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Thread: Sunderlands in Burma

  1. #11
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
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    First post may as well be a resurrection but it should be construed as being valid rather than a new post - keep it all together if it's relevant...


    Some statistics for, and a brief summation of, Operation “RIVER" – a significant proportion of this synopsis is from records stored at the National Archives…

    There are some common misconceptions and errors that have appeared over time and some of those I’ll briefly clarify with this posting...
    Operation “RIVER” effectively commenced 27th May 1944 and was the brain-child of the wonderfully named Squadron Leader “Chesty” Jennings and, as noted by Za earlier in the thread, the codes used have caused some confusion – the crews knew their aircraft by their prefix; in the case of DP180 it was “O for Orange” and JM659 being “Q for Queenie”. I am told that a member of the crew (“Jack” Norton) was not aware of the “GERT” and “DAISY” names and thought they had been made up by the press at a later date...
    Figures for those rescued have varied from less than 300 to in excess of 600 personnel but the most accurate figure I have is 508...
    Somewhat like the original name for the 111th IID being the “Leopards” (pretty much consigned to a line in one; book), “CHEESECAKE” and “WALNUT” are virtually unknown, but predating “GERT” and “DAISY”; the reason for the change is presently unknown...
    Both sets of names were used by Command at the time and appear several times in various War Diaries…
    Some crew names found in publications are incorrectly recorded due to interpretation of the details, such as L J Middleton and A F Norton…
    … And that “DAISY” was sunk by a DUKW or floating tree debris...

    Some basic facts…
    There were 17 attempted flights to Lake Indawgyi from Dibrugarh, but they only alighted there 13 times…
    Flight times tended to be, on average, around the 100 minute mark, the shortest being 75 minutes and the longest being 165 minutes...
    Time on the lake was, on average, around 50 minutes, with the shortest turn-around being 25 minutes...
    One thing I found interesting is that, where noted, almost all flight times over the same routes by JM659 were faster than DP180’s, with just the one exception...

    Flight Commander: S/Ldr Louis Frank “Johnnie” Middleton DFC, Folkestone, Kent.

    CREW OF “O” for ORANGE – DP180 – codenamed “CHEESECAKE” then “GERT”.
    Captain: F/Lt John “Jack” Rand DFC, Cockfield, Bishop Auckland, County Durham.
    Navigator: F/O Vernon Noel Verney (RAAF) DFC, Nundah, Brisbane.
    2nd Pilot: F/Sgt M Wright, Lindale, Grange-over-Sands, Lancashire.
    1st Engineer: F/Sgt RF Webber, Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk.
    2nd Engineer: F/Sgt RH Neeve, Leeds, Yorkshire.
    1st WO: Ray Guertin (RCAF), Rimouski, Quebec.
    2nd WO: F/Sgt RW Tulloch, Dalston, London.
    WOMS: F/Sgt DJK Butcher, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
    AG (rear): F/Sgt JB Knox, Horden, Co. Durham.

    27th May – ferry flight from Koggala to Calcutta in excess of 9 hours.
    28th – lead crew flew to Comilla by B25 for briefing; decision made that Calcutta inappropriate for operational base and decision that Dibrugarh would be forward base.
    29th – lead crew flew in a B25 on a recce of Dibrugarh area to confirm area of operation returning to Dinjan for further meetings – decision made to fly up to Dibrugarh on 31st and Operation “RIVER” to commence on 1st June.
    30th – no record – presumably all crew members returned to Calcutta this date.
    31st – ferry flight to Dibrugarh of over 4 hours.
    1st June - a flight in excess of 4 hours but cloud cover defeated them...
    2nd - first successful flight taking out 32 evacuees...
    3rd – notable for carrying the highest amount of evacuees - 56 - this was experimental and they did not take this risk again…
    4th – 29 casualties evacuated.
    5th – 2 flights and 81 evacuated.
    6th – scheduled maintenance work.
    7th – local recce work.
    8th – 41 casualties evacuated.
    9th – 41 casualties evacuated – last scheduled operation
    10th – no record – presumably a ferry flight back to Calcutta
    11th to 12th – last leg back to Koggala.
    13th to 25th – regular squadron duties.

    “GERT” part II
    With news of the problems experienced by “DAISY”, it was decided to return “GERT” to the operation - a minor crew change took place - F/Sgt Halfacre from Thames Ditton in Surrey, replacing F/Sgt DJK Butcher.
    26th to 27th – ferry flight from Koggala to Calcutta – over 9 hours
    28th – ferry flight from Calcutta to Dibrugarh but a mechanical defect grounded her
    29th – repairs and flight test proved successful and ops scheduled to commence next day.
    30th – 40 casualties evacuated.
    1st July – 40 casualties evacuated.
    2nd – electrical storms – no flights possible.
    3rd – 29 casualties flown out – the last flight of Operation “RIVER” – a Japanese prisoner is also noted to have been flown out on this trip.
    4th – ferry flight to Calcutta and then on standby awaiting crew from JM659.
    8th – ferry flight with both crews to Chennai – 7 hours
    9th – 5 hour flight back to base at Koggala.

    CREW OF “Q” for QUEENIE – JM659 - codenamed “WALNUT” then “DAISY”.
    Captain: F/O Edwin Alfred “Ted” Garside, Edinburgh.
    2nd Pilot: F.Sgt HW Smith, Harrogate.
    Navigator: F/O AJ “Jack” Norton (RCAF), Winnipeg.
    1st Eng: Sgt B Meteer, Distington, Cumberland.
    2nd Eng: Sgt TP Cronin, West Hampstead, NW.
    1st Wireless Operator: F/Sgt D Turner, Lancs.
    WOP/AG: Sgt WH Garlick, Cricklewood, NW.
    WOP/AG: Sgt W Phelan, Whitehall, Dublin.
    Gunnery Officer: F/L FG Marshall, Blackton

    3rd June – ferry flight of over 8 hours from Koggala to Calcutta.
    4th – ferry flight of over 4 hours to Dibrugarh.
    This aircraft was fated from the outset...
    On arrival at Dibrugarh, her port float was damaged when a DUKW collided with it – local repairs proved impossible so off she went back to Calcutta for “local” repairs, returning on the 6th.
    7th – two flights and 79 rescued.
    8th and 9th - required scheduled-maintenance works kept her out of the skies.
    10th - the weather kept them down and delayed ops; what I suspect was a significant tail/head-wind resulted in the shortest/longest flights to/from the lake - 75 and 165 minutes, respectively; they flew out a further 40 personnel.
    11th - two engines failed whilst taxiing and water in the fuel was found to be the culprit – 48 hours estimated work was done in one day!
    12th - they were airborne for over 2 hours but cloud cover prevented a landing.
    13th - weather kept them down.
    14th – 25 minute aborted flight due to extreme weather conditions…
    15th – no flight possible - the weather beat them again...
    16th - they again had to abort a flight due to weather and were airborne for about 45 minutes.
    17th - a failed starter motor for one of the engines kept them down... spares were requested...
    20th - a DUKW (again!) collided with the port float (again!!) – checks showed the float to be ok but the struts were wrecked and had to be removed, leaving her rather vulnerable... spares were requested...
    4th July - a storm struck and with no port float the stabilisation tethering failed to stop the port wing-tip being forced down to water level. This in turn allowed water to enter the aircraft through a port-side hatch, which was open due to the tethering lines, causing the plane to tip further. The two crew members guarding the plane had to “abandon-ship” and down she went... no tree, just sheer bad luck…

    There is still a possible problem over the total number of people evacuated on the Sunderland’s as the number of personnel flown out on the last flight is not given. An article published at the time records that DP180 flew out 389 personnel and JM659 118, the latter matching the records, so I am giving the figure for 3rd July as the remainder. There is another reference to 4 Japanese POW’s being flown out and that it is also unclear if these figures are inclusive. Further to this, an honourable mention should go to the USAAF pilot/pilots that operated the L1/L5 float-plane/s that continued to fly out the injured; I have found reference that a further 37 personnel were flown out by them after Operation “RIVER” concluded – I am still researching this matter…

  2. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Orleans, Ontario, Canada
    Thanked 44 Times in 38 Posts


    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 ?

  3. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Northumberland, UK
    Thanked 507 Times in 484 Posts

    Default Re: Sunderlands in Burma


    Aplogies for being a bit late to the party, but a quick update on this thread.

    The article Hugh refers to in the post above this one was in 'Britain at War' magazine, issue No. 64 August 2012. It was written by Forum member and author Tom Docherty, based on his book 'Hunt Like a Tiger' and includes quotes from John Rand, F/O Verney and F/Sgt Knox, which he credits to an un-named newspaper clipping in the 230 Sqn ORB Form 540.

    F/Sgt Knox I believe is 1073900 John Burnip Knox, from Horden, Co. Durham. Pre war he was a miner, but also a footballer and had played in goal for a couple of his local teams (Horden and Easington C.W.), and there's a W/O Knox mentioned in the September 1944 Form 540 as playing in goal for an England side against an African one at Colombo.

    John Rand D.F.C. was also from County Durham, and emigrated to Canada in the mid 1950's.

    I'd be interested to now more about the small booklet mentioned in post #6 if anyone can help...?


    Researching R.A.F. personnel from the North East of England

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