Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter Mark X
The pugnacious Beaufighter derived closely from the Beaufort design, and more distantly from Blenheim antecedents. Equally at home over land or sea, the Beaufighter was highly successful as a heavy strike fighter, as a night fighter, in reconnaissance or in the torpedo attack role. A very great deal has been written and published about this aircraft, with many titles readily available through libraries, bookshops and on-line. Only the barest summary of the Beaufighter story is presented here.
Although unsuccessful in tendering a number of cannon-armed fighter designs in the late 1930s, and despite the loss of Frank Barnwell in an aircraft accident in August 1938, late that year Bristols were well-placed to meet emerging recognition of the need for a long-range heavy fighter. With Air Ministry support, the Type 156 Beaufighter prototype first flew in July 1939, just six months after the layout drawings had been agreed.
Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter Mark X
NV526 ‘M’ of 211 Squadron Chiringa 1945 (Marsh-Collis collection)
The prototype was met with an order for 300 aircraft under Specification F.17/39. While the original design had much in common with the Beaufort, another year of development time and many thousands of revised and detail drawings were needed to arrive at the final operational form.
By April 1940, the first two production-standard prototypes were delivered to the RAF. After final acceptance testing with full operational equipment at Boscombe Down, Beaufighters entered RAF Squadron service in late July 1940. Robust, versatile and heavily armed, the Bristol Beaufighter operated in many roles and theatres, remaining in RAF service (albeit as target tugs) until 1960.
“Mighty Wurlitzer”—the cockpit of the Beaufighter (Bristol Aeroplane Co)
Beaufighter Mark X
The Mark X derived from the Mark VI version, initially built for Coastal Command duties with ASV AI Mark VIII scanning radar in the nose and torpedo release gear. Mark X aircraft saw service as long range reconnaissance and strike fighters, equipped with rockets, cannon and machine guns, a nose-mounted camera replacing the ASV scanner.
Long-range strike fighter. Twin-engine, mid-wing cantilever stressed-skin monoplane.
Pilot; Navigator/Wireless Operator/Rear Gunner.
2xBristol Hercules XVII radials of 1735hp, single speed supercharging, 100/130 grade fuel, maximum boost +10lb on take-off or 5 minute combat limit.
Four 20mm cannon, fuselage mounted.
Four .303in Browning machine guns in starboard wing, two in port wing.
8 rocket projectiles, 25lb AP or semi-AP, 60lb HE.
Empty variously quoted and depending on “fit”: 14,069lb
All-up variously quoted as above: 22,100lb
Overload (maximum take-off): 25,000lb
1,470 miles (at 200mph with full load), endurance well in excess of 7 hours.
2x188 gallon inner-wing tanks, 2x 87gallon outer wing tanks.
Flaps & undercarriage up: 104mph. Flaps and undercarriage down: 80mph
Preliminary 160mph; final 115mph
Variously quoted 330mph
Vne (without external stores) 400mph (with 8x60lb RP) 345mph
Far East Service
In the Burma theatre, the firepower of the rocket-equipped Mark X was put to effective use in the strike fighter role, on long-range intruder operations against Japanese transport and communications. Recognition and friendly fire incidents saw aircraft markings evolve in the theatre, starting with suppression of the inner red of the RAF roundel, replaced firstly by white and later by light blue.
From a slow start in early 1943, held back somewhat by lack of spares, aircraft and aircrew, Beaufighter operations against Japanese transport and airfields in Burma steadily stepped up in scale. By early 1944 the several Squadrons were fully effective, gaining the attention of not only the Japanese but of story-hungry Allied war-correspondents.
About this time, the Beaufighter nickname Whispering Death started to appear in booklets and the media. Reporting on this period, the 1949 HMSO history of the Burma Air War Wings Of the Phoenix, Ch 4 discusses the 1943 Monsoon (June to September) offensive. From the original context, the remarks that follow would seem to relate to a 27 Squadron operation around September 1943:
“Beaufighters too were now coming into prominence, setting fire to the huge oil tanks at Yenangyaung and yet further reducing Japanese freedom of movement on their rain-soaked roads and broken railways. The twin-engined Bristol Beaufighter carried a crew of two and, until it was later fitted for rockets or bombs, was equipped with four 20-mm cannon and five machine-guns, one of them in the navigator's turret. As a jest at a mess party, where pilots liked to mock what they thought were newspaper clichés, someone invented for Beaufighters the name of Whispering Death, for the Beaufighter has a trick of remaining silent at low level until it is almost on its target.
In just such a way a Beaufighter had come across a full-dress parade of Japanese soldiers at Myitkyina on the birthday of Emperor Hirohito. Myitkyina was now the largest enemy air base in North Burma, and high-ranking samurai officers were sitting stiffly on their chargers, fronting a hollow square of rigid troops around a flagpole bearing the Rising Sun of Nippon, when they were toppled from their saddles. By its silent approach the Beaufighter caught the parade unprepared and left the square with riderless horses galloping among the bodies, the flagpole broken and the Rising Sun sinking. The name Whispering Death stayed on.”
