View Full Version : Hugh McMichael 27 Squadron India.

29th April 2011, 14:15
Hi All,

I was at the National Archives yesterday and picked up a new RAF POW held in Rangoon Jail. 89080 Flight Lieutenant Hugh McMichael. His date of capture intrigues me 07/03/1943.

Does anyone have any information on him or the Squadron activities? I am trying to find out if he was shot down/bailed out or possibly walked in as part of the Chindit 1 operation and was Air liaison?

Many thanks as always.


29th April 2011, 14:36


Not to be left out of the day's activities, 27 Squadron sent six of its Beaufighters, led by Wing Commander Harry Daish, down to Akyab. They strafed various targets during the afternoon sortie, two Beaus being slightly damaged by ground fire. Two days later(7-3-1943), however, they were not lucky. Flight Lieutenant J. McMichael led four Beaufighters down to Akyab early that morning, but McNichael and his navigator, Sergeant Dodd, failed to return. It was a long time before anyone knew that they had survived and were prisoners of war.


Appendix E - Main RAF Losses - 1 October, 1942 to 1 June 1943.

Date: 7 March (1943)
Sqn: 27
Type: Beaufighter
No: EL355
Category: Destroyed
Pilot/crew: F/L J. McMichael POW/ Sgt Dodd POW.
Cause: AA fire.

Hurricanes Over the Arakan.
A. p.158
B. p.228


Sunday, 7 March 1943.

Beaufighter EL355 'G' of 27 squadron was brought down by AA over Akyab, Flt Lt J. McMichael and Sgt Dodd becoming PoWs.

Air War for Burma.
London:Grub Street,2005.

Can't help with the "Hugh"/"J" conundrum, but Sgt Dodd appears to be - 1426811 Sgt Reginald Henry Noel DODD.

There was one 37759 W/C John Hubert McMichael who was OC 27 Sqn June 1944 - March 1945,. I wonder if that could be the source of the confusion?


29th April 2011, 16:23
Thanks Col,

Well that clears that one up, well sort of. Not a Chindit officer for my list, shame! His Japanese Index card has him down as Hugh, but that does not mean much with the amount of mistakes I've seen on those.

Sgt. Dodd did not make it I'm afraid and is on the Singapore Memorial, I knew I did not have a RAF Dodd on my list so I checked out the CWGC.

Thanks again.

Matt Poole
30th April 2011, 14:02
Yes, it seems Sgt Dodd did not make it, as his CWGC date of death is 7 March 1943 -- the same day his Beaufighter, EL355, was shot down. Thus, he did not die in Rangoon Jail -- would not have made it there that day, anyway --, and it seems likely that he was not even captured.

Somehow the erroneous news of his POW capture/survival has worked its way into the history books -- "Hurricanes Over the Arakan", "Air War for Burma", and also the 27 Sqn history, "Beaufighters Over Burma" by David J. Innes (Blandford Press, 1985).

Pgs 55/56 of the Innes book refers to the loss of McMichael and Dodd, but the precise date is lacking:

The operations which the squadron carried out during March were in the Arakan and Central Burma. In the Arakan, the operations, organised by Group, involved other RAF squadrons and different aircraft - Hurricanes and Blenheims - and the targets were shipping and aerodromes on the islands of Akyab and Ramree. The Hurricanes were to provide top cover, the Blenheims were to unload their bombs and the Beaufighters were to carry out low-level strafing. Twice this exercise - involving ten Beaufighters - was carried out, but a combination of the Beaufighter's faster speed at low level and bad weather resulted in both operations not running to plan. In fact, it proved a costly exercise for No. 27 Squadron. One aircraft and its crew, Flight Lieutenant McMichael and Sergeant Dodd, were lost, and two other aircraft were damaged - all as a result of accurate ground fire.

. . .It turned out that Flight Lieutenant McMichael and Sergeant Dod were taken prisoners by the Japanese and survived the ordeal, and were released in 1945.

