View Full Version : Wireless taunting by the enemy?

Matt Poole
27th February 2009, 20:53
On 6 June 1945 357 Squadron (Special Duties) sent two Liberators on detachment in Ceylon across the Bay of Bengal to drop supplies over northern Malaya. KH326, piloted by F/Lt Arie Timmermans RCAF, failed to return. I am currently working with the Malaysian Army Museum and the Malaya Historical Group to rediscover the crash site, first found in dense jungle in May 1955 by Royal Scots Fusiliers searching for Communist Terrorist (CT) guerrillas during the Malayan Emergency. No remains were found in a very abrupt 1955 search, but numerous intact and usable guns, ammo, and medical supplies found still packed in their drop containers in and near the rear fuselage were removed by helicopter from the site (to deny their use to the CTs).

In my research I interviewed air gunner Gordon Hercus of Richmond, British Columbia, who flew on the other Lib on the 6 June op. He told me a fascinating story of radio taunting by the Japanese, and I wonder if anyone knowlegeable about wireless technology can verify that such taunting was possible. I think it was possible, but I know next to squat.

Here is Gordon’s recollection:

As Gordon’s Lib was approaching the Malayan coast, his wireless operator picked up Japanese radio taunts; although they were flying at something like 500 feet, to stay below radar detection, the Japanese knew, in general, that they were coming. The usual taunting, said Gordon, was a ploy to make them mad enough to respond by wireless, an act which would have revealed their position to the Japanese. However, the men of 357 Squadron were well trained and knew better. Gordon said the crew often laughed at the futile efforts of their enemy.

But 6 June was different. This time the Japanese specifically targeted Gordon’s skipper, S/Ldr Haig Sims, in their broadcast: "Hello, S/Ldr Sims. Welcome to Malaya. We know you're out there, and you're all going to die. We have put water into your petrol supply, and you're in big trouble!"

"It scared the hell out of us!" said Gordon, especially because they were so far from base, and so vulnerable, should the petrol problem be real. With frayed nerves aboard a notoriously poor-ditching aircraft, the Sims crewmen ran about checking the various petrol tanks for any evidence of water contamination. But they were OK.

Gordon said that as far as he knows, they were so preoccupied with madly checking their petrol that they did not even think of radioing the Timmermans crew to share this information with them. (I assume that such communication was strictly forbidden, again for security reasons.)

I read Gordon the 1945 Circumstantial Report on the loss of KH326, which said that Headquarters back on Ceylon sent a signal to KH326 concerning the petrol. That report stated:

"At 12.18 hours a signal was made to KH.326 warning the captain of the possible presence of water in the fuel. This was consequent upon the discovery of water in the bowsers from which KH.326 and S/Ldr. SIMMS' [misspelled; should be Sims'] aircraft "M" were refuelled the night before take off. This signal was received by KH. 326."

Gordon was positive that Headquarters did not radio this message to his Liberator, that his Lib had no communication with KH326 in flight regarding the petrol problem, and that his crew only received word of the petrol threat from the Japanese broadcast.

I think Gordon is wrong here. It seems his wireless operator – aboard a S/Ldr’s aircraft – would certainly have received the same message as that sent to KH326. It is my guess that the Sims Liberator’s wireless equipment was functioning, as well. So maybe Gordon’s recollections are part fact, part fantasy. It is possible that there was some spy/saboutage activity back in Ceylon.

I remember seeing something like this in an episode of “Twelve O’Clock High” on TV as a kid. As I recall, a P-51 pilot flying with B-17s purposely broadcast, in German, false vectoring info to German fighters who usually received such instructions from ground controllers. Something like this!

Comments, friends, on the possibility of taunting?



27th February 2009, 22:34

I think that if the Japanese had someone working for them at the base then it is entirely possible for them to transmit a message mentioning Sims. This in itself would not be difficult to do, Japanese stations would be monitoring known Allied frequencies and could easily transmit on the same frequencies, they could also I imagine calculate the approximate time that a Liberator would be approaching the coast and then start transmitting. The comment of "we know you are out there" is quite general, of course they knew he was out there, if their agent had sabotaged the fuel at the airfield and managed to tell them the time of take off they would know he was out there somewhere but not necessarily exactly where. Whether or not it actually happened I couldn't comment but certainly the technology was available.



27th February 2009, 23:13
I'm no expert on this but, from 357 Squadron's base in Ceylon, as it was then known, to the Malayan coast is about 1200 miles. Surely contaminated fuel would have manifested itself long before then?

Matt Poole
28th February 2009, 07:46
Thanks, Daz and Bill.

Bill, I forgot to add that the timing of the radio warning from Ceylon meant that the Liberators were over water hours away from landfall still. The total length of flying time was 17 hr 55 min for Sims crew. So, yes, one would have thought that contaminated petrol would have done its damage by the time Malaya was reached, over 8 hours after takeoff.

I should add that the Circumstantial Report for KH326's loss also had this to say:

"In addition aircraft 'M' [S/Ldr Sims' aircraft, KH162] experienced no trouble from this cause although it was refuelled from the same bowser; and the bowsers were 'autocars' which incorporate an automatic cut-out to stop the pumping system if water commences to pass."

Gordon Hercus' recollection of the Japanese taunting as the Lib approached landfall does not jibe, by three or more hours, with the timing of the Ceylon warning (as given in the Circumstantial Report), but then again, he said his wireless operator did not receive the Ceylon message known to have been broadcast to KH326.

Daz, everything you wrote makes sense. I agree that it could have been relatively simple for a spy with knowledge of takeoff times, and an understanding that the Ceylon-based Libs were headed to Malaya somewhere, to estimate a time of crossing the Malayan coast. Also, many of 357 Squadron's Special Duties drops were made as dusk approached - and knowledge of this by a Ceylon-based spy could have proven valuable.

My question about whether taunting was even possible shows my naivete. Your analysis, Daz, clears up any lingering doubt I had about the feasibility. Gordon Hercus did not seem like a line shooter, so I'm inclined to believe there is truth to the taunting, on the 6 June '45 op and on others when his skipper was not named. I did chat with one crewmate from that op, but his memory was poor and he had nothing to add.

I have found no evidence of AA fire or fighter intercept, though Alor Star airfield was only about 25 statute miles from the point where the Libs planned to cross the coast. The Sims crew saw no AA fire or fighters.

Cumulonimbus clouds, said Gordon Hercus, were always found near the coasts of Sumatra and Malaya. These clouds on 6 June were tame compared to other ops. The Sims crew entered cloud somewhere off the coast, probably between Sumatra and Malaya, and from that point onward they saw no more of KH326. (They were not flying in formation with KH326.) They thought nothing of it at the time.



Bill Walker
28th February 2009, 14:28
Concerning the technical feasibility of this, I seem to recall stories of UK, US and German forces using radios taken from crashed aircraft to monitor enemy transmissions, and on several occaisons using these radios to broadcast false or misleading information. Aircraft radios of the day usually worked on 12 or 24 volt DC, so it would be very easy to provide a power supply (the nearest truck or car, for instance). Radio technology was similar on all sides at the time, so it would not be that difficult for a clever techie to assemble one working radio from several damaged ones. Most voice radios then had a very limited range of frequencies that they could operate on, and changing frequencies often meant physically changing the hardware. I suspect it would have been much easier to cobble up pieces of damaged enemy radios than to modify your own radio to work on enemy frequencies.

28th February 2009, 16:30
Something along the same lines, taken from Tee Emm's "What the Hun is Doing" column:

"Two Mustangs took off on an operation. The weather conditions were ideal, but, when within five minutes flying time of the French Coast a message was received "Hullo aircraft, S/Ldr calling, return to base" - they returned. Would you have fallen for this simple little ruse or do you include extraction of the digit in your R/T procedure?
On two other occasions, signals were used by the enemy in an attempt to confuse our aircraft. On May 31st, fighters about to attack an M.T. concentration heard in English over the R/T "Look out, fighters". This ruse was successful and the fighters abandoned their attack and prepared for battle with non-existent enemy aircraft. On the second occasion, a voice said "Look out, fighter aircraft are about to attack us". This deceived one member of the formation, but he was fortunately unable to get in touch with the rest of the formation and they went into the attack."

(Taken from Tee Emm Vol 3 No 4 (July 1943) Page 99)

So it seems using R/T to mess with the opposition's minds was by no means unusual, providing you had a wireless on the right frequency and could speak the lingo. The two Mustang pilots certainly seem in line for a MHDOIF, though!



Matt Poole
28th February 2009, 23:14
Interesting tidbits, Jeff and Bill. Many thanks for posting.