Spitfire in Litchfield National Park

Flt Sgt Col Duncan

Tuesday the 12th of November 2019 marked a significant event in preserving the Territory’s heritage with the handover of the wreckage of Flt Sgt Colin Duncan’s RAAF Spitfire A58-2 to the Northern Territory Government for continued preservation. The handover coinciding with the 76th anniversary of the last Japanese bombing raid over Australia’s Top End.

The Spitfire wreckage was originally located by Aviation Historical Society historian and author, Bob Alford in 1988.  

A helicopter pilot, and NT Young Australian of the Year nominee in 2011, Chris Howard, had, more recently, spotted the wreckage in March, 2016 near the Eastern boundary of Litchfield National Park but it took months for the RAAF to confirm it as Duncan’s via databases of WWII crashes, and a trip to the site by helicopter.

On June 30, 1943, as his squadron scrambled to intercept up to 48 enemy planes, Flight Sergeant Duncan’s faulty Spitfire overheated and caught fire. The lever to open the cockpit canopy broke off and it was only after Duncan kicked and battered it, with fire licking at his legs, that it came free. With the plane in a spiral dive, he ejected and parachuted to the ground. Suffering severe burns to his arm and knees, Duncan survived in the bush for four days before being rescued.

On the 4th July 1943 Flt Sgt Colin Duncan is finally rescued after being shot down 5 days earlier. A ground search party went out after him the afternoon he had been shot down, while Spitfires were sent out looking for him also. The next day, one of the pilots saw a man on the ground; returning to that spot and flying low overhead, Flying Officer John Gould recognised the man as his own missing squadron mate, Col Duncan. No. 452 and thereafter maintained a four-day program of supply-dropping sorties- which amounted to little more than making a low and slow pass overhead and lobbing a parcel of rations out of the cockpit. Then Flight Lieutenant Clyde Fenton, the famous prewar ‘flying doctor’ and CO of 6 CU, got involved: he flew over in an Avro Anson and dropped directions to an army search party. His squadron mates also led a Beaufighter to the spot, which permitted the dropping of larger parcels. These supply drops were limited to the ‘essentials’- rations, razors and cigarettes (even though Duncan, unusually for a fighter pilot, was a non-smoker); and as the army ground party drew near, a Beaufighter dropped Verey pistol and cartridges, to permit Duncan to signal his location. Flight Lieutenant Frank Gardiner, the Beaufighter pilot, also dropped the marooned and maimed pilot a note, pointing out that, ‘You owe me a bottle of beer for all this’. Duncan was finally rescued by men from the 2/8 Independent Company on 4 July and taken to 1 MRS for overdue medical treatment of his burns.

After the war Colin worked as a builder, then architect and inventor. He married and had two daughters. He died of cancer, age 73, in 1992.

The handover at the Darwin Aviation Heritage Centre Museum was made by Air Commodore John Meier, Director General of History & Heritage and acceptance by the NT Government by Lauren Moss, member for Casuarina and Minister for Tourism, Sport & Culture. Also in attendance was Col Duncan’s grandson, Duncan Williams as well as Bob Alford who had originally located the crash site.

(Note: Bob Alford had also located around 80 other crash sites including the Spitfire of RAF 54 Squadron pilot, William Hinds at Kangaroo Flats.)

Spitfire wreckage in Litchfield NP

The wreckage will, for now, remain in Litchfield National Park under a Protection Order of the NT Heritage Register and won’t be accessable to the public.

There are possibly two other Spitfire wrecks in Litchfield NP.

Spitfire Association Bio on Col Duncan

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