84 Squadron History
84 Squadron under the command of Wing Commander J.R. Jeudwine, left Heliopolis by Air and Sea parties (as detailed in the Squadron Movement Order) between January 14th. and 18th 1942. The first flight of the Air Party was inspected by Air Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder, ACC in C Middle East, on the afternoon of the 13th January. Of this flight all except P/O Goldfinch (who burst a main tyre and started on the 15th) left Heliopolis on January 14th.
The main route was by way of Habbaniya, Bahrein Island, Sharjah, Karachi, Allahabad (alternatively Hyderabad), Calcutta (Dum-Dum), Toungoo, Rangoon, (Mingaladon or the Satellite Zyatquin), Lhoknga, Medan (or Pakan Baros) to Palembang.
The Sea Party left Heliopolis at 21.00 hours on January 16th, reached Port Tewfik at about 04.00 hours on the 17th, embarked on "HT Yoma" during the forenoon and left about 14.00 hours same day. They sailed via Aden and Colombo to Oosthaven, Sumatra, where they arrived on the 14th February (the day that the Japanese parachute troops invaded Palembang (P1) aerodrome.
The following notes on the arrangements for accommodation, servicing and briefing at various places on the way to the Far East may be of interest, and the false briefing at Rangoon and Toungoo would certainly seem to call for investigation.
Arrangements at Habbaniya were excellent, especially the way in which the aircraft were directed to their dispersal points and taken in hand for repairs without delay. The briefing too was thorough and helpful. Sharjah being a British Overseas Airways Corporation station, offered excellent accommodation, and other arrangements were also good.
At Karachi Airport both accommodation and servicing were admirable, and the briefing could hardly have been bettered.
At Dum-Dum no proper arrangements had been made for accommodating more than a fraction of the crews that arrived (even these had no mosquito nets) and transport was chaotic.
No money was available for NCO air-crews and airmen so that accommodation and food for them had to be paid for privately by the officers. Briefing was sketchy and no indication could be given of the lay out of Toungoo aerodrome, the next stop for the aircraft.
At Toungoo arrangements of all kinds were tolerably good, but there was one disastrous flaw in the briefing. This presumably was due to 221 Group at Rangoon, since the same error was included in the briefing there. So serious was this that it may be doubted whether it was not due to enemy activity. It was as follows, and apparently every aircraft of the Squadron received it:- Aircraft were instructed, after leaving Mingladon, to make for North Sumatra and to land at an aerodrome (some crews were told its name was Lhobingawan) of which the map reference was given as 05 degrees 30 minutes North, 95 degrees 13 minutes East. Some crews were also told not to land at Kotaradja unless this other aerodrome could not be found. The map reference proved to be a rugged spot up in the hills thirty miles south of Lhoknga with no aerodrome, and old inhabitants of Sumatra assured us that there was no such place as Lhobingawan.
This false briefing led directly to the destruction of two aircraft and to the endangering of many others, since owing to the distance covered, all were found to be short of fuel by the time they reached Sumatra. Thus they could not fly around searching for the place or turn back to Lhoknga or Sabang when they failed to find it.
What happened to a flight of three aircraft led by F/Lt. Clutterbuck of 211 Squadron (one of the three was Sgt. Hough of 84 Squadron) is typical. Several others escaped similar disasters by luck or by deciding for various reasons to come down at Lhoknga as soon as they found it. Clutterbuck reached the place indicated on the map reference, and seeing no trace of an aerodrome flew a good many miles down the North West coast of Sumatra. Still discovering no trace he turned back and reached Lhoknga with a few gallons of fuel to spare. The two aircraft of the flight followed him the whole distance south but when he turned back they were so short of fuel that they could not make Lhoknga and were forced to land in rice fields, both being total losses. Bad briefing was also responsible for the loss of P/O Macdonald's aircraft.
The first five aircraft of the Squadron arrived at Palembang (P1) in the afternoon to find that the aerodrome had been bombed and ground-strafed at 09.00 hours that morning. The Liberator in which AC2 Partington, the Squadron Intelligence clerk, had just arrived from the Middle East was involved.
