By Stan White
The RAF Servicing Commandos have received scant recognition from those who write about the Second World War RAF history, and yet they made a vital contribution to keeping the front- line aircraft flying at key times and in several theatres of war. One excellent book has been written about their history (A History of the RAF Servicing Commandos, by JP Kellett & J Davies, published by Airlife in 1989 - sadly, no longer in print), and I have drawn extensively upon the information contained therein to bring the achievements of the Servicing Commandos to readers, for its proud history should be more widely known.
Nos 3205 and 3207 Servicing Commandos were transferred to South East Asia Air command, and arrived in Bombay on 4 December 1944. No 3205’s first destination was Akyab, taking with them 50 tons of aviation fuel, 10 tons of cannon and machine gun ammunition, oil, oxygen and glycol. Soon after their arrival, five Spitfires flew in and proceeded to carry out 14 sorties against the Japanese. They flew 13 sorties the following day and on the next day shot down five out of six raiding Japanese aircraft. No 67 Sqn’s Spitfires also arrived at Akyab to be serviced along with two Dakotas, two Vuttee Vengeances, one Hudson and one Harvard. A high level of activity followed, 67 Sqn’s Spitfires flying an average of 20 sorties a day, and expending considerable quantities of fuel and ammunition. They were also joined by detachments of Hurricanes from 2 Sqn, Spitfires from 8 Sqn and detachments of Beaufighters from 89 and 176 Sqns, all of which contributed to a very busy time for the SCU.
In September, the Unit received orders to move, firstly to Singapore and then to Seletar. At Seletar they had responsibility for looking after 32 Mosquitos of 84 and 110 Sqns and 18 Spitfires of 11 and 17 Sqns. After a period of a couple of months spent at Batavia in Java, 3205 was officially disbanded on 28 February 1946.
No 3207 SCU was to see activity at the sharp end when it was sent to Meiktila where, having lost the town, the Japanese were counter attacking fiercely. Here they were to occupy the airstrip and were grateful that the RAF Regiment took most of the defence of their hands leaving them free to service Spitfires, Hurricanes and Thunderbolts together with Dakota and Commando transport aircraft that had flown The Hump to China. Enemy activity increased, and aircraft were under mortar fire as they took off and landed, and soon the Servicing Commandos were ordered to the RAF Regiment lines to help defend the airfield. In four battle sections they manned foxholes in the perimeter, and at night could hear the Japanese digging and conversing. There were 250 RAF men in one of the defensive boxes, and after two weeks of shelling and mortaring, the SCU Commanding Officer sought permission to withdraw his men to safer areas for 30% had become casualties through wounds and sickness.
The Colonel in charge of the task of holding Meiktila could not agree with the request, however, saying that they were needed to hold the perimeter. Fortunately, after a further few days things quietened down and heavy losses forced the Japanese into a retreat. Some of the Servicing Commandos moved to Lewe to service 607 Sqn’s Spitfires, while others moved to Tenuent airstrip where they serviced the machines from 17,28, 60 and 607 Squadrons. When the army took Mandalay, the RAF personnel joined the push on Rangoon, finding when they reached Mingaladon that the Japanese had already departed. It was after they had shipped out for Singapore that they learned of the Japanese surrender.
Based at Kallang, the civil airport, the Servicing Commandos main task was to act as a staging post for all the aircraft that became engaged in ferrying POWs, roughly 100 aircraft a day, but it marked the end of the shooting war as far as the Servicing Commandos were concerned. This brief account deals with but a small part of the Servicing Commandos involvement in the Far East, but it shows the extent of their versatility and their contribution. Some senior people in the Air Ministry never supported Lord Mountbatten’s proposals and were quick to disband the SCUs but their existence cannot and should not be denied. They have a place in RAF history and deserve our gratitude.
An extract from an article published in the RAFA journal, Air Mail, who gave their permission for us to reproduce it. Sadly the author, Stan White, died in 1999.