Offensive Recce over Prome [Pyay] and Deception Ruses
The Jap was definitely on the run but he was still full of tricks. I promised to send scan of a logbook page to someone and found an entry for 14th April 1945 --- second operation that day --- No 2. F/o Jarman, 3. F/o Evans, 4. W/o Bird. No2 damaged wing & prop on trip wire Paungdale 4. drome East of Prome No3 also hit. Jammy limped home late.
What happened was that I took four aircraft on an offensive reconnaissance from Kjaukpyu, over the Arakan Yoma (a series of knife-edged mountain ridges dividing the Arakan from Central Burmah) to the Prome area which had an important air strip. We arrived over the target area without event and found that the station seemed to have been abandoned so flew down the runway at zero feet to find something to attack. There was nothing but as we broke away Jammy reported that he may have hit a tripwire as his engine was running very "rough". This was not good. To crashland in central Burmah was a pretty poor prospect (we had plenty of information on how the Nip treated pilot prisoners and we still had to get back over the Yoma). I told him to throttle to minimum, go into coarse pitch and tag along.
I made for the pass roughly between Prome and Sandoway as offering the most gentle climb home. I could not see him as we were flying 'line astern' and there I did not 'weave' in case he followed me and wasted fuel. We were roughly at the head of the pass when to my surprise he reported that he was O.K. and was proceeding to base. Looking up, there he was, about 1,000' above us flying on the right course for base. Having a full load of 20mm ammunition and two 500lbs bombs apiece due to the aborted mission I decided to try and cut the cross-Yoma road at the most precipitous spot I could find. This we did with some success and we returned to base.
Jammy had not returned and the C.O. flew at me for not detaching one of my flight to shadow him back. "He was on course and said that he was O.K." "That is no excuse' ' he is probably in Jap hands by now!" My misery can only be imagined but it was complete, not helped by the C.O. appearing at intervals to utter threats. (We were not friends.) Worst of all, he was right, I should have detailed my No 3 to shadow him home. Finally he announced that Jammy had exceeded fuel duration.
Just when all hope had gone a single aircraft appeared at about 1,000ft, groaned in and shuddered to a stop. He had hit the trip wire exactly on the prop-boss, broken it and had two or three rounds of the wire to make life difficult for him. It was perfectly ordinary thick, mild steel wire.
He (the Nip) had a full repertoire of tricks. A reconnaissance showed what seemed to be a 'sentry box' on the Sandoway bridge so someone was sent to have a look at it. As soon as the aircraft approached it it blew up. Fortunately the finger on the button delayed long enough or delay in the detonator setting off the charge was just long enough to allow the aircraft to be out of range.
We once went to complete the destruction of a riverboat that had been damaged by 20mm cannon fire and beached the previous evening. Since the riverbanks were high there was only one line of attack: they had half buried some metal drums in the sand, put explosive in the bottom, rocks on top. The whole detonated by remote wire. They usually exploded behind the aircraft but were certainly a deterrent. They looked pretty spectacular when they went up. They also tried to use mortars against overflyers. We had expected them to be sparing on munitions because their lines of communications were so extended but they were lobbing them up as though the supplies were endless.
One trick that nearly came off. The only bridge across a chaung (river) was demonstrably destroyed but supplies were still getting through --- there was only one way. The river was shallow it being the dry season. They had left the damaged bridge, seemingly impassable but drove piles into the bed and made a bridge underneath the bridge proper. They were only discovered because wet tyre marks were seen leading away from the bridge ruins.
(**Then there were "The Foo Fighters" see end)
We were no slouches on the deception front. The jungle was incredibly dense in spots, threaded through with animal tracks. These paths were kept open by constant use by anything up to the size of a water buffalo. The plants were continually being pushed back as they grew with the result that it was like walking down a green tunnel with few exit places. The constant passage of water buffalo etc: together with the rapid tropical growth produced virtual 'walls'. This denseness made jungle fighting like no other and both sides became expert at using the difficulties to his own advantage. There were no clear lines of defense. A man on his own was his own 'strong point' and there was often little to occupy.
An unexplained sound in the normal jungle cacophony put teeth on edge. Our bush jackets had shoulder flaps secured by a button. The badges of rank were sewn onto a small sleeve that were normally slipped on to these flaps. Under the conditions in Burma these were removed to stop the officers being 'eliminated' by ambush or being caught asleep. The Jap had childlike faith in their officers and since their flight leaders were probably the only ones capable of navigating they always felt that if they shot down the lead aircraft the remainder would be lost. It made us laugh but made ever more violent evasive action the order of the day.
(The Jap Air Force officers were very highly trained but by the natural attrition of war flying, they often led partly trained pilots.) To deflect the enemy from opposing the main force has always been the main object of a commander. With this in mind a cunning concoction of fireworks was designed to be dropped in the opposite direction from which a Japanese strong point expected to be attacked. It looked rather weird. The whole was made to look like jungle creepers complete with "fruits" but when activated set up the noise of a full attack. Mortars, with the muted sound of the propellant followed by a whistle and then the explosion. Intermittent machine gun fire followed by individual rifle shots. It would be a very determined enemy not to anticipate an attack, perhaps to detach a sufficiently strong counter patrol. In any case, when the real attack came he would feel surrounded.
You have never heard of it? No? Neither have I in any history of warfare that I have seen. It's codename was "Parafax". In some ways it was crude in the way it was deployed but it existed and was used.
* Kjaukpyu (Pronounced Chockpyew) is at the north end of Ramree Island.
**Foo Fighters! One of the advantages of being a pilot is the fact that one is always kept informed of the latest developments; or should be.
We had been hearing of a possible new weapon developed by the Nip. Several pilots had reported being followed by "balls of fire" These, it seemed, followed the aircraft for a time, and they could not be shaken off by the most violent evasive action but disappeared in their own sweet time. The whole thing was quite eerie. It just existed as a report but they were christened the Foo Fighters. It was ages after that they were explained. They were akin to ball lightning and sometimes occurred in the vortices created at the wingtips of high performance aircraft.
A sigh of relief that we did not have to dice with the spooky critters.
Next: - Arrest
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Edward Sparkes ©1998