Partington was struck by bomb-splinters as he was leaving the aircraft, and died that evening in hospital. The air-crews were given instructions to leave P1 at 07.45 next morning for P2, 45 miles South West of Palembang. This was the Squadron's base for the remainder of the time it was in Sumatra. All the ground-staff remained at P2, but the CO and all aircrews were billeted in Maria School, an evacuated girls' school in Palembang itself, on the road leading to P1 (S.H.Q. P1. was later moved to quarters half a mile further up the same road.) All R.A.F. officers were made honorary members of the local Dutch club, Society Palembang.
All five aircraft - the CO, Whyllie, Gill, Milson and Fihelly stood by to do a raid. The aircraft were however all overdue for inspection and eventually stood down.
Japanese warships and troopships were sighted making for Endau, 62 miles North of Singapore on the East Coast, by a reconnaissance aircraft early this morning, but owing to a delay in sending the signal from Singapore it was not until an hour and a half before dusk that the CO, Wyllie, Milson and Gill were ordered to take off from P2 in Mark I Blenheims belonging to 27 Squadron, (our own being on inspection) to bomb these transports. Long before they reached Singapore it was dark, and they were obliged to abandon the raid and return to Sembawang. Fihelly left just before the others with orders to go straight to Sembawang and land there, since he had done little night flying.
The five crews waited all day as a "striking force" and were not allowed to return to Sumatra, but no use was made of them until night time, when at 00.30 hours (28th) the CO, Milson, Gill and Fihelly took off and bombed Kuantan aerodrome; there was thick cloud almost from ground level up to 5000 ft. making the target very difficult to find. All, however, found it, either through gaps or underneath the cloud, and returned safely to Sembawang, resting there for the remainder of the day, a projected raid having been cancelled.
All returned to P2 extremely tired, being still unused to the heat and high humidity: they carried away a poor impression of the morale of people with whom they had come into contact.
By this time Holland, Thomson, Longmore, Young and Sayers and crews had arrived at P2; four out of the five Blenheims IVF's of the Squadron left behind, on inspection had been flown by members of 62 Squadron and one of them crashed on landing at Seletar, Singapore. Macdonald, who left Medan on the 2 (Maurice, his observer, having been given the wrong distance in briefing at Medan) passed Palembang, and being unable to find an aerodrome, belly-landed in the dusk in the swamps at the mouth of the Lompoor river. Crew and passengers were unhurt, but passed an extremely uncomfortable night (Friday 23rd) in a thunderstorm, on their aircraft, which fortunately did not sink, wet through, covered with slime and tormented by mosquitoes. They were rescued at dawn the following day by natives from a neighbouring village, and after a public bath put into three native boats and set off that afternoon up the river. They journeyed for three nights and three days, and were then met by the Dutch Ambassador resident at Toeloeng Selapan. Thence they were taken by car and were put up by him and his wife for the night at his own house at Kajoeagoeng, being driven to Palembang next morning.
About six aircraft took off about 14.00 hours for Medan, (Gill turned back owing to faulty petrol feed), they refuelled there, left again after dark and bombed shipping and the submarine base in Penang harbour; returning to Medan that night and to P2 the next morning (31st). In the meantime four aircraft were standing by at P2 as a striking force against convoys, but no raid was ordered.
Aircraft stood by all day again, and the same procedure, which involved driving forty-five miles each way to and from Palembang morning and evening, was followed.
The CO, Wyllie, Gill, Milson and Fihelly drove out to P2 again and left at 13.00 hours for Medan accompanied by F/Lt. Jackson of 34 Squadron. There they refuelled and fed, and rested until 21.00 hours, at 22.00 hours they took off and flew to Songkhla in Thailand where they bombed buildings and stores on a spit of land north of the aerodrome. Slight opposition from warships at sea was encountered. They arrived back at Medan about four and a half hours later (3rd Feb.) and returned to Palembang again, after an early breakfast, arriving about midday; having covered about eighteen hundred miles in thirteen hours flying in order to drop four 250 lb. bombs each. In the meantime other air crews stood by at P2 all day.
