Forum artHighlights From the Forum

February 13 through 19, 2000

Subject: Re: blowing tubes
Date: 2/15/00
From: Bob Brandenburg

For Mike Meunich:

Yes, the bunker fuel used by oil-fired ships during and after WWII did have the same operating parameters with respect to cleaning firesides.

As for how the 3rd and 5th fleets (and also the 7th fleet, which was the amphibious force) maintained long periods of operations without keeping to boiler maintenance schedules, the short answer is that they didn't.

The number of boilers in a ship was a function of the number of propellers on the ship. Each propeller was driven by a steam turbine which delivered power to the propeller shaft through a system of reduction gears, and there were two boilers available for each shaft. An aircraft carrier (CV), for example, had four propellers and eight boilers, and a destroyer (DD) had two propellers and four boilers. A DD could make a top speed of about 35 knots with four boilers on line, about 27 knots with two boilers, and about 20 knots with one boiler.

Since top speed was rarely needed, it was possible to take a boiler off line and clean firesides at sea if necessary. The boiler would be allowed to cool down for 24 hours, following which the boiler crew would work around the clock in shifts to clean fire sides. The entire process could be completed in 48 hours from boiler shutdown. Such a practice entailed risks that were justified in war, but would never be countenanced in peace time.

But even if circumstances prevented at-sea fireside cleaning and a ship sustained a resultant boiler casualty, the ship could still operate until it could get to one of the forward area Pacific Island bases and go alongside a destroyer tender or a repair ship for boiler repairs. Cost was not a consideration, and repair parts were readily available since the war effort had first priority on the nation's production.

However, things are different in peacetime. The operating budget is strictly controlled, and repair parts are scarce. These factors demand the utmost prudence in operating a warship in peacetime. The same considerations applied to the Itasca in 1937.

Bob Brandenburg, #2286

Subject: Re: Earhart's Voice/Last Transmission
Date: 2/15/00
From: William Webster-Garman

Ron Bright mentioned,

>By the way Leo Jr hopes that Longs' expedition will succeed so that
>Tighar can "eat a lot of crow" !!

Scientific rigor and objectivity at its very best. :-)

Re AE's voice in her last verified transmissions to the Itasca, it is my experience that intelligent and reasonable people routinely project all sorts of subjective things onto the behavior of others while witnessing stressful situations. If she'd been coached to pitch her voice high when on mic, adding in some aircraft engine vibrations and noise, given the circumstances, I think it's understandable that someone who heard her voice that day on a navy squawk box might have come away utterly and honestly convinced that he was hearing pronounced fear and anxiety in her voice.

Is there any documented evidence of Earhart ever sounding noticeably afraid or hysterical during an inflight transmission before that? Of all the interesting things I've heard about AE, I've never read anything indicating that panic in a tight inflight situation was part of her character.

It is very unlikely that anyone will ever be led to a proof of how she and Noonan ended their flight by analyzing the tone of her voice. As I sometimes say in response to this sort of discussion, there are too many variables.

william 2243

From Ric

I don't blame Leo Jr. for being upset that some of us don't take his father's account as gospel. He is certainly not alone in placing great faith in "eyewitness testimony."

Aside from the Oakland/Hawaii flight, the only flight I know of where AE carried a radio at all was her 1935 Honolulu to Oakland flight. On that occasion she made brief transmissions that were very much in the character of progress reports for the media rather than official position reports.

During her 1932 transatlantic flight there were several inflight emergencies. She had no radio so there was no occasion for her to make a panicky radio call, but she did survive the experience so she must not have lost it altogether. In short, I agree. The available evidence does suggest that AE was not prone to panic.

Subject: Re: Long's Photo: 1936 or 1937?
Date 2/15/00
From: Russ Matthews

I just downloaded and read through the ever-growing volume of Forum correspondence from the last few days. On 2/10 Ron Bright reported Leo Bellarts, Jr's impressions of the photo that shows Itasca "making smoke" off of Howland Island and raised questions about whether it was taken in 1936 or 1937. Ron incorporated observations I made last month about my 1992 interview with Frank Stewart, the man who took the picture in question. It was an interesting experience, seeing my writings of last month analyzed like a part of the historical record -- now I know how Fred, Amelia, Cmdr Thompson, and all the others must feel (if they could, that is).

