BURMA - AIR OPERATIONS
Jan 1st to May 22, 1942
AIR OPERATIONS IN BURMA AND BAY OF BENGAL, JANUARY IST
TO MAY 22ND, 1942.
General Headquarters, India,
New Delhi, India,
28th September, 1942.
From: General Sir Archibald P. Wavell, G.C.B.,C.M.G., M.C., A.D.C.
To: The Chiefs of Staff, London.
I forward herewith two copies of a report by Air-Vice-Marshal D. F. Stevenson on Air -operations in Burma and the Bay of Bengal from January ist (the date on which Air- Vice-Marshal Stevenson assumed command) to May 22nd, 1942 (the date when the forces from Burma completed evacuation to India). - Air-Vice-Marshal Stevenson's report emphasises the remarkable work performed by a small air force in defence of Rangoon, and the difficulties which the Air Force, in common with the Army, suffered through lack of the necessary resources for the defence of Burma. I have already commented on these in my Despatch* of July 1st, 1942, on the Burma operations and I have nothing further to add. In paragraphs 122 to 131 Air-Vice-Marshal "Stevenson refers to certain telegrams addressed lo ABDA Command to which he received no reply. From the records of ABDA Command it appears that both these telegrams were received with very considerable delay, and not until instructions had been received transferring Burma back from ABDA Command to the command of -the C.-in C. India. Also Air- Vice-Marshal Stevenson had included the proviso that " failing immediate instructions am putting this plan into action commencing. By the time, therefore, that these telegrams were received command had passed from ABDA and Air-Vice-Marshal Stevenson had" presumably already taken action. No reply was therefore necessary.
Please pass one copy of this report to Air Ministry.
A. P. WAVELL,
* General Wavell's despatch appears as a supplementary London Gazette No 38228 of the 11th March, 1948
General.Despatch on Air Operations in Burma and, the Bay of Bengal covering the period
January 1st to May 22nd, 1942, by Air Vice- Marshal D. F. STEVENSON, C.B.E.. D.S.O., M.C.
AIR OPERATIONS IN BURMA AND THE BAY OF BENGAL, SPRING, 1942.
1. The following is a report on the air operations carried out by a small Allied Air Force (American Volunteer Group, Royal Air Force and Indian Air Force) against the Japanese Air Force in Burma and the Bay of Bengal and the subsequent movement of the R.A.F. and I.A.F. to India whence operations against the Japanese continue.
2. In reading this Despatch the following chronological summary may be of assistance: — 1941.
Dec. 9th —War declared by Japan.
Dec. 23rd —Struggle for air superiority over Rangoon commenced. 1942 ,
Jan. 18th —Mergui and Tavoy evacuated.
Jan. 29th —Japanese thrust through Tenasserim towards Rangoon commenced.
Feb. 15th —Singapore fell.
Feb. 25th —Last Japanese effort failed to establish air superiority over Rangoon.
March 7th—Demolitions at Rangoon commenced, Rangoon evacuated and General Alexander's Army commenced withdrawal up Prome Road.
March 2st— Japanese inflicted severe reverse on R.A F. Wing at Magwe.
April I2th — Air operations based in India and Assam in support of the Army commenced.
May 2Oth —General Alexander's Army withdrawn to India and Air operations against the enemy in Burma continue.
3. On the I2th December, 1941, I was informed by the Air Ministry that I was to take over Command of the Air Forces in Burma. It was proposed to reinforce Burma with a force of 4 Fighter Squadrons, 6 Bomber Squadrons and 1 G.R. Squadron with the object of making a front in Burma should' the Japanese caripaign against Malaya prove successful. On the 14th December I left England. I met the Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir Archibald Wavell, and the Air Officer Commanding- in-Chief, Air Marshal Sir Patrick Playfair, on the 28th December in Delhi, where the land and air situations were explained to me.
PART I—AIR SITUATION ON MY ARRIVAL IN BURMA AND CONSEQUENT REQUEST FOR REINFORCEMENT.
4. On the 1st January, 1942, I flew to Rangoon to take over command from Group Captain E. R. Manning. He met me at Mingaladon aerodrome and I proceeded to Group Headquarters. It was necessary to make an appreciation of the air situation as a first step.
