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Sumatra & Java

Sumatra and Java 1942

Palembang P1 airfield, Sumatra

Palembang P1 airfield, Sumatra
Palembang P1 airfield, Sumatra (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
Source: Scorpions Sting
(D Neate, Air Britain 1994), reproduced by kind permission of Air Britain—Neate’s original caption and attribution.

The image area of this medium level oblique appears to be cropped: the customary North arrow is present but plainly truncated and the usual marginal documentary text is absent (compare eg the P2 image, below) and the date is thus uncertain. Like the P2 image, shadows (eg at the edge of the timbered areas) appear to run down and left, suggestive of Sun position to the top right of the image. Given the more or less Southerly orientation, the image may have been taken in the afternoon.

The two main runways are surfaced. Adjacent to the main East-West strip, near the junction with the main North-South runway, are 5 faint rectangular structures which may be hangars. Toward the North end of the main North-South runway, to left of frame, a series of five well-defined open-sided structures stand, possibly blast pens. Beyond them are three less distinct areas which may also be revetments. An adjacent track leads into a partially cleared area where what appear to be further open-sided structures stand.

A fairly indistinct taxi-track leads along the main cleared area from the W end of the East-West runway to the N end of the North-South runway, while a more distinct track leads in a wide arc through timber, with apparent dispersal points, towards the Northerly end of the North-South runway. There is a complex system of minor tracks in evidence throughout. To the West (top right) of the runway intersection lies an area that appears to be the main encampment (though the road layout is indistinct). In the far distance lies what appears to be a third runway, oriented more directly North-South.

The modern equivalent of Palembang P1 is at Talang Betutu: Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport, at 2° 54' 0.00" S, 104° 42' 0.00" E in the outer urban area NW of Palembang. The airport now uses only the East-West alignment, for two parallel runways, whose heading today is 11/29. Clear traces of the old (and then main) North-South runway (roughly 17/35) are evident in modern aerial images. These, with traces of other road and construction features including the old possible hangar area, are consistent with the RNAF image as shown if its North arrow was some 30° West of True, compared with North in a Google Earth view.

Additional References

    "Palembang Civil Aerodrome, known as P1...was at that time a large L-shaped aerodrome with two hard runways. It had dispersal arrangements which Dutch engineers were quickly developing further. The only accommodation was in the town, 8 miles away."
    Campbell and Lovell So Long Singapore - Royal Air Force Auxiliary '
    Tung Song' December 1941-March 1942 p71, drawing from Maltby, Report on Air Operations During the Campaigns in Malaya and Netherlands East Indies 8 Dec 1941 to 12 Mar 1942 (London Gazette No 38216 20 Feb 1948 3rd Supp 26 Feb 1946) http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/LondonGazette/38216.pdf

    “Netherlands East Indies Customs Aerodromes
    Talan Betoetoe: 15kms NW of Palembang. Civil aerodrome. W/T, D/F, shed, petrol, oil, wind-indicator."
    Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1938

Palembang P2 airfield, Sumatra

The secret airfield at P2 now known as Karangendah
The secret airfield at P2 now known as Karangendah (Royal Netherlands Air Force)
Source:
Scorpions Sting (D Neate, Air Britain 1994), reproduced by kind permission of Air Britain—Neate’s original caption and attribution.

In this medium level aerial oblique, the image area appears to be uncropped, given the full hand-drawn text on the bottom margin. This both places and dates the image firmly, to Karangendah on the early afternoon of 25 November 1948 (sic).

The customary orientation compass arrows are not present, so North can't be readily distinguished. The printed image quality is soft and, as printed, carried some traces suggestive of having been copied from a half-tone print rather than a photographic print. These traces were visible in the lighter areas of the scanned image at higher resolution.

The light appears to be flat though there are faint hints of building shadows to the left and below, suggestive of sun to the top right of the image. If these are shadows, then the photo orientation may be with South more or less to the top right.

The cleared landing area is indistinct, suggesting no surfaced runways, although there is a hard-standing in front of the two large buildings that border the edge of the landing area. If these large buildings are hangars, then the hard-standing must extend for some hundreds of meters. In the foreground and adjacent to these buildings is a formal road layout of a large encampment area, with a number of buildings in evidence. Two tracks lead from the camp area to the two main airfield buildings. In the bottom right two more or less parallel road-like formations run diagonally across the frame.

