- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Peter Lee , Bob Aunger
- Location of story:
- Baighachi /Chittagong/ Burma
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 June 2004
My story really begins when my pilot Bob (K.R. Aunger) and I left 54 O.T.U at Charterhall and went to Filton to collect a new Beaufighter VI V8704 on 6th August 1943. On the 7th August we left Filton and went to Lyneham where we carried out fuel consumption tests.
We left Lyneham on 15th August 1943 for Portreath and eventually left for Gibraltar on 23rd August and from there we flew across North Africa and landed at Cairo West on 26th August.At Lydda a petrol tank developed a leak and we were there until 6th September when we set off for Habbaniya.We continued on our way on 8th September and after passing through Shaibah, Bahrain, and Jiwani we finally arrived at Mauripur Karachi on 9th September 1944.
On 11th October we were taken to Allahabad in a Wellington X the pilot was F/Sgt Palmer. On 12th October we continued our journey to Arkonsol and from there Sgt McCabe an Australian flew us in a Beau VI (JL265) to join 176 Squadron at Baigachi and as we approached it we thought what a God forsaken place it looked as the area seemed to be a mass of lakes after the start of the Monsoon.
During the next few weeks we did various tests day and night but on the morning of 5th December 1943 when Bob and I were down at flights to do a night flying test (NFT), a message came through that a large enemy bomber force was approaching our aerodrome presumably making for Calcutta. F/Lt Green our Intelligence Officer was instructed to put the Squadron on readiness so we stood by. At that time our Squadron consisted of Hurricanes and Beaufighters all equipped for night flying. To enable the Hurricanes to carry radar they were stripped of their armour protection.
As I understood it the Beaufighters were to stand by to fly to an aerodrome well to the North of Baigachi and the Hurricanes were to stand by on readiness. I was with F/Lt Green when the message came through from Group which was "Scramble 176 Squadron" F/Lt Green then said "Scramble the Hurricanes "? Group came back "Scramble everything"
At approximately 11.30 hours four Beaufighters took off the flight commander being F/Lt Peter Hill. The details were:
Beaufighter V8821 "I" F/Lt Peter Hill Pilot
W/O Cox Navigator
V8456 "G F/S L. Atkinson Pilot F/S Simpson. Navigator
V8459 "A" Sgt L.A Norris Pilot
Sgt A.S Moss Navigator
V8804 "E" Sgt K.R Aunger Pilot
Sgt P.J.L Lee Navigator
I recall that it was a lovely sunny morning and while we were slowly climbing to meet the enemy we could hear various aircraft in trouble and their pilots were in communication with operations asking for assistance. Fortunately for us we were only able to get to approximately 21,000 feet at which height we were wallowing about and were unable to get any higher so operations instructed us to return to base. Had we been able to get much higher we would have been sitting ducks.
10 minutes after we were airborne five of our Hurricanes took off led by F/Lt Derek Brocklehurst a pleasant and cheerful person. The remaining four were F/Lt G.R. Halbeard (Bluey), F/O A.M.O. Pring,D.F.M., P/O Whyte and W/O E.R. Harris.
Shortly after being airborne the Hurricanes were vectored on to the raid thinking they were to intercept a lone recce but in the event they were jumped on by some Navy A6M Zeros. Pring (really a Beaufighter pilot) Bluey Halbeard and Whyte were shot down, Harris returned to base unscathed and Derek Brocklehurst who had been shot up managed to get back and land safely although I believe his aircraft was a write off. Regretfully Bluey Halbeard and Maurice Pring were killed and Andy White who had been posted missing, turned up at Firpos three days later having walked for many miles.
December 5th was a very sad day for us and for me it brought home the realities of war with two members of my Squadron being killed. Our C/0 W/C H.G Goddard was particularly upset over it.
After this disaster the remaining Hurricanes left 176 Squadron and were replaced by Beaufighters.
In early 1944 the Squadron began sending detachments to airstrips near the front line including Ramu and Feni not only to provide night fighter defence but also to enable night intruder operations to be made over Japanese held territory. Round about the same time the Squadron started sending in an aircraft to Imphal in support of the fighting there.
During February 1944 Wing commander Goddard left the Squadron and S/Ldr George Nottage was promoted and assumed command.
On 15th March one of our Beaufighters X8002 crashed into high ground near Imphal whilst flying in cloud.( I think the pilot was named Laurie )
On 16th March Sgt.Gosling intercepted and shot down a Ki21 near Imphal.
From 24thMarch to 27th March Bob and I were sent to Alipore in case of a sneak raid on Calcutta.
On the 28th March Bob Aunger and I flew to Chittagong to prepare for night intruder operations into Burma.
On 3rd April Sgt Wallis who was operating from Reindeer with P/O McCrecken (Navigator) intercepted and shot down a Ki48.