Curiously, the “Emperor's Birthday” as reason for the Myitkyina parade seems to be another myth. In Hirohito’s time the celebration was held on 29 April, some weeks before the South-West monsoon breaks over Burma around late May to last until September. In Beaufighters Over Burma (Blandford 1985) on No 27 Squadron from 1942 to 1945, Innes declares emphatically "Throughout April  no sorties were flown in Northern Burma" (and Myitkyina is certainly that).
However, Bowyer in Flying Elephants (also on 27 Squadron) remarks that 22 sorties were flown by the Squadron that month and goes on to mention the Myitkyina “Emperor's birthday” raid in summarising operations for the period January 1943 to September 1943, but without date. The same event is again recorded by Bowyer in closely similar terms in Beaufighter (Kimber 1987 p148) and from context apparently sometime in the period to September 1943. Notably, however, Innes went on to make these further remarks:
“During March 1944, one operation of four Beaufighters led by Pilot Officer Clegg, an Australian, was mounted to strafe a Japanese camp at Lemyethna, west of Henzada, in Southern Burma. Accompanying Clegg as an observer was Mr Paul Chadburn, a reporter of the Parade magazine, whose three page story entitled Death Whispers over Burma with photographs of the briefing, the attacks, and the post-operational activities, does full justice to the operation as would be expected of a war-time journalist.”
The British forces Parade Middle East Weekly may be the magazine Innes refers to, though perhaps there was a Far East edition. Innes goes on to quote Chadburn’s article in full. The opening paragraph remarked of the Beaufighter:
This seems to be the first published report of a supposed Japanese origin for the nickname—an account so appealing that it was soon taken up by others (in the 1944 booklet Beaufighter for example). Indeed, the legend is still told, despite the 1949 HMSO account and the efforts of Bowyer, Innes, and Scutts (Bristol Beaufighter, Crowood 2004, p135) at intervals ever since. Let Bowyer, then, have the final say on this famous nickname and its origins:
“And it was in Burma that the Beaufighter acquired its legendary nickname, Whispering Death—a soubriquet which, despite the many versions of its origin published in the past, actually originated as the whimsy of an RAF officers Mess in India.”
Bowyer: Beaufighter at War (Ian Allan 1976) p90 and Beaufighter (Kimber 1987 p144).
Beaufighters in 211 Squadron service
Starting in October 1943, 211 Squadron took their Beaufighters on charge at Phaphamau in Uttar Pradesh, the first two arriving on the 15th of the month. By 8 November 1943 they were moving to Ranchi in Bihar, fully equipped with 16 Beaufighters (and two Bisleys for use as Squadron hacks). The average personnel strength of the Squadron that November was 324 personnel.
After a period working up and training with the then-novel rockets (RPs or rocket projectiles), the Squadron resumed operational status in January 1944 with 24 two-man Beaufighter crews for their establishment of 16 operational aircraft. Moving forward firstly to Bhatpara (south of Dacca), from July they took post at Chiringa in the North of the Arakan peninsula.
211 Squadron Beaufighters, Chiringa, 7 December 1944 (AWM image SEA0051)
Aircraft ‘X’ in the background. Open air servicing of the aircraft. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Australian War Memorial, where a number of 211 Squadron images are held in the on-line photographic collection, searchable through the Collection Database.
211 Squadron Beaufighters, Chiringa 7 December 1944 (AWM image SEA0048)
In the background, the flight-line, with perhaps ‘O’ leading. In the foreground, Indian Army Punjabi troops man an anti-aircraft gun. A carefully posed official shot, the alertness of the Gunner stands in contrast to the close order of the flight-line.
For much of the period of operations over Burma, the 211 Squadron Operations Record Book records aircraft only by individual letter rather than by serial no. However, it has been possible to fully identify a number of the Squadron’s aircraft by matching information from the ORB, from the Squadron OpReps (the sortie reports held in TNA AIR 27/1305 to AIR 27/1310), from aircrew Log Book entries and from the late Cpl Arthur Goodinson’s diary, in which he recorded their Beaufighter operations and losses in some detail from January 1944 onwards.
In time it may be yet be possible to firmly identify more aircraft losses. All the currently known official and personal records are incomplete to some degree. The mass of detail, of sometimes indifferent image quality, will take some considerable time yet to examine in full.
In the meantime, the following list has been extended to include all known aircrew losses. The aircraft listed, whether fully identified or not, are shown by date and serial no where known. A full table of aircrew lost is shown on the India & Burma page.
The LX and LZ serialled aircraft were all of the batch of 480 Mark X machines built by the Bristol Aeroplane Co shadow factory at Weston-super-Mare, delivered between May and November 1943.
The NE series were from a batch of 500 Mark X aircraft delivered from Bristol’s Weston-super-Mare factory between November 1943 and April 1944. Aircraft in the NT and NV series were part of a further batch of 500 Mark X Beaufighters built by Bristols and delivered to the RAF between April 1944 and September 1944.
NE291, NE526, NE534, NE602, NE721? NV260, NV512, NV585
October to December 1943
The ORB for this early period, thought by some to be lost, turned out to be lodged in AIR 27/1302 with the Middle East pages. Eleven of the Squadron’s initial allocation of 16 Beaufighter X aircraft have now been identified from the Operations Record Book. In the working up period they suffered a spate of accidents, damaging three aircraft and destroying three others with the loss of five aircrew.
