RAF Servicing Commando Units

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C2 elements of the CSU on Operation TORCH, Tunisia, 1942
Operation HUSKY, Sicily, 1943
WWII Omaha Beach, Operation OVERLORD, D-Day,1944
Air Support over Sword Beach D-Day,1944

RAF Beach and Service Commando Units WWII

RAF Beach Sqn Signals Unit, Normandy
RAF Balloon and Signals Unit, Normandy
RAF Beach control point, Normandy

RAF involvement in the D-Day and previous landings in WWII, such as Sicily and North Africa, is not well known and deserves more recognition. The Normandy invasion on D-Day, Operation OVERLORD, was the greatest amphibious assault operation in history.

OVERLORD was the high point of RAF involvement in assault landings and was built on the tactics refined in the earlier invasions of Sicily and Salerno. 

However, for a number of the men in the RAF, Normandy was their third operational D-Day, where ‘airmen on the beach’ helped the RAF bring tactical air support to the invasion front line. These specialist Combined Operations Units worked with the Royal Navy Beach Commandos and the Army Beach Groups in the landing, assembly and onward dispatch of personnel, stores and equipment on the invasion beaches, so that tactical air support could be provided from the beachhead as soon as possible.

On 6 June 1944 Operation OVERLORD saw the Allied Invasion Force land in Normandy. To carry out close support missions for the invasion, the RAF trained and deployed Commando Servicing Units. These specialist ‘enablers’ would provide maintenance and specialist communications at recently captured airfields and would activate new airstrips and airfields.

After the failure of the Air Force to provide sustainable Close Air Support for the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940, Commodore Louis Mountbatten of the Combined Operations Command advocated that the RAF train specialist Commando Servicing Units that would support Expeditionary Air Components throughout the theatre of war in Africa, Middle and Far East and Europe. Mountbatten and ACM Dowding decreed that these Units should be:

 

“…a highly trained organisation, having high morale and esprit de corps …they can be highly trained in the business of going in over the beaches or perhaps airborne to an advanced aerodrome. They obtain RAF esprit de corps by their association with the Group. They should obtain ‘Combined Operations’ esprit de corps by their thorough training, which they must inevitably be given for the purpose of going over the beaches. They should be RAF Commandos.”

 

https://www.combinedops.com/ROYAL_AIR_SERVICING_COMMANDO.htm

RAF and Army visual contact and control point DDay

RAF Commando Servicing Unit, Concept of Operations

CSU Vehicle preparations
TAF Landing craft, Operation OVERLORD, Normandy
SCU practicing amphibious landings prior to DDay, 1944
SCU, Operation TORCH Landings
Airfield control point, Normandy, 1944
SCU Memorial Plague at B3 Airstrip, Sainte Croix Sur Mer, France

The Commando Servicing Unit ConOps stated that once an airhead had been captured, the CSU equipment and transport would be disembarked on to landing craft and put ashore. There they would install the essential communications, set up fuel and ammunition dumps and sufficient equipment to provide support to the deployed aircraft squadrons. 

 

The CSU would not be expected to fight for the airfields, but in the circumstances under which they would be operating, they could expect opposition and they would have to be prepared to defend themselves and their aircraft. No part of the RAF Regiment was to be involved in force protection at this stage, as the Army would initially remain responsible for protection of the airfield once captured. 

 

The Commando Servicing Unit would then run Close Air Support operations until the forward echelon of the RAF squadron’s personnel and equipment had arrived at the airfield.

Once all the squadron’s aircraft had arrived and started full scale operations the Commando Servicing Unit would withdraw and be prepared to ‘leapfrog’ onto the next forward airfield to be activated. 

 

After the first wave of attacks by British and Canadian Forces early in the morning of D-Day, the assault troops and their supporting echelons continued to pour ashore throughout the day and into the night. Large numbers of men and vehicles waded through the surf and made their way off the beach with varying degrees of difficulty. At a glance all the drably painted wheeled transport and all the men festooned with equipment and carrying their personal weapons looked much the same. 

 

However, in some cases a closer look would have revealed a surprising difference; some of the men were wearing blue battledress, not khaki,  or combinations of both, their vehicles had a small red, white, and blue roundel and RAF identification number. These were men and vehicles of the RAF. Some also wore the Combined Operations badge on each sleeve, as well as their RAF insignia. This badge was not just worn by Commando Units but by Army, Royal Navy and RAF servicemen who were trained for special roles in the seaborne invasion. Their jobs required co-operation between the three-Armed Services in joint operations, roles developed through the experience of the earlier landing operations.

 

The RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force was tasked to provide close air support and fighter cover for the ground forces in the spearhead of the invasion. They had to direct their aircraft from the ground, close to the front line as the fighter aircraft had a limited range. They also needed to set up and operate from airstrips within the beachhead as soon as possible. To provide this support, the RAF needed men and material on the ground from day one of the invasion.

A number of RAF Units landed on D-Day, all initially under the command of 83 Group. The RAF Beach Squadrons took care of the large quantities of fuel, ammunition, equipment, vehicles and people that arrived over the coming days and weeks. Additionally, RAF Beach Balloon Squadrons were set up to handle the barrage balloons that were deployed as a defence against low level air attack.

 

Also landing on Gold and Juno beaches were the advance command and control elements of RAF’s 83 Group and 85 Group, responsible for base defence operations. These were joined by Ground Control Interception Radar Units, to help direct fighter defence operations. 

RAF Servicing Commando Unit refueling a spitfire at Normandy 6th June 1944

Video: Per Mare, RAF Communications & Light Warning Units

Memoirs of a Signals Warrant Officer with the SCU
'Your a Commando now'

Random Recollections of a Signals’ Warrant Officer in an RAF Servicing Commando 3205, 6 June 1944

 

RAF SERVICING COMMANDOS consisted of groups of highly trained technicians who specialised in dealing primarily with the needs of fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft operating from improvised forward airstrips during WW2.

Little has been written about the experiences of these groups or about the men who took part in such experiences. It can however be revealed that the contribution of Servicing Commandos to the overall war effort was quite considerable and accorded well with the traditions of the RAF.

Phase 1 – “YOU ARE NOW A COMMANDO!”

Enlisted in the RAF at Flowerdown (Hants) in 1928 as an Aircraft Apprentice U/T (Under Training) Wireless Operator Mechanic. Between 1931 and 1936 had seen service in several Middle East countries, including Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. I spent the remaining two years of my overseas tour as a Cpl in an Army Cooperation Unit – (208 A.C. Sqn – Hawker Audax Biplanes). Whilst with 208 Sqn I collected by first campaign medal during the Palestine fracas.


On returning to England in 1936 was posted to RAF Cranwell as a Sgt Radio Instructor. At the outbreak of hostilities I was posted to 114 Blenheim Sqn at Wyton (Hants) and promoted to F/Sgt.


Subsequently he served in France with the BEF and was soon bombed and machine gunned several times. All Sqn aircraft were written off during the German Blitzkrieg then we were rapidly evacuated back to England!


On returning to the UK received “immediate – urgent” signal arrived for W/O Stride to report to “Blue Group” at Westhampnett. (as satellite of Tangmere). No further details appeared on the signal, so being a pessimist I assumed that it was for a short routine detachment to Fighter Command.


On landing at Westhampnett, was met by Flt Lt Fenton and FO Cummins. Both were dressed in Army battledress, complete with gaiters and Army issue boots. Both seemed highly amused to see a bewildered WO surrounded by a huge mound of kit. After shaking hands, Flt Lt Fenton introduced himself as the CO and FO Cummins as his adjutant. He then shattered my bewilderment by saying “Welcome, You are now a Commando!”


It took some time before he digested this information, and was convinced that some mistake had been made. However, he was taken to a tented area just off the airstrip and introduced to the other warrant officers, all of which were wearing “Combined Operations Flashes” on both arms.


He goes on to say:


My mind kept churning over to find out what special qualities I possessed that could possibly have resulted in my being “volunteered” for Commando duties. Things became clearer when I realised that Air Ministry kept very religious records of all apprentices.

During my RAF career before the war I had been a keen athlete and swimmer. In Iraq I had passed the Royal Life-Saving Society’s “Silver Award” and I was also a First Class Life-Saving Instructor. I also played Water Polo and Hockey in addition to the odd game of tennis. Someone at Air Ministry had really done their “Homework!” Further to this was the fact that I had passed the RAF Higher Education Test in French Language. I also had a smattering of German, which I learnt whilst attending classes in Iraq.


However, I’m convinced that the final nail in my coffin was the fact that just before the war, I was involved in a nasty accident with a Woolsey Police car. At the time I was driving a 500cc BSA “Empire Star” from my home in Gillingham (Kent) to Cranwell (Lincs). For this unfortunate incident I was caught for “dangerous driving” and I also had to forfeit my Driving Licence!

I can just imagine the smirk on the face of the Air Ministry Officer when he wrote against my name, “Suitable Commando material” perhaps it was just as well that I had a built-in sense of humour! Well, there was nothing I could do about it, as the man said, “I was now a Commando!”

At this stage of accepting the fact that I really was a Commando and that it just wasn’t a wild dream, I started to ask myself a series of questions which required definite answers. These questions and my assumed answers tool the following for:


Firstly, “What was a Servicing Command?” My answer to this was that a Servicing Commando was a group of highly trained Technicians who specialised in dealing primarily with the needs of fighters and fighter-bombers operating from improvised forward airstrips.

My second question was derived from the answer to the first question: “How would a Servicing Commando stand up to servicing aircraft and providing communications under adverse operational conditions?” The answer to this question wasn’t quite so easy – most of the personnel of 3205 SC were only young ex-apprentices but I saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel! My answer to this question was a bit more complex and it was something like this:

Once a forward airstrip had been established on enemy territory, Spitfires could be flown in from England. Once the Spitfire had landed and been refuelled (and re-armed) two aircraft at a time would continuously patrol the area in close proximity to the perimeter of the airstrip. Whilst these aircraft were flying, a further three Spitfires would be at “immediate readiness”, ready to take off and render assistance as required in the event of an enemy attack.


Under such conditions, other fighter aircraft at dispersed points on the ground could be serviced without having to worry about the possibility of surprise attacks. Provided that enough fighters were available the system couldn’t fail.


Now came the third question: “How would the forward airfield be supplied with fuel, ammunition, provisions etc?” Well that was easy to answer. Good communications and access to supplies. Along Radios, communications systems and despatch motorcycles, each Servicing Commando had a fleet of 3 ton Bedford lorries, each lorry contained standard steel box containers with essential aircraft servicing tools and equipment. These containers could be off-loaded at the forward airstrip, whilst the empty vehicles picked up fuel, ammunition and provisions from some convenient nearby beach head.


