December 1944 and No 10 Squadron Royal Indian Air Force was at Ramu, just over a cricket pitch inside the Indian border. The airstrip had been bulldozed out of the paddy fields surrounded by jungle. It was similar to so many used in the forward areas. Quite smooth enough for the Hurricanes that we were flying at the time. We were part of the 14th Army. The Forgotten Army. The war in Europe had taken the best resources and to a man we felt deserted. Our aircraft had mostly come through the Desert War in North Africa and we lived in hope of being equipped with something a little more up to date. The squadron was as well trained as possible and considering the fact that it had only been formed in April had considerable pride as a unit. Flying discipline was excellent. We had flown down from Risalpur on the North West Frontier, spending three weeks at Amarda Road as No 15 Fighter Refresher Course. After which it flew on to Ranchi, practising the techniques learned. Suri, a very fine pilot and myself had been left behind to take the course known in U.K. as the 'Fighter Leader Course' and in India as the 'Air Fighting Instructor Course'. This was a most intensive course of four weeks.
Ops tomorrow! A bit of a spring in everyone's step. A fairly 'soft' target. Not much trouble expected. We were to fly as a squadron and make just one pass over the target village, reform and fly back to base. Fortunately I had Jammie as my No 2. He was always reliable, a good pilot and sure not to do anything stupid. I led yellow and Jas led blue section. My fitter and rigger with whom I had the best possible rapport were just a little more serious and crisp in their movements as they helped me to strap in. Red section took off and I tucked in behind Red 4 and all was copy book flying. By the time we had made a wide circuit of the airstrip all twelve aircraft were in their places and we rapidly reached our cruising altitude of 6,000ft.
As soon as we were on course I set my compass until the needle sat comfortably between the parallel wires and checked my instruments. There was little air turbulence and the aircraft kept their station. Burma looked beautiful in the bright sunlight as I checked our progress with the map. We were on a perfect course to cross our target and peel off at about 90° and to attack out of the sun in a dive of approximately 60°. The glint of gold ahead to port pinpointed the village and as it came into full view the row of huts along the road could be picked out. I checked the switch on my GM2 gun sight and the orange circle danced into life. Almost at once we peeled off.
I watched Red 4 as he went down. Where the Hell was he going, he was way off to starboard? A small track went at right angles across the road to the temple. I prepared to rake the huts as I pulled up but a stream of tracer streaked out towards Red 4. It was coming from a small rise in the ground just to the left of the huts and almost instantly the source was within the red circle. A quick burst to spoil his aim from far out of range and he immediately swung around onto me, passed, corrected and holding him in the bottom of the circle I pressed the tit again. The unseen hand of recoil slowed the aircraft as I slowly brought him up to zero deflection. The tracer had stopped. I held the burst too long but I had to get him. Had he just run out of ammo or had I got him?
I did not even see the gun as I pulled back the stick and threw her into a wild skid with full rudder. No! Don't jink! Stay low! I did not pull up until well over virgin jungle. The boys were climbing away. We were all there! Was that all? Yes! Time becomes condensed. First of all the peel off. One of the most photographed symbols of the freedom of flight but the thrill of actually performing it should be experienced by everyone. It is far better than any rollercoaster.
From being fully committed to the dive at about 4000 ft to pulling out must have been about ten seconds but in that time my primitive hunter killer instincts were fully realised. The incredible rush of adrenaline. There is nothing to compare. Few will fail to understand the thrill of the hunter but in this case the prey was firing back. The slight change of direction to target the gun instead of the huts was as instinctive as returning a serve in tennis. No thinking was involved, the rudder and stick corrections were automatic and I held the tracer source at the bottom of the orange glow of the circle in the sight to allow for the 4ft 6" gravity drop at the harmonisation range of 400 yds. Much more was allowed for that first little burst out of range but no thought seemed to be involved. The subliminal thoughts would have included, at some deep level, the simple fact that at about 375 Indicated Miles per Hour Air Speed, the Hurricane flies about 2° low and therefore the cannons are aligned 2° upwards. Flying into tracer has it's own fascination. It is hypnotic to watch it floating as it snakes upwards, then a visual "Phytt!" as it passes. It is something like driving a car into large snowflakes. They seem slowly float towards one and suddenly they are gone. As he had suddenly seen me coming at him he must have been glued to the trigger and as he swept the air the impression was as though he had rapidly swung a garden hose.
Yes! Everyone was in place in the formation. I watched for any change in coolant or oil temperature and pressure gauges but all was steady and the engine note was good. I was so thankful that oil temperature and pressure guages were together. There was little or no crosswind so our return track was the same as our flight out. The lines on my compass were parallel again. Had a little inward smile as I turned the compass ring through 180°. Pedantic? Perhaps but many a good man has been lost through flying a reciprocal course.
My fitter and rigger were up alongside the cockpit before I could switch off. We checked the aircraft for damage. Not a sign. I just could not understand it. Not a scratch and I thought that I had flown straight into his cone of fire. We always had a chat before debriefing. All of their efforts were channelled through me and they were always kept in the picture as far as possible. That respect was never misplaced. They did a wonderful job. My respect for the Hurrybird went up several notches. She was far better than the Spit for air to ground work. Twice the fire power, steady as a rock and view over the engine was far better. I tried to catch the eye of Red 4 but he avoided it. What was the use? He was a new boy and although I was supposed to comment on any aberration in behaviour I hoped that he would improve. I had previously sent in a strongly worded report on a chap who flew in on his next flight. His committee of adjustment was the squadron sports officer. His ashes were temporarily put in a chattee. (A porous water pot that kept the contents cool by evaporation). The stopper was missing so a rolled up piece of "The Times of India" was used. He followed us around among the hockey sticks and cricket bats until we could get his ashes back to Calcutta. His comrades were constantly showing how 'macho' they were by such comments as "Don't spill Chukrabutty".
"Committee of adjustment". Strange expression. I still have a letter from Crishna, delegating me. It is still where I kept it, in my 'Oxford Book of English Verse'. It reads:-
No 10 Squadron. IAF
Dated -- Dec.16 1944
I, IND/1857 F/o M.M.Crishna, do hereby direct that, in the event of a sudden and unexpected departure on my part, to another world, 132155 F/o E.D.S.N. Sparkes be placed in charge of my effects to do with, as he has already been directed by me; also, should my body or any part thereof, be accessible, *that it be burnt without any rites or mumbo-jumbo whatsoever,* and that the ashes be handed over to the aforesaid 132155 F/o E.D.S.N. Sparkes for disposal as he has been asked by me.
Next:- A Jungle Day
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Edward Sparkes ©1998