In December (1941) and January (1942), reinforcements – Lockheed Hudson's from England and Bristol Blenheim's from North Africa – flew into Sumatra. The England-based flights flew to Egypt and from there both Blenheim's and Hudson's followed the same general course across Africa, down the Indian subcontinent, across Burma, and along the Malay Peninsula to P.2 (Palembang airport - Karengendah). Pioneer airmen had "proved" these routes only a few years earlier in the early and mid-1930s, and flying the routes required skill and patience and surely tested the mettle of all service pilots and navigators hastily trained at the beginning of the war. RAF Squadrons Numbers 84 and 221 took off with 24 Blenheim's each destined for Singapore. Only 18 of 84 Squadron and 17 of 221 reached Sumatra, some reaching Sumatra only in late January. 7 of 18 Hudson's of No.59 Squadron that left England in early January arrived in Sumatra. Some of the missing bombers crashed in the Mediterranean, some in Africa, some in Burma, and some on landing in Sumatra. (www.militaryhistoryonline.com)
59 Sqn Crews: According to the War History Online site, these ex 59 Sqn bombers were also crewed by reassigned 59 Sqn airmen... "Operations were suspended (for 59 Sqn) between 18 December 1941 and March 1942 while new crews were training to replace eighteen of the squadron's air crews who left to fly Hudson's out to the Far East..." (www.historyofwar.org)
- 59 Squadron ORB - dated 16/12/41 "P/O R.H.W Beresford-Peirse
& his crew were attached RAF Honeybourne wef 15/12/41 pending posting
overseas." (Their destination is unknown at this stage).
- 59 Squadron ORB -26/12/1941 states: "The following officers
and their crews attached RAF KEMBLE wef. 27/12/41 - pending postings
overseas and P/O J.F.P Foster & crew attached RAF HONEYBOURNE, pending
posting overseas, wef. 27/12/41..."
notes the following pilots as "Attached O.A.D.U, Kemble - pending
posting overseas.. 27/12/41
- as last mentioned in the ORB, late 1941
|P/O L.E Cook
(WAG) - P/O Argent (Obs) - F/S R. Collins (WAG)
||F/S DJ Pitcher
- F/S JA Bolle - (passenger - Neville Vintcent)
|P/O A.R. Wilson
||Sgt Hill -
Sgt Tumbridge - Sgt Frankis - Sgt Hubert Birks (W.Op)
|P/O E.G O'Kelly
- Sgt Stokes
Fitzgerald - Su
|P/O P.G. Bell
- Sgt Hunter -
|P/O D.A Crouchen
- Sgt Peek
|F/O J.A. Mather
|F/O A.C Blythe
|W/O N.D. Batstone
- Su - 62
- Sgt Herd - Sgt Barrett
|S/L P. Garrard
DFC - Su
- Sgt Aust - Sgt Osborne - Pilot KIA
|P/O P.W Smith
- Su - 62
- Sgt Fox - Sgt Gamble
|P/O A.E Ayris*-
(Obs) - Sgt Golton (AG) - Sgt Oakden - (WAG)
|P/O R. Richards
- Sgt McEwan - Sgt Mayor
|P/O H.H. Siddell
(Obs) - Sgt Parker (AG) - Sgt Patrick (WAG) - Pilot KIA
|Sgt R.S. Jones
- Goldsmith & Williams
|Sgt A.W Story
(WAG) - Sgt Wouldes (Obs) - Sgt P. Hankins (WAG)
(+) denotes an aircraft & crew loss during transit.
denotes aircraft crashed in transit - crew survived.
denotes crew made it to Sumatra.
denotes later joined 62 Sqn.
Dave Birks, makes note of the fact that these crews were the "official
line-ups" recorded at the dates shown, and that they do not
necessarily account for crew changes before or during the trip
to the Far East. (Into the Hands of Nippon, 2014, Birks).
|F/O T.D. Boyce
(Obs) - Sgt Dunn (AG) - Sgt July (WAG)
59 Sqdn crews: Ian
makes mention of F/O Boyce and crew arriving in Sumatra. However,
they are not noted in the squadron appendices along with the other
18 aircrews in Dec 1941 as "pending posting overseas".
