No. 45 Squadron, RAF in Kumbhirgram, Assam, India
One perceives a sense of relentlessness in reading the Operations Record Book of an active service squadron; it’s embodied in the bland repetitiveness of each entry logging sortie after sortie, often to the same targets, page after page.
What is often overlooked is the story in the words on the page. In this piece I’ve tried to provide both the facts and the story, including an attempt to recreate a very real sense of the relentlessness in the operational description that follows. As a result it’s a longish read so if you prefer to “cut to the chase“, the chase can be found in the Afterword at the end.
RAF Base Ranchi, September, 1944.
Movement Order No.4/44 Dated 13th September 1944
Intention: To move No.45 Squadron from R.A.F. Station Ranchi to R.A.F. Station Kumbhirgram. Authority H.Q., No.231 Group Org. Instruction No.21 dated 7/9/44 and H.Q., AC3SEA letter ORG.4/3081 dated 3/9/44.Operational Diary and Training Log, No.45 Squadron R.A.F.
So came No. 45 Squadron’s order to move after spending a month at R.A.F. Ranchi for low level attack training. It might well have come as some relief as their month at Ranchi had been plagued by unserviceable aircraft, problems of tyre supply and a general lack of technical expertise by the ground crews on their Mosquitos. The squadron had been unable to put a flight of four aircraft in the air at any one time throughout the entire month.
In the monthly Training Report, W/Cdr. R.J. Walker reported an average serviceability of 5 aircraft of the 14 on strength against a squadron establishment of 16. Worse, of 24 pilots and 25 Navigators, only 20 and 22 were respectively deemed operationally, or non-operationally effective. One can perhaps note some frustration at the lack of flown hours in the W/Cdr. Walker’s comment in the August Training Report wherein he stated in the section on Tactics;
W/Cdr. R.J. Walker conducted yet another discussion on section formation flying and tactical approach…August 1944 Aircrew Monthly Training Report, 45 Squadron R.A.F.
With the move to Kumbhirgram complete the squadron was able to begin operations. Their target was, and remained until the end of the campaign, to interdict Japanese rail, air and road movements with bombs and staffing, as well as photo reconnaissance and army cooperation as required. Their theatre was to be exclusively Burma (now Myanmar).
While in September they logged only 4.10 day time hours of operational flying, the focus was still on training. As the serviceability of the aircraft improved, overall there were an average of 10 serviceable aircraft available during October, the squadron completed 238.25 hours of day time flying, 5.15 hours of night flying with over 30,000 rounds of ammunition expended and almost 200 bombs dropped in live firing exercises.
The pace of operations continued to gain momentum through November and into December but they were still hampered by the unreliability of their aircraft. In fact, during the first week of December there were no serviceable aircraft available for operations. It’s remarkable that they flew at all, but indeed they did. The tally for December 1944 was 277.45 day hours on operations, 213 on night ops with another 165 hours on training flights. At the close of the month however, they had 16 serviceable aircraft and were poised to finally unleash the full potential of the squadron on the Japanese.
Tamiya 1/48 De Havilland Mosquito FB Mk.VI
Tuesday/Wednesday, 2 – 3 January, 1945
The new year’s operations began on 2 January for 45 Squadron. In what was to become one of their frequent targets, two Mosquitos flew the 900km to bomb and strafe Thazi some 150km south of Mandalay as well as photograph some “special” targets.
Both aircraft returned safely and while the weather was very poor at Kumbhirgram it was fine over the target area. In all, six bombs were dropped destroying one locomotive shelter.
With the initial operation of the new year under their belt the squadron was able to put on a strong showing on the 3rd with no less than four strikes sent out.
The first, leaving between 0616 and 0617 and comprising four aircraft (HR 456, 514, 491 and 515) was sent back to Thazi to continue the work started the day before. This was a return to the scene for Australian F/Os Nicolls and Barclay in HR491 who had flown the previous day’s attack to the same place. Sadly, W/O’s McQueen (New Zealand) and Edwards were killed in HR515 when it crashed soon after take off due to engine failure.
The second wave of four (HR 372, 409, 455, 451) left soon after between 0629 and 0634. They were tasked with an attack on “Special Target, Operation Nasty 1, ‘Suspected Telephone Exchange’ at Maymo” which comprised two buildings to be attacked with bombs. Maymo, lying 70km east of Mandalay was another target at some distance from base, but somewhat closer than Thazi.
The third wave of two Mosquitos (HR 402 and 409) coordinated with No. 82 Squadron Mosquitos for an attack on another special target, Nasty 2, at Thazi. Both left between 1335 and 1337. HR 409 was on its second sortie of the day, this time with S/L Terrence and F/O Rainbow on board (F/O Ewing and W/O Pinkerton having flown the morning’s mission).
Finally, at 1400 four more Mosquitos (HR 491, 514, 456 and 455) again coordinated with No.82 Squadron on a return to Maymo in a continuation of the attack on Special Target Nasty 1. HR 491 was also on its second sortie of the day, this time with Canadian F/O Blenkhorne and F/L MacFadzean DFC on board.
No opposition was encountered in any of the missions on 3 January with all aircraft retuning safely (except HR 515 as noted). Interestingly, while no opposition was reported, upon return a .50 hole was found in HR 451’s starboard propeller spinner. Ordnance used included the 500lb and 250lb bombs, some with time delay fuses set at between 11 seconds and six hours. All the attacks included staffing runs utilising the Mosquito’s formidable 4 x 20mm cannon and 4 x .303 machine guns.
Thursday/Saturday, 4 – 6 January
After 14 sorties the previous day, the only activity on 4 January was an armed PR sortie of two Mosquitos (HR 372 and 455) to review the damage inflicted at Thazi and Maymyo the previous day. Both aircraft bombed and strafed railway targets at Payangazu and Ymagyi with return .50 fire striking HR455 in the tail and fin. The photographs taken at Thazi showed that the wires at “Nasty 2” were down but their pylons were still intact. Both aircraft returned safely after almost four hours airborne.
On 5th January, four (HR456, 492, 514, 491) were sent on a “Rhubarb” to Monya – Ayadaw – Ywathatyi – Sagaing – Irrawaddy and bomb Sagaing water front. They left in two flights, the first at 0945 and the second at 1040. Rhubarb operations were in essence flights along a preplanned route attacking targets of opportunity. On this day, all aircraft found something to attack, including sampans and buildings but little tangible damage was seen. There was some inaccurate A.A. fire directed at them during a strafing run at Sagaing. All eight aircraft were on the ground safely by 1340hrs.
Assembly and Base Painting
Sunday, 7 January
On the 7th the Squadron had a day off of operations perhaps due to a visit by an RAAF photographer. There was a sizeable contingent of RAAF personnel in the squadron; the following sampling of the photos taken that day show another side of life for the men of the squadron in between operations.
Monday, 8 January
The following day though, the squadron was very much back in action putting up fifteen sorties; their largest operational day since moving up to Kumbhirgram a month earlier.
Departing first at 0917hrs were four aircraft (HR402, 409, 451, 462) tasked with bombing Sagaing and rhubarb Mandalay and Pagan. The following is the after action report as written in the squadron Operations Record Book;
Four aircraft took off to bomb Sagaing and rhubarb Mandalay to Pagan. Weather was 10/10ths st. cu. at 1500 to 2000 feet. No activity was seen at the target and all aircraft bombed at 1038 to 1040hrs. 1 aircraft bombed from 1500 feet at 240 ias S-N, 1 aircraft from 1100 feet 240 ais SW-NE, 1 aircraft from 2000 feet 260 ias S-N, and one aircraft from 1200 feet 260 ias W-E. In all 12 x 500lb Mk.IV inst. bombs were dropped. Two bursts were seen at north east end of railway terminals near jetty east of bridge; four bursts in native quarters west side of town, four in the area north of Sagaing railroad bridge, and two bursts 500 yards southwest of AVA bridge, 100 yards inland. No other results were observed apart from the bomb bursts at 1058 hours south of Tanaungdaung. A 50ft wooden barge was strafed and blue smoke was seen from target. At Pakkoku 20+ sanpans were attacked at 1102 hours and strikes were seen. No opposition was encountered.No. 45 Squadron Operations Record Book, 8 January 1945
Departing only 30min later were another four Mosquitos (HR514, 456, 392, 491) whose mission was the same as for the earlier flight, with similar results.
