In March 1944 152 was based at this Strip on the Arakan front, led by S/Ldr Bruce Ingram DFC a very tough CO who would not accept 'sloppy flying' from his aircrew and make his feelings on the subject well known, very loud and clear. We new-boys followed the advice given out by our Instructors at 61 OUT at Rednal and kept our mouths shut, our fingers well extracted and tried not to break anything. !
In May 152 moved to this Strip on the coast nearby and spent most of the month flying to and from the Imphal valley in northern Burma where all the action was supposed to be . If it was, we saw nothing of it.
On May 31st, 152 moved to this small all-weather Strip at the southern end of the Imphal valley. The valley was encircled by mountains several thousand feet high at its northern end, dropping down to a few hundred feet at Palel where we all lived in grass huts on the hillside which overlooked the Strip.
During June, the Boys spent hours escorting supply-dropping DC3's into the middle of Burma and covering 11 Sqdn's Hurrie-bombers engaged on local business. The main problem was getting our aircraft out, and back in again, over the surrounding mountains during the awful monsoon weather.
Two Incidents at Palel are worth mentioning.
A. Grounded by bad weather one day, the Boys were summoned 'All air-crew to Dispersal at the Double' ! Once there, the CO introduced us to an immaculately dressed 14th Army Major who had been sent down from on high in a Staff car to tell us that, although the Japs had managed to get a field-gun up the other side of the hill on which we lived, the 14th Army Commander would deal very severely with any Unit which allowed the Gun to fire on us !! The words had just left his lips when we heard a small bang and saw some of our Lads getting their heads down. Having been with 152 in N.Africa and Italy, our Lads recognised 'in coming ' immediately. !!
At which point the Major left smartly in a cloud of dust bigger than the one caused by the 'incoming'. We returned to our huts to compose an 'odd ode' in the style of Stanley Holloway's ' Albert and the Lion'. As follows:-
At a famous Hill Station called Palel what's noted for fresh air and fun
The Japs got a little bit crafty and wheeled up a bloody great gun
The lads were asleep on their charpoys enjoying themselves by the score
When down came a whoomph and a whistle, a bang and bloody great roar.
My God said the lads all a-twitter their minds in a whirl and a fug That was a little bit too near and dived in the trench's they'd dug
Then up came a gallant young Major. Fear not said he kind-like but gruff
Fear not ******* ********* as another shell landed on Bluff
The whole 14th Army moved southwards to counter this Nipponese thrust
Bang went the Nipponese canon. North went the RAf shit or bust
Its now gone all quiet like at Palel. No Jappo's and ****- all great gun.
A visiting Ferry Pilot made copies of this Ode on the Squadron type-writer, leaving one on our notice board and making off the rest. One of which, we heard, ended up under the nose of the 14th Army Commander.
The second Incident was Tragic.
B. On June 10th I flew No 2 to the CO as he led 152 on a DC3 escort job. As we lifted off, the Strip controller called up to tell him that his No 2 had lost a wheel on take-off ! 2 hrs later the CO landed the other 10 aircraft then told me to lock my straps and make a 'dummy run' before he landed himself. He insisted that I confirm to him, over the r/t , that I had my straps fully locked !!
Once my CO had cleared the runway I landed with straps locked, wheels up, switches off and was out of UM/T almost before it had stopped sliding. Several days later whilst leading the boys back from another escort job, the CO had a fuel problem right over the Strip and had to land with his 'wheels up'.
BUT, he forgot to lock his straps and his face was smashed on his gun-sight ! He was taken to a Field Hospital where, stricken with an infection, he died. !!
On June 27th the Squadron's Senior Air and Ground Crews attended the Funeral of their Commanding Officer, S/Ldr. Bruce Ingram. DFC.
At the end of June Capt. Harry Hoffe (SAAF ) became a Major and 152's new CO and F/Lt Mike Jones became B Flight's new leader. 152 was then on the move again to Imphal Main, a Strip at the northern end of the valley, some 30 minutes away by air.
3. IMPHAL MAIN.
On July 1st, the move to this Strip was a shambles. According to 221 Group we were to replace a Squadron which was leaving the Valley for some R and R.
The plan was for the aircraft to go first, followed by Bodies and Gear a day or so later. The Out-goers had been told to leave everything in place for us, so 152 pilots need only take their small-kit.
