Recently found in old RCAF Press Releases:
Release No. 6106 dated 4 August 1944 - WITH THE R.C.A.F. IN BURMA: -- A strong updraft from a valley lying low between two 9000 foot mountain ranges jolted the nose of a Sunderland, fully loaded with sick and wounded Chindit fighting men from the Burma jungles and weighing in all some 29 tons. As it rose to a steep angle the airspeed dropped to below 90 miles an hour. As it did so, all four motors cut out together. The crest of one of the ranges was only 600 feet below the big flying boat which began to lose height rapidly, but the pilot was able to level out before it was too late. The four motors roared out again with rhythmic power, and the crew of ten breathed easily again.
Back in the big hull of the Sunderland, the sick and wounded Chindits were too ill to have noticed the incident. Several were unconscious. But to the 1st Wireless Operator, a Canadian, W/O (1) Ray Guertin, of Ottawa, Ontario whose parents reside now at 95 John Street, Rimouski, Quebec. “It was definitely the biggest scare I’ve ever had.”
The mission on which this Sunderland, “O for Orange” was engaged was dangerous, and for a Flying Boat it was unusual. Seldom do the Sunderlands and Catalinas of Coastal Command fly high. Equipped with superchargers, their power at high altitudes is not as great as with fighters and bombers. Seldom if ever has an aircraft of this type been called upon to lift a full load up to 10,000 feet. The mission was one of several this Sunderland carried out through filthy pre-monsoon and monsoon weather. Flying through thick clouds and vicious rainstorms from a temporary base on the swift flowing, monsoon swollen treacherous waters of the upper Brahmaputra in northern Assam, it landed supplies on a lake beyond the mountains, a lake which lies on the fringe of the fighting in northern Burma. Casualties, badly wounded and very sick British, Ghurka and West African were loaded aboard and flown back. The flights were hazardous but these flying boats offered the only hope of survival for Chindit casualties, and each mission made was successfully completed. Some of the sick and wounded died, but most survived.
Besides “O for Orange” trips, missions were made by another Sunderland from the same RAF squadron with an equally gallant crew in which F/O Jack Norton of Winnipeg, flew as navigator. But for maintenance trouble, this aircraft would probably have equalled the record of “O for Orange”. But its career ended when it sank in the Brahmaputra during a whirlwind. Only two men were on board at the time and both are safe. Neither crew knew its mission when they started north from their home base to Bengal, where they were briefed for the operation. No Flying Boat had ever landed on the upper waters of the Brahmaputra. Many people thought that the time of year such a landing would be impossible.
On May 31, “O for Orange” made a successful touchdown and the next day started off on its first mission. “We had to turn back,” said Ray Guertin,” the clouds over the mountains were thick but we got through them. We couldn’t find the lake though. There was no opening in the clouds. “Next day we got there. It was bad all the way as it had been the day before, but luckily the clouds opened up for us over the lake and we were able to set down on it. I was very surprised when I found that the first man to come aboard was a Canadian. He was a Spitfire pilot who had been shot down over Burma and had been there for several months acting as an Air Liaison Officer with the Chindits. He told me he was from Saskatoon.
“During the next few days, we gradually increased the number carried as we found we were able to make the lifts ok, and we were soon bringing out a full load. Most of the men were badly wounded or were sick with Typhus, enteric, dysentery or Malaria. One British chap was the sickest man I’ve ever seen. Wounded in one thigh, he was also suffering from Malaria and double pneumonia. The men were very weak. I looked back at the time to see if our passengers were as scared as I, but they didn’t seem to have noticed anything. They were too tired and weak to worry anymore, I think.”
One day, a strong wind drove down “O for Orange” and the big Flying Boat snapping her mooring cable, started to drift fast downstream. Four members of the crew who were ashore leaped into an amphibious duck and roared after her. They caught her before any serious damage had been done and towed her back. She continued on her rescue missions. During the trips, Guertin was kept busy on the air-to-ground radio reporting progress; but on the first two trips the transmitter was of no use, and the Sunderland was without communication to the ground. Its wireless could not be used because of its wide range and the consequent danger from enemy fighters.
Our fighters escorted the Flying Boat on several of the operations, but when the weather was too thick for them, the Sunderland went alone. When the Monsoon broke after June 8 for a while even the Sunderland could not get through and they returned to their home base. Towards the end of June, they returned and completed the operations in the first week of July.
Guertin had volunteered with the crew of “O for Orange” whose regular first wireless operator was sick. When they flew north a second time, he was still with them, though the regular man was now well. He had been asked to continue and complete the operations and he is proud to have flown on all the missions with this crew who, except for the Australian navigator, are all English.
Guertin, who is 23 years old, is a graduate of Lasalle Academy Ottawa, Ontario. For a year before he joined the R.C.A.F. in September 1940, he was studying for a business career. He tried to enlist as a pilot but found that he would have a long wait, so he became a wireless operator training at No.1 Wireless School, Montreal, P.Q. and No.6 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mountain View, Ontario. He has flown on Coastal Command patrols from Britain, Egypt, East Africa, and Ceylon since 1942. In September that year, he was a member of a crew which was awarded a submarine kill in the Mediterranean. He hopes to return to Canada soon to train as a pilot.
Release No.6107 dated 9 August 1944 - WITH THE R.C.A.F. IN BURMA: -- All four engines of a Sunderland cut suddenly as the big aircraft was flying over mountainous country carrying wounded and sick Chindit fighting men from the Burma jungles. The crest of one of the mountains was only 600 feet below as the flying boat began to lose height rapidly. A strong updraft had jolted the nose of the Sunderland upward and the airspeed had dropped below 90 miles an hour, causing all motors to cut. But just as the Sunderland was about to crash on the mountaintop, the pilot was able to level out and the four engines roared again with a paeon of rhythmic power. The crew of ten resumed respiration.
I believe there was an article published within the last six years about these operations - FLYPAST, AEROPLANE MONTHLY or BRITAIN AT WAR. Can anyone advise as to publication and date ?