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William Henry Fuller
On an Op. in our Liberators
Next Stop 355 SQUADRON SALBONI MAY 1945
we expect to ship out in a day or two, to our next stop, destination unknown, to our
Squadron ! I can't say that Kolar was a good experience. As I remember it now, the
instructors seemed disinterested, to say the least. I don't wish to badmouth them,
because as I understand it, most of them had been on ops. Maybe they just felt that
since they had done their time, there must be a better place to finish the war out than in
some nondescript part of India.
Also, they were checking out pilots in most cases that had a lot more flying time than
they had. In checking my log book I noticed on May 3rd I had two entries for High
Level night bombing. The first was 1.55 hours as second pilot to S/L Stuart and the
second was 1.35 hours as first pilot. This was my first experience on this particular
exercise and I remember nothing about it!!
I really don't know what that signified but it sort of summarized the Kolar experience
for me. I know our whole crew was shook up by our #1 wireless operator's unfortunate
defection. That probably was the major reason for the feeling I had about the past two
weeks. Thank goodness for the day following the completion of our course ! It did a lot
towards getting us back on track and strengthening our resolve to help get this war
over with, because the next day was V.E. day !! I have already written about that.
So we are now on our way again. This time it is a train trip of 950 miles northward up
the coast of the Bay of Bengal (a body of water that we will get to see a lot of in the
next few months). Our destination is the city of Calcutta. We are to report to the
Headquarters of South East Asia Air Command (S.E.A.A.C.) to find out which squadron
we will be attached to.
Now, the adrenalin is starting to flow. We are finally going to start getting serious, so
the closer we got to Calcutta the more talkative we seemed to get. The last few hours
on that train seemed endless. Finally we pulled into the station and the first impression
I got was that I had never seen so many people in one place in my life !
As I write this segment I find myself analyzing the feelings I experienced that day.
The station platform was solid people, as were the walkways leading into this huge
railway station. When we entered this rotunda, the place was packed with people.
They seemed to occupy every inch of floor space in the place. What was so odd was
that they were all sitting or squatting or lying down on the floor, all in family groups or
individuals, just camping there. This was our first view of the homeless myriads that
lived in India in 1945 ! We soon learned that in this country, 50 years ago, the
homeless outnumbered those who had some form of shelter. So, these people were
occupying their space with no thought of moving unless nature demanded it, or they
had to search for food.
Our reason for being in Calcutta was to find out from S.E.A.A.C. where we would be
posted. So, my first job was to find out where the Headquarters were located and
As I remember, I went alone to Headquarters. I introduced myself and was paraded
into the Adjutant's office. I was greeted very warmly and informally by this officer. This
came as a surprise because anytime I had any dealings with an adjutant previously, it
was usually very official and strictly "by Air Force rules" attitude.
Anyway, he started out by saying, "Heard you had a pretty unique trip over from
Canada. Also heard about your close call in Algiers. Hope you have good luck on the
squadron". Then he said, "There are three squadrons that need new crews. Since
you are the first one to report from your group, which one would you like to join? !"
Speaking of "unique trips", this seemed pretty unique to me. Anyway, he went on to
say "#99 Squadron is based near Calcutta at Dum Dum. #355 and #356 are 130 miles
from Calcutta operating off the same airfield at Salboni but camped on opposite sides
of the airfield". I chose #355 because it was 130 miles from Calcutta. I don't know why
I chose that as my reason, but I did.
So, we were off to Salboni, which proved to be on the opposite end of the spectrum
from the highly populated city of Calcutta. Salboni was nothing.more than a pin-point on
the map. All I ever saw of the town was a small building being used as a post office,
and a few huts spread around some grazing fields. Total desolation. But that wasn't all.
Only a few days after our arrival on the Squadron station, one of the crew members
from #356, our neigh-bouring squadron, came down with Infantile Paralysis and both
Squadrons were quarantined for 2 weeks or so, I believe it was. So, we were stuck on
the station even though there was no place to go if we could get off. But worse.... no
one was allowed on the station. That meant, no food deliveries and anything fresh only
lasted 1-1/2 to 2 days at the most. We ran out of food in a hurry. Out of curiosity, Don
and I checked the food warehouse, and stacked almost to the ceiling were cases of one
type of canned food... chicken livers !! Not a very happy prospect for interesting
Now I have got a way ahead of myself again. I have a few thoughts I want to put forth
before we get into Squadron activity.
Let's go back to Calcutta and the office of S.E.A.A.C. Head-quarters. The officer has
just asked me to select what squadron I would like to join. I thought he was kidding, but
The only thing he did was point out that I had a lot of flying time. He suggested they
could use someone with a fair amount of multi-engine time and rank of Flight
Lieutenant (which I was). I was really treading on new ground here so I felt his
comments were very helpful -1 chose #355. He then sat me down at his desk and had
me sign a couple of papers and give him the names and rank of each of my crew
members for his records.
What he had to say next really got my full attention. "When you report to the station,
you will be briefed rather thoroughly on what may prove to be your most dangerous
enemy - the weather you will be flying in ! We are not talking about ordinary weather,
but monsoon weather. The top man himself, Lord Mountbatten, has just now ordered
that all squadrons in this command will continue our bombing raids, for the first time
ever, throughout the monsoon season !!
As Don said to me last week (September 7, 1992), "Old Mountbatten tried his
damnedest to kill us by making us the guinea-pigs and flying us in the monsoons, for
the first time in history, but also ordered almost every flight operation to carry hundreds
of pounds over the limit in extra fuel and extra bomb loads !!"
The Adjutant went on to say, if the momentum was maintained it would shorten the
war because our job was to keep knocking out their rolling stock and shipping. In order
to do this, we had to learn how to fly in the monsoon storms ! It sounded a bit scary,
but they must know what they are doing. I wonder why they never flew in the
monsoons before? We would soon find out for ourselves.
We arrived at our Squadron, I believe, on May 15th, 1945. Since the first time back in
1941 when I started arriving at flying stations (the first one being Fort William E.F.T.S.)
there was the inevitable sense of anxiety and excitement, a bit awe struck in the early
days, and a certain feeling of strangeness. Each time I arrived at a new station I would
experience these different feelings. Today it was different - we had finally arrived at
the place where the real action was ! Our next take-off was going to take us into the
war zone and we are going to find out a lot about ourselves in the next few days.