5. During the first seven days of January I visited the airfields m Burma, the Station, Squadron and Detachment Commanders and met the Military and Civil Authorities. The Governor of Burma was H.E. Sir Reginald Dorman Smith, G.B.E , the Army in Burma was under the command of Lieutenant-General T. J. Hutton, C.B., M.C., while the Senior Naval Officer at Rangoon was Commodore C. Graham, R N.—Commodore Burma Coast— who succeeded Capt. J. Hallett, R.N., up to that time N.O.I.C. Rangoon.
6. I found that the air garnson of the country comprised one Squadron of the American Volunteer Group, armed with P.40's at a strength of 21 I.E. based at Mingaladon, and No. 67 R.A.F. Buffalo Squadron of a strength of about 16 aircraft, also based at this Sector Station. Apart from the personnel of 60 Squadron—whose aircraft had been retained m Malaya—and the Communication Flight equipped with aircraft of the Moth type belonging to the Burma Volunteer Air Force, there was at that time no further aircraft in the country. Reinforcing aircraft for the Far East were, however, flying through Burma to Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
7. The American Volunteer Group, whose primary role was the defence of the Burma Road, under ths command of General (then Colonel) C. L. Chennault, was based at Kunming. A Squadron of the A.V.G. had been detached by the Generalissimo* Chiang Kai- Shek for the defence of the Port of Rangoon, the only port through which supplies for China, could be passed.
8. Control of the R.A.F. in Burma had been somewhat chequered. Up to the I5th December, 1941, it was organised as Burgroup—later 221 Group'—under A.O.C. Far East. On the I5th December 1941, this Group was transferred to the command of the C.-in-C. India. Almost immediately after my arrival in Burma 221 Group became Norgroup under the command of General Wavell, Supreme Commander South-Western Pacific Command, though remaining under the C.-in-C. India for administration. After the fall of Javar Norgroup reverted again to the Command of C.-in-C. India.
9. Airfield lay-out and topography.—Geographically, Burma is a cul-de-sac with a long tongue of jungle escarpment reaching South from Moulmein to Victoria Point. The Port of Rangoon therefore provided the only means of maintaining an Air Force in Burma, since on the West, Burma is cut off from India by the dense jungle escarpments of the Aralcan. Yomas, in the North by the Naga Hills, in the East by the Karenni Hills, while the Pegu Yomas, a mountain range, divides the waters of the Sittang and the Irrawaddy which flow almost their entire distance through Burma to Rangoon and the 'Gulf of Martaban. Thus there were two Valleys in which airfields could be made.
10. The main line of airfields ran from Victoria Point to Moulmein, to Rangoon and Mingaladon and then up the Valley of the Sittang through Toungoo to the East, through Heho and Namsang and up to Lashio in the North, a total distance of some 800 miles. This line of aerodromes faced the enemy air force based in Thailand and because the territory to the East and South East of this line of air bases was mountainous country covered by jungle, through which there were few if any communications, it followed that situated here adequate R.D.F. and telephone warning, of the approach of enemy aircraft attempting, to attack our bases was impossible. Had Toungoo, Heho and Namsang been situated with their attendant satellites in the Irrawaddy Valley, warning would have been possible and satisfactory as long as the communications in the Sittang Valley remained in our hands. This, fact gravely influenced the air campaign.
11. In general, the aerodrome development and construction undertaken on behalf of the Far East Command by the Government in Burma showed an extremely good state of affairs. Indeed, remarkable. All airfields had one or two all-weather runways fit for modern aircraft of the heaviest type. Accommodation for personnel, P.O.L. and bombs and ammunition were available and all-weather satellites were provided for most airfields. Moreover, at this time of the year the paddy fields were hard and, provided labour was available, a runway suitable for fighter or bomber aircraft could be prepared in a week. Thus airfield accommodation for a considerable air force was available in Burma. The weakness of the lay-out, however, was, as already stated, that the four main airfields between Toungoo and Lashio (inclusive) had little or no warning.
12. State of Warning of Air Attacks.—It was hoped, howe/er, to develop our telephone , system in the Karenni Hills and the Valley of the Salween, and with R.D.F. to bring warning to a state where it would be practicable to base bombers and fighters at all these airfields. We asked India for ,the. necessary equipment and personnel, including a W/T screen of 35 posts.