In the Appendix I (pg 115) is this:

7 March 1943 Flight Lieutenant J. McMichael and Sergeant Dodd


Note that McMichael's initial is "J" in this source -- same as in the "Hurricanes Over the Arakan" and "Air War for Burma" sources. However McMichael went by the name Hugh, per his own words, excerpted from the book "Beyond the Bamboo Screen: Scottish Prisoners of War under the Japanese" by Tom Mcgowran (Cualann Press, 1989). It does not mention Dodd's fate exactly, but the fact that Hugh McMichael only mentions himself making it ashore after being shot down implies that Dodd did not survive the crash. There is a short intro, followed by McMichael's words. (Steve, did you send me this excerpt?? I can't rediscover the reference on the web.)

Hugh McMichael CA, Vice-Chairman SFEPOW Association

Hugh McMichael was a fighter pilot flying Beaufighters out of southern India. He and
his observer were shot down off Akyab in Burma and landed in the water. After being in
the sea for five hours he managed to reach the shore to be faced with two Japs with
fixed bayonets. He was interned at Rangoon Jail for two and a half years.

Rangoon Jail was the camp used by the Japanese to house Allied POWs
captured in Burma. It had been built by the British and was a good solid
building divided up into different sections. On 1st May 1945 Rangoon Jail was
still the home of some hundreds of prisoners of war. Those who were fit and
reasonably able had been marched out of the jail by the Japanese to be used as
hostages in the face of the 14th Army approaching the city from the north.

Although the Japanese had fled from Rangoon, Allied aircraft
continued to bomb the city, apparently unaware that the Japanese had already
gone. Those of us who were left decided to paint messages on the roof of the
buildings: ‘Japs Gone’ and ‘British Here’ hoping the airmen would get the
message. But the air attacks continued as the airmen thought it was a trick.

A fellow RAF pilot and I decided to paint another message on yet
another roof: ‘Extract Digit’. There was no way the Japs would know that
expression. It worked, and no more bombs were dropped near the jail. Three
days later we were free. The naval assault vessels had arrived at the mouth of
the Rangoon river and were surprised to find that we, the prisoners, were in fact
in charge of the jail and the Japs had gone - without a fight.


Also, the document "British PW Liberated from Rangoon Central Jail" (Kew ref 208/1022, per Steve, who kindly sent it to me) lists McMichael with an "H", not "J", and does not list Dodd:

09080 F/Lieut. McMichael, H. R.A.F. 27 Sqdn.

Lastly, I see that Rangoon Jail prisoner Bill Matthews (4612658 Cpl, Duke of Wellington Regiment, British Army) recorded "89080 F/Lt McMichael RAF" in his handwritten in-prison list from Block 6, undated but from 1943. No first-name initial, though. Dodd is not listed among the RAF prisoners in Block 6 at this time. Matthews attended to the sick while a POW. (This original document is now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.)



Alex Smart
30th April 2011, 17:15
Just to add a little from the late Chas Bowyer's "Flying Elephants"
page 180
"On March 7th Flt. Lt. McMichael and his Obs/Nav. Sgt. Dodd failed to return in Beau "G". It was not known until after the war that McMichael had survived as a Prisoner of War, being eventually repatriated in 1945".
Page 256
"EL355 Arrived 27.1.43".
Page 190
"a new CO for 27 arrived, Wg. Cmdr. J.H. McMichael ".
Page 195
"Wg Cmdr. McMichael left the squadron bound for Calcutta where he was repatriated to England, tour-expired".

From "Unsung Heroes of the Royal Air Force" byLes & Pam Stubbs.
Page 176
McMichael Hugh - 89080 - 27 Squadron- Held Burma (Rangoon).
Page 268
"Rangoon, Burma - Those FEPOWs who died at Rangoon all lie within Taukkyan Cemetery".

Could it be hat Sgt. Dodds still rests within the Beau ?


30th April 2011, 22:43
Thanks for the extra information Gents, all greatly appreciated. If anyone would like McMichael's Japanese index card just let me know.

Alex, I think he probably does, being remembered on the Singapore Memorial he would have had no known grave.

The FEPOW's who died in Rangoon Jail were almost exclusively buried in Rangoon War Cemetery and not Taukkyan. Most of these were originally buried in the English Cantonment Cemetery in Rangoon, then being exhumed and re-buried in RWC after the war was over.



