The battle-ready troops were in a truck convoy at the end of Jackson Field runway when a US Army Air Force Liberator, taking off on a bombing mission at 4:20am, hit a tree and crashed into five trucks in the middle of the convoy. The scene was horrendous; two of the Liberator's 500 lb bombs and more than 3,000 gallons of aviation fuel exploded on impact in a huge fireball, A third bomb exploded soon after.
Seventy three people died — 60 battalion members, two truck drivers and the Liberator’s 11 crew. Ninety other men of the battalion were injured in what is still the worst air disaster in Australian history, in peace or war. Memories of what happened that morning haunted survivors for the rest of their lives.
The battalion’s war history, The Footsoldiers, which is about to be republished in a long-awaited second edition, contains dramatic eyewitness accounts from survivors.
The first edition, published in 1971 and written by William Crooks, who served with the battalion for five years, is acclaimed as one of the Second World War’s five most important unit histories.
Crooks' meticulous and detailed accounts of the battalion's battle campaigns in the Middle East, Kokoda, Lae, Ramu Valley, Shaggy Ridge and Balikpapan took five years to research and write. Military historians regard the book so highly because it details every action based on the diaries and recollections of hundreds of the men who actually fought in them. The second edition contains three new chapters covering events since 1970, including a new theory on the cause of the Liberator crash and a re-examination of some of the actions on the Kokoda Track. It also includes the names and service numbers of more than 3,600 men who served with the battalion.
The 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion Association decided to publish a 50th anniversary second edition to bring the Battalion’s remarkable story to a new generation of readers, and relatives of the men who served but who have been unable to obtain a copy of the first edition, which has been selling for up to $2,000.
A launch of the second edition is planned for the Australian War Memorial on 7 September, the 77th anniversary of the Liberator crash, subject to the easing of COVID19 restrictions on public events.
Fifty numbered deluxe, leather-bound limited editions will be available for $500 and a trade edition at $75 a copy plus postage will be available from 31 July through the 2/33rd Battalion Association. To get a copy email: yunitt [at] bigpond.com or purchase one at the book shops of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and the Anzac Memorial, Sydney, when they re-open.