13. Airfield Accommodation.—Consequently, from the point of view of airfields, there was nothing to' prevent the reception of considerable reinforcements as long as we held Rangoon.
14. As regards communications, a good telephone system connected all our airfields, while point-to-point wireless was in course of being put in to parent Stations.
15. Burma Observer Corps.—I found the Burma Observer Corps under the command of Major Taylor to be, over the area covered, an efficient warning system. As long as mam centres of communications and telephone Lines were' not closely threatened by land attack the system functioned devotedly and satisfactorily.
16. In respect of aerodrome defence I found that outlying Station airfields such as Tavoy and Mergui had garrisons while detachments of troops for land defence and anti-sabotage precautions had ibeen provided at occupied airfields.
17. A.A. Defence.—A.A. defence was weak, with an initial strength of but one battery of locally raised troops, whose equipment had only arrived at the end of December, 1941. The later arrival of 'British and Indian light and heavy batteries rendered it possible to organise a weak scale of defence for the important vital points. Although the A.A. defence did yeoman service they were never in sufficient strength to provide adequate defence for all ,the vital points and areas—let alone our airfields. Except for a weak airfield detachment the A.A.Artillery was deployed in defence of vital points in Rangoon and of our troops so that some cover against enemy bomb attacks in forward areas could be provided Later during the withdrawal they provided such close protection as was practicable for our columns. 'General Alexander "has remarked upon this phase of the operations in his Despatch.
18. L.A.A. Defence.—.For light automatic defence against low-flying aircraft, detachments of the B.A.F., each equipped with 10 to 12 .5 Browning machine guns on A.A. mountings,were stationed at Mingaladon and Zayatkwin and later at Magwe. They were manned entirely by Burmese personnel mainly of the 12th Burma Rifles. Their training was of necessity hurried and their numbers were generally much under strength.. Elements of the R A.F. regiment arrived too late to be of much service although they were in action at Akyab.
19. Headquarters' Staff.—The position as regards Headquarters and Station Staffs was not good. Only a nucleus H.Q. staff existed and Mingaladon was the only airfield having a Station H.Q. All other airfields had care and maintenance parties.
20. A store holding unit and an explosives depot existed but there was no repair organisation.
Air Appreciation—Strength of the Air Force in Burma.
21. On the I4th January I completed my appreciation of the situation. Copies of this paper were forwarded to Headquarters,. ABDA Command, India and the Air Ministry. The object of this paper was to appreciate the likelihood of a determined attack being made by Japan on Burma and from this to deduce the form and scale of air attack; and thus the fighter force necessary to secure our interests against this attack and the bomber counter-offensive force that would also be necessary. From this it will be noted that I considered that the Japanese Air Force would attempt a " knock-out " blow against Rangoon in the event of the fall of Singapore and that the scale of attack might reach as much as 600 aircraft a day at maximum intensity.
22. Air Defence —The air defence system necessary to secure our interests in Burma against an attack of this kind required that the fighter force should be on a 14 Squadron basis—9 beyond the 5 Squadrons already on programme. (These 5 Squadrons were 67 Squadron and the 4 Squadrons of 267 Wing, which had been allocated in the first place to India -for Burma—Trooper's telegram 57543 of 12.12.41.) One of these Squadrons—232 Fighter Squadron—was later diverted from Burma. The fact that the Hurricane force comprised only 3 (which, only reached a strength of 2 Squadrons) instead of 4 Squadrons during the initial phase of the campaign, had a serious effect on the operations.
23. Further heavy and light A.A. Artillery was necessary together with a Balloon defence for the City and Port of Rangoon. More R.D.F., G.C.I, and Observer Corps and W/T. posts were required for strengthening the warning system.
24. Bomber Counter-offensive.—As regards the Bomber offensive, I considered that the 7 Squadrons on programme would be sufficient (i.e. 60 Squadron already in Burma plus 6 , reinforcing Blenheim Squadrons promised from the Middle East—Troopers telegram 58315 of 16.12.41) until vigorous attacks against Japan
from bases in China became necessary.