Although Google Maps image resolution is rather poor in this area, it proved possible, eventually, to find the site of P2 at Karangendah at 3° 17’ 50’’ S, 104° 24' 30’’ E. From this location, Perabumulih is 15.5 miles SW, Glumbang 4.2 miles NNE, Palembang town 32 miles NW, with P1 airfield about 34 miles NW as the crow flies. The old curved hardstanding area remains quite visible, while the outline of the encampment may be seen immediately between the hardstanding and the road, itself parallel to the Palembang railway. All these features match the 1948 RNAF image, if oriented with North to the bottom. Dutch researcher based in Australia, Jos Heyman, was recently successful in visiting Karengendah, to find the old site still in use as a TNI base.

Additional references

    "Palembang P2 (Karengendah) airfield was approximately 42 miles by road from the town and across a river where there was a ferry but no bridge. P2 had only become serviceable during January and at the time its position was unknown to the Japanese. In making the airfield nothing was done to interfere with the natural configuration. It was only drained and some essential clearing was done to the landing areas. Dispersal bays were cut into the timber on the perimeter with as little damage to the timber as possible. Laterite strips were run into the bays to eliminate the chance of bogging." (Neate p53)

    "...a secret military aerodrome 20 miles [sic] south-west of Palembang known as P2....

    P2 was a huge natural field about ten miles in perimeter with a good natural cover for aircraft. It was not visible from the road and the Japanese had not discovered it. Similar clearings in the same area made it hard for even friendly aircrews to find it from the air even after being briefed. Great care was taken to preserve its secrecy and although at one time more than one hundred aircraft were based there, Japanese reconnaissance, which flew over it frequently both by day and by night, never did locate it.

    Communication between headquarters and P2 was hampered by the lack of a bridge over the Moesi River which separated P2 from Palembang and P1. The river had to be crossed by a small ferry which had a limit of four to six vehicles. The Dutch put in hand the construction of huts for accommodation at P2 aerodrome. Communication between each aerodrome and Group Headquarters was by a single telephone line and an improvised W/T system. A system of observers widely spaced on concentric rings gave some warning of approaching aircraft. Most warning came from the 50 kilometre circle only. The observers had little experience in aircraft recognition. Bill Rootes (See page 81) says that warnings often came down to a red flag being hoisted on the KLM control tower.

    At first the Dutch Army in the N.E.I. had no anti-aircraft artillery, having been unable to obtain guns from either the belligerents in Europe or from the United States. By the end of January 1942, however, ABDACOM was able to allocate A.A. defences to both P 1 and P2, six heavy and six Bofors guns to each aerodrome. Ships carrying ammunition for these guns were sunk, however, and little was available for use. Each airfield had two Dutch armoured cars and 150 Dutch native troops to defend it, and when R.A.F. ground personnel arrived, they were organised into aerodrome defence parties to reinforce the Dutch forces. One Dutch native regiment was allotted to the whole Palembang area, but there were no defences on the river leading to the town. Tentative plans were made to send Australian troops returning from the Middle East in the Orcades to enlarge the garrison, but by the time the ship had reached Oosthaven on 15 February it was too late, and the move was cancelled.

    The speed of the Japanese advance in Malaya and the destruction of shipping in the approaches to Sumatra frustrated hopes of an orderly retirement to Sumatra. With many ships sunk and many more diverted to other ports, practically all equipment on its way to Sumatra went astray. In particular, very little motor transport arrived, and there were insufficient rations and no tentage and field equipment. The last was a serious handicap during the monsoon system [sic: season], since the airfields had little or no permanent accommodation. Aircraft spares, particularly for the Blenheims, were scarce, and this reduced the effectiveness of the reinforcements from 84 and 211 Squadrons. There was a three month supply of petrol, oil and lubricants, but only a limited quantity of bombs.

    Local buses were requisitioned and gradually came into use, and provisions for local purchase of supplies improved. By the end of the first week of February personnel were reasonably fed and accommodated. But later, when large numbers arrived from Singapore, many unexpectedly, accommodation had to be found at short notice. Thus 1,500 were provided for in P2, where provision was ready for only 250, and 2,500 were housed in schools and cinemas in Palembang town."
    Campbell and Lovell So Long Singapore - Royal Air Force Auxiliary 'Tung Song' December 1941-March 1942 p71,72. In large part, as cited, from Maltby Report on Air Operations During the Campaigns in Malaya and Netherland East Indies 8 Dec 1941 to 12 Mar 1942 (London Gazette No 38216 20 Feb 1948 3rd Supp 26 Feb 1946).
    See:
    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/LondonGazette/38216.pdf

225 Group RAF 1942
In late December 1941, the notion of re-inforcing Malaya or Singapore by air may have been attractive and practical. By mid-January 1942, however, Japanese ground forces in Malaya had already over-run all the airfields North of Kluang, about 60 miles from Singapore Island. The need to move bomber units to Sumatra was already being mooted, in order to avoid congestion on the remaining airfields of Malaya and on Singapore.

