View Full Version : 211 Sqn ORB, 1 May 1945

Matt Poole
20th March 2012, 03:10
A Far East query...

On 1 May 1945 a low-level oblique photo of Rangoon Jail was taken by a 211 Sqn Beaufighter. In this image the message "JAPS GONE" can be seen on one of the roof pitches.

I would like to pin down, once and for all, the ID of the pilot and navigator. Atholl Sutherland Brown's excellent 177 Sqn memoir, "Silently Into the Midst of Things", reproduces this image, with a caption stating that "S/L R.H. Wood photographed it." An Aussie friend told me a few years ago that per conversation with 113 Sqn veteran / Rangoon Jail survivor John Reid RAAF, the Beaufighter's pilot was fellow Aussie Steve Catto.

Presumably the 211 Sqn ORB will clear this one up in a jif. Might someone have the ORB handy? I'll hold off on ordering the ORB extracts from Kew for now.

Don Clark's 211 Sqn website reproduces the image but does not identify the crew. I haven't asked him for help yet.



Matt Poole
20th March 2012, 23:13
No more confusion...answer received from Don Clark, who has just updated his website with a bit more info, including the names of the Beaufighter pilot (F/O Anthony Montague Browne) and navigator (F/Sgt Price), the identification of the aircraft as "L" (serial number not specified), and nice excerpts of the op from the 211 Sqn ORB.

Don added that Montague Browne later recounted the event in some detail in his book "Long Sunset: Memoirs of Winston Churchillís Last Private Secretary."

It is definitive info. The Sutherland Brown reference to S/Ldr Wood as the pilot is in error, and the secondhand info I'd received saying that Steve Catto was the pilot of the Beaufighter from which the specific photo was taken is also proven inaccurate.

Don Clark
20th July 2021, 22:38
Further to above, herewith current links to parts of the narrative of the late RC Kemp 1922-2014, F/Sgt (later W/O) Nav/W of 211 Squadron RAF to Pilot (then F/Sgt, later W/O) the late MEG Walters 1923-2016, also of that Sqn.

The Rangoon Gaol image with Kempie's text and my own added comments [thus]
incl further addnl comments of mine, also [thus]
esp regarding the units operating, the numerous images taken, and the numerous versions since published.

As a rule, like docs, I have long preferred fresh orig images, as in this case, and properly sourced/acknowledged - as here, where an original print scan from a participant, complete with its contemporary processing marginal notes, stands as the base reference to other image usage.

211 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1303
211 Squadron Operations Reports/Sortie Reports TNA AIR 27/1310
RC Kemp Who Could Ask For Anything More Ch 11, 12 (ms 1995-1997)
MEG Walters Photograph Collection 1944-1945, personal correspondence

"Pull Up, Son!": Monty & Kempie, two good blokes, gone but not forgotten.

Matt Poole
28th July 2021, 15:41
Just some very minor tweaks to Don's website are in order.

The EXTRACT DIGIT whitewash was added on 2 May 1945, but it was not on the same roof as JAPS GONE. You can see this in a photo found in the Australian War Memorial, at https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C342098. A day after Montague Browne's low-level photo was taken, the EXTRACT DIGIT was added to a roof pitch of Compound #7. This was two buildings over from Compound #1, where JAPS GONE had been painted. BRITISH HERE had been painted by the PoWs on Compound #1's roof, on the opposite pitch from JAPS GONE, as seen in this photo: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C280945.

[EDIT: I see that Don's website does have a link to the EXTRACT DIGIT photo, showing that the painters were running short of whitewash. The page on his website with this image is: http://www.211squadron.org/india_and_burma.html#RangoonGaol. The date of this image is almost certainly 3 May 1945, when three RAF Liberators, flying at low altitude, dropped supplies by parachute to the men below. I have two or three photos taken by the Liberators, showing 3 May in the marginalia, and I also have a logbook copy from a crewman on one of the Liberators and a narrative by one of the RAF pilots involved.

This doesn't prove that the date of the EXTRACT DIGIT image seen on Don's website was 3 May, but I believe the photo, from low level, was very close in altitude and alignment to another photo whose marginalia gives the date as 3 May. I also have a copy of the secret prison diary of Don Lomas, who mentioned no low-flying aircraft on 2 May, just the three low-flying Liberators on 3 May.

Furthermore, the AWM caption to image C342098 mentions one of the Liberator drops, but the date listed is 2 May. This is wrong, as it was definitely 3 May. (I've found numerous mistakes in the info in captions. Errors are often understandable, as I suspect that the AWM material is frequently based on what the donated info indicated, and some of that info is erroneous. If the AWM were funded (better funded, as for all I know, they do donate already) by Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger's vast wealth, the accuracy of captions could be much improved!]

The PoWs had added EXTRACT DIGIT after a Mosquito had dropped a bomb against the outer wall of the jail, after the BRITISH HERE and JAPS GONE messages had been painted. This angered the prisoners, who had figured the first two messages would have made it perfectly clear that there were PoWs below. However, after the bombing, which fortunately killed nobody, the PoWs added the EXTRACT DIGIT message. The words chosen were meant to emphasize that the first two messages were no Japanese ruse! Anyone flying overhead should have comprehended from the third message's sharp language that there was truth to the first two messages. It worked.

The Australian War Memorial photo had been doctored slightly. The whitewash was running out by the time the word DIGIT was being painted, and there are photos which show that this word is much lighter than even the word EXTRACT. However, someone had changed this on the image given to the AWM. One alternate photo, showing this painting discrepancy more accurately, can be seen on page 143 of the book “Eyes for the Phoenix, Allied Aerial Photo Reconnaissance Operations South-East Asia 1941-1945”, by Geoffrey J. Thomas.

Don Clark
31st July 2021, 01:34
Narrative misrecall by the late RC Kemp - now briefly annotated (http://www.211squadron.org/rc_kemp.html#RangoonGaolPhoto), in my annual 211 Sqn site update (http://www.211squadron.org/site_updates.html).