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RAF in SE Asia


According to a Government Report (HMSO CMND 6832) issued in June 1946 there were 5102 RAF men captured by the Japanese in World War II. In addition there were men of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), the Royal New Zealand Air (RNZAF), and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attached to RAF Squadrons and Units.

The following information has been extracted from a recently published book, details of which appear below.


Simultaneously with their attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on 7th and 8th December 1941, the Japanese landed at Kota Bharu, Malaya, and also crossed the border into Mainland Hong Kong. Hong Kong fell on 25th December1941 when less than 100 RAF men were captured.

As the Japanese advanced down Malaya, one by one, the twenty-two airfields in Malaya were evacuated and by 16th January 1942 all Air Force Squadrons, Units and Station Staff had been driven back to Singapore Island. At much the same time the aircraft and pilots from 232 and 258 Squadrons arrived, having been despatched from the United Kingdom, and the evacuation of ground staff RAF men to Java began. By 10th February, all but one of the four airfields on Singapore Island were in Japanese hands and the few remaining aircraft were withdrawn to Palembang on Sumatra. Singapore fell on 15th February 1942, less than 100 RAF men remaining to be captured there.

Many of the ships evacuating civilians and service men from Singapore were sunk off Sumatra. Approximately 125 shipwrecked RAF men survived to be captured by the Japanese and taken to Bangka Island. Another 150 RAF men were captured at Padang which fell on 17th March 1942. These men had used the established River Indragiri Escape Line through central Sumatra to Padang but there were insufficient boats for all to get to Ceylon. Those RAF men withdrawn from Singapore to Palembang were joined by two Fighter Squadrons (605 and 242 Squadrons) who had left the United Kingdom on 8th December 1941 and two Bomber Squadrons (84 and 211 Squadrons) who had been in the Middle East at the outbreak of war in the Far East. However, after a two-day battle, it was decided on 14th February 1942 that all air force units must withdraw to Java.

In Java were not only those RAF men withdrawn from Eastern Sumatra, and those evacuated from Singapore, but also men unattached to any Squadron or Unit who had left the United Kingdom on 8th December 1941, the intention being that they would relieve men who had been overseas for three years. On 28th February 1942, soon after midnight, the Japanese landed at three places on Java. By 5th March the few remaining British aircraft had been assembled at Tasikmalaya and that evening all British Units were ordered to an area south of Bandung. They were in position before dawn on 8th March but soon afterwards a Dutch proclamation declared that all organised resistance had now ceased. A few RAF men did manage to board the few boats and reach Australia safely, but approximately 4600 men went into captivity.

About 100 men of the RAF and the various Commonwealth Air Forces were captured after being shot down in Burma. Less than 30 were shot down elsewhere. Generally, shot down aircrew were very badly treated by the Japanese.


The Japanese policy to its prisoners of war was to use them as slave labour to serve the needs of the Japanese war economy. This directly contravened the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention but not having ratified the Convention, Japan regarded its terms as irrelevant. For approximately six months, while the Japanese Empire was expanding, work was principally in the country of capture and consisted of repair of bomb damage to airfields and roads, followed by the dismantling of machinery such as aeroplanes, railway engines, engineering equipment etc., for shipment overseas. Once the Japanese advance had been stemmed, however, prisoners of war were transported great distances in order to undertake much heavier work. The work fell into three main categories - railway construction, airfield construction and mining, shipbuilding and other heavy industry More than 50% of the RAF men were employed on military airfield construction. approximately 30% mining, shipbuilding and heavy industry and nearly 20% building railways.


Of the RAF men captured in Hong Kong about half were transported to Japan to work principally in mining. Of those captured in Singapore more than half were transported to Thailand for railway construction and approximately 15% were transported overseas, half to Borneo for airfield construction and


Escape from captivity for FEPOWs was difficult because of the distances involved and, because of stature and colour, merging into the native population


HMSO CMND 6832 dated June 1946 records 1714 RAF men captured in the Far East as "killed or died in captivity". The majority died of disease and malnutrition. Of the 619 who died at sea, some 362 died as a result of ships being sunk by Allied action. A great many died either by execution or murder or subsequent to brutality. In respect of the latter group special mention must be made of the 414 RAF FEPOWs transported to Borneo, only 37 of whom survived. the deaths of the others being

"Unsung Heroes of the RAF - the Far Fast Prisoners of War" (JSBN 1-903172-21-7) is available, at £15 inclusive of postage and packing, from the authors; Les and Pam Stubbs; 143 New Road, Bromsgrove, Worcs B60 2LL It contains a nominal roll of over 6000 RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces FEPOWs giving name and service number, together with countries in which held captive and, for those who did not survive, the date and place of death and the cemetery where buried, or, for those with no known grave, the memorial