REPORT OF AIR COORDINATOR ON FIRST STRIKE
Major R. C. HAY, Royal Marines,
I have the honour to submit the following report on the conduct of the air strike against Palembang, Sumatra, on the morning of Wednesday, 24th January, 1945: —
2. Form Up
VICTORIOUS group was flown off and formed up in 25 minutes. At this time (0645), all the groups appeared ready and the Strike Leader (INDOMITABLE) should have commenced his circuit of the force, since time for departure was 0655. He was so long in coming that I flew over to INDOMITABLE's sector to see if there was any trouble. But their squadrons were all formed up and the additional circuit made was unnecessary and delayed departure at least five minutes. On future occasions I will break R/T* silence if necessary, to prevent similar delays.
Circuit of the force was commenced at 0650 and departure taken at 0704. The strike was thus nine minutes late, but it was just as well, since if they had been on time, the Fireflies (INDEFATIGABLE) would not have joined up before the strike reached the target.
3. Base to Coast
All went according to plan here except that the escort, instead of remaining at the same height as -the bombers, as had been previously arranged took up their correct escort intervals.
An accurate landfall was made at 0718 at 4,500 feet.
4. Coast to Target
The climb was continued to 7,000 feet in order to clear the mountains. This height was not lost again, as had been arranged, and I am not clear why the Strike Leader had to alter this part of the plan. The weather was excellent for the strike. Thin 10/10th at about 20,000 feet which enabled pilots to look into the sun with ease ; and very low 10/10th stratus covering large areas. Visibility was about 60 miles and the wind from the south-east.
The formation of both the strike and escort was exceptionally good. For reasons unknown, one Avenger from INDEFATIGABLE's squadron started to straggle. I have a photograph of this and have sent it to the squadron in the hope that it will teach them what not to do.
At 0738 we passed over Matapoera at 7,500 feet and observed three landing strips. Details of these have been reported separately. At 0803 the strike reached 12,000 feet. This was only 12 minutes before the attack and I do not consider soon enough. From the escort point of view, we want the strike at its top height a minimum of 50 miles from the target. This distance, allowing an average speed of 160 knots and a descent from 12,000 to 8,000 feet, would only take 19 minutes.
5. Approach to Target
About 20 miles from the target the Strike Leader requested the Fireflies (INDEFATIGABLE) to go ahead and strafe the balloons which could be seen flying in the target area at about 3,000 feet. Unfortunately, owing to delays in the carrier, the aircraft still had not joined the main strike. I judged their tune of joining to be 0806 and almost immediately afterwards they went ahead to strafe their special target. I do not think they heard the request for the balloons to be strafed.
At about 0808 the enemy A.A. defences opened fire whilst the strike' was still out of range, indicating that they had had warning of our approach.
Almost immediately afterwards the escort was engaged by an estimated 25 Tojo fighters, although I myself only counted about 12 at the time. Their initial height was 13,000-15,000 feet.
6. The Attack
There seemed to be a rather long delay after the enemy had opened fire until the first bombs fell (about six minutes). When surprise has obviously not been achieved, as in this case, the time interval must be cut down to a minimum and the bombing become more concentrated.
I did not see the Fireflies attack, but the first group of bombs to fall struck several oil tanks with the inevitable result; it seemed that all subsequent attacks had the same effect. The target of No. 1 Wing (INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS) appeared well hit. No. 2 Wing (ILLUSTRIOUS and INDEFATIGABLE) appeared to have destroyed only half of theirs. During this period, when not engaged with enemy fighters or occupied in avoiding predicted flak, I was able to secure a series of
oblique photographs of the bombing. When I finally left the target area (about 0823), the Avengers were just about to leave the rendezvous and I did not see them again.
Throughout the attack the enemy had just sufficient fighters to saturate the escort. Enemy pilots showed as much contempt for Japanese heavy A.A. as we did and fights were raging all over the target area. It was almost funny to see the aircraft scrapping and all the while the A.A. bursting at all heights up to 15,000 feet. As far as I know no one was lost by this fire and very few damaged.