Ron wondered why during the memorable events of July, 1937 "Stewart...didn't take any photos, he said, of the Earhart search." Stewart never said that. Quite the opposite, in fact. He and his family were convinced that he had taken photos while the Earhart search was underway. However, their impressions were contradicted by the date given in the scrapbook. Individual dates were not recorded for each picture, rather the front page described the contents of the book as photos from a particular voyage in 1936. When I pointed out the discrepancy, they tried long and hard to find pictures from the Earhart trip, but to no avail. The only thing that turned up was a stylized hand-drawn map of Itasca's course over the entire voyage. There may indeed be pictures from the search somewhere, but they couldn't find them.

As part of my research for the show, I had been in Washington, DC only a few months prior to interviewing Frank Stewart. There I had a chance to visit the National Archives and saw the Leo Bellarts file. The pages of the Itasca radio log were fascinating and I was very excited to find the picture as well. Later, when I saw the photo in Frank Stewart's album, I recognized it (and the implications) immediately. The two photos are identical in composition and framing. I have no doubt that they were made from the same negative. Frank Stewart was unquestionably the photographer and he recorded the date as 1936. Exactly how Leo Bellarts obtained a copy and why he labeled it with "July 2, 1937" is unknown to me (Stewart did not specifically recall giving or selling him one -- just that he did it a lot for members of the crew over the years).

Ron says "Leo Jr opined that why in the world would Leo Sr buy a picture taken in l936 as it "would mean nothing". Maybe a souvenir?" That's my best guess as well. It doesn't seem that strange to me for the guy to want a picture showing his ship and what they were doing. (I wonder if this was Bellarts' first trip with Itasca..Randy?)

The Forum, in its infinite wisdom and resourcefulness, has already answered most of the other questions raised -- and corrected many of Leo, Jr's assumptions about the verifiable facts of the story. (Stewart was on board for the Earhart search, Itasca did visit Howland in 1936, it is not unusual for oil-fueled ships to "make smoke," etc). We will likely never resolve the more subjective question of whether or not Amelia sounded scared or panicked. Bellarts, understandably, believes his dad -- and nothing we say here is likely to change that. As evidence, however, Leo, Jr's recollections of Leo, Sr's recollections amount to secondhand anecdote. Human memory (yours, mine, Stewart's, the Bellarts') is notoriously fickle and unreliable. This whole exercise, if nothing else, has been a fine example of why TIGHAR favors primary, contemporaneous, (written or photographic) documentation wherever possible

Even so, we have to study our sources with a critical eye -- which brings us right back to where we started. In his book, Elgen Long used the Stewart photo to prove that the smoke plume made by the Itasca on the morning of July 2, 1937 dissipated rapidly (making it harder for Earhart to spot the island). Careful study of the photo's origins shows that it was actually taken some time a year earlier -- thereby rendering the picture moot as evidence of anything.


From Ric

What a fascinating example of how what seems to be primary source photographic proof of something can turn out to be baloney. Who would ever question Long's use of the photo as evidence? It's a photo of the Itasca that was put in the National Archives by the ship's Chief Radioman and it's dated July 2, 1937.

Makes you wonder how many other documents are the result of someone's assumptions and flawed recollections.


Subject: Re: Earhart's Voice/Last Transmission
Date: 2/15/00
From: Hugh Graham

For Ron Bright:

> he...(Leo Bellart) emphasized on a number of occasions that
> he would never forget the tone and emotion in her voice".
> There you have it. I personally believe Leo Srs account (and I know many of
> you don't).

-----Hey, I believe Leo Sr. too. But then I tend to believe trained, competent, technicians, even without "contemporaneous doc", which isn't archaeologically-correct I know, especially when it doesn't support a Tighar hypothesis or a national icon.

Regards, HAGraham 2201

From Ric

I really don't think that it's a supportable criticism to imply that we try to preserve Amelia's position as a "national icon" (I, for one, have been pretty rough on that image) or that we change our rules of evidence based upon what we want to believe. Quite the opposite. We try to decide what to believe based solely upon what the evidence shows.