Well these three questions had been logically answered to my own satisfaction! Now for the fourth question. “Where would the Commando group land?” Obviously we would have to invade the continent using suitable landing craft. I could foresee a lot of difficulties here but as regards the place of the actual landing, it had to be a fairly flat coast line – Bedford lorries couldn’t climb cliffs!


Well perhaps it is time to return to the “make-up” of a Servicing Command – I seem to recall that our vehicle complement was something like this:

          Bedford 3 tone lorries        approx 16

          Bedford 13 cwt trucks                  2

          Bedford Water Trailer                   1

          Jeep                                                      1

          Motorcycles (various)                   3


While at ///////////// I learnt to drive in convoy, keeping at the correct distance from the vehicle in front. I’d also learnt to make satisfactory hill-starts with fully-loaded vehicles. Periodically I was checked on these hill-starts – a matchbox was placed close to one of the rear wheels and I had to prove to all and sundry that I could hill-start without breaking the matchbox! After quite a lot of practice I was able to perform this feat about nine times out of ten.

I must admit that I found convoy driving at night very exhausting. The light from the shrouded headlamps was very poor, especially since the only real light emanated from a small narrow slit in the front of the headlamp shroud.

I had a spell as a motor-cyclist outrider. This meant travelling up and down the length of the convoy to ensure that all was well, and that no vehicles had broken down. Our convoys stretched over quite a long distance and if a rearmost vehicle broke down it took quite a considerable time before this information could be conveyed to the Convoy Commander.

Perhaps it would never come to having to accept these additional responsibilities, never-the-less the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” was always uppermost in my mind.


To facilitate servicing of the aircraft, we built up a VHF mobile “pack set” from our spare equipment. This would serve as an emergency airfield control centre, as well as a repair and test bench. Normally we had little trouble with the fighter aircraft radios. It may, however, prove of interest to mention typical faults that did occur:

Crystal controlled transceiver “off” tune – transceiver could be returned in the aircraft with little difficulty.

Distorted R/T (Radio Telephony) – This fault in most cases would prove to be due to sparking at the commutator brush gear in the power unit which was a separate assembly of the VHF system. Alternatively the power unit could be out of adjustment.

Noisy reception and/or transmission – This defect could also be attributed to the PU (Power Unit) or more usually to poor or loose interconnecting cables between the carious major assemblies of the system, pilots VHF push-button controller, transceiver, power unit or aerial. Faults in the sub-assemblies of the transceiver were usually due to defective valves.

Perhaps the worst type of defect was when the pilot reported “severe crackling”. The aircraft would be checked and re-checked to find that no fault existed in the actual VHF system. Unfortunately nobody had thought to check the Pilot’s helmet, on examination a loose connection would be discovered.


During the course of carrying out Daily Inspection or Between Flight inspection, the VHF system would prove to be “howling”. This was a common fault and generally it was due to moisture or condensation in the aircraft’s microphone-telephone socket. (Into which the pilot plugged in his helmet). The only quick way to overcome this problem was to fit a new microphone-telephone socket. The defective socket would then be “dried out” and be re-used as a serviceable item on another aircraft.


Under operational conditions it was assumed that fighter aircraft on forward airfields would be kept operational by “cannibalising” equipment from crashes and “write-offs”. Hence the reason why only the minimum of spares were carried by the Signals’ Section.

No mention has been made regarding the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) radar equipment. Briefly this consisted of a small well ventilated grey box secured on a well sprung mounting platform. It was a compact “swept band” transponder containing a small motor generator and gearbox mechanism in addition to the receiver and transmitter.


The IFF set was operated from a small Control Box in the pilot’s cockpit. This control box changed the “coding” of the transponder to indicate to the ground plotting radar, as to whether the aircraft was a fighter, bomber or transport aircraft. The control box could also be switched to give out a “distress” signal if the pilot was in difficulty.


Before joining 3205 SC I had considerable experience with this equipment, including access to the highly secret documentation relating to its servicing. It was however decided by higher authority that this secret radar equipment should not be interfered with, or repaired by personnel on Forward Units. Such personnel were however permitted to test that the equipment was functioning by listening at a test socket on the control panel in a series of “sound patterns”. Wireless tradesmen were also permitted to test that the “detonator” circuits were functioning satisfactorily – The actual detonator was fitted in the IFF transponder unit – occasionally an IFF set was blown up accidentally by an over-zealous tradesman! – but taken as a whole the equipment was fairly fool-proof – In the event of the equipment not functioning correctly – and assuming that it wasn’t a self-evident fault, such as a blown fuse, loose connection or broken aerial connector, the pilot would be informed to that effect. From then on, if challenged by another aircraft, the pilot would fire off the “colours of the day” using his “Very Pistol”.

The overall serviceability rate of the IFF equipment was very high but after raids on enemy territory a considerable number of failures occurred as a result of enemy action.

The Signals Section also carried a couple of Aldis signalling lamps, complete with additional red and green lenses. All signals personnel were competent W/T (Wireless Telegraphy) operators, so Morse code procedures presented no problems. Aldis lamps, in addition to being used as a means of airfield communications, could also be used for airfield control purposes.

The electrical section of the unit was integrated into the Signals’ group.

Much more detail could be written regarding the organisation and work carried out by the Signals’ section on a Commando, but this would detract from the overall picture of Commandos in general 3205 SC were essentially part of the 2nd TAF (Tactical Air Force) under A/CDR Harry Broadhurst. Although Westhampnett was our original base we spent a great deal of time on detachments to other airfields.

We carried all our own equipment, tents, cooking facilities etc. with us and we operated as an autonomus mobile unit.  Along side the mandate to maintain aircraft serviceability and readiness. The signal elements of the SC were employed in modifying replacement fighters to bring them up to operational requirements. The Signals section spent many hours modifying, checking, fitting and testing VHF radios.

When we were on our own as an independent unit, regular “colour hoisting”  and parades  were held. Regular inspections of tents, vehicles, cooking facilities, sanitary arrangements etc. were carried out personally by the CO. Punishments for any offence meant cookhouse fatigues – cleaning and polishing cooking utensils, getting up early to light the “blowlamps” which were used for heating up the water etc. ready for breakfast. Some “defaulters” (if one could really call them such) were detailed to prepare new latrines and to fill in old ones. Nobody ever accused the CO of being unfair – any punishment that was meted out was accepted without question.

During 1943, the SC were scheduled for a “pre-invasion” exercise which involved waterproofing vehicles at Old Sarum. This waterproofing was an art in itself. The SC then drove down to Portsmouth in Convoy, but not before the CO and Engineering WO had carried out thorough inspections of each vehicle’s waterproofing.

On arrival at Portsmouth they were allotted 3 LCT (Landing Craft Tanks). Each LCT (or where they LST – Landing Ship Tanks) was capable of taking about 8 fully loaded 3 ton lorries. Each vehicle had to go up the ramp in reverse and it was a work of art positioning each vehicle.

This exercise involved a night trip out into the centre of the English Channel. Followed by a dawn landing at Bracklesham Bay in Sussex. After soundings had been taken and the ramp lowered, the first vehicle set off, unfortunately it just floated back into the centre of the English Channel.  

When the LCT pulled in a bit closer, after raising the ramp, the rest of the vehicles ploughed steadily through the water and up on to the beach after the ramp was re-lowered in about 6 feet of water.

At dawn on the beach the SC were wet and cold so they “heaved to” and left the engines on to get warm. It all seemed so simple – the only thing that was missing was the minefield.

PHASE 2 – RETURN TO FRANCE

In early May 1944, 3205 SC were withdrawn from active co-operation with the fighter squadrons of 2nd TAF (Tactical Air Force). The Commando was transferred to a field near the coast somewhere in the south of England.

This period of unaccustomed inactivity lead to a certain amount of boredom. On arrival at the new site they were fortunate in having received a couple of crates of paper-back books from a local welfare organisation. These books formed only a temporary library since unfortunately they were classed as “excess baggage” and would have to be left behind to be passed on to another Unit when we “moved on”. Since these books covered a wide range of subjects, most members of 3205 SC found something of interest to read.

A second independent Commando 3206 SC was accommodated in a field close to 3205. It wasn’t long before a few scratch games of football were arranged between the two units, however the pitches left much to be desired; a volunteer squad had to remove undesirable obstruction in the form of molehills and cowpats before a game could commence.

3205 managed to get hold of some practice grenades which enabled grenade throwing exercises to be put into effect. Needless to say, as with all “marksmanship” exercises, small sums of money were put into the kitty to give added incentive to the participants!

Other methods of passing the time, included cricket ball throwing, baseball, knife-throwing at static dummies, using the standard issue Commando knife. Some members, even made sophisticated catapults and spent quite a lot of time shooting at bottles. When aiming at static bottles palled, the bottles were thrown into the air to provide flying targets! (incidentally a certain high ranking Staff Officer, having heard of the prowess of some of 3205 SC catapultists is reported to have recommended that all Commandos be issued with catapults in lieu of sheath knives! This suggestion wasn’t however viewed with much favour, since the mere carrying of the lethal knife gave Commandos a distinct feeling of confidence, a last resort in the event of a really close encounter emergency, the knife would be used to kill without compunction.)

In addition to ‘Colour’ hoisting parades, vehicle and tent inspections were a normal feature of each day during this period of inactivity. Route marches with full pack and arms also helped to keep everybody up to scratch.

Prior to deployment, a final check of personal equipment revealed that the SC Warrant Officers were not completely equipped for the task ahead. In a short space of time they each found ourselves in possession of a brand new pair of light weight binoculars, and Ingersoll luminous pocket watch, a whistle and a pocket prismatic compass. Obviously someone was taking this war very seriously by ensuring that they were fully prepared for what ever might happen in the near future!

Since we had only limited space in our vehicles it was impracticable to carry bulky “welfare issue portable radios”. I had, however, acquired an old battery operated receiver from a crashed Bomber aircraft. In the Signals’ Section we carried Test Equipment which required standard 2 volt accumulators and 120 volt HT batteries. I figured that I would re-design and rebuild this crashed aircraft receiver into a smaller, low power consumption, medium wave radio, complete with built-in miniature loudspeaker. This new receiver would at least serve as a means of keeping in touch with the BBC news. After making a simple chassis from scrap aluminium panel, I spent about a week building the receiver. The end product gave the desired results. By cutting war maps from the daily papers, we were able to update some from current news broadcasts. This practice of keeping abreast of the news provided a welcome morale boosting diversion.