25. Security of Sea Communications—The 1 Hudson Squadron on programme, provided we had a force of 2 Torpedo Bomber Squadrons to call on at seven days' notice would, I considered —together with the Bomber force—go a long way to secure our line of sea communications from attack by Japanese war vessels in the Northern portion of the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Martaban. Apart from one or two patrol craft there were none of H.M. ships present in these waters. Thus the burden of anti-submarine protection, anti-bomber security and the attack of enemy surface vessels in the Bay and the Gulf would rest for some time on the Bomber, G.R. and Fighter aircraft of my command.
26. Reinforcement requested.—After agreement in the Joint Commanders' Sub-Committee I accordingly telegraphed ABDA • Command and the Air Ministry requesting reinforcements to the scale (A.418 of 18/1) recommended in my appreciation. On the 20th January ABDA Command (00186 of 20/1) informed the Air Ministry that while the reinforcements asked for were undoubtedly required, it was not known whether they would have to be found from the aircraft allotted to the South Pacific theatre. The full position was asked before agreement to allocate from the total pool was possible;—since the need in the Southern Malayan theatre was more immediate than that in Burma.
27. Proposals for immediate Fighter reinforcement. —On the 2nd February the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff telegraphed the Air Ministry's proposals for reinforcements for Burma in the immediate future (Webber 1W.446 of 2/2). This approved an immediate reinforcement of 2 further Hurricane Squadrons, bringing the programme to 6 Hurricane Squadrons in all, but assumed that we should be able to re-equip 67 Squadron,with Hurricanes. There were never enough Hurricanes to do that. After the fall of Singapore on February 15th the Chiefs of. Staff diverted these 2 Squadrons (30 and 261 Fighter Squadrons) to Ceylon. Thus the total Fighter force actually available throughout the air campaign in Burma was reduced to 3 Hurricane Squadrons.
28. Initial Equipment of Hurricane Squadrons and the Hurricane Flow.—The inability adequately to equip our Squadrons witti Hurricanes and to maintain them during air action had a serious effect on the air campaign. For example, it led to a situation in which it was only possible for 6 Hurricane II's to take the air against the first heavy attack on our air base at Magwe on 2ist March—and except for 1 aircraft every Hurricane II in the Command was present at Magwe on that day.
29. The requirement initially to equip 17, 135 and 136 and to re-equip 67 Squadron was a total of 80 Hurricanes (i.e. 16 I.E. plus 4 I.R. per Squadron). Additionally, a flow of at least 24 per month was necessary to meet minimum war wastage.- Therefore over the campaign which lasted three months, the total requirement was at least 128. During this period a considerable number of our Hurricanes due for Burma were diverted to Singapore. Thus of this total requirement only a proportion arrived in Burma and of these a number were obsolescent, worn-out Hurricane I's.
30. Hurricane Effort—Consequently the maximum number of Hurricanes reached in action with the enemy was about 30 Hurricanes, i.e. the equivalent of 2 instead of 4 Squadrons. This strength, moreover, fell away rapidly due to lack of reinforcing aircraft, proper operational facilities and absence of spares, and was on 11th February 15 serviceable Hurricanes, and on 5th March only 6.
31. Maintenance, Spares and Tool Situation. —With the exception of 2 Hurricane " packups," no spares for the Hurricane II's arrived in the country before the fall of Rangoon, Consequently, aircraft- becoming unserviceable for lack of small parts remained so unless requirements could be provided from the cannibalisation of other unserviceable aircraft. There was a great shortage of tools and rotol kits, while the lack of air screw- blades was serious. Moreover, since the equipment of our R.S.Us, and A.S.Ps. did not arrive before the fall of Rangoon, there was no proper organisation for the repair and salvage of aircraft.. This factor exercised a considerable influence on our small fighter force and contributed towards the critical shortage of serviceable Hurricanes at Magwe on the 21st March.
32. A.V.G. Maintenance.—The A.V.G. Squadron at Rangoon usually had 21 P.40 aircraft of which about 15 would be serviceable. Later in March this figure fell to 10 or 7. But here again the shortage of replacement aircraft, spares, and proper maintenance for the A.V.G. reduced the effort available. The maintenance crews of the A.V.G. did remarkable work in maintaining their aircraft, often under bombing attack. As the A.V.G. were short of trained personnel, R.A.F. personnel were attached to them.
