Friday, March 24, 2017
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Digri Remembered
by
Sgt E W Robinson (1868000) who was an airfield controller at Digri.


185 Wing was formed at Fenny, Bengal, in November 1943, as a Fighter Wing. The following month the Wing moved to Digri, Bengal, the move not having been completed when I was posted to No. 3 Flying Control Section at Digri in December 1943. From that time onwards until July 1945, 185 Wing was a Heavy Bomber Wing.
At Digri at that time there was 159 Squadron (Liberator Squadron) and 1576 Special Flight (Liberators and Hudson). In February 1944 a move was made to Dhubalia, Bengal, 159 Squadron, and the Wing and 3 F.C.S. actually making the move, which was never completed so far as the arrival of another Squadron was concerned owing to the unsuitability of the runway which cracked under the weight of the bombers. A return to Digri was made in April 1944 and here Squadron and Wing remained until the end of June 1945. During that time, from the autumn of 1944 onwards 22 A.A.C.U. (Hurricane and Vengeance), 357 Sqdn (formerly 1576 Flight), 215 Sqdn, 358 Sqdn (all Liberator Sqdns), and C Flight, a special duty Flight. (355 and 356 Squdns were at Salboni, five miles away) came to Digri.159 Squadron, under the command of Wing Commander J. Blackburn, became a Bombing Squadron with an enviable record, making operational trips of 12, 14, and 16 hours duration - these regularly - to Rangoon, Bangkok and Moulmein. The Squadron's longest trip was one of 19 hours 15 minutes, when, owing to the load carried, there was a special take off from Kharagpur, the runways at Digri not being long enough. 159 Squadron was operational from Digri throughout the whole campaign which led to the defeat of the Japanese and included a variety of sorties. About May 1945, 3 F.C.S. ceased to exist as a separate unit, being absorbed into 185 Wing. At the end of June 1945, the long association between the Wing and 159 Sqdn was ended by the removal of the Wing to Bilaspur in the Central Provinces - a hurried move which, it was afterwards learned, was in preparation for the attack and occupation of Malaya, (operation Zepper), the campaign in Burma then being virtually over.
At Bilaspur there was 96 Sqdn (Dakotas) engaged in glider towing and parachute dropping. On August 15th 1945, the Wing made a very hurried move by air to Rangoon, Burma, personnel being flown by 96 Sqdn and equipment by 32 Sqdn. The air trip, via Chittagong, was flown in the teeth of the monsoon, and was one of 1,200 miles. Owing to the weather aircraft making the journey were separated and some of the Officers arrived in Rangoon too late to join the Wing.
Rangoon proved only a stopping place, and after two or three days the Wing embarked on the "Salween" for the island of Penang, which, with the surrender of the Japanese was occupied by the Wing and Attachments on September 5th, the day following the original landing of a party of Marines. The aerodrome on the island was at Bayan Lepas. (Ronging and Chinese Bandits).
Bayan Lepas was one of the staging posts on the Calcutta-Rangoon-Singapore air route flown by Transport Command in the repatriation of prisoners of war and the movement of supplies. Lady Shenton Thomas, wife of the Governor of Singapore was among those flown through Penang, also many military prisoners. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the C-in-C stopped at Penang on his way to Singapore for the official surrender ceremony. Earlier squadrons of Spitfires and Mosquitos had stopped at Penang for re-fuelling on their way to Singapore to take part in the fly past at this ceremony.
In December 1945 or early January 1946, 185 Wing ceased to exist, the RAF station being known as RAF Butterworth, Butterworth being on the mainland and to which place the Wing moved in early February after the airfield there had been occupied and working by 60 Staging Post as from about the end of October 1945. The old Wing personnel occupied a different domestic site to that used by the Staging Post.
Bayan Lepas was maintained and in November 1946. owing to a shortage of Flying Control Officers, Sgt Haigh and myself became NCO's in charge of this airfield. There was a squadron of Spitfires (28 Sqdn) and a detachment of 27 Squadron wi th Beaufighters (Jungle Rescue). 27 Squadron was abandoned in February 1946.
At the end of February Sgt Haigh and I moved to Butterworth. My class B release came through in March. Left Butterworth, March 17th 1946. Arrived England from Singapore, April 16th 1946.

 

 

Sgt E W Robinson (1868000)

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