Taken on Squadron charge from 308 MU 2 November 1943, having been flown out to India from 304 FTU Port Ellen. Struck off charge 31 July 1944.
LZ113 ‘V’, LZ123, LZ223, LZ230, LZ270.
Damaged on landing at Ranchi 8 November.
F/Sgt D Grant and Sgt D Bendall crashed south of the airfield at Ranchi on 15 December while returning from range practice. Grant was killed instantly and Bendall died of his injuries two days later.
Swung on landing 23 December 1943, undercarriage written off, Sgt Pilot Davies and passenger unhurt.
J8141 F/O JR Edgar RCAF killed 27 December 1943 attempting a wheels-up forced landing 3 miles E of the airfield with one airscrew feathered. The aircraft burst into flames on impact.
Crash-landed 28 October 1943 due to hydraulic failure, seriously damaged, with but slight injury to F/O Bovier and F/Sgt Seeley
Crashed on low-flying exercise, Madaripur, 1 November 1943, 1331765 F/Sgt AG Oliver and 131887 Sgt RL Small both killed. Buried in Allahabad, today they rest in Delhi War Cemetery.
January to March 1944
From January 1944, the Squadron Operations Record Book pages were allotted a fresh item number by Archives staff, becoming AIR 27/1303, with Sortie Reports (OpReps) lodged in running sequence from AIR 27/1305 (from January to February 1944) to AIR 27/1310 (March 1945 to May 1945). For a period in March and early April, the Squadron record of aircraft identities is particularly complete. Those mentioned by Cpl Goodinson are linked to his diary.
On resumption of operations in early January 1944, the authorised establishment of the Squadron was 16 operational aircraft. Of the Beaufighter Xs taken on charge over the next three months, 24 have now been fully identified from Squadron and personal records, right down to callsign. Ten crews failed to return from operations during this period.
LX938 ‘B’, LX996 ‘G’.
LZ113 ‘V’, LZ116 ‘H’, LZ137 ‘N’, LZ152 ‘D’, LZ157 ‘M’, LZ229 ‘E’, LZ230 ‘A’, LZ263 ‘P’.
LZ270 ‘L’, LZ360 ‘T’, LZ364 ‘R’.
Missing from operations 27 March 1944 with J16291 F/O Waddell RCAF and F/O Woodall. They had taken off just before 0700 in company with Gamlin and Lightfoot in ‘X’, who last saw them on return patrol five miles North of Taungup at 09:50hrs, at 2,000ft heading due North. No movement was seen in the Tanugup Pass target area, although there was intense if inaccurate light AA and Bofors fire.
Lost on operations 13 January 1944, on a Rhubarb road and railway sortie, Sibingyi—Namtu. The aircraft was last seen S of Mandalay. F/O Bovier died a prisoner in Rangoon Gaol. His Nav/W Sgt Anderson was shot dead in the aircraft on capture.
15 February 1944: 128590 F/O AJ Sharpe and 1381981 F/Sgt Pottinger PoW baled out, taken prisoner and later released from Rangoon Gaol.
One of four aircraft led by S/Ldr Muller-Rowland on an afternoon Rhubarb sortie in the Meza-Pinwe-Indaw area on 22 January 1944, crew F/Sgt Seeley and Sgt Short.
The other aircraft heard ‘S’ report starboard engine failing. Muller-Rowland then directed Seeley to land at Indaw, where he would pick them up. Before this could be done, the other aircraft all saw a column of smoke some four to seven miles North of Lake Indaw, Muller-Rowland himself spotting a burnt out aircraft with no survivors in the trees some six miles from the lake.
Missing from operations 24 March 1944 with Canadian pilot W/O Bill Adamson and F/Sgt John Moss RAF. Four aircraft took off at intervals from 08:25hrs for targets at Kalawa and on the Thazi-Myingyan railway. Two of the crews were attacked enemy fighters but shook them off.
R122381 W/O Thomson RCAF wounded by ground fire, flying this aircraft on 16 February 1944 with F/Sgt Butcher as his Nav/W. While making a rocket attack on a railway bridge at Swa, their aicraft was hit by heavy machine gun fire, wounding Thomson in the leg and rendering the air-speed indicator unserviceable. Thomson jettisoned the remaining RP rounds and was able to return safely to base.
Three weeks later, 6 March 1944, this same aircraft failed to return from operations. Reported missing near Zayatkwin after A404741 F/O K Fuller RAAF with Navigator 1396062 Sgt SC Cook shot up an enemy fighter on the airfield. Possibly shot down by flak their aircraft was seen to crash and explode by George Manderson. Long after the war, the Far East Graves Service was able to identify the site of their crash but their graves had been washed away in later floods. The pair are commemorated among the missing of the Singapore Memorial and Fuller on the panels of the Australian War Memorial Honour Roll.
Lost in action 14 March 1944, J12883 F/O DI Cruickshank RCAF and 134713 F/O D McKenzie.
Failed to return from operations 11 March 1944 with J86437 P/O Depew RACF and 1198789 F/Sgt Woolley killed. In LZ237 ‘S’, the Canadian pilot Cruickshank and his Navigator McKenzie had seen ‘P’ crash while attacking the target, reporting the aircraft in flames (exploded, Goodinson was told).