Late that afternoon we landed in rain and some of us started looking for the Sgt's Mess, only to find a grass hut and realise that the Outgoing shower had gone and taken everything with them !! By early evening, having found one oil lamp, we decided to find somewhere to get our heads down. Leading the way from the grass hut, lamp in hand, Paddy Foster came face to face with another lamp which asked if we were the 'Spit.blokes' who had landed earlier that day ? When Paddy 'confessed', the other lamp turned friendly and invited us to have a drink with the Worcester Regiment who had just come down for a rest from the Front line. Whereupon some NCO's appeared with a jerry-can full of rum and we spent a convivial evening drinking rum and monsoon rainwater out of round cigarette tins with some Jolly good Types !
In July, although I only flew 4 sorties I could, however, claim two 'First's.
a.The first 152 pilot to acquire his own personal Transport.
A Norton 500cc motor-bike 'liberated' from the Army by my ground crew. F/Sgt. George Brown, i/c B Flight's Lads then taught me how to ride the bloody thing !
b. The first 221 Group pilot to be dressed in Jungle Greens.
Brand new, 'liberated' from the Army along with the Bike !!. ( the CO called me 152's tame Pongo )
During August the Boys got in hours doing Strafes against well-hidden Jap ground positions but we lost another pilot. 'Addy', one of us new Boys.
On August 19th F/Sgt Adcock, a wiry Aussie from the Outback, overdid a strafing run and spread his aircraft and himself all over his target. 221 Group's AOC sent us a message to the effect that a few scruffy Japs were not worth the loss of a Pilot and Aircraft.
At the end of the month 152 was preparing to move to Tulihal, a Strip some 20 minutes away by air. On September 3rd the Boys who had drunk rum with the Worcesters were sitting around, all packed up, awaiting transport for the gear going by road. Suddenly, Paddy Foster spots one large, fat, white Goose.
On the grounds that Roast Goose tastes better than Fried Bully we had the thing in a spare packing crate before it could let out its 4th Quack !! The transport then turned up and off it went with the rest of our gear.
Later that afternoon we flew the remaining aircraft to Tulihal. The first thing we saw on landing, was our CO being severely bollocked by a very angry Indian Army Colonel who, knowing where his Goose had gone, had come looking for it!! He left with his Goose. We were left with Bully !!
Apart from our 'Goose Loss' the move went well. Moreover, 152's Harvard was now fully employed carrying the Boys (one or two at a time) to Calcutta on a 'grog run', each run bringing back two crates of Indian Gin and Rum plus whatever Mixers ( Lime Juice etc ) that could be fitted in somewhere.
Within days, the grass hut of the Sgt's Mess had been transformed into the 'Old Nogg Inn' and kept well stocked up by the Harvard. We now had a Mascot, a white Hen called Oscar who stood at the Bar drinking our Gin until it 'fell asleep' and was put to bed on the floor. My Norton was going well on 100 octane.
One day, whilst riding around the local countryside I kidnapped the last two in a line of sweet little Ducklings who were following their Mum over a paddy field.
I named them Denny and Kelly (after the two shortest of 152's Lads ) and kept them for nearly 12 months, sleeping in a box by my bed-side at night. They were inseparable, spending all day near the cookhouse, feeding on scraps.
From a ' Business ' point of view 152 was fully employed.
A and B Flight pilots worked alternate shifts: One from Dawn to Breakfast and again in the Afternoon , the other from Breakfast to Lunch. The Lads, on the other hand, worked their buts off all day, getting the aircraft warmed up for dawn readiness, looking after them during the day and finally covering them up for the night.
One evening the Lads became 'over-stressed'. 221 Group had ordered our 30 gallon tanks to be replaced by 90 gallon tanks, then changed its mind and ordered the 30 gallon tanks back on again. By the time this work had been done the Lads were as Pissed-off as the Boys in the Nogg Inn were Pissed-up !!
As a mark of (dis) respect the Lads, driving past the Inn back to their huts along the hillside where we all lived, paused to give the Boys a rendition of The Red Flag.
By the time they got to the 'Though Cowards flinch and Traitors sneer ' bit, the Boys had amassed a Choir to conclude with 'The Working Class can kiss my Arse. I've got the Foreman's job at Last '
During September, numerous flying hours were clocked up doing escorts , strafes and rhubarbs with the occasional scramble thrown in. On Sept 24th Gus Ardaline 9 ( 152's Yank ) was scrambled and shot down a Jap Dinah.