Matt Poole
30th April 2011, 22:45
I had "Unsung Heroes" right in front of me on the bookshelf but forgot to look at this obvious source before writing my last message, so thanks for your additional info, Alex.

This amazing labor of love by Les and Pam Stubbs does err on pg 268 by stating that "Those FEPOWs who died at Rangoon all lie within Taukkyan Cemetery." I can't be certain if Taukkyan War Cem holds any known Rangoon Jail POWs. Most, perhaps all, of the British & Commonwealth deceased prisoners from Rangoon Jail whose remains were recovered post-war are buried in Rangoon War Cemetery, not Taukkyan a few miles further north. The remains of some men who died as prisoners in Rangoon could not be recovered. Some, maybe all, of these casualties are commemorated with individual named grave markers in Rangoon War Cem which include the wording "BURIED NEAR THIS SPOT".

One such example is 1312142 Warrant Officer John William Frank "Jack" KING, a 159 Sqn Liberator rear gunner shot down on 29 Feb 1944. He succumbed to beri beri in Rangoon Jail on 31 March 1945, about a month short of liberation. His illness and death are noted in RAAF W/Cdr Lionel Hudson's diary, which is transcribed in his book "The Rats of Rangoon". Chinese prisoners took Jack from the jail to be buried -- presumably at the Rangoon Cantonment Cemetery adjacent to the city zoo near Royal Lake in the heart of the city (over 3000 yds from the site where Rangoon War Cemetery was later established). However, Jack's remains apparently could not be recovered post-war, though many POW casualties from the Cantonment Cem were positively identified and reinterred in Rangoon War Cem. Rather than being listed on the Singapore Memorial to missing Far East airmen at Kranji War Cem, Singapore, Jack was at least honored with a separate Rangoon War Cem grave marker (Plot 9, Row B, Grave 6) which carries the notation that he is "BURIED NEAR THIS SPOT".



30th April 2011, 22:51
Hey Matt,

We were writing simultaneously again my friend. Basically if he died in the jail he is remembered at RWC. Some of the Pegu marchers that didn't make it on the march out are on the Rangoon Memorial at Taukkyan.


30th April 2011, 22:56
Adding to Matt's information about unidentified remains and re-burial in RWC, my Grandfather was also one of these sad examples. He is located very close to Jack King in plot 9.B.2 and also has the inscription 'Buried Near this spot' on his memorial plaque.

Matt Poole
1st May 2011, 03:17
Thanks for the additional details, Steve. You and I walked the same ground in Plot 9, Row B of Rangoon War Cem, just 15 or so years apart. Similar emotions, I'm sure! Between your grandfather's marker (9.B.2) and Jack King's (9.B.6) was another Rangoon Jail casualty's marker (9.B.4) -- 122726 RAMC Major Hugh McPherson Kilgour MBE. In 1993 I accompanied 924109 RAF AC1 Douglas Bowler, a Rangoon Jail & forced march survivor, as he made his emotional visit to Maj. Kilgour's marker. He credited the Major, a medical doctor, for keeping him alive during their epic, but failed attempt with 9 others to reach India from Sumatra in a small sailboat in 1942, and then especially following capture. Major Kilgour died of dysentery in Rangoon on 30 Aug 1942. To see Doug standing over the grave marker, head bowed and weeping gently, was a powerful moment that I shall never forget.

One of the tragic stories from the forced march of Rangoon Jail POWs is that of a 22 Squadron Beaufighter pilot, 129511 S/Ldr Desmond Hugh Fenton. S/Ldr Fenton has a gravesite in Rangoon War Cemetery, unlike some of the POW casualties of the march, who you pointed out are commemorated on the Rangoon Memorial at Taukkyan War Cem.

On 5 March 1945 he failed to return from a sortie over the River Thazetayo-Henzada area, per Shores/Air War for Burma. (His navigator is not listed.) Upon arrival at Rangoon Jail (date unknown to me), he would have been thrown into Block 5 solitary for an initial breaking-in period. I'm guessing that from Block 5, before he would have been released into the relative freedom of Block 8 (all aircrew), he was deemed fit enough to make the forced march out of Rangoon; the Japanese were trying to take these 400-plus POWs with them as they fled the city and the advancing Allied forces.