Thus on 17 January, as the 211 Squadron Sea Party left Egypt, 225 Group HQ was ordered to move from Singapore. A nucleus departed to Palembang P1 the next day, 18 January, where they set about establishing the Group HQ, to be ready for the arrival of the various bomber units as noted below. The Squadron’s Air echelon departures began a week later.

225 Group HQ was established in South Sumatra at Pelambang as the group command for No 84 Squadron RAF, No 211 Squadron RAF and other units, as recorded by Maltby as AOC (and in the AHB Narrative Campaigns in The Far East Vol II, and reported by Campbell & Lovell, and by Shores, Cull & Izawa).

    "Instructions to No. 225 (B) Group.
    401. On formation of the Group Headquarters, the AOC instructed the Group Commander
    (a) to establish a Bomber Group H.Q.;
    (b) to accelerate, to the maximum, arrangements for operating bomber units from Sumatra; such arrangements not only to provide for all bombers then in Singapore but also for the following reinforcements:—

      (i) Nos. 84 and 211 (B) Squadrons (Blenheim IV) then en route from Middle East
      (ii) Hudson Ill's en route from UK which were to re-equip in succession No. 62 (B) Squadron, and Nos. 1 and 8 (GR) Squadrons, RAAF."
      [Maltby op cit ]

Before 84 Squadron departures began on 14 January, their senior officers were apparently aware that the destination was Sumatra. However, the three narrative reports compiled some time after March 1942 for their Operations Record Book are not entirely in agreement in detail. Although the air route to Sumatra is noted, there are different accounts of en route briefing problems, both for initial landing at Lho’nga near the Aceh provincial capital Koetaradja (where there was also a pre-war KNILM airfield) and for reaching Palembang (where the airfield was well-established, being both a pre-war KNILM and KLM base).

Meanwhile, Hudson detachments from the UK were already staging through Sumatra and, from 22 January, bomber Squadrons in Malaya and Singapore were already withdrawing there. While Bateson recorded that it was only on reaching Rangoon that Sumatra was decided upon, that seems not to be exactly so. Perhaps he meant finally confirmed. 84 Squadron were also expecting a final briefing—on reaching Lho’nga. Remaining original records of the time do differ on more than a few points like this: it was a testing time, with scant resources and rapidly changing circumstances.

These two units (No 84 Squadron and No 211 Squadron) were plainly not part of a supposed “slow withdrawal from Malaya and Singapore" but Far East/East Indies reinforcements. The withdrawal of bomber Squadrons from Malaya from 22 January to about 29 January, if slow at all, was only so due to the transport difficulties already being experienced. The withdrawing units included No 1 Squadron RAAF and No 8 Squadron RAAF with their Hudsons, the recently arrived Hudsons from No 53 Squadron RAF (about to become 62 Squadron RAF), and the remaining Blenheims of No 27 and No 34 Squadrons RAF, which all then came under 225 Group control.

Aircraft of 211 Squadron arriving in Northern Sumatra went on to reach Palembang P2 from 2 February to 6 February 1942. They began operations immediately.

Kalidjati airfield, Java

Kalidjati airfield, No. 84 Squadron’s base in Java
Kalidjati airfield, No. 84 Squadron’s base in Java [un-named Dutch source]
Source: Scorpions Sting
(D Neate, Air Britain 1994), reproduced by kind permission of Air Britain—Neate’s original caption.

A vertical, annotated but undated aerial image in this case, the printed version of which appears to have been heavily cropped. The customary orientation arrows can be seen, truncated, as a disjoint pair on the left margin, and unmarked such that North can't be distinguished. The neatline of the hand-lettered label is also cut-off at the margins. The original as printed shows two landing runs, measured in feet.

While some English terms like rubber and hangar were visible, the Dutch origin of the print was clear from its title label which used Dutch terms for airfield, latitude and longitude. Also visible on the printed image were a number of other features noted in Dutch, like hospitaal, encampement, and the main water feature Meer V Sedajo. Conclusion: the image is Dutch in origin, though whether KLM, NEI Flying School or RNAF is uncertain.