On October 4th we lost another new Boys. Paddy Foster of A Flight.
After the 'Tour Expired' departure of A Flight's popular leader 'Dook' Allington, Group lumbered us with a new Bod who immediately 'raised a few eyebrows' by the manner in which he ordered the Lads to cart his flying gear about !
That morning, he and A Flight were scrambled and against all perceived wisdom and Group advice he led Paddy and the rest of A Flight into the some monsoon cloud. We never saw Paddy Foster again. The new Bod was posted forthwith ! The rest of October passed without much happening except for the odd '90 gallon drop- tank job' strafing Swebo and Onbach, two Jap airfields way down south. Buildings were damaged but no aircraft were seen on the ground. Not surprising because, as we later found out, the Japs always parked their aircraft well off-strip.
On October 29th, 1944 152 moved to Tamu. The first Squadron into Burma !
This Strip, custom built for 152, had just been hacked out of thick jungle by Army Engineers. Lying south over the hill from Palel, it was at the northern end of the long, narrow Kabaw valley which meandered down to the banks of the Chindwin, Burma's second largest river.. We had a pleasant camp-site, all living in tents of various shapes and sizes. No more grass huts !!
On November 4th, 221 Group Intelligence told us to expect a mass attack by the Jap Air Force the next day. The Boys were in bed early that evening !!. At sparrow-fart on November 5th all strapped in and ready, we were off and up at the merest glimmer of 'first light'. Mike Jones took B Flight up high ( to watch a spectacular sunrise ). A Flight kept down low (to watch the shop).
However, no mass attack came, just a few Jap Oscars (fighters) coming in low to be met by A Flight's F/Sgt L.A. Smith who promptly added 'One Confirmed and One Damaged' to the his score of seven German fighters 'confirmed' during his time with 152 in Italy. This 'kill' earned Smithy a well-deserved DFM.
By now, with the Sun well up, B Flight broke to see if A Flight had left anything for us to play with. I joined another pilot, spotting two Oscars down below us.
Half-way down in a good bounce, we heard Mike Jones announce over his r/t that 'two ***** are bouncing Thunderbolts' Bounce cancelled in the hope that Mike had not spotted our aircraft letters !!. He had not and (according to Group later on ) no RAF Thunderbolts had been in the air at that time !!
November and December saw the Boys getting hours in on patrol's, rhubarbs and an occasional scramble. On November1st, as Blackie (an Aussie pilot ) and I returned from a rhubarb, one Jap AA gun, exposed on the on the banks of the Chindwin, fired a shot at us. So we flew behind a small hill overlooking the river (and gun) then popped up, over and down to give the cheeky sods two long squirts which, the Army later confirmed, put them out of business !!.
Early in December, grounded with an ear infection, I was evacuated to a hospital somewhere in Bengal. Several weeks later I got back to Imphal Main to be told that 152 had moved from Tamu to a strip called Kan and that our CO had been posted 'Tour Expired'. Truly 'one of the boys', Major Harry Hoffe was a frequent visitor to the Nog Inn at Tulihal where his Party Piece was to wait until he (and the rest of us) was well jugged-up then call ' Last one out the window's a Sissy'. He would then dive headfirst out of the window, followed by the rest of us. !!
I made it back to this dump of a Strip by the middle of January 1945 and reported to 152's new CO. S/Ldr Grant Kerr. DFC. Garry Kerr was a charming, softly spoken Scot, ever mindful of the welfare of all 152 Personnel.
On Feb. 8th 152 moved to Sinthe, tents and all !
Sinthe, another custom built Strip, was situated to the north of Burma's largest river the Irrawaddy over which, some fifty miles south of us, 4 Corp of the 14th Army was preparing to cross in large numbers. The Strip was well laid out in open country (no jungle) and our camp-site was well organised by the Lads.
152's main task was to keep two aircraft up, all day long, covering 4 Corp's activity on the river bank. Each trip was a boring two hour stint, doing nothing but waste fuel going round and round 4 Corp at a few thousand feet. Those not on the 'round job ' were, in sections of four, told to make nuisances of themselves around Meiktila and Mandalay, two large Burmese towns. On Feb 8th , four of us were sent to annoy the citizens of Meiktila who welcomed us with heavy flak !! We made off fast and low and looked for trade elsewhere.
