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Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed. He who molds opinion is greater than he who enacts laws.
-- President Abraham Lincoln
We set off at dawn from our base, West Island, Cocos, in a 356 Squadron Liberator on our flight to Malaya carrying a great load of medical supplies and comforts for PoWs and civilians. With the Japanese surrender, there are no bombs this time. Guns and armament have been stripped from the aircraft to provide more lift, and the cavernous bays which normally house 500 and 1,000-pounders, now contain dozens of large drop-canisters strapped to chutes.
We could have carried more but the fitters have had to install overload tanks to provide more fuel for the long journey which is routed to take us many hundreds of lonely miles over the Indian Ocean far from any other airbase.
After briefing soon after 5 a.m., we take off at 6.30 down the uncomfortably short strip hacked from the coconut palms, the wheels screaming as if in agony as they labour along the prefabricated metal runway, the flickering gooseneck flares stretching before us and the palms clearly outlined against the first flush of morning.
We are tail heavy, and it seems touch and go we'll ever leave the deck, but just as the last flare speeds past we creak and grumble upwards barely airborne just skimming the beach and reef and then, with the four Pratt and Whitney engines roaring at full belt, slide over the perilously close waves, with the pilots tugging at the controls.
Visibility not as perfect as one would have hoped, with banks of black cloud way ahead on the horizon as we make a slow, slow climb to cruising altitude. A sparkling sea at first, but as we edge higher it becomes dull and motionless, and the thought of several hours of this is somewhat enervating. However, after an hour we run into thick cloud and things liven up. Dodging and battling with the stuff can be the most exciting part of flying. There it looms before us looking as solid and forbidding as a brick wall. We hit it and it is as silent a collision as diving into cotton wool. Another great bank ahead, and this time we slip into it gently with the wings just tobogganing over the top until we are engulfed in torrents of rain and the Lib is tugged and rocked as if by a giant hand.
A good crew, all nationalities, all jovial. Difficult to converse except over the intercom because of the noise from the pounding engines. No insulation in these all-metal aircraft. Once you discard your headset you have to shout to make yourself heard. The skipper, a Scot, wanders aft stepping over the mounds of stuff to be parachuted down, checking harnesses, joking and smiling, then sharing pirated flight rations with the rest of us. In the cockpit the second dicky pretends to be asleep and lets George the autopilot take the strain.
Most of us snooze or read novels as the hours creep by. We are all a bit anxious about the performance of our navigator, who also has done his share of nodding. The skipper says this has to be a spot-on mission because there is little fuel in reserve and no room for error. Then, a cry from the front. Land spotted. It's Sumatra says the navigator, and we lose height to check landmarks. Surprise. Just off the coast a large cargo vessel appears. It's a Jap! With a whoop, Scottie pushes the stick forward and we descend at such speed that we all feel weightless. We are now down to a few hundred feet and lose still more height to sweep over the ship at mast-top level. A real shootup, calculated to shatter the nerves of any Japanese crewmen or passengers, but despite the fact that the vessel is underwestern sky is suffused in bloody red. It's a gaudy yet glorious picture, like so many one experiences in this part of the world, almost impossible to capture in words, paint or film. Overhead a ceiling of stars unfolds. On either side the bright pin pricks of our navigation lights stare back. Below, cloud is forming, fleecy white at first, but ahead and approaching fast are grey, forbidding banks.
On, on, on with the engines roaring a robust song, the coldness of night beginning to seep into the aircraft. Five p.m. comes and goes. Six oclock. Seven. And still the cloud surrounds us, much blacker now, but with occasional windows opening to the dark ocean and the stars. All the crew are awake, alert, anxious and tired. We strain eyes for some sand we strip off our pullovers and vests anrary home and refuge.
The petrol gauges indicate enough fuel for a few minutes only. We have been on radio compass for the past hour. Is it still serviceable? "Nav - Are you sure we're on track?" "Try another DF bearing." The navigator iound parties will be in position to retrievte now," he says. The bearing remains steady. More minutes pass. The tanks must surely soon be dry. Thoughts race through my mind. The war's over, so what on earth possessed me to volunteer for this trip? So near, and yet (looking at gauges now fluttering in the red) so far. I feel empty, too, and slightly sick. Quite clearly so do the others.