In April 1944, it was clearly obvious that the SC were now on “Standby” for the real thing Just a few days before the end of May the SC were issued with a small 64 page booklet entitled “France”. This booklet had nothing to do with military operations but dealt only with civilian life in France. The booklet contained some startling information. The first chapter for example dealt with “What the occupation had meant to France”, it also contained a section on useful words and phrases.

One afternoon, all the RAF and RCAF units encamped in the area were assembled in a large open field on an informal talk by Air Vice Marshal Harry Broadhurst: He was in charge of all the RAF aspects of the invasion. It was a fine, hot sunny day and we were all sitting around and relaxed whilst the AVM outlined the general plan of campaign for the task ahead. Obviously he couldn’t go into extreme detail for reasons of security but he did give a good idea of the role of both ground and air crews. Long range fighter aircraft, mainly Spitfires with long-range fuel tanks, would be continually “sweeping” the area ahead of beachhead landings. These aircraft would of course be operating from south coast aerodromes in England until such time as the Servicing Commandos had established suitable airstrips in France. These airstrips would be just inland near the French coast, this would enable the Royal Navy to provide additional defence and back-up facilities.

According to the Intelligence reports from France, the SC were given to understand that the Normandy coast area had been completely cleared of civilians and was now occupied by several crack German divisions. As long as the fighters could keep hostile aircraft and armoured vehicles “tied down” and prevent these German divisions from receiving full support the deployed force would be able to contain them ok.

The talk ended with messages of good luck from Winston Churchill (There was a man who could boost morale by just talking!) and from various Staff Officers. Having dispersed, Harry Broadhurst also wished combined SC the best of luck. On leaving the field, Pete mentions having looked round and thought that it would only have taken one German bomber to have “written off” the whole of the RAF and RCAF contingent!

He also goes on to state:

Well, we now knew for certain that we’d soon be making a landing “somewhere” in France. My attitude of mind at this pre-invasion stage was merely one of suppressed excitement. I resolved however, that I would just sit back and wait for things to happen and then to “play things by ear”. I had always considered that worrying about the future was just a waste ‘F-ing’ energy. I can, however, remember checking that my lucky “Panda” charm given to me by my wife was firmly secured to the back of my battle-dress lapel. Pilots were not the only ones to rely on lucky charms!

On June 5th OC attended the final Staff briefing. It was now his turn to brief his officers and Warrant Officers. They were firstly given a large scale map of the northern coast of France. The CO then outlined our individual responsibilities, he then wished the teams good luck. Nothing could go wrong now, or could it?

That evening, “Operation Overlord” started in earnest. 3205 SC embarked at Portsmouth on 3 LST’s (Landing Ship Tanks). – “B” Flight had six fully laden and water-proofed Bedford lorries, another LST with “A” Flight and a further six lorries. The CO took charge of the remaining LST and HQ Flight plus vehicles.  

3205 did a few final checks to make sure that everything was in order, after which they embarked without incident. Making sure everyone had their camouflaged steel helmets and naval lifebelts (these were of the easy blow-up ring type), as opposed to the RAF “Mae Wests”. Most of the Commandos kept their lifebelts handy so that they could lay their heads on something comfortable! In addition, they were also supplied with “Marzine” tablets to combat sea-sickness and “pep” pills to keep awake in the event of needing to keep awake for long periods.

After embarking they were held up by rough weather. However, they saw several aircraft and gliders heading for France. It was therefore imperative that the sailing wasn’t delayed for too long.

Pete mentions that he introduced himself to the “Wavy Navy” sub-lieutenant who was to take them over to France, he goes on to say.

“He seemed terribly young but was very pleased to have got us aboard all safe and sound. He asked me if I’d like a drop of rum before we started off but I turned the offer down. I did, however, promise to have a drink with him before we disembarked.

Once we started on our journey into the unknown, I sat in the cab of the leading lorry and studied my map. If all went well we would be put ashore somewhere near Arromanches. I memorised as much as I could, all the most important landmarks adjacent to our proposed new airstrip. I made a special note of the church at Croix-sur-mer. I calculated that we’d cover the 100 odd miles just in time to reach the French coast by down. After that I settled down to doing a few maths problems – I just felt a need to keep my mind occupied. I’d run out of cross-word puzzles that my wife used to cut out from the daily papers and sent to me in batches!

The lines of landing craft were a magnificent sight, the sea was a bit on the rough side. We received our first shock at about 2 am – A German “E” boat managed to infiltrate our armada and successfully torpedoed a landing craft on our starboard side. This was a frightening sight. We then discovered that this particular landing craft was carrying the RAF Regiment who would be providing our new airfield with protection using their Oerliken guns. This was rather worrying since we would now be “on our own”. We would have to provide our own airstrip defence as well as service aircraft. I wondered whether any of the occupants of the now blazing landing craft had been picked up. I thought I saw a destroyer making for the stricken craft but as we ploughed on through the water, the landing craft went under. I felt a bit sickened at this turn of events. However, I forced myself to be philosophical. I told “B” Flight that unfortunately “this was war”, we all had to take risks. Had the “E” boat broken through a few seconds earlier it could have been us!

I tried hard not to let this incident upset me but inwardly I was a bit shaken. I forced myself to “cat-nap” for half an hour, when I awoke I found myself muttering “C’est la guerre” – the invasion would still go ahead and somehow or other we’d get by.

At about 4 am I got out of the cab of the Bedford and walked about to stretch my cramped limbs. I was now wide-awake and I noticed that the sea was getting calmer. I then paid our “pilot” a visit. We chatted about life in general and I had a tot of rum with him. I did notice that he never let his concentration waver all the time that we were talking. We then discussed the problems of the actual landing. He said that we would be landing at high tide and he was aiming to land as high up the beach as he could so that when the ramp was lowered we’d be in relatively shallow water. He estimated that we would be landing at about 6 am. Just after dawn. At first light we clearly saw the French coast, and could see large steel-framed obstructions. Our “pilot” said that he was confident that he could steer between these obstruction frames but he couldn’t guarantee that he’d be able to miss all the concrete “teeth” between the frames. I asked him what he would be doing after the landing and he informed me that he was detailed to remain at the beachhead to pick up casualties and return them back to England, after that he would be returning with fuel and ammunition. He reckoned that the landing craft would be operating 24 hrs a day for about 3 weeks until the beachhead was fully established.

As dawn broke, we could see the Normandy coast quite clearly. Through binoculars I could also see the wreckage of houses and buildings. On the actual beach we could see regular spaced iron frameworks and concrete blocks. It was surprising how “symmetrically” the Germans had laid their obstructions. Between each set of iron frameworks they would have laid a mathematically perfect pattern of mines! However, luckily for us, the RAF had been carrying out mathematically perfect bombing at low level the day before the invasion. They had planted all their bombs between each set of steel frames. These bombing raids had been synchronised with diversionary coastal raids in the Pas de Calais area and elsewhere. From our point of view the actual JUNO stretch of beach was virtually free from active mines when we arrived. I don’t think any vehicles that landed in the Arromanches section suffered damage from mines.

Shortly after dawn, from an Easterly direction, a lone ME 109 strayed over the beachhead. As if by magic the escorting battle cruiser and destroyers on our port side “opened-up” on this aircraft. The firework display was very noisy and lasted only a very short time, it was impressive to say the least. The Royal Navy had merely used that aircraft for “target practice”. It disappeared into the ground with smoke and flame pouring from its fuselage and engine. The aircraft stood as much chance of surviving that barrage as a snowball in Hell! At least it boosted our morale to know that we were being looked after by the Royal Navy!

As we drew gradually closer to the beach, the LSTs behind us shed their loads. – Amphibious Sherman Tanks! The sight of these tanks ploughing through the water in formation was a most awe-inspiring sight. However, we weren’t here to enjoy the scenery – in a few minutes we would be on French soil. Our “Pilot” signalled that the time had come to start engines and prepare to land! I gave him a smart salute and he saluted back. That always seemed to be the tradition in films! We also shook hands and he wished me the Best of Luck. (I think we must have inherited all this from our forebears – however it looked good and the troops lapped it up!)

After that things happened rapidly, I jumped in the cab of the first lorry as the ramp came down; we were in low gear four wheel drive. We left the ramp with the engine at full throttle then we settled to a steady speed through about four feet of water and finally after about two minutes we reached the dry soft sand. It had seemed more like an exercise than the actual thing.

We pulled up to form into a line adjacent to a field surrounded by barbed wire, with a notice-board marked with a skull and crossbones and the words “actung minen” – It didn’t need a knowledge of German to sort that out. So far the impact of landing in France still hadn’t registered. It wasn’t until I saw a dead cow on its back with its feet in the air in the middle of this minefield that I realised something was different.

Whilst the vehicles were being “de waterproofed” I went along and reported to the Naval Beachmaster. He just checked that I had no problems or casualties and he indicated that a flail tank had just cleared a path through the minefield and this cleared channel was marked with white tapes. The only words of waning given were that we were not to stray outside the taped lane – neither must we stop at any point in the lane once we had started. If a vehicle broke down it was to be towed through as quickly as possible.

The Beachmaster also informed me that our other sections had not yet reported in. I had to make a quick decision. I couldn’t hang about on the beach because I would impede the tanks who would be wanting to get inland as quickly as possible. I decided to press on towards the map reference of our proposed new airstrip. We successfully negotiated the minefield and were followed by a line of Sherman Tanks. At the end of the minefield I followed a lane, it was rather narrow and I hoped that it would be clear of mines. The tanks fortunately chose a road straight ahead. We passed a few derelict buildings and I could see the church of St. Croix-sur-mer – we had landed at Ver-sur-mer slightly to the west. With the church as my landmark the area of our new airstrip wasn’t difficult to locate. It proved to be an open, fairly flat area, and contained mainly neglected wheat stubble. The runway would be aligned north and south. As far as we could ascertain from a casual inspection the area was not mined. This surprised me. I couldn’t understand why the Germans had not mined or put obstructions on this ideal “airstrip soil”. Perhaps after all they had been taken completely by surprise and had never expected the stupid English to attempt a landing invasion in Normandy. Perhaps Hitler had decreed that we would never land in that area and consequently the German High Command accepted his views?

Our first action was to find an area to park the vehicles. We could do much at the moment, except to wait for the remainder of the Unit to turn up. The arrived shortly afterwards, Flt Lt Fenton did a quick reconnaissance of the area and he outlined the runway. With the runway clearly defined we split into section, WO Deverson and I supervised the layout of the dispersal points for both “A” and “B” Flights.

