Richard Archbold’s Role in World War II


Richard Archbold, far left and crew aboard the Guba

Before he established the Archbold Biological Station, Richard Archbold explored large areas of the South Pacific Ocean during the 1930’s, while flying to and from New Guinea as sponsor and leader of three scientific expeditions to various parts of this large island near Australia. In the process, he and his crew charted much of the island and the surrounding seas, with the help of a military style Consolidated Aircraft PBY-1 flying boat, known as GUBA II. The knowledge he gained of the area, as well as the equipment he used, would both come to play important roles in World War II; in the Pacific and also on the Atlantic front.

GUBA in the Motu dialect of New Guinea means “sudden storm.” It weighed thirteen tons and had twin 900 horsepower engines that could reach speeds of up to 190 mph and travel over 4000 miles before needing to refuel. Archbold also made many personal modifications such as an outboard motor so the plane could maneuver in tight spaces on water, and installed top of the line radios.

Before using GUBA II in his Pacific exploration, Archbold purchased the original GUBA in 1937. However, almost immediately, according to former visiting researcher and aviation enthusiast Curtis Adkisson, “Archbold sold this GUBA to the Soviet Government for a rescue operation in the Arctic Ocean. Not long after, in 1942 it was trapped in an Arctic Harbor, and sunk by a German U-boat.”

Archbold and crew used GUBA II during their third expedition to New Guinea in 1938-39. Archbold had explored New Guinea with his crew on two previous occasions and had intended to continue these explorations into the 1940’s. These plans were thwarted however, by the regions increasing danger, a result of Imperial Japanese aggression in the area. Archbold saw this as a potential threat to areas in the South Pacific Ocean and put his future explorations to New Guinea on hold. The Island would later be invaded by Japan in January 1942 and see heavy fighting for the rest of the war.


According to Archbold biographer Roger Morse, when Archbold returned to the USA in 1939 he was approached by the Australian government, which arranged to charter GUBA II to find an air route across the Indian Ocean that would pass entirely over Allied-controlled water and territories. The potential threat of Japan to Australia was already seen as a very real possibility. Also, writes Morse “Germany invaded Poland only two months after the expedition returned home and then GUBA II was  sold to the British and assigned to spotting and bombing German Submarines. Later, it was assigned to the Transport Command moving military personnel to Gibraltar and ports along the West African Coast.”


Archbold’s contribution to the war effort didn’t stop with his planes, however. He acquired Archbold Biological Station, the station here in Highlands County, in June 1941, just prior to America’s entry into WWII. Soon after arriving, he began work together with a man named Frank Hagner, on the improvement and manufacture of a sextant for the use of the US Navy. “I have been working on the development of new types of instruments in the Station’s well equipped machine shop; as these instruments are important for national defense,” Archbold says in a formal report. According to Frank Hagner, in his official account of the sextant work, “On or about March 7, 1944, a license agreement was executed by myself and by James Forrestal, Under Secretary of the Navy. This agreement, approved by Archbold, provided for the grant to the Government for a license to manufacture the sextants. By October 31, 1944, there had been delivered to and accepted by the Navy Department approximately 1,500 sextants.”

Richard Archbold was not only a man of science and exploration who was fascinated by the natural world but also by technology. In exploring the uncharted island of New Guinea with a state of the art aircraft, he was able to combine these two passions while helping further scientific discovery.  When his equipment, knowledge, and resources could be used for the assistance of the war effort he did not hesitate to answer this call.

Written By Joe Gentili


The Guba II taking off from the water

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