Buddhism is the main religion of Myanmar (Burma) representing 90% of the population, the remainder being Muslim, Christian, Animists etc: The Arakan where we were fighting had a fair number of Muslim villages. This information was important to us as we were always told to trust the Muslims more as they were somewhat looked down on by the Buddhist Japanese. Alternatively we were to make for the hill tribes if we were shot down over Burma proper and we were advised to make ourselves competent at playing 'Cat's Cradle' as this was a popular game with the children. The young of any nation are inquisitive and if an airman was seen to be playing they would become intrigued, particularly with the games where one person 'takes over' from another. However, our main object, if shot down was to avoid contact with the locals, as the Japs often awarded villagers for revealing our whereabouts.
"Y force" was made up of very brave men who operated behind and among the enemy positions. They were supplied with radios and usually operated alone. A report had come from them that they had located the local Japanese headquarters and P.R.U. (Photo Reconnaissance Unit) had taken an air photo of the area. The village of Aukhmanni, South East of Taungup was surrounded by indications of the movement of troops. There were signs of motorised transport and indications that there was a large ammunitions dump near the village. (See Target photo) The object for attack, however, was the H.Q. building itself. It was not visible on the target photo itself but the position was known exactly. The whole squadron was to take part but I was to lead the section of four aircraft to make the first attack. If my section was not able to destroy the target then the rest of the squadron would attempt to do so using the normal 500lb High Explosive bombs. If we succeeded the remaining two sections would fly on to attack the roads round Taungup. My own section was to be bombed up with high explosive incendiary bombs. We had no experience of these and I had never seen them before, or since. The whole operation was cloaked in secrecy. We studied the target photo until we could see it in our sleep.
Click here to view a larger image of the Target (84kb)
We were dropped off at our dispersal points and my fitter and rigger were standing by my dear old Hurry. Did I imagine it or did they really know something? There was great humour but there was an underlying tension. Did I imagine it? As so often before, they led me around the aircraft asking me to say which of the wings was the better polished. They polished the leading edges, taking one wing each. A well polished leading edge was said to give slightly better performance, although camouflage paint took little gloss and in any case we did not want a reflection in the sun! It would be difficult to say if they were more proud of me than I was of them. They were a wonderful team, the best in the squadron and time has not dulled the conviction.
As they strapped me into my 'chute, belts, oxygen mask, radio etc: I was reminded of a chat that we once had in the shadow of the wing. They were saying that we chatted away like old friends but that the moment that they started strapping me in the relationship ended but a new one emerged where I was no longer a person but a part of the machine.
The takeoff was perfectly normal, Red Leader made a wide circuit of base to port and by the time the circuit was completed the whole squadron was on course for the target which was about 30 minutes flying time away. I have often been asked how we could pinpoint an obscure destination in the jungle and be sure that we were attacking the right place as one spot is often so very like another. At this time remove, I must admit that often surprises me but we were meticulously trained and F/O Picken and myself had been with Ferry Command for a time so we had the added experience of flying alone to distant airstrips. It must be remembered that we were flying single seat aircraft without any radio assistance.
I brought Yellow section up to port of Red Leader with all sections flying line astern and there was plenty of time for me to assess the target as we approached it to port. (On our left) It was late afternoon and I could see the position of our target. My object was to try to dive with the tops of the trees as lose to the tops of their shadows as possible so that we should be diving straight out of the sun. There was high ground to the south on which there were light anti aircraft guns but they did not reveal themselves until it was plain that we were attacking the H.Q. and at that time they were firing DOWN on us. I was almost prepared to release my bombs to a point on the target photo when I saw it. At a distance it was completely invisible but it suddenly became obvious A large low building with a smaller attached at each end. I had almost left it too long, the camouflage was so good that it was blended into the landscape with netting breaking up the lines of the roof.
I pressed the tit and almost placed the bombs through the middle roof. I jinked madly away and looked for my number two but he was nowhere to be seen and I have no idea of what happened to him. I was horrified to see that my subsection leader had taken number four to bomb the village of Aukhmanni itself. I was completely exulted to take out the target and it hardly mattered that he did not try to follow me as he should have done. Admittedly the village was an obvious target and the actual target was camouflaged to invisibility. Perhaps he was going to show me the error of my ways!
I took my remaining three aircraft up to the rest of the squadron. Ranji was leading and we exchanged the 'thumbs up', as he off to bomb the Taungup road on the way home. It was a new experience watching as the eight aircraft of Red and Blue sections bombed and straffed the road as we circled above out of light ack ack range. The squadron reformed and headed for home.
My crew helped me to 'unhook' and asked me how it had gone. I took my usual time to tell them all about it. I was right. They knew that 'something special' was up because of the unusual bomb load. I did not ask them how much they knew but apart from the bombs great efforts had been made to see that only the Intelligence Officer and the pilots knew.
As I approached the debriefing tent the C.O. came out passing me and did not even pause when, without turning his head, he said "Change for you to hit anything Ned!" It was par for the course. If he had so little confidence in me, why had he entrusted me with so important a mission? Come to that, why had he arranged for me to take the Air Fighting Instructor Course? From his point of view I must have been a constant irritation.
Recce: over Prome
Previous: - This'n That
Edward Sparkes ©2000