It appears that F/O Boyce and crew were attached to O.A.D.U Kemble
on 9/10/41 pending posting overseas, not in Dec. The ORB further
notes that this crew were sent to West Africa. If Ian is correct,
then eventually they were sent to Sumatra, which would mean that
19 crews in total were sent to Sumatra from 59 Sqn.
to Ian "Robbie" Robinson (navigator with P/O Smith &
crew) - 9 crews made it to Sumatra. Other sources note that only
6 ex-RAF Hudson aircraft were attached to No. 8 Squadron RAAF. There
is mention (as above) that some of the aircraft crashed on arrival
to Sumatra, which could account for there being only 6 (serviceable)
aircraft taken on the strength of No. 8. Ian also notes (below)
that some of the crews were held in India enroute to Sumatra. The
59 Sqn ORB makes no mention of these events.
Lockheed Hudson A16-86 of No.8 Sqn RAAF (possibly in Singapore
ca. 1940-41), was written off in the Far East, 6 March 1942. (forum.axishistory.com)
Squadron RAAF: The squadron first saw action within hours
of the outbreak of war in the Pacific in December 1941 when its
12 aircraft attacked Japanese shipping off Malaya. The squadron
suffered heavy losses from anti-aircraft fire and Japanese fighters
in the first days of the Malayan Campaign, during which time it
undertook bombing and reconnaissance missions, and as there were
no aircraft to replace its losses, the squadron was amalgamated
with No. 1 Squadron RAAF later in December.
squadron continued operations throughout the month, before No.
8 Squadron handed its remaining Hudsons to No. 1 Squadron in January
1942 and was evacuated to Palembang in Sumatra where it received
replacement Hudsons. The replacements were six aircraft from No.
59 Squadron RAF, as well as their crews, who had been reassigned
and sent from the UK between December 1941 and January 1942. With
the new force, they undertook further reconnaissance and bombing
missions, during which the squadron continued to suffer heavy
losses until No. 8 Squadron was disbanded at Batavia on 16 February
and its personnel returned to Australia. source
[At which time according to various sources, the 59 Sqdn aircrews
were attached to No.1 Sqdn RAAF...]
| |(above) Ian (bottom) is pictured next to a DC3 Douglas Dakota (with invasion stripes). After service with 59 Sqn and in the Far East, he joined 62 Sqn RAF, later flying glider missions for D-Day. | |
..::: Sgt Ian Robinson (Observer) :::..
Here is a bit of 59 Sq you probably wont find in squadron records or in history books. Most of it is from a little red diary I kept in 1942 with a little help received from a book "Bloody Shambles" by Christopher Shores (with a Japanese co author - Yasuho Izawa) which I read many years ago.
At the end of December 41 and In early January 42 ; 18 a/c from 59 Sq left from Portreath in Cornwall to deliver Hudsons to the Far East. Our crew was; Pilot P/O P.W.Smith, Observer (myself), Sgt Ian Robinson, wop Ags Sgts P Barret and Lionel Lane D.F.M. .The a/c A.E 506. Our destination was Singapore but due to the situation in the Far East ( Japan had just entered the war) only about half of the crews reached there. These crews and Hudsons very soon were sent to Palembang in Sumatra.We (our crew) reached Rangoon on Jan 24th and were diverted to Palembang, as the airfield at Singapore was then in the range of enemy guns. I should mention that on the way Phil Barret had been taken ill and we left him at Karachi. At the next stop Alahabad we picked up Sgt James Golton to replace him. His aircraft (Pilot - P/O Ayres) had crash landed in a sand storm . The a/c was u/s but all the crew survived. I should also mention that each crew left England as the a/c was prepared so we got strung out along the way.
arrived at Palembang Jan 26th and met the rest of the gang
that had got there via Singapore. I think we were the last
crew to get through, the later ones were held in India.
According to the book " Bloody Shambles" (a very
apt title) by Christopher Shores, the following crews reached
Palembang. Sq/Ldr P Garrard D.F.C.; P/O A Wilson; Flt/Sgt
Batstone; P/O P Smith; F/O T Boyce; F/O J Fitzgerald; P/O
O'Kelly; P/O Richards; P/O H.H.Siddell. As we had no chain
of command we were attached to No.8 R.A.A.F Squadron.
Feb 6th our crew did one op . for this Sq.; a search for
a Jap. invasion fleet off the coast of Borneo but fortunately
for us, we were about 10 days too early. On Feb 14th Jap.
Paratroops were dropped around Palembang (to attack the
oil refineries) and the invasion fleet was advancing up
the river towards the city.
8 RA.A.F. Sq a/c attacked the landing barges and Sq /Ldr P
Garrard , who had volunteered to fill an air gunner position
on one of the crews, was wounded in the attack and hospitalized.
We were all evacuated from Sumatra on the 15th and gathered
at Semplak airfield in Java. On feb 21st 8 R.A.A.F. Sq was
recalled to Australia and we were attached to No.1 R.A.AF
Feb 26th half the remaining 59 Sq crews, including
ours ( P/O Smith captain) were told to make their
way to the port of Tjilatjap. Those that stayed were
eventually killed or captured by the Japanese army.