When we first walked into the Officer's Mess I thought it looked a lot like what I
remembered seeing in some British Air Force movies. A lot of guys hanging around,
playing cards, a few on stools at the bar, even a piano in the room, not being played at
the time. It looked and felt comfortable. We would spend a lot of time there when we
Don and I shared a basha hut and inherited the bearer that went with it. His name
was Sadis (pronounced Sah-deas). We each paid him 10 rupees a month (a total of
$6.50 a month, Canadian!). When I think of it now it seems unreal, but that was the
going rate for experienced bearers. Still, both Don and I felt embarrassed paying him
that amount, so the next month we told him he was doing a good job and gave him an
additional 10 rupees a month raise. We felt better about that and promptly got our first
lesson in the mind-set of these people. He disappeared for a whole week I
We reported to the master bearer, a tall strapping man who wore a tall turban and
large sash around his waist, with a short broad blade sword in it ! He had a huge
handle-bar mustache and looked every bit the part of the leader of a raiding party in
some movie. When he heard about the raise we gave Sadis, he showed his
displeasure by simply saying, "You should not have done that Sahib, he has probably
gone home. He will be back, then pay him as the others are paid!".
Sadis arrived back on the job a week later, no apologies, no explanations, only the
brief statement, "I went to New Delhi to see my family - they are well!" Sadis was back
to 20 rupees a month for the duration. Everything went well except for one more
incident that took place. I will describe this later.
Our first full day on the squadron was spent at the briefing rooms talking to the
veterans about what to look for, or rather look out for, in cloud formations. Flying in the
monsoon season was risky business and was new to everyone. You had to learn
quickly when dealing with tropical storms, as we would find out. There was no doubt
amongst all the airmen that our worst enemy over here was the weather.
This was not to take away from the fierceness of the Japanese, but their strength as
opposition had decreased because they no longer had any air power. With the fall of
Rangoon, Burma, they lost their air force in this part of the world. But they still had
anti-aircraft and machine gun weaponry. They were very good at jungle warfare -
something we always had in the back of our minds when we were flying for three, four
and sometimes five hours into their territory. Not a good place to be forced down in,
sometimes hundreds of miles behind their line of defence. So we are learning about
the business of flying in this part of the world and that we are only about four hours
away by air from our enemy ! It gives one a funny feeling.
Tomorrow we are scheduled for our first op. March 20, 1945. All the crews are briefed
at 3 p.m. the previous day. First we gather in the huge briefing room with all the
personnel in the crews. We are told the target, what bombs we are to carry, how high
we are to be on the bombing run and what to expect from the opposition and the
weather. We then break up and each category goes off to be briefed in their special
job, such as navigation, bombaimers, gunners etc.
Then Don and I find out it is customary for all new crews to be accompanied by an
experienced pilot on their initial trip. This was for one reason only, and it had nothing
to do with assisting us in dealing with enemy fire or bombing runs, but solely to help us
identify dangerous cloud conditions, and perhaps show us when it is too dangerous to
proceed ! So you see how very much of a concern this business of flying in the
monsoon season was. It was very new to everyone. Our first trip was to Chum Phon
for bridge busting, we carried 5,500 Ibs. of 7 - second delay bombs. Our assisting pilot
was F/0 Wardell and the weather report before take-off was not too encouraging.
About 4-1/2 hours out we started to get into some heavy turbulence and angry looking
cumulus clouds. It wasn't long after that F/0 Wardell said, "O.K. that's it for today. We
are going home!" You know, it didn't look all that bad, but I'm sure he knew what he
was doing. So we took our bombs home and put 9-1/2 hours in our log books after we
landed. Worst of all, we had to write "D.N.C.O." in the "Duty" column of our log books
(which meant "Duty not carried out"). We all felt pretty let down with this result of our
first trip. We were to learn that this was a very commonplace occurrence with all the
crews and squadrons over here at this time of year. So anyway we debriefed after
landing and then returned to our basha huts and then over to the Mess for supper and
a lot of conversation with those that succeeded in completing the trip. All that did was
make us more determined to make it to the target on our next trip. This is one where
we would be on our own.
This target was to be two days later and the target was to be Bridge 44 on the Krah
Isthmus. It was a much longer flight as we would find out tommorrow. On May 21st we
gathered at the briefing rooms and found our target to be a bridge on the main line from
Moulmeim to Singapore. The distance to our target was around 1100 miles of which
only 100 miles of it was over land. So, the round trip would be equivalent to a flight
from Victoria to Winnipeg and return over the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Martaban.
The flight plan called for the squadron to fly at 10,000 feet independently to the target
and bomb it in our own time at low level with 7 second delay, 500 Ib. bombs (6,000 Ib.
bomb load). Flying in formation was impractical and very dangerous in the monsoons
because storms came up in a matter of minutes...sometimes without any warning at all.
On these long trips which Liberators were designed for, it was vital that we try to fly
according to the flight plan in order to conserve fuel. Further, the best altitude for fuel
conservation was 10,000 feet or higher.
There was one other factor that was in the equation when our ground experts
designed the operation. In determining the fuel bomb-load, ratios were determined.
That was, flying the aircraft "on the step". The idea here was to get the aircraft up to
the desired altitude as soon as possible, set course for the target and level off and
slightly dip the nose until the pilot could feel (or sense) the airflow was right over the
wings and tail. You knew it was "on the step" when you could throttle back below 2,000
R.P.M. and still maintain the chosen altitude and airspeed of the aircraft. Occasionally
it would fall "off the step" and you would have to set it up again. This was a peculiarity
of the Liberator that gave us the long range we required. However, in real life there
was precious little time during our time on ops. that we enjoyed the quiet, peaceful
cruising "on the step!". You can blame the monsoons for that.
One other thing I need to explain about these tropical storms that made them so
treacherous. You could be flying through some cumulus cloud formations and
everything was O.K. We always looked for the lightest coloured clouds to enter,
because the darker the cloud the higher the crown and the more turbulent was the
center. The darker the cloud center, the more likely it was topped by the cumulo-
nimbus cloud (thunderhead) which could be accompanied by vertical winds in excess of
This usually means you don't come out of this cloud! Particularly if you are caught in
the downdraft. We have seen ordinary, rather beautiful cloud formations at the 4 or
5,000 feet level, way off in the distance, turn into a thunderhead reaching up into the
sky 40 - 45,000 feet in a matter of minutes. We would be travelling in that direction at
10,000 feet, 180 M.P.H. and by the time we got there we would be faced with a full
blown storm, caused by another low pressure line squall which could be 100 or so
miles long and maybe only 20 miles through ! There was no way we could get over
25,000 feet with a full load of fuel and a bomb load. There was seldom any chance of
going around it, so our choices were, "go under or go home".
"Going under" meant get down to 50 feet and hope that the cloud level is somewhere
above that mark. It really isn't pleasant when the base of the cloud gets down to sea
level when you have to depend on the altimeter to tell you if you are getting closer than
50 feet to a raging ocean!! As it turned out, this is where we spent most of our time on
these trips.... around 50 feet above the water!
After the briefing was concluded our crew jumped into the Garri and headed back to
our flight where we checked with the ground crew to see which plane was assigned to
us for tomorrow. It turned out it was P-151, the same one we had yesterday.
Now it's back to the basha huts and the long wait until wake-up tomorrow - 3:30 A.M.