24 Feb 1944 778767 F/Sgt Donaldson (South Africa) and 1042107 F/Sgt Bewsher RAFVR hit by ground fire and crashed. Their remains were never recovered. The Squadron Form 540 incorrectly recorded LZ113 ‘V’ for this loss, but Cpl Goodinson noted both correctly.
Missing in action 8 March with F/Lt Luing and F/O White taken PoW. Both died in captivity in Rangoon Gaol.
Undershot landing and tore off undercarriage, Bhatpara 24 March 1944, Sgt Lowcock and F/Sgt Carruthers uninjured.
April to June 1944
No less than 32 of the Squadron’s aircraft in this busy period have now been identified from the Squadron Operations Record Book & Sortie Reports, from Cpl Goodinson’s diary and from Dennis Spencer’s log. In these three months, the crew of one aircraft died in a training accident, while on operations, the crew of one aircraft were picked up after ditching, while seven crews failed to return.
LZ116 ‘H’, LZ152 ‘D’, LZ157 ‘M’, LZ229 ‘E’, LZ230 ‘A’, LZ231 ‘N’, LZ343 ‘B’, LZ363 ‘P’,
LZ372 ‘Z’, LZ429 ‘V’, LZ483 ‘M’, LZ527 ‘Y’, LZ534 ‘E’.
NE292 ‘D’, NE298 ‘V’, NE324 ‘X’, NE488 ‘W’, NE713 ‘Z’.
After successful attack on a 100ft river craft near Elephant Point on 6 April, ‘W’ was returning to base when hit by flak over Myohaung. Hit in the port oil tank, oil pressure failed at 3,000ft and the propeller declined to feather. ‘W’ headed for Hove but was forced to ditch six miles from the tip of Naf Peninsula (modern Teknaf). S/Ldr JSR Muller Rowland DFC and his Nav/W F/Sgt R Gilley, both uninjured, were picked up shortly after ditching. Gilley was subsequently awarded the DFM.
Missing from operations 28 May 1944. Pilot A401785 W/O JW Goddard RAAF and 1233069 W/O EM Boon Nav/W in ‘K’ were one of a “fluid pair” taking off at about 08:00hrs to patrol the railway line from Kawlin through Indaw and on to Mawlu, reaching the target area a little before 09:15hrs. Cuddy and Tomlinson in ‘A’ arrived soon after, to see smoking buildings that may have been attacked by Goddard in ‘K’. The aircraft was last seen heading North by Cuddy and Tomlinson at 09:23hrs. At 09:45, Tomlinson heard Boon warning his pilot by intercom of fighters, probably three, in the area. In ‘A’, Cuddy now sought cloud cover and started on the homeward leg, their repeated calls to ‘K’ going unanswered.
It later transpired that Goddard and Boon had been shot down by American 311th Fighter Group P51-A Mustangs. Arthur Goodinson recorded the loss as due to P38 Lightnings, with an apposite remark. The Sortie Report for this day is one of a number where the archive copy is incomplete, lacking the second page which might have recorded some further detail. The pair remained missing and are commemorated on the Singapore Memorial and, for Goddard, at the Australian War Memorial.
In the small hours of 11 June, two aircraft took off just after 03:30hrs to attack communications and targets of opportunity in Central Burma shortly after dawn. At about 06:30hrs the pair attacked a South-bound train some three miles North of Letpadan. In ‘X’, the first aircraft to strike, Gamlin and Mearns saw J14842 F/O Jackson RCAF and F/Sgt Jones in ‘G’ follow with a rocket salvo, which undershot. Their aircraft was then seen to bank from a height of about 100ft and turn over before flying into the ground about 50 yards West of the railway. The aircraft immediately burst into flames. Bill Jackson and Ron Jones were posted missing believed killed. Their remains were later recovered and they rest in a joint grave in Taukkyan War Cemetery.
Lost on operations 3 June 1944. F/Lt PF Lockyer 116427 (Pilot), F/Sgt HW McCormick 1264075 (Nav/W), F/O HFPGS Bishop 112244 (Squadron IO), passenger. Sortie abandoned in bad weather. Attempted to land at Chittagong airfield but crashed in sea at 22.15 North 91.47 East at 4.35 hours. McCormick was subsequently picked up, but Lockyer and Bishop could not be found. Lockyer's body was recovered on 6 June, a poignant coincidence. Bishop remained missing. Recorded as F/O GS Bishop in the Squadron records, he appears in the rolls of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as Gabriel Sheldon-Bishop, and is so commemorated among the missing on the Singapore Memorial.
LZ360 had been damaged in an incident at Ramu on 6 April and returned to service. On 9 June, while seeking the target area, F/Sgt PS Reavill and F/Sgt NS Heywood unintentionally overflew Shwebo airfield. Their aircraft was hit by light AA fire wounding the pilot, Reavill, and damaging the hydraulics. Reavill nevertheless managed to take evasive action and ultimately bring the damaged aircraft back to base, where he made a good landing without flaps or brakes.
On 17 April 1944 Sgt RA Chambers and Sgt CW Lovell were, with three other Beaufighters, to attack beach defences from Mazin to Andrew Bay and return via Ramree Is. They were last seen at 10:28hrs, having attacked a jetty at Lontha, heading North between Ramree and Cheduba at very low level. The Operations Record Book accounts and Cpl Goodinson agree that this aircraft was ‘N’. Chambers and Lovell are commemorated among the missing on the CWGC Singapore Memorial.