Five crews stood by all day in case a convoy on its way from Singapore should be attacked, but they were not called upon to take off. That evening about 17.00 hours there was a notification from Group that Japanese parachutists were likely to land at Palembang that night. Accordingly pickets were posted, machine gun posts manned, all available officers and airmen on the Station (some hundreds in all) were armed with rifles or tommy-guns etc., and no crews were allowed to return to Palembang. In the early hours of the morning the siren was sounded and an attack was believed imminent. Action stations were taken, several Blenheims had their port engines started in order that the turrets might be operated, but nothing further happened - a false alarm.
Eight aircraft took off after lunch and flew to Medan in order to do a night operation against Songkhla, but very bad weather set in at 22.00 hours just as the aircraft were starting, so the raid was cancelled.
A request by the CO next morning to stay at Medan and do the same operation that night was refused by Group, so the aircraft were de-bombed and returned to P2. Sgt. Thomson, when about to land at P1. at the end of the flight from Medan, was attacked by Navy "OS" which Sgt. Gardner P, his gunner, believed to be Hurricanes, having seen some flying by just before. By the time Gardner recognised them for what they were he could not fire owing to the selector lever being in the "down" position in order to lower the undercarriage. His turret was struck and he himself hit in the thigh. Thomson, however, made a good landing with damaged elevators.
P1 was again twice ground-strafed In this raid the Squadron lost three aircraft that had just arrived and were awaiting repairs - Thomson's, Passmore's "Queen of Shaibah" (which Longmore had collided with a Hurricane) and Longmore's own aircraft which he had crashed a few days earlier.
Feb. 8th and 9th.
No raids - stood by at P2 all day.
Six crews:- C.O, Gill, Milson, Wyllie, Holland and one other, stood by all day for a day raid, from 14.00 hours, to do a night raid on Malaya, but at 16.00 hours it was cancelled. Preparations were made for a move to Lahat aerodrome. A talk for Officers and N.C.O.'s by the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice Marshal Maltby was first given at P2 at 17.00 hours and at Palembang in the evening. He said that we were here to fight, and that there was no intention of evacuating Sumatra, and that if we had wished to save our skins now would have been the time to do it.
Five or six crews, including the C.O., Passmore, Hyatt., Wyllie and Milson, took off just after midnight for an operation against shipping. The flare path was very badly laid out and the ground was very boggy. Some of the heavily-loaded Blenheims were past the last flare before becoming air-borne; two Blenheims of 211 Squadron struck trees and crashed, the crews being killed or badly injured. Hyatt also struck trees, turned to come in to land again but hit the orderly room building. He and his observer, Sgt. Hutton, were killed, Sgt. Irvine his air gunner was badly injured.
The others carried out the raid except Milson who took off and immediately found that his airspeed indicator, gyro-horizon, gyro-compass altimeter and rate of climb indicator were entirely unserviceable. This was due either to the heavy rains or to humidity; and indeed during the whole of the stay in Sumatra trouble was experienced with instruments, and with the electro-magnetic releases and fusing switches of the armament equipment. It was a pitch black night and only by the aid of light from flashes of lightning was he able to keep control at all. At one moment he would be climbing steep and at the next moment diving, at another with the wings at right angles to the horizon. Fortunately, after completing half a circuit he spotted the flare path and with great skill landed at high speed without damage. On the way back Passmore was lost and arrived with only a few minutes petrol left.
These crews returned to Palembang by midday. Meanwhile Gill brought out five crews who stood by all day and later stood by for a night operation on enemy shipping off Bangka Island, but no raid was ordered.
C.O. went out to P2 and flew to Lahat to inspect the aerodrome, returning again to P2. The surplus air crews were ordered to leave Palembang for Lahat a.m. 14th. This was later postponed for 24 hours. Air crews stood by all day, afterwards returning to Palembang, though not before the middle of the night, owing to a tremendous storm.
