Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Lysander Aircraft

By Brian Scott

 

I was a pilot with "C" Flight, 357 Special Duties Squadron RAF, flying Lysander aircraft and operating exclusively with Force 136. Members of this force were dropped into the various areas of the jungle between the Mawchi Road south to the Moulmain area, east of the Salween River to the Siamese border. They were dropped in by Dakota aircraft flown by our "B" flight from the Squadron base H.Q. at Jessore, north east of Calcutta.

 

I think that after all the years that have passed it is time that some recognition be given to a small group of personnel, small in numbers that is, whose contribution to the winning of the war in Burma was outstanding.

 

In the main, these men were officers who were dropped into the jungle, sometimes on their own and sometimes with a wireless operator. They would contact the local Karen natives and organize them into guerrilla bands who would then play hob with the Japanese lines of communication etc. avoiding pitched battles if at all possible.

 

Our job was to supply the various outposts by free drops, sometimes landing on strips hacked out of the jungle to take in replacements and evacuate wounded. These strips were mostly in the Karen Hills (mountains) and obviously very short, consequently the Lysanders were the ideal aircraft for these types of operations. Needless to say all strips and dropping zones were well behind the Japanese lines. They were assigned names such as:- Hyena H.Q., Hyena Purple, Mongoose White, Otter Red etc.etc.

 

Unfortunately time has erased many of the names of the members of Force 136, I can recall a Major Milner and a Captain John Houseman  It was he who was in Crete and met up with and assisted a group who had been landed by submarine to kidnap a German General. The book "Ill Met by Moonlight" (I can't remember the author) describes the sortie.

 

While on the subject of books and especially those about Special Ops, may I recommend two books, both written by Australians. The first is a very comprehensive history titled "Flights of the Forgotten" Special Duties operations in World War Two. The author is a Ken Merrick, he covers operations in Western Europe, The Balkans and The Far East. I am in touch with Ken and he told me it took him some 20 years to research and write it. A lot of reading.

 

The second is "Beyond The Irrawaddy and The Salween" and is a combined history of the two Special Duties Squadrons, 357 and 358 in India and Burma. The author is Dickson Morris an ex- RAAF Wop/Ag with 358 Liberators.

 

I well remember that some of our flights were rather 'hairy', especially those carried out during the monsoon season with low cloud obscuring the mountains.

 

* * * * *

As the phasing out of the operational role of 161 (SD) Squadron at Tempsford in England progressed, three officers, F/Lts GA Turner, P Arkell and JEM Williams were posted to 357 Squadron in Bengal India to form the nucleus of a Lysander flight for operations in Burma. These three officers arrived at Jessore the base HQ of 357 Squadron on the 18th January 1945.

 

After much preparatory work organizing the assembly and test flying of ten Lysander aircraft which had been transported by sea from the UK.

 

F/Lt Turner assumed command of "C" flight 357 SD Squadron which was commanded by Wing Commander Lewis Hodges.  They then commenced training newly arrived officer and Snr Nco pilots, one of whom was a F/O Varanand who was a Prince of the Siamese Royal House and whose presence would be highly valuable in any Lysander activities which might be planned for the Siamese zone.

 

On April 28/29th the detachment moved to Meiktila under the general operational control of 221 Group Meiktila. Operations were to be laid on exclusively by Force 136 Tactical HQ at 221 Group.  The first operational sortie was flown by F/Lt Arkell on the 3rd May.  The DZ or dropping zone was one of Force 136 Landing strips at Mewaing on the Bilin River east of Pegu.

 

Force 136 maintained a number of landing strips mainly in the Toungoo zone.  The zone was split into four areas, each given the code name of an animal - Walrus, Otter, Hyena and Mongoose.  Various dropping zones were in addition allocated a colour i.e. Otter Red, to further ease location. The overall operation was known as "Character".

 

As an operational unit, May to November 1945 "C" Flight made 249 pick-ups and 156 free drop sorties.

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
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