Not much sleep, the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees F. at midnight so I
expect we will be using all the runway to get the plane up in the air tomorrow morning
at 6 A.M. The early start was for two reasons, 1) the coolest time of the day; 2)
hopefully we can make it back home again before dark.
Some of us had breakfast at 4 A.M. and we all had our lunches with us as we headed
for the flight in our Garri. We were just about to start up our engines when word came
through on our radio that there would be a "weather delay", but "hold your positions".
We finally got the all clear signal but almost an hour of daylight had got by us. By the
time we took off we were behind schedule by 1-1/2 hours.
The take-off went well, even though we did use all of the runway, which means we
had our eyes firmly glued on those trees up ahead and our airspeed indicator. We had
a very heavy load to lift off and most of it was fuel. The flight plan for this trip was to be
about 15 hours, the longest one scheduled for many months up to now so we were now
assured of having to make a night landing when we got home. This was not all that
bad a deal normally, but taking in the fatigue factor it was always better to get home in
Anyway, we are off and running. We are just leaving landfall, heading out over the
Bay of Bengal at about 6,000 feet and we see our first build up of clouds ahead....the
first of eleven frontal systems we would encounter and fly under and through in the next
approximately 8 hours !
So it was down to 50 feet and searching out light spots in the cloud cover, both Don
and I constantly scanning the clouds ahead and the water below to pick the best alley
to be sure we weren't getting too close to the ocean. This went on as we flew across
the Bay of Bengal, on to the Gulf of Martaban and towards the Andaman Sea. Our first
landfall was to be the northern tip of King Island, I believe, a tiny Island off the coast of
the Krah Isthmus.
This is where Jeff Smart, our navigator, deserves to be recognized as one of the
coolest cats you could ever want to meet. During the crazy rat race through eleven
tropical storms, I was calling out course changes, compass readings and times to Jeff
over the intercom, and he was recording them and plotting our dead-reckoning
position...taking sun shots when possible. Ken Aikman, our bombaimer was helping
him when he could. When we broke cloud into some clear weather, Jeff would give a
course correction to bring us closer to target. I gave Jeff 33 course changes caused by
weather conditions during those 8 hours ! Jeff plotted and calculated those changes
for those 8 hours and when it came time to look for our land-fall, we hit it within a half a
mile !! The following day when we returned to our base, I would approach our Wing
Commander to request a medal for Jeff or at least a Mention in Dispatches, but nothing
came of it. Our Wing Commander lost all credability with us from that moment on.
Having successfully completed our flight over the water we now had to climb up over a
small mountain range. The improving weather conditions permitted us a clear view now
of the terrain and we easily found our target.
Upon sighting our "initial turning point" (King Island in this case), I instructed all crew
members to take their positions and report to me after the gunners had finished their
test firing. This was done and I then told the crew that the only voices I wanted to hear
were the navigator and bombaimer, unless the enemy was sighted or gun fire was seen
anywhere in our vicinity. So, now we were all on the alert. Frenchy in the nose turret,
Woody in the mid-upper turret, Vince Vincent in the tail and Mac McLauglan and
Courtenay Dark on the waist guns. That took care of our machine gun protection. The
rest of the crew, young Sgt. Denny Dennison (probably growing up very fast today, as
we all were) on the radio, Jeff still busy navigating us to the target and Ken Aikman
setting up the bombsight and finally Don and I doing our thing in the cockpit.
I must admit that this was a scary time. This was our first real life bombing run and to
have to come in at 100 feet and only 170 -180 M.P.H. We all had to be thinking "what
a big juicy target we were". No sign of enemy fire as yet but since anti - aircraft fire
would be ineffective at our level of approach, our attention was primarily directed
toward machine gun nests.
We are closing fast on the target (Bridge 44). I have got the aircraft level at 100 feet at
160 M.P.H. and following the rail line. Ken is now giving me the crucial small changes
of course by saying "left, left" or "right" or "steady" until the final moments when he
takes over the control of the aircraft with his bomb sight mechanism. He is now flying
the aircraft and I am "hands off". We see the target coming up fast and Ken calls
"bombs away" and I grab the controls back and say so, through the intercom. The
plane surges upward as we are released of 6,000 Ibs. of weight, and now we hope the
bombs will wait the 7 seconds after impact to explode!
Then we hear the explosions below and behind us and feel the concussion of all that
explosive. We are now waiting for our tail gunner to tell us the bridge is gone, but he
doesn't!! "I think the bridge is hit but it's still there and tracks are torn up on this side of
The adrenalin was pumping fiercely with us all at this point. We had expected
machine gun fire as we came into the target. But there was none. We experienced no
ground fire, nor did we see anyone. Also we had dropped deadly bombs on real
targets and perhaps real people for the first time, and that stirred up a whole set of new
When we left the target area and climbed up to a safe height, Don and I were both
spent. We just looked at one another. I have no idea whether we talked or not. The
next thing I remember was asking Jeff for a course for home. Then Don went through
to the sports deck to check the fuel tanks and came back with the news that we would
not have enough fuel to get home ! I checked with Jeff for an approximate E.T.A. at
base and he helped confirm we had to make other plans.
I then asked him for a new course for Akyab, Burma, an outpost airfield occupied by
R.A.F. and R.C.A.F. supply squadrons flying DC 3's in support of the 14th Army in
Burma, and also flying the famous "Hump" in the Himalayas to China.
Having set course for Akyab we teletyped home base to tell them we had completed
our bombing mission and due to fuel shortage would have to make a forced landing in
Akyab. Moments later we got the O.K. from base and started out on another new
adventure. As if we hadn't had enough already today.
Four hundred miles or so later we are closing in on Akyab. What a pleasant sight to
see those runway lights turn on for us and a cheery voice of welcome coming from their
control tower. Along with the instructions for landing came a light hearted warning to
be prepared for a lot of noise when we touched down on their link -chain runway !
Well, I am glad he forewarned us because even so it was a fearful racket when our
wheels touched down. That's all we needed. I think our crew had had enough nerve
testers for the day.
It was nice to be on the ground and all in one piece. The trip home the next day was
two hours and thirty minutes of cruise time. I had told the crew, each one of them, what
a good job they had done the day before, and that they had all showed their mettle and
passed with flying colours. While we all felt a little regret that we didn't totally destroy
the bridge, we did cause damage enough to stop supply trains using it for a few days
and that was our main objective.
Don and I talked about it on the way from Akyab. Almost nine hours of flying at 50
feet was sure a test of something or other. We felt good about the results but can't say
we enjoyed the risks we took, just getting there. Hope the next one is easier. When we
asked permission to join the circuit, the Control Officer said "Welcome Home". That
When we taxied into our parking spot the ground crew were waiting for us and waving
their hats at us. That was really nice ! When we got out, the crew chief came up to me
and said " 'our aircraft' was the only one from the squadron to make it to the target !!"