33. Bombers.—As regards Bombers, the D.C.A.Ss. telegram indicated that of the 7 Squadrons promised, we should only have 3 in the immediate future. This assumed that Blenheims would be available to equip 60 Squadron. There were never enough Blenheims to do. that. The aircraft, personnel and " pack-up " of 113 Squadron arrived in January and early February. The aircraft of 45 Squadron (Blenheim) also arrived but were unaccompanied by personnel or " pack-up." There was a great shortage of tools and spares. Additionally, the R.S.U. and A.S.P. organisation did not arrive in time. Consequently, the average daily bomber effort of the combined Blenheim force stood at about 6 aircraft a day. Thus throughout the campaign, we had the equivalent of one Bomber Squadron available for operations instead of 7.
34. General Reconnaissance—In respect of G.R. aircraft, No. 4 Indian Flight equipped with Wapiti and Audax aircraft arrived in Burma at the end of December. This was later replaced by No. 3 Indian Flight which was armed with an I.E. of 4 Blenheim I's. After the fall of Singapore, 139 Squadron en route for Java was held up in Burma and, equipped with Hudsons commencing at 6 I.E., undertook our G.R. requirements. There were no personnel or Squadron equipment and the Hudsons were maintained by No. 3 and No. 4
35. Army Co-operation.—2 Squadrons armed with Lysan-ders, No. 1 Indian A.C. Squadron and No. 28 A.C. Squadron, were made available for operations in Burma.
36. Constant requests were made for the reequipment of these Squadrons with modern aircraft. The Mohawks, however, were not available and the Lysanders were retained until the Squadrons returned to India.
37. Indian Air Force.—The units of the Indian Air Force referred to above proved their war efficiency and gallantry on active service. In addition to a number of tactical reconnaissances, No. 1 Indian Squadron's Lysanders provided
41 bomber sorties against enemy aerodromes and direct support targets. The standard of accuracy achieved in bombing was satisfactory. No Lysanders were shot down by enemy fighters. The G.R. aircraft and, in particular the Blenheim I's of No. 3 Flight, carried out a considerable number of reconnaissances in the Preparis Channel and the Gulf of Martaban
38. P.R.U.*—Up to half-way through January there were a few Buffaloes in 67 Squadron with the necessary range. They undertook long reconnaissance. When these were finished we were without long reconnaissance until in the first week of February 2 P.R.U. Hurricane en route for Java remained in Burma. These were attached to Hurricane Squadrons and met our P.R.U. requirements on an outline basis only.
* Photographic Reconnaissance Unit
39. Balloons.—An advanced party of 274 Balloon Wmg arrived and reconnaissance of sites commenced. The Balloon Wing, which was diverted from Basra, did not arrive in time and, in consequence, balloon defence was not available.
40. R.D.F. Warning.,—Of the considerable programme of R.D.F. in Burma (3 chain stations 2 C.O.L. and 2 G.C.I.) only one C.O.L. set was in the country, the balance not having arrived. This one was at Moulmein, but its arc of observation there was ineffective. It was therefore moved out for the defence of Rangoon. It was later moved to Magwe. No spares of any kind existed for this set but local arrangements were possible to keep it in action until it left Rangoon. The lack of adequate R.D.F. equipment of the M.R.U. or Chain Station and C.O.L. type exerted a critical influence on the air battle m Burma, since early warning of low flying fighter attack and high flying bomber attack was an essential quality of successful air operations. Without such warning an air force inferior in numbers —as ours constantly was—faced annihilation as indeed later happened at Magwe.
41. To summarize under this heading: Of the Air Ministry programme of 6 Fighter Squadrons, 7 Bomber Squadrons, 2 A.C. Squadrons and 1 G.R. Squadron for the defence of Burma—for various reasons— principally that of time—only the mixed equivalent of 2 Fighter Squadrons, I Bomber Squadron, 2 A.C. Squadrons and one-third G.1R. Squadron joined action with the enemy in the campaign. Of 7 R.D.F. Stations only 1 existed.
42. As regards other units, the following arrived: —
H.Q. 267 (Fighter) Wing.
No. 60 R.S.U.
No. 39 A.S.P.
No. 7 S. and T. Column.
No. 258 A.M.E.S.
The R.S.U. and A.S.P. had no equipment, and the A.M E.S. arrived so late that it was turned round at Rangoon, sited to defend Akyab, and finally withdrew to Calcutta where for many critical weeks it remained our primary means of warning for oversea attack.