We use those rules because they work better than trying to make subjective judgements about whose memory is better than whose. If we say that we believe Leo Sr.'s recollections because he was a trained, competent technician, then what do we do about Lae Wireless Operator Harry Balfour (another trained, competent radio technician) who later claimed that Earhart had invited him to come along on the flight? Or what about Walt McMenamy (another trained, competent radio technician) who received widespread press attention in 1937 when he reported receiving SOS calls from Earhart and, in later years, made truly bizarre claims about being forced to participate in a government cover up?

What you're really saying is that you're going to believe what you want to believe, which is pretty much what you're accusing us of doing.


Subject: National Icon
Date: 2/15/00
From: William Webster-Garman

Of course, Earhart's name and accomplishments have been invoked, abused, distorted, romanticized, and exploited continuously for 70 years. That is typical for any American who is bestowed with the dubious honor of lasting celebrity.

Recognizable names and faces have always tended to translate into profits and results for publishers and promoters of all stripes. Truth is frequently a minor consideration. Anecdotal evidence regarding someone like Earhart is especially unreliable because people's memories (and motivations) can be significantly skewed by the essentially endless stream of often incorrect information about the subject, which is ultimately corrupted by its own popularity.

A good place to get a brief reminder of this is the Earhart Myths page on TIGHAR's site.

The text on the page begins with the sentence, "Not since George Washington chopped down the cherry tree has a historical figure been the subject of more myth and legend than has Amelia Earhart."

william 2243

Subject: Authentications
Date: 2/16/00
From: Jockroy

While we are on the subject of nefarious documentation, it would be interesting to view the documentation authenticating the single aerial photograph of Gardner island purported to be taken on July 9, 1937 from the Colorado scout planes.

It seems rather strange that a US photograph would appear in the NZ archives when no US archive photographs have been found . It seems more likely to have been taken by the Walrus from the Achilles which was secretly surveying these islands at the time of the AE flight, unknown to Friedell and his boys. This survey was been conducted in conjunction with the New Zealand Pacific Island Survey , which was examining suitable aerodrome sites, the Achilles carrying several personnel from the Aerodrome Services Branch.

It is to be expected that all military documentation of this secret and classified nature would still require declassification , and this usually consists of authorized stamps and signatures from the respective departments appearing on the reverse side of such declassified material.

Randy has stated that such documentation exists, but we haven't sighted this yet; it should provide some interesting information as to by whom it was declassified and by what department, and when it arrived in the NZ files.

If we don't cite this evidence authenticating its source, should we also then consider it baloney ?

From Ric

It is not the least bit strange for U.S. Navy photos of Gardner Island that are not in the National Archives to turn up in the New Zealand Archives. For example, on June 20, 1941 nine PBYs of VP22 made a reconnaissance of the islands of the Phoenix Group. At least four aircraft visited Gardner and took a series of oblique photos of different parts of the island. Some of the photos can be found in the Still Photos branch of the National Archives in College Park, MD. Other photos in the same series seem to now exist only in the New Zealand Archive. The original report on the mission, dated June 28, 1941, was classified "Confidential" but was declassified several years ago and is now in the U.S. National Archive. I'm not sure why New Zealand has kept better track of such photos than has the U.S. but I suspect it's because they are just more interested in that area.

The New Zealand copy of the photo of Gardner taken on July 9, 1937 is clearly labeled on the reverse as to source and date. There's no indication that it was ever classified and there's nothing at all mysterious about it, except perhaps the identity of the doofus who put a hand drawn north arrow on the photo that points due west.

And speaking of baloney, where did you get the idea that HMS Achilles was secretly surveying the Phoenix Group at the time of the Earhart disappearance? The aerodrome survey was done a year and a half later. Aerial photos of Gardner were taken by a Walrus launched from HMS Leander on December 1, 1938. We have two of those photos.


Subject: Last transmission about last transmission
Date: 2/16/00
From: Don Neumann

Perhaps it should be considered how difficult it may have been for AE to hear herself talk, while sitting in that somewhat cramped cockpit, with those large & very loud, twin P & W radial engines droning-on right out side her cockpit windows. My own experience, in those situations when I'm talking on a telephone in a very noisy environment, is to continually raise the pitch of my voice, especially if I believe the person on the other end may be having difficulty in hearing me over the din.