Don and I considered that to be a compliment from our R.A.F. crew chief, who proved
to be a devoted hard worker and he truly loved 'his aircraft'.
That's when I went to see our Squadron Commander to tell him of Jeffs
accomplishments. I still can't believe that he wasn't recognized for the magnificent
effort he put forth that day. The irony is that on June 2nd I was promoted to the rank of
Squadron Leader and two days later became the Flight Commander of "B" Flight!
The Squadron Commander didn't even call me into his office to inform me of either
promotion. I found out by reading the Orders of the Day that were posted in the
Officer's Mess daily !! I think we were commanded by a ghost, and a weird one at
that. He certainly wasn't the type of Flight Commander I expected to lead us. In fact,
he never led us at all. The only time he ever flew an "Op" was when there was a "milk
run" (a short trip, mostly over land, and little apparent opposition expected).
He took my crew one day on such a "milk run". He had no crew of his own, and
according to command orders, he must keep his hand in and fly a certain number of
"ops" a month. Don informed me after it was over that I would have a "strike" on my
hands if I let it happen again ! I'm sure he didn't mean it but his point was well taken. It
never happened again. Soon after the Commanding Officer was transferred to a
different job (on the ground).
Our safe arrival back at Salboni, after our first solo op. was also marked by another
celebration - it was Ada's and my 3rd wedding anniversary. I thought at the time, "this
has got to be a good omen".
May 29th we were off to Moulmein, Burma. We had been briefed the previous day, as
usual. This was to be a major strike by four squadrons (about 48 planes), the target
was to be a munitions area and supply centre for the Japanese army fighting our
people along the Sittang River. Moulmein was only about five hours away in good
weather, so it was considered by the veterans to be a "milk run".
The briefing officers also told us there was a large group of buildings located
immediately adjacent to the target area on the southern border that we were to avoid at
all costs. It was a prisoner of war camp that housed several hundred allied prisoners.
Their main purpose for being held there was to serve as a deterrent for bombing raids
and also to supply much needed manpower to repair the railway lines and bridges we
Our instructions were as per usual - "Weather permitting, fly independently at 10,000
feet to target area, bombing run to be at 7,000 feet on a course of 90 degrees. Leave
target area by turning left and set course for home base". The latter part of the
instructions were important to avoid mid-air collisions. We would have nearly 50
aircraft in the area at about the same time, particularly if the weather remained good
across the Bay of Bengal. So, we would all be arriving about the same time. The
opposition today would be anti-aircraft fire. This would be our first shot at this type of
We were very early over the target area because the action seemed to have just
started about the time Moulmein appeared in front of us, perhaps 10-15 miles away.
We could see two or three aircraft over the area and several puffs of black smoke in
I fell in behind a B-24 from #356 or #99 squadron, who was lining up to make his run.
I was perhaps 700 to 800 yards behind him, flying our prescribed 7,000 foot height. I
was watching the flak exploding around the aircraft over the target and for some reason
sensed the explosions were pretty close to the level those planes were flying. I climbed
to 7,200 feet and levelled off there. Suddenly the plane in front of me was hit! We saw
the flak just in front as the plane flew into it. A moment later the tail gunner bailed out.
He would likely land in the water in the Gulf of Martaban. There were no other
parachutes !! The plane slowly went into a dive, turning away to the right and went
down ! Then a call from our waist gunner and Vince in the tail, yelling "They are
shooting him down! They've hit him!!" I yelled back to "shut up and get off the air".
We were on our final approach and we were the target now !
Three or four explosions ahead and slightly below us indicated they were leading us
with their ack ack, and could adjust to that quickly. It may not be so easy to detect that
they were exploding below us. My afterthought was that I was glad I decided to go in
200 feet higher when I did - bombs away and still clear of flak. We made our left hand
turn and took a look at the target area. Well done Ken ! We had hit the target and the
following aircraft were doing the same. We are heading home and all of us are thinking
about nothing else but what had unfolded ahead of us just three or four minutes ago!
(or was it an hour?)
We had just seen one of our own aircraft being shot out of the air right in front of us.
We felt really sick about it. Six men went down in that aircraft. They must have been
hit near the cockpit where most of the crew are situated. We felt very sad and shocked
but even more we were outraged by the fact that the rear gunner was machine gunned
as he floated helplessly down into the water!
During a five hour flight home, little was said. Don and I just sat there for most of the
time, just doing our business, checking our flight instruments, the weather, and
thinking. I wasn't aware of it at the time but I had a change of heart and attitude during
my flight home that day. This war was not as impersonal as I had thought it was.
Seeing that airman being shot out of the air was a shocking thing and in a moment I
had learned to hate the enemy. This really was a case of "destroy or be destroyed".
Seeing that aircraft being shot down didn't have the impact on me that shooting the
parachuting gunner out of the sky did ! That told me a lot more about the enemy we
were fighting than I had ever imagined before. This whole affair was suddenly in
perspective. We had grown up. It was no longer an adventure. When we arrived
home, the first thing I noticed when we pulled into our parking spot was the quiet
subdued behaviour of our usually eager ground crew. "The word has got around", I
thought. The crew chief came up to me and said, " Did you hit the target sir?" I said
"Yes, we did". "Thank God", he replied, "someone didn't", someone laid their load
right down in the middle of the prisoner's camp !!
Good God, how did this happen? We had a clear view of our target! What else can
happen today? !! The Garri was waiting to hurry us to debriefing. They must be in a
panic at debriefing Headquarters. When we got there, we were surprised by the
announcement that the prison was totally unoccupied at the time of the attack.
We had an outstanding Military Intelligence out there in Burma and Thailand and they
sure proved it to us today. What a relief it was to hear none of the soldiers were in the
building when the bombs hit ! Intelligence went on to inform us, the reason they
weren't in the prison camp was because they had been shipped down south by train to
repair a bridge and tracks that were hit by a raid a couple of days earlier ! We never
found out for sure if it was the bridge and tracks we had hit, but it was possible. The
other squadron hadn't been involved in any bridge attacks after our trip, to my
On our debriefing session that day we reported our version of how we lost the one
aircraft over Moulmein and how the tail gunner was shot out of the sky after he had
parachuted out. I got angry all over again. I didn't sleep that night and I don't think
Don did either.
Surprisingly, I just received a promotion from Flight Lieutenant to Squadron Leader
and a couple of days later I was made Flight Commander of "B" Flight. This was pretty
sudden. We had only been on the Squadron for a couple of weeks. Becoming Flight
Commander did change my routine somewhat.. My day wasn't over after our postflight
debriefing. Instead of going back to the Mess with my crew to unwind, I would go back
to the flight office and meet with the Maintenance crew chief and review the status of all
the planes in my flight. We needed to know how many aircraft would be ready for the
next operation, 36 hours later. When that was determined I had to post the list of crews
on the duty board, who would be taking part in the next raid.
