THE SQUADRON MASCOT .. ALMOST
Reg Davis - Pilot
47 Sqn SEAC
No. 47 Squadron was formed on 1st March 1916 at Beverley, in Yorkshire and was deployed to Salonica in September of that year. Following the armistice in November 1918 it served with the White Russian Forces and remained in the Middle East, finally finding a more permanent base at Khartoum, in the Sudan in October 1927.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the squadron operated in a maritime role, primarily anti-shipping and convoy protection, from several bases on the north African coast, until March 1944, when flying as a Beaufighter torpedo unit, they were transferred to SEAC, and moved to Cholavaram, near Madras. Conversion to Mosquito FB VIs took place later at Yelahanka, near Bangalore, but following a problem with these aircraft they reverted to the Beaufighter for their operational sorties. However, once the problem had been resolved, the squadron was re-equipped with the new FB VIs and continued with this mark until the cessation of hostilities.
By July 1945, following the progression of moves, the squadron was located at Kinmagan little more than a small collection of native, peasant-farming bashas or huts, lying on the flat plain area, some 30 to 40 miles south-west of Mandalay. The 1,000 yard north-south uneven dirt strip made take-off after heavy rain akin to being in a submarine, but it was always a welcome sight on return from operations further south with the monsoon conditions usually experienced at that time.
South of the plain, lies the hilly dense jungle area extending almost to Rangoon, known as the Pegu Yomas, which is bounded both to the east and west by the only two main routes north from that city. Further west, close to the coast, lying like a displaced spine are the Arakan Yomas, a mountain range rising in parts to 16-18,000 feet, extending from southern Burma, almost to the border with India.
Periodically it was necessary to collect new aircraft. Therefore it came as no surprise when I was detailed by the CO W/Cdr Duke Duclos to collect another MkVI (RF523) from Barrackpore a base north of Calcutta and to contact the Engineering Officer, F/Lt. Mike Mackay who would identify the kite involved in the exchange. When I went to collect the Form 700 and such other necessary documents for HR705 I found that Mike had marked it serviceable for S & L flight only and advised a height limitation of 13,000 feet.
Having informed my Lancastrian Navigator F/Sgt. Bert Reich, who was a most competent, efficient and cheerful type, about the trip, and the remarks in the Form 700, we agreed that the prospect of simply flying due west to cross the Arakans, before turning north had to be abandoned as we would not be able to gain sufficient height to clear the mountain range with safety. We therefore planned a route to take us south-west to enable us to cross at a height within the specified limit of the aircraft. This seemed to present us with no particular problems, and we anticipated being back on camp the following day.
From take-off we climbed on track and met deteriorating weather conditions much before our planned turning point over Prome. We continued gaining height in the hope of topping the clouds this however was not to be so turning west at about 10,000 feet from a DR position, Bert timed our run, long enough to clear the range before starting to descend.
Gradually losing height in somewhat more turbulent conditions, Bert gave me a more northerly course and we inched down with a view to getting below the base of the cloud. This seemed to take for ever, but we finally caught sight of the sea, through the rain and whispy cloud and continued on the northerly heading at an uncomfortable level below the fluctuating cloud base. The possibility of completing the trip to Barrackpore on this leg seemed remote, so contact was made with the tower at Akyab, a main staging post on the coast, with a request for a QDM, and I settled on this new course, leaving Bert to work out a revised ETA.
Whilst listening out on the Akyab frequency, we heard the tower recalling the Songbird aircraft (Dakotas). These aircraft flew on the western side of the Arakans, and gave met information and the location of corridors between the towering cloud masses which built up during the day, to the many aircraft taking food and supplies into Burma. They were also reporting a cloud base of 300-500 feet with heavy showers. This was not good news but in time we entered the very wet Akyab circuit where we could see a lot of parked aircraft, and having made contact was informed that the weather was clearing further north.
Hearing this we opted to continue and flew north at a safe height to keep us below the varying clouds and heavy rain before clearing into lighter conditions but the third time we encountered much more turbulence and the darkening conditions made flight at that level both unwelcome and dangerous. Finding our kite suddenly heading for the shore line, was convincing proof that to press on was no longer feasible, so with a burst of throttle and a climbing turn onto 180º, we again slowly lost height, through the hailstones and rain, to get below cloud again and headed back to Akyab.
There we found quite a few aircrew who had been diverted and planned to stay with them overnight. The staff at Akyab, which seemed to include a few Army types, were well versed with this situation as we were all provided with a good hot meal and a place to sleep a very welcome break after a flight just short of two hours that would have taken 40 minutes flown direct from Kinmagan.
Next morning, down at the flights, following refuelling and a limited DI, we waited a short time for a break in the weather, before contacting the tower for permission to take-off. Bert gave me course to fly direct to Barrackpore and we were soon flying in reasonably good weather, and landed some 1 hour 50 minutes after leaving Akyab, only to learn that the aircraft should have been delivered to Kanchapara, which lay further north where RF523 was located.
It was agreed to leave our aircraft at Barrackpore and that transport would be arranged for us later that day so having received the signed chitty for HR705 and bundled our flying gear etc. into our respective parachute bags, we left them in the transport section and arranged to meet a little later. It proved to be of little importance that I was unable to find Bert later that day for having no luck with the transport, we could not leave. Through the good offices of the admin section, I was provided with a bed for the night and hoped that Bert had been similarly treated wherever he was.
