211 Squadron Badge

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The Far East

The Far East 1942 and 1943—1945

From the Middle East to the Far East
Following the entry of Japan into the war in early December 1941, 211 Squadron re-formed, taking many old hands from the recently established 72 OTU at
Wadi Gazouza to work up with Blenheim Mark IVs at Helwan from around 20 December 1941.

It is clear from John Keeping’s diary that the Squadron was at “tidy days” for much of the first three weeks of January, with new arrivals gathering kit while aircraft were still being ferried to and from the Desert and Abu Sueir.

Then, in late January 1942, they set off on the long air-route across Iraq, India and Burma, heading for the Far East and ultimately, Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.

The Air Party
From various primary and secondary sources, 84 Squadron and 211 Squadron each left the Middle East with 24 aircraft. Starting respectively on 14 January (84 Squadron) and 25 January (211 Squadron), two flights of three aircraft were dispatched each day. Not all sources agree as to the exact dates, however, these are as the Flying Log Books and official narratives record. At the end of December 1941, 113 Squadron had undertaken a similarly staged departure for Burma with its 16 Blenheims, followed by 45 Squadron with 24 aircraft from 9 February.

Such an apparently stately progress served several purposes: security, utility, safety for stragglers, and reduced pressure on ground resources. On the other hand, compared with their history of rapid deployment, this move took much longer to arrange and execute - albeit over a combined stage length of over 6,000 miles instead of the 600-odd miles common to their Middle East days. Finding sufficient shipping to transport the Squadrons’ ground staff and equipment was an added difficulty.

There were thus 72 aircraft en route from the Middle East to the Far East in January and February 1942. Other RAF re-inforcements were en route by air from the UK and by sea. While the level of urgency to reinforce the Far East may still not have been fully appreciated at command level in either theatre, the dispatch of a force of this size suggests some appreciation of the difficulties ahead.

Compared with Squadron establishments current at the time of the Greek campaign, the 48 aircraft of the two Squadrons slated for the East Indies represented a potentially large force, the equivalent of four late 1940 units. Accordingly, at this stage of the war, each Squadron commanding officer had been advanced to Wing Commander rank, and Flight commanders to Squadron Leader.

Accounts of the period differ. In recent retellings, it is commonly suggested that the original destination for 211 Squadron was Singapore, only altered en route to Sumatra. However, the AHB narrative RAF Campaigns in the Far East (Vol II, Malaya, Netherlands East Indies and Burma) notes that:

    “Sumatra and not Singapore was to be the destination of the re-inforcing Blenheim Squadrons—Nos 84 and 211—from the Middle East. They were scheduled to fly ahead of their ground personnel and equipment and AHQFE was advised accordingly.”
    Op cit p110

The Narrative also makes it clear (p118) that 225 Group was setting up at Palembang in Sumatra by 18 January 1942, explicitly to command 84 and 211 Squadrons and the remnants of RAF and RAAF bomber Squadrons withdrawing from Malaya from 22 January: 27 Squadron RAF, 62 Squadron RAF, 8 Squadron RAAF, 21 Squadron RAAF and others.

AVM Maltby’s Report on Air Operations During the Campaigns in Malaya and Netherlands East Indies Dec 1941—Mar 1942 (London Gazette, Supplement, February 1948) is in accord with that account. Certainly 84 Squadron, leaving a week earlier as part of the same re-inforcement movement, later recorded that their destination from the outset was Sumatra and Palembang (see, for example, 84 Squadron Operations Record Book AIR 27/702 f165) and Neate, Scorpion's Sting p52).

The 211 Squadron Air Party included at least 6 aircrew survivors of the Squadron’s Greek campaign, the full complement of aircrew at this date numbering at least 72 and perhaps 90 or more in all. The number of groundcrew airmen is harder to check. The Squadron strength on departure for the Far East seems to have been about 500 in total, from the fragmentary records available. For comparison, likewise posted with 24 Blenheim IVs to the Far East, 45 Squadron left Egypt with at least 103 aircrew, while 84 Squadron took 484 groundcrew to support their aircraft and 33 complete aircrews.

In this first Far East campaign, 45 of the aircrew have now been identified with reasonable confidence as RAAF personnel—16 of these men were subsequently lost in action in the Squadron in Sumatra and Java. No surviving RAAF members from this period are in contact with me, nor (so far as I am aware) were any members of the 211 Squadron Survivors Association when it was active.

    Blenheim Mark IV Q Queenie
    Bristol Blenheim Mark IV Q-Queenie en route to the Far East (Bill Baird)
    One of 211 Squadron’s Mark IV Blenheims on the way to the Far East in January 1942, still in desert paint, the Squadron 2-letter UQ code not in use. Serial no not legible in my print.

The Sea Party
On 17 January 1942, the majority of the Squadron’s groundcrew and equipment had left Egypt by sea aboard HMT Yoma for Aden, there to join convoy AJ1 for Colombo on 23 January 1942.

Escorted by HMS Cornwall, Yoma arrived at Colombo on 1 February to join convoy JS1, part of the hastily assembled Operation Stepsister movement of 2nd AIF and other troops from the Middle East to the Far East and Australia from mid-January 1942.

The other elements of Stepsister were the ships of JS3 leaving on 30 January, and the much faster liner Orcades, departing Port Tewfik alone as JS2 on 1 February.

Although it has been suggested that Cap St Jacques was also involved, that is not the case. Having been held up in Bombay for repairs since Boxing Day 1941, she sailed from there on 3 January 1942 for Singapore, where she arrived on 23 January. Three days later she sailed again for Bombay, arriving on 12 February and remaining for more repairs until 19 February before departing for Basra. Cap St Jacques did not voyage from Port Tewfik, nor from Colombo, nor yet to Oosthaven, in January or February 1942.