Missing from operations 6 May 1944 with 1369740 F/Sgt PL Bell and 1497952 F/Sgt AE Nash. Between 08:20 and 08:59hrs, Nash was able to transmit several radio messages but these were received only faintly and with some difficulty by receiving stations at Feni and Chittagong, such that the resulting fixes were in conflict (Sortie Report No 15). The next afternoon, Cuddy, O’Mara and Haakenson and their navigators carried out a parallel search for three hours but found nothing. It later transpired that the Beaufighter had crashed, fatally, inside the British forward lines. The bodies of Peter Lindsay Bell and his navigator Albert Edward Nash were found about 12 May and recovered, buried together in a joint grave in the Chittagong War Cemetery.
Four aircraft of ‘A’ Flight attacked Chienmai airfield and railway siding in the late afternoon of 10 April 1944. Returning to Ramu at 20:30hrs, well over 2 hours after sunset, Mal Haakenson undershot on landing and hit a bund wall (eg an irrigation or padi dyke), tearing off the undercarriage. The aircraft was destroyed in the subsequent fire but Haakenson and his Navigator Jock Ferguson were unhurt.
Lost in a flying accident at SLAIS Ranchi on 18 April 1944. 1048291 F/Sgt Carr and 1078671 F/Sgt Clelland killed.
Lost in action 29 April with F/Sgt GP Davies and F/Sgt I Gilmore, the aircraft was seen to crash and explode by Bell and Lightfoot in ‘V’.
After a successful sortie along the Irrawaddy on 15 June, Geoff Vardigans and Dennis Spencer found the weather had so deteriorated as they returned over the Hill country that Feni and other local airfields were closed. Diverting to Chittagong, Vardigans groped his way down through the cloud for an emergency landing, only to find the strip partly flooded, wrenching off one undercarriage leg and ending in a paddy field. The pair were unhurt, though it was a close shave: they narrowly missed an American B25 Mitchell making an unauthorised landing “against the sock”.
NE401 ‘K’ On night operations 10 May, swung on take-off, Cat II damage.
During the night of 12/13 June two aircraft set out to attack communications in central Burma, including the Mandalay—Rangoon railway. The aircraft sent a VHF distress call at 0610 hours and bearings were sent by Feni, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar but nothing further was heard. J12845 F/Lt MJC Haakenson RCAF and his Nav/W 1321315 F/Sgt AO Ferguson were taken PoW and held at Rangoon Gaol. Both survived.
Lost in action 7 May 1944. J86974 P/O Hall RCAF shot dead resisting capture, 176397 P/O Parker taken PoW but died of dysentery in captivity at Rangoon Gaol.
July and August 1944
From the Log Books of DA Spencer and EL Wood, Cpl Goodinson’s diary and loss table, and Squadron records including sortie reports, most of the aircraft on Squadron charge over these two months have been identified down to callsign. Four crews failed to return over these two months.
LX938 ‘D’, later ‘W’.
LZ229 ‘H’, LZ323 ‘D’, LZ343, LZ483 ‘M’.
NE288 ‘K’, NE321 ‘L’, NE414 ‘A’, NE464 ‘V’, NE540 ‘Z’, NE646 ‘V’, NE736 ‘E’, NE721, NE752 ‘X’, NE762 ‘E’.
All the NE series aircraft were part of the batch of 500 Mark X Beaufighters built by Bristols Weston-super-Mare, delivered to the RAF between November 1943 and April 1944.
Lost in action 1 August 1944 with J88656 W/O Vaughan RCAF and F/Sgt Lightfoot, so recorded in OpRep 224 Sortie Report No 1. While RAF Aircraft LA100—LZ999 records that aircraft as struck off 177 Squadron charge 29 March 1945, no other serial variations seem valid.
On the morning of 27 August, four aircraft set out on a six hour operation to attack railway targets on the Moulmein—Thanbyuzayat—Anaukwin line as far South as possible. The weather was difficult with rain and low cloud. J16295 P/O Cuddy RCAF and 133807 W/O Tomlinson RAF were seen leaving the target area with port engine smoking. Although the CO (M-R in ‘X’) made VHF contact and attempted to offer escort, he was unable to find Cuddy. Seven minutes after their attack, Cuddy reported he was about to ditch. Both men were taken captive, they too survived Rangoon Gaol.
LZ324 (LZ524) ‘B’
LZ324 according to the 27 July Sortie Report: a serial known to have been of a batch transferred to the RAAF and in Australia in December 1943. Likely to be LZ524, whose allocation after 304 FTU was recorded only as “FE” and SOC 11 October 1944.
One of four aircraft attacking communications and targets of opportunity in the morning and afternoon of 27 July 1944, in ‘B’ and on their fourth operation, F/Sgt John Birch and his Navigator F/O Alan Carter attacked and damaged a train just North of Thazi station, during which Carter thought he might have heard the sound of gunfire. Continuing the patrol to the North, they attacked and damaged another larger train. On landing at Chiringa, the aircraft swung to starboard and the undercarriage collapsed. The starboard tyre had been punctured and the rudder struck by ground fire. The crew escaped unhurt.