43. Personnel for Group H.Q. Staff gradually arrived and Station H.Qs. Zayatkwin, Toungoo and Magwe were formed.
44. Co-operation between the Services As regards the co-operation between the four Services, I have to record that Sir Reginald Dorman Smith, H.E. the Governor, was always ready to assist me with wise advice and his Government was at my service with active and energetic help so long as was practicable.
45. General Hutton's Headquarters and mine lay close together at Rangoon. I gratefully record the good feeling and understanding he extended to the R.A.F. which made possible close co-operation. We usually met each morning and evening to review the situation, and to agree action. At these meetings there was an interchange of important telegrams which had been received or despatched by us.v The same cordial relations continued when General Alexander took over on the 5th March.
46. Our co-operation with Commodore Graham, R.N., and earlier Capt. Hallett, R.N., was all that could be desired. Although there were none of H.M. ships present in the close defence of Rangoon and Tenassenm, there were many maritime tasks to be undertaken from day to day by aircraft and the few patrol craft that were available.
47. Co-operation with A.V.G. and the American Air Force.—I took the earliest opportunity of meeting Colonel (now Brigadier- General) Chennault in Kunming on the 31st January. At this meeting we discussed and agreed the principles on which the A.V.G. Squadron in Burma would be used in air-battle. As always, his primary requirement was good warning. He was quite clear that if I was unable to provide this for the A.V.G. the Squadron would have to be withdrawn to China. I have to record my appreciation of the way in which General Chennault wholeheartedly maintained the Squadron at the highest practicable level in pilots and P.4o's from his fast dwindling resources in China. On the 18th January so bad were these that he issued instructions for the Squadron to be withdrawn to China. The Supreme Commander was informed and the Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek, after the representations of the combined Chiefs of Staff, agreed to the retention of the A.V.G. in the defence of Rangoon. Elsewhere I have remarked upon the admirable gallantry and fighting characteristics of the 3 Pursuit Squadrons of the A.V.G.—who fought over Rangoon in turn—an admiration felt not only by the R.A.F. but by the Army also. The co-operation between the A.V.G. and the Hurricanes was close and cordial.
48. When bombing operations in Burma were later carried out from India, a small force of American Army Air Corps long range bombers closely co-operated.
49. Co-operation with the Chinese—I took the first opportunity of visiting the Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek, on the 30th January. The Generalissimo very kindly gave me an interview on this day at which he promised to maintain 1 Squadron of the A.V.G in the defence of Rangoon as long as this was possible. It is a matter of great regret to the R.A F. that towards the end of the campaign in Burma it was impracticable on account of shortage of aircraft and the effect of the air battle for the R.A.F. to give adequate support to the Chinese Armies deployed in Burma.
PART II—STRENGTH AND EQUIPMENT OF THE JAPANESE AIR FORCE ENGAGED IN BURMA.
50. Enemy Air Effort.—In the opening stages, from the ist January onwards, P.R.U. reconnaissance and information from other sources put the enemy air force within close range at 150 plus, bomber and fighters—an effort of (say-) 100 plus. They were disposed as follows:
Prachaub Girikhan 10
Our effort on the 31st January was 35 plus.
51. Reinforcement of the enemy air force took place during February. The strength of the enemy air force which joined action with up rose to 200 plus—an effort of (say) 140 plus disposed at:
Bhisanuloke . . . 20 +
Bangkok ... . . . 30 +
Nagorn Sawan . . . . 20 +
Tak and Mesoht . . 20 +
Moulmein . . . ... 30
Chiengmai . . 40 +
Lampang . . . .. 40 +
Our effort on February 14th was 53 plus.
52. Singapore fell on the I5th February arid Rangoon on the 7th March. During this period and up to the 21st March the enemy had again brought up reinforcements, bringing his total air force, based largely on our airfields in the Rangoon area South of Tharrawaddy and Toungoo, to 400 plus—an effort of (say) 260 plus. This was the opinion of the Intelligence staff at Burwing. I considered it on the high side.
53. Some corroboration for this, however, is provided by the fact that intelligence from China and other sources has since indicated the presence in Burma and Thailand of some 14 air regiments of the Japanese Army Air Force. This would comprise a force of 420 to 500 plusaircraft, Our total effort on March 21st when ihe Magwe action commenced was 42, of which 14 were at Akyab.