At the time the photograph was taken, the encampment was substantial, while the two marked but separate landing runs appear to be rolled but unsurfaced. It seemed likely that the photograph was oriented NW.

Kalidjati airfield was approximately 60 miles ESE of Batavia and, to 1942, the main station of the NEI Flying School. At the time the RAF Squadrons arrived in February 1942, groundcrew accommodation was constructed of attap on the edge of the field, where Squadron and Flight offices were also situated. There was no telephone service available to 84 Squadron, a despatch rider service being used.

In 2011 the airfield at Kalidjati, though apparently no longer active, remains visible some 7 miles (11kms) WNW of Subang at 6° 31' 48.00" S, +107° 39' 36.00" E (recorded as 6° 32’ 2” 107° 41’ 00” on the original print, world geodetic measures having been revised several times since). The original group of hangars numbered 1 to 8 on the old print, towards the top of the central cleared area, are still in place while Meer V Sedajo is now much reduced in size. The print was indeed oriented to the NW, but again the arrows proved to be about 30° West of True compared with North in Google Earth. The sole runway today is 9/27 and still grassed—the old 2,000ft strip. Of the old 1600ft more-or-less N/S strip, barely a trace remains.

RAAF Casualty Section Narrative Reports
These documents are all to be found in the RAAF A705 series casualty files of the 211 Squadron RAAF personnel lost in action out of Sumatra or Java in February 1942.

Compiled and transcribed in the period between the arrival of 211 survivors in Australia (disembarking 13 March 1942 for the Tung Song party) and early April 1942, these reports were prepared in the Director of Personal Services Casualty Section. Next of kin advices and other necessary actions arising from the loss of RAAF members were this Section’s responsibility, carefully (mistakes and all) recorded on file.

At the time, the Squadron CO W/Cdr RN Bateson DFC was somewhat concerned that his casualty signals ex-Sumatra and ex-Java may not all have been received, though in the chaos of February and March 1942, lost signals were hardly surprising. As late as 1943 and by then posted Home, Bateson was still responding to enquiries seeking to sort out the records.

As almost contemporary eyewitness accounts, these reports are of particular interest in the absence of the usual Operations Record Book for this period: that document did not survive the Sumatra/Java withdrawals. Though reporting very shortly after the events and having been in the thick of them, even those who were there could not always “get it right”.

However, where they can be corroborated by the records of other participants of the day (Bateson himself and his WOp/AG Bill Baird; Burrage, Cuttiford, Keeping and Paterson, Penry’s letter to the Burrage family, Brown’s letter to the Oddies, and Livesey’s pocket diary, for example), these documents are the closest we are likely to get to “the facts”. In the usual manner, the text that follows is verbatim from the originals, with any of my amplifications [thus].

W/Cdr Bateson’s narrative
[DPS Casualty Section transcript by S/Ldr EO Reid, 4 April 1942. Original as Encl 13a on Lamond casualty file (National Archives of Australia Series A705 Item 163/136/128). Multiple carbon copies on other files initialled and dated 8.4.42.
The apparently confusing layout is in the form of a summary of operations by date, hastily laid out on a typewriter, and suggestive of an on-the-spot transcription from an oral report]

    Wing Commander RN Bateson RAF, OC No 211 Squadron, gave following information reference RAAF casualties on No 211 Squadron.
     

    Sergeants -

    Steele

    )

     

     

    Menzies

    )

     

     

    Gornall

    )

    reported missing believed killed 7 February

     

    Bott

    )

     

     

    Lynas

    )

     

     

    Lamond

    )

     



    Three aircraft were operating on escort duties - two did not return [Blenheim IVs
    Z7586, Z9713]. One was seen to be on fire - unable to distinguish which aircraft. Third aircraft returned and crashed on landing only gunner surviving. He is Sergeant Crowe, RAF now in India.

      [According to Maltby writing several years later, air-escorted British convoys of the last week of January and the first week of February were bound for Singapore.

      In contrast, one of the relevant signals refers to the area as from Berhala Straits to Banka Straits, implying a passage Easterly towards Batavia. Keeping is clear that the convoy was from Singapore and noted women and children waving to the aircraft.

      For some reason, initial and later records also report the date as 6 February, repeated in recent published accounts including Shores, Cull & Izawa. However, Bateson, Burrage, Penry, Baird, Cuttiford and Keeping all, and independently, record this daylight convoy escort as taking place on 7 February 1942, Cuttiford and Baird in their Flying Log Books, Burrage and Keeping in daily diaries.