Damaged by ground fire 8 July 1944 near Letpadan, hydraulics lost. Returned safely to Feni and force-landed without flaps or undercart, F/O GV Vardigans and F/Sgt D Spencer safe. Dennis gave a very full account of this sortie from start to finish: it was their narrowest escape.
On 27 July 1944, 1235518 F/Sgt WA Williams, 23, and his navigator 1522557 F/Sgt R Gollop, aged 29, were on the afternoon operation to attack communications targets, one of four aircraft active that day as “fluid pairs”. In cloudy weather they were not sighted after take-off by Birch and Carter in ‘B’, nor did they respond to radio calls once overdue. Their aircraft did not return and the two men were posted missing. In 1955 the families were informed that the men’s remains had at last been found and recovered. They lie together in Taukkyan War Cemetery.
One of six aircraft to attack Pyinmana railway station with rockets on the afternoon of 12 August in a successful strike before proceeding on solo patrols, P/O F Gamlin and his Nav/W W/O BB Mearns did not return, forced to land with engine trouble. They were taken captive, held at Rangoon Gaol, and survived.
On the night of 5/6 August two Beaufighters attacked Thazi railway station despite intense flak. Pilot 990198 F/Sgt ES Leach was wounded in shoulder and chest by light machine gun fire. With the help of Navigator/W F/O JD Callaghan he flew back to base and landed safely. Leach was admitted to 31 West African Casualty Clearing Station. None of the Squadron records give the aircraft serial, just the aircraft letter ‘B’, which had earlier been allotted to LZ324 (LZ524). However, that aircraft had suffered a collapsed undercarriage 10 days earlier: whether that was sufficient time for repair of the Cat II damage is not recorded.
September to December 1944
Unfortunately, Sortie Reports for September, October and November apparently did not reach the UK National Archives. However, from the Log Books of F/O AMJ Kent, W/O DA Spencer, F/Lt Wood, Cpl Goodinson’s diary and loss table, and Squadron records, it has now been possible to list the identities of 34 of the Squadron’s Beaufighters in late 1944, with the call-sign for 26 of them.
Five crews failed to return from operations in the four months to the end of the year. One crew ditched and were recovered safely. Early in this period, aircrew tour lengths were reduced from 300 operational flying hours on operations to 200.
The KW Mark X machines were part of a Rootes Securities mixed batch of 500 Mark VI and Mark X aircraft ordered in February 1942.
KW316 ‘H’, KW319, KW348, KW391 ‘X’.
LZ229 ‘H’, LZ323 ‘D’.
NE321 ‘L’, NE310, NE372 ‘B’, NE496 ‘K’, NE500 ‘O’, NE603, NE646 ‘V’, NE649, NE705 ‘V’, NE740 ‘Z’, NE752 ‘X’, NT994 ‘G’.
NV114 ‘M’, NV256 ’Y’, NV332 ‘A’, NV553, NV603.
Ditched on the sea shore after rocket firing practice, 11:50hrs 27 November 1944 P/O FM Bruckshaw 132623 (pilot) and F/Sgt RF Watling 1585330 uninjured.
Lost in a flying accident 17 December 1944 with 1334151 F/Sgt Bell and 574199 Sgt Lawrence.
Previously ‘K’, apparently. On their first operation together, F/Sgt HH Hipperson and his Navigator/W F/Sgt JHCH Harvey took off with two other aircraft around 13:30hrs on 14 October to attack road and rail targets in the Thazi—Pyinmana area. On the homeward leg, near the Irrawaddy, P/O Thompson RCAF with W/O Butcher observed a column of smoke to the rear. Returning to investigate, they observed Hipperson’s aircraft burning furiously.
On 18 October 1944, six aircraft led by S/Ldr Martineau attacked Mingaladon airfield. Five miles out, they observed aircraft above the target but pressed their attack home. 41553 F/Lt RM Coles and F/O 152568 RS Painter were last seen breaking off to the South-East having completed a run over the airfield, by F/Sgt A Begg and F/Sgt JD Rowan flying as their No 2 in ‘W’. Japanese Ki 43 Oscars gave chase to all the Beaufighters but failed to make contact. However, Coles and Painter did not return. They were posted missing and were not found by the post-war RAFMES search parties. Their loss is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial, Kranji.
Ditched successfully off Elephant Point on 17 September 1944, after an engine fire following an Irrawaddy Delta sortie. F/O Mitchell and F/Sgt Palmer took to the dinghy. MacDonald and Freeman in ‘L’ observed the plight of their colleagues and reported their position, where-upon the CO Muller-Rowland took-off in support with his Nav/W F/Sgt R Gilley DFM. Finding the ditched crew, M-R loitered overhead while calling up the ASR launch, which picked up both men. Mitchell was awarded the DFC for his coolness.
Engine cut and bellylanded on approach, Chiringa, 2 September 1944.
Following up on earlier rail attacks on 27 September, F/O Shippin and Sgt JH Oblein suffered engine failure, having taken heavy ground-fire after striking Chaukpadang railhead. They force-landed, both being taken PoW and surviving to be released from Rangoon Gaol in May 1945.
