A Tale of Two Stories, Correcting the injustice done to Eric Geddes, R. A. A. F.

By Edward W. Kahler, Jr.

The following article concerns two stories, one is true and one is false. The true story is told by Eric Geddes, Royal Australian Air Force and the accuracy is confirmed by Captain Emile I. Bonnot, United States Navy.   The false story is told by Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, United States Navy. 

I begin with the correct version of the story.   Please watch the following YouTube video because Eric Geddes tells the story and the video is the reason this article is necessary:     Eric Geddes narration of Hudson crew action .  The transcript of the video is available here:   Transcript of Geddes interview .  The Hudson crew did everything possible to notify their base of the approaching Japanese fleet.  They did send a radio message but more about that later. 

The false version of Hudson crew story, of which Eric Geddes was a member, was told by Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, United States Navy, in his book The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942 – February 1943.  On page 25 Morison says:  The third sighting, by the Australian Hudson at 1026 August 8, would have been the tip-off but for several unfortunate circumstances.  The pilot of this plane,9 instead of breaking radio silence to report as he had orders to do in an urgent case, or returning to base which he could have done in two hours, spent most of the afternoon completing his search mission, came down at Milne Bay, had his tea, and then reported the contact.”   The footnote “9” says “An Australian Hudson, on search mission FR-623 originating at Milne Bay, New Guinea.”   Should you wish to read page 25 of Morison then use the following link:   The Battle of Savo Island as told by Morison .  Morison published the book in 1949 and the Australian reaction can be seen in the Sunday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald in the content of two articles.  The first article contains the defaming Morison story about the Hudson crew and is titled “Pilot’s Tea Blamed for Loss of Australian Cruiser”.  The second article contains an expert source rebuttal to Morison’s false story.  The rebuttal story is titled “Fantastic Says Fighter Ace”.   To read the stories use the following link:  The Sydney Morning Herald   .

The controversy described above was resolved in 1988.  The Morison version of the story was officially discredited by Captain Emile I. Bonnot, USNR (Ret), Historian General Emeritus, Naval Order of the United States, when he published the report titled “Where the Hudsons to be Blamed for the Naval Disaster at Guadalcanal.”   The Bonnot Report is available in PDF format here:  Bonnot Report .  Please read the entire report because it corrects all errors.  Bonnot verifies the accuracy of the Geddes version.  As for the tea, Bonnot writes “In addition Stutt has been rankled over the mention of tea, contrary to Australian custom, he disliked tea, not having had ten cups of tea in his entire life.”  Bonnot ends the report by saying:  The purpose of this writing is to lift the cloud of blame that hung over the heads of the crews of the Australian Hudsons for over 40 Years (sic).  It is to present the account of the flights as stated by William J Stutt and other members of the crew and to reference the documentary evidence of their compatriots laboriously exhumed from old dusty files that confirmed the accounts. “   Bonnot concludes by saying: We have to thank W F Martin Clemens, Mrs. Lloyd Milne, G Herman Gill, A J Sweeting, Sadao Seno and others who diligently searched records to furnish the proof that the crews of the Hudsons were not to blame for that Savo Island disaster of 8/9 August 1942.”

The following two articles make for excellent reading.  The entire story as told by Geddes, Morison and Bonnot is available here:    Geddes, Morison and Bonnot    . On Google Books there is a book titled The Naval Order of the United States, Past, Present, Future .     Read pages 19 and 20.  Start with the last two paragraphs on page 19.    In the second paragraph on page 20, Bonnot clears the two Hudson pilots of any wrong doing.  Pages 19 and 20 are available here:   Excerpt of The Naval Order of the United States .

Now I turn my attention to sensitive issues. Since Bonnot was an officer in the United States Navy with additional titles, the injustice committed by Morison’s errors was removed as a result of the Bonnot report in 1988.  I regret that the word “apology” does not appear in the Bonnot report but he is just a historian and thus is only involved in research and writing. Turning to the transcript of the ABC video, it start with “LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: For more than 70 years American historians have wrongly blamed an Australian air crew for contributing to a Second World War naval disaster.”  The ABC writers of this news story are totally unaware of Bonnot thus making their first statement false.   The false blame went from 1949 to 1988, nearly 40 years, not” more than 70 years”.   “ADAM HARVEY: You can understand why Eric Geddes is still so unhappy more than 70 years later when you come here, to the Australian War Memorial. Samuel Morrison's 14 volume work on World War II is part of the collection so it's one of the places where his claims about the Hudson crew live on. Samuel Morrison (sic) has long since been proved wrong. “    That last sentence is correct Mr. Harvey because of Bonnot in 1988.  Next, there is only one “r” in the spelling of Morison.  Third, if Mr. Harvey knows that Morison is wrong, then dwelling on proven falsehoods perpetuates an ugly myth, resulting in great unhappiness for Mr. Geddes.    The American, Richard Frank made the most accurate statement:   “RICHARD FRANK: Well I would say to Mr. Geddes that his mission has been accomplished, through his efforts and also through the work of other historians. The failures that did occur that led to the defeat at Savo Island were multiple and shared many levels, primarily by Americans, and no one now writing about this would single out and certainly write in such demeaning terms about this particular Australian air crew. “   To which Adam Harvey answers “ADAM HARVEY: But Eric Geddes wants official US recognition that the Australians did their best.”    Once again, Mr. Harvey, read Bonnot.

P. S.

I attempted to get the above information from U. S. military or government sources but my browser warned me of invalid certificates at the “.MIL” websites thus I am relying on current, public sources.   ABC, the owner of the video, should contact a representative of the U. S. government if ABC wishes to verify the information stated herein.


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