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Fighting Over The Jungle

Although outclassed elsewhere, over the Arakan

and Imphal the nimble Curtiss Mohawks of 155
Sqn helped hold the fort against superior Japanese
forces as Andrew Thomas explains.




Fighting Over The Jungle

N 1941 the RAF had no fighters

in India and in the absence
of more potent types a total
of 86 ex-French Hawk 75A-4s
were delivered. By the time
that 5 Sqn had received its first
aircraft (designated the Mohawk
IV by the RAF) on 29 December
the Japanese were pushing into
Burma and by March 1942 it was
declared operational for the
fighter defence of Calcutta. The
day that 5 Sqn achieved the first
confirmed Mohawk victory on 20

August, 155 Sqn, based at St Thomas

Mount near Madras, received its
first Mohawk delivery. It was
commanded by Sqn Ldr Donald
Dimsie Stones: My target date
for the Squadrons operational
status receded due to maintenance
problems, but I was able to report
that we should be operational by
the end of September, or early
October. As Flight Commanders
he had two experienced pilots: Flt
Lts Denis Wuntho Winton and
Peter Rathie.

Mohawk IV
named Joe
Soap II by Fg
Off Tim Meyer
and carries
beneath the
wings racks
of small
bombs used
for target
a role the
excelled at. 65


Fighting Over The Jungle

One of the
pilots on
the Mohawk
was No 155
Sqns CO, Sqn
Ldr Porky
who led the
unit with
over Burma
for most of
1943. (VIA

No 155
Sqns badge
showing their
battle honour
for Manipur
the Indian
State in which
Imphal sat. (A


At the beginning of October, 5 Sqn

returned south to Agartala in Bengal,
east of Dacca, for bomber escort
and fighter patrols over the Arakan
peninsula. Soon afterwards, 155 Sqn
moved to Alipore, Calcutta, flying its
first offensive sortie on 30 October.
Stones noted: I was to take our 13
serviceable Mohawks up to Imphal
for a ground strafing attack on the
Japanese airfield at Shwebo, Burma,
about 200 miles south east of Imphal,
on the banks of the great Irrawaddy
river, just north of Mandalay. The


recruited into
the Northumberland
Newcastleborn Fg Off
Tony Dunford
shot down
an Oscar on
9 November
1943 and
received a


following morning, they headed out

across the misty jungle-clad mountains
of Manipur province:
As we descended we could see a
wide plain below us, beyond which lay
our target. I caught sight of Shwebo
township and took the squadron
down to the airfield which I could
see ahead. It was deserted apart from
one twin-engine transport aircraft [a
Kawasaki Ki 56 Thalia developed from
the Lockheed 14 Electra - author] on the
parking area. Plt Off Meyer, wide to
port of me, destroyed this with an
accurate burst.

The rest of the formation then

attacked various airfield facilities
causing significant damage. However,
on return, Stones was ordered to
Madras where an Army Provost
Officer, with whom he had clashed,
had started court martial proceedings
against him. He was severely
reprimanded, having to revert to Flt Lt
for using bad language to the Provost
Officer - or, as he later referred to him:
that jumped-up policeman! Thus,
155 Sqn lost its able and experienced
CO and Rathie took over temporary
command until Sqn Ldr Charles G StD
Jeffries (nicknamed Porky) arrived.


Soon afterwards, 155 joined 5 Sqn

to form 169 Wing with Sqn Ldr Bill
Pitt-Brown as Wing Leader. Ground
attacks and escorts followed, and on
8 November Rathie led three other
Mohawks in a strafe on boats up the
Kaladan River. Further action came
on the morning of the 10th when eight
of 155s Mohawks escorted Blenheims


Fighting Over The Jungle

in a bombing attack on Akyab docks.

Over the target they encountered over
a dozen Ki 43 Oscars of the JAAFs elite
64th Sentai led by Capt Haruyasi Maruo
- themselves on an escort mission.
The Oscars destroyed a Blenheim, and
two of the escorting Mohawks. These,
flown by Fg Off John Dawson-Squibb
(AX898) and Plt Off Roy McClumpha
(BB929), who were both killed, fell
victim to one of the JAAFs rising stars,
Lt Saburo Nakamura. Having been
attacked by four Mohawks, he rapidly
turned the tables on them. A third
Mohawk had part of its rudder shot
away and landed at Chittagong. On the
credit side, Plt Off Tommy Buddle shot
down an Oscar when it suddenly made
a right hand elliptical turn and fired,
but missed, giving Buddle a close-range
shot, the fighter crashing into the sea.
He had shot down the commander of
the Sentais 1st Chutai, Capt Haruyasu
Maruo whose inexperienced wingman,
Sgt Kuribayashi, had lost sight of him
leaving his tail exposed. A second
Oscar was shared between Flt Lt Peter
Rathie and the air gunner of one of