      The third aircraft referred to by Bateson was Blenheim IV Z9659 of 41037 F/Lt Kenneth Linton RAF. It had also been attacked, only to crash near P2 on return. The crew were recovered but all were injured. While Sgt Offord the Observer and Sgt Dicky Crowe the gunner both survived, Linton died in hospital the next day as Livesey recorded (but dated 7 February by the CWGC). The date of the aicraft loss is recorded as 7 February, having been one of the convoy escort aircraft, in Burrage’s diary and Penry’s independent report.

      Just to add to the complexity, Bateson’s own Log Book entry records 6 February, differing from his report here and at odds with the 7 February entry in the Log Book of his Gunner, Bill Baird. Bill himself later recalled the event, in So Long Singapore, as 8 [sic!] February. Such is the great fabric of history: consistently “full of holes”, as Bill once joked to me on another topic.

      The weight of the contemporary evidence is that 211 Squadron flew a single convoy escort task on 7 February, for a British convoy bound for Batavia from Singapore, for which of six aircraft were sent in two waves (one relieving the other); resulting in the loss of three aircraft: 50% of the escort force.

      The 13 February action, sometimes referred to as another convoy escort task, was a late afternoon offensive sweep seeking to attack a Japanese invasion fleet. On return in poor weather at night, two aircraft were lost: a third of the force.]

    P/O Ritchie ) reported missing 10 February [With S/Ldr Dundas in Blenheim IV Z7699]
    Sgt Keeping)

    a) P/O McInerney (making level sweep) - Missing believed killed 13 February - Aircraft crashed in sea with P/O Chalmers, RAF and a gunner, RAF [402202 GM Kendrick RAAF]. These two men were injured and reported P/O McInerney crashed in sea. [Blenheim IV Z????]

    b)

    P/O Mackay

    )

     

     

    P/O Oddie

    )

    Missing in same operation as P/O McInerney’s aircraft.

     

    P/O Payne

    )

    Believed crashed in swamp

    Aircraft returned from operation on 10.2.42 [sic: 13 February] but were unable to land on aerodrome owing to weather conditions. P/O McInerney’s crew force-landed in sea while circling aerodrome. P/O Mackay’s aircraft was circling aerodrome and believed to have landed in swamp [Blenheim IV Z9829. It was over 20 years before the conclusion proved correct].

    24 February: Sergeants Barrage, Stewart and gunner (?McDonald) were operating from Kallajati [Kalidjati] in Java.
    [sic:
    21 February, Burrage & co, Blenheim IV Z9714]

    Sgt Offord RAF, Sgt Kendrick G [402202] and Sgt Shakespeare were all injured; not known whether in operations or in bombing raids [ie by the Japanese]. Sgt Kendrick was in Batavia after being injured.

    4.4.42
    EO Reid [own hand]
    Squadron Leader
    DPS Casualty Section

[See also Encl 1A Lamond file: original Signal from P II of 10 Feb re 7 February losses recording Bott, Lynas, and Lamond in Blenheim IV Z9713; and Steele, Menzies and Gornall in Blenheim IV Z7586. Note also Penry, following, refers to 7 February.]

Sgt Penry’s narrative
[DPS Casualty Section transcript by P/O JD Watt, 6 April 1942. Spirit copy as Encl 5b on Oddie casualty file (National Archives of Australia Series A705 Item 163/50/51) and in various states on others files.]
[Again the layout is in the form of a summary of operations (though not by date) and again suggestive of an on-the-spot transcription from an oral report or debrief.]

    Sergeant Penry JC, [sic: John Owen Penry 400542] 211 Squadron RAF (RAAF attached) flew with 211 Squadron from Middle East to Sumatra with 84 Squadron [sic: Cuttiford’s log shows him as part of his 211 Squadron crew, with 402201 AH Kendrick: Sgt JO Penry 400542. Penry was back in Australia at 1 ED by 28 March 1942].

    CO 211 Squadron Wing Commander Bateson, RAF, was recently at 1ED, still in Melbourne. CO came direct from Java with some Sergeant Air Crew and ground staff mostly RAF. Myself and others went to Colombo [from Java aboard Kota Gede] and thence by Stirling Castle. No. 211 Squadron handed over what planes they had left to 84 Squadron before evacuating.