Four aircraft sortied on the afternoon of 24 September 1944 to attack railway targets, Mandalay—Rangoon—Prome. In ‘T’, W/O AE England and W/O AW Blaxall failed to return. Posted missing in action, they were never found. Recorded only as ‘T’ on the Squadron Form 541 for 24 September, there are no Sortie Reports for this period to add detail. Cpl Goodinson’s loss list recorded the aircraft as NV808, but that serial is from a cancelled block for GA Hamilcar gliders. The nearest practical Beaufighter match is NE808, recorded as allocated to FE and lost on 26 September 1944. Differences of a day or so in recorded date are not unknown.
Written off 17 December, when KW318 ‘Z’ of 27 Squadron had an accident on take-off, colliding with ‘W’ which was parked. No injuries.
Operating alone in the third of the morning’s sorties on 11 December, J26409 F/O Barlow RCAF with 1418377 F/Sgt Quaintance were to attack targets of opportunity from Sittang Bridge to Martaban. They did not return. A later sortie in the area saw the still burning remains of an aircraft near Paung railway station.
Beaufighter prang NV384 ‘M’ 9 November 1944 (Goodinson collection)
Crashed on take-off after the starboard engine cut on 9 November 1944.
Other than a cut above the eye for the Navigator, no casualties to crew or passengers, incl Cpl Goodinson, whose own print is a cracker. A little (understandable!) camera shake and RAF lettering style initially made it difficult to be quite certain of the serial, which could be read as either NV364 or NV384, the latter turning out to be correct from the Squadron record.
Further, there later turned out to be an almost identical photograph, plainly taken within moments of this one, in which the serial number was clear: NV384, the same as the Form 540 entry (Thomas, Beaufighter Aces of World War II, p73, credited to W Smith).
With damage classed as Cat B (beyond repair on site, repairable at a Maintenance Unit or at a contractor's works), the aircraft remained on the Squadron roster until May 1945.
See also NV364 ‘J’ on 20 February 1945, below.
January to March 1945
From the Operations Record Book & Sortie Reports, Log Books of F/O AMJ Kent, DA Spencer, T Taylor, EL Wood, Cpl Goodinson’s diary and Halley’s RAF Aircraft LA100—LZ999 and RAF Aircraft NA—LZ999, it has been possible to identify 35 of the Squadron’s aircraft (24 with callsigns) in the first quarter of 1945. During this time four crews were posted missing. The Squadron establishment remained at 16 aircraft.
KW339, KW398 ‘S’, KW408, KW413 ‘W’.
NE310, NE321 ‘L’, NE455, NE500 ‘D’, NE553, NE655 ‘S’, NE705, NE811 ‘Z’.
NT984 ‘R’, NT994 ‘G’.
NV114, NV332 ‘A’, NV367, NV376 ‘V’, NV562, NV603 ‘L’.
Sgt Webster and F/Sgt Hopes had been hit by AA fire over Thayetmyo but belly-landed safely on return, with Cat III damage to the aircraft: damaged beyond repair.
Form 540 2/3 March 1945:
“After Beaufighter LX948 had twice attacked a train on the Martaban-Mokpalin line, it was severely hit by probable 20mm and LMG fire, which put out of action all controls (except ailerons) and the lights, VHF and intercom. The crew (F/Lt Smith and W/O Webber) prepared to abandon the aircraft but the pilot was able to maintain control with engines and ailerons [!] and set a rather erratic course for the Bassein delta. The Navigator repaired the intercom & established contact with base which was held until at 01:23 he and the pilot baled out over the North part of Ramree Island. They landed safely in the mangrove swamps, were helped by natives and made their way individually to Kyaukpyu Road, where they contacted RAF personnel. This was the first known bale-out since the Squadron re-formed in 1943.”
A very considerable feat on the part of both crew, who then returned safely to the Squadron in a Sea Otter on 4 March.]
Lost in action 8 February 1945 R168763 W/O JE Fitzpatrick RCAF (pilot) and 1549317 F/Sgt S Lock (navigator). Took off at 0215 hours to attack communications between Taunouf and Frowein southern Burma. They did not return. Best evidence later was that it was strafing a Japanese car on the main road but hit a tree. Their remains were buried by local villagers.
Lost in action 9 February 1945 with F/Sgt Purnell and F/Sgt Grimsdell, attacking rail targets between Prome and Taikkyi.
Swung on take-off and undercarriage raised to stop, 9 March 1945. The aircraft still ran into the trees opposite flying control and was written-off but the crew W/Os Thompson and Whale escaped unharmed.
On Saturday 13 January, S/Ldr RN Dagnall and F/O Stenning took off at 1010 hours, tasked to take over the earlier patrolling of the rail line from Taikkyi to Iniwa and attack any targets of opportunity. The aircraft failed to return and no signals were heard. A later aircraft searched without result. The remains of the missing crew were recovered in 1953 and are buried in Taukkyan War Cemetery.
Returned from a sortie on 31 January with ground-fire damage that prevented pilot F/Lt PN Stacey RAAF from lowering either the undercarriage or the flaps. In an excellent wheels-up landing back at Chiringa, the only injury was a cut finger for Nav/W P/O Carruthers. Stacey’s action on this occasion was mentioned in the recommendation for his DFC in October 1945.
On 12 March 1945, W/Cdr Lovelock returned with one engine suffering oil pressure failure, to make a good single-engine landing.
