War History Page 6

Raids were staged in Tanimbar Island on the 6th and the 11th. In the first attack a large sailing boat and two other vessels were sunk, while a forty-foot barge, a ketch and a number of small canoes were severely mauled.

Japanese soldiers on Selaroe strip were subjected to a strafing run. In the latter attack Selaroe strip was again strafed, but the Beaufighters also turned their guns on to ack-ack positions and strafed the neighbouring villages, Adoaot, Lingat, Werain, Foersoei and Kandar.

Two days later, three Mitchells and three Beaufighters accounted for a small vessel in the vicinity of Fordate Island. This vessel was camouflaged to resemble a small island and had slowed down to eliminate the wash. The Beaufighters started a fire on board, before the Mitchells deal the final blow. Before leaving the scene, the Beaufighters strafed the sinking ship and personnel.

On the 14th all squadron aircraft returned from Darwin to Coomalie Aerodrome. Few Japanese ships could move untroubled in the Timor, Banda and Arafura Seas, the areas controlled and reconnoitred by No. 31 Squadron, as was evidenced on the 17thNovember, when a corvette type of vessel near Dawalor Island was strafed and bombed by a composite force, causing it to run aground.
This vessel was listed as “probably destroyed”. Again on the 21st six Beaufighters and six Mitchells attacked the anchorage at Maikor. One vessel received two direct hits from the Mitchell bombers. It broke into two and sank. The Mitchells shot down one enemy fighter.

The covering Beaufighters warded off three “Rufes” over Taberfane, destroying two. Other “Rufes” were seen, but did not intervene. One Beaufighter had a wing tip shot off, the observer’s cupola damaged, and the observer’s parachute holed. One Beaufighter failed to return from this operation. Pilot Officer Jones and Flight Sergeant Gaunt failed to return to base after refuelling at Millingimbi.

Tanimbar Island received yet another unwelcome Beaufighter visit on the 5thDecember, when the squadron delivered one of its all too frequent harassing attacks. On the 15th eight Beaufighters set out on yet another harassing attack on Japanese shipping off the coast of Timor.
The aircraft strafed and damaged six schooners and sunk two 80-foot power barges off Manatuto. In this sweep a convoy consisting of two 4000/5000-ton vessels loaded with troops and equipment, and escorted by a 200-ton destroyer, was sighted and severely damaged. Nine aircraft were briefed for the operation. En route, the structure of the jetty at Adoaet on the island of Jamdena was reported to base. All three were strafed causing damage and casualties. At Vila de Liquica the attackers strafed warehouses and sank a 500-ton cargo vessel.

The following day eight of the squadron aircraft set out to attack this convoy. It was located in Lautem Harbour. One of the transports was still burning fiercely, having been attacked the previous evening by No. 18 NEI Squadron.

As the force swept into the attack, the undamaged vessel was unloading. Eight direct hits were registered and before leaving the area it was noticed that the vessel was uncontrollably on fire and in a sinking condition. On the way home, four “Nicks” were sighted. The aircraft, piloted by Squadron Leader .Gordon, D.F.C., at once climbed to intercept. After the skirmish one had been destroyed and another damaged. One enemy aircraft followed the flight for eighty miles out over the Timor Sea, prior to turning for home.

The turning of the spotlight once more on Timor was accented on the 24th December by a joint mission against Atamboes, engaging five Mitchells and four Beaufighters, which acted as top cover. On the 30th the squadron briefed eight more aircraft to harass targets along the coast of Timor between Menatuto and Atamboes.

With the close of 1943, No. 31 Squadron had recorded 1137 sorties, resulting in 18 enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat and 49 grounded aircraft destroyed, together with two probables. There were also 13 damaged in the air and 32 damaged on the ground, as well as four ships destroyed.

No. 31 Squadron’s account for 1944 opened on the 2nd January, when eight aircraft carried out a harassing attack on Trangan Island.. The aircraft made a complete reconnaissance of the island without enemy interference. The ack-ack from known positions was slight and inaccurate.

On the morning of the 4th eight Beaufighters, led by Squadron Leader. Gordon, D.F.C., were briefed to cover six Mitchells of No. 18 NEI Squadron attacking known enemy shipping in Tenau Harbour, Timor. Approaching the Timor coast, Gordon intercepted and shot down a “Betty”.
Heavy rain over the target made observation of the bombing raid impossible, but it was thought that one bomb struck the side of one of the vessels sighted. Gordon strafed and blew up a barge in Semaoe Strait. Three other Beaufighters strafed a 50-foot prahu which did not burn.

Later on that same day four aircraft covered three Mitchells from the same squadron to Tenau and saw direct hits with resulting fire on a merchant vessel of considerable tonnage.

No. 31 Squadron with eight aircraft on one of its periodical assaults on Timor on the 14th January succeeded in sinking a 1200-ton transport freighter and damaging a 500-ton vessel off Atapoepoe. Lantern, Atamboca, Menatuto and Atapoepoe were strafed by the same force.

Of the 111 sorties carried out during January, 59 were offensive strikes, 22 convoy cover, 8 rescue operations, 12 searches and 10 navigation training flights. Throughout February, the ever-watchful Beaufighters continued their devastating strafing missions in the Kai, Aroe and Tanimbar Groups.

The high standard of co-ordination, previously witnessed, was again markedly present on the 19th February, when six Mitchells were covered by 8 Beaufighters, briefed to attack the Mina River Bridge. They were led by the Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Mann.

The aircraft approached the Timor coast at the usual zero altitude, making landfall at the mouth of the Mina River, and approached the bridge at tree-top height. The bridge and surrounding structures were strafed prior to the bombing attack. Though the damage could not be estimated immediately, photographic reconnaissance revealed damage to the superstructure and the wooden span of the bridge.