War History Page 7

The ubiquitous Beaufighters visited Selaroe on the 22nd and sank a 50-foot lugger, and three days later nine aircraft, heading for a second attack on the Mina River Bridge, missed their objective, having mistaken the Benain River for the Mina River, and strafed observation posts between Cape Wetch and Namfaloea.

On the 29th, of the six aircraft briefed for Roti Island, two failed to take off and two returned to base through engine trouble. The remaining aircraft attacked two two-masted and one single-masted luggers at the head of Pepela Bay, destroying one two-masted lugger. Later, at Kodi Island the aircraft strafed and destroyed a 50-foot two- masted schooner.

The raid on the 8th March, a possible barge hideout in a mangrove swamp near Saumlaki, was unspectacular and disappointing to the participating crews, as observation of the result of the mission was not possible. On the following day, fourteen Beaufighters and nine C47s, carrying 124 personnel and equipment, departed for Potshot to take part in the defence of the West Australia coast. This was part of the counter measures taken against the anticipated move of the Japanese Task Force, through the Indian Ocean possibly towards Perth. The fleet had recently withdrawn to Singapore.

All aircraft and personnel returned to Coomalie on the 23rd March. A few days after their return, No. 31 Squadron set out for Roti Island. At Oenggae Bay, after strafing runs, three single-masted prahus were left damaged and smoking. This raid cost the squadron one aircraft and crew, which crashed in flames at the head of Pepela Bay after striking the mast of a prahu, killing Flight Lieutenant Fitton and Flight Sergeant Foyle.

On the 30th March the squadron set out and attacked shipping off Tenau.
The returning aircraft claimed a 500-ton oil tender as sunk, another smaller vessel probably sunk, also a barge loaded with oil drums.

The month of April saw the offensive rise to a fury, hitherto unapproached, the overall object being to keep the enemy tied down in Timor and his Arafura sea bases, whilst contributing to a terrific softening of Dutch New Guinea in preparation for the Allied Advance along the north coast of New Guinea. The squadron shared in this intense assault, flying approximately seventy sorties, harassing Timor, Tanimbar and Semau Islands and the villages of Lautem and Soe in particular. Comparatively fortunate in their rate of casualties, No. 31 Squadron suffered a setback on the 15th April, one Beaufighter being claimed by flak over Soe and another crashing on return from the same mission.

During this raid buildings were destroyed and Japanese machine-gunned. From this mission Flight Sergeants Ashbolt and Hiskins failed to return.

Using Bathurst Island as an advanced base, on the 18th April two of the squadron’s aircraft accompanied twelve Spitfires of No. 54 R.A.F Squadron on an offensive sweep to Barbar Island. Strafing runs were carried out on all the given targets.
The W/T station collapsed after a combined run by all aircraft. During April and May the squadron possessed only thirteen serviceable aircraft, which figure rose to sixteen in June. In spite of this adverse position the squadron continued its operational offensive to the best of its ability.

On the 1st May, eight aircraft were airborne to attack targets in the Aroe Islands, followed on the 4th May by six which made a sweep from Cape Charter to Manatuto on the North East coast of Timor. On this occasion casualties were inflicted on some 40/50 Japanese, and strafing runs made on three 4-ton trucks and a 40-foot barge. Two days later, six Beaufighters attacked the ‘strips at Doka Barat. A suspected W/T station was strafed as well as mechanical equipment, watercraft and Japanese personnel. A similar mission was flown by a detail of seven aircraft on the 9th.

Squadron Leader Wentworth, a member of the Squadron, assumed command of No. 31 Squadron on the 24th May from Wing Commander Mann, who departed on posting. June was perhaps the squadron’s quietest month. Only 28 sorties were mounted. These were mainly convoy covers and rescue operations. From an operational point of view,

July was very satisfactory, even allowing for the fact that the squadron was far below establishment in aeroplane strength and that many new crews were still in the process of being “broken in”. Five hundred and forty three flying hours were recorded for the month. Many and varied were the missions. On the 1st, four aircraft reconnoitred Barbar Island, shooting up an assortment of buildings, thought to include the Japanese commanding officer’s house and a W/T station. A similar detail, the following day, flew an uneventful sweep over Tanimbar Island.

Several strikes were made without interference from the Japanese. But on the 16thwhile engaged on a strafing attack on Maumere aerodrome, four Beaufighters led by Squadron Leader Boyd surprised the enemy by attacking early in the morning, and destroyed two enemy aircraft which were just about to take off from the airfield. Boyd also destroyed another which had become airborne.
Then single-handed he fired two bursts at a distance of 200 yards and the enemy aircraft, a “Nick”, went into a vertical dive and crashed into the sea. Boyd then attacked another “Nick” which he hit, but the Japanese pilot broke off the engagement and escaped.

The flight then turned their attention to the shipping in the harbour. They strafed five motor vessels and two naval craft in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, but the enemy scored no hits. Again on the 22nd three Beaufighters caught and destroyed a “Topsy” on the ground at Lingat strip.

Besides attacks on enemy shipping throughout July, the most important observation of the month occurred on .the 27th when a large Japanese army encampment in the vicinity of Bokong River, Timor, was observed and estimated to be approximately 600 acres. Accordingly, next day two Beaufighters acted as pathfinders for a large force of bombers, which inflicted considerable damage. From the 15th till the 24th seven of the squadron’s aircraft were at Broome engaged in covering “She-Cat” operations.

Probably the greatest obstacle of all to the squadron at this time was the flying distance. The Japanese had moved North and North West to extreme range. On the 16th for example, when the squadron attacked Maumere, on landing it was found that the aircraft had only sufficient fuel left for a few minutes flying time.

A new camp area was also discovered in the Haliloeloek area as well as the important discovery that pack horses and mule trains were being used as a means of transport. During August the equipment for rocket projectile strikes began to arrive. September was a quiet month, due to the fitment of rocket projectile equipment to the squadron aircraft.
Three offensive sweeps, however, were flown over Timor – one on the 3rd and two on the 17th resulting in the destruction of two luggers, two motor transports, an armoured cycle unit, casualties to Japanese and further destruction of buildings.