Was the Pan Am Clipper captured by Japan at Truk Lagoon before WWII?


In the years leading up to WWII, as tensions mounted across the globe, the legacy of the Pan Am Clipper Brigade had captured the hearts of aviation enthusiasts the world over. These new planes changed American aviation and sparked transoceanic travel. But their existence – and their subsequent disappearances – have mystified historians for decades.

Once such a mystery is the disappearance of the Hawaii Clipper, an airliner that went missing in 1938 on a trans-Pacific voyage from San Francisco, California, to Manila, the Philippines. Seven decades later, Snopes readers sent our team the following text, which some said they received in a chain of emails:

POSTSCRIPT: Prior to WWII, the Japanese military was very interested in the new Pratt & Whitney radial engines that powered the PanAm Clipper. On a flight from San Francisco to China, a Clipper landed on Truk Lagoon to be refueled by Japanese authorities. The Clipper was later presumed lost over the Pacific. Years later, it was revealed that the crew and passengers were arrested and executed, the engines were recovered and sent to Japan, and the Clipper was sunk in the truck’s deep water. [sic] Lagoon.”

The above copy originally appeared in an August 5, 2020 3DB blog post written by Robert Novell, a former commercial pilot and aviation enthusiast.

Snopes spoke to Russ Matthews, president of the aviation and marine history nonprofit Air / Sea Heritage Foundation, who said the above claim is almost certainly a reference to the Hawaii Clipper, a Martin M-130 that went missing on the Guam-Manila part of a trans-Pacific crossing in July 1938. Matthews added that there are many conspiracy theories about the disappearance, but virtually no evidence for them. back up.

“The P&W R-1830 engine had been in production for over five years [at this point]”Matthews said.” If the Japanese wanted to study an example, they could – and most likely did – just buy one. ”

Indeed, a simple Google search confirmed that the Japanese had purchased at least 21 samples of the Douglas Company’s DC-3 aircraft, which were powered by P&W R-1830 engines. The first deliveries took place in December 1937, seven months before the disappearance of the Hawaii Clipper. In February 1938, Japanese manufacturer Mitsui purchased the production rights and technical data for the DC-3, according to the DC-3 / Dakota Historical Society, and eventually built its own version of the DC-3 dubbed the L2D2 “Tabby” .

If Japan had access to both the aircraft examples and construction plans, Matthews argues that it seems implausible that the country risked war with the United States more than three years before the Pearl attack. Harbor.

The Clipper fleet has been nicknamed “flying boats” for their ability to land and take off from water. The Pan American Historical Foundation

The Delta Flight Museum notes that Pan American World Airways, what would become Pan Am, was at the forefront of international aviation in the 1920s and, by the 1950s, provided “round the world” service. The Martin M-130 Clipper fleet, billed as “flying boats” for their ability to land and take off from water, was designed for the 3,500-mile voyage of the Trans-Pacific Voyage to establish new possibilities for commercial aviation and communication by mail.

The Hawaii Clipper left San Francisco Bay for Manila, requiring 60 hours over six days, with refueling stops at Pearl Harbor, Midway Atoll, Wake Island and Guam. But after leaving Guam on July 28, 1938, shortly before noon local time, he mysteriously disappeared. At the time of its last contact, the plane reported flying through layers of cloud and moderately choppy air more than 500 miles from the Philippine coast, the Associated Press reported at the time.

The Pan-American Highway stretched from San Francisco to China via islands belonging to the United States. Back then, it took a week to get that far. Today it takes about 10 hours. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The plane’s flight radio officer, William McCarty, typed out a message, ‘Waiting a minute, I’m having trouble with the static rain,’ the Pan Am Historical Foundation wrote. “A minute later, when questioned by the airline’s ground radio operator, there was no response from the mower. There never would be. The plane had disappeared.

The Hawaii Clipper was not the first – nor the last – to be lost. Six months earlier, the Samoan Clipper had gone missing after losing radio contact off today’s American Samoa. In the years that followed, the crash of the Philippine Clipper resulted in the deaths of 19 people in 1943. Two years later, the China Clipper crashed, killing all 23 people on board.


81 years later: the search for the Samoan clipper | Nautilus Live. July 14, 2019, https://nautiluslive.org/blog/2019/07/14/81-years-later-search-samoan-clipper.

Douglas DC3, Dakota, C47, R4D, DC1, DC2 A / C Capt Allen Campbell. http://www.dc3history.org/douglasdc3.html. Accessed November 5, 2021.

Geoghegan, John J. “Vanished! : What happened to the Hawaii Clipper? ” HistoryNet, June 22, 2017, https://www.historynet.com/vanished-happened-hawaii-clipper.htm.

Mystery always with us. https://www.panam.org/explorations/401-mystery-still-with-us-2. Accessed November 5, 2021. https://www.panam.org/explorations/401-mystery-still-with-us-2. Accessed November 5, 2021.

Pan Am. https://www.deltamuseum.org/exhibits/delta-history/family-tree/pan-am. Accessed November 5, 2021.

Pan Am spans the Pacific | National Air and Space Museum. https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/hawaii-by-air/online/pan-am-clippers/pan-am-spans-the-pacific.cfm. Accessed November 5, 2021.

Warship: A Heroic Tale. https://www.panam.org/war-years/654-war-boat. Accessed November 5, 2021.

Return machine. https://web.archive.org/web/*/https:/www.robertnovell.com/6667-2/. Accessed November 5, 2021.

White, Conan. “The Axis Dakotas of World War II.” ONLINE WAR HISTORY, April 1, 2019, https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/the-axis-dakotas.html.


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