A little after 09.00 hours Japanese parachutists were dropped from Hudsons and other aircraft around P1. Numbers have been variously estimated but between 50 and 150 seem the right figures (an officer at Karachi in April was heard telling local inhabitants of the R.A.F. Station there that 800 were dropped the first day and 1600 the second). A number were also dropped on oil-storage tanks several miles down the river from Palembang, and these tanks having been set on fire (believed by the Dutch defenders) blazed fiercely all day and night.
At this time the CO and most of the air crews were on standby at P2. S/Ldr. Tayler, F/Lt. Gill, F/Lt. Ashmole (who had arrived by Hudson on the 11th), P/O Maurice and P/O Macdonald were at Maria School, Palembang. Maurice had actually gone down to Group about 09.00 hours to arrange about the move to Lahat, and at about 09.30 hours, armed with a rifle, took a lorry of armed men up the road towards P1 but was turned back by the Dutch. Tayler, Gill and Macdonald and four officers of other units with eighty men were sent down (on the strength of a message received from the Dutch Home Guard) to form a bridgehead at the ferry. On arrival there they were informed by Air Commodore Hunter that Palembang was to be evacuated, its unarmed occupants to move to P2 and Lahat and those with arms were to remain for the time being and guard the ferry. Owing to lack of control, there was much confusion and congestion at the ferry.
At one time Hurricane spares, secret documents and parachutes were seen being dumped in the river. As soon as the unarmed men had crossed the ferry, Maurice, who had by this time returned, also crossed the ferry with a small body of armed men supplied with Mills bombs, to guard the South side against possible attack from the river. Meanwhile, immediately after the dropping of the parachutists, Ashmole went a mile or two up the road from Maria School towards P1, (collecting two airmen on the way) as far as a Dutch road block. After consultation with the officer in charge he went out on a side track towards the East and reconnoitred the country for an hour or so without finding any trace of parachutists, and returned at lunch-time to Maria School to find it empty. Gill came back from the ferry just after, in a lorry, and together (thinking the order to desert Palembang was premature) they started to load up a lorry with food and water and to gather as many as they could find to try and find out what was happening on the road to P1.
While this was in progress two naval officers arrived. They had had instructions to report to Group but on arrival there, had found it deserted. One had arrived from Singapore in a small ship towing five R.A.F. launches. The crankshaft had broken and they had come up the river in one of the launches rescuing on the way the pilot and navigator of a Blenheim aircraft which had landed in the river, (the gunner being killed). The party in the lorry consisting of thirteen in all, Sgt. Hough driving, set off up the road towards P1.
They passed several Dutch pickets and eventually about six or seven miles up, came to the last, which consisted of two Vickers guns mounted on an open truck. A Dutch officer informed them that a Japanese road block had been formed at an overturned R.A.F. petrol bowser two hundred yards up the road round a bend. The lorry was parked, and about ten of the party, under Ashmole and Gill including some newcomers with arms, went forward, those unarmed remaining with the lorry. Two RAF officers were also there and from them it was learned that a convoy of wounded in motor lorries was trying to get through from P1. It was decided to try to set fire to the bowser with incendiary bullets and thus drive out the Japanese defenders, but it was later learned that a dying airman was pinned under the bowser. About a hundred and fifty yards up, the party took to the swampy jungle at the side of the road, because of Japanese trench-mortaring and machine- gun firing. Dutch native troops under Dutch officers (some wounded) together with one or two RAF airmen, were falling back.