The atmosphere around the squadron was also changing. Word had come down from
Command in Calcutta that all squadrons were going on "maximum effort" until further
notice, starting now ! This simply meant that it was Command's intention to accelerate
all operations out of this area (meaning #99, #355 and #159 squadrons) until further
#356 squadron had just been transferred down to the Cocas Islands (1100 miles
south) in order to begin harrassing the enemy in the neighbourhood of Singapore. This
meant less fire power would be coming out of our area to assist the ground forces of
the 13th Army Division who were fighting the ground war in Burma and hopefully
working toward Thailand and down the Krah Isthmus toward Singapore by the land
So "maximum effort" was to become the key phrase on the squadron. It meant the
ground crew would now have to work on the aircraft non-stop until each one was ready
for use in the next raid. This meant they worked through the hottest part of the day
instead of using that time to rest and go back in the cooler evening after sunset to finish
their shift. It was a stupid decision and the tortuous work took its toll on our ground
crews by the end of June.
Our service departments were a shambles by early July as many of our key
technicians were on sick leave during July, including my own crew chief who was the
most remarkable and devoted ground crew airman I ever knew.
But the directions were clear - "Any aircraft that appears to be serviceable, will go !"
So our pre-flight check before take-off would go something like this,..."O.K. Don, Check
oil pressure". Don would say something like "Down 5 more than minimum. Good
enough". The magneto check would be treated similarly -"Everything is O.K. - the
engines always seem to perform better in the air than they do on the ground checks
anyway !" Pretty dumb when I reflect back on those times.
That was not all we had to contend with. We were now getting into June and that
meant the worst of the monsoon season was upon us for at least 5 more weeks. It had
started to vent it's fury on us with powerful electrical storms over the water and
torrential rains over the sea and over our airport. In fact. one oddity that caused us
major concern at our home base was, every night at 5 min. to 6, a major downpour
would hit the airport with the accompanying high winds and thunder and lightning. It
would last for 30 min. and move on. It would leave a previously parched earth under
about two inches of water which would soak in and disappear in about 10 minutes. But
we had to be sure we had no aircraft in the area at the time. So, to avoid that, we had
to move our take-off times ahead in the morning by as much as 2 hours ! So, all in all,
June would be a tough month for all of us on #99, #355 and #159 squadrons.
Back to our day to day activity. On June 1st our target was another bridge along
the Krah Isthmus. Weather was reported grim over the last half of the trip, while it was
clear at the base. We were taking off in clear weather so we were able to observe
other aircraft from other squadrons joining the hunt.
Shortly after getting out to sea, flying at 500 feet, we saw a plane ahead and below,
crossing over our path but flying around 50 to 100 feet above the water and about 10
degrees off our heading. As he persisted along that course I became curious because
he was heading toward some very bad weather that our weather people had warned us
I called Jeff to confirm our course and he did. As I watched this aircraft get farther
south with each passing moment, he now had my full attention and Don's as well.
Suddenly I yelled at Don "Look ! He seems to be acting strange ! He looks like he is
starting to roll !! I had just finished putting my aircraft on automatic pilot which requires
me to first set all rudder and aerolon trims in neutral. This is vital because as soon as
you switch on "George" (the automatic pilot) it takes over the aircraft and immediately
assumes that it is taking over the machine that is flying straight and level. If the trims
are not neutralized when it is switched on, "George" does that. That is why I
immediately guessed, "I think he has switched to 'George' ! My God, he must have
kicked it on by mistake !"
"He is only about 50 feet above the water !" He kept rolling in slow motion with his
wings at 90 degrees, now he started to turn and slide, hitting the water almost upside
down !! I called Denny to get a fix from Jeff and call base and keep it up until we got an
answer. We circled once, the plane was already gone, nothing surfaced. We circled
again, then got our response from base that they had got our message and we were
ordered to proceed on the mission.
Talk about feeling helpless. What a shocking thing to have happen. Don and I talked
our way through it, mainly by concluding that everything we saw happen, seemed to fit
the possibility that someone had mistakenly kicked in "George" when the aircraft was
having some other mechanical trouble. Why else would he be flying at 50 feet in clear
weather? Anyway this is the theory we advanced at debriefing several hours later.
Back to the matter at hand. We are now approaching some angry looking cloud
formations up ahead. The thunderheads were probably 40,000 feet high. This means
some violent electrical storms for sure.
We immediately start to let down to try to go under the clouds and we are down to 50
feet before we see any openings ! Ten or fifteen minutes of the blue glow off the tips of
the propellers of our four engines, is a constant reminder of what is going on above us.
Suddenly we get through the line squall and to our relief, the weather is pretty good for
The first thing we do is climb up to about 5,000 feet in order to relax for a while,
knowing that at the first sign of a frontal system we would have to get down to sea level
again in order to get through the new oncoming storm. We had to deal with several
storms on this day during the five hours we had travelled so far. At a time when we
were fortunately flying at the 7,000 foot level, our #3 engine suddenly quit ! Don
feathered the props and we immed-iately notified the base of our problem and gave
them our position and said we were coming home. They ordered us to jettison the
bombs and return to base.
I instructed Ken to drop the bombs and asked Jeff for a course for home and had Don
go back to the sports deck to take an accurate reading of our petrol and shut down the
petrol lines to #3 engine.
In the meantime we have lost 100 feet of altitude in the transition and I am very
anxious to get rid of the bombs and the extra weight they represent. Now you know
why I said it was fortunate that we weren't flying at 50 feet when we lost our engine.
In just a few minutes our bombs were dispatched into the Bay of Bengal, Jeff had
given me a course for home and Don informed me we had enough gas for
approximately seven hours of flying at cruising R.P.M's. Jeff figured we were
approximately five hours away from base.
Don and I figured that if we didn't have to skirt around too many storms on the way
home and if we didn't have to give up too much altitude to get under the weather, we
should be O.K. The B-24 Liberators, under ideal conditions, could fly for a number of
hours on two engines. We proved that on our cross-country that night out of
Abbotsford when Don accidentally kicked off the switches of #3 and #4 engines. We
were very fortunate to find the storms we had flown through on our way out had moved
west and south. As a result, we had almost a clear path to home. We were able to
maintain our altitude with little trouble. We landed safely and were relieved to get that
trip over, but were not overjoyed at having to write another "D.N.C.O." in our log books.
At debriefing we learned nothing new about the crashed aircraft other than that it was
from #99 squadron.