    No. 211 Squadron

    Crew 1 [Bott] Lynas and Lamond

    )

     

    Crew 2 Steele, Menzies and [Gornall]

    ) were doing on 7.2.42

     

    Crew 3 RAF crew Flight Lieutenant Linton

    )

     

    fighter protection in Blenheims over a ship convoy from Berhala Straits to Banka Straits (see Banka Island on map). 3 crew returned but were shot down near Palembang on the way back. Pilot died of injuries, gunner [Crowe] baled out, observer Sergeant Offard [Offord] injured (may be in Australia). Gunner reported that one plane was seen going down in flames towards the sea but apparently under control. Other plane not seen at all. Does not know which was which. This was result of attack by enemy fighter “0”. Wing Commander Bateson may have more information.
    [sic: no map filed but see
    Banka Strait: the route stated implies a convoy from Singapore, not to Singapore. Keeping’s account says so directly ]. Burrage’s diary account agrees that three aircraft were lost that day, the third being Linton’s near P2].

    Friday 13.2.42
    Six Blenheims led by Wing Commander
    Bateson went after lunch to escort convoy [sic: sweep to find Japanese forces convoy, take-off around 15:40 hours according to Baird and Livesey]. Given wrong pinpoint so could not find convoy. Coming back at dusk we ran into a storm over Palembang - split up - 2 planes didn’t land. Four landed at another drome (including myself). One of 2 planes was heard of, landed in sea near Banka Island. Picked up except Observer (pilot Officer McInerney, RAAF) who was not seen by pilot or gunner, believed he went down with plane. Pilot RAF (P/O Chalmers) in Australia now. Gunner Sergeant Kendrich G RAAF [sic: 402202 GM Kendrick] is in hospital in Australia with injured foot.

    Other plane - heard nothing about it.
    Pilot - Pilot Officer G Mackay RAAF (Queensland)
    Observer - Pilot Officer
    Oddie, RAAF (Victoria)
    Observer [sic] Pilot Officer Payne RAAF
    It is possible that this crew may have landed in jungle but nothing known.

    10.2.42
    Some 84 Squadron and 211 Squadron [sic] went to do a raid against aerodrome in Malaya (Kluang). Left Palembang. One crew P/O Ritchie (Observer) and Sergeant
    Keeping J Wireless Air Gunner, and Squadron Leader Dundas RAF pilot, failed to return. Wing Commander Bateson got a ring from somewhere in Sumatra that Squadron Leader Dundas was on his way to hospital. Checked up on all hospitals but could find no trace. Only Squadron Leader was mentioned not crew. Night raid at 5 minute intervals. Not heard of by other crews from time it left.

    84 Squadron
    Sergeant Hyatt Pilot RAAF
    Sergeant Mutton Observer RAAF
    Sergeant Irvine Wireless Air Gunner RAAF
    Took off on night raid from Palembang and got off ground did half circuit came in to land, attempted to turn around to flare path and passed right through orderly room. Aircraft wrecked but did not catch fire. Irvine broken ribs, pierced lung. He rejoined Squadron after treatment. Was with Squadron in Java when we left. Other two were killed instantly and buried on drome at Palembang II. Chaplain McWilliams, Melbourne, (C of E) conducted burial service.

    Sergeant Geappen N - Pilot RAAF
    Sergeant Gosbell, DJ Observer RAAF
    Gunner and 5 others (passengers) probably RAAF and RAF

    Left Palembang II 16.2.42 early morning to Bandoeng. Storm in between Sumatra and Java. About 10 aircraft of 211 Squadron and about 8 of 84 Squadron Blenheims 30 miles away so machines left in ones - no formation. Sergeant Penry’s machine left before Geappen’s machine but Sergeant Dennis was last to leave with Wing Commander Bateson, so he is sure that Sergeant Geappen’s aircraft did take off. That is all that is known. Sergeant Penry was told after he had landed in Java that Geappen’s crew were missing and then 2 or 3 days later Flight Lieutenant Wiley RAF told Sergeant Penry that they had apparently turned back and had crashed or made a forced landing at Lahat which is south east of Palembang (about 100 miles) and then Sergeant Penry was phoned by Gosbell’s sister on 1.4.42 and told her the above and told her that he would come into this headquarters and endeavour to find out more. Seven out of 8 were killed according to the report from Flight Lieutenant Wiley.

