Allan Hemmingway’s Memories
Allan was a pilot with 117 (RAF) Sqdn. flying D.C. 3's supplying the 14th. army with its needs as they pushed further into Burma. As 1945 dawned their activities increased and presented Allan with many interesting memories.
On Jan 2nd Alan and his crew along with a 7,000 lb load were headed for the west side of the Kaladan valley two miles north of Teinnyo. The DZ was close to the main road running north and south. His was one of ten aircraft, so they had a very large circuit to contend with, the drop taking almost an hour to do and with no fighter escort they did not enjoy spending this much time on a DZ. After the drop they headed north back to 1‑lathazari. That flight took three hours.
The second load of the day was a split load destined for two different DZs. It consisted of 7,400 lbs. of rations and gasoline. The gasoline was for the tanks at the second DZ. Both drop zones were in the Kaladan Valley, the first was at the 500 foot level on the west side of the valley, three miles north of Awrama village. A small jungle trail ran up the hillside and over the top. It was in a small clearing on this trail that they were to make the drop. The DZ was not hard to locate and Alan decided the best approach was north to south and then swing around into the east to approach again. This put them over the edge of the valley where it would be easier to put the aircraft down if anything went amiss.
This drop went off successfully and they turned north following the Kaladan River until they reached the village of Munhdaung. The valley narrowed to about eight miles wide at this point and as they swung into the west over Munhdaung, mortar shells started bursting all around them. It took Alan about two seconds to dive from 600 feet to about 100 feet! Their fighter escort moved in quickly and strafed the village while Alan flew about five miles to the west to the DZ. The recognition letters were out and the tanks were clearly visible blasting away at the enemy.
Flying wide circles around the DZ and studying the situation, it was apparent that the Japs were in control of the ground situation. But once again the fighter aircraft appeared and began beating up the enemy ground positions. Moving his aircraft to a safer distance Alan had his navigator warn the "throw out” crew to do a maximum drop each time they could go over the DZ.
Shortly one of the fighter escorts appeared and rocked his wings to signal that it was OK to attempt the drop. While the fighter planes continued to beat up the area the supply drops were made. As the gasoline packs hit the ground the ground troops busily retrieved them and it was obvious that the fuel was badly needed. In all it took ten runs to get rid of their load before Alan and his crew high tailed it back up the valleys and over the mountains to Hathazari
It was a 3 hour and 45 minute flight that according to Alan was "one of the more exciting ones"
Allan Hemingway (Part 2 ‑‑ in his own words)
Jan 15th. 1945 The army had taken Akyab and its airport during; the night and we were headed down the coast bright and early with 4,200 lbs of Red Cross supplies. We were the first aircraft to land at Akyab since it had been taken, and the Japs were still lobbing mortar shells on to the field. The runway was still in one piece as we landed and quickly taxied to the unloading area as directed from the makeshift control tower. Upon stopping we ran for the comfort of a slit trench. The army took about 25 minutes to unload our aircraft and put six stretcher casualties and 10 walking casualties on board. Our crew ran to the aircraft and I started the engines and taxied to the end of the runway for takeoff. As we got close to the end of the runway the control tower called and said we should hold position until an American DC3 landed.
We held, and as tile American touched down a mortar shell hit the plane towards its tail. The aircraft stopped about half way down the runway. The crew scrambled out and ran like hell to put as much room as possible between themselves and the aircraft. The next minute the plane blew up shooting flames 200 feet into the air.
More mortar shells began to explode close to the runway as I taxied out and lined up on the runway centerline. The guy in the control tower screamed over the radio "You're crazy, you'll never make it”. With part flaps down, I stood on the brakes, brought the engines up to full power, released the brakes. We rolled forward like a bullet out of a gun. I coaxed the aircraft into the air turning ever so slightly to the west. We passed over the right side of the burning aircraft at about 400 feet and could feel the intense heat inside our own aircraft.
