Some members of No. 15 (RAF) Squadron, March 6, 1945. These men were involved with night bombing between Bangkok and Rangoon. (Photo DND)

Some members of No. 15 (RAF) Squadron, March 6, 1945. These men were involved with night bombing between Bangkok and Rangoon. (Photo DND)

It was during the dry season of 1943-1944 that the Allies finally had air superiority in the area.  Several hundred bombers and fighters, with several hundred Canadians in their crews, were harassing the Japanese; the strength of the Japanese was down to about 150 machines of all kinds.  Some 300 Allied transport aircraft were also in the area.  Because more was requested, the RCAF formed two medium-range transport squadrons in India.  Due to bringing together Canadian aircrew already there and bringing more from Canada and the UK, 76 complete aircrews were undergoing operational training in Dakotas by the end of September, 1944.  Further, 580 Canadian ground crew and administrative personnel were flown out from England.  On November 19th, the 14th Army began to cross the Chindwin River on its march south.  On December 20th, and January 16, 1945, RCAF Squadrons 435 and 436 flew their first operational missions.

435 SQN. December 28, 1944 Photo taken in Burma following delivery of supplies to newly won air strip.

435 SQN.
December 28, 1944
Photo taken in Burma following delivery of supplies to newly won air strip. (Photo DND)

Cargo was either air-dropped or landed on short, rough airstrips hacked out of the jungle; many of them were situated in winding valleys and required extremely steep approaches and takeoffs.  At least once, unarmed Canadian had to rely on low-level manoeuvres to escape Japanese fighters.  Two aircraft were lost and six crewmen were killed in these transport operations.

By the end of February 1945, 14 Allied transport squadrons operated ( 4 British that included 225 Canadian aircrew, 2 Canadian and 8 American ), carrying 90% of the supplies required by 300,000 men,  Other Canadians were flying in ground support squadrons.  When the Japanese committed some of their force against a bridgehead over the Irrawaddy River, Hurricane ‘tankbusters’ of No. 20 Squadron (RAF) destroyed 12 of them.  Consolidated Liberators of No. 222 Group, RAF, along with 372 Canadian aircrew on strength in March 1945, limited the movement of Japanese shipping in a series of long-range bombing and mine-laying operations that took them as far as Sumatra.  The longest sortie undertaken by a Liberator in South East Asia during the war lasted 24 hours and 10 minutes.  It was flown from Ceylon, July 31, 1945, by a largely Canadian crew of No. 160 Squadron to drop supplies to guerrilla forces in the southern region of Malaya.

 

BURMA CAMPAIGN 1945 (photo DND)

BURMA CAMPAIGN 1945
(photo DND)

Rangoon, Burma fell on May 3rd.  The Allied forces in South East Asia were preparing an assault on Malaya when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945)  The two RCAF squadrons left Burma in early September.  They averaged more flying hours than the established intensive rate for transport aircraft use.  More than 1000 RCAF officers and aircrew serving in British squadrons in May 1945, along with another 700 servings in various headquarters, radio and radar units, maintenance units and bases, had begun to be repatriated in June.  However, the last Canadian aircrew were not posted out until October.  The last Canadians to leave were members of the District Headquarters; this was on January 15, 1946.

The challenges faced by an estimated 8000 Canadians who served in South East Asia included harsh terrain, great heat and humidity, unfamiliar cultures, threat of enemy attack, as well as dangerous tropical diseases and wildlife unlike anything they had to deal with previously.  Of these 8000, a total of 454 were either killed in action or died of disease; others were wounded or captured.