Soon after, the party was able to advance along the road, past two dead Japanese parachutists, to the overturned petrol bowser. This bowser had been trying to rush through from P1to Palembang loaded with 232 Squadron and had been ambushed by the Japanese parachutists. A not very clear account of this had reached us at Maria School, Palembang, about midday, and S/Ldr. Tayler had set out with a party to raise the bowser and release the airman, but had been turned back by the Dutch. There were other Japanese dead among the trees and also British dead (including F/O Wright Engineer Officer 232 Squadron) and wounded. These were attended to, and a car was sent for to take them away. This arrived about a quarter of an hour later, and they were taken into Palembang. From here Ashmole and two airmen advanced along the road having made contact with an RA officer who was trying to clear a Japanese machine-gun post in order to get the convoy of wounded through from P1. After consultation with him, Ashmole took his men off to the right into lightly wooded country in order to try and work round it. Gill, just behind, went into the heavy jungle where the original Japanese ambush had been, to see if more parachutists were there. Eventually the convoy, consisting of three or four lorries full of wounded, got through, and the road being clear, the party returned to Palembang at dusk.
Although the drivers of the lorries with the wounded reported no enemy action as they came through, it appears that so soon as night fell the parachutists were able to re-establish a road-block in spite of the Dutch. The hot food and ammunition, which was sent from Maria School on a lorry, was fired at, and its load had to be transferred to a Dutch armoured car which rushed through and reached P1 safely. In this connection it should be mentioned that the plating of the Dutch armoured cars was not thought capable of standing up to trench-mortar and machine-gun fire (it was reported that one had actually been damaged so) and the Dutch were loath to use them in forcing a way through. It is certain that if a strong lead had been given by Group the way to P1. would have been kept open for another twelve hours at least, and the nineteen tons of high explosive under the runways (designed to make craters thirty feet wide and nine feet deep) could have been exploded with far-reaching consequences that can hardly be overestimated. Of these arrangements for demolition we only heard from the Dutch Authorities midday on the 16th., when it was too late to take any action. The shipping in Batavia harbour was sunk during the attack on or about the 23rd by Japanese aircraft operating from P1.
It was agreed by the officers of 84 Squadron who were in Palembang to carry out the instructions (issued on the 11th) of moving surplus aircrews to Lahat, but to go by way of P2. in case these orders should have been modified. As soon as it was light the lorry used the day before, an open Ford 3 tonner, was taken out by Gill for refuelling, and this proved to be a very lengthy job owing to lack of fuel at the various pumps, most of which were either closed or empty. When he finally got back about 08.00 hours Macdonald had collected a small civilian van, and the two vehicles set off together with air-crews, all available ammunition and kit.
Tayler, Ashmole, Gill, Maurice, Macdonald, Sgts. Craddock, Ellis, Hough, W. Miller, Longmore, Nourse, 671 Thompson, Thomson, 842, Gardner, Young, Duignan, 674 Morris and A.C.1. Latham, a Fitter II attached to P1 who asked to join the Squadron, arrived at the ferry. Here there was great congestion, the Dutch rightly claiming priority for a number of vehicles loaded with troops destined to deal with Japanese who were now known to be coming up the river in boats. The ferry could only take five vehicles at a time and the journey across and back occupied some fifteen minutes. The Squadron's lorry and van were between thirtieth and fortieth in the queue. Gill here took charge of the regulation of the traffic in co-operation with a Dutch officer, and thanks to them there was no panic.
When it seemed possible that our vehicles might not get over at all before the Japanese started either bombing the ferry or arriving in force by river or road, it was agreed to send over our people with their small kit, and, in the event of failure to get our own vehicles across and attempt to obtain others on the far side. Tayler, Maurice and others were sent across with the kit, Ashmole followed, Gill and Macdonald remained with the vehicles. All our people helped with the loading and unloading of the wounded on both sides of the river, and a third motor van was commandeered and also put at the disposal of wounded, with Sgt. Hough as driver. Hough later drove wounded between the railway station at P2 and, was last seen by us so engaged at Sick Quarters at P2 in the later afternoon.
(During the morning and afternoon of February 14th, 84 Squadron's aircraft together with aircraft of 211, 62 and 232 Squadrons carried out sorties continuously from P2, bombing and ground strafing the Japanese barges which were coming up the river. Details of these sorties are not yet available). Meanwhile the Japanese Air Force appeared in numbers over P1, parachutists were again dropped and it seemed that aircraft were landing. During this wait at the ferry, the whole scene was enveloped in drifts of dense black smoke from the oil storage tanks (these had been blazing all night) and other stores were set on fire by the Dutch. There were also periodical explosions as the wharves were blown up. An official at one of the banks started giving away bottles of brandy, wines and liqueurs of which he had an enormous supply, but this was checked, and he was made to shatter each bottle with an axe, until the gutters were running with it.
Odd civilians came to the ferry with young children (many in arms) and the most varied belongings, and were helped across it, but for the most part they stayed in their homes. The Dutch native crew worked their ferry nobly and without panic until, just after midday, the Captain announced the last trip: by this time Japanese fighters were flying low over the river, but surprisingly (perhaps thinking their own river-borne troops had reached the ferry) did not open fire. On the last ferry but one came Macdonald with the Ford lorry. On the last boat came Gill, and F/Lt. Jackson (34 Squadron) who was driving the commandeered civilian van. We loaded some food on the lorry and also took on board a number of officers from 226 (Fighter) Group, (S/Ldr. Richards and F/Lt. Domvile among them); on the road to P2 we picked up one or two others, including a Fleet Air Arm officer on a stretcher who was supported on the hands and knees of Maurice and others for thirty miles or so.
The journey to P2 was otherwise uneventful except that we had to refuse room (owing to extreme over-crowding) to various people on foot and also unfortunately to a Chinese member of the crew of a British ship, who had been wounded in the foot. None of these, however, should have had difficulty in getting a lift eventually, for there were a number of vehicles running from the railhead to P2. Macdonald, meanwhile, with F/Lt. Jackson and Sgt. Miller, had taken the civilian van direct to Lahat. The remainder arrived at P2 about 15.00 hours and immediately made contact with CO. He rang up Group, whose instructions were that we should proceed to Transit Camp, Oosthaven, and not to Lahat as previously ordered - our first intimation that complete evacuation of the islands was intended.
Those air crews of the Squadron who had aircraft, and the ground crews of P2, were to fly to Bandoeng that evening, but they did not however leave till next morning 16th. We therefore added Ellis, Lister, Sharrott and Pile, who had no aircraft, to our passengers, together with two or three airmen belonging to 226 Group, and having refuelled set off as soon as possible about 16.00 hours. It was agreed to drive continuously through the night, partly because of the need for speed, partly because we had no protection from the wild beasts or from the rain which falls every 24 hours at this time of the year.
The lorry, though heavily loaded, ran excellently; Gill and Tayler taking turns at driving it with the AC driver through the night. About midnight torrential rain started. There was no cover and few groundsheets and everyone got pretty wet, some soaked through. However, it was warm, and the wetting seemed to do no harm to any one: but it was a difficult matter to hold up the heavy lorry from skidding on the sodden road-surface of many of the hills, and the average speed was low but the progress useful. We stopped at Batoeradja to refuel and at Partapoera for a snack. Just before dawn Kotaboemi was reached, and here a fire was kindled and tea made. Thence the run to Oosthaven was made at good speed.
A few miles south from Kotaboemi Cpl. Burrluck, MTM of 84 Squadron was encountered. He had been driving a local bus full of small arms ammunition from Oosthaven for P2, (a distance of over 300 miles). The bus had broken down several times already, and was obviously unfit to go much further. Seeing that P2 had already been evacuated he was ordered to return to Oosthaven.
He was the first of the Sea Party of 84 Squadron, which had left Port Tewfik on board H.T. "Yoma" just a month before, to be met by any of the Air Party. Group's intention on February 10th had been to send the Sea Party, immediately on their arrival to Lahat, in order to staff the station there as well as to perform their normal Squadron duties. However when they did arrive, the situation was such that it was not possible to do more than send those of them who were armed - some two hundred - as infantry, to hold Natar, a junction of road, rail and stream about twenty miles north of Oosthaven. As the survivors from Palembang passed through they were greeted by numbers of this detachment. At Oosthaven, S/Ldr. Tayler reported to a Group Captain at the docks and was (as senior G.D. officer) ordered to join the ground party of the Squadron ashore: the remainder of the lorry party were ordered to embark at once, which they did, and found that the ship was actually the "Yoma" and that the unarmed members of 84 Squadron, including the Assistant Adjutant, Walker, were still aboard her. Walker and others without arms had actually spent a night at Natar but were recalled the following day. The "Yoma" sailed at midday for Java.