In the afternoon a further two strikes were launched; one with three aircraft (HR402, 451, 409) and one with four (HR462, 514, 456, 491). All seven aircraft were on their second sortie of the day, though each had a fresh crew. Again , their target was Sagaing and to rhubarb the river area to the south at which the first flight attacked the railway bridge with 500lb bombs. Neither flight encountered any opposition and returned to base safely between 1630 and 1735.
Tuesday, 9 January
The 9th saw ten sorties launched. Four aircraft (HR514, 526, 372, and u/k). Their target was notated as special target PALEIK LF532468 and then to rhubarb Chauk. Soon after take off however one of the four lost hydraulic power and returned to base, jettisoning its bombs en route. The three remaining aircraft continued on with their mission. The weather had deteriorated by this time and whereas the earlier flights had enjoyed good weather, visibility was now ten tenths cloud at 100ft and visibility 500yds coupled with persistent rain. Nevertheless the target was attacked.
Whilst the previous day’s flights had encountered no opposition, there was concentrated and accurate ground fire at the target. HR526, crewed by F/Os Fortune and Mears was struck on the port wing, engine nacelle, undercarriage and wheel. They very quickly lost 120 gallons of fuel from the inner port wing tank and immediately set course for home. The remaining aircraft rhubarbed the river strafing several camouflaged sampans with strikes seen. Upon landing back at base HR526’s undercarriage collapsed but fortunately the crew were uninjured. The other two aircraft returned to base unharmed.
In the late morning two pairs of Mosquitos (HR397, 399 plus HR402, 462) were sent to bomb at Chauk and rhubarb the river area to the south.
Both pairs dropped their bombs on target and reported only minor opposition in the form of inaccurate small arms fire from four of camouflaged sampans at Myohaung. All four aircraft returned to base safely.
Wednesday/Thursday, 10 – 11 January
The next two days saw a continuation of operations in the area to the west and south of Mandalay. Two missions were despatched in the late morning, the first with seven aircraft (HR372, 390, 462, 392, 397, 492, 456) which left in two groups at 1014 and 1245 and the second one with four aircraft (HR451, 390, 371,392) which left between 1130 and 1142.
The larger group attacked Japanese positions at Nachet LF4856 and rhubarb the river to Chauk. Upon arrival at the primary target they found a large building already fiercely ablaze. Bombs were nevertheless dropped on the target which successfully spread the fire to other buildings in the area. Several bursts were seen but no other damage was directly observed. Following the mission plan, all seven aircraft rhubarbed the river south and west, attacking up to 30 sampans of varying size and structure; after action reports described “most of the sampans were severely damaged“. The group returned to base without encountering any opposition and landed safely between 1323 and 1546.
The smaller group attacked specific Japanese positions in the Sangaing area without encountering any opposition, dropping their bombs on targets but not reporting any specific results. They rhubarbed along the river damaging or destroying several sampans. When almost at the break off point some 50 sampans were spotted despite being camouflaged but no attack was possible due to all aircraft having exhausted their ammunition. The flight landed safely at base between 1445 and 1455.
Friday, 12 January
The frantic pace of operations continued on the 12th with a total of twelve sorties launched. The first comprised four aircraft (HR392, 372, 456, 492) departing at dawn to attack the Japanese airfield at Thedaw and then patrol the Shwebo area. The mission began tragically with HR492 crashing soon after take off killing both crew members, Canadian P/O J. R. Wilson and F/O W. J. Bayward. The remainder of the operation passed without adverse incident; bombs were dropped on the runway at Thedaw but no enemy were sighted and the remaining three aircraft returned to base safely.