    HMTYoma72
    Port Tewfik (Suez) January 1942 (JE Fryatt)
    Port Tewfik was the major war-time port of Egypt and of RAF Middle East for convoys to and from the UK (voyaging south-about via Freetown and the Cape of Good Hope), and from Australia and the Far East. Tewfik was thus the port of embarkation for the 211 Squadron Sea Party departing for the Far East in January 1942. The voyage is recounted by
    Len Abbs and by Len Cooper. The vessel may be of the Stepsister convoy JS1, but for the moment is unidentified.

Proceeding first to Colombo, they paused there to refuel and reorganize. On 3 February, their division of JS1 sailed for Sumatra. Their escort was HMS Cornwall until 10 February, then HMAS Hobart and HMS Exeter who took them on to Oosthaven. There, Yoma, Filleigh, Lulworth Hill, Hai Lee and Ermion made port on 14 February 1942. It was to be a short stay, as Len (Abbie) Abbs later recalled.

Still, by 17 February 1942 Yoma was in port at Batavia where, on 20 February, among others she took aboard 132 men of 84 Squadron, plus some number of civilians, for evacuation that day to Colombo with convoy SJ5. Arriving safely there on 1 March, she sailed again with Bombay-bound convoy C5 early on 2 March, from thence to Karachi on 15 March.

    Pat Henderson’s Yoma, 1928
    Pat Henderson’s Yoma, 1928 (Merchant Shipping Review 1929)
    SS Yoma
    was built for P Henderson and Co of Scotland by Denny’s and launched in 1928 for the Far East trade, in joint-ownership with the British and Burmese Steam Navigation Co. She was 8,139 gross register tons and equipped with quadruple-expansion engines capable of 14 knots. In her day, she was a popular passenger steamer. Put to service as a troopship, she did not survive the war. In convoy from Tripoli to Alexandria with some 1800 troops aboard, she was sunk by U-81 NW of Derna on 17 June 1943. Hit by two torpedoes, Yoma went down stern-first within five minutes, with the loss of her captain George Paterson MBE and 483 troops and crew. Thanks to the close attendance of a group of HM minesweepers and another merchant ship, 1477 troops and crew were saved.

Blenheims in Malaya and the East Indies 1942
The Blenheim Is of No. 62 (Bomber) and No. 34 (Bomber) Squadron and Blenheim IFs of No 27 (Fighter) Squadron were based in Malaya (Tengah, Butterworth, Tallang etc) until mid to late January 1942. The Squadrons had fallen back to Palembang in Sumatra (PI, P2) by late January. There they met up with No. 84 (Bomber) Squadron and No. 211 (Bomber) Squadron (both with Blenheim IVs) just arriving from the Middle East; and the assortment of Hudsons of 8 Squadron RAAF and the ex-53 Squadron and ex-59 Squadron detachments.

211 Squadron in Sumatra
211 Squadron had left for the Far East over four days in the last week of January 1942. With 24 Mark IV Blenheims en route to the Far East on a ferry flight of some 40 hours flying time over 10 days, servicing and briefing difficulties were encountered by some crews.

Squadron aircraft reached Palembang (the P2 satellite field) in South Sumatra progressively from 2 February to 6 February, from individual personal accounts. Some, with poor briefing or encountering poor weather, experienced difficulty in finding either L’honga or nearby Koetaradja on arrival, while for others the leg on to Pakenbaroe was difficult. Eventually 19 aircraft completed the journey.

While staging through Lho’nga, on 2 February the Squadron had made an early return to operations, with a reconnaissance flight for a reported Japanese aircraft carrier by Cuttiford & co in Z7622 and Coughlan & co in Z9660. They saw nothing, perhaps fortunately.

By 6 February, with 16 aircraft on hand at Palembang (P2), the Squadron was about to resume operations in earnest. The convoy escort task of 7 February resulted in the loss of two Australian crews, Z9713 (Sgts Bott, Lynas and Lamond) and Z7586 (Sgts Steele, Menzies and Gornall), and of F/Lt Linton RAF in Z9659 who died the next day.

The Kluang night raid on 10 February claimed the lives of S/Ldr Ken Dundas DFC and his RAAF crew in Z7699. By 11 February, 211 was reported to have had six serviceable Blenheims available at P2 (however, on withdrawal from Sumatra 5 days later, Bateson led ten aircraft, each with crew and five passengers, across the Java Sea to Batavia).

As observed elsewhere, the attempted night raid on 11/12 February was a disaster, with two aircraft of 211 Squadron and one of 84 Squadron crashing on take off thanks to poor flare path layout. Clutterbuck and his Observer, Newstead died, the gunner Joerin surviving. Further losses on the afternoon of 13 February saw two aircraft and four aircrew, all RAAF (Mackay, Oddie and Payne lost in the jungle, and McInerney lost on ditching, only the RAF pilot Chalmers and RAAF gunner 402202 Sgt GM Kendrick surviving).

The following two days saw intense air activity against the Japanese landing force, around Banka Is and the Moesi River, Cuttiford and co contributing.

Meanwhile, the 211 Squadron Sea Party had arrived at Oosthaven aboard HMT Yoma on Saturday 14 February. Len Abbs, Tom Henderson and others recalled this, not unnaturally, as occuring the day before: Friday the 13th, “unlucky for some”. However, original ship and port records of the time, and accounts of the Operation Stepsister convoy JS1, all confirm that HMT Yoma arrived at Oosthaven on 14 February. The 211 Squadron contingent of 400-odd groundcrew and spare aircrew were lightered ashore that afternoon.