the Blenhiems to give 155 Sqn its first

victories, whilst Plt Off Alan Haley, an
Australian, was credited with another
for his fourth victory. With 5 Sqn
scoring on an afternoon mission, it had
been a successful day for the Mohawk
Wing. Interestingly, after this first
major combat, the pilots had found
their Mohawks could actually turn
inside the highly manoeuvrable Oscars.
5 Sqns Sgt Stuart Garnett recalled: The
manoeuvrability was good and it was
found that if the speed was kept up
180 to 200 mph the aircraft could
turn well with the 01 Oscars. A high
speed stall was practically unknown.
Two weeks later, 155 Sqn moved
to Agartala alongside 5 Sqn, and on
the 5th A Flight of 155 detached to
Chittagong and in mid-afternoon,
scrambled to intercept a raid with
fighter escort. The Mohawks were
vectored in from ahead and below and
were soon involved in a general melee.
Peter Rathie wrote afterwards in his
combat report:
The 01 had its belly towards and
was going down. I dived after him. He

turned and saw me and went into a left

hand turn. He turned three times to the
left and I turned inside him giving him
several squirts. He then climbed straight
and I climbed gaining on him and gave
another squirt. He did a sort of spin stall,
so I waited above till he came out of it.
Then I dived on him and gave another
squirt. I was able to keep inside all the
time and continued firing. I closed to
30 yards and gave him the rest of my
ammunition in one long burst.
He had shot down Capt Masuzo
Ohtani (64th Sentai) and damaged
a second Oscar, as had Plt Off
MacDonald. The Mohawks certainly
did not have it their own way. Fg Off
Tony Dunford:
At about 1600, 27 Sally bombers
and 12 Oscar fighters turned up and
we scrambled to intercept. Dogfights
developed with the Oscars and I caught
a packet from the Nip while shooting at
another. Managed to make Chittagong
and I went upside down breaking both
wrists and getting knocked out.
He was out of action for three

Three Mohawk
IVs of 155
Sqn near
Agartala in
August 1943
when they
were seeing
much action
in the ground
attack role.
The nearest
(BS798/B) was
flown on 9
November by
Fg Off Harry
Bishop who
the Mohawks
final victory.
In the lead is
BT470/F that
was shot down
in error by
a Hurricane
in the same


Fighting Over The Jungle

155 Sqn
personnel at
Imphal Main,
late 1943.


CO Sqn Ldr
Dimsie Stones
was a Malta

Henry Nicholls
claimed six
over Malaya.



The limited offensive down the

Arakan peninsula had Maungdaw and
Buithidaung as initial objectives and
further sweeps continued. On the 11th
Rathie led Sgt Henry Nichols with
two others to escort four Hurricanes
on a low level attack on Akyab. The
offensive led to a marked increase in
Japanese air activity whilst the RAF
continued to mount attacks on various
targets, including Akyab, right through
Christmas as Plt Off Harry Bishop
noted for the 28th:
Eight of our Mohawks, plus a dozen
from No 5, took off from Chittagong
at 1200 to act as escort to 12 Blenheims
on a raid on Magwe. They bombed
from 12,000 ft. There was light flak.
I saw the bombs burst among the


hangars and aircraft that were there.

We met no enemy aircraft and we were
back to base by 1500 hours.
No 155 Sqn continued to be active
into 1943 often flying in very poor
weather and the year began badly. Over
the Chindwin River on New Years
Day Plt Off Alan Haley (in BK584),
led by the CO,was shot down and
killed by Japanese anti aircraft fire.
Jeffries led an escort the next day,
often detaching north to Imphal for
missions. During the month, in spite
of much RAF activity, there was little
sign of the JAAF, whose modus operandi
seemed to be a few days of considerable
effort, withdrawing and then suddenly
reappearing in strength. The only
encounter by the RAF during the final
week of January fell to Mohawks when
on the 28th both Squadrons combined
in a sweep to Akyab. A solitary Oscar
dived on the formation from above. It
was chased by Porky Jeffries who gave


