, they had “ . . . throttled down to 120 indicated airspeed so as not to arrive in darkness.” Moreover, the text of Last Flight, largely ghost-written by publisher George P. Putnam, her husband, noted that “actually, we were going about as slowly as possible. We throttled back the engines and most of the way our craft was ‘under wraps.’ ”
. . . Later, during Earhart’s second (and final) world flight attempt, the New York Times reported her speed, from San Juan, Puerto Rico down to Carripito, Venezuela, as being nearly 190 mph (true air speed, that is, for a ground speed, against headwinds well above 30 mph, of just over her desired 150 mph average). The NYT also cited a top air speed of 250 mph [italics in original], which makes it apparent that, whatever her ultimate plans may have been, Earhart could have appeared to make a flight from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island, at 150 mph ground speed, but while actually detouring to Truk, in the Japanese Mandates, in the same time — but at higher air- and ground-speeds, which, for the most part were, understandably, kept “under wraps.”
What Earhart told Walker regarding this spy flight, while clearly serving to “put him in his place” for his criticism, was, technically, quite feasible. And, if Walker’s comments were abrasive, as Captain Greenwood has indicated that they may have been, then her “direct” reply, while constituting a serious breach of security, can easily be seen as an understandable, if careless, rejoinder. The omission of a book credit for Walker would be consistent, as well, with several reports of Earhart’s unforgiving temperament.
Most important, there is a “ring of truth” to the detail regarding a translation, or tie-in, of reported positions, to actual positions, along a secret route. In 1985, the author found that Earhart had the speed and fuel to fly to Truk, en route to Howland, but could not include Mili Atoll and still reach Howland with the fuel and time available. The tactic served the hi-jackers [sic] of Hawaii Clipper far better than it served the Earhart spy-flight planners.] (Italics Hill’s.)
. . . Captain Greenwood’s letter and subsequent reflections on his conversation with Mark Walker, while providing valid speculation regarding Earhart’s last flight, also confirms, not only that PAA flight officers were aware of the possibility of a hi-jack attempt, but that at least one of them believed that a Clipper hijacking might well be successful.
We won’t get any further involved in the Hawaii Clipper disappearance now, but I thought some of Hill’s speculations might be interesting to many readers of this blog, especially the most imaginative, and so offer them for your consideration.
The foregoing and much more in this blog and Truth at Last leave me convinced that responsible researchers cannot disregard the real possibility that Amelia Earhart overflew Truk Atoll on the way to her Mili Atoll forced landing.
The total distance from Lae to Truk to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 statute miles when flying direct from Lae, well within the Electra’s normal range of 4,000 miles, even without modified engines. For further discussion of a possible Truk overflight, please see my Jan. 2, 2019 post, “Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?”