    Sergeant Burrage JA Pilot
    Pilot Officer D McL Stewart Observer
    Sergeant McDonald M Wireless Air Gunner

    On 21.2.42 left Kalidjati to raid shipping in river near Palembang. Two other Blenheims went in the formation (Flight Lieutenant Wiley RAF in one and Sgt Penry in the other). We had arranged to cross coast of Sumatra at certain point and from there go to Palembang. We had been told by Flight Lieutenant Wiley that after we crossed coast if there was no cloud to turn back, if small amount cloud to attack in formation, otherwise he would give signal to do independent attacks. We ran into storm before reaching Sumatra and were split up. After crossing coast went to position and Picked up Flight Lieutenant after a few minutes. We did our raid independent attacks. Nothing seen or heard of Sergeant Burrage’s crew. [Penry’s letter to the Burrage family essentially consistent: Burrage and co not see again after formation split up by tropical storm over Java Sea]

    Two chaps, Pilot Officer Martin, Observer; Sergeant Foxwell Wireless Air Gunner (South Australia) [407148, 34 Squadron according to Shores, Cull & Izawa] also Sergeant Lovegrave [406361 Lovegrove] and his crew transferred from 211 to 84 Squadron. All RAAF.

    NB Wing Commander Bateson DFC sent casualty cables from Sumatra and from Java to Royal Australian Air Force Headquarters.
    6.4.42 Telephoned Wing Commander Bateson, read extracts of above report. He confirmed essentials.

    Signed
    John ~ Watt P/O [own hand]
    DPS Casualty Section [stamped]

P/O RF Brown’s narrative
[DPS Casualty Section transcript, P/O JD Watt, undated (carbon copy numbered Encl 7a from McInerney casualty file. The next folio, Encl 8A, is dated May 19 1942. National Archives of Australia Series A705 Item 163/47/118)]

    Pilot Officer RF Brown [RAAF 407357] ex 211 Squadron RAF returned [an RAAF man - to Aus] via Colombo (Sterling Castle [sic: Stirling Castle) states that following casualties occurred to his knowledge in addition to those notified by Sergeant Penry;
    Pilot Officer TT McInerney RAAF, Observer;
    Pilot Officer D Chalmers RAF, Pilot;
    Sergeant G Kenrick, RAAF WAG [sic: 402202
    GM Kendrick]

    13.2.42 above crew went out on low level shipping attack with formation of 6 Blenheims (211 Squadron) Wing Commander
    Bateson leading. Ran into a storm, did not locate target, and storm was so bad that they could not see flare path at Palembang II. Due back about 6pm but four aircraft landed at Palembang I about 10pm. Could not see landing ground at 1,000 feet. Chalmers could not find either drome. (this information was given by Pilot Officer Chalmers direct to Pilot Officer Brown). Circled until petrol low and decided to force land in sea. Came down heavily, neither Chalmers nor Kendrick saw McInerney get out of the crate. Chalmers and Kendrick spent night in water (had Mae Wests on) and were picked up next morning by boat and taken to Batavia. It is apparent that there is very little chance that McInerney could have survived although he had his “Mae West” on. (JD Watt P/O)

      [“Ginge” Brown’s recall of actual return time of 10pm (22:00hrs) differs to the Log Book records of the aircrew, Burrage’s account after diverting to the coast being closest.

      Bill Baird’s Flying Log Book records take-off time as 15:40 hours and return 4hrs later, after 3hrs daylight and 1hr night flying in accord with known sunset time that day at 18:21hrs, implying a return to Palembang P1 at 19:40hrs, about 1 hour after last light.

      Burrage recorded the affair in his diary, take off about 16:00, landing about 21:10 after 2:30hrs in darkness, approximately 5:10hrs flying. Burrage, unable to spot Palembang, had tracked back to the coast to get a fix, and on return succeeded in finding the airfield but in poor conditions overshot on landing writing off the aircraft, Z7776.

      Cuttiford’s Log Book is broadly consistent, recording the flight as 2:50hrs day, 1:30 night, 4:20hrs in all, implying a return around 20:00hrs.

      Livesey, one of the Squadron Flight Mechanics, recorded in his pocket diary that the six aircraft set out at 15:45hrs and that groundcrew were at P2 on the airfield awaiting their return about 18:30hrs

      On balance, it seems the two aircraft lost were put down at about 19:50hrs (Java Sea) and 20:05hrs (near P1) after four hours or more flying in difficult weather that may well have precluded “most economical cruise” settings.]

W/Cdr Batesons later correspondence
[From JB
Keeping’s casualty file, National Archives of Australia Series A705 Item 163/132/150 Encl 26A]

    11 September 1942
    [sic: 1943]
    A/W/CDR. RN Bateson
    Royal Air Force
    Bicester, Oxon

    Sir,
    Reference your P.367529/P.4.cas/B.3.F.E. dated 2nd September 1943, concerning casualty of S/Ldr K
    Dundas DFC the following information is forwarded.