I'd imagine, even if she had earphones, the noise level in that cockpit was deafening & especially when it appeared she was receiving no response to her calls it would be quite normal to raise one's voice, while talking into a hand-held mic, especially having not slept all night & understandably irritated by the fact that they'd failed to see Howland when, according to FN's calculations, they should be sitting right on top of the island!

Don Neumann

From Ric

I think we've established that:

  1. The content and context of Earhart's final message received by Itasca gives no indication of panic or hysteria.
  2. No mention of the emotional quality of AE's voice was made by anyone until more than a day after the disappearance, and then only by a newspaper reporter who said she sounded tired and anxious.
  3. Allegations that Earhart's emotional state had anything to do with the disappearance seem to emerge entirely within the context of later Coast Guard explanations of how and why the loss occurred.
  4. The only two anecdotal recollections we have from individuals who were present and heard her voice (Bellarts and Stewart) disagree about the character of her transmission. Bellarts said she was distraught. Stewart said she was bossy.

I don't see any evidence to justify a conclusion that Earhart's emotional state was a factor in the disappearance. Let's move on.


Subject: Last transmission verdict
Date: 2/16/00
From: Frank Westlake, Dennis McGee, et al

Between 1992 and 1996 I operated a Navy unit that took small boats to sea several times daily at a high rate of speed and a high engine RPM. The noise level in the boat at these speeds was such that the occupants would have to yell into each others ears to be heard and understood. The boat drivers would report their status to me regularly with a handheld voice radio, and if the boat was proceeding at high speed they would always yell into the radio. At my end, listening to their yelled reports, I always sensed an urgency in their voices that would add to my own stress level. On some occasions they would begin the report yelling, but when they could not hear my reply they would stop the boat and make the report again in a calm, quiet voice. The difference between these two reports and my reaction to them was amazing; the yelled report would make me feel that things were getting out of control, and the calm, quiet report would reassure me that everything was OK.


From Dennis McGee

This recent talk regarding AE's comments/tone of her last transmission got me to thinking (I know, don't try to do a job you're not trained to do).

My experience in intercepting communications back in the dark ages (the 60s) was that operators ALWAYS typed on their intercepted copy ANY information they had that they thought would help us analyze the traffic. In fact, it was part of their job. These notes ranged from comments on the sender's mannerism i.e., "has trouble sending Y's and B's," the quality of the transmitting equipment, the quality of the signal, when the sending station changed operators, the cadence/rhythm of the transmission, and a host of other peculiarities.

Of course my guys were copying Morse code, not voice, and for different reasons -- spying -- than would a radioman on the Itasca. But considering the importance and visibility of the Itasca's mission it seems to me that the radiomen would provide similar comments on their copy (logs), if only to protect their butts in the event of ANY problem.

LTM, who hasn't chased a ditty in years
Dennis O. McGee #0149

From Ric

Frank Westlake also had some very interesting off-forum comments about the nature and content of ships' radio logs. Perhaps he'd care to share them with the forum.

From Ron Bright

The only reason I brought up the character of Amelia's voice for discussion and examination is that I have listened to hundreds of 911 calls in courtrooms played either by the prosecutor or the defense. Each often asks the jury to listen to the voice not just for content, but for fear, panic, etc., etc. Sometimes juries put a lot of thought into that type of evidence.

In Amelia's case, the forum has brought up all of the variables and other explanations of her alleged "almost hysterical voice" in sort of a cross examination mode. So without a recording (best evidence) we probably have a hung jury on what her last transmission meant.

Or put it an other way: If the voice doesn't fit (your perception) you must acquit!!!

Ron Bright

From Ric

The defendant will please rise.

Ms. Earhart, of the charge of panic and hysteria in the transmission of a radiotelephone message, this court finds you not guilty. (Bang!)

Next case.

Back to Highlights Archive list.

About TIGHAR Join TIGHAR TIGHAR Projects TIGHAR Publications Contract Services
The TIGHAR Store Blog TIGHAR Forum Contact TIGHAR TIGHAR Home

Copyright 2018 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at:  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW