View Full Version : John Johnson 159 Sqn Liberator KH159

14th January 2009, 21:00
Hi all,

Could anyone provide me with more details on the crash of Liberator KH159 on 12 Nov 1944. It was apparently on a minelaying op to Moulmein, Burma, when it was lost. I have the crew names from Robert Quirk's 159 Sqn pages (http://www.rquirk.com/159list/159sortie.pdf) and his a/c notation but wondered if there is anything else in Chorley or other books.

I happened to meet the former lady friend of Capt. John Johnson,the pilot, yesterday at his old high school. He is one of my boys of Malvern Collegiate Institute.


Matt Poole
15th January 2009, 20:34
Hi, David,

Some details for you.

KH159: B.VI Liberator, ex 44-10724. "G" of 159 Squadron. The skipper was J/24282 F/O John Brine Johnson, RCAF. Crew of seven missing, no known graves, commemorated on the Singapore Memorial. Took off from Digri, West Bengal, India at 2355 hrs on 11 Nov. for mining off of Moulmein, Burma.

On 12 May 2006 ex-159 Squadron pilot Murray Duncan wrote to me of this loss. He has been in frequent contact with the same woman you met yesterday, so perhaps she already knows the following details via Murray. From his letter to me:


Another 159 Liberator that was lost was shot down on November 12th '44. This was flown by a F/O Johnny Johnson, a Canadian. The crew was [minor corrections, additions added]:

J/24282 F/O John Brine JOHBSON (Capt.)
Son of John and Blanche Johnson, of Waubaushene, Ontario, Canada.

J/27619 F/O Douglas Ronald HARDY (2nd Pilot)
Son of Alburne N. Hardy, M.D., and Margaret E. Hardy, of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

1493867 Sgt John HALL (Nav)
Son of Roger Joseph and Alice Hall, of Sale, Cheshire.

1394253 F/S Dennis Harold BAKER (2nd Nav)
(No kin/home town listed in Debt of Honour Register)

1393437 F/S Douglas Charles GURR (Wag)
Son of Charles Edward Gurr, and of Mary Gurr, of Hollington, St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex.

1397213 Sgt. Percy John Friend BROCKMAN (F/Eng)
Son of Percy Friend Brockman and Mary Anne Brockman, of Bermondsey, London.

1803437 F/S Michael John WHITELEY (AG).
(No kin/home town listed in Debt of Honour Register)

Back in October of '99, we had a Reunion here in Toronto. In December of that year, a woman phoned Larry Wynn, our chairman, asking if he had been on 159. She wanted to find out more about Johnny Johnson as they were going to be married after the war.

Larry said he would have someone from 159 phone her and asked me to do so as I had been on the committee and also on 159. I phoned her and must have been quite impressed. She had spoken to the three grade 13 classes on Rembrance Day at Malvern Collegiate here in Toronto and her topic was Johnny and the war in Burma. Johnny had also attended Malvern. It's a long story but after my wife died in October of '04, I remembered her and phoned and took her to lunch and we've done lunch many times since.

Back to Blackburn [159's legendary C.O., W/Cdr James Blackburn, DSO & bar, DFC & bar, DFC (US)] and Johnny Johnson. Johnny's sister wrote to him for further information about Johnny's death and he sent the following letter:

Dear Miss Johnson:

Many thanks for your letter, which has only just reached me, as since you wrote it, I have returned to England.

I'm afraid I can only give the bare facts concerning your brother's - Johnny as we all knew him - crash. He was the captain of a Liberator aircraft on a mine-laying mission to Moulmein a few miles east of Rangoon in Burma. The weather over the target was very bad, and although the attack was planned to make maximum of the moon, the cloud was very low and the majority of aircraft were unable to come down to the necessary 400 feet dropping height above the water. Although this was one of the very rare nights when I did not go out myself, and consequently did not see what happened, the other aircraft of the Squadron were in the area for some considerable time and several of them saw the crash.

Apparently Johnny managed to penetrate the clouds but did not come out in exactly the right place and flew at very low altitude over a heavily defended area - Cape Martaban - immediately north of Moulmein, on the other side of the estuary. All guns were seen to open up and the aircraft was seen to crash on the eastern edge of Byelgyn Island about 1 mile west of Moulmein.

The nearest prison camp was at Moulmein itself, and in view of the nature of the accident, and the fact that there has never been any news of him or any of his crew, I feel that there is very little hope of their survival.

I am sorry to break this to you in this way, but I hope that these few details of the very gallant way in which Johnny carried out his last operation will help to comfort you and your mother in your irreparable loss.

Johnny was a very great friend of mine and I shall always remember him with a deep sense of affection and respect.

Yours very sincerely, James Blackburn


159 Squadron's Operations Record Book noted that KH159/G & crew were "missing not returned from mine-laying operation in Salween River. No message was received from the aircraft but over the target area other crews [12 squadron Libs were on the op, total] saw light A.A. fire followed by an explosion in the air which they believed could be an aircraft."



15th January 2009, 20:41
Excellent Matt, many thanks. Sonya, Johnnie's fiance, mentioned contacting someone at the association but I wasn't sure just how much she had found out and I knew someone on the board here would have whatever is out there. And it turns out there is quite a Canadian story to SEAC which is covered in some of the older threads. Another elusive Malvern airman ID'd and only a few left with no story to match.

By the way, has Rod Bailey's book come out yet? I noticed you mentioned it in an earlier thread.

Matt Poole
16th January 2009, 04:43
Hi again, David,

I'm at work (evenings), so no further records are at hand, but I may have just a bit more from the Appendices of the 159 Sqn ORB. Will check on that and post more if I find it.

Likewise, I have Murray Duncan's address at home and will pass it along should you wish to pick his brain...assuming he is still A-OK. I think he is in the Toronto area.

Rod Bailey had hoped to write an entire book about Jimmy Blackburn, but despite many amazing stories learned about this fascinating man's exploits during and after the war, Rod has reluctantly put the project on the back burner while paying the bills with other book and research projects. But one day, perhaps...

Yes, the RCAF had a big contingent in SEAC in the last year of the war, particularly on RAF Liberator squadrons and in the RCAF's own 435 and 436 Squadrons (Dakotas).

I hope you can succeed in learning about the remainder of your Malvern airmen. Sounds like you've made great progress.

Cheers from Maryland...where I'm struggling with (for us) extreme cold!


Matt Poole
16th January 2009, 18:24

A bit more from the 159 Squadron records. Crewmen's initials are tough to read in spots in the very poor quality microfilm images I have, so I just went with the info found in the Debt of Honour Register. (I noticed I misspelled Johnson's name in my first posting yesterday...)



Excerpts from Appendix, 159 Operations Record Book, 159 Squadron OPREP Serial No. 469, Consolidated Sortie Report No. 7 (Minelaying) Night 11th / 12th November 1944 :

1 Lib. VI A/c. G missing, nothing heard since this A/c. took off. See explosion reported below.

Capt. F/O. Johnson J.B.
Co-P. F/O. Hardy D.H.
Nav. SGT. Hall J.
Nav. F/S. Baker D.H. (Screen)
WOP. F/S. Gurr D.C.
F/E. SGT. Brockman P.J.F.
R/G. F/S. Whiteley M.J.


A/c. B: 0457 hours, 5 miles south of MOULMEIN, 500 ft, observed orange red explosion at a thousand feet in MARTABAN area, seen immediately after tracer reported in Para MG (1). [See below for this reference.]

The burning mass fell to the ground and continued to burn for a few minutes, with two more explosions. The explosion was observed by all A/c. A/c. D saw it go down in flames, several A/c. observed the fire on the ground with black smoke and A/c. C saw what appeared to be pieces of fuselage of an A/c flying in the air after the explosion. The exact location cannot be agreed to by the crews, but the majority believe it was just west of MARTABAN. A/c C states that it was on marshy ground. A/c U believed it to be near the shore at WEP [??] DAN. A/c A states that it was burning on a hillside.

[From Paragraph MG (1) of the report]:

MOULMEIN. A/c. B 0457 hours at 500 ft. saw from NE T1 [northeast of point T1?; difficult to read this] of BILUGYUN ISLAND red tracer disappearing into cloud, seen from 5 miles south.

16th January 2009, 18:46
Thanks Matt, that's great stuff. I was looking for that island and couldn't find it with the previous spelling. I now have a coordinate to pinpoint the crash - 16° 23' 6 N, 97° 31' 36 E.

Thanks again from frosty Toronto, where it's currently -13C (8F). I hope Obama's got a scarf - we could send him a Canadian toque if you think he needs one.

Matt Poole
17th January 2009, 08:16

The cold (about 9 deg F right now at 3 am) reminds me of my past winters in New England...but I'd rather be reminded of my summers in New England.

Have you thought of acquiring Johnson's RCAF personnel file, held by the National Archives of Canada? The file should be a wealth of info...might be an inch thick or so, which means it will cost an arm and a leg to blindly purchase the entire file. And I know it takes several months to obtain a file via the mail...a frustrating wait. If you have an Ottawa connection to peruse the file (and any others you want to look at), then I assume he or she could order copies of selected pages from the file/files. No doubt there will be a "Circumstantial Report" on the loss of KH159 and crew: the official report on what was known of KH159's loss, filled out shortly after the loss. There might also be some later letters from family, from the C.O. [W/Cdr Blackburn], and a report or two pertaining to the crash site's investigation post-war. You could luck out.

Just another option to consider as you go after the Malvern-related airmen's stories.

Obama, no doubt, knows winter comfort options, having lived in Chicago!

Best wishes,


1st February 2009, 05:00
the former lady friend u meet is my grandma .Soyna munro.

1st February 2009, 05:18
Hi all,

Could anyone provide me with more details on the crash of Liberator KH159 on 12 Nov 1944. It was apparently on a minelaying op to Moulmein, Burma, when it was lost. I have the crew names from Robert Quirk's 159 Sqn pages (http://www.rquirk.com/159list/159sortie.pdf) and his a/c notation but wondered if there is anything else in Chorley or other books.

I happened to meet the former lady friend of Capt. John Johnson,the pilot, yesterday at his old high school. He is one of my boys of Malvern Collegiate Institute.

former lady friend of Capt. John Johnson is my grandma and her name is Soyna Munro

7th February 2009, 17:26
I've been away so just picked up your post
A co-incidence .KH158 , the one before KH159, I presume ,was my RAAF father's 31 SAAF Liberator .It disappeared somewhere in Italy while on a supply mission 12th October 1944 .