54. Japanese Fighter equipment. — Of Japanese fighter equipment there were three types: the Army 97 with a fixed undercarriage; the Army 01 (an Army 97 with slightly improved performance and a retractable undercarriage) and the Naval " O " fighter. The former two were manoeuvrable with a top speed of 270 miles an hour at 15,000 feet and a climb of 2,500 feet per minute. Armament consisted of 2 machine guns. No self-sealing tanks and no armour were fitted. Similarly, the Navy " O" had neither armour nor self-sealing tanks. Itr had, however, two 20 millimetre machine guns in addition to 2 machine guns; of the Vickers' type. This aircraft was much superior in performance to the Army 97, having a top speed of 315 miles an hour at 10,000 feet, a good climb and good manoeuvrability. It was, however, slightly inferior to the P 40 and the Hurricane II, particularly at medium heights. At heights above 20,000 feet the Hurricane II was definitely superior.
55. All three types were convertible to long range fighters with a radius of over 500 miles. Two jettisonable petrol tanks were fitted. Even without such tanks both types were superior in range to our short range interceptor fighter having a radius of action of over 250 miles instead of the 135 miles of the Hurricane II.
56. Japanese Bomber equipment.—In respect of bombers, the Arany 97 heavy bomber was mostly employed. It had a cruising speed of about 200 miles an hour, a radius of action of 700 miles and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet. With a full load of petrol its lift was 1 tons of bombs—a formidable bomber. Indeed such range and bomb lift placed great flexibility in the hands, of the enemy air command. This type was used for day bombing and -occasionally for night bombing operations, and had a crew of 7. No self-sealing lanks nor armour were fitted.
57. Although air fighting frequently took place over scrub or jungle country, 32 crashed enemy fighters and bombers were located on the ground up to the fall of Rangoon. Technical examination of these—although many were burnt or otherwise destroyed beyond recognition —established the quality of equipment about which little was previously known.
58. Effect of equipment.—Thus the enemy with their long range fighters were able to reach out over great distances and to destroy our first line aircraft on the ground. There were decisive instances of this kind in the Malayan campaign. Consequently unless airfields, both for bombers and fighters, had a good warning system—i.e. a time warning the equivalent of at least 50 miles—the enemy fighters, achieving surprise, would come in and 'by deliberate low flying attacks and good shooting could be relied upon to cause great damage to first line aircraft, if not indeed to destroy them all. This form of attack could well be met by a good ground defence, including an adequate number of Bofors (predictor controlled), automatic weapons and P.A.C., but in the campaign in Burma we were extremely weak in these forms of defence.
59. As regards bombers, such range and bomb lift gave the enemy a wide choice in the selection of objectives and great flexibility. If warning of such (attacks, particularly those carried out at high altitude, was not adequate, a bomb lift of considerable weight, accurately aimed, could be expected on the objective. Operating in formations of not less than 27, such a pattern of some 27 tons of small light A P. and H E. bombs causes great damge to first line aircraft and P O.L , even though dispersal and anti-blast protection has been provided. If such protection is not provided results may well be decisive and the provision of such protection requires time and labour—two needs that in the hurried movement of war may not be available.
60. Comparison of Air equipment —Thus we were much inferior to the enemy; in the first place in numbers, in the second .place in the vital factor of restricted range in our fighters, if the third place range, bomb lift and speed of our bombers. The enemy, on the other hand, suffered the grave disadvantage of not having armour and self-sealing tanks, both characteristics of all our types, while from the point of view of the air battle, the Hurricane II was a much superior fighter to -the Army 97, slightly superior to the Naval " O " and quite decisive against such ill-defended bombers as the Army 97. The P.40 was comparable to the Hurricane II, particularly in medium altitude fighting. With its fine clean dive and armament of .5s it could be relied upon to do as much damage or more to the enemy than the Hurricane II—especially as the air battle usually took place at medium altitude heights below 19,000 feet.
61. As regards bombers, the Blenheim with its power-operated turret (gave a good account of itself against enemy fighters—only on one occasion was a Blenheim known to be shot down by enemy fighters. This, however, was mostly due to the provision of fighter escort to bombing raids or careful routeing which would give the ibomber formation the best chance of avoiding enemy fighter interception.