After an abortive railway journey towards Palembang early the next morning, they returned later that day or the next and re-embarked on the Yoma, slipping at dusk for Batavia. The next day, 17 February 1942, they arrived at Tanjong Priok, the port of Batavia in Java, without having met up with the air echelon. Orcades arrived on 15 February and then made for Batavia where she, too, took part in the evacuation of Java as recounted by Len Abbs.

    SS van der Hagen, Oosthaven 14 February 1942
    SS van der Hagen, Oosthaven 14 February 1942 (W Maitland via D Vincent)
    Bill
    Maitland, an RAAF pilot of 211 Squadron, was apparently among the large Squadron party who had reached Sumatra aboard Yoma. On 15 or 16 February they reboarded Yoma, remaining at moorings in Oosthaven until dusk.

    Here Maitland has caught the KPM ship van der Hagen alongside the wharf. She had made port that day, carrying troops and equipment including anti-aircraft guns, according to the master of another Dutch vessel in port. Built in 1909 and of 3,030 gross register tons, she was one of many such vessels engaged in the East Indies trade, in which KPM (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij: the Royal Dutch Packet Navigation Company) was the major player. From January 1942 to 8 March 1942 when Java fell, KPM lost no less than 79 vessels in Far East waters. Among them was van der Hagen, sunk there at Tjilatjap. She was raised and put to service by the Japanese, only to be sunk again at Maizuru Bay in Honshu by American air action. Dick Schouten in Holland went to great lengths to help find a sound identification for this little ship.

    Hardly a war-like posture, on first look. However, the apparent sparseness of the facilities alongside may simply be a trick of the angle of view. From the various lines in shot, this photograph seems to have been taken from another vessel, at moorings, almost certainly Yoma. Although just one godown is visible, it is a permanent structure of corrugated iron and in good condition on this day (although to be destroyed within days to deny the port facilities to the Japanese). To the far right, there is a rake of wagons in a railway siding close to the shoreline, consistent with Oosthaven. To the immediate left of the wagons, slightly lower and closer to the shore there may be a light AA mounting, though it could well be a small goods crane.

    RAF personnel aboard a lighter, Oosthaven February 1942
    RAF personnel aboard a lighter, Oosthaven February 1942 (W Maitland via D Vincent)
    The port facilities included a steam tender and lighterage. Like
    Jim Fryatt and Mick Dudman's shots at Poerwokerto, the men aboard the lighter stand in an orderly, well presented body with RAF STs aplenty. In his own description, Bill described this as ”Troops coming aboard at Ersthaven during evacuation of Sumatra”. Together, his two photographs and description are consistent with other known events and port layout at Oosthaven on 14 February 1942. This second shot is apparently of the 211 Squadron rear echelon, re-embarking Yoma by lighter that day. Bill was doubly lucky with this sort of caper: 16 days later he was evacuated from Tjilatjap in Java, aboard Tung Song.

    Oosthaven 1940s crop02
    Oosthaven/Panjung (Admiralty Sheet 3611 Telukbetung Road 1:36,280)
    The port area at Oosthaven in Lampung Bay, from the British Admiralty
    chart Plans on the South Coast of Sumatra Sheet 3611, in the National Library of Australia (MAP G5741.P5). The small highlights are the essential mariner’s aids in peace and war: leading lights.

211 Squadron in Java
With the Japanese close at hand and advancing rapidly in Sumatra, on
16 February ten Blenheims of 211 Squadron, led by CO Bob Bateson withdrew from Palembang P2 across the Java Sea to Batavia. Burrage, flying a 34 Squadron aircraft, unfortunately wrote it off on arrival, attempting a forced landing with engine problems. Other accounts of this day report 84 Squadron making the same trip with eight aircraft. Within a day or two, the Blenheims were gathered at Kalidjati to resume operations.

On 21 February, one or perhaps two Flights took off to raid Palembang, with the loss of another 211 Squadron aircraft and crew: Sgt Burrage, with F/Lt Stewart Observer and Sgt McDonald WOp/AG. This may well have been the last operation in which 211 Squadron took part. It was not, however, their last casualty before the surrender.

Over the next week, further aircraft and aircrew losses brought orders from the AOC for the remaining aircraft to be pooled under 84 Squadron, which was done on 25 February. From 26 February, 211 Squadron groundcrew in Batavia and the aircrew and groundcrew at Kalidjati began withdrawing through Bandoeng, to gather at Poewokerto for possible evacuation from the South coast port of Tjilatjap on 2 March; or attempted escape or captivity on surrender, 8 March 1942.

At Kalidjati, 84 Squadron continued to mount operations until the airfield was over-run on 1 March 1942, It appears that 211 Squadron’s last casualty occurred on that day: Sgt RD Mohr 400019 RAF was last seen on the ground near Kalidjati but no more was ever heard of him.

With the limited shipping available, the hard choice had been made to evacuate aircrew and other skilled trades by sea, other personnel perforce remaining to fall captive as Len Abbs so vividly recalled.

Kota Gede
Thanks to the Dutch and the Royal Navy’s efforts to clear Batavia and Tjilatjap, a number of 211s had been evacuated with about 2,150 RAF and Army personnel aboard the crowded
Kota Gede bound for Ceylon. Departing Tjilatjap on the evening of 27 February 1942, she made her way across the Indian Ocean at 13½kts without incident to reach the port of Colombo on 6 March 1942.