    No 211 Squadron which I had the honour of commanding was re-equipped with Blenheim IV aircraft at Helwan Egypt in Jan 1942. Squadron Leader Dundas was my senior Flight Commander.

    On 26 Jan the Squadron was ordered to proceed to the Far East
    [sic: 25 January according to other records, such as the Log Books of both Bateson himself and
    Cuttiford].

    I led the first flight of six aircraft on that day followed each day by a further six aircraft led by a Flight Commander.

    Squadron Leader Dundas left Egypt on 29 January 1942 with the last flight of 6 aircraft [sic: 28 January, as recorded by Keeping and others, for this fourth and last Flight of six, in all 24 aircraft over four days].

    I arrived in Sumatra on 31st Jan [sic: 1 February in Bateson’s Log Book] with my flight of aircraft and S/L Dundas arrived approximately 3 or 4 days later. The operation in question from which he failed to return was a night raid on a Japanese occupied aerodrome in Malaya (Kluang).

    The target was heavily defended by anti aircraft guns and several searchlights were in operation. In addition several night fighters were operating (enemy).

    As far as I can remember six aircraft from my Squadron were detailed to attack the target, S/Ldr Dundas being number 5 whilst I was number 6 on the target; aircraft attacks were carried out at 5 minute intervals from a zero hour. The target was well defended and the searchlights and anti aircraft fire was accurate.

      [Attacking individually, numbers 5 and 6 were at the greatest risk: typically, Bateson disposed his crews so that the greatest risk was met by those best equipped to face it. Thus it was that Dru Paterson, at no 4 an earlier arrival, could say that opposition was not severe in speaking of the loss of Dundas, Ritchie and Keeping, while Bill Baird vividly remembers Bateson’s “massive evasive action”.

      According to Paterson, however, only three of the intended five aircraft were able to take off. This makes the order Paterson first, Dundas second, and Bateson third and last attacker—but does not afftect the conclusion: the earliest arrival encountered less opposition than the two later arrivals once defences were thoroughly alerted.]

    It is presumed that S/Ldr Dundas’ aircraft was hit either by anti aircraft fire or night fighters as he failed to return to his base and no further news was heard of him or the other two members of his crew.

    Casualty signals were made out whilst in Sumatra but presumably these did not get through. On arrival in Australia I made out a full report of all casualties in the Squadron.

    If there is any other information that I can give you on this matter I should be pleased to do so.
    Yours truly
    (Sgd) RN
    Bateson A/W/C [Acting Wing Commander]

Sources
84 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/696, AIR 27/702
211 Squadron:
Flying Log Books (Bateson, Baird, Cuttiford, Joerin) and
Diaries, letters and later personal accounts (Baird, Brown, Burrage, Kendrick, Keeping, Livesey, Paterson, Penry

RAAF Casualty Files (Series A705) held in National Archives of Australia as noted.

Air Historical Branch The Campaigns in the Far East Vol II Malaya, Netherlands East Indies and Burma (Air Ministry/MLRS)
London Gazette 1948:
Maltby Report on Air Operations During the Campaigns in Malaya and Netherlands East Indies Dec 1941—Mar 1942 HMSO

Campbell & Lovell So Long Singapore (Campbell 2000)
Dunnet Blenheim Over the Balkans (Pentland 2001) Livesey diary facsimile Ch XIX
General Staff Geographical Section No 4550 Sumatra 1:250,000 Koetaradja Sheet 1 [NLA MAP G8080 s250)
Hall Glory in Chaos (Sembawang Assn 1989)
Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1938, 1941
KNILM Complete Map of the Airlines of KNILM, Royal Netherlands Indies Airways c 1935
KNILM The Intercontinental Air Express (monthly issues 1938 to 1942)
Neate Scorpions Sting: The Story of No 84 Squadron RAF (Air Britain 1994)
Probert The Forgotten Air Force (Brassey’s 1995)
Shores, Cull & Izawa Bloody Shambles Vol II (Grub St 1993)
War Office General Staff Geographical Section reprints
Sumatra 1:250,000 Koetaradja Sheet 1 [NLA MAP G8080 s250]
Overzichtskaart van Sumatra 1:750,000 Sumatra Blad I (1936) [NLA MAP G8080 s750]

 

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