We off-loaded the tin boxes etc from the lorries and commenced to set up our working areas near the Dispersal points. We also planned the locations of our future fuel and ammunition dumps.

By nightfall we’d used our “helving tools” to dig slit trenches near our Dispersals. We had also emptied all our lorries. Our cooks had also managed to prepare hot meals and drinks. Again we all seemed to treat everything as though it was an extension of an exercise.

 

Having been tasked to move 3205 SC moved to a new location Pete’s memoirs state. Having arrived and worked through the night, The new airstrip at Croix-sur-Mer coded “B3” was opened for emergencies. The first aircraft was a shot-up American Thunderbolt with bullet holes in the engine and fuel tanks. The pilot would never have made it back across the Channel. We were not in a position to service or repair his aircraft so it was just towed away to a corner of the airstrip by a Bedford lorry. The Pilot was conveyed to the beachhead ready for onward transmission to England. Already the new airstrip had paid its first dividend.

On the same day we received out first Spitfires. Six aircraft flown by Free French pilots of the Lorraine Squadron landed at B3 from Tangmere. They all landed safely – after taxying to the dispersal points, the pilots got out, raised their thumbs to the ground crews and immediately knelt down and kissed the ground. We saw nothing strange in that, after all, this was their country and this was the first time that they had actually landed on French soil since the original Blitzkreig.

The pilots were then given the usual “brew” of tea, whilst the groundcrew re-fuelled and checked their aircraft. After completion of servicing the leader of the group outlined his instructions. Their purpose was to provide us with “instant” defence against hostile aircraft.

Two aircraft would remain at “instant readiness” with starter trolleys plugged-in, VHF transceivers switched to “receive” on their main operational channel. Ground crews would remain alongside the aircraft ready to unplug the starter trolleys and remove the wheel chocs. The two pilots would be relieved at two-hourly intervals. As a further precaution two further aircraft would be prepared for “readiness” with starter trolleys plugged-in but the pilots would remain within easy reach of the aircraft.

All this coincided precisely with my own original ideas of what would happen. The exercise had grown from a “dream” to a reality.

On the fourth day Spitfire squadrons started arriving from England the airstrip became a real hive of activity from dawn till dusk. Filling up aircraft using funnels with chamois leather filters and jerry cans was really hard work. This combined with assembling rockets occupied most of our time.

Our Engineering WO decided that our present method of refuelling aircraft was much too slow so he set about improving it. He acquired a large oil drum which he cleaned out and fitted with a hinged top. He also acquired a hand-operated “Zwiki” pump with a long pump handle. He secured the drum to a stout wooden chassis with four wheels and a towing arm. To complete this mobile fuel bowser he mounted the “Zwiki” pump on the side of the oil drum. A long fuel hose connector was connected to the output orifice of the pump – at the other end of this hose was a lever-operated nozzle. The pump inlet was connected to a short fuel hose terminated in a series of wire mesh filters. The wire mesh filters rested on the bottom of the drum. WO Derverson had refuelling brought to a fine art. One set of “slaves” would bring the drum alongside the aircraft, another set of “slaves” would form a chain to keep the drum about one-third full with petrol poured in from jerry cans. The fitter actually doing the refuelling of the aircraft’s tanks merely fitted a large funnel containing several chamois leathers into the aircraft’s tank, and once the “pumpers” had gone into action, he merely operated the lever on his petrol nozzle to regulate the flow of fuel into the tank.

This system was marvellous in-so-far that it didn’t entail lifting jerry cans up to the poor refuelling fitter who after a time became quite exhausted. WO Deverson even complied with all the safety regulations by “earthing” his oil drum, using a pointed copper spike and a short length of heavy gauge wire attached to the surface of the drum. Deverson’s “slaves” were well trained and even the Romans would have been proud to have had him in charge of their Galley Ships!

One flight of Spitfires from Gravesend arrived with special overload tanks filled with newspapers. English bread and bottles of beer! We offered to pay for these luxuries but the CO of the squadron was adamant that the luxuries were a little gift from all the pilots in recognition of the hard work that we had put in to get the airstrip operational in record time. Needless to say he did request that we fit him out with new overload tanks filled with fuel.

Work went on smoothly throughout the coming days. A team of Army Engineers arrived on the scene with steel tracking which was capable of being “interlinked” to form a “metal” runway. This would make the airstrip more permanent and suitable for bad-weather conditions and of course it would also be more suitable for the 2nd TAF Typhoons due to arrive shortly.

Aircraft spares, especially wheels and tyres, started arriving in quantity and we were soon building up a local store of essential bits and pieces. Happily we had had no serious crashes to deal with. All aircraft damaged by enemy action had been within the capacity of the Commando to repair.

Even our food supplies were being augmented by members of the Unit digging up small potatoes from between the wheat stubble at the edge of the airfield. Fresh potatoes made a welcome change from “dehydrated” potatoes!

We had borne a charmed life and within a fortnight the airstrip at Croix-Sur-Mer had become well and truly established. Our fighters were now able to penetrate and “sweep” much further inland. Enemy airfields were having to move back much further inland. Day attacks by our fighters, followed by heavy night attacks by our bombers made life very uncomfortable for the Luftwaffe! This enabled us to work steadily and without fear of surprise attaches by hostile aircraft.

Our sister Commando 3206 SC had also established another operational airstrip near Bayeux (Coded B2)

The time had now come for the well-equipped contingent of Canadian Air Force ground crews to take over. They arrived complete with mobile workshops, radios and radar trailers. We had worked with them in England so we were old friends. We all felt that “B3” was being left in good hands.

Once the Canadians had taken over it was time for us to “move to new pastures” and start up another airstrip. We packed up all our equipment into our lorries and said goodbye to Croix-Sur-Mer.

Our next airstrip was at Beny-Sur-Mer (Coded B4). This airstrip was situated near some neglected orchards. We had no sooner started on this airstrip when we were subjected to mortar bombs! Somebody didn’t like us. At this stage a platoon of marine commandos came along and told us that we’d parked ourselves alongside an operational German Radar Station! The marine commandos took the initiative and flushed out the radar station taking the whole German crew prisoners, except for one Jerry that they had to kill to gain access to the

Whilst at Beny-Sur-Mer I managed to acquire a German “walkie-talkie” transceiver of rather advanced design. I did not have time to get it working properly but this transceiver contained an HT battery “eliminator” – This eliminator was small and light-weight and could be operated from a 2 volt LT accumulator. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t long before my miniature radio needed no further HT batteries. The output of this German HT battery eliminator was on 90v instead of 120v but it functioned quite well. A slight hum in the speaker was discernable but this didn’t trouble us unduly.

Beny-Sur-Mer was soon operating with a “mobile” control tower, the time had come for us to move again. We were fast becoming experts at starting up new airfields!

Our next airstrip was Plumetot, just north of Caen – heavy fighting was still going on in the Caen area, but it was obvious that the RAF needed more and more airfields within the beachhead if they were to provide the Army with the air support that was needed. Plumetot airstrip was on a slope. About two miles south was a fairly large wood. There was something odd about this wood; whenever an aircraft was taxying at the southern end of the airstrip it was subjected to mortar fire. One of our dispatch riders, Cpl Greasley thought that he’d check where this mortar fire was coming from, so he started off down a narrow lane leading toward the wood. He got more than he bargained for and he had to beat a hasty retreat. However, he came back with some starling news. That wood at the end of our airstrips contained a load of German tanks! – We only had a few Spitfires on the airstrip at the time, but these aircraft carried out endless sorties with rockets. It was as much as we could do to keep the aircraft re-armed as we had to assemble all the rocket parts, we were also very short of ammunition.

In practice our troops had gone forward too far, and had unwittingly left a large pocket of resistance just outside Caen. They couldn’t have realised that the time how big this pocket was.

The Spitfires having temporarily contained this pocket, realised that it wouldn’t be long before the tanks in the wood would break out and sort our new airstrip out. Life suddenly became very unhealthy for us. It was then that HMS Belfast came on the scene – I didn’t mean that she steamed inland to help but she systematically bombarded the wood with salvo after salvo from her big guns. There was a slight pause and two squadrons of Typhoons descended on the wood from all angles. We had a ringside seat!

Well, neither the Royal Navy nor the RAF were satisfied that they’d completely eliminated the threat of a “breakout”. The Belfast opened up again – then came the “coup de grace” – from the north we heard the heavy roar of bombers; about 1,000 Lancaster’s had come to deal with whatever remained of the 800 armoured vehicles in that wood. The noise of explosions was devastating. The Lancaster’s carried out a fairly low-level raid, systematically laying a carpet of high explosives. The smoke from burning vehicles and exploding ammunition on the ground added to the confusion. It would have been impossible for anything in that wood to lived.

Our Spitfires at Plumetot (B10) increased in number after refuelling and re-arming they were all out on “sweeps” for armoured vehicles and guns in advance of our forward troops. Everything was back to normal, we’d had a slight “hiccup” but nothing to worry about.

Looking back now, I wonder what would have happened to us if 600 odd Tiger tanks had emerged from that wood and attacked our airfield. Our defence against tanks comprised two Piat guns! But again perhaps it was our lucky charms that had saved us.

After two months of really hard work in France, we were withdrawn from operations and returned to England. We had thought that we would continue operating and opening new airfields and probably taking over existing German airfields but it was not to be, we were required for work elsewhere!

When we were pulled out of France our general feelings were very mixed. We had all worked efficiently and proved that trained RAF Servicing Commandos working as a team could play a very useful role in the early stages of an invasion.

We had served for only two months in France but we had established three vital airfields from scratch. Without those airfields the whole invasion plan could have been jeopardised.

I still couldn’t quite puzzle out why we were being withdrawn from France in such a hurry. I thought at first that we might be used again, perhaps in some inland area on the continent but that just didn’t fit. We obviously weren’t going back to be disbanded. A thought struck me that we might be needed in the Far East.

Louis Mountbatten originally started combined operations. I sensed that our success had got to his ears. We knew that he was desperate for experienced troops. South East Asia next stop?

3205 SC IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

3205 SC spent approximately 2 months in France. They had set up three very essential airstrips since the landing of D day, and the Allied bridgehead on the continent had been well and truly established.

3205 and other SC had proved that well organised and trained RAF Commandos working as a close-knit team could provide invaluable support to an invasion task force. An analysis of such support was obviously being studied in detail by Higher Command with a view to incorporating of RAF Commandos in future operations akin to that of “Overlord”.

It was thought that the SC future role would involve going forward into Germany and taking over enemy airfields for use by our own fighters and fighter-bombers, and felt confident that we could carry out such tasks and we were literally looking forward to the challenge.