    SS Kota Gede
    MV Kota Gede (Merchant Shipping Review 1929)
    Built at Rotterdam in 1928 for Rotterdamsche Lloyd and registered in Batavia, Kota Gede was a motor vessel of some 7300 tons. Accounts of the evacuees, vivid but sparse, suggest at least 21 men of 211 Squadron boarded the ship at Tjilatjap:

    Kota Gede February 1942
    Kota Gede February 1942 (Jack Woodward)
    Jack Woodward, a Sgt Observer of 27 Squadron, was one of the lucky ones. After withdrawal from Butterworth and Singapore with the remaining 27 and 62 Squadron Blenheim Is on 22 January 1942, at Palembang (P2) he and his pilot W/O John “Jock” Kennedy and WOp/AG Sgt Gordon “Clicker” Clarke carried out operations against the Japanese invasion force. Withdrawing to Java, Kennedy successfully force-landed Blenheim I L8396 (still wearing 62 Squadron codes FX-N) in a padi field. Safely making their way to Batavia and Kalidjati they faced ground attack and ultimately withdrawal to Tjilatjap to board Kota Gede early in the morning of Friday 27 February 1942 with 2,150 other evacuees.

    Richardson Allan FJ colln
    Sgt Allan Richardson, WOp/AG 211 Squadron c1942 (via B Cull)
    Richardson was certainly aboard Kota Gede. His Pilot (Coughlan) and Observer (Cummins) also survived, presumably also evacuated aboard Kota Gede.

    P/O EP Coughlan 47209 was in fact an old 211 Greyhound: posted in as Sergeant Pilot Edward Patrick Coughlan 580252 for the move to the Middle East in April 1938, he remained with them through their conversion to the Bristol Blenheim. Posted elsewhere in July 1939, he was commissioned in September 1941, rejoining his old Squadron by early 1942. Sgt PLD “Arch” Cummins was a Kiwi who had joined the RAF in 1938. He was posted to 230 Squadron as an Observer in early 1939 until June 1941. Tour expired, he had spent six months instructing at 70 OTU in Kenya before joining 211 Squadron in December 1941 as they worked up for the Far East action.

The Tung Song evacuees
A further 65 aircrew and groundcrew of the Squadron were lucky to be among the last party of RAF personnel evacuated from Java, aboard 205 Squadron's tender for its Catalinas, RAFA Tung Song. She departed Tjilatjap on the South coast of Java around dusk on 2 March 1942.

    TungSong02
    RAFA Tung Song, Nancowry, Nicobar Is, September 1941 (Ron Lovell via Hugh Campbell)
    Photographed by armourer 911029 AC1 Ron Lovell from the ship’s launch, Tung Song as fitted out for duty as tender to No 205 (Flying Boat) Squadron. A lighter lies alongside, aft. Although partly obscured by the lighter, the original image shows the sweep of her counter-stern, with the poop accommodation extending right aft.

    When built in 1928 for the Straits Steamship Co of Singapore, she was pretty typical of the smaller merchant vessels of the Malay Straits trade: a twin-screw triple-expansion steamer of 436 gross register tons and 152ft 6in overall, catering for trade and deck passengers with limited cabin accommodation. She was given a major refit in 1936: converted to fuel-oil, lengthened with another hatch forward, adding accommodation decks amidships and on the poop. These alterations increased her length to 183ft 8in, her draft from 8ft 6in to 10ft 1in and her tonnage to 549, thus reducing her speed by 2 knots to 8 knots. It was in this state that she was requisitioned by the RAF in late 1939, for service with 205 Squadron. Post-war, she survived until 1958.

    In this form she arrived at Tjilatjap in March 1942, one of the last vessels available for evacuation duty before the surrender of Java on 8 March. Despite strenuous efforts by the Royal Navy to organise and clear available shipping at Batavia and Tjilatjap, the Dutch surrender saw many thousands of British Commonwealth servicemen stranded, among them some 5,100 RAF men, of whom at least 346 were 211 Squadron personnel.

Conditions for evacuees from Java aboard Tung Song are illustrated by the photographs of Squadron CO RN Bateson DFC, and of Jim Fryatt. The story of the 200-odd civilian and military evacuees who boarded the ex-Straits steamer has been told in rich detail by Hugh Campbell and Ron Lovell in So Long Singapore. They eventually arrived safely at Fremantle, the principal port of Western Australia, on 12 March1942. There, the RAAF’s No 5 Embarkation Depot was ready and able to deal with pay, kit, leave and accommodation for airmen arriving en masse.

As usual in the Services, to do all that, forms had to be filled in and reports written. At 5ED they made a laconic (and numerically garbled) summary entry in their ORB and then, as they dealt with the arrivals and sent them on East, compiled the name, rank, no and mustering of each man in the weekly Personnel Occurrence Report - the mysterious POR that appears so often against service record entries.

Without the POR system, details of postings, leave and other information could get hopelessly entangled, the more so when RAAF and RAF personnel were mingled and in transit over half the world. Such was their importance that the reports were roneo copied for distribution. While the RAF versions (in vaster volume, of course) have long since been “weeded”, in the National Archives of Australia a complete RAAF set exists.

There the 5ED reports are still held safe, as Series: 10605 Item: 5 Embarkation Depot.. Thus I found them some years back, seeking records to help Hugh and Ron complete the Tung Song story. Volumes I and II can be viewed on-line through the NAA digital archive.