The second sortie sent eight aircraft in four sections of two tasked with attacking Monywa and then rhubarb Chindwin to Irrawaddy to Chauk. The first left at 0804 (HR397, 451); the second pair at 1000 (HR402, 462); the third at 1140 (HR456, 372); and the final pair at 1115 (HR392, 491). All aircraft attacked the target at Monywa with bombs. The Operations Record Book noted that “…no results were observed other than dust, debris and smoke up to 100ft.”
All aircraft went on to rhubarb and the Operations Record Book goes on to note in detail the results;
All aircraft carried out the rhubarb and the following were attacked: 46 small sampans, of varying size, 10 20ft sampans, 4 25ft sampans, 45 20/30ft sampans, 10 30/35ft sampans 20 45/50ft sampans, other rivercraft [sic], 4 50ft barges, and 4 50′ ft barges, numbers strikes were observed. Slight .5 return fire was experienced from Monywa but was inaccurate. Photos were attempted with F.24 cameras focal length 5″ and 8″.No. 45 Squadron Operations Record Book, 12 January 1945
All aircraft returned to base safely.
Saturday, 13 January
Nine sorties were sent out on the 13th, the first comprised six aircraft (HR392, 451, 491, 462, 409, 397) left a few minutes after midday bound for Sagaing. Upon arrival they found it aflame from earlier attacks in the day by other squadrons. Neverless, 45 Squadron’s Mosquitos bombed their targets and reported several hits and subsequent damage on buildings and the bridge. Owing to the smoke however, the results were inconclusive.
Moving on to rhubarb the river, they encountered similar targets opportunity as the previous day’s sorties. Reported as damaged or destroyed were more sampans, some with a cargo of oil drums, plus two vehicles.
The second sortie of three aircraft (HR402, 372, 399) departed at 1325 to bomb Monywa and rhubarb the rivers Chindwin and Irrawaddy down to Pagan. Results were much the same as for previous trips to the area and all aircraft returned safely.
Some [Temporary] Success, Some Self Inflicted Troubles
Sunday, 14 January
Eleven sorties were dispatched on 14th January in two flights of four and one of three. The first (HR491, 397, 392, 456) left at dawn and were to attack the Japanese airfields at Meiktila, however HR392 returned to base after an hour due to technical problems with the aircraft. HR491 and 456 both bombed the airfield at Meiktila with bursts observed at No.2 runway and taxi ways. HR 397 bombed the nearby airfield at Thedaw with similar results. Inaccurate but intense H.A.A. (Heavy Anti Aircraft) was encountered over Meiktila and there was Bofors fire over Thedaw. All aircraft returned to base safely however.
The second flight left at 0620 for the same target area, all dropping their bombs in and around the runways and dispersal areas. HR462 and HR402, crewed this day by Australian F/O P. Ewing and W/O R. Pinkerton also strafed a Ki-43 Oscar airframe making four runs each from 1000ft-50ft with strikes and damage claimed. The same two aircraft also staffed a locomotive seen in motion near Thazi with strikes seen and HR462 claimed the boiler blew up.
The final sortie of the day departed at 1357 with three aircraft (HR409, 491, 399) to bomb Paleik and rhubarb Myitinge to Chauk. This time the H.A.A. was accurate for both height and deflection and caused one aircraft to take such evasive action as to prevent it dropping its bombs on target. During the rhubarb portion of the mission up to one hundred sampans were strafed along the river to Chauk with strikes and damage seen. All aircraft returned to base safely.
It gets worse…
Monday, 15 January 1945
The first sortie of the day sent three aircraft (HR402, 491, 462) back to Meiktila airfield and then carry out a patrol in the area. HR462 jettisoned its bombs soon after take off and returned to base due to technical issues on the aircraft. The remaining pair of Mosquitos continued on. The previous day had seen some inaccurate but intense H.A.A. fire at Meiktila; today it was joined by accurate and thick Bofors fire coming from four separate positions. Both aircraft dropped their bombs from 10,000 – 4,000ft but were unable to see their results due to the evasive action both aircraft were obliged to make.
The Squadron Operations Record Book takes up the story of the sortie;
At 0630 hours the patrol was commenced at 6,000 – 5,500 ft from E – W over Meiktila, Thedaw and Kangaung. At 0700 hrs, both aircraft heading east, 4 Oscars appeared from the east at 8000 feet in line astern formation and attacked aircraft HR402, the aircraft was hit and dived to deck level leaving a smoke trail and the Oscars followed closing from 100 yards to 20 yards. On the way down aircraft HR402 reported to say “OK” on the R/T. Aircraft HR491 followed and saw aircraft HR402 crash and burst into flames 8 miles North of Thedaw. Aircraft HR491 was not attacked and after circling returned to base.No. 45 Squadron Operations Record Book, 15 January 1945
The second sortie of the day got underway in the afternoon with four aircraft (HR456, 514, 372, 409) departing at 1500 and tasked with bombing Myindu and attack a specific position listed as PP168797 Myitche. All aircraft were able to press home their attacks and no opposition was found. All aircraft returned to base safely.
Something Goes Well, And Then Not So Well…
Fourteen days in January, 1945 indeed. During the two weeks described above the men and machines of No.45 Squadron flew a total of ninety-seven individual sorties. In executing these sorties the Squadron lost four aircraft; two of them to mechanical problems and two by enemy action. Three of the four aircrews involved in these aircraft losses were killed – six men.
The Mosquito I’ve featured above, serial number HR402 flew eight sorties in this period including two on the 8th of January. During these two weeks it was flown by five different crews, with the pairings of Ewing/Potts and Goodwin/Pinkerton each flying two sorties in it (Goodwin and Potts, who rarely flew together, were KIA in HR402).
Coincidently, HR402 featured heavily in the pictures taken during the visit by the RAAF photographer on 7 January, as do many of the pilots mentioned in this article. In reviewing the photos catalogued and preserved at The Australian War Memorial (AWM) website, I’m struck by how relaxed the men appear in those photographs; the pictures were taken in the midst of a relentless schedule of operations against the twin enemies of the Japanese armed forces and the inherent danger in operating what would even today be considered cutting edge, state-of-the-art aircraft (at least, of their genre); such aircraft operating at the very limits of their operational envelope in an environment hardly conducive to aircraft maintenance. In only the first fourteen days of 1945 two of the squadron’s Mosquitos crashed shortly after take off, in each case killing their crews.
I conceived and wrote this article in a style with which I hoped to replicate this relentlessness; this was not easy to write and I am sure – if you made it this far – it wasn’t particularly easy to read. Indeed, if you did read through to the end, a sense of fatigue might be among your reactions. Our mutual fatigue though pales absolutely when compared to the fatigue these men must have endured. I don’t know how they did it.
References and Credits
- “Very Long Range P-51 Mustang Units of the Pacific War” by Carl Molesworth. There is an excellent description of the combat over Tokyo on the 7th April VLR mission within its pages.
- “The Pineapple Airforce” by John Lambert. The reference for all things 7th Fighter Command
- https://www.flyingmag.com/aircrafts/pistons/jet-jockey-flies-p-51-mustang/ An excellent description of what it’s like to actually fly a P-51-D Mustang
- http://aerofiles.net/checklist-p51.html – for the checklists
- http://liberation.3945.free.fr/page/reportage/mesreportages/aviation/aviation.html – for the definitions of several code words
Copyright: I claim original work and Copyright 2020 for the text on this page and the photos of the model except where noted (typically, italicised text denotes quoted content). I am indebted to the authors of the listed reference sites and books for their research. Except where noted otherwise, I sourced all other images and photos from the internet and are used under fair-use. Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.
Categories: Feature Article