A TRUE DIAMOND MYSTERY
By Bob Jamison
A fortune of fine cut diamonds might still lie in the rough sands of the Indian Ocean along the shores of Australia. Strangely, a rich cargo of diamonds found their way aboard a Dutch Dakota DC3 airplane in the final minutes of the dramatic escape out of Java from advancing Japanese troops early in l942.
The famous Russian ace Ivan Smirnoff, a naturalized Dutch citizen, was the captain of the illfated DC3 cargo plane. The plane was unarmed and even had all seats removed to eliminate weight. Its mission was to transport pilots of the Royal Dutch Air Force and a smattering of civilians to safer grounds in Australia. It was important in the cause of defense of the Dutch East Indies that every available pilot would be saved for future action. Gunfire of the approaching enemy virtually drowned out the clap of thunder and lightning during a terrific midnight storm.
At the last minute before takeoff, a government official tossed a tightly bound cigar box size package to Smirnoff. The only comment was that it is extremely valuable and a government official in Broome would be there to receive it. “Guard it with your life”, was the last comment.
Captain Smirnoff knew that taking off in such a storm between hills and then on over the Indian Ocean to Broome, Australia would be extremely difficult or near impossible. Limited instruments and total radio silence added to the suspense in the long trip.
Dutch pilot, Lt. Pieter Adrian Cramerus, a frequent visitor to Dayton, was one of the pilots aboard. Much of his encounter during his daring escape from his capture by the invading Japs, to his very near demise is an important issue in the recent book, “The Diamond Dakota Mystery” by Australian writer Juliet Wills. Currently the book is being considered for a movie.
The turbulent flight from Java to the coast line of Australia was seemingly near the end as the skyline of Broome came into view in the early dawn light. Shock waves sunk in as Captain Smirnoff saw the flaming destruction of Broome. Parked airplanes were burning and the oil supply depot was belching black smoke. Japanese planes from an aircraft carrier had bombed Broome only minutes before.
Smirnoff banked the DC3 sharply northward over Beagle Bay to avoid the encounter of enemy aircraft still in the area. However, three Japanese Zeros were flying high above the bombers for escort protection. Momentarily, the Zero pilots spotted the DC3 and began pursuit. Smirnoff put his plane in a violent evasive spiral downward in an attempt to avoid certain destruction of the cannon equipped Zeros.
He lowered the wheels and prepared for a landing on the beach shore. The Zeros open fire as the DC3 attempted to land. Smirnoff was hit in the left arm and leg and many in the plane were either killed or wounded as the plane touched the beach. The Zeros kept strafing and the left engine was on fire. Smirnoff spun off the beach into the surf to extinguish the fire while using only one hand and one leg. Still the strafing continued.
Cramerus was badly wounded in his shoulder and the back of his head by bullet fragments. He and another leaped from the plane and dove under the water to avoid the murderous fire from the Zeros. Then there was calm and the Zeros left. But where were they? Nothing but silence and the scorching heat of the desert like outback.
Little thought was given to that valuable cargo in the small box with the official wax government seal. Survival with no food and not enough water was critical. Four passengers that could walk were divided into two. Cramerus and another pilot named Jo Muller headed out to find help. Several days in the blistering heat they were badly sunburned and very near the end. Then they realized they were not alone. From nowhere, they saw a very tall black man staring at them. He wore no clothes and carried at the ready was a mean looking spear.
In English, the Aborigines type said, “What are you blokes doing out here?” With that he disappeared and soon brought back a kangaroo he killed with the spear. He cooked it for them and gave them water. He then left and brought back rescuers from an outback mission.
Help was sent to the wreck of the Dakota to rescue the survivors and bury the dead. Again, little thought was given to the important valuable box left in the cockpit. Some claim the waves of the sea destroyed the box as some of its contents still show up in the sand. Others claim a beach bum found the diamonds and the authorities recovered many of them; but not all.
Cramerus made it through WWII though shot down twice more in the l38 combat missions he flew. He was transferred from Australia to the U. S. to train in fighters. Then, he flew the famed English Spitfires in Europe for the remainder of the war. Afterwards, he became an American citizen and a successful business man. His address is currently in Houston but much of his time is in Denver and Montana where he enjoys his love for fly fishing. Thankfully, Dayton is still on his list of visits with friends who are like family.
For more on this topic see Broome Aftermath or
the book 'Flight of Diamonds: the Story of Broome's War and the Carnot Bay Diamonds' by William H. Tyler or
the book Diamond Dakota Mystery by Juliet Wills