Four days later we are off again for the Krah Isthmus, bridge busting, and it is the
same old story where the weather is concerned. The monsoons are really kicking us
around. No wonder no one ever flew in this stuff before ! They knew what they were
This time we got caught at 10,000 feet, the worst place to be when dealing with those
down drafts ! We nearly paid for it this time. We hit a down draft that didn't give up
until we broke cloud at about the 200 foot level ! We were hurled down in moments
and all we could do was hold the aircraft straight and level as the aircraft was pushing
us down at a terrific rate. When we broke cloud we also flattened out and were at
about 50 feet when we regained full control ! We had blown a couple of pressure
gauges in the drop and we still had to find a way to get out from under this huge storm
By circling and probing for about 15 minutes, we found an open gap and charged
through it into a clearer space and subsequently out and up into the open sky. We
had broken through the front on the homeward side, fortunately. We weren't out of the
woods yet. We called home base to tell them we were turning back, that we had hit
excessive turbulence and had lost a couple of flight instruments and they told us to
dump our bomb load and head home.
So we unloaded our bombs but one hung up ! Ken could not dislodge it. The front
clip would not release so the bomb was hanging out of the aircraft, back end down.
This was the end that housed the firing mechanism. Also, we couldn't close the bomb
doors. So we flew home for over four hours wondering how we were going to land
without blowing up !
We had no way of telling if the bomb would make contact with the ground when we
landed. This is what we pondered over on our long ride home. We discussed the
possibility of bailing out as the only alternative.
By the time we reached base, everyone was on the alert. The brass were all in the
control tower. I called the tower and suggested that I would fly by at their eye level.
They must find a way to line up the extended undercarriage with the tail of the bomb to
see how much clearance they thought there was. Then, and this part was most critical,
allow about 8 to 10 inches more free board because that is how much the piston
attached to the wheels will go up as the weight of the aircraft comes down on those
extended wheel mounts !
Can you imagine the amount of guessing that was going on in the control tower? It
wasn't that comforting to have them ask me to make three passes at the tower before
they said "I think you have clearance !"
You know, I had a very gutsy crew on board ! I didn't hear one word said over the
intercom during this time over the airport. I finally said I was going down and after we
had strapped two or three parachute harnesses around the bomb, in the hope that it
might prevent the bomb from shifting on impact of the landing, we started our landing
approach ! I guarantee everyone on the station was watching. This was one landing I
had to do right.
I chose to fly the aircraft onto the ground with excessive throttle. This was not the
time to stall it down. Well, it worked. It was the best landing I have ever made. Don
confirmed what I was thinking and one of the gunners in the back hollered through the
intercom as we were rolling down the runway, "Have we touched down yet?" That was
a compliment I readily accepted. We didn't feel we were out of the danger zone yet,
however. As soon as we pulled to a stop near the end of the runway, we cautiously but
hurriedly climbed out of the aircraft and ran to the Garri that had come out to meet us,
climbed aboard and left the aircraft out there for the bomb crews to deal with it. We
had had enough for one day! They told us at debriefing we needn't have worried, we
had a clearance of seven inches !! A bunch of smart guys !
By the time we had got back to the basha huts, showered and changed into shorts
and top, Don and I both began to have a reaction to the stress of the past several
hours. We talked about the events over the past two or three days and I think it helped
both of us to unload a bit.
We griped about the risks that Command was putting on us by making us fly through
the worst part of the monsoons. We thought Command was pushing a bit hard here.
All the other pilots we talked to felt the same way. But we both agreed that the one
common denominator with all the incidents we had been involved in was directly related
to the monsoon storms. We estimated that of the approximately 60 operational flying
hours we had put in so far, only about 7 hours were trouble free from weather.
By the time we got this out of our system it was time for supper. Neither of us wanted
to play bridge tonight so we went back to our room and spent the next couple of hours
writing our letters. Don was writing to Vivian and his Mother and I was writing my
nearly daily letter to Ada and also to Mom and Dad.
I believe this was the night, sitting at the table writing, Don said "Bill, I think something
is sitting on my bare foot". I looked and saw a large tarantula spider sitting right on his
foot, behind his toes.... and it was huge ! It covered the width of his foot. I whipped out
to the outhouse which was only about 3 feet from our backdoor to get some kerosene
that Sadis kept there. I poured some in a glass, crawled slowly under the table and
dashed it onto the spider with enough force to drive it off his foot. It worked, and of
course the kerosene killed it rather quickly.
When I came out from under the table, Don was several shades of white but he wasn't
shaken enough not to bawl me out for spilling the stinking kerosene all over his foot
and leg ! Now he had to have another shower! I paid little heed to his beefing. I knew
he had had a scare and it was his way of covering up. We put the tarantula in an empty
alum box and the next morning we showed it to Sadis. He wasn't amused. In fact he
showed a real fear of the spider and didn't hesitate in showing his displeasure for
scaring him with it. We were to learn that the native people in India had a lot more
respect for the dangerous animals and insects that inhabited their country than we
sometimes foolish intruders. They showed genuine fear of cobras, poisonous insects
I remember writing Ada a letter telling her that I was amazed the Indians hadn't really
learned to live within their own environment because they feared all these animals.
How wrong I was. They learned to live by avoiding them. Makes sense to me now.
I mentioned earlier that Don and I had another experience with our bearer, Sadis.
Well, one day the head bearer came around to see us to report that he and the other
bearers on the base were having difficulty with Sadis at the kitchen at virtually every
He went on to say that whenever the crews flights interfered with the regular sit down
times for meals at the mess hall, it was their responsibility to line up at the kitchen and
wait their turn to pick up the trays for their masters and serve them at their basha huts.
So it was first come, first served, and if the bearer was tardy it meant the masters would
have to wait for their meals.
We never ever waited for our meals and it never occurred to us to enquire why. Well,
the master bearer told us. Since I had received my Squadron Leader promotion and
made Flight Commander, Sadis chose to upgrade his status too. He simply would go
to the head of the food line, regardless of how long the line was when he arrived at the
kitchen. He never bothered to come early, he simply decided for himself that he was
more important than the rest of the bearers, as though he had just had a promotion too!
Well, we got that straightened out, but in the process it did damage his ego somewhat
and he did lose some friends amongst his people.
This didn't really bother him because he had made it known around his people that
Don and I would be taking him back to Canada with us when we went home ! I have no
idea where he got that idea from, but we tried to make it clear it was impossible and it
wouldn't happen. He never gave up believing he would come with us. Even on the
day we left the station, he followed us around all day, pleading, and begging us to take
him along. It was really an unhappy time for Don and me as well as for Sadis when we
finally did say goodbye.
I believe this piece of history should be understood. French Indo - China, Thailand
(Siam), the Krah Isthmus all the way to Singapore, and most of Burma were in the
hands of the Japanese in mid 1945 and had been for at least three years. The ground
war was still going on in Western Burma while we were on the squadron. In fact Lord
Mountbatten and the British Navy had retaken Rangoon only weeks before our crew
arrived at #355 Squadron. The "fly through the monsoon season" edict had been in
effect for only a few weeks.