211 Squadron: Fremantle 13 March 1942
The table below is a nominal roll, showing 65 RAF and RAAF personnel of 211 Squadron who disembarked at Fremantle on 13 March 1942 ex-Tjilatjap, sourced from the 5 ED PORs 25/1942 to 31/1942 and checked against So Long Singapore. The seven Australians are also named in the RAAF survivors, Far East roll on the
RAAF personnel page. The Squadron records of its Far East operations did not survive.

     Name

    Service No\, rank

     Mustering

     Allen DW

    1293927 AC1

    Electrician II

     Ashton WJ

     651257 LAC

    F/Rigger

     Badley PI

     1312176 Sgt

     GD Pilot

     Baird W

     653804 Sgt

     GD WOp/AG

     Baron T

     569032 F/Sgt

     WEM

     Bateson RN

     39054 W/Cdr

     GD Pilot (Commanding Officer)

     Blacher RC

     540781 LAC

     F/Mechanic Airframe

     Brett CG

     642454 Cpl

     Fitter IIA

     Broadbent HP

     701873 LAC

     Armourer (Gen)

     Brown H

     567975 Sgt

     Fitter II

     Campbell R (RAAF)

     406237 Sgt

     GD Pilot

     Chalmers DR

     44807 P/O

     GD Pilot

     Charlton M

     943231 LAC

     FME

     Chignall GNV

     651720 Sgt

     GD WOp/AG

     Clark TJ

     643462 LAC

     FME

     Collery WJ

     918781 LAC

     FME

     Cooke CT

     541905 Cpl

     Fitter IIE

     Cook K

     560888 Cpl

     Metal Worker

     Cox CWJ

     520961 Cpl

     Fitter IIE

     Dennis PB

     755495 Sgt

     GD Air Observer

     Devenish ADE

     45422 P/O

     GD Pilot

     Dudman RJS

     624563 LAC

     FME

     Ensel J

     82978 F/O

     GD WOp/AG

     Fearon JH

     542063 Cpl

     Fitter IIA

     Foreman WCW (RNZAF)

     403770 P/O

     GD Air Observer

     Fryatt JE

     631210 AC1

     Armourer

     Fuller BK (RAAF)

     402794 Sgt

     GD Pilot

     Gibbs FG

     1066972 AC1

     FMA

     Gibson WJK

     86017 F/O

     Engineer Tech Brch

     Gore JA

     563780 F/Sgt

     Metal Rigger
     Lost at sea 29 October 1942 HMT Abosso

     Greenwood HC

     P/O

     GD WOp/AG

     Hamshaw WFW

     525736 Sgt

     Fitter Aero engine

     Head ES

     518462 Cpl

     Fitter IIA

     Henderson TD

     628120 LAC

     Armourer (Gen)

     Holden A

     625002 AC1

     Armourer

     Holland HM

     1285162 AC2

     Metal Worker

     House GE

     648875 LAC

     F/Mechanic

     Hubbard BJ (RAAF)

     401037 Sgt

     GD Air Observer

     Joerin FC

     82985 F/O

     GD WOp/AG

     Kavanagh V

     610353 LAC

     InstRep2

     Kirby J

     639012 LAC

     F/Armourer

     Leach CR

     638527 Cpl

     Fitter IIE

     Leonard LP

     543945 LAC

     F/Rigger

     Lewis AT

     623414 Cpl

     Inst Rep

     Maitland WA (RAAF)

     407797 P/O

     GD Pilot

     Marsh WA

     525386 Cpl

     Fitter IIA

     Martin RJ (RAAF)

     400326 P/O

     GD Aircrew

     McDiarmid FJ

     551462 Cpl

     F/Armourer

     McMorland WW

     622380 LAC

     FMA

     Mockridge GA

     45431 P/O

     GD Pilot

     Moyers LJ

     523578 Cpl

     Fitter IIE

     Quirke TJ

     622696 LAC

     InstRep2

     Rance AE

     364204 F/Sgt

     Fitter 1

     Riddle GA

     749525 F/Sgt

     GD Air Observer

     Rowland B.L

     539948 Cpl

     Metal Rigger

     Savage DC

     1150782 Sgt

     GD Air Observer

     Shackleton AE

     633880 LAC

     Electrician 2

     Smith AJ

     926259 Sgt

     GD Air Observer

     Smith DC

     574174 AC1

     WEM

     Stanyer E

     938222 LAC

     Electrician

     Stewart R

     989327 AC1

     Electrician 2

     Sykens WF

     1378809 Sgt

     GD Pilot

     Townsend PJ

     640632 LAC

     Electrician 2

     West BL (RAAF)

     407264 P/O

     GD Pilot

     Williamson LH (RAAF)

     402688 P/O

     GD Pilot

Allen DW AC1 1293927
His Unit was partially misrecorded in the source material, however, he was among the large
draft of men posted from 72 OTU to 211 Squadron in December 1941. An Electrician II by trade, Allen was one of the few 211 Squadron groundcrew to reach Palembang P2 in February 1942. Apparently one of a party of 25 airmen left behind to destroy equipment at P2 in order to deny it to the Japanese before escaping on foot, by stolen truck and aboard a friendly Dutch boat to Java, from whence he was also among the last lucky few to be evacuated aboard Tung Song bound for Fremantle. Donald Allen died in 2012.

Brown, H 567975 Sgt Fitter II
No shortage of Browns in the 211 Squadron story. Sgt Herbert
Brown RAF appears, as a Corporal Fitter II, on the 72 OTU roll of groundcrew posted back to 211 Squadron in December 1941. Made Sergeant, he duly made his way to the Dutch East Indies and was evacuated from Java aboard Tung Song to Australia.

    Dudman SgtBrown in RAAF blue postevac42
    Sgt Brown in Australian blue uniform (Dudman collection)
    Some of the Squadron personnel (Jim
    Fryatt, for example) were re-kitted on reaching Melbourne—hence the darker blue of Sgt Brown’s uniform in this shot from the late Mick Dudman’s collection: RAAF blue. Mick’s own caption, from among his post-evacuation shots.

F/Sgt JA Gore 563780
Flight Sergeant Gore was a Metal Rigger, among those posted to 211 Squadron out of 72 OTU groundcrew in December 1941. After safely reaching Australia in March 1942, he was one of a party of 40 RAF personnel among the 210 civilian and military passengers and 182 crew and gunners aboard HMT Abosso, bound for Liverpool out of Capetown, returning to the UK from a voyage to Bombay. On 29 October 1942 she was attacked by U575, while sailing unescorted in the Atlantic far to the NW of the Azores. In heavy weather, five of the ships boats were got away before she sank. The weather continued to deteriorate such that when HMS Bideford reached the area on 2 November, she was able to recover only 31 survivors in the sole remaining boat. Gore was not among them.

Squadron strength and fates 1942
In the absence of any Squadron or other record at the time, the aggregate figures can only be estimates, reflecting the known number of aircraft, the size of the initial groundcrew contingent from
72 OTU and the known strength of 84 Squadron similarly equipped for the same destination.

While Mick Dudman later recalled that

    “The Squadron personnel on the ship, plus a number of Army personnel, numbered more than 550”
    Campbell and Lovell So Long Singapore Ch 5

the 1942 strength of the Squadron on moving to the Far East seems to have been about 500, of whom there is now a record of 446 named individuals.

The summary below shows that, of that initial strength, 19 men (that is, all aircrew) died in action while 180 men died in captivity. At least 86 men (and perhaps as many as 140) were evacuated to continue their war service from mid-1942 onwards. Of the 346 men made PoW in 1942, 166 survived captivity to return to the UK in 1945. In all about half the strength of the Squadron in the 1942 campaign, at least 251 men, survived to eventually return home.

    211 Squadron estimated initial strength 1942

     

     

    Aircrew

    approx 90

     

    Groundcrew

    approx 400

     

      Total initial strength

    approx 500
     

     

    Aircrew losses

    19

     

      Balance, Squadron strength

    approx 480
     

     

    Known evacuees

     

     

      Kota Gede
      Aircrew
      Groundcrew

    21
    17
    4

     

      Tung Song
      Aircrew
      Groundcrew

    65
    23
    42

     

      Yoma

    number unknown

     

      Subtotal, known evacuees
      Balance, Squadron strength

    86
    approx 400

     

     

     

     

    Known FEPoWs 1942

     

     

      Aircrew died died in captivity
      Groundcrew died in captivity
      Aircrew survived captivity
      Groundcrew survived captivity
      Subtotal, known FEPoWs

    2
    178
    3
    163
    346

     

     

     

     

    Total strength accounted for

    450

     

      Aircrew accounted for

    64

     

     

     

     

    Total survived 1942 service, 211 Squadron

    252

     

      Known aircrew
      Known groundcrew

    43
    209

     

     

     

     

    1942 Strength not yet accounted for

    approx 50

     

      Aircrew not yet accounted for

    approx 30
     

     

There were at least 24 three-man crews flying the Squadron’s 24 aircraft (72 men), certainly with some spare crews with the Sea Party, possibly 90 or more in total (for 84 Squadron: 24 Blenheims, 33 crews, 99 men). In total, 450 men of 211 Squadron have been accounted for by name to date, 64 of them aircrew. That leaves perhaps 50 or more men still to be recorded, either aircrew or groundcrew.

Apart from the 65 men aboard Tung Song and at least 21 aboard Kota Gede, it is also known that at least some 211 Squadron men were aboard Yoma when she departed Batavia for Colombo on 20 February with civilian, 34 Squadron and 84 Squadron evacuees. It also seems likely that there may have been more men of the Squadron among the large (and unlisted) party of service personnel evacuated on 27 February 1942 by Kota Gede—both aircrew and groundcrew. The brief formal record of her passage to Colombo gives no more than the voyage dates. There may be rolls of the service personnel aboard Yoma and Kota Gede, still to be found.

Some RAF and RAAF men were aboard MS Abbekerk (departed Tjilatjap 27 February, arrived Fremantle 4 March) and MS Zaandam (departed Tjilatjap 1 March, arrived Fremantle 7 March) however, none of the arrivals listed in 5 Embarkation Depot records can be shown to have been of 211 Squadron. Likewise, no 211s are known to have been aboard MV Janssens (departed Tjilatjap 4 March, arrived Fremantle 13 March).

The RAF FEPoW roll published by the Stubbs’ is a very great achievement, from difficult source materials. Although ranks, musterings and trades are not shown, further checking of names and service numbers found only two aircrew survivors (H Wright and NR Jeanes) in addition to the two aircrew deaths (HV Lewis and CG Sharley) already known. In compiling rolls for the 211 Squadron FEPoWs, no more aircrew were identified.

The RAF in Sumatra and Java
By mid February 1942 there were about 12,000 RAF personnel on Java, about 10,000 of whom had arrived between 12 and 18 February, in great disorder as far as being equipped for operations was concerned. Despite the lack of time to organise in a rapidly deteriorating situation, they were able to form some sort of order and to mount operations, albeit at considerable cost.