However, It came as a great shock, when the CO announced that since all the objectives had been successfully achieved within the time-scale allocated for this purpose, they were now to be withdrawn from France and be returned to England.

At the end of July 1944 after disembarking at Fareham, they found ourselves with 83 Group Support Unit at Bognor Regis. Where they erected tents in a field and reverted to a routine static life of parades, vehicle inspections and carried out some minor tasks for the Support Unit.

During the day they watched squadrons of heavy bombers heading for the continent. Also the German flying bombs heading for London, being chased by Spitfires and the new jet Meteors. Having witnessed several incidents where our fighters turned the flying bombs back over the channel. Unfortunately too many bombs did get through to London causing considerable damage and chaos. The invasion forces in France had not as yet reached the Pas-de-Calais where the main launching pads were set up. At the time that these bombs were coming over at irregular intervals.

Pete recoglects

“I couldn’t help thinking that we could have played an important part in the destruction of these laughing pads by using fighter airfields just behind the Pas-de-Calais area. Continual harassment of the sites by rocket attacks during the day and low-level bombing by night could have crated appreciable damage and made the sites untenable. Only a few fighters squadrons would be needed for such an operation.”

It had been known for a long time that the Earl Mountbatten had been starved of essential troops and materials for a long period of time as a result of Operation “Overlord” taking complete priority. It therefore seemed logical that once the Allies had established a sound footing on the Continent, certain units could be “Syphoned-off” for transfer to another area of operations where skills and experience would prove invaluable. Having been personally responsible for the initial formation of RAF Commandos, Earl Mountbatten requested that the SC be transfered to SEAC (South East Asia Command).

In November 1944, 3 months after leaving France, 3205 headed to West Kirby where they picked up tropical kit and had final inoculations and then embarked on the “DUNERRA”

Pete goes on to say:

“I had travelled on Troopships in peacetime, but I had never experienced sailing under “black-out” conditions with all portholes blocked up at night. As on all troopships we were not allowed to wear our Army boots – these had to e exchanged for plimsolls. We drew our hammocks in the evening and slept over the mess-decks. I had no trouble in sleeping in a hammock but the smell of perspiring bodies and the usual foot odours caused the unventilated air down below to become foul after a very short period of time. After the first night I decided in future to sleep on deck. It was bitterly cold and damp but at least the air smelt “pure”.

Through the Bay of Biscay we were escorted by Destroyers. The sea was slightly rough but I’d sailed under worse conditions in HMT “Somersetshire” in peacetime. We reached Gibraltar without incident. At Gibraltar our Destroyer escort left us. In the Mediterranean we only had tow life-boat drills. We all got used to dashing to our life-boat stations and putting on our heavy cork life-belts. It was, however, during one of these lifeboat drills that I realised how heavily overloaded we were. One German “U” boat could have put paid to the lives of thousands of soldiers and airmen!

We soon adapted to life on board the Dunerra. WO Deverson and I spent quite a lot of time walking briskly round and round the upper deck. This exercise kept us reasonably fit. We normally woke up at about 3.30 am – scrambled through our ablutions before it got too crowded. By 4.30 am we were in the queue at the quartermaster’s store with our tin mugs ready to buy a mug of sweet-sugared “Sergeant-Majors” tea and packet of biscuits. At least queuing provided something to do and it helped to pass the time.

The main entertainment on board was limited to watching RAF V Army boxing matches and playing Housey-Housey. Some “fly” members of the crew set up illegal “Crown and Anchor” boards and the “conned” the unwitting passengers out of hundreds of pounds.

Sometimes I sat on deck reading a paper-back copy of Homers “Iliad” that I had acquired at West Kirby. Most afternoons I managed to sneak down below and take advantage of a cold sea-water showers which at least acted as a refresher, although it ended up by leaving one hot and sticky afterwards.

One method of passing time at night was to lean on the ship’s rail and watch the phosphorescent wake of the ship as she ploughed on. Watching the wake had an “hypnotic” effect. Now and again we saw school of porpoises and flying fishes.

As we proceeded we passed the old Italian island of Partellaria on our starboard side and then Malta on the Portside. From then on having sorted out my landmarks I realised it wouldn’t be very long before we reached Port Said, at the Northernmost end of the Suez Canal. Eventually we sighted De Lesseps memorial at the entrance to the Canal. There we anchored and waited for the Pilot Boat to come alongside with the Egyptian pilot and all the searchlight gear. During this period that we were anchored, we were surrounded by the usual shower of native “bumboats” selling their wares of fruits and trinkets. The owners of the boats were typical Arab rogues who loved bargaining for their wares. I amused myself “haggling” with some of them on behalf of some of our lads who were desirous of purchasing fruit etc. I discovered that I still had a reasonable knowledge of basic Arabic and Hindustani, and I could still swear fluently in both languages!

Eventually the pilot had erected all his floodlights on the upper deck in preparation for a partial night journey through the narrow canal. It was rather nostalgic from my point of view as I had been stationed at Abu Sueir and Heliopolis before the war and I had spent quite a lot of time flying over the Canal area, both in Vickers’ Valentia troop carriers (Flying Pigs) and Hawker Audax Army Co-operation aircraft.

The actual Canal was always our most important landmark and we knew every inch of it. There were no ground or air Direction Finding facilities so when flying in Valentias in dust-storms from Iraq to Egypt, it was essential to know one’s exact crossing point on the Canal in order to set course for Heliopolis.

At dawn we anchored in Lake Timsah. When I was at Abu Sueir I had had a small power b oat which I kept on the lake. I spent many hours swimming in both the Canal and Lake Timsah.

Our next stop was at the extreme southern end of the Canal – Port Suez. We dumped our pilot and we then proceeded on the 1500 mile trip down the Red Sea to Aden. Going through the Red Sea we were accompanied by the usual big shark with massive jaws and teeth – watching this shark passed away quite a few more hours.

It took us just over three days to arrive at Aden with its clock tower as the landmark. We anchored again and were allowed to put on Army boots and go for a short route-march. During this march we halted at a clear-water pool containing numerous brightly-coloured fishes. The route march was quite enjoyable, but since our feet had been enclosed in plimsolls for so long our feet and ankles really ached towards the end of the march. However, we felt great after being cooped up like chickens.

We arrived at Bombay on 5th December 1944 and preceded to RAF WORLI the base reception depot. We spent about a week at Worli – when we weren’t attending lectures we spent most of our time lying on our “charpoys” – great timber-frame beds strung with lattice of stout hairy ropes, trying to catch up on the sleep that we had missed!

We received several lectures on hygiene and survival. It was also pointed out that more people became casualties from tropical diseases than from enemy action. This fact alone was frightening.

I can always remember one very interesting lecture on Indian customs given by the CO of Worli – a Wg Cdr Brereton – I knew him in 1930 as a Sgt-Pilot at RAF Henlow. His lectures always ended by wishing everybody the best of luck and he instilled many airmen with the confidence to go ahead without worry – something badly needed in those days.

3205 SC in SE ASIA

My memories of the actual detailed movements of 3205 SC after leaving the transit camp at Worli are rather hazy. Sometimes we were living under canvas and at others we were living in bamboo “bashas” (native huts). During our first monsoon period, when everything just ground to a halt, we were in bashas somewhere near Chittagong.

As the monsoon came to an end, the British Army and Indian troops had at last got to grips with the Japanese Army at Imphal (Burma) and for the first time the enemy was suffering heavy losses. Our main role was to be the establishment of an airstrip on the West Coast of Burma.

Shortages of transport vehicles was our greatest problem and the vehicles that we did acquire had all seen better days. Once we had set up this airstrip our next objective was to be the turning point of the war in SE Asia. – The invasion of Malaya and the re-capture of Singapore.

After a short stay at Worli, 3205 SC left for Calcutta by train. This journey took about four or five days and followed a route via Nagpur and Jarnshedyset. Travelling conditions weren’t all that comfortable, the wooden seats were very hard and the toilet facilities consisted of a hole in the carriage floor with two “foot plates” to squat on – alright for Indians but not so good for Europeans! To travel by train in India however was always an experience. We travelled through heavily wooded areas in Central India and on some stretches of the line the scenery was magnificent. We halted many times at remote wayside stations – at each of these stops our cooks “borrowed” boiling water from the engine in order to make a few buckets of “char” (tea). This drink was always welcome but our cooks had to purify the water with chlorination tablets. This drink was also very strong but frankly it didn’t taste like tea. Naturally every time we stopped at a station we were surrounded by natives worrying for “baksheesh” (free gifts of money or goods!)

To while away this uncomfortable journey, I made up a small cardboard chessboard and some cardboard chessmen. FS (Taffy) EVANS and I spent quite a few hours playing chess with this improvised chess set. I don’t think that I won many games, but it at least relieved the boredom of sitting on hard wooden seats.

Eventually we reached Howrah Junction and it wasn’t long after that, that we reached Calcutta. In Calcutta we went to a transit camp – from the transit camp we went to Chittagong. I can remember paying a visit to the American Section of the Air Base at Comilla and being very concerned at seeing large heaps of almost new looking aircraft radios thrown into a dump. It appears that the Americans adopted the policy of “scrapping” an aircraft radio that went unserviceable and merely replacing the unserviceable unit by a brand new replacement! I’m certain that many of these radios only needed extremely minor repairs in order to put them back into service again.

This policy of servicing by direct replacement certainly wasn’t the RAF way of doing things. We were working at a distinct disadvantage because the Hurricane IIc’s that we were called upon to service were fitted with various marks of TR1133 VHF radios. The TR1133 was an obsolescent version of the reliable TR1143s that we had in our Spitfires in Normandy. Again these obsolescent VHF sets had seen better days, many sets had never been modified or updated since their original installation. The main excuse for this was that they could not get the appropriate modification kits. Long usage in an extremely dusty and very humid climate hadn’t helped matters. Mechanical failure of the tuning mechanism was a common fault. Hurricane pilots seemed to accept radio failures as routine, the very though of such failures made us shudder. To be flying a Hurricane in bad weather conditions without good radio communication was tantamount to murder.”

3205 SC Signals Section resolved that they would do all in their power to provide an efficient servicing system. This wasn’t achieved however without a lot of hard work, but it gave the section a boost whenever a pilot returned and when asked how the radio had behaved, he would put his thumb up and say “bloody marvellous”.

When in Normandy, radio servicing took up a very small part of their time and were able to help other tradesmen, however in SE Asia they needed to give priority to radio-servicing. The Unit as a whole was renowned for its technical efficiency. Many of the pilots got to know them personally and they greatly appreciated the fact that they could rely on them to keep their aircraft in ‘tip-top’ condition.