Wood’s Log Book records a number of sorties in NV364 ‘J’ from 18 November 1944 and on through December and January 1945. On 20 February 1945, F/Sgt FTN White RCAF and his navigator, Sgt Bennett returned on one engine from the River Irrawaddy only to find a Hudson on the strip as they landed. The aircraft was written off in White’s swing to avoid collision, he and his navigator uninjured.
Missing from operations 12 February 1945: Pilot 990198 W/O Leach and Nav/W 138079 F/O Callaghan taken PoW and later released from Rangoon Gaol.
On 20 February 1945, S/Ldr Martineau with Navigator P/O Lacey and their passenger Major Prentice returned safely from a successful attack on a group of road tankers, during which their aircraft sustained small-arms fire damage to both wings and starboard propeller before Martineau, ammunition exhausted, turned for base.
Damaged beyond repair 21 March 1945 in a belly-landing after hydraulic failure, without injury to pilot F/O Montague Browne and his Nav/W F/Sgt Price.
Returned safely with Cat II damage 24 March with F/Sgts Taylor and Broome, damaged by AA fire at Namhpe.
April and May 1945
For the final two months of Beaufighter operations, ten aircraft of the Squadron have been identified from Goodinson’s diary, the Log Books of JS Mitchell DFC and EL Wood, and the Operations Record Book. The Squadron’s last operational loss of the war came on 7 May.
NV376 ‘V’, NV562
Damaged by own RP debris, 2 May, F/Lt Strumbos RCAF.
Hit by groundfire over Schwelaung 11 April 1945 and returned to Chiringa where the navigator P/O Palmer and then the pilot F/O JS Mitchell parachuted to safety within a few miles of the airstrip.
Six aircraft on offensive patrol down the Bassien River on Saturday 5 May. Again flying in ‘P’, the CO W/Cdr Lovelock DFC and his Nav/W F/O Horton were at 700ft over Myaungmya when they encountered meagre but accurate 0.5” fire from the ground, scoring hits through rudder, port aileron and Horton’s radio transmitter. The aircraft returned safely, damage noted as Cat I.
Flown by AB Wythe DFM. Frequently illustrated, yet all too often erroneously described with a completely spurious serial no. Existing photographs show no visible serial. ‘526 certainly went straight from 1 Ferry Unit to the Far East and survived to be struck off charge on 14 February 1946.
Missing from operations 7 May 1945. Pilot 187554 F/O Anderson and navigator 187915 F/O Davies failed to return from attacking river craft near Bassein, in the Squadron’s last operational loss of the war. Here, too the boys were long missing in action, but in 1954 their remains were recovered by one of the British war grave search parties and they lie at rest with other comrades of the Squadron in Taukkyan War Cemetery.
Patrolling the Tavoy-Ye road on the morning of 5 April, hit by accurate groundfire over Kaleinaung Bridge in the port engine and wing. F/Sgt ME Walters and his Nav/W F/Sgt RC Kemp returned safely after 7hrs 15min in the air. Initially assessed as Cat II damage, the aircraft was struck off charge at the end of May.
On 13 May 1945, 211 Squadron stood down from operational readiness to withdraw to Yelahanka and conversion to the de Havilland Mosquito.
From October 1943 to May 1945, the Squadron had borne the loss of 35 Beaufighters on operations and a further 6 in accidents resulting in casualties. In the 17 months from January 1944 they had flown 1790 operational sorties in a total of 7425 flying hours, for the loss on operations of 76 aircrew: 58 killed or missing in action and 18 taken PoW (12 surviving). In fatal flying accidents over the period from mid-October 1943, a further 14 aircrew and other personnel died.
211 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1302, AIR 27/1303
211 Squadron Operations Reports/Sortie Reports TNA AIR 27/1305 to AIR 27/1310
211 Squadron narrative report and loss table Dec 1945 by F/Lt PA Spooner
Australian War Memorial Photograph Collection
Barrass M Air of Authority personal correspondence with the author
Carruthers (Nav/BW) Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book 1944—45;
Goodinson Personal Diary
Kent Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1944, 1945
Marsh-Collis Photograph Collection
Mitchell DFC Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1945;
Spencer DFC Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book 1944
Taylor Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1945—46;
Wood Pilot’s Flying Log Book 1944—45
J Halley RAF Aircraft LA100-LZ999 (Air Britain 1991)
J Halley RAF Aircraft NA100-NZ999 (Air Britain 1992)
J Halley RAF Aircraft RA100-RZ999 (Air Britain 1992)
Air Ministry Pilot’s Notes Beaufighter TFX AP 1721N (AM 1946)
Bowyer Beaufighter at War (Ian Allan 1976)
Bowyer Beaufighter (Kimber 1987)
Bowyer Flying Elephants: History of No 27 Squadron RAF 1915—1969 (Macdonald 1972)
HMSO Wings Of the Phoenix (1949)
Innes Beaufighters Over Burma: No 27 Squadron RAF 1942—1945 (Blandford 1985)
Sutherland Brown Silently Into the Midst of Things: 177 Squadron RAF 1943—1945 (Trafford 2001)
Thomas Beaufighter Aces of World War II (Osprey 2005)
www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 1998—2021
Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 12 Sep 2021. Page created 28 Feb 2005, last updated 31 Jul 2021
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