In the period immediately before surrender to the Japanese, about 7,000 RAF personnel were among the many servicemen evacuated from Sumatra and Java (although not all made it to safety). The remainder, including 5,102 RAF men, were among the large number of personnel taken PoW. The Far East Prisoners of War endured the most extreme privations at the hands of their captors. Civilians, women and children fared little better.

While in Japanese captivity, 1,714 RAF personnel died: that is, about 33% or one in every three. Of those RAF men known to have lost their lives in captivity, 619 lost their life at sea aboard Japanese vessels transporting them for forced labour, 362 of them aboard ships sunk by Allied submarines.

To put all that in perspective, a simple comparison will suffice. In the European theatre, of 9,879 RAF PoWs captive in Germany, 152 died: about 1.5% (or one in every 65).

211 Squadron losses 1942
Arriving in Sumatra less than two weeks before the fall of Singapore, they suffered heavy casualties over Malaya, Sumatra and Java. In just over two weeks, ten
aircraft were lost in the course of operations with 19 aircrew killed or missing believed killed (of whom 16 were RAAF personnel). Many other aircraft were destroyed, rendered unserviceable or written off in enemy attacks and other incidents.

The approximate total personnel strength of the Squadron in the 1942 campaign was about 500, as noted above. While at least 87 men are known to have been evacuated, at least 346 men (five of them aircrew) were made PoW, of whom 180 perished, including two aircrew. There were 166 known FEPoW survivors (three of them aircrew).

The Far East Campaign 1943—1945: the RAF in India and Burma
Probert’s Forgotten Air Force covers India and the Burma theatre in the broad. There are also a number of theatre and personal accounts of other Squadrons noted under Sources below, and a great many Beaufighter and Mosquito books (far too many to list here).

August 1943 found 211 Squadron re-forming in Northern India. At Phaphamau (near Allahabad on the Ganges, “beloved of her people”) they were to work up for Bristol Beaufighter operations in the second Burma campaign. With an initial strength of 16 aircraft, the Squadron personnel numbered about 330 on resumption of operations in January 1944, with 24 complete two-man crews (Pilot and Navigator/Wireless or Nav/W for short).

    Image3302

    Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter Mark X M Mother NV526, Chiringa 1945 (D Marsh-Collis)

211 Squadron aircrew faced a fresh, stern struggle in Burma, in an intense 18 months of operations that saw the Japanese driven from Burma, and surviving RAF “Rats of Rangoon” (including twelve 211 members) rescued from captivity in Rangoon Jail. This third costly but ultimately successful campaign has been covered here thanks to several of those men or their families, who have most kindly put forward some of their story.

In the year and a half from January 1944 to May 1945, the Squadron was heavily engaged against Japanese ground and air forces, flying 1790 sorties and destroying 25 aircraft, 223 locomotives, over 600 motor transports, large numbers of watercraft, and numerous other ground targets. In that time they lost 33 aircraft on operations. Just six of the original 24 two-man crews survived to complete their “tours” with 211 Squadron. In contrast, during the early part of their Burma operations, CO S/Ldr Pat Meagher DSO DFC scored a number of victories against Japanese opponents, becoming a Beaufighter ace in the process.

Standing down in late May 1945, they were converting to the de Havilland Mosquito FB VI in June and July, with the expectation of taking part in the invasion of Malaya planned for September. In August VJ Day arrived, forestalling their resumption of offensive operations. By then, some Squadron personnel were already being repatriated. Once more at operational readiness, after some delay the Squadron moved to Thailand with its Mosquitoes in November 1945, only to disband there in March 1946.

The photos from Bill Dickinson, Sam Spicer, the late Steve Woodhouse, Alan Wythe DFM and Don Harris (a Burma Quintet if you will) form a neat introduction to this period. They show men in good spirits at work and at rest. The bush hat characteristic of the theatre is prominent. Airmen of RAF and RAAF origin alike had held the standard issue sola topee in no great regard: now they took to the readily available bush hat with alacrity.

    211 Squadron Sergeant’s Mess Christmas 1944
    211 Squadron Sergeants Mess Christmas 1944 (Peter Spooner)
    Among others present: F/Sgt Taff "Chiefy" Jones, second from left, front, in blues.
    Possibly W/O Ray Wood (pilot) behind and right of Jones.
    Cpl Ted Ede standing to the left and partly behind the central bamboo pole.
    To the right of the pole, apparently an NCO pilot also in blues.

The history of operations in India and Burma prepared on the spot by Peter Spooner gives a clear and complete view of operations and another sobering set of personnel rolls. Operations in Burma are covered from a pilot’s angle by Monty Walters. The view from the rear cupola is recounted by the late Alan Carter; by Monty’s own Nav/W Ron Kemp (from his family ms Who Could Ask for Anything More); by the late George Manderson DFC (from his own ms Five years and a bit!); and by Dennis Spencer in his own marvellous book, Looking Backwards Over Burma.

The rich collections of photographs from the album of the late Desmond Marsh-Collis of the groundcrew and from pilot Monty Walters offer striking views of those Burma days, while Arthur Goodinson’s diary rounds out the role of the groundcrews. James Mitchell’s narrow escapes add a note of hope, while the photo collections of the late Les Ramsay and the late John Robertson offer nice personal views of mateship in adversity.

While the accounts of Don Lomas and Barney Mearns offer a grim insight into the loss of one of the Rats of Rangoon, Johnny Luing, the narratives of Mal Haakenson and Jim Oblein provide equally moving accounts of Rats who survived. In counterpoint stand the accounts of Bob Dagnall and Bill Gilmore, both lost on operations.