Up came the wheels, then the flaps. As we turned north over the sea we could see the burning aircraft and four or five aircraft circling the airfield trying to figure out how to get down. We followed the coast north for about 120 miles and landed at Cox’s Bazaar. We were to pick up five passengers and take them to Chittagong, where we were taking the wounded. We arrived without incident, unloaded, took off and fifteen minutes later were back at Hathazari. Flying time 3 hours and 15 minutes.
One night in mid‑January I was told to attend a special briefing and to bring only my navigator with me. At the briefing there was only the CO, an army liaison Captain, my navigator and me. We were shown a location on a map approximately five miles northwest of the village of Kaboing, which lay on a small river that fed into the Chindwin to the east. Our cargo was to be 7,000 pounds of pure silver Rupees especially minted for the purpose of rewarding local tribal people for spying on the Japanese. On the receiving end of the drop would be a Captain Stewart who had been born to missionaries in Burma and could speak various tribal languages. He had a small detachment of soldiers with him and they had spent months behind the Japanese lines. We were told that the village in the valley was infested with enemy troops.
Upon hearing this I suggested some dummy bundles with parachutes attached be put on board so we could occasionally break away from the true DZ and drop the dummies at various points in the valley to distract the Japs into thinking that there was more than one contingent of the army in the valley. The Liaison officer thought this was a good idea and he would attend to it.
The next morning we were up at 5:30 AM and after a quick breakfast we drove out to the aircraft. On climbing aboard we found a Lieutenant Colonel sitting on top of the cargo. I asked him who he was and what he was doing here, to which he replied, "the name is Grimm and I'm here to make sure you bastards do not steal any of this cargo”. He was nursing a submachine gun on his lap and had the brains to bring along a parachute. I invited him into the cockpit but he refused. I told him of our non smoking rule and why. He said he did not smoke.
Ten minutes later we were airborne and swung around onto an easterly course. I told my navigator I wanted a course to take us about 50 miles north of Gangaw in case the Japs still had any Zeros at the Gangaw airport. A direct route to the DZ would take us within 5 miles of Gangaw and would have been too risky and asking for trouble. It was a bright clear day and as we climbed to 8,000 feet to clear the mountains we could see the valleys below still covered with fog.
After flying at 8000 feet for 25 minutes, I began a slow let-down to 4000 feet and started flying east through one valley to the next , staying as low as possible when passing over a village in case it was occupied by the Japs. This way we would be well past them before any guns could be trained on the aircraft. After just over an hour of flying we came to the valley at the south end of which lay the Gangaw airport. We were 50 miles north of Gangaw and our course took us over the village of Sihaung Ashe, which lay on the west side of the Myittha River as it wended its way north up the valley then east to join the Chindwin river. The valley was only 10 miles wide at our crossing point and we were across in three minutes and heading into a valley through the next mountain range. Seven minutes later, clinging close to the mountainside I turned south into the valley where the DZ was located.
Flying south for 20 minutes brought us to the area where the DZ was supposed to be. We flew circles in the area looking for a small hole in the jungle which Captain Stewart and his men had created during the night to make a drop zone. After much zigzagging back and forth we located the target. I quickly looked around the area for points of identification so we could quickly return to the DZ when we left to do dummy drops around the valley. To the south, a small river took a sharp turn to the northeast and I chose this as an identification point. The jungle clearing that formed the DZ was only about 150 feet by 150 feet. Flying over it once more to verify the identification letters, I swung around to start the drop. There was not a soul to be seen on the ground and with such a small target we could only drop a couple of bundles on each run.
After three drops we headed up the valley about ten miles and made a dummy drop. Heading back to the real DZ we came too close to a village and some puffs of smoke coming up towards us indicated that someone did not like us being there. Fortunately we were not hit. Back at the DZ we dropped another six bundles into the clearing, then headed east about five miles for another dummy drop. This time we stayed close to the ground and away from any village. Then back to the DZ.. Rupees being heavy, it did not take many bundles to make a 7000 pound load. This time we dropped the rest of the load.
