Conflict Archaeology

All posts tagged Conflict Archaeology

Some of the wreckage at Garden Hill. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.

It has been a while since I have posted. Since my last post, I have moved provinces and am now in New Brunswick. I haven’t had any time to delve into the aviation history in this area, but I will! In the meantime, I’m waiting for an article to come out with the Alberta Aviation Museum‘s publication InFormation, and am working on another couple of articles for publication. Plus, I’m trying to get settled, build my Ikea furniture, and try to find my way around town!

Myself and Shannon K. Green at the sign that caught out eye and directed us to the crash site. Photo by Ken Thibeau 2013.

On my way to the Port aux Basques ferry I stopped in to visit family in Stephenville, so this post about the Port-au-Port Peninsula…

I came across this site when driving around the peninsula with family members. We actually drove past the sign that pointed to a plane crash, so of course we had to stop and check it out. I wasn’t expecting to go out to a plane crash, so it was my first (well, maybe second) time going to a crash site in heels and a skirt.

The trail to the site. It’s an easy walk, just off the highway. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.

United States Army Air Force C-54A 42-107427 left LaGuardia airfield in New York on 12 November 1944 for Harmon Field, Stephenville, Newfoundland with a crew of 18. The aircraft was expected to arrive at Harmon Field at 0558 GMT. The weather was forecasted to be excellent for the majority of the trip, but a complex weather structure would have made the last part “sloppy” with some light to moderate turbulence. The pilot checked the weather often before and throughout the flight, but the aircraft was still blown off-course by high velocity winds. Snow was also reported at the time of the crash. The pilot also failed to make proper use of normally functioning radio navigational aids to check the position of the aircraft prior to and during descent. The aircraft collided with the side of a hill at what is locally known as Garden Hill on the Port-au-Port peninsula. The high energy crash resulted in nine of the eighteen crew perishing on site, and three expiring in the hospital within a few days.

The “sloppy” weather over the Atlantic. From Barnes et al. 1944.

Private First Class Joseph Kara told investigators that there was no warning prior to the crash. In fact, the flight was “going good” until about an hour before reaching Harmon Field. That’s when the aircraft started to descent and did not ascend again. Kara said he was asleep, but woke up just prior to the crash when others on the aircraft seemed to think they were about to land; it was dark and passengers could not see anything from the windows. Kara then reports that the aircraft “got real low and I could hear the trees cracking”. In the next moment, he was outside and the aircraft was on fire. (Barnes et al. 1944).  At light, the survivors gathered together and Kara walked away from the crash and into the woods, where he met a Newfoundlander who brought him to the nearest building, a post office (Barnes et al. 1944; Leonard Simon, former base barber, pers. comm). About an hour after daylight the rescue plane found the site and shortly thereafter ambulances and trucks arrived at the post office (Barnes et al. 1944).

A drawing of the site from the incident report. From Barnes et al. 1944.

Private First Class Joseph Wosnisk told investigators that there was some confusion about the time prior to the crash. The flight clerk told passengers to strap their belts, but then changed his mind, saying they were still an hour from Harmon Field. Wosnisk reported that the plane dropped, like it hit an air pocket, and then began hitting trees. There was no indication of the aircraft turning as would be expected. Wosnisk was thrown from the aircraft during the crash. He then gathered with other survivors, made a fire, released flares to indicate their location to a passing aircraft, and took care of the injured as best he could (Barnes et al. 1944).

A view of the crash site. From Barnes et al. 1944.

Private First Class Charles C. Chonka reported that after the accident, injured crew were moved as little as possible, and many left where they fell. Chonka reported that two men died before doctors could arrive. When they did finally arrive, the doctors treated those seriously injured, but still alive. Chonka did not remember seeing any crew during the flight, and after the accident said he talked to one of the crew, but could not identify who (Barnes et al. 1944).

The cause of the accident was classed at pilot error (carelessness). The report indicates that “the pilot, through attention and lack of mental alertness, failed to make proper use of normally functioning radio navigational aids to check his position before and during descent”. A secondary cause of the accident was due to the weather, that the aircraft was blown off-course due to high velocity winds (Barnes et al. 1944).