More detail of the continuing Canadian and Australian presence in the Squadron has slowly emerged. Four RAAF personnel, 19 RCAF personnel, and one South African have been identified.

The later days of the Squadron in Thailand are now well described and illustrated by Carruthers, Kemp, Walters, Winton and Wood.

211 Losses 1943-1945
The Squadron’s losses in Burma were grievous. Between November 1943 and July 1945, 76 aircrew were lost: 18 as PoW and 58 killed or missing in action (including 2 of the RAAF members:
Fuller and Goddard). Sadly, 14 of those lost were to fatal flying accidents. Four men died in accidents or of illness.

Of the 18 aircrew taken captive in the course of air operations over Burma, two were shot on capture, 12 survived the horrors of Rangoon Jail, yet sadly four men died there.

Sources
84 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/696, AIR 27/702
113 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/878
211 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1302 & AIR 27/1303
211 Squadron Appendices
TNA AIR 27/1304 to AIR 27/1310
211 Squadron aircrew Flying
Log Books and personal accounts as noted.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission records
Merchant Shipping Movement Card SS Cap St Jacques 1940—1946 TNA BT 389/6/131
Merchant Shipping Movement Card SS Kota Gede 1939—1946 TNA BT 389/38/217
Merchant Shipping Movement Card SS Tung Song 1940—1942, 1942—1945 TNA BT 389/27/515
Merchant Shipping Movement Card SS Yoma 1939—1946 TNA BT 389/32/212

RAN Merchant Ship Movement Records Stirling Castle 1941—1942
RAN Merchant Ship Movement
Records Tung Song 1942—1945

RAAF Aircraft Loss Cards via D Norman
RAAF Records of Service (Series A9300, A9301), Casualty Files (Series A705) and Personnel Occurrence Reports (Series A10605) held in the
National Archives of Australia

Cull B correspondence with author re Joerin, Henderson
Johnston A correspondence with author
Samuel S correspondence with author re
Williams
Vincent D correspondence with author re RAAF men inc
Maitland

Report: Evacuation of RAF through Oosthaven, Sumatra Grp Cpt Nicholetts TNA AIR 23/2158 (via L Richards @rcre)
War Office Casualties at Sea: HMT Abosso TNA WO361/406

Air Historical Branch Flying Training Vol I: Policy and Planning, Air Publication 3233 (Air Ministry 1952/MLRS)
Air Historical Branch RAF Narrative: The Middle East Campaigns Vol I Operations in Libya and the Western Desert September 1939 to June 1941 (Air Ministry/
MLRS)
Air Historical Branch RAF Narrative: 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
National Archives UK
AIR 78 airmen etc Rolls

Air Ministry Wings of the Phoenix (HMSO 1949)
Balfe War Without Glory (Macmillan 1984)
Bowyer The Flying Elephants (Macdonald 1972) [27 Squadron]
Campbell & Lovell So Long Singapore (Campbell 2000)
Dunnet Blenheim Over the Balkans (Pentland 2001) Riddle narrative CH XXIII, Livesey diary facsimile Ch XIX
Hague The Allied Convoy System 1939—1945 (Vanwell 2000)
Hall Glory in Chaos (Semabawang Assn 1989)
Hamlin Flat Out (Air Britain 2002) [30 Squadron]
Harbord Familiar Voices (Able 1999) [60 Squadron]
Home Their Last Tenko (Quoin 1989)
Innes Beaufighters Over Burma (Blandford 1985) [27 Squadron]
Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1938, 1941
Java FEPoW 1942 Club Prisoners in Java (Hamwic 2007)
Jefford The Flying Camels: The History of No 45 Squadron RAF (Jefford 1995)
Jefford RAF Squadrons (Airlife 2001)
Kelly Battle for Palembang (Hale 1985) [258 Squadron]
Kelly Hurricane Over the Jungle (Kimber 1977) [258 Squadron]
KNILM Complete Map of the Airlines of KNILM, Royal Netherlands Indies Airways c 1935
Lind
MV Abosso incl Complement of the MV Abosso
Lloyds Lloyds Register of British and Foreign Shipping 1930-31, 1940-41
Merchant Shipping Review 1929
Montague Browne Long Sunset
Neate Scorpions Sting: The Story of No 84 Squadron RAF (Air Britain 1994)
O’Brien Chasing After Danger (Collins 1990) [53 & 62 Squadrons]
Plowman Across the Sea to War (Rosenberg 2003)
Probert The Forgotten Air Force (Brassey’s 1995)
Shores, Cull & Izawa Bloody Shambles Vol I, Vol II (Grub Street 1992, 1993)
Shores Air War For Burma (Bloody Shambles Vol III) (Grub Street 2005)
Smith et al Royal Navy and Naval History
www.naval-history.net
Smyth Abrupt Sierras (Wilton 65 2001) [11 Squadron]
Storr Missing With No Known Grave (Storr 2006) at
AWM
Stubbs & Stubbs Unsung Heroes of the Royal Air Force: The Far East Prisoners of War (Barny Books 2002)
Sutherland Brown Silently into the Midst of Things (Trafford 2001) [177 Squadron]
Tomlinson The Most Dangerous Moment—Japanese Assault on Ceylon 1942 (Granada 1979)
Vincent RAAF Hudson Story Book One (Vincent 1999)
Wheatley An Erksome War [11 Squadron]
Woodward Three Times Lucky (Boolarang 1991) [27 & 62 Squadron]
Young and Warne Sixty Squadron (1967)

 

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Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 11 Nov 2016. Page created 28 Oct 2001, last updated 13 Apr 2016
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