When this was done I chose two more places to do dummy drops and then headed for the protection of the mountains in the northwest. I instructed the crew to keep a sharp outlook for Zeros because the Japs knew we were in the valley and had possibly alerted their air force of our presence. We passed from one valley to the next and climbed to 8000 feet to negotiate the next mountain range. Clinging to the mountainside we had reached 7000 feet when I saw what appeared to be three Zeros about 10 miles away heading in our direction.
Knowing that at the speed they would be traveling, they would be on us within two minutes I did a steep diving turn, heading for the valley bottom at the same time telling the crew to keep an eye on the Zeros. Seeing a small valley heading west I turned into it. It was exceptionally narrow so I quickly took off some speed so that we could negotiate the turns in the valley. The adrenaline flowed and I and I could feel the perspiration building up at my belt line. Six or seven minutes passed and nothing happened so I came to the conclusion that we had not been seen. The narrow valley led us into another valley heading northwest. Climbing to 7000 feet we cleared the ridge at the end of the valley. A quick scan of the sky told me we had not been spotted by the Zeros and they must have gone hunting elsewhere.
And now it was all downhill as mountain slopes gave way to flat land and rice paddies. We landed at Hathazari having a flight time of 3 hours and 50 minutes.
We bid farewell to Lieutenant Colonel Grimm as crews began loading the aircraft with cargo for our next flight.
A very strange follow up to this story:
On June 2nd I did a flight to Calcutta and stayed overnight at the Grand Hotel. My navigator spent the evening at one of the missionary temples and my wireless operator‑ Scotty‑decided to do some shopping. After dinner I wandered into the bar to see if anyone I knew might happen to be there. There was not, so I sat on a stool at the bar and ordered a Tom Collins. Later when I was halfway through my second drink I noticed an Army Captain enter the bar. He came towards where I sat and I noticed he walked like a cat – always on edge, nervous, head on a swivel as though watching for the unexpected. I thought to myself "This one must be fresh out of the Burmese jungle". He sat down next to me and ordered a double "scotch on the rocks”. We struck up a conversation and upon noticing my pilot's wings and Burma Star ribbon on my uniform, he said, "What squadron are you with?" I told him I had just finished a tour with 117 Squadron. With a hollow kind of a laugh he said "One of your boys went to one hell of a lot of trouble a few months ago to do a special drop to me in the jungle and it was all a wasted effort. " I studied him for a couple of minutes and said "You must be Burma Stewart". He had a long sip of his drink before replying. "How the hell do you know me?" I told him that I was the pilot who had dropped the silver Rupees and asked him if they had picked them up to pay off the natives. He ordered another round of drinks and then proceeded to tell me what had happened that day.
They had chopped the hole in the jungle during the night and then withdrew to a small hill about a mile away to watch the drop. He said it was a magnificent sight to watch us doing our stuff to put the money in the hole. Talk about "money from Heaven". When the drop was finished they decided to come down to the drop and pick up the money. Suddenly they heard machine gun fire nearby and they soon realized the valley was swarming with Japs. They decided to forget about the money as the risk was too great. All week they had been having close calls with Jap patrols and they were getting quite nervous. About 20 minutes later three Zeros appeared on the scene and that clinched it. They climbed all day and all night until they reached the floor of the next valley. A couple of days later they were picked up by a flight of L5 aircraft landing on a dried up rice paddy.
I just about choked on my drink. “You mean to say the money is still there?". "Yes" he replied "and you and I are the ones who know where it is because Colonel Grimm was killed about three weeks ago while out on a jungle patrol". We made a pact right then and there to come back after the war and get the money. We finished our drinks and I bade Stewart "goodnight and good luck".
I have not heard of Stewart since the chance meeting. I often wake up at night and think about all that money lying in the jungle. With the heat and dampness, the parachutes and packs would have rotted long ago. The jungle growth would have closed the hole within a year or two. On occasion I still think of going back to see if I could locate the money. But then I think of those Naga tribesmen still chopping off heads ‑‑ and I would like to hold on to mine for a while longer!