Fighting Over The Jungle

it a burst of 400 rounds from 70 yards

after which the Oscar continued down.
Initially credited as damaged, Group
HQ later upgraded it to destroyed. 5
Sqns Flt Lt Courtney-Clarke saw it:
I see Clipper Leader get one Jap,
otherwise it was a stooge trip.
This was Jeffries only claim flying
the Mohawk, and the following day
he led 155 north in a permanent move
in support of Wingates first Chindit
expedition when they concentrated
on ground attack work. A Flight
operated from Imphal whilst the rest
of the Squadron was further west at


At Imphal Peter Rathies A Flight

was briefed that they were to support
the Chindits directly with ground
attacks and interdicting Japanese
supply lines. Such as on 4 February

when Fg Off Jack Brinnand and F/

Sgt Freeman on a roving patrol well
beyond the Chindwin strafed a train
near Kyaikthin leaving the locomotive
spewing steam. For days later Harry
Bishop (flying B) and Plt Off Tommy
Buddle swept down the railway from
Pintha to Shwebo shooting up rolling
stock, engines and other transport,
though Buddle narrowly escaped injury
when anti aircraft fire destroyed the
gunsight immediately in front of his
face! At the end of the month the
rest of the Squadron moved forward
to Imphal to increase support to
Wingates men, the support sorties
continuing through March and into
The Squadrons first encounter with
enemy aircraft in the north did not
take place until 20 April. During the
afternoon ten Mohawks scrambled
against about 20 enemy aircraft

During 155s
first encounter
with the
JAAF on 10
1942 Plt Off
Tommy Buddle
shot down
the highly
1st Chutai
leader Capt

approaching from the south. Only Red

and Yellow sections made contact, the
latter led by Fg Off MacGregor though
his No 2, F/Sgt Junior Freeman fell
away with a smoking engine and was
never seen again. The other Mohawks
attacked the Ki 21 Sally bombers,
one of which Rathie damaged and
MacGregor made several attacks on
another and saw smoke pour from its
engines, claiming it as probable. The
escorting Oscars then arrived and a
series of vicious dogfights began with
MacGregor making a diving attack on
an Oscar which spun in from about
3,000 feet, claimed as probable. An
Oscar attacked Rathie and the latter
fired several bursts, the last from just
20 yards, hitting the engine and cockpit
and it went down to be claimed as
another probable.

Harry Bishop
snaps Fg Of
Ray Weir in
BJ545/C on
a strafing
over central
Burma against
1943. On 2
November Sqn
Ldr Jefferies
had flown it
on the final
mission of his
long tour with
155 Sqn.

Mohawk IV
AR674/H is
flown over
Agartala by
Fg Off Babe
Hunter in the
summer of

J S LINN) 69


Fighting Over The Jungle
Airframe fitter
LAC Spud
Murphy sits
on Mohawk
IV AR656/X at
Imphal in 1943.

On the right
chatting to a
visiting VIP is
Sqn Ldr Denis
Winton who
was 155s CO
for its last few
weeks with
the Mohawk
and who had
been OC B

No 155
Sqns main
over Burma
were the
Nakajima Ki 43
Oscars of ther
JAAF elite 64th
Sentai. (YASUHO

Eventually, both pilots managed to

disengage and escape, though Rathies
No 2, Sgt J Simpson was also missing
and later found dead in the wreckage
of his aircraft. It had been a day of
mixed fortunes.


The following morning, 155 had

another unequal battle against an
incoming raid on Imphal during which
Fg Off Tim Meyer, who hailed from
Trinidad and is remembered as a superb
pilot, attacked an Oscar at 25,000 ft.
He got in a series of bursts and was
gratified to see pieces fly off the wings
and the engine issue a long plume
of black smoke. By then on his own,
and about 15 miles east of Imphal, he
ran into four more Oscars at 15,000 ft
and sharply evading their fire hit one
all over the wings, reporting that it
seemed to stop dead in mid-air. Before
jockeying with the others, and making
his escape, he claimed a damaged. That
was in the event No 155s last combat
with the JAAF for some months. Peter
Rathie was then replaced by Flt Lt J V
Basher Marshall, described by one of
his men as: . a most courteous and
charming fellow not the usual type
of fighter chap. No 155 carried out its
first bombing mission two days later,
when carrying 20lb bombs underwing,
the CO and Denis Winton attacking
Japanese artillery at Sanmyo diving
from 4,000 ft.
At the end of the month a series of
attacks managed to destroy a major
bridge at Hpaungzeik. With the
withdrawal of the Chindit force, at the
end of June the Squadron returned to