The presence of 3 or 4 twin-engined aircraft seemed to indicate some air-ground control of A.A. or fighters. No noticeable difference was observed after three of these twin-engined aircraft had been shot down.
R/T discipline" during this air battle was good. No report was received from Force XRay. An immense column of black' smoke to the north-west of the target indicated their passage, but when I left they still had not arrived at Talangbetoetoe. Thus, although they achieved"very -excellent results;''they were too late to be of any material help) to the strike.
Once again the withdrawal was insufficiently protected by the escort. The Fireflies appeared to be the only aircraft there and they were unable to prevent several attacks by fighters taking place. There is no doubt more of the escort could have got there and discipline on this point must be tightened. At 0825 the enemy fighters appear to have been ordered off, as no further attacks developed after this time and the escort quickly formed up on the strike. In my attempt to rejoin the formation, my flight became-engaged with four Tojos of which I shot down two and the remaining two in my flight damaged one each.
8. Return to Base
Return was without incident. The top cover (VICTORIOUS) dispersed two Tojos which were attempting to shadow the formation. The fleet was several miles to the north of her advertised position. Attempts to home by beacon, as usual, failed. The reason for this continued failure of the beacon is not clearly understood. A very large number of aviators report failure each time with a lucky one or two reporting success. At any rate this matter needs most careful attention. At 0928 the
group broke up for landing which was carried out speedily and with skill.
1 think this has been one of the better strikes the Fleet Air Arm has ever accomplished.
There was some initial confusion in the operation orders since most places in South
Sumatra appear to have more than one name.
Maps were good and briefing excellent. Despite the unwelcome appearance of enemy fighters, balloons and intense A.A., the Avengers wrote off a good 60 per cent, of their targets and, now we know the form, succeeding strikes should be better still.
(Signed) R. C. HAY,
REPORT OF AIR CO-ORDINATOR ON SECOND STRIKE '
I have the honour to submit the following report on the strike against the oil refineries at Songei Gerong, Palembang on the morning of Monday, 29th January, 1945.
2. Form Up
In rather doubtful weather, carriers commenced flying off at 0640 ; about 0710 visibility improved sufficiently for all groups to be observed at the same time.
At 0718 the Strike Leader commenced his left hand circuit of the fleet. All units were ready for him, and joined up promptly. At 0729 the complete strike was all formed up and on the east side of the fleet, ready to take departure. Alas, the Strike -Leader once again, for no known reason, made -a - 360 degree orbit. I decided against breaking R/T silence, which was my error. Anyway, the
Flagship came up and ordered departure to be taken but it was too late. The result of this extra, unnecessary, circuit was: —
a) The strike departed at 0734 (four minutes late).
(b) Three Avenger Squadrons were hopelessly out of position.
c) The fighter escort was all jumbled up, which, with the poor weather conditions obtaining, made aviation in the area extremely hazardous.
I think the time allowed, i.e., 40 minutes before collection and 50 minutes before departure, could be reduced. The Strike Leader should collect 30 minutes after take off and depart 10 minutes later. At 0733, I observed an air crew being picked up by a destroyer: it seemed a little early in the day to start losing aircraft.
3. Base to Coast
At 0740, the strike commenced climbing and the escort took up position. An accurate landfall was made at 0752 at 5,500 feet. Formations had by now all closed up and the escort was very tidily in position. I lost sight of the fleet at about 10 miles owing to masses of low cumulus. But over the land, conditions were much improved. There was thin 10/10th at about 14,000 feet and over the eastern plain of Sumatra 10/10th cloud, 500 feet thick, covering large areas. In fact, the weather
could not have been more ideal.
4. Coast to Target
On passing over Lake Ranau, one Avenger commenced straggling and soon after turned for base. I reported this to INDOMITABLE but got no reply. The climb was continued over the mountains to 7,500 feet. The formation of the strike and escort was very good. The weather, however, got worse and I had some doubts whether we would be able to see the target. As the top cover was being forced
down by cloud, requests were passed to the Strike Leader to fly lower. But he continued to climb to 10,000 feet and caused embarrassment to the escort above him.
The journey to the target was otherwise uneventful. At 0830 I shifted to R/T Channel C and heard Forces X-Ray and Yoke at work. They were on their targets about 15 minutes before we struck and by the sound of things they were far too late. Most of their reports were of Bandits airborne.
At 0835, the vexed question of balloons cropped -up and the escort leader, much to the relief of the bombers, decided to use the Fireflies for this work. At 0840, the target could be seen, fortunately quite clear of clouds. The balloons were about 4,000 feet. All fires from the previous raid on Pladjoe were out. Shortly after, the Fireflies reported " Out Lights ", the bombers deployed according to plan and I moved ahead to observe the target.
Almost immediately, the heavy A.A. opened up on the Fireflies. Several groups of about 10 rounds were observed extremely accurate for height and range but, fortunately, out for bearing. My flight also attracted the attentions of the gunners but they were completely unable to cope with gentle evasion. All this drew quite a bit of the A.A. away from the bombers. But just after the deployment, several enemy fighters were seen diving down on them. I observed no reaction by the top or middle cover. The plan for guarding individual squadrons by sections of the escort appeared
in most cases to be a failure. Both squadrons of No. 1 Wing received the unwelcome attentions of Jap fighters which did not cease until they commenced to bomb. During this period no protection was afforded by our own fighters. I believe No. 2 Wing were more fortunate. About three balloons were destroyed but I don't think they were worth the attention the Fireflies gave them.
I commenced photographing at 0850 as the first bombs fell. From visual observation, some targets were severely hit and the photographs have confirmed this. Bombing by No. 1 Wing was truly impressive. By the time No. 2 Wing commenced bombing, it was getting a bit difficult to see. The first squadron of that wing (ILLUSTRIOUS) set off some oil tanks in the vicinity and certainly were very close to their target. Some of the last aircraft to bomb obviously could not observe their correct target and so, quite rightly, chose another. One stick was seen to burst along the wharves. It seemed a pity that so many aircraft were put on to one small target whilst Pladjoe was completely clear and could have been bombed accurately.
6. Withdrawal to Rendezvous
About three minutes after the last aircraft bombed I finished photographing. I then climbed from 6,000 feet to 10,000 in order to take vertical line overlap photographs as the flak had died down. I soon had to change my mind as a Tojo was coming for us. In shooting this one down, we descended to 0 feet and, attracted by the gunfire, an Oscar* came along, and by 0905 he, too, was dead.
During this time the radio was giving me an interesting picture of a long stream of Avengers dribbling out of the target area to the rendezvous, 30 miles away. It was evident some of them could not find it. Nor could I from 7,000 feet even though I searched for some time. During this period there was quite a vicious air battle of which I can give no detail.
7. Rendezvous to Base
The return was without opposition of any kind. There seemed to be a little confusion as to who was going to escort the stragglers. Formation on the return was good and the escort in position. I climbed to 10,000 feet and swept the area astern of the formation but no enemy aircraft attempted to shadow. After the strike had crossed .the coast I examined Lake Ranau for any survivors but saw none. I then proceeded to the submarine rendezvous for the aircrews forced down and took oblique
photographs of all the river mouths in the bay in question.
R/T discipline up till now had been 100 per cent.'improved. But crossing the coast seemed to be the signal for complete radio chaos. Primarily the Avengers giving their damaged friends extracts from pilots' handling notes. It is about time everybody knew their emergency drill without having to talk about it.
I found it extremely difficult to get a word in edgeways in order to report my return which was independent of the main strike and might have been mistaken for a raid. I could get no reply from INDOMITABLE and eventually had to pass the message on Channel C to VICTORIOUS.
Break up and landing requires no comments from me.
"Meridian" One and Two have been the most interesting and successful operations I know of. In both cases we succeeded in our object and I would like to praise the determination of the Avenger pilots who bombed so accurately in the face of maximum discouragement.
The fighter escort proved itself against the most serious air opposition it has so far met.
(Signed) R. C. HAY,