The story of the six Dutch - owned HP.42 “Halifax” - class aircraft
When Handley Page announced its HP.42, which had its first flight in November 1930, Imperial Airways was not the only airline which was interested in buying the airplane. Dutch airline KLM also liked a couple to give their busy line to the Dutch East Indies a much needed boost.
Their own Fokkers were sturdy and trusty planes all right, but they also were slow and often coped with mechanical issues on their journeys and, well, most of them were starting to show their age. Fokker really tried to keep up with developments but they were very conservative in their choice of materials and the configuration of their designs. Frankly, they actually were too slow for the momentum in the aircraft industry at the time. While in the U.S., the development of monocoque aluminium airframes with low wings was in full swing, Fokker’s planes still were shoulder-winged, clad with plywood and linen.
The newest plane Fokker had in development, the triple engined F-XX Zilvermeeuw, was a pretty sight with its more modern appearance. It even could have been a good comparison to the HP.42, being some kind of hybrid between the old-fashioned wooden planes and the soon-to-come modern looking shapes like the all-metal Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-2. But the F-XX also had a lot of developing troubles and was still in its early test phase.
In short, KLM's main fleet of planes were ageing rapidly and the board-members of the KLM knew it all too well. Besides all that, Fokker's biggest planes only could carry up to 16 passengers, the HP.42 could carry a for that time whopping 38 people.
So in early 1931 KLM turned to Handley Page and ordered six of their big, all-metal HP42’s. A little less than one and a half year later, they all were in service and flew prolifically and quickly to and from the Dutch East Indies. The KLM wanted the planes to be a bit more luxurious for the long flights, so the 38 seats were reduced to 30 seats and everyone had a bit more legroom and there was a bit more space for luggage.
The six planes got christened with names from Dutch cities: Groningen, Nijmegen, Haarlem, Enschede, 's Hertogenbosch and Vlissingen.
By the time the HP 42's were delivered to the KLM, the thirties progressed, and KLM ordered even more modern foreign planes, like Douglas' DC-2 and DC-3. But the HP 42’s performed just as well, just like their British sisters and they kept on flying, as luxurious airborne Orient Expresses.
|One of KLM's HP.42's during a fuel stop in Palestine. |
(original photo from Wikipedia, manipulation by me)
The two planes that just left from the Dutch East Indies were about to land in Karachi. There they heard of what happened in Europe and specifically in the Netherlands and the crew decided to fly back to Batavia (the city which now is called Jakarta). Soon thereafter, they were joined by the two other HP.42’s that had taken off days before the invasion.
In Batavia, the four HP.42's were put into service with the Royal Dutch East Indies Airlines (KNILM) who made good use of the planes, together with their own DC-2's and 3's and Lockheed Super Electra's.
Then the war also reached the Pacific in 1941 and in early January 1942, two of the HP.42's were chartered by a big group of wealthy Dutch people, eager to escape the imminent Japanese invasion. They set off to fly to Australia. The 's Hertogenbosch was never heard from again and probably crashed in the sea, being too heavily loaded. The other one, Vlissingen, flew from the island of Timor and reached Darwin on just fumes due to a leaky fuel line. Having only one chance to land the heavy aircraft, it came down quite rough and it broke its main landing gear and crashed. Luckily, without any casualties. Unfortunately, it left the plane with irreparable damage and its useless remains were scrapped not long thereafter. Of the other two, the Enschede was destroyed in its hangar at Batavia airport in one of the first Japanese bombing raids in March of 1942. Most of the other planes of the KNILM could reach Australia before the attacks started and were sold to the allied forces.
|A candid photo of the last HP.42 in existence, escaping to Merauke. |
(Photo originates from the website Defence of the Realm)
Here, the HP.42 survived the war. It undertook some transport flights to and from Australia. After the war, things did not go back to normal again. Turmoil in the Dutch East Indies caused a lot of disruption, the local people demanded their independence. Using guerrilla tactics, the Indonesians kept on fighting The Dutch reacted with brute and excessive force to try and bring these revolts to a halt. But only with partial success and lots of casualties and cruelty along with it. Under the pressure of the United Nations, the Dutch finally had to give in and in 1950, Indonesia became an independent nation. But this didn't include all of the Dutch East Indies. There still was a part of Papua New Guinea which remained Dutch.
Indonesia however, had no plans to exploit a single airline between Papua and Indonesia. So for a while, air traffic over New Guinea was almost gone. No cargo flights with food, mail and clothing, no passenger flights across the dense jungle areas and mountains. The Dutch governmental department of Papua decided to charter a single Dakota from KLM to start inland flights and soon they added some De Havilland Beavers on floats and also three Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer freighters to their fleet.
|Above and below: Dakotas and a Twin Pioneer of Kroonduif at the airfield of Biak, Ditch New Guinea, 1950s. (Photos from somewhere on the web I can't recall... sorry!)|
In the mid fifties, it became a real regular airline and a daughter enterprise of KLM. A pilot of KLM became manager of the fleet. It was around this time the last HP.42 was 'rediscovered' in a dusty hangar at the back of the airport of Merauke. They immediately brought the old plane back into service after some small necessary repairs and a bit of new oil for the engines. It quickly became the flagship of their airline company, which now was called Kroonduif (Western Crowned Pigeon). They had a very successful business. Kroonduif flew cargo and people to places at Papua New Guinea but also (with a chartered Lockheed Constellation of KLM) to Amsterdam and even Tokyo. The HP.42, which got the new name Kalong (a huge type of fruit bat also called the Flying Fox) was used for inland cargo and passenger flights and for flights to the Australian part of the island. Some even say the HP.42 was the trigger for a lot of the Cargo Cult outings on New Guinea at that time. Some of their wooden 'plane' structures have an uncanny similarity with the HP.42...
The old HP.42 was kept in service until 1962, when the Dutch part of Papua New Guinea became part of Indonesia and the Dutch had to leave all their assets behind. Garuda took over Kroonduif's aircraft, including the HP.42. But for Garuda, the old aircraft was of no use any more and after having been a hangar asset for yet another couple of years, the plane was eventually scrapped in May of 1966.
Credible? Well, most of it actually is true. The thing that never happened is the existence of those six extra HP.42’s for the KLM and the story of their fate. In reality, there were only ever 6 built and all of them served with Imperial Airways. All of them perished in the first year of the war while in RAF service, either due to storms that blew the planes against one another and practically wrecked them, or by very clumsy landings that did about the same job for the planes. None of them survived the year 1940. A sad ending for this glorious and rather beautiful plane.
|The HP.42 in its last known livery, that of the RAF. (Source: Defence of the Realm)|
More on that next time!