Agartala from where it continued to fly

roving Rhubarb patrols beyond the
Chindwin and in escorts to Vengeance
dive bombers. Its bombing and strafing
attacks on the Japanese in central
Burma, though, were often aborted due
to the monsoon. Typical sorties were
those of 29 July when Harry Bishop
and Babe Hunter bombed enemy
bunkers on Kennedy Peak through
8/10 cloud whilst in 19 August Sqn Ldr
Jeffries led five to the Mawlaik area
in heavy cloud making dive attacks
from 1500 feet with at least 14 direct
hits on buildings. 155 returned north
to Imphal in early September, the CO
leading the first sortie on the 20th a
Rhubarb to the landing grounds at
Wuntho and Kawlin which were
thoroughly worked over. Another
sortie was on 24 September when


Fighting Over The Jungle

Jefferies led eleven aircraft

on an armed recce up the Chindwin
River, a later report indicating that
about 50 enemy troops had been killed.
On 9 October Jeffries flew as a
pathfinder for an attack by Hurricanes
of 258 Sqn on Webula marking with
small smoke bombs carried underneath
the wings. Two days he led another
strike on Japanese troops, repeated on
the following day. This was the pattern
for the next few weeks. However, on 9
November for the first time in months,
No 155 came across the enemy in the
air when early in the day two aircraft
tried to intercept a high flying Ki 46
Dinah reconnaissance aircraft; a second
scramble later on was also abortive.
They were, however, the precursors to
a raid and at lunchtime 16 Ki 21 Sally
bombers with an escort of half a dozen
Oscars attacked the Imphal strip. Four
Mohawks scrambled and attempted to
cut off the homeward bound bombers.
Fg Off Tony Dunford, who was flying
AR677/V with Fg Off Edwards as

No 2, scrambled and headed north to

gain height. Joining with two more
Mohawks they attempted to cut
off the homeward bound bombers.
Dunfords combat report takes up the
story: Our sections then parted, mine
climbing for height. Approximately
10 miles east of Palel I saw 4 radial
engined aircraft and assumed them
Mohawks. Approaching, I saw them
break which indicated that they were
enemy. I was about 4,000 feet above
them, one turned to starboard and I
identified it as an 01. I called to my
No 2 Look out 9 oclock going in
now. I dived onto the 01 giving him
a 3 second deflection burst from the
quarter. He then dived vertically and
I followed him. He soon pulled out
and I straightened and came up astern
of him at about 500 yards. I gave full
throttle but was overtaking him only
slowly. I opened fire with a 6 second
burst at about 300 yards, observing
the de Wilde ammunition striking all
over his wings. He took no evasive
action and I gave him another 7 to 9
seconds from a fine quarter following
which he momentarily straightened up,
then turned on his back and dived
vertically with smoke streaming
from his engine. I looked around
and seeing no aircraft following
me I followed him down but found
my guns empty. Fg Off Bishop
(BS798/B) confirms seeing the 01
crash into the ground and explode
after diving away from me. I
therefore claim the destruction of
that aircraft
The RAF Mohawks last victim
was probably Cpl Kitaoka of
the 50th Sentai, north east of
Palel, where the wreck was later
found. A Sally shot down by
anti-aircraft guns fell in the same

area. However, Bishops No 2, Sgt Bill

Tester in BT470/F, was engaged by a
Hurricane of 34 Sqn who mistook the
radial-engined Mohawk for a Japanese
and shot it down, fortunately without
injury to the pilot.
Four days later Porky Jeffries handed
command to Sqn Ldr Denis Winton,
the squadron diary noting that it
had been Jeffries fourth operational
tour and that: his great experience,
keenness and qualities of leadership
did much to raise the efficiency of the
Squadron to a high standard. Winton
described his predecessor thus: Short
and stocky with fair hair, a round face
with blue eyes and a permanent sort
of crooked, twisted smile as though
waiting to make a funny story. I am
not surprised that he was never shot
down. I dont think the enemy had an
opportunity to see him. He was a great
character, a marvellous chap.
No 155 Squadron continued on
operations with its weary Mohawks
until the beginning of January 1944
when they were replaced by the Spitfire
VIII, but those who flew it remembered
the little Curtiss with real affection.

Ground crew
sit on the tail
of Mohawk IV
BS736/P during
engine runs
at Chittagong
in mod 1943.
It has yellow
wingtips as an
feature. (VIA

Flight of 155
Sqn was Flt Lt
Peter Rathie
who was the
RAF most
Mohawk pilot
but was killed
soon after
leaving the
unit. (D WINTON

A native of
Trinidad, Fg Off
Tim Meyer had
a successful
tour with 155
Sqn. (T MEYER) 71