Another factor entered into the aspects of Radio Servicing. The Signals team were expected to service not only Fighter aircraft but a wide variety of American bomber and transport aircraft. Special reference was given to Dakotas which were the “maids of all work”. It was surprising how quickly all members of the Unit acquired technical expertise in dealing with Airframes, engines, instruments, electrical equipment and radios. The

Communications team – were noted to enjoy tackling “challenges” – such as localising and rectifying difficult faults.

Peter states:

“I must admit that it was a marvellous feeling to be backed up by a team of tradesmen, who put everything they had into providing a super-efficient standard of aircraft servicing.”

The British and American Air Forces achieved a great measure of success in decimating the Japanese Air Force and this factor, combined with the earlier sinking of four Japanese Naval Aircraft carriers, made life very difficult for the Japanese. The Royal Navy had also taken control of the Bay of Bengal. The Japanese lines of communication and supply were severely stretched. They were still tenaciously fighting to hold on to what territory they already held. The British and Indian troops engaged in the fighting at Imphal had to be supplied mainly from the air. Dakotas carried out the main burden of supply dropping sometimes in terrible weather conditions. Once Imphal was in Commonwealth forces hands they had access to more airfields. The next objective was to retake central Burma. The Arakan consisted mainly of dense malarial hilly jungle with only a few narrow jungle tracks to act as military roads. Unfortunately, the whole of the Arakan was riddled with tidal creeks. These creeks were navigable at high tide by small river craft. The Japanese had taken full advantage of this means of obtaining supplies. The beaches along the Arakan were very narrow, even at low tide; Inland the jungle tracks crossed these “chungs” by flimsy wooden bridges.

The Dakotas supplying troops had only a limited full-load range of approximately 250 miles. To do so, aircraft needed to fly in atrocious conditions following routes between heavily-jungled ranges of hills – air turbulence was considerable, therefore a fully loaded Dakota had a lot to cope with.

In view of this range limitation of the Dakota, Lord Mountbatten – C in CSEAC decided that the Arakan must be taken and most important of all an airstrip re-established on Akyab island. In earlier days, Akyab had been a staging post for Imperial Airways. Akyab was at the southern-most end of the Arakan. Akyab airfield was, however, only a fair-weather airstrip, it did however, have a good harbour. Unfortunately not only was the Arakan in Japanese hands, but also Akyab airstrip.

3205 SC’s OC, Sqn Ldr Fenton came back from a briefing one day in early January 1945, the monsoon had just finished. He produced a crude map and outlined the route 3205 SC would be taking to get to Akyab. The vehicles were already prepared; all the SC needed to do was to get from Chittagong to Akyab. They would use jungle tracks wherever possible, but we would probably have to traverse many “chaungs” and this would mean hugging what little beach-space was available at low tide. The CO would travel ahead in his jeep and he would advise the convoy of the best route.

It was therefore imperative that the SC arrived at a place called “Foul Point” at the Southern end of the Arakan at a specified time on a specified date.

The Royal Navy had virtually sunk or captured most of the Japanese naval vessels and small boats in the Bay of Bengal and the enemy were being deprived of vital supplies. Since there was a general shortage of small river craft the Royal Navy were repairing and modifying captured Japanese vessels for use by Commonwealth forces.

Peter Recollects:

“We travelled by road for the first part of the trip from Chittagong. We by-passed Coxs Bazaar, which had been the scene of previous heavy fighting. Shortly after leaving Ramu one of our heavily laden lorries fell over the side of a low bridge over one of the “chaungs”. The vehicle was lying on its side, fortunately no one was injured. Sqn Ldr Fenton arrived back to see what was causing the delay. Within a short space of time he’d fixed ropes round the vehicle and with the help of many hands the vehicle was restored to an upright position. (In practice it nearly rolled over onto its other side!) Sheer brute force was used to return the lorry to the jungle track. It was then found that it wouldn’t start. This caused a minor headache as all the electrolyte had leaked out of the battery, also petrol had been lost. The only thing that we could do was use some of our precious drinking water to try and “reactivate” the battery. This was only partially successful – but by hand starting the engine there was sufficient power in the battery to keep the ignition circuit working.

Eventually we got the convoy back on the road but we had lost valuable time and due to the possibility of running into the enemy we had to divert to the coastal beaches. We could, however, now only cross the mouth of the chaungs when the tide was out. Whilst waiting for the tide to ebb at one particular chaung we decided to hold-up and take advantage of a swim – This proved disastrous – on of our members had the misfortune to be stung by a giant sting-ray. After he had been fished out of the water, our medical NCO checked him over and then told us that he was paralysed down one side. This was serious – we were miles from any field hospital. Sqn Ldr Fenton had to make a quick decision, we couldn’t leave him behind at a native “kampong” (village) – even if one had been near at hand. If found by a Japanese patrol this would have alerted the enemy to the fact that 3205 SC were travelling down the Arakan for some very good reason! The decision was made to take him with us on a stretcher, with the medical NCO and one other airman in constant attendance. At the end of about six hours of very uncomfortable driving conditions, the convoy was halted and the patient examined again. The symptoms of the paralysis were beginning to wear off – we all breathed a sigh of relief – the next day the paralysis disappeared completely. The rest of us had all been taught a valuable lesson!

Eventually we arrived at our rendezvous at Foul Point – Here we met with problems. The only way we could get to Akyab Island was by being ferried by a small steamboat to a position south of the Island, and thence transferring to LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanised) for the final assault.

Although I had carried out several scrambling net exercises – the nets were attached to the branches of trees, – I’d never had to drop into a bobbing up and down landing craft when the craft was going down and the ship was wallowing and going up! I can remember landing on my back with full pack and accoutrements – I felt very humiliated – this was far from funny! Never the less since everyone else thought it was funny I had to go along with the majority!

The landing craft had difficulty in getting in close to the shore and we were all dumped out in water chest-high. This again was a new experience; we also had to wade through some deep pot holes. It was whilst we were wading through the water at about knee-high, that I suddenly realised that we hadn’t been shot at, or had any grenades thrown at us! It was an eerie sensation – arriving on the actual beach we dived for what little cover there was and tried to work out a plan of action.

Had we really used the element of surprise? – such that the Japanese had not known of our landing?

Our vehicles had not been disembarked, so we decided to go forward in small groups to the edge of the airstrip. We eventually reached the edge of the airstrip and to our surprise it was deserted. Shortly afterwards the CO turned up in a Jeep – he wanted us to be on the lookout for Japanese patrols but he heard it rumoured that the Japanese had pulled out from Akyab in order to reinforce their Infantry fighting in the Arakan and Central Burma.

Well, suffice it to say, luck was again on our side. We reached the airfield; there were no signs of aircraft or troops. The Old Imperial Airways Hangar had been badly damaged. The grass runway was holed in parts – there appeared to be no signs of booby traps in the Japanese wooden strong points – All we found were scattered Japanese papers and spent shell cases.

It didn’t take us long to get dispersed and have a meal going. The CO decided that there was little we could do as the light was failing. All we did was to mount guards and get some rest in before making an early morning start to get the airstrip ready for the first squadron of Spitfires of 224 Group, at present based at Chittagong.

The following morning we had a visit from a Burmese civilian who spoke perfect English with an American accent. After he had introduced himself he said that if the CO needed any assistance he would be only too pleased to oblige. He told us that he had been educated in America and that he had been assisting the British by collecting details of Japanese troop locations in the various Burmese “kampongs”. He was too honest to be other than he said.

Prior to leaving Chittagong I had acquired a couple of small pocket books, one was called “How to survive in the jungle” and the other was called “Pointe Talkie in Burmese”. With the aid of our new interpreter I managed to learn a few basic Burmese phrases – he told me that in nearly every “kampong” there was always somebody who spoke English. If we used the “Pointe-Talkie” book and the English speaking person in the kampong said “go-away” it meant that the Japanese were in the immediate vicinity.

He also told us that the Japanese regiment holding Akyab had been pulled out only a few hours before we landed. They were sent to reinforce the Japanese fighting in the Arakan.

That same morning we unloaded our vehicles, and set up our dispersal points. It was just like operation “Overlord” all over again, except for the fact that it was very humid and very hot.

The airstrip was pronounced serviceable for fighter aircraft within 24 hrs and it wasn’t long before we received our first Spitfires (that was another good omen!)

Shortly after the fighters had been refuelled, a group of Japanese bomber aircraft approached the port of Akyab and started to bomb it. However, little did they know that the Spitfires were waiting for them.

The Spitfires didn’t take long to sort them out and I think that all the bombers were either shot down or damaged such that they were unable to reach their inland bases – we lost no aircraft – 3205 SC felt very proud to have helped to make this victory possible.

Whilst at Akyab we did suffer one or two minor raids in which Japanese aircraft would fly over and drop a single hand grenade, but we saw little other enemy air activity.

Just a few days after the airstrip had become operational; a lone Dakota zoomed in and landed on the airstrip. It was unescorted by fighters and we had not been pre-warned of this but after the aircraft had taxied in, who should get out but Lord Mountbatten! – He was only on a fleeting visit but he found time for us to gather round whilst he stood up on a box and gave us an informal chat. He started off his speech by praising 3205 SC and saying how pleased he was at the efficient way the unit had carried out its duties. He emphasised that of course he was especially interested in us as he himself was rather of all Commandos! (This in fact was true since it was he who had originated Combined Operations prior to Operation Overlord).

He next outlined how the war was going in Germany and he followed this up by telling us that we had now really got the Japanese in Burma really worried. He mentioned also the success of our first Spitfire squadron at Akyab.

He told us that the capture of Akyab meant that we could now continue to supply the 14th Army from the air, which was really the only way to fight this jungle war. He also stated that it would not be long before the Japanese were routed from Burma, especially now that we had got complete air and sea supremacy. His final message was that after Burma our next phase was to retake Malaya.

After his speech Lord Mountbatten stayed for a short while mingling and chatting with all and sundry. I must admit that his visit was a great morale booster – he’d even brought over our mail as well!

In addition to our mail, he had brought in copies of assorted newspapers, journals and copies of SEAC, his own newspaper for the forces in SEAC.

After having established the airstrip we stayed on just long enough to hand over our equipment to an RAF Servicing Echelon and Army Airfield Construction Unit. The former would transform the airstrip into a Supply and Staging Post for Transport aircraft, long range fighters and fighter bombers, whilst the latter would make the airstrip into an all weather airfield.