The memoir of another of the force-marched POWs, RAF 355 Squadron wireless operator/air gunner Alan Bailes (captured 16 September 1944 after his 355 Squadron Liberator, EV902, collided with 356 Squadron Liberator EW114 over Burma), describes Fenton's shocking, unexpected bayoneting death -- killed apparently for failing to rise to his feet quickly enough after a rest period on 28 April.

S/Ldr Fenton is buried in grave 3.D.20 in Rangoon War Cemetery. His grave marker gives a 3 May 1945 date of death, but this is off by five days; he died on the 28th.

An excerpt of the Bailes unpublished memoir:


All was resolved by April 26th. That evening over four hundred of us, including over 50 aircrew (including one newly-captured Beaufighter pilot, S/Ldr Fenton, still in flying kit) were to march out. With us would be Brigadier Hobson, the senior British officer, Captain Hunt, the senior American officer, Colonel McKenzie, the Scots M.O., and the new Japanese troops who had replaced the guards we knew. Food, cooking equipment and other impedimenta were to be carried on handcarts. Feelings were mixed: which offered the better chance of salvation, to go or to stay? But the die was cast; off we went in the pouring rain.

We marched along the Prome Road through tree-lined streets. It seemed strange to be outside the walls of the gaol, to see Burmese civilians gazing at us. Horizons were greater; there was a sense of freedom. There was the golden Shwe Dagon Pagoda dropping behind us. Darkness came as we left the city and on we went in the bright moonlight after the rain.

We ate and slept the next day in the cover of trees and were off again in the early evening. My boots were chafing; I needed an extra pair of socks to fill up the space. Pete [Alan's Liberator crewmate] and I stayed together, trying not to trip over the heels of the men in front. Suddenly in the bright moonlight the noise of a fast low-flying aircraft was heard. Screams and shouts from the Japanese and we were off the tarmac and on to the grass verge, face down, in seconds. Nor had the handcarts been left. As it flew away a flare turned night into day; a good job Mosquitos didn't carry a rear gunner.

Again we ate and slept on the ground under cover during the next day. We were covering at least twenty miles a night, and wondered how long we could keep it up.

Off we went again on the evening of 28th April, but fatigue was telling and the guards were shouting, "Speedo! Speedo!" Again there were air raid alarms, and after one such S/Ldr. Fenton was slow to rise to his feet; possibly he didn’t understand the command in Japanese. In a trice a screaming guard bayoneted him in the stomach, and threatened us with the weapon; he looked beserk. We stumbled on through Pegu in darkness; the River Sittang would be the next objective, and once across that there would be little hope of rescue.

Exhausted, thirsty and hungry we fell out the next morning, appalled at the death of S/Ldr. Fenton and apprehensive of the future. After a meal, we collapsed thankfully in a copse of bamboo and larger trees near the Pegu—Sittang railway line.

We woke on the morning of the 29th to astounding news: the Japs had gone!


This isn't the end of the story. Though the Japanese abandoned the prisoners, the so-called ex-POWs were in a no-man's land without a radio to contact Allied forces. From the air they appeared to be retreating Japanese troops. On the 29th it happened -- an attack by air, and miraculously only one died -- Brigadier Hobson, the senior officer and a POW since 1942, shot and killed not long after announcing to marchers, "We are free!". Like S/Ldr Fenton, Hobson is buried in Rangoon War Cemetery.



1st May 2011, 09:55
Thanks Matt,

I had read about the murder of Desmond Fenton in various accounts of the Pegu march. When I was in Burma in 2008 I met Chindit 1 survivor Denis Gudgeon and he recounted a almost identical story about one of his closet friends in the jail, Arthur Sidney Best.

Best was killed just as you describe, failing to keep up with the march and taken from the main group and bayonetted to death on the side of the road. He is remembered on the Rangoon Memorial. How sad that these men were only days away from liberation, although they could never have known this of course.

Is it a coincidence that we talk of them right now, looking at the start date of this thread?