62. Conclusion—To sum up on equipment, fighter for fighter we were superior and it was only when heavily outnumbered, and without warning and proper airfield facilities, that the enemy were able to get a decision. Their bombers were " easy meat " for our fighters if interception took place, while our bombers were satisfactory for their task,- though light on range and much inferior to the enemy in bomb lift and numbers.
PART, III—THE AIR SUPERIORITY BATTLE OVER RANGOON.
63. Situation—From the initial attack carried out by the Japanese air force on the 23rd December against Rangoon and the second attack which followed 48 hours afterwards, in which the bomber formation on both occasions numbered between 70' and 80, with escort of some 30 fighters, it was obvious to me that I had against me at close range a Japanese air force of about 150 plus. A severe set back had been inflicted on the enemy in these two attacks by the P-4o's of the A.V.G. and the Buffaloes of 67 Squadron and not less than 36 enemy first-line bombers and fighters were claimed as destroyed on these two days. The situation, therefore, that faced me on my arrival on ist January was that I must with my small but growing fighter force defend the base facilities at Rangoon, the docks, the convoys arriving and departing and the air bases at Mmgaladon and Zayatkwin. If these could be preserved from a damaging scale of day bombing attack, we should be enabled to secure our interests hereabouts and to ,get in our land and air reinforcements and maintenance. Additionally, I should have to be prepared to aid the Army in any operations they undertook with both fighter and bombing actioa.
64. Plan—Thus my general plan was to keep my fighter force concentrated in the Rangoon area, to accept such enemy bombing attacks as might be made on any other objectives in Northern Burma, to fight the enemy in the defence of the base and lean forward to hi the enemy wherever and whenever I could with my small but total force.
65. To achieve this, against a numerically superior and constantly growing air force, I must do all I could to reduce the scale of air attack on the Rangoon area, yet still be able to meet attacks on the bases in sufficient force to inflict a high casualty rate proportional to the scale of attack—thus making such attacks in this area abortive and wasteful for the enemy.
66. Reduction of , the scale' of attack.—To reduce the scale of attack I therefore commenced to lean forward with a portion of my fighters, and by using advanced air bases like Moulmein, Tavoy and Mergui to attack enemy aircraft wherever found. Further to weaken him I must spread my bombing action- in daylight to widely dispersed but important objectives such as Chiengmai, Mehohngsohn and Chiengrai in the North and in the South his aerodrome and railway communication system running down the Eastern coast of the Malaya Peninsula from Bangkok to Singora. As Singora was a main base for Japanese operations in Malaya this action was especially favourable. Thus I hoped to make him disperse his fighters by forcing protection for these widely separated points and so weaken him in the central sector opposite Rangoon. I gave instructions accordingly on 2nd January.
67. Offensive Fighter and Bomber action.— Such enemy airfields as Chiengmai, Mehohngsohn, Lanipang, Rahong, Mesoht, Prachuab Ginkhan, Jumbhorn and Kanchanburi were searched and attacked if enemy aircraft were present. Later when in enemy hands Moulmein, Mingaladon and Highland' Queen were attacked and loss inflicted on the enemy. Hangars, M.T., launches, enemy troops and trains were also attacked.
68. Results.—Attacks in pursuance of this policy during the campaign resulted in the P.40s and Hurricanes and Buffaloes claiming 58 enemy bombers and fighters destroyed on the ground. In addition, a large number were damaged but could not be computed. Furthermore, attacks by bombers taking part in the air superiority battle also accounted for a considerable number. Such, however, is the difficulty of assessing results by bomber attack that no claims were made; but from the strike of the bomb lift and its position either amongst or close to enemy aircraft concentrations on the ground, further considerable losses must have been inflicted on enemy first-line aircraft.
69. This was a handsome contribution .towards the air superiority battle in Burma and reduced the scale of air attack against Rangoon and our troops.
70. But this form of action was later reduced in effort, since General Chennault at this time was not anxious to undertake offensive operations with the P.4o's against ground targets on account of the shortage of equipment. The Buffalo Squadron was reduced to two or three serviceable aircraft with engines too worn out to permit of flying far over jungle country, The Hurricanes with an effective range of 135 miles were unable to reach anything but the closest enemy objectives.