From Akyab we returned to Chittagong an ended up at an airstrip called Double Mooring. It was on this return journey that we suffered another swimming fatality. We had found an ideal spot well inland, with a low wooden bridge over a fairly narrow “chaung”. We used the bridge as a diving stage and we left our clothes on this bridge – lo and behold whilst we were swimming a group of small monkeys came along and tried to steal our clothes! When we were about to return to our vehicles we did a head-count and discovered that one of our members (I think it was an LAC SPARROW) was missing. We spent about an hour surface diving for him but all to no avail. It wasn’t until we started deep diving that I realised how treacherous a spot I had chosen for our swimming activities. I felt very depressed and terribly guilty as a result of this drowning fatality since the CO had virtually entrusted me to ensure that our swimming areas in future were safe. He hadn’t forgotten the “sting-ray” incident on the way down to Foul Point – I think his body was later recovered but I vowed that in future whenever we went swimming we’d mount life diving piquet’s before entering the water. Had we have had a piquet I am certain that this incident would not have happened. The most crying shame was that the airman drowned was considered to be one of the strongest swimmers. All Commandos had to be able to swim fully dressed but we hadn’t taken into account the treacherous conditions that could be experienced in these tidal creeks.

On arrival at Double Moorings the only aircraft on the airstrip was an unserviceable Vultee “Vengeance” dive-bomber! Adjacent to the airstrip there was a fair-sized “monsoon” pool. Sqn Ldr Fenton and I must have had similar thoughts at the same time. We surveyed this pool and the CO said “What about converting this pool into a swimming bath?” After a further look at it we were still a bit undecided – every so often a snakes head would pop up out of the water! Sqn Ldr Fenton said let’s tackle the snakes first – what came next was typical – the CO, Adjutant and the 3 Warrant Officers all sat on one side of the pool with loaded revolvers – A tin was passed round for the “kitty” (as usual) – The remainder of the Unit sat down behind us. Then the sharp shooters went into action. I think FS Evans acted as referee. The fact that we were wasting good ammunition didn’t enter into the problem as the CO said that it was an “organised” marksmanship exercise! We were allowed an hour in which to shoot as many snakes as possible with out Smith and Wessons. It wasn’t long before Sqn Ldr Fenton saw the first head pop up – he’d started scoring! I don’t know how many snakes we actually accounted for, I only know that I didn’t do too well, and as usual the CO walked off with the “kitty”

When we retired from the pool, we hadn’t been gone long when there were some very loud bangs coming from the pool area. the CO went flying over to find out what was happening, one of the airmen said “We’re just doing an organised hand grenade exercise Sir” – The CO couldn’t do much about it, but it think that we all felt pretty confident that snakes wouldn’t present a future problem!

To avoid fresh snakes taking up residence in the pool, we surrounded it with hairy ropes and the edges were smothered with bleach that was used for the latrines.

The next phase of operations involved dredging the bottom of the pool. This operation was successfully carried out! Now came the problem of purifying and disinfecting the water. I made a few calculations as to the volume of water in the pool and estimated the quantity of chemicals required. Sqn Ldr Fenton said that according to his maps there was an RAF Maintenance Unit near at hand – They also had their own swimming pool. He and WO Deverson went off in the jeep and when they arrived back they had the necessary quantities of lime and copper sulphate.

That evening we mixed up the chemicals and then added the dissolved contents into the monsoon pool. The following morning we surveyed our handiwork. The sides of the pool looked fairly solid, although the bottom of the pool was still a bit soft. We had no means of testing the strength of our chemical solution, so it looked as though we’d have to try the pool out and then adjust the chemicals to “taste”.

Since there appeared to be no form of animal or insect life in the water, six of us decided to “take the plunge” – we thoroughly enjoyed swimming in our own pool but I think that we all agreed that we’d overdone the liming! The water did taste a little “over done” and heaven alone knew what it was doing to the roots of our hair (not that I had very much as I lost most of mine swimming in the heavily chlorinated swimming bath at Hinadidi near Baghdad in Iraq).

Well we worked out a swimming roster and nearly everybody enjoyed a swim during the next few days. Naturally refinements quickly followed, a low wooden diving platform was added – then wooden water polo goal posts with camouflage netting completed the modifications. We used a football as a water polo ball but it got too soggy. The CO went to the rescue and purloined a couple of water polo balls from the Maintenance Unit – He also threw out a “Challenge match “to be played in the Maintenance Units pool.

I was put in charge of swimming and within a few days I’d got seven water polo teams in action. It didn’t take long to teach the rules and as a qualified water polo referee I soon delegated the function of refereeing to others!

Water Polo certainly caught on – when we went to play the Maintenance Unit we’d got ourselves a nice team together. I played in my old centre-half position and I think we won 3-1 but I couldn’t be too sure of the final result. I only know that I managed to score the first goal and that we really enjoyed the game. Building our own swimming pool certainly provided us with an interesting diversionary exercise.

I think that at Double Moorings we managed to obtain some new “Dodge” and Chevrolet” vehicles. Sqn Ldr Fenton acquired a new jeep – he spent quite a lot of time “hotting-up” the engine, and driving this jeep over muddy paddy fields and up and down their steep sides. His driving was more suited to dare-devil cross-country Rally driving in bad weather. He was always asking the Adjutant or one of his Warrant Officers to accompany him as front seat passenger – The Adjutant always used to find a good excuse for not going (too much paper work to catch up on!) Both Deverson and Langridge also managed to find water-tight excuses for not accepting. I was the only one not quick on the uptake so invariably I was nearly always caught out! I loved flying and aerobat “loop” was coming. He would tackle the almost vertical sides of the paddy fields and get almost to the top then would come slithering down backwards! Now and again he would make it to the top of one of the banks, I would think to myself that this achievement had satisfied his ego – but not so – he would merely say “hold on” and with the engine racing he would tear hell for leather down the almost vertical bank on the reverse side. On several occasions we nearly did come unstuck. Never-the-less it seemed to me that I had been “specially selected” to accompany the CO on all these rides. Now and again I was allowed to take over, but I avoided tempting fate by attempting the impossible!

During this period at Double Moorings a lot of time was spent on vehicle repair and maintenance. None of the vehicles were actually new, all had seen better days. Brake trouble was one of the most common faults on both the “Dodge” and “Chevrolet”.

WO Deverson worked on a crafty trick when he collected the lorries. He came away with a “written-off” jeep and spent many hours scrounging spar parts prior to rebuilding this vehicle. When he’d finished, however, 3205 SC had a “spare” jeep. I never knew how it was accounted for!

During our stay at Double Moorings we made good use of our swimming pool – but sadly the day came for us to move on and to leave the monsoon pool to revert back as a home for water snakes.

I cannot remember exactly what happened next. I do know that we couldn’t get to Malaya from any convenient port in the Bay of Bengal and of course the Ganges delta was totally unsuitable for large water transport. This left the East Coast of India as a take-off point with Bombay as the obvious choice.

In June 1945 I think that some of us went by train and some by road to Kalyan, just outside Bombay. When we had all connected up together we went to RAF Juhu where we were billeted in stone houses. From Juhu we went to Santa Cruz which was being used a a multi purpose airfield and supply Depot. Our tradesmen utilised this period to familiarise themselves on all types of aircraft in use in South East Asia. The Signal Section personnel became familiar with aircraft Radar installations including the “Rebecca” equipment. This was the standard “homing radar” having an effective range of up to 120 miles when used in conjunction with well-sited fixed airfield transponder beacons. (The Dakota was fitted with the American version of “Rebecca”) Forward troops carried small portable “Eureka” beacons and under ideal conditions these had a range of about 60 miles. These “homing devices” were invaluable when flying supply dropping missions under bad weather conditions.

Whilst we were at Santa Cruz the CO sent for me one day and casually said “I want you to nip down to Ceylon” – I thought that that sounded like a tall order! However, he was unable to give me a clear picture of what information was required from Ceylon, except that it was something to do with an aircraft carrier fighters. He said that I’d have to “play things by ear” and use my own judgement. Normally on matters of this nature WO Deverson would have gone on this trip, but it appeared that there was likely to be some difficult radio problems to be sorted out so the CO decided that I should try and find out all I could about the engines, airframes, armament, instrument, electrical and radio installations. This didn’t however, sound unreasonable to me – in fact I’d been trained for this type of situation during the past two years.

It was in mid-July that I was dropped “off the back of a lorry” with a small Para-troop bike. (We had no motorcycles in India) and I had to contact a civilian Airline “Tata Airways” re details of how to get to Ceylon and back. “Tata Airways” had a Lockheed 12A and an Indian Pilot available so the next day I was airborne for Ratmalana airport near Colombo.

On arrival at Ratmalana I was met by a Naval Chief Petty Officer who escorted me to Naval HQ at the “Fisheries”. Here I was introduced to a Captain Targett-Adams. He was a genial type and extremely helpful. I told him that I was deputising for my CO who was unable to make the rendezvous. He got down to business straight away and he briefly outlined the plans for the invasion of Malaya. All this was strictly confidential and was only to be divulged personally to Sqn Ldr Fenton by word of mouth on my return to Santa Cruz. Fortunately as a Signals Warrant Officer, I had been trained in handling confidential documents, ciphers, codes and cryptographic materials so that there would be no fear of me divulging this secret information to anyone else.

After this invasion briefing he asked me whether I’d ever seen a “Hellcat”. Since I’d had no experience of carrier borne American Fighters I obviously had a lot to learn in a short space of time. Captain Targett-Adams called in his Engineering, Armament and Signals Officers and after we were introduced I was left to deal with each expert in turn. I spent about 6 hrs with the Engineering Officer dealing with Engine and Airframe details, even down to Engine starting procedures. I learnt that the engines were all started by using cartridges. It was obviously important that we carried the correct “grain” cartridges (a note was made for 3205 SC to receive a supply of these) This was not of course the first time that we’d carried “cartridges” for engine starting. In fact both the Hawker Tempest and Typhoon, along with some of the later marks of Spitfire were started by Cartridge.

I spent most of the next day with the Electrical and Armament Officers – finally I was left with the Signals Officer and his deputy. The radio equipment on the Hellcat was certainly very complex, especially as the aircraft carried a special radio homing receiver which enabled the aircraft carried a special radio homing receiver which enabled the aircraft to “home” on to the carrier in bad weather. The failure of the standard VHF equipment (which we were already familiar with) and the Beacon receiver in bad weather could result not only in the loss of a valuable aircraft but of more importance, the possible loss of a Naval pilot’s life. I found the technical details of the radio installation on the “Hellcat” very fascinating.

