~THUNDERBOLT - THE WRAP UP ~
At Wangjing in the Imphal Valley, the squadron commenced refitting and training on their new aircraft. Production of the Hurricane had ceased and as its rumoured successor, the Hawker Tempest ll, had no chance of becoming available in the Far East because of development problems. The RAF. as an alternative, obtained a supply of the Republic P47 Thunderbolts from the USA for use in the latter stages of the Burma campaign and to spearhead the subsequent invasion of Malaya, operation Zipper, now being planned and in which 113 squadron was going to be involved. Some of the Hurricane pilots were not retrained and posted out to be replaced by others who had completed a course on the P47 at an Operational Training Unit in Egypt.
P47 Thunderbolt Dashboard
Source P/O Graham Skellam
F/O Gerard Brigden was one of those made the conversion but at a much later date so it is apparent that there was a period of initial training for as many pilots as there were available new aircraft, followed by periods of further training as more Thunderbolts became available. F/O Brigden was introduced to the Thunderbolt at Meiktila on the 10/07/1945 and he was operational on type by 13/08/1945. He comments: we converted to U.S. Thunderbolts Mark 2. Although it was a much more complicated aircraft there was no training given for this conversion. We were just given information about the take-off and landing speeds. As the minimum landing speed of the Thunderbolts was 120 mph compared to the 70 - 80 mph of the Hurricanes, there was a lot of rubber burnt up on our short airstrip on our first take-off and landing exercise. Hardly surprising considering the aircraft was also heavier than a Blenheim bomber, however, the whole squadron managed it without mishap. One of the distinct advantages the Thunderbolt had was a 4hr flight time compared to 1 1/2 hr of a Hurricane. (Note that the Orbs records there was one serious incident)
Another of those making the conversion was F/O Colin Ellis: The conversion to Thunderboits was quite exciting. Exchanging a snug Hurricane cockpit for the huge glasshouse of the Thunderbolt was an experience, one could almost get up and walk around. Being the last Hurricane Squadron to convert, we were allocated the clapped out Mk1 T/Bolts used by the previous converting squadrons, but they were soon replaced by the Mk2 with the bubble canopies. Most things bad doubled up - the Hurricane had 4 2Omm cannon and carried two 25OLb bombs whilst the T/Bolt had 8 - .5 guns and carried two 5OOIb bombs, the Range of the T/BoIt was also double that of the Hurricane. One advantage the Hurricane had over its replacement was that it could take off and land on short 1000yd strips whereas the big boy really needed longer ones.
While training on the Thunderbolt was minimal to none, there still must have been an extrordinary flurry of activity because within a couple of weeks, operations restarted from a new base at Kwetgne on 24/04/1945.
LAC Harry Hitchins recounts a hilarious story about the move from Wangjing to Kwetgne: Converting to Thunderbolts at Wanjing was uneventfull, we had our tents and set up our own camp fairly isolated from the others. Towards the end of our stay here Bert Reed had become ill and was taken off somewhere. One morning we broke camp and assembled at the strip with our tents and gear awaiting Cannucks Circus to come pick us up. We waited for a couple of hours and were told the move was off so back we went lugging all of our stuff and set up camp again. (The conversation as the boys trudged back to set up camp would likely be unprintable). Since we were back at camp one of our bods named Kinny Kinsville decided to try and find out where Bert Reed had been taken and away he went. He had only been gone an hour or so when surprise, surprise Cannuck Circus turns up, so 'once again' we hurriedly break camp and haul it all back to the strip. After quickly loading up we all piled in and took off leaving Kinsville behind. (Hilariously you can well imagine the chuckles of the boys as they were leaving thinking of Kinsville's surprise when he arrived back to find his entire unit gone & having no idea where they went.) We later landed at Kwetnge, and set up camp at our new strip. About three days later, Kinsville turned up exactly as we left him in bush hat, shorts, socks and shoes, he was not a happy lad. The story goes he caught a lift with an Army unit who innocently made the mistake of asking him where his unit had gone. Already seething, and not one noted for tact, his reply was "How the F&*#$@ *)% hell should I know, they don't tell us where we are going." Thinking perhaps that all RAF airmen are daffy, the Army fed him and gave him a lift anyway.
The move to Kwetgne was soon followed by further moves south, first to Kinmagon and then Meiktila. The squadron, now commanded by S/Ldr. Paddle, played a full part in the last great battle of the Burma war at Sittang and was just preparing for its next challenge during the invasion of Malaya when the use of atomic bombs against the Japanese homeland brought hostilities to an abrupt end.
Pending a decision about its future 113 was moved on 18/08/1945 to Zayatkwin, which was to have been its base in the early stages of the Malaya campaign and a poignant return to the place from which the squadron fought so hard in early 1942.
Even in 1945 there was still plenty of work to be done from dropping leaflets on isolated Japanese units to persuade them that the war had finished, to reconnaissance flights over P.O.W. camps to make sure they had been emptied of allied troops who had suffered so much, some of whom actually flew through Zayatkwin after their liberation. This was dangerous work in monsoon storms and there were several casualties among the many aircraft taking part, but luckily none suffered by 113. The last of these flights by 113 took place on 12/09/1945, shortly after which it was announced that the squadron was to be disbanded.
JAPANESE SURRENDER LEAFLET
Source F/O Gerard Brigden
On the 4th October, (04/10/1945) for the second time in its history, a farewell dinner for all ranks was held. FAREWELL BOOKLET
Personnel were gradually dispersed and the final move for the aircraft came on 13th October 1945 (13/10/1945) when they were all flown via Calcutta to Allahabad and returned to the American Army Corps. It is interesting to reflect that this final flight mirrored almost exactly the last two stages flown by 113 when it was sent urgently to Burma from Egypt in January 1942, and on the leg to Allahabad the formation passed within 10 miles of Asansol which had been home to the squadron for so long in that year when victory must have seemed such a distant goal. Now it had been achieved and all members of 113 can rightly be proud of the part played by the squadron continuously from 1939 to 1945 to bring it about.
Velox et Vindex!
FOOTNOTE: Little has been written about the massive demobilization of a world that had been at war for five years. For the millions of soldiers returning home, civilian life could never be the same. They had changed, the world had changed. For untold thousands that made it home, they would forever be casulties of the war just as surely as those who lay forever in foreign lands.
LAC Harry Hitchins - On the 21 November 1946 I was demobbed at Kirkham Lancs No 1 Dispersal Centre. It was very well organized, we had tea in the NAFFI untill our name was called, following which we went through a door at the end to a series of offices. When we got out we had all the paperwork for Civvy life, then a coach took us to the clothing centre........ On the way over in the coach I took out a cigarette and an officer leaned across and gave me a light, I said thank you sir, he laughed and said mister.
The veterans, families and friends of the 113 Squadron
~The foundation for this story by F/O Pat G. Woodward ~