Suddenly, we flew over something quite unusual, a well-built road along which travelled a camouflaged Jap Staff car, complete with a flag on its bonnet. As the car stopped, its occupants (Hirohito and Tojo ?) got out and dived for cover in a roadside ditch.
Being first to spot the car, I had the first go at it and decided that cash-payers funds would be best spent on its occupants. I did three strafing runs before the other Boys turned up and destroyed the car. H & J faced a long walk back !!
On Feb 12th I went on a Grog Run to Calcutta taking F/Lt Spud Murphy, 152's engineering Chief as passenger, where I spent two days buying grog and a record of Deanna Durbin singing ' The lights of Home'.
On Feb 15th I returned with Sgt. Botterill as passenger. Odd, we thought as I landed, nobody about. No Lads at Dispersal or Boys watching and praying that the Harvard would not crash.
We climbed out of the Harvard to be told that, during the night of Feb 13 a lone Jap aircraft had bombed the camp-site and killed 11 of our Lads and wounding another 30 Lads. Botty and I were devastated. So was the rest of 152 Squadron. ! Obviously, it would take some time to get things back to normal.
On Feb 16th A Flight's F/O Jones and his No.2 is on the ' round job' listening to another Squadron being scrambled after a Jap recce Dinah. Jonah calls the Controller, offering to help but is told to mind his own business !
After a while, bored by listening to the other Squadron going round in circles, Jonah drops his 30 gallon tank and climbs up behind the Dinah to shoot it down right from under the noses of the other Sqdn , just as they gave the 'Tally Ho' !!
Well done Jonah. Bloody good show !!
On Feb 17th F/Sgt Lofty Unsted and I are on the 'round job ' when we see some half-hearted flak coming up from the Army. A closer look revealed their target, 4 Jap Oscar's ( Bloody Pongo's doing our Job ! ) Tanks off, down we go in a good bounce and get stuck in, although my r/t is u/s.
Nevertheless, things go well and we finally spot the remaining Oscar right down on the deck, heading fast for home. However, unable to talk to each other, we are unable to co-ordinate any attack and neither of us is prepared to try and out-turn this crafty little sod right down on the deck !!
Finally, well south of the Irrawaddy and low on fuel, I wing-waggle Lofty into a close formation and head back north to give 4 Corp a 'Show'. Their response was to put more flak up at us than they had put up against the Japs.
I was now beginning to wonder if that Feb.8 Staff Car had , in fact, been on our side of the 'bomb line' and carrying some 14th Army Gunners !! The trip lasted two hours and I had used all my ammo.
Lofty and I claimed 3 destroyed. Group gave us one each confirmed, the third one (either Lofty or Me) was claimed by $ Corp !!
On Feb 18th Mike Jones scrambled with four other Boys to make contact with a larger number of Oscars, shooting down five of them.
Days later, the lone Jap aircraft paid us another visit, this time hitting dispersed aircraft. As four of them blazed merrily with their ammo popping off, we watched good old Flash (F/Sgt Fenton. i/c. A Flight Ground Crews) drive a fully loaded fuel bowser to safety from the midst of the inferno. Flash surely deserved a Mention and/or an outright Gong !!
Before the end of Febuary we lost another pilot, Lt Pottinger, SAAF. Potty never returned from a 4 Section rhubarb. There had been no Jap air or ground opposition or any r/t calls from him. He just vanished and Gary Kerr was very annoyed when Group vetoed his plan to send up a section to try and find out what had happened. Potty, might have force-landed in some flat paddy fields.
By the end of Febuary, Hurri-bombers of 11 Squadron had joined us at Sinthe.
With a 250lb bomb under each wing they would fly in a 'cab-rank' formation and, when called down, could drop them within 100 yards of 4 Corp's forward positions. They had 'closely supported' the 14th Army all way from Imphal and were very highly regarded. By everyone.
In early March, the 14th Army crossed the Irrawady in force and were on the way to take Meiktila and Mandalay . Meanwhile, 152 had everything under control once more, the Boys flying hours during March and most of April covering 4 Corp and 11 Sqdn. And, Smithy and I were Comissioned.
152 moved here early in May and little happened except for one incident.