After a few further days of familiarisation and re-questioning of the Naval aircraft experts, I felt quite satisfied about matters. I told Captain Targett-Adams that I was confident that 3205 SC could handle the situation of servicing the “Hellcat” under forward airfield conditions. After having a final drink with him in the CPOs Mess he said that he was greatly relieved to know that we could handle a tricky situation at such short notice. Before leaving he wished me luck and also requested that I convey his sincere thanks to my CO.

When I returned to Santa Cruz and gave Sqn Ldr Fenton a detailed account of the Ceylon visit, he raised one or two minor points regarding my notes on engine starting. However, he agreed that we could probably clarify these by interrogating one of the “Hellcat” pilots after they had landed on the forward airfield on the coast of Malaya.

Shortly after my visit to Ceylon we found ourselves in Bombay with an Army Unit ready to embark on HMT ORDUNA.

It was also about this time that the two Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When we actually sailed for Malaya we were not in possession of this information and as far as we were concerned we were taking part in the vanguard of the assault on Malaya.

We arrived at PORT SWETTENHAM in Northern Malaya in September. Since the Japanese had now unconditionally surrendered we disembarked without opposition. We drove on to our first airstrip at MORIB – again there was no opposition – we collected a few Japanese flags as souvenirs – Morib was actually an airstrip in the middle of a rubber plantation. Our next prime target was Kuala Lumpar and thence on to Seletar on Singapore Island with the minimum of delay. Both Kuala Lumpar and Seletar were to be used as bases for Transport Aircraft bringing in doctors, nurses and urgently needed medical and food supplies for our own POWs. This operation was an absolute top priority.

We were about to pull out of Morib when it was discovered that two of our vehicles were unfit to make the journey to Singapore. These vehicles were suffering from the curse of unserviceable brakes. I was left behind with these two vehicles, plus an MT mechanic and about 8 airmen.

The CO had to leave as soon as possible, but before going, he admitted that he could offer no useful advice, and I’d be on my own. However, he said that we were to rendezvous with the rest of the unit at Seletar as soon as possible.

It was a bit of a nightmare trying to get hydraulic fluid and new replacement seals for the Master brake cylinders. The Army had been unable to open up any spares depots during the initial stage of the re-occupation. With no motorcycles or serviceable transport we were in an extremely sorry state. Fortunately our MT mechanics had located an unserviceable Japanese fire engine left in a corner of the airstrip. He worked on this until he’d got a means of transport.

Using this vehicle, he searched around and eventually managed to salvage hydraulic fluid and brake spares from some unserviceable Army trucks. This hydraulic fluid and the acquired spares got us back on the road again.

We left Morib and went to Kuala Lumpar – here we saw dumps of Japanese fighter and bomber aircraft. We spent a short time examining these and I noted that their radio equipment was very outdated. They had no VHF radio and armoured plating for pilot protection seemed to be non-existent.

Our vehicles had behaved reasonably well on the trip to Kuala Lumpar so we pushed onto Kelenang and thence via the Johor causeway on to Singapore Island.

When we reached Seletar we found most of the Unit rounding up Japanese prisoners and putting them to work clearing debris from runways and derelict hangers. Another party was organising the clearance of paint drums from the swimming bath witch had been used as a Japanese paint store!

In one of the old flying boat hangers we came across some Japanese suicide planes (KhamiKazi’s) – these were still fully loaded with explosives and were obviously intended for use against the aircraft carriers and heavy naval vessels during the allied invasion of Malaya.

It was originally thought that this type of suicide plane was used during the sinking of the “Prince of Wales” and the “Repulse”, subsequent research has, however, proved that this was not true.

3205 SC had again got most of the airfield at Seletar back into working order and it wasn’t long before the transport aircraft came streaming in with supplies, medical staff and nurses. All POW camps had been located and the problem now was to keep the Dakotas fully serviceable and ready to take off when the medical staff returned from the camps. We saw many of these ex-prisoners and the sight of some of them was revolting. They were little more than walking skeletons, many had been mutilated and had suffered from inhumane treatment. They tried to put on a brave face at their release from the POW camps but it was obvious that they were all at breakdown point and many were completely bewildered.

We all vowed that we would make our Japanese prisoners pay for the maltreatment of our prisoners but frankly we hadn’t got the heart to even kick them up the backside when we passed them. In practice most of our Japanese prisoners were very subdued and reasonably courteous. They “hissed” at us when we passed them, they also bowed.

I couldn’t understand this “hissing” until one of their English speaking NCOs stood to attention and said “the hissing you hear sir is a Japanese mark of respect”. I couldn’t prove otherwise. This NCO also stated that he was glad the war was over so that he could return to his wife and family in Japan. I hoped for his sake that they didn’t live in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

At Seletar we saw several unserviceable aircraft which were copies of Dakotas and German Dornier 17s – These copies showed evidence of having been manufactured in Japan.

As more and more RAF personnel arrived at Seletar, we were in a position to take over other duties. Several of us were co-opted into looking after 84 Sqn “Mosquitos” – another type of aircraft to add to our repertoire! This Sqn was commanded by a Wg Cdr MAXWELL-MULLER, DSO & BAR, DFC.

Somehow or other the ground crews for this squadron had become detached from their aircraft. As a result of this 3205 SC took over 84 Sqn to carry out the last of our operational missions.

This last mission was that of rounding up pro-Japanese guerrillas who were terrorising the natives and villagers in Java. The guerrillas were all heavily armed with Japanese weapons and they had taken over huge ammunition dumps left to them by the parting Japanese. These gangs of guerrillas were ruthlessly looting and killing the civilian population. 84 Sqn’s job was to root out their strongholds and to destroy them.

The main body of 3205 SC went by boat to Batavia with all our vehicles and kit. The port of Batavia (now known as Djakarta) was in reasonably good shape so we had no difficulty getting our vehicles ashore. We then drove straight to the Japanese airstrip at Kemajoram just inland from Batavia and we set up camp.

It was not long after our arrival that 84 Sqn’s Mosquito’s flew over Batavia in formation and landed on the airfield.

Prior to the war, Java was part of the Dutch East Indies and it was the intention of the allies to return the island back to Dutch administration. Unfortunately there were not enough Dutch troops or aircraft readily available to subdue the insurgent guerrillas so it was deemed necessary for the RAF to be deployed to perform the task of eliminating these pro-Japanese elements, locally known as the “Black Buffalos” – After that, the island would be handed over to Dutch ground forces.

Prior to being drafted to Java we were paid in Dutch Guilders and naturally it was thought that this would be acceptable currency of Java. However, it was soon discovered that the natives and shop-keepers wouldn’t accept Dutch currency – they would only accept the old Japanese Occupation paper money (which was not worthless).

From then on our small Army of Occupation set about finding a “Banana money” printing press and printing our own Japanese currency. From then on we were never paid in Dutch Guilders but we were given almost unlimited free issues of “banana money”. We did not of course lose out on our own pay, in fact when I eventually returned to England one of the young accountant officers got quite upset when he discovered that I had over £200 in back pay owing to me. He just couldn’t understand how I had lived on Japanese money for nearly 3 months. When the cheque was eventually paid into my bank, this officer was still convinced that somehow or other I’d “pulled a fast one”, especially when £200 was a terrific lot of money in those days. However, I suppose that this financial “fiddle” was one of the perks of being a Commando.

Whilst we were at Kemajoram we located a sabotaged Japanese transmitting station. The Japanese must have left in a hurry since we found no booby traps – in that respect the building had a clean bill of health.

I suppose it was only natural for 3205 SC Signals Section to start salvage operations and see whether we could get the station working again. It was a fascinating “challenge”. We worked everything out from first principles and we transposed all the Japanese Hieroglyphic dial and switch markings into English. We stripped down and rebuilt one motor generator and eventually we got it working satisfactorily.

After a few hours we had rigged up an aerial and connected up the motor generator output to a rebuilt transmitter. The big moment came when I pressed the morse key down and tuned up the dials – All the meters gave sensible readings. I invented a dummy call sign and sent out a few test signals.

One of our wireless mechanics went out to one of the Mosquitos and tuned-in to our signals – when he came back from the Mosquito he told me that even with the receiver volume right down the transmitter was so loud that it nearly blew his head off!

To cut a long story short we used an aircraft receiver to “Calibrate” the transmitter. I had intended to try out our transmitter on the amateur wavebands but I decided against it as I would have been in deep trouble if I had been caught making illegal transmissions.

I think that just before we left Java we handed over the station complete with working transmitter to a Dutch civilian whose job it was to see whether such equipment could be used by a local Dutch airlines organisation.

Well, we felt pleased that 3205 SC could even cope with Japanese radio equipment!

Eventually the Dutch forces started arriving in Java and we retuned with 84 Sqn to Seletar. 3205 SC then had a few weeks “break”. Guess how we spent this “break”? In the swimming bath all day and at the newly opened camp cinema at night.

Shortly afterwards 3205 SC started its own educational section up. This was part of a new RAF policy to prepare airmen for civilian life. We managed to procure a room in a hangar for a classroom. I taught maths, physics and radio at various levels, whilst our Armourer Sgt to on English and general knowledge. These classes proved highly successful and they kept us from getting bored.

Eventually 3205 SC was disbanded. However, Pete’s recollections state:

“I have now come to the end of my “Recollections” – in retrospect I think that the period that I served with 3205 SC was one of the most exciting and fascinating of my RAF life. As a Unit we were lucky to be commanded by a first-class Officer – he proved to be the perfect CO for this type of unit.

There was never really a dull moment, and one could always rely on any of our individual Commandos to cheerfully tackle any task and do it to the best of their ability. The team spirit throughout the whole period was magnificent.

For a long time after we’d disbanded, I felt that there was something “missing”, I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but I am now convinced that this “missing” ingredient was the really “true spirit” of comradeship that kept us together throughout the life of 3205 SC.

Conclusion

On my return to England Peter was posted to Transport Command, where he managed to wangle himself on a 9 month Radar Conversion course at Yatesbuty. Having done exceptionally well on this course and as a result he was remustered to an “Air Radio Fitter” and was amongst the first of a new breed of Signals Warrant Officers.

He then decided to have a further technical “challenge” in life – so took a series of City and Guilds Correspondence courses in “Telecommunications Engineering”, eventually ending up with the Full Technical Certificate after 5 years of hard study.

Pete left the RAF in 1954 and joined the Marine Radar design group of Decca Radar. Whilst at Decca he continued his studies and qualified as a “Member of the Institution of Radio and Electronic Engineers”. His presentation certificate was signed by none other than Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was President of the IREE. Also in his possession was a SEAC card for Good Service, again personally signed by Lord Louis.

  1. Stride

Warrant Officer Signals

3205 Servicing Commando.