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Library Reference Number: 199

Operational Flying 24 Hours Plus

Eugene (Newfie) Vivian, ex-160 Squadron, ACA

Within a very short time from take-off, aircrews engaged in the WW2 European conflict could quickly become involved in the thick of battle with the enemy. However, further afield in far-flung theatres of war, mighty oceans separated South East Asia Air Force bases from their targets. This meant that while seven hours would be considered a ‘long’ flight in Europe, three times this duration was often the norm for Far East aircrews. The arrival of the B24 Liberator enabled aircrew to cover distances never envisaged before it became available to RAF Squadrons such as 354, 355, 356, 200 & 160.

Additional fuel tanks installed in the bomb bay gave the Liberator an even much greater range them ever intended by the makers, leading to the Consolidated Company of San Diego sending representatives out to the Far East. Their remit being to investigate the stories circulating about Allied crews covering extensive long-range operations over distances not covered in their workshop manuals.

Such was the situation when Jack Bates, RAAF, captain of a photographic reconnaissance aircraft of No.160 Squadron based in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) unintentionally broke the record for the longest operational flight at that particular time. One of his wireless operators describes the situation.

“The Canadian Legion magazine ran a story which in part made reference to Canadians who had served with the RAF in the Far East. In this article, Harry Bray of B.C. said he had made the longest bombing run of the war for 356 Squadron, 24 hours and ten minutes.”

“He states that there is recorded another flight for the exact number of hours made by a largely Canadian Crew from 160 Squadron Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka). He is partly correct. The aircraft was a Liberator. The pilot was Jack Bates (Australian). The co- pilot Jack Cunningham (RAF). I was RCAF and one of four wireless operators (WAG) on board. There were no other Canadians.”

“It wasn't particularly a fun flight. We had been sent to take night photographs of a spot along the coast of Sumatra and another near Singapore, and to drop the usual propaganda leaflets. However, on the return trip whilst still some 8 hours away from home base and one engine down it was agreed that in no way could we make it on the gas we had remaining. The captain then shut down the corresponding engine on the opposite wing to reduce drag and save fuel, and ordered everything removable to be thrown overboard. We then sent out an S.O.S. and tried without success to contact some friendly shipping in the area. Had we done so we would have ditched close by hoping to be picked up.”

“Finding nothing we continued on for the want of something better to do although it was difficult to maintain altitude and the two remaining engines were working overtime. By now all crew members not on duty had taken up ditching positions with headsets disconnected just waiting for the crash we were sure was imminent. Roughly three hours out we were joined by a Catalina Flying Boat escort (out of Colombo) and it was some comfort to see them a few feet off our wingtip with the captain grinning from ear to ear and the rest of the crew waving at us form the bubble.”

“To reach our own base we would have had to fly over jungle which would have been suicidal so we asked for permission to divert to China Bay (Trincomalee) which had a runway either right down to the water’s edge or at least at sea level. When we reached the harbour, tugs were busy pulling shipping out of the way so we could come straight on in as we were only about ten feet above the water by then. In fact we often joked afterward that our altitude ranged between a minus ten and a plus ten.”

“We did of course make it but when the tanks were dipped only one tank showed the faintest stain on the stick. The turbo superchargers on the two overworked engines had generated such heat that they were actually out of shape and had the appearance of something about ready to melt. We couldn't have lasted another minute.”

“We did get the distinction of making the longest flight alright but it was certainly not by choice.”

Footnote: According to 160 Squadron Operational Record Books, another crew (Captain, Jack Muir, RCAF) completed an operation with a flying time of 24hours 10 minutes. Target-Singapore;Aug.1945; Liberator BZ862 J/160, (Editor).

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