Images from the crash site. From Barnes et al. 1944.

After the crash, the site was relatively inaccessible for many years, but aircraft pieces were still removed. In the Stephenville Regional Museum of History and Art is a propeller blade which had been removed from the site. The tip of the propeller has been removed, and used in the making of spinning wheels. When the museum was established, the remainder of the propeller was donate to be part of their exhibit.

The propeller blade housed at the Stephenville Museum of History and Art. Note the broken tip. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2014.

Since 1990, a road has been put through between Cape Saint George and Mainland, passing close to the site. A sign indicates the location of the crash and gives a bit of history, and a trail leads directly to the site. In 1990, when the road plans were put forward, Frank Gale of the Western Star wrote an article worrying about the risks to the site with a road passing close by. The accompanying photo shows a great deal of aircraft at the site, including engines. Since the road was built, the site has been almost completely demolished, with only a couple of fragments remaining. There is very little left at the site that is of salvage value, but what remains may be removed for personal collections. Even if the remaining aircraft if not removed, the site is constantly changing. These researchers visited the site in the early summer of 2013, and that fall, received pictures of the site from Gary Rideout, retired RCAF, showing site disturbance and aircraft fragments having been moved around the site.

From 1994 The Western Star article by Frank Gale.

The area contains benches and the remains of campfires, so as long as people are actively visiting the site, it will continue to be disturbed, but provenience has already been lost. Further analysis of the site will not add any information to compliment the crash report, and it is unlikely that other objects of significance will be donated to the museum.

View of the fire pits from the wreckage. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.


Barnes, George E., Barnie B. McEntire and Robert H. Augustinus
1944      U.S. Army Air Forces Report of Aircraft Accident: Vicinity Cape St. George, Newfoundland. War Department: Harmon Field, Newfoundland.

Daly, L. and S. Green
Garden Hill: The Crash of a USAAF C-54. Provincial Archaeology Office 2013 Archaeology Review, 12: 22-24, 2014.

Gale, Frank
1994      Association Wants 1944 Crash Site Preserved. The Western Star, 21 September 1994, p. 3.

PlaneCrashGirl at the Garden Hill crash site in heels and a skirt. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.



Of all the sites I researched for my thesis, this one offered the most challenges. It was the most difficult to research, the most difficult to access, and when we got there, the most difficult to map and photograph.

It wasn’t helped by it being an overcast day and the GPS not able to find enough satellite data. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2010.

The site is located behind the airport, south-east of runway 2 (13/31 degrees or 12/30 during the war era, Tibbo 1997). It is on the edge of a large bog, and I tried to access it from a few different routes. In 2010, trying to take a direct path across the bog, I ended up falling in up to my chest and had a lot of difficulty getting out. I certainly didn’t want to risk my assistant falling in, especially seeing as up to my chest would have been over her head! A second attempt had us skirt the bog in an attempt to get to it that way. In this case, we came to a river. It was pretty fast-flowing, so not easy to just cross. So, one assistant attempted to make us a small bridge with some deadfall to make crossing easier. He fell in and got absolutely covered in river muck. It was a cold day, so I thought it best to try again later. Over the rest of 2010 we reached other sites and recorded those, and the B-25 found itself left for another year.

The river that took out one of my assistants in a 2010 attempt to reach the site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2010.

In 2011 I had a different team, and it was a much hotter July. So if we got wet, we’d dry relatively quickly and not have to worry about being wet and cold for hours while trying to work (have to put the health and safety of my team first, of course). It also helped that between 2010 and 2011, GoogleEarth had updated and had better images, so we found what looked to be an old, overgrown, road that should take us somewhat close to the site. Turns out, we couldn’t find a road, but there was a river that took us most of the way, so we hiked up our packs and portaged the survey equipment down the river. With a great team who weren’t afraid to get lost in the woods, we found the site.