The 14th Army group, better known as the "forgotten army" had been fighting in
Burma for all those three years, and virtually no one in the world knew or seemed to
care. Since the fall of Rangoon to the British, and more precisely, around May 1945,
the jungle warfare was centered on either side of the Sittang River. This seemed to be
a key strategic area which changed hands several times (almost daily at times) during
May and June 1945. One day the British would attack and cross the Sittang River and
gain a foothold, then have to retreat back over the river under fire from a reinforced
One of our priorities as a bomber squadron was to knock out the bridges and railroads
the enemy was using to provide these reinforcements and supplies to their front line.
Hence we were involved in the bombing raids on Moulmein, the bridges and railway
along the Krah Isthmus etc.
We were never assigned anti-personnel bombing raids on the front line, simply
because in jungle warfare you could never tell from the air just where the front line was.
The risk of bombing our own people was too great. Our army may have advanced two
or four miles into Japanese territory during the time we had taken to fly from India to the
Sittang River and no one would know of the advance. So our job was to prevent the
reinforcement from arriving at the front if at all possible.
As the scene unfolded through the month of June and into July, two or three very
important targets would be singled out which could have a very significant effect on our
war here in Burma and Thailand (Siam). In one air strike, the Intelligence service which
I had commented on earlier would again show it's worth in spades.
One such raid took place on June 8th, 1945. Our target was a spot called Bilin, Siam.
(I prefer to use "Siam" since the country had not been renamed Thailand yet). It was
located about 100 miles west of Bangkok, the capital of Siam. Our target was a paddy
field, in actual fact, a series of paddy (rice ) fields in a huge rectangle, bordered on
the East side by a long strip of dense jungle, perhaps a mile wide. When we
approached our target at 2,000 feet the fields looked deserted. We were sure they had
received word of our plan and had moved off into the cover of the jungle. Several of us
called the base to allow us to bomb the jungle. The reply was returned immediately
and forcibly, "carry the operation out as planned".
So we reluctantly, but nevertheless with precision dropped our ninety anti-personnel
bombs on target as did about twenty-eight other aircraft (2520 bombs). When we had
finished, we had pattern bombed the whole open area which was our target. All the
way home the crew were making jokes over the intercom like, "the price of rice pudding
will be up in Bangkok tonight".
When we got home to base and reported to debriefing, the news was waiting for us.
We had made a successful strike on the Japanese army, estimated to be 20,000
strong. The damage was reported to be approximately 5,000 killed or wounded !! We
never saw a soldier or had a single shot fired against us. No one was prepared to
explain why they never took cover in the neighbouring jungle. Unless they thought we
would think the jungle was the obvious place for them to be and we would decide to
bomb it instead ! What a costly gruesome chess game they were playing.
These were the reinforcements that were to drive the British back over the Sittang
River for the last time. As it turned out, their survivors never got to the Sittang River
and the Japanese forces at the front began their final retreat at this time because the
British slowly and steadily gained momentum and never looked back. It may be
coincidental, but we like to think we made some contribution.
The second raid of some importance was three "ops" later on June 24th, 1945. The
targets were large aircraft emplacements around a very important bridge. The name of
the area was Kanchanaburi. #159 squadron was to go in low level about 20 minutes
before the other two squadrons (#355 and #99) arrived, as they were to attack from
As you would expect, #159 ran into bad weather and had to break off and find their
way through the storm, reform and make their run. This put them about 25 minutes late
and they never did attack as a group. Their attack was single aircraft picking their way
in over the target and trying to avoid lining up under one of us on a bombing run at
7,000 feet! It was the weirdest sight imaginable.
When we started our run, Ken, our bombaimer would settle us in our run and at the
last moment, in some cases, call it off as he would sight one of our B-24's on a low
level run that would put him right above our bomb burst! -I believe I made thirteen runs
before we were able to release bombs with any confidence that we wouldn't take out
our own aircraft.
All this time, we were being fired upon by these anti-aircraft posts we were trying to
knock out. Of course at the same time, the low level guys were dodging the machine
gun nests because they were only 50 to 100 feet in the air! Anyway, on our thirteenth
run, Ken yelled out "bombs away!" and shortly after, he said he thought we had made a
hit on one of the large A/A locations. Good show !
From the looks of things, it seems we, as a whole, had made several hits and caused
some damage to the bridge. But it wasn't knocked down. The war was over before
another major attack was made on that bridge. There are those that could have you
believe otherwise, as my co-pilot Don reminded me just last month (September, 1992)
in a letter. He wrote, "Yes, there was a famous bridge and prison camp in Burma.... it
was destroyed by the good old U.S. Army and William Holden. History isn't what
happened, it's what someone remembers, or what someone wants to have happen".
The Americans seem to find ways to rewrite history. Don also included a photocopy of
a couple of pages taken from an official report of many of the operations recorded at
the time. One paragraph contained this, "On June 24th, eight aircraft of #355 squadron
were detailed to bomb the heavy A/A sites at Kanchanaburi, Siam. Seven aircraft
made it to target and bombed successfully. The bombs from aircraft "X" (Neil please
note), captained by S/L/ W.H. Fuller were seen to explode very near one heavy A/A
post, which then stopped firing, presumably due to damage suffered". You see, that is
what really happened at "The Bridge over the River Kwai".
Now back to flying and one more incident in June that was particularly significant.
Our take-off time was just after dawn and we were carrying a big bomb load and 2,600
gallons of gas. A very heavy load that would likely take most of the runway before we
We swing onto the runway, line up, put on the brakes until we have at least 1/2
throttle on. This helps us to a quick start when the brakes are released. It is also
easier to get to full throttle in the shortest distance along the runway. So far, so good.
We are just at 90 M.P.H., wheels about ready to leave the tarmac when there is a
smashing sound across my windshield... blood, feathers and etc., completely covering
my side of the windshield. We had hit one of the kite hawks inhabiting the aerodrome.
We had just reached take-off speed and the control column jerked out of my hand. At
that instant Don is yelling "I've got it !!" as he grabbed his control column and the
throttles. He took over !! I reached for the undercarriage lever and held it, waiting for
Don to get airborne and I've taken over his job of calling out the airspeed so he would
know how much of an angle he dare reach for. The trees were quickly closing in on us.
We left the ground and I jerked up the undercarriage. Still no visibility through my
windscreen. Don is doing a magnificent job of taking off this lumbering giant. We are
now in a gentle climb and getting up higher by the minute. We clear the trees at the
end of the runway with reasonable ease, and that was totally to Don's credit for
displaying remarkable reflexes and clear thinking. I can't say enough about the skill he
demonstrated that morning. He saved our lives !! The windscreen gradually cleared
itself and we went on our way. Some of the crew members never even knew what had
happened in our cockpit until after we arrived home some ten hours later.
