Library Reference Number: 042
As a Pilot flying Dakotas, Ted Bracken was well aware that, in wartime, weather conditions are not allowed to interfere with operations. He had supplied the Army from N. Burma to Rangoon, had completed 34 crossings of 'The Hump' into China, and after the following incident, pioneered BOAC routes from Rangoon to Bangkok, Saigon & Hong Kong. Ted describes one of those tussles with the Monsoon.
On 28th May 1945, at Rangoon, I awaited the arrival of a Dakota from my (No.52) Squadron based at Dum Dum, Calcutta. We had formed a slip crew to take over the aircraft on its arrival at Rangoon and carry a number of senior Army personnel to Calcutta. At the aircraft's arrival, I checked with the incoming pilot the weather he had experienced and he reported fair weather cumulus over the Chin Hills - a range of mountains I had to cross, and just about 9,000 feet had been sufficient to clear, and then a clear run due south where the 14th Army had travelled, avoiding the Pegu Yomas to the west where the Japanese were still very active.
Around one and half hours later, we took off with our load into clear blue skies. We were routed due north to a village - Allanmyo- and from then on, being north of the Japanese, we could turn westerly towards Calcutta. Not long after take-off, I could see a very black sky to the north stretching from east to west. My first impression was that it must be further north than Allanmyo and should not come into play. However, it began to look ominously close and I reckoned a little more height was called for.
At 12,000 feet, I was still looking up and realised there was no way of getting over what I now thought was a fair drop of rain. Looking more closely at the cloud formation, I am now reminded of fast moving clouds on speeded up film. Although it was black cloud, outlines could be seen forming and filling up, then as we approached it, a little flap and a bit less throttle was selected. Into the filth and bang!
There was great difficulty in appreciating base from apex-up around 2,000 feet unassisted by me, and after that I'm not quite sure what happened. At some stage, I was aware of a size 10 desert boot around 2 inches from my right eye (my navigators) and remember being fascinated by the port wing bending and flapping like a stork's wing. Movement was vicious and on occasion like being jolted as if smacking into a wall. Rudder and stick were moving as they were forced, and I could make no impression on them.
At one point I looked at the speedo, but where was the needle? - not to be seen!
There was I, possibly upside down and nothing on the clock! After what seemed to be a lifetime to the tinkling of tumbled gyros, we shot out of the clouds into the clear, appearing to balance on one wingtip, and very surprisingly we were flying south - back towards Rangoon.
Getting back to normal, I looked behind to see my navigator, who had come up front to see what I was playing at, and had been thrown up and backwards, just narrowly avoiding filling my ear with his boot. Unfortunately he had grabbed the bulkhead behind me and had the flesh ripped off the tips of two fingers.
His fingers were being attended to by our wireless operator, when a horrible thought then occurred - what about the V.I.P. passengers in the back?
Putting an ailing 'George' to work, I made my way to the back, opened the door and was met with a sight like the proverbial butcher's shop (the type where they used to slaughter in the back shop). Blood, cuts and bruises seemed to be the norm - their baggage strewn up the fuselage - the roof plywood fixings and the inset lights were all smashed. We called up and asked for a couple of medics and ambulance, which were waiting when we landed, and our navigator and two senior Army officers were then wheeled off to hospital.
I had no sooner got to our billet, a brick building with a filigree appearance having been fairly close to shell and bomb bursts - when I was summoned back to the Flights. The first thing I saw was a puce faced Engineer Officer who got straight into me asking what I had done to his aeroplane. I asked what was his problem, and he simply pointed to my Dakota. Looking at it from some distance head-on, I had to admit it looked a bit odd. The flaps still seemed to be attached at both ends, but drooped considerably in the middle. "At what speed did you put the flaps down on landing?" I assured him that I had landed at normal speed and had crept over the fence to land with lots of room to spare.
I went up to the stricken aircraft, and looking closely was amazed so many bits of machinery were still lying under the flaps. I could only think my 10 degrees of flap going into the monsoon storm had put a terrific strain on them during our unwanted aerobatics.
The Court of Inquiry that followed found surprisingly that I had not been to blame for damage to one of the King's aircraft, and I was never sued by any of the Army bods (were they strapped in?), but I bet most of them never flew again!