Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Flying from Singapore to Milne Bay

The adventure continues, with nightly flights over the virtual terrain of 'Pacific Fighters' being standard fare when I've been home. The Singapore campaign, where I was flying a Hurricane IIB, ended sadly for me when wounded on about my sixteenth mission - another scramble to intercept overwhelming numbers of 'Betty' bombers accompanied by a swarm of 'Zeke' and 'Oscar' fighters, the first against which wing mounted machine guns don't seem to have much impact and the second having skilled pilots and swift aircraft. I managed to crashland the plane, but that was the end of the Singapore map for me.

The next mission was six months later, and the action had moved onto Milne Bay, at the Eastern tip of New Guinea. Based an hour's flight time away at Port Moresby, the squadron now flies Beaufighters - fast and powerful twin engined fighter bombers, each with a rearward facing navigator/observer. On our first mission, I successfully rocketed 3 AA guns guarding the Japanese landing site, allowing the rest of my flight a free run at the vehicles and stores parked inland. I believe the next flight's a bomb run against Japanese invasion buildup at Lae, on the North coast over the Owen Stanley Mountains.

The Battle of Malaya/Singapore unfolded over several days. By the time I was evacuated the front line had moved South, with Japanese forces advancing primarily down both coasts, leaving a thin strip of allied controlled land in the centre of the peninsula. As far as I could see, the airstrips which were made possible by the perimeter were vulnerable to sudden attack, and all the ground infrastructure was vulnerable to being cut off and surrounded by a Japanese advance across the peninsula at any single point to the South.

Perhaps I was lucky to be evacuated, as that meant I was evacuated before the fall of Singapore and the enslavement of the thousands who were thereby forced to surrender.

As a historical note, I don't think the RAAF flew hurricanes at Singapore. The few hurricanes were in RAF squadrons. The RAAF flew american brewster buffalos and fairley battles. The arms procurement politics which led to them flying such substandard planes is covered in a great book by David Day - when I recall the name of it I'll post it here.

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