Our crew completed four D.C.O. operations in a row after our first two D.N.C.O.'s in
the month of June. So we completed six "ops" between June 1st and 24th. They were
all heavy duty "ops" and so we were given a couple of days off and we finished the
month doing a couple of practice bombing exercises.
We weren't the only tired crew by July 15th. Everyone in my flight really performed
well as did those flying out of "A" flight. It was just one tough month of flying for all of
us. Mainly because of the weather.
Action started to slow down starting in July. Our first "op" would not be until July 10th.
We didn't know why, but there did seem to be a change in the tempo, like a change in
strategy, with nothing concrete to put a finger on.
Anyway, on the 19th of July we were back on track with a very important operation
spelled out at briefing. Our target was the marshalling yards in Bangkok, Siam. We
could expect our heaviest resistance, mainly barrage and predicted flak from numerous
anti-aircraft emplacements, as well as machine gun fire for the low flyers, if there were
any. Here was a first...... the weather was excellent ! The trip took us fourteen hours
and ten minutes and hardly a cloud in the sky ! We were able to fly this "op", not in
formation, but in close contact. It was a new experience and we were enjoying the
whole new feeling we hadn't been able to before. I think it could be called
companionship. Here we were, heading for the same target, sharing the experience
with several other crews. It was comforting, in a way, and sharing the sky made me
feel good. All of our trips before this were a fight for survival with the weather, and
always doing it on our own.
When we got to our target we found a lot of activity already taking place. The sky was
filled with bursting flak and B-24's. We made our run in and Ken dropped his bombs.
The flak was bursting all around us. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in our aircraft whose
heart was in his mouth ! We completed the run and as soon as we had cleared the
target area, we made our usual turn to the left to prepare for our return trip to base. At
that moment we saw white smoke flowing from the upper portion of the cowling of #2
engine ! "We had been hit" was my first thought. As we straightened out of our turn I
was just about to ask Don to cut #2 engine and feather the prop. We had levelled out
by then and the smoke stopped ! In order to set course for home, we had to turn left
again about 70 degrees. As soon as I dropped the left wing, the smoke started pouring
out again. We straightened out on our assigned heading and the smoke stopped. So
we decided not to cut the engine and try not to make left hand turns. We got home
When we taxied to our parking spot the ground crew were all around us getting ready
to work on the plane and refuel it. I told the crew chief about the #2 engine and about
20 minutes later he walked into my office and handed me a .75 mm cap from an anti-
aircraft shell that had not unwound as it should have. It had obviously exploded above
us and the cap had fallen out of the sky and we flew into it. It punctured the motor
housing and hit the gas line to the engine, putting a slit about 3 inches long on top of
the fuel line, which explains why we had white smoke pouring from the engine each
time we made a left turn ! The cap was clearly marked with numbers and letters written
in English. It was a shell built by the Americans. They were using weapons made by
the U.S.A., purchased before the war ! I brought the specimen home with me but
unfortunately I lost it when we had a flood in our basement on 1522 Madison Ave. in
Vancouver. It must have been thrown out by mistake.
When we debriefed we had it confirmed that we had hit our targets as did almost all of
the other planes. It was a successful bombing trip and that was confirmed again in the
material Don sent me a few weeks ago.
The raid on Bangkok's railway yards and warehouses on July 10th would be the last
operation our crew would participate in. We didn't have any idea what would take
place in the next twenty-five days or so. All we knew was that the following day we
found out our crew was set down and we were being sent off to Darjeeling on two
weeks leave ! Welcome news because we were pretty tired. This was an R & R (rest
and relaxation) camp some 300 miles north of Calcutta. The allied forces had taken
over a huge hotel at this resort area and it was used exclusively for housing Army and
Air Force personnel who were sent there for a break from Active Duty. It was a great
chance to catch up on some letter writing to Ada, but even so it was hard to find things
to say about our job because we weren't sure what was happening.
Other than the main lobby where we had the opportunity to meet some of the soldiers
from the 14th Army, (the soldiers who had been fighting the jungle war in Burma for
months) and the chance to play a lot of bridge, we also had access to the Gymkana.
This was the centre piece of the town of Darjeeling. It had been used exclusively by
the British government and military officials of high rank and selected groups of the
The main activity at the Gymkana was the tennis courts and roller rink. I spent most
of my time on the tennis court. I had some interesting talks with some officers of the
14th Army group. In fact I found it a little difficult to strike up a conversation with these
guys at first. They were pretty cool to my approach. It didn't take long to find out that
they didn't have a particularly friendly feeling toward the Air Force. It seems that during
the drive for Rangoon, (a few weeks before our arrival on #355), one of our squadrons
misjudged the Army's position and dropped a load of bombs along their front line. They
didn't talk about casualties and I didn't press the point. It's a terrible thing to have
happen, but it does happen. Fortunately we were never required to coordinate our
attacks close to the front lines.
We all appreciated our two weeks holiday but Don was feeling under the weather on
our train trip to Calcutta. We stayed overnight at the Grand Hotel and Don woke up
with Yellow Jaundice. He was hospitalized back at the squadron for a few days and the
squadron commander chose to have me stay on the ground and have me do control
tower duties while Don was laid up. Then on August 8th the U.S. Air Force dropped the
nuclear bomb on Hiroshima !! No wonder the last two operational flights were
cancelled at our base at the last moment on the 6th and 7th of August.
Then Japan surrendered ! We had flown our last "op" in anger! The war was over!!
We can now start thinking about going home.!!
But it's not that easy. Our squadron, along with #99 and #159 were assigned to fly
mercy flights to drop food and clothing and virtually anything else that was needed, to
the prisoners of war held in French - Indo China (now Vietnam).
These trips were made with great risks to the crews, because there was still some
monsoon weather around, but even more of a danger was the take-off with these full
loads of supplies and maximum capacity of petrol. It was proving very difficult to get
the supplies packed into the planes and get proper weight distribution. Some pilots,
no, most pilots complained bitterly when they returned from those early flights that they
had barely gotten off the ground. This didn't stop the mercy runs. What did stop them
was a tragedy.
I was working in the control tower that morning. The first plane took off but couldn't
get up above the trees. He even used part of the field beyond the runway, pulled up
hard, barely clearing the boundary and hitting the tree tops and crashed and blew up.
All in a matter of seconds. I was one of the first on the scene. I won't go into any
details of what we saw. It is enough to say I had nightmares for over a year after I got
home. All the crew were killed. All the crew except the second pilot had two tours
completed, one in England and one in India. The second pilot was on his initial
That ended the mercy flights for a while and when they resumed, the loads were
reduced considerably. This was the first time since early May the operational trips
were planned with the aircrew in mind. I still get angry over this. To tell the truth, I
slept very little last night after writing these last two or three pages.
That crash came back to me as clearly as it did back in January of 1946. Imagine how
the families of those victims must have felt.
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