The ground party later re-embarked on a small fast ammunition ship which reached Batavia before the party on the "Yoma".
The "Yoma" lay off Batavia from 10.30 hours 17.2.42. until 14.00 hours 18.2.42. and when she docked members of this ground party, including S/Ldr. Tayler, F/Lt. Tierney, F/O Keble-While, F/O Jebb, P/O Macdonald, P/O McNally, were on the quay and some came aboard the next day. It was fully expected that we should disembark and re-equip in Java but we were not allowed off the ship, although the remainder of 211 Squadron were disembarked.
Preparations were then made for another seven hundred RAF to embark and these we expected would be the remainder of our own Squadron. But instead one hundred and seventy civilians, mostly wives and children of officers and civilians from Singapore, came aboard: and with them we sailed, but not until midday 20.2.42, forming up into convoy during the afternoon and finally leaving Java at dusk for Ceylon and India. Our escort for a day and a half was "H.M.S. Exeter" , which then turned back to Java, and was sunk by the Japanese. We arrived at Colombo on 1.3.42. and left on 2.3.42, arriving at Bombay on 6.3.42. leaving again on 13.3.42 and eventually, disembarking at Karachi on 16th and 17th March, 1942.
Additional information regarding 84 Squadron
Taken from the Fepow Forum dated June - July 1977
On Friday, 13th February, 1942, a small troopship "H.M.T.Yoma" docked at Oosthaven in southern Sumatra. On board were almost the entire ground crew of No. 84 Sqdn., RAF who were disembarked the following day and sent up-country where they were told that they were to act as infantry. On the 15th they were told to evacuate and they dashed back to the coast, boarding "SS Silverlarch" which conveyed them to the northern tip of Java. From there they were taken by train to Batavia (Djakarta) and billeted in the Dutch barracks at Meester Cornelis, a suburb of that city. After a few days they went to the aerodrome at Kalidjati and within forty-eight hours the place was attacked by the Japs. A road convoy was formed and made Bandoeng which they had to evacuate about 6th March and made for the south coast, hoping to find a ship at Tlilajap. The CO of 84 Squadron and eleven others did manage to get away in a ship's lifeboat and reached Australia forty-two days later.
Now officially captured by the Japanese, the remainder were sent to Boei Glodok, the native gaol in Batavia where the usual story of captivity begins. During the ensuing year, parties were sent to various parts of the East Indies and to the mainland, Singapore and Malaya and later some were sent to Japan. Some remained in various camps in and around Batavia until posted to Sumatra in early 1944. Landing at Padang on the East Coast of Sumatra they were driven over the mountains to Pakan Baroe on the Siak River. This was the starting point of "The Other Railway".
Apart from 84 Sqdn. the RAF contingent in Java contained 211 Squadron and a few of them were also sent to Sumatra. Many men from both units were lost during 1943 in Haroekoe (Celebes) and at sea returning to Java.
In a book entitled "Unsung Heroes of the Royal Air Force" there is a small reference to 84 Squadron.
"Joining the planes of 232 and 258 Squadrons at Palembang (Sumatra) were ground crews of 242 and 605 Squadrons who had left the United Kingdom on 7th December 1941. The Bomber Squadron operating at Palembang were 84 and 211 Squadrons, both posted from the Middle East and both flying Blenhiem IV planes"
It goes on to say numerous sorties were made but with Japanese troops landing it was decided to withdraw all units to Java. The evacuation was most successful in that most of the RAF men reached Java safely.