Garry Kerr heard that some captured Jap soldiers were being held by the Army not far from our Strip. None of us had ever seen a Jap soldier so he took us to inspect them. There were three Japs in an enclosure, all half-starved and half-dead, covered with jungle sores and guarded by one Red-cap.
As we approached the Red-cap thug began using his boot on the Japs to get them to 'stand at attention'. We all felt sorry for the Japs. Gary Kerr was angry !! We stopped him from using his boot on the Red-cap ! We left the Japs a few fags and drove off. Towards the end of June I went on leave with two Boys to Naini Tal, a hill-station in northern India. (We made a bee-line for the place after being told by officials in Calcutta that it was reserved for HQ types based in Delhi and out of bounds to hooligans like us )
We stayed in a civilised hotel for 2/3 weeks and paid some horrendous bills before getting back to Imphal Main only to learn that the 152 had moved again, this time to Meiktila. ( Bloody hell. take your eyes off the sods for five minutes or so and off they go somewhere else !! )
By July, the 14th Army was near Rangoon, ending the Japs visit to Burma. Meiktila, an all-weather Strip from which we spent hours 'practise flying'. On July 7th, just back from Leave, one such trip was, for me, a real 'hairy'. Gary Kerr was to take us all up to 30 k feet and I was to lead a Section of four aircraft. Off we went, climbing in good order to about 10k feet when he r/t's 'oxygen on '. On it comes and up we go another 10k feet by which time I am beginning to lose interest. After a few more minutes he r/ts again to say that as his 'second blower' is u/s, we'll practise some cross-over turns !!
By now, I have lost all interest in the proceedings and am feeling the effects of my boozy Leave. What's more, the CO and his lot are all over the sky, way ahead of me one minute and way behind me the next. Then, he starts giving me the 'red one do this / do that' bit over his r/t. and even my Section is all over the sky, one pilot coming close in and waving his finger at me !! Stuff the lot of them I thought, fully determined on landing to join the Navy and tell his Majesty what he could to do with my Commission.
Eventually, we all get in the same piece of sky and head for home. As we lose height I get a bad feeling about the part I had played in the shambles and resolve to become teetotal forthwith ! The lower we get, the worse the feeling becomes.By the time we are all down I anticipate getting a 'quiet word' from my CO ! In fact, the noise of the bollocking I got could be heard in Mandalay !
He was about to do an encore when one of the Lads came up with my helmet and mask, pointing out that whilst I had been on leave, a Bee (or Wasp) had crawled in and sealed off the end of my oxygen in-take tube with a layer of wax. Had Garry Kerr's Second Blower had not been u/s on July 7th I would probably have joined the list of RAF pilots who, without oxygen, had made large holes in the ground from a great height.
On July 21st, Garry Kerr led 12 of us ( with only our small kit ) on Detachment way down south to this real dump of a strip where we joined another detached Squadron . With the Burma campaign almost over and 14th Army units fighting each other to be first into Rangoon, our task was to make life tough for remnants of the Jap army which were trying to escape from Burma into Siam.
On July 22nd I was up with Mike Jones when he spotted a large paddy-field on which the locals had harvested crops, stacking them in clumps similar to the way our farmers stack corn/wheat in fields prior to making hay-stacks.
On this paddy-field however, each clump had 2 or 3 pairs of Jap legs sticking out from under it.!! Mike and I re-harvested every clump, the only resistance coming from an Officer and some men at one end of the field firing rifles at us.
On July 25th 1945, Gary Kerr was notified that I had become 'tour expired'. He wrote a ' cheery bye Vic ' note in my log-book and off I went back to Meiktila to collect my gear and say good-bye to the rest of the Squadron's Lads and Boys.
During that trip back, I mulled over the past 15 months and realised just how much the Instructors at the Jungle Survival School had helped me to cope with the horror of life in Burma jungles and, in particular, how to cope with snakes. There are millions of snakes in Burma , the majority of whom can be simply ignored. Being shy, sensitive things they will usually slither away to safety from any human being. The only exception is the yellow -banded Kryte. Easily recognised by thirty-six black and yellow bands, each an inch wide, which encircled the length of its body, the Kryte was lethal. It could move quicker than lightning and one bite would kill its prey within ten painful minutes.
At Jungle School we learned to cope with this menace by using 3 Movements:-
a. Stand very quite and still so the snake can relax.