The edge of trees from the bog. Aircraft debris was found in both the bog and the trees. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Royal Air Force records are not easy to come by. Many of the ones related to specific aircraft were destroyed, and the personnel records (how I found information about the Hudson near the Commonwealth War Graves) can only be accessed by the individual or a descendant. Some websites claim to have the records, but won’t show anything until you pay them. So, that leaves me with online forums and Ocean Bridge by Christie (1995).

What is known is that RAF B-25 Mitchell KJ584 crashed during a night takeoff from Gander on 29 August 1944 at 0342 GMT (Christie 1995; RAF Forum 2012). All crew on board were killed in the crash.

Aircraft debris. Note, the machete visible in these pictures is there for scale (we forgot our scale). Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.


Name Rank Service Seat
Kabin, Vladimir John  Captain RAF Transport Command Pilot
Flood, David Sgt. RAF #1550839 Navigator
Sheldrick, Thomas Tweed Sgt. RAF #1311000 Radio Operator

Crew of B-25 Mitchell KJ584, adapted from Christie (1995). Christie has Kabin listed as a Canadian civilian, but according to the RAF Forum and the NBG site, Kabin was RAF Transport Command, meaning he was a civilian who was ferrying aircraft overseas before the RAF took over.

Debris found in the bog showed significant deterioration, possibly due to the rise and fall of the bog during wet and dry periods. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

From an archaeological perspective, the site offered challenges because unlike the RCAF Lodestar, it wasn’t just on the edge of a bog. It was actually partially in the bog and partially out. In fact, the wet area seemed more like it was a relatively new wet area as it might have been an expansion of the bog after the area had been logged. The pieces scattered around the open area could be easily measured, both by a Garmin GPS or by the surveryor’s level. However, I opted to not use the surveyor’s level because what was in the trees could not be measured that way. Debris was scattered throughout the tightly packed grove of trees, and sometimes larger pieces could not be properly photographed because other trees were in the way.

A segment of fuselage that could not be properly photographed due to the trees. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

The site itself was well recovered, most likely at the time of the crash. There were no propellers, instruments or other sensitive equipment on site. Most of what could be found were aluminum fragments of the fuselage and some pieces of the frame. The engines had been left on site, but were recovered by 9 Wing Gander a few years previous and laid closer to the road leading to Deadman’s Pond. According to Frank Tibbo (pers. comm. 2011), there were to be (or will be) used by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.

Engines found near the road to Deadman’s Pond. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Given that in looking around the site there was no evidence of an entry point of the aircraft, and that much of the debris in the trees did little damage to said trees, it is highly likely that there was a mid-air explosion which scattered the aircraft around the site. There is no evidence of burning, like at the USAAF B-17 44-6344, and no birch trees which would grow first after a fire, as seen at the RCAF Canso 98107. There are no real markers of visitation to the site, usually in the form of graffiti or litter, but I have talked to people who have been at the site, and who claimed to have removed things from the site (although their story changed and I cannot confirm exactly from which site they visited and removed material).

This section is wrapped around a tree stump, but laid against others, suggesting it may have fallen into the trees. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

This site offered many challenges, but hopefully if I could ever have access to the personnel records there would be more information and it could give a better idea as to what happened in this incident.


Christie, C. A.
1995    Ocean Bridge: The History of RAF Ferry Command. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Newfoundland’s Grand Banks (NGB)
2007    Mount Pleasant Cemetery – St. John’s: Field of Honour. (accessed 21 Mar 2017).

RAF Commands Forums
2014    Thread: 440829 – Unaccounted Airwomen & Airmen – 29-8-1944 (accessed 21 Mar 2017).
2011    Thread: Ferry Command Crash Sites in Gander, Newfoundland. (accessed 20 Mar 2017).

Tibbo, F.
2011    Personal Communication
1997    The Best of Aviation: 101 Tales of Fliers and Flying as Published in The Gander Beacon. Creative Book Publishing, St. John’s.

Debris from the wreck of RAF B-25 KJ584. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.