It is known that P/O Richards was killed when he volunteered
to accompany a Group Captain who went into an area
where the Japs were advancing, to retrieve his stamp
collection and that P/O Siddell was executed for trying
to escape. Apparently Sq/Ldr Garrard also fell into
the hands of the Japanese and died or was killed by
them soon after.
and the other crews, told to "depart", boarded
a Dutch freighter, The Kota Gede at Tjilitjap (story
on the Internet) and departed Feb 27th and eventually
reached India where we joined the 59 Sq. Crews who
had not gone further than there. We all became members
of 62 Sq.
names of Garrard and Richards are on the Singapore
memorial and Siddell on the one at Jakarta. A concluding
note with an Aussie connection! Sgt Gordon, included
in your 59 sq. honour roll, was observer in one of
the crews left behind at Semplak. I assumed he had
been taken prisoner with the others. I was therefore
very surprised ,when I went on a staff navigator course
in Feb. 1945, to find Sgt (Flt/Lt ) Gordon was also
on the course. He told me that he had met a group
of Australians who had decided not to surrender. They
had established radio contact with Australia and eventually
arranged a pick up by a R.A.A.F. Catalina.
Regards Ian Robinson
|::: Sgt. Hubert Birks (Wireless Op - Air Gunner) :::... |
| || |
Hubert "Slasher" Birks was a member of P/O A.R. Wilson's crew for the trip to the Far East. In his memoirs, which were edited by his son and published in 2014, "Into the Hands of Nippon", he gives a very detailed account of their trip to Sumatra, and the events that took place during the Japanese invasion, occupation and his life as a P.O.W. His memoirs are full of remarkable stories, details and pictures.
He confirms much of the information provided by Ian Robinson, although at times with a slightly different perspective. For example, according to Ian, P/O Richards accompanied a Group Captain back to a dangerous area to retrieve his stamp collection (during the Japanese invasion of Java), whereas Hubert recalls that the Group Captain decided to return to his billet to get his kit and that P/O Richards returned for the same reason... Slightly different, although both most likely correct in their own way... Hubert expands on the event adding that they were awaiting instructions in the Op's room at Kalidjati aerodrome when Group Captain Whistandale decided to leave, accompanied by "Bobby Richards"... "Groupy" was later found dead beside his ambushed car and
Richards was never heard of again... He also expands on
the fate of P/O Henry Holt Siddel who was executed after
he and 2 Australian airmen tried to steal an aircraft to
escape. Given that his date of death is recorded as 12.04.1942,
either the trio evaded capture for nearly two months, this
was an attempt after capture, it took some time for their
deaths to be confirmed, or they were executed some time
after the fact... Henry Siddel had an earlier escape attempt
foiled, when he had arranged transport on an aircraft (during
the invasion), only to arrive and find that his seat had
been "stolen" by another airmen who refused to
disembark. When the pilot produced a pistol to try and force
the airmen out, Siddel is noted to have replied... "leave
him to it"... The fate of this flight and its passengers
is unknown at this stage but unfortunately, Hubert recalls
that the "thief" was another 59 Sqdn member...
After the island of Java fell to the Japanese, a group of "59ers" evaded capture for 10 days, in an attempt to locate RAAF Catalina's rescuing fleeing airmen long remote area coastlines. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful, most likely because they were unable to make radio contact with Australian forces. On the 9th day, it was decided that the group would split as 14 members had decided to turn themselves in, for not only had they heard via a radio broadcast that allied airmen were to be shot on site as punishment but they were exhausted and struggling physically... The Japanese forces had set up camps for the allied servicemen to "report". Two had chosen to carry on, although one (a Sgt W/Op) would soon join the group of 14 at the reporting camp, whilst the other, Squadron Leader Garrard had decided to make for Sumatra, in hope of being picked up by allied naval ships. What Garrard experienced after this point, will probably remain a mystery, but his death is recorded as the 25.03.1942, exactly two weeks after Hubert and the other 14 members of 59 Sqdn reported...
INTO THE HANDS OF NIPPON: is a great read. Hubert has described his experiences with remarkable attention to detail and the fact that he kept a diary from early 1942 till post "end of war in the Pacific" is an incredible feat. After reading his memoirs, edited by his son David, I felt like I had just watched a great movie, such was the visual intensity through the words. I have deliberately left a lot of details from the site, because only Hubert can accurately describe his experiences... Follow this link to purchase a copy of the book it's well worth it!!
AIR27/586, the 62 Sqn ORB, notes that F/Lt's Ayris, Crouchen, Smith and Blythe were still on the strength of 62 in January of 1944. As was F/S Batstone, W/O Ian Robinson, F/S Golton, all operating on Dakota IIIA's.