Klemm L25 VH-UUR

The klemm is at our bankstown facility undergoing repairs after its return from Oshkosh 2009

 

The history is below but the most “commercial” story of the Klemm is its trip escaping the Japanese during World War 2. The aeroplane seems to have been involved in a little known story of the invasion. When the Japanese landed on the north coast of New Guineathey advanced down the coastal road. This regiment had been responsible for the rape of Nankingand was killing all of Chinese origin. So the adults were given bicycles and the kids piled into mission aeroplanes, sometimes 9 or 10 kids in the front cockpit of a 2 seater. These aeroplanes went to Madang and unloaded on the airstrip. Qantas employees in Darwinheard that there were 300 odd souls isolated in Madang and repaired 2 obsolete airliners to ship them out. They worked overnight and the aeroplanes, DH 86 Airliners rescued the folk. The Klemm was one of the last aeroplanes out as it could take off between the holes in the runway made to deny the enemy the use of the strip.

Klemm L25 D2   VH-UUR

The history of this aeroplane is interesting in that it would seem that it was originally sold to Switzerland. It had been built in Germany outside Munich by Hans Klemm an interesting man himself. Hans was, if not a pacifist did not wish his aeroplanes to be used for war and was perhaps one of the best aeroplane designers of this period. He had problems with the Nazi party, so much so that he was sent to a concentration camp and his factory taken from him. He is undoubtedly one of the unknown resistors to Mr Hitler. The Klemm was introduced by the Divine Word Missionaries (S.D.V.) at Alexishafen Catholic Mission on the north east coast of Papua New Guinea and it was given by MIVA (organization for aid to mission transportation) founded in Aachen, Germany, 1927.  Its founder was a World War 1 pilot, turned priest, Father Paul Schulte, (aged 32) of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  Karl Joseph, Cardinal Schulte, Archbishop of Cologneblessed the aeroplane at Cologneairport on Feb 24th, 1934  and named it St Paulus, perhaps in honour of Father Paul Schulte. The dismantled plane was shipped from Genoea, Italyon April 14th 1934 and was accompanied by Willy Schafhausen, 23, of Moenchengladbach, Germany, who logged about 200 flying hours and had been trained by MIVA as a pilot and aeroplane mechanic. Willie died in an unfortunate accident which involved an overloaded Foard Tri-motor  aeroplane.

All aeroplane weights were notified on the tail of the aeroplane but from Europe they were in Kilos and in the US and British Empire in pounds. Unfortunately this particular aeroplane was labeled in pounds and when Willie flew it was thought to be in Kilos and as such there was a factor of 2.2 overloading. It crashed on takeoff. Willie was a rogue occasionally and would fly the Klemm down the river at very low level when the nuns were bathing causing great consternation.  

 However the Klemm had arrived in New Guinea, in Madang Provincein 1935 with Father F. Zeigler a Swiss priest with the Holy Ghost Mission in Alexishafen. It was registered under his name in Switzerland , perhaps with a sensitivity to the German- British rivalry that was still apparent some 16 years after the First World War. After the plane was assembled at Alexishafen, where a landing strip had been built it flew over Nake village inland from Alexishafen for the first time on July 9, 1935. On arrival the plane’s official call number was HV- XAL which had been its registration number in Switzerland. These letters were changed to VH – UUR as shown on the postage stamp after September 1939, the registration number required by Australia who was then administrating Papua New Guinea. Although the tropics are not kind to wood and fabric aircraft, the Klemm thrived. It provided communication between the mission stations and remote centres of the PNG highlands over the very rugged terrain where weather is far from ideal for flying. 

 


 

 Mission priest, the late Father Ross was one of the first white men in the highlands area of PNG to benefit from the aircraft. Not long after it arrived, St Paulus, had its first accident. The pilot had flown supplies to Mt.Hagen from the coast to Fr Ross’ mission. His parting words were “see you in two weeks” but it was 9 months before Fr. Ross saw another white face. St Paulus had been damaged on a strip near Madang and repairs were lengthy.

