By Douglas Williams
194 (Transport) Sq. (R.A.F.) was formed in Oct. 1942 at Lahore, Punjab Northern India (not far from the notorious North West Frontier) under the command of the late WI Cdr.-(Fatty) Pearson with flight commanders Sq./Leader (Turtle) Thirlwell (‘A’ Flt.) and Sq./Leader Frankie Bell (‘B’ Flt.). The Sq. Badge depicted a flying elephant and the Sq. adopted the motto ‘The Friendly Firm’ but although the entire fleet of aircraft carried this crest throughout the Burma campaign, Royal Charter never officially recognized it.
Based at Lahore and later Palam (New Delhi) equipped with Hudson Aircraft, converting later to Dakota Aircraft the Sq. carried out air communications work within India and Ceylon preserving the vital links in the Far East change of command essential to the war effort. Ports of call included such famous places as Bombay, Madras, Delhi, Calcutta, Columbo (Ceylon), Bangalore, Allahabad, Cochin, Chittagong, Feni, Armada Rd., Cuttack, Nagpur and Vizagapatam.
During the early stages the Sq. had detachments at times at Dum Dum (Calcutta) and Dhubalia (approx. 60 miles north of Calcutta) and one time a small detachment at Tezpur (Assam) with 31 Sq. on Special Supply dropping missions in support of Wingate’s Chindits (Long range penetration group behind the Japanese lines) during the legendary 1943 Wingate Expedition into Burma.
194 crews who had many headaches locating the elusive columns in the jungles of Burma will long remember Wingate and his Chindits. 194 Sq. however, was able to make use of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers in Burma as navigational aids that proved of immense value to the crews winging their way to the dropping zone setup by the Chindits. The wireless pack sets carried by the columns were invaluable on many dicey occasions. The operations carried out by the Chindits against all odds including Malaria and the dreaded monsoon will live forever in the memory of 194 members of that period and the Chindits for ever held in high esteem (God Bless Them!). Wingate named his columns Chindits after the Chinthay, mythical griffin, half lion, and half eagle guardian of the Burmese Temples. 194 Sq. was indeed proud to be associated with them. After converting to Dakota aircraft 194 became famous as a supply dropping Sq. with Wingate’s columns and the 14th Army in Burma gaining a distinctive record. Many of the Sq.’s sorties included landing supplies 200 miles behind the Japanese lines and evacuating wounded allied forces and Japanese prisoners of war from hazardous jungle clearings. Often during the monsoon season the Sq. battled through Cumulo Nimbus clouds many thousands of feet high and rarely had an abortive mission. Names which will revive memories of the early Supply Dropping days at Tezpur (Assam) are — Auktaung, Tonne, Myitkyina, Falam, Fort Hertz, Sunprabum, Sitsawk, Tagaung and Tiddim — all places supplied by 31 and 194 Sqs. with the exception of Myitkyina which was a Jap held aerodrome (housing fighter aircraft) which was widely avoided during all Supply Dropping missions in that area.
194 joined 197 Wing (Group Captain George Donaldson, D.F.C., and A.F.C.) and went through intensive training for the air invasion of Burma based at Basal and Chaklala (Northern India). With 62 and 267 Sqs. Air Landing school and No.50 (Indian) Paratroop Brigade, the Sq. carried out cross country formation flights and paratroop dropping exercises. The majority of 194 air crew wireless operators acting as jump masters (paratroop dispatchers) attended special ten day course at A.L.S. Chakiala (commanded by W/C Benito) and did one voluntary parachute descent from 700 feet using Dakota aircraft, to gain full knowledge and appreciation of a parachute descent and in turn gain the confidence of the paratroopers. W/C (Fatty) Pearson was very proud of the almost 100% voluntary parachute jump of his Sq. wireless operators.
194 Sq. moved to Agartala (Assam) and became fully operational — supply dropping on the Arakan front (14th Army) and the Chin Hills in Northeast Burma with fighter escort of Hurricanes and Spitfires provided by 221 Group (Air Vice Marshal S. F. Vincent, C.B., D.F.C., A.F.C.).
After a short period of preparation at Lalaghat and Tulihal for Operation Thursday (air invasion of Burma; complimentary to Wingate’s march into Burma in 1943), the Sq. put up it’s maximum effort in landing supplies, men, mules, heavy guns and equipment including jeeps, behind the Japanese lines on rough strips cut through paddy fields and thick jungle growth.
Some familiar names given to these strips were Piccadilly, Broadway, White City, Chowringhee, Aberdeen, Clydeside and Blackpool. The Sq. also figured prominently in activities in the relief of Kohima and the Imphal siege.
Some familiar places to 194 during the Kohima battle and the Imphal siege were — Dimapur, Manipur Rd., Palel, Kangla, Jorhat, Silchar, Sylhet and Dohazari.
The Sq. helped to transport the 5th Indian Division lock stock and barrel from Arakan to reinforce besieged Imphal, evacuated casualties and continued to fly supplies into the Imphal valley.
After the Imphal Siege and following a brief rest period at Basal (Punjab) the Sq. moved into the Imphal Valley Strip and carried out intensive supply drops in the Meiktila area — the scene of many ding-dong battles during the final push against the Jap in Burma.
194 Sq. went forward to Akyab and Rangoon in close support of our victorious and glorious 14th Army. The hard and bitter fighting endured by the 14th Army of the Arakan front, particularly around Buthidaung and Maungdaw, deserves high praise and 194 Sq. has the highest regard and deepest respect for Field Marshall Sir William (Bill) Slim and his gallant 14th Army — long may they be remembered.
Based at Rangoon, at the end of WWII 194 Sq. operated a shuttle service to Bangkok (Siam) evacuating prisoners of war, including a lot of British chaps who had been forced to work on the fateful and tragic Burma railway. This was perhaps the happiest and yet the saddest time for 194. Should anyone be interested the book “Forgotten Skies” (Hutchinsons) covers some activities of 194 Sq. and the India / Burma Theatre of War. The book was written by Wing Commander Russell (one time P.R.O. Air Headquarters Delhi) and dedicated to the memory of the Sq.’s. first CO the late Wing Commander (Fatty) Pearson. Two other excellent books are “Burma Campaign” by Frank Owen, O.B.E. and “Beyond the Chindwin” by Brig. Bernard Fergusson, D.S.O., and O.B.E.