Camp life starts early in SEAC, so shortly after sun-up and cleared from the Mess, I went to find my lost Navigator first to the Sergeants Mess, then the flights, and eventually the Guard Room there I discovered his packed parachute bag with a parakeet attached to it by a length of string. Some time elapsed before Bert turned up, and in the subsequent discussion he assured me that the parakeet, which he wished to take back as a mascot for the squadron, would not be free in the cockpit, as he proposed to tie it on to the loop aerial.
With this assurance! and no possibility of transport until the middle of the afternoon, the RTO arranged for us to travel by train this proved to be a grim journey but we finally arrived there by mid-day. This trip was not turning out to be as trouble free as we assumed it would be before leaving Kinmagan!
There appeared to be many American servicemen in clean neatly pressed uniforms in Kanchapara, who seemed indifferent to the needs of two untidy looking, sweat stained members of the RAF, plus parakeet, and had no wish to help find RF523. Initially we were left to wander about as we wished but as time was moving on, we caught sight of an obvious RAF type, he directed us to a hanger and to contact a particular senior NCO who he said would be able to help.
True to his word, this F/Sgt had all the necessary papers, Form 700 etc. which he happily handed over once I had signed the several documents he produced.
Knowing that we were anxious to get away, he arranged for two airmen to provide a ground acc. to start our engines once we had loaded all our gear into the cockpit, with the parakeet safely perched and securely tied to the loop aerial. After a quick instrument check in this clean new aircraft, the tower gave permission to taxi, line up and take-off in quick succession without asking for our destination. Once clear of the circuit, the R/T was found to be inoperative but by then we had no intention of turning back.
Realising that we lacked met information, Bert gave me a course to fly to Chittagong from where we could continue south to beyond Akyab, then hoped to find a break in the cloud cover to take us over the Arakans. We were able to maintain a reasonable height below the gradually lowering cloud base, and the flight progressed without any particular problems. The parakeet seemed quiet and content, although being located behind the pilots seat, I could only catch sight of it by releasing my harness and turning on my seat.
Being unable to raise either Songbird or Akyab on the R/T, I decided to land at Ramree, and island further south, in the hope of getting the R/T fixed before proceeding further. This was not altogether a good move for with hindsight it would have been better to have gone into Akyab where they had extensive facilities to deal with any service required. Ramree turned out to be little more than a relief strip, and the small detachment there had no idea about servicing a Mossy, so could not help to correct the fault on our R/T. As the matter could not be dealt with, we climbed back into the aircraft proposing to fly back to Akyab.
Try as we might, the starboard engine refused to start, all attempts failed and as the light was now starting to fade, we abandoned the idea and planned to stay the night. The few service people there made us welcome and provided us with food and a native type hut to spend the night. Ramree during this time of the year is not a place for anyone to be it is one of the wettest parts on the planet and with the almost 100 per cent humidity, you are kept in a constant sweat, clothes seemed never to dry and the heat saps your energy certainly a place to get away from!
Rising soon after sun-up, we had a meal and without transport made our way to the strip where we found that a limited DI had been carried out, following which Bert and I made our own checks. Having safely anchored the parakeet to the loop aerial again, we climbed into the cockpit, ready to start the engines. Once again our attempts to start the starboard engine in order to give us the benefit of the generator to supply the electric charge to the battery failed.
Being very hot and sticky in the cockpit we almost gave up, but talking it over, we felt that the helpful airman may not have primed the engine as much as required, so Bert offered to do so. This required him to climb down the flight ladder, pump the priming lever located in the wheel bay, secure it once the engine started, then climb back up the ladder, behind the arc of the moving propeller, and to return to the cockpit.
As things turned out, after signalling that he was priming, the engine fired and started with no further problem, and watching him carefully, I was more than relieved when he had resumed his usual seat alongside me this was an exercise I did not wish to repeat! The port engine started without any trouble, and we took off from Ramree without further delay.
Heading south and climbing steadily, keeping to the west of the cloud build-up over the Arakans, I learned that the parakeet was chirping away merrily, and everything was going to plan. After finding a break between the cloud masses at 8,000 feet, Bert informed me that the bird had fallen off the perch and was hanging upside down, still tied to the aerial, and assumed it had died of anoxia.
We continued the climb on an easterly course and broke cloud after descending to a lower level over the Pegu Yomas only to find that the bird had come back to life and had been duly replaced back on its perch the mascot had survived!
Our base at Kinmagan, rapidly came into view, and RF523 was soon parked on a hard-standing leaving us to unload our kit before making our way back to our respective tents.
And the mascot the parakeet sad to relate that during the following morning, as it had been tethered to one of the lines on Berts tent, it was reported to have been attacked and devoured by a mongoose!
Reg Davis, 47 Sqn, Kinmagan 1945, seated by a Chinthe at a local temple
source : Davis
Links & Notes
Mosquito FBVI Manual http://www.zenoswarbirdvideos.com/Images/Mosquito/MosquitoFB6Manual.pdf
47 Squadron http://www.raf.mod.uk/organisation/47squadron.cfm
page last updated 28 Jul 2010: © ACA Surrey Branch 2010