The heavily populated Chimbu and Wahgi valleys in the highlands were discovered in March, 1933 by M.G. Leahy and J.L. Taylor entering from the East. The arrival of the areoplane reduced contact time between the mission and the mountain valleys from a 2 week trek to an 80 minute flight. With two other missionaries on November 9, 1933 a Divine Word Missionary brother from the Netherlands Anton Baas discovered a new north entry through the Mondia Pass into these heavily populated valleys. From the front cockpit of the Klemm and using gesticulations from lack of radio contact he guided pilot Schafhauscen from Alexishafen along the route through the Mondia Passand into the Chimbu and Wahgi valleys to waiting mission airstrips. Pilot Schafhauscen described for his family  his first landing on Feb 2, 1938 at the 2600 meter high Kegsugi airstrip adjoining Dengagu Catholic Missons in the Chimbu valley at that stage P.N.G’s highest Airstrip. Denglagu tribesmen in 4 months had prepared the 800 meters long and 30 m. wide airstrip on a mountain ridge which dropped 1 metre for every 8 metres of length making it one  hundred metres lower at one end than the other. On the 22nd of January 1942 the day after the Japanese bombed Madang the mission pilot , Stan Johnston, flew from Madang to Cairns, a flight of 17 hours flying time.  On arriving at Cairns the airfield was covered with obstructions to stop enemy planes landing but he was able to land it between the obstructions. It is rumoured that the aeroplane had bullet holes in the fabric after its flight. The aircraft was impounded as the log-book was in German and with the large black crosses on the wings you can imagine how well that was received. It was then released in 1946 and eventually ended up with Alex Oliver in Port Maquarie . The Siemans apparently had a problem with external lubrication of the rocker boxes and then the owner found that the Pobjoy had problems with the magnetos in that he returned from all trips on only one of them. The engine then was changed to a Continental O-200-a and this seems to be at least reliable. Alex had been flying it around for his last 35 years and passed away in 2005 in his late 80’s.

 

 

 

 

He had his license removed because of epilepsy about 36 years ago after a fit. Apparently there is a replica of a Klemm in Stuttgartsomewhere and there is on hanging from the roof in the “DEUTSCHESMUSEUM” in Munich. It appears to be D-EMDU and is painted to represent an aeroplane in the days of the WeimarRepublic. It is a much better machine than the English copy, in my opinion, the B.A. Swallow which was paradoxically more successfully sold probably due to Imperial preference.

 

Alex had many adventures with the Klemm, occasionally painting it in a dreadful colour and had some crashes. The most public of these was at the Australian International Air Show at Avalon when in a justified fit of pique at the organizers he took of with his rudder lock inserted, lost control and hit two parked aeroplanes. To Alex’s credit he paid for all damage though his aeroplane was apparently not insured. This crash made the international aviation press.

 

He flew to the Schofields Air Show and caused a stir when given the prize for the oldest aeroplane he told the Minister of Aviation that he didn’t want it but could he have his pilots license instead. At the same event when asked to remove his “smalls” from the fence by a officious lady club member after washing them in a saucepan his appellation of her as “Girllie” caused a small thermonuclear type event at the club. At other times he would be on extensive flights and would be discovered in a paddock by a farmer brewing up a cup of tea on his “Primus” stove.  He was known to arrive at an airport with his wife, daughter and dog in the front cockpit illegally overloaded and to conceal them from inspectors he would have a plywood cover screwed over the front seat. They were under instructions not to say anything and Alex would forget about them and rush back after a period with his screwdriver to release them and apologize for his forgetfulness. Again there might be a loss of “Brownie Points” because of this.

 

 

He made the Port Maquarie aerodrome by driving up and down a paddock with a tree trunk behind an old car to smooth the grass. I do not know if he owned the land or appropriated council owned land. There is also the saga of the engine change. Now the initial engine change was from a Siemans to a Pobjoy radial engine. The weights were about the same though the Pobjoy was a good bit more powerful. So Alex just did it and as the British version the B.A. Swallow had a Pobjoy nobody really noticed. However Alex decided to fit an American flat four cylinder engine which was lighter and thus affected the center of gravity of the aeroplane. So he reverted to his aero-modeling days, balanced the aeroplane on trestles, noted the center of balance and removed the engine. Next he devised some telescopic engine mounts and moved the new engine in and out to achieve the same balance. Put a bolt through the tubes which rumour relates were galvanized water pipe and welded the structure together. He then flew from the Port to Bankstownand fronted up to the desk of the Department of Aviation.

 

He requested that they approve his fitment and they asked for drawings. When he said he had none they said that you cannot do that. He of course replied that the event was in the past tense not the future and they asked him were the aeroplane was. After hearing that it was outside they became apoplectic and locked the aeroplane away in a hanger. Apparently this irritated Alex and he proceeded to a hardware shop and purchased a bolt cutter. After the officials went home to laugh at this “hick” he cut open the hanger, wheeled the aeroplane out and flew home. This is were the story gets complicated because from one source he was supposed to have saved some fishermen previously when they got lost in foul weather. He flew out in weather the Air Force declined to operate in and pointed the lost to the shore. He was a local hero for this. When it became apparent that the “city” folk were going to “get” the local hero the populace came behind him and supported him in such a way that a political deal was done. The essence was he could keep the Klemm with his measurements but had to have an aviation company build proper engine bearers. 

 

So all face was saved and an element of common sense preserved. Interestingly enough it was not unusual for an aeroplane at this time to be designed from the factory floor with chalk as there is an authenticated story of the “Foxmoth” being designed be placing four kitchen chairs on the floor and the aeroplane built around them.

 

We have flown the Klemm to many airshows and events culminating in an appearance at "Oshkosh" in 2009.

As the oldest mission aoeroplane in the world it was a leading lady in the year of "mission and humanitarian aviation" for that year.

It is at Matt Webers facility at Luskintyre and will return in time for the fly in in November 2017

               

  

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