On 7th April Bob and I left Chittagong for Reindeer 1 and at 06.45 on the 8th we did an NFT. Later on the same day we set off for Rangoon at 20.40 in Beaufighter X8143Y to cover a Liberator raid and do a recce. On arriving over Rangoon we could see Japanese searchlights looking for aircraft and also what appeared to be gunflashes below. We patrolled around the area for some time without getting an enemy contact but before returning to base we reduced height and flew over Mingladon Aerodrome at about 1000 feet. Even though it was moonlight not a shot was fired at us. We gradually climbed to approximately 11,000 feet but over Cheduba Island there was a loud explosion on our port side with flames gushing from the port engine, they were extinguished luckily by Bob but the engine was inoperative. Reduced to the starboard engine only we gradually lost height and passed close to Akyab at about 1,000 feet and not a shot was fired at us. We finally crash landed at about 0200 hours on a sandy beach off Anauk Myinhlut which was 15 miles behind the Japanese lines.
I must say that Bob Aunger made a very skilful landing in moonlight close to the water's edge. We quickly got out of the aircraft to seek cover and as we did so we could hear machine gun fire coming from the land. We were eventually approached by Burmese men with guns led by a man called Yakub Boli who told us that they were "V" Force Scouts and that they would take us through the Japanese lines to the Army base at Maungdaw (15th Corps H.Q. I believe) After a seemingly endless journey mostly on foot and some in a small boat we arrived safely at Maungdaw. A Major General spoke to us and we were very well looked after. We were very tired and had a good nights sleep and returned to base in the afternoon of 11th April (three days after we set off.)
Bob Aunger was promoted to F/Sgt on 18th April.
We continued to do various patrols and duties until 7th May 1944 when we returned to Baigachi. At 01.20 on 9th May F/Sgt Paddy Rice and I were scrambled we got a contact and interception but the aircraft was a friendly.
Between 8th and 14th May we were trained to use Mark viii AI and I can remember that the C/O of the Conversion Flight was F/Lt Quittenden. This new equipment was a very great improvement which gave us a considerable increase in range and it was much more efficient. We did many exercises with "Mentor" and "Pegtop"
176 Squadron moved to Ceylon on 14th August 1944 and Bob and I left Baigachi for St.Thomas Mount Madras via Vizagapatam on 18th August. Nothing much happened at Madras except that on 6th September at 01.40 hours we were scrambled under the control of "Echo" but it turned out to be a false alarm and the weather was so bad at base (most of the monkey flares on the runway were extinguished by the heavy rain) that we were diverted to a new aerodrome at Arkonam. There were no landing lights and a lorry shone its lights at the end of the runway to help us get in.
We left St.Thomas Mount Madras for Minneriya on 27th October 1944
and on 31st October we flew to China Bay on readiness but nothing happened and returned home the following day. This was repeated on 5th November with the same result.
On 9th November I flew with S/Ldr Peter Hill to Ratmalana. On 11th November I flew with Bob and on the following day I went down with Malaria and did not return to the Squadron until 22nd December 1944.
We were scrambled on 2nd January 1945 to search for a Submarine which had been reported by a tanker but nothing was seen in the position given. Flew with W/O Maher (Australian who was quite a character) on 3rd January and flew my last flight with Bob Aunger on 9th January 1945.
On 14th January Sgt.George Elliott came along to our billet and said to me "You lucky B....!" you are on the boat and the Flight Commander wants to see you. George was always one to pull my leg and I thought that he was joking. He looked quite serious so I checked it up to find that I was truly on the way home.
They were happy times at Baigachi when on readiness at night we used to sit around an old petrol can filled with sand , brick and petrol. Not only did the blazing inferno keep us warm but we fried eggs and bacon on the homemade stove with excellent results. I can still smell it now!
During one of these episodes when I was on readiness with W/C Henry Goddard our C/O an aircraft started circling the aerodrome and at one time looked as though it was going to land on our row of Beaufighters. As there were no lights on the runway the C/O decided to have the chance lights put on especially as the aircraft sounded like a Dakota. The aircraft duly landed and as it came to a stop along the runway Henry Goddard and I went out to them in a jeep. The door of the Dakota was opened and an American voice called out is this "Dum Dum" Henry replied no this is Baigachi whereupon the Yank said "Oh Dum Dum is the next aerodrome down the railway on the right?"
I remember when we were down at Chittagong during March/April and May one night Bob and I went into town to see a film and on returning to the aerodrome we learned that F/O Summers an Australian had crashed into a gunpit. It appeared that he had been scrambled but it was a false alarm and as he was landing an engine failed and he swung and hit the gun pit at flying speed.
Apparently they found Summers sitting in the open cockpit with blood streaming down his face, but both he and his Navigator survived as did the shaken gun crew.
Our Medical Officer was Doc Mattison who came from Stratford on Avon I believe. We were down at flights one day when an Indian who was clearing up around some water was bitten by a snake. His friends shout to Bob and I who were nearby and we called Doc who scraped the wound rubbed in Permanganate of Potash and applied a tourniquet to his leg. He was taken into to sick quarters and injected with snake serum. The Indian survived.
There was also the other incident when all those members of the Squadron who had a moustache lost half during a party in the monsoon period when flying was impossible. It was said that the Station Warrant Officer cried when he looked in the mirror next morning to find that he only had half of a beautiful moustache left.
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