Then, far away in the dark distance, a tiny light, then the steady finger of a searchlight reveals itself like a beam from heaven. It can only be Cocos. Home at last! Everyone relaxes. We grin, yawn, stretch limbs, gather our belongings.
Soon the flarepath is ahead. Undercart down. Landing stations are taken up. No time for a circuit. A quick word with the control tower and straight in. Harnesses are snapped off as we hit the deck and roar down the strip, blue flames from glowing exhausts reflecting against the sides of the Lib.
They are all waiting for us at dispersal and rush out to help, clasping hands and asking whether we'd found our target and delivered the goods. "Good show," says the intelligence officer.
In the rear of the Lib we are ready. Bomb doors, camera and side hatches are open. The bomb aimer in the nose signals his readiness, and in we go. "Revs, revs!" we are sinking too quickly, then "steady, steady!" throttle back again and we glide in barely 300 ft from the ground. Here comes the racecourse, with the crowds falling back. Both pilots are sweating profusely. One air pocket and all will be lost. "Steady, steady, steady!" Nearer, nearer now, then "load gone!" We shudder upwards and our first batch of containers flutters down. We glance back and see streams of people running to pick up the supplies.
Another circuit, another run in, this time catching a group of soldiers unaware and scattering them in all directions as the sudden roar of our engines surprises them. The sight of such a large aircraft flying so low must be a bit mind blowing. Another drop smack in the centre of the green circle, and another, and another... and that's it. The bomb bays and cargo holds are empty and our mission is complete. Well, almost. Scottie wants some fun. After his frustrated efforts at shooting up the Japanese freighter he is determined to put on a bit of a show for the people of K.L.
We wave to the crowds at the racecourse and head back to town. Down, down until we seem to be flying between the houses themselves, following and twisting around streets, missing strings of bunting by inches. The traffic stops, crowds rush out from houses and shops, a great sea of faces stares up from below. Everyone waves. It's an amazing sight to us. How must it appear to them?.
There is a Japanese barracks marked on the map, so the pilots decide to pay it a visit. No flags or signs of enthusiasm here. High hats and an occasional flash of teeth. We circle with engines screaming, but no-one in the thin group standing below shows any sign of enthusiasm. One can hardly blame them.
A fun fair is in full swing in one part of the town - victory celebrations, no doubt - and the children on the roundabouts seem far more concerned with hanging on than waving to us.
Two more PoWs appeared - an RAF engineer and a fitter - and despite the fact that the Mossie's engines were strange to them, they set about servicing them. Then the Japanese had to protect the RAF crew from the growing crowd of emaciated men who were beside themselves with joy at thoughtnd, and finally face the long, long flight. The next day a second Mosquito, which had been sent from Cocos in search of them, lobbed down, and later the two planes took off together back to Cocos. The PoWs were sorry to see them go and another two weeks elapsed before they gained their freedom. It drone of the engines. In the cockpit George of the occupation of Singapore and meant that at least one part of the island knew dramatic events were happening.
What we know now is that General Seishiro Itagaki, Commander of the Japanese 7th Area Army in Singapore, was contemplales cramped to watch the sinking sun. The w in defiance of orders, and the arrival of the Mosquito from Cocos might have triggered off wholesale slaughter. It appears that Itagaki was not told of the incident, the Allies were slow in sending in a relief force and fortunately Itagaki relented and the tense situation was allowed to cool.
Note: by John Behague, RAF, 99 Squadron
This Day in History
France and Spain sign the Treaty of Madrid.
Congress authorizes the construction of 6 frigates, including the USS Constitution
"to provide a naval armament".
The Treaty of Amiens is signed, ending the French Revolutionary War.
The French Revolutionary War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens.
U.S. troops under Gen. Andrew Jackson inflict a crushing defeat on the Creek Indians at Horshoe Bend in Northern Alabama.
The Mexican army massacres Texan rebels at Gohad.
The USS Constellation
departs New York with food for famine victims in Ireland.
Japan leaves the League of Nations.
Tokeo Yoshikawa arrives in Oahu, Hawaii, to begin spying for Japan on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Britain leases defense bases in Trinidad to the United States for 99 years.