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Vic Bargh at Rangoon

Vic Bargh with the engine of a Mitsubishi Ki-21 "Sally" bomber

Flt Sgt Vic Bargh, Brewster Buffalo pilot

[C. V. (Vic) Bargh was a sergeant-pilot in RAF 67 Squadron, flying a Buffalo in the defense of Burma from December 1941 to March 1942, alongside the AVG Flying Tigers. He was born on New Zealand's North Island in 1920, joined the Civil Reserve Air Force in 1940, transferred to the RNZAF as soon as he turned twenty, and went to Singapore at the end of 1940. Following are notes from my telephone interview with Vic in the summer of 1995. My comments and summaries are in brackets. This tape is archived at the Naval air museum, Pensacola. -- Dan Ford]

"We didn't know they were out of date"

When we got to Singapore, we thought we'd see all sorts of modern aeroplanes, and we had the same aeroplanes flying in Singapore. Very end of 1940. We were the first ones to ever go; there were six of us. 36 Squadron Vildebeest. Three months later they got these Buffaloes just started to arrive in boxes, and they were assembled at a place called Salito? for 67 Squadron. Christensen and I, we were sergeants. We had three English officers. They were supposed to be from the Battle of Britain. Pickney, Bingham-Wallace, and Lambert. First Buffalo about April 1941. Well, we had known nothing else. I thought they were terrific; they were beautiful aeroplanes. Well, we all thought they were good, you know. We didn't know they were out of date.

[There was an American test pilot, but RAF mechanics assembled them.] We used to fly over in a small aeroplane and pick them up, and bring them over one by one until we'd got enough for the whole squadron, which was about 16 aeroplanes. We knew nothing else. We'd never seen a Spitfire, we'd never seen a Hurricane, we'd never seen anything else. We thought they were quite good. The guns were never satisfactory. I don't know why, but they always stopped. Four point-fives, two through the propeller, at the bottom of the motor, and two in the wings. We thought we could out-turn the Japanese. We didn't know, we didn't know, and nobody told us we couldn't.

[Turned the Buffaloes over to 488 Squadron and went to Rangoon by boat October 1941. Vic had 180 hours in the Buffalo when war broke out.] Our Buffaloes, you see, they were naval aircraft originally, and they didn't have air cleaners. They took in all the dust. Down in Burma, we'd been in a lot of dust, and it was just like a car without an air cleaner. They wore the motors out, and there was black smoke coming out. They definitely wore out the pistons.

I flew over Thailand and Indochina, taking photographs. We had [a camera] bolted into the bottom of the aeroplane. I landed in a place called Namsang, it was a little field we had.

[On Christmas Day] I was with a bunch of six. Five were shot down. That was the second time I ever flew with them. The first day [D 23 1941], there were only two of us met them, Gordon Williams and I. We met 35 or 37 of them, and a big mob of bombers. Old Gordon and I, we met them at 15,000 feet, and I got mixed up with the fighters--I had a fighter about two feet behind me all the time. But he was too close, and the bullets ripped all the bottom of the aeroplane. I had no armor plating, so I could see him easily; he was in a fixed undercarriage, what we called a Type 97 fighter [Nakajima Ki-27 Nate]. One got by my ear. At that point I realized I couldn't turn with him any longer. I spiraled down and I came up again after I left them behind, and there was another mob of bombers came in to Rangoon, and they came right across my---they had no fighters with them. I joined up with them and shot down two of them.

I had to go off and clean the windscreen of oil. They had an engine in the hanger, and they said these [push-rod] valve springs are too strong. They were discolored. We didn't have any valve springs suitable, so they just stayed on. They tried to raise the rems from 2250 to 2500 to get more power, and that's what caused the trouble. I never had a failure, personally. The oil used to come out and drip off the power wheel? It would just get too hot and overflow. Everybody was faced with that problem. As soon as you went flat out, you see, as soon as the engine was at full throttle, this would happen. After the war started, we were told not to run at full throttle. We used to run along at 1800 rems, as smooth as you like, but if you went to 2500, these problems developed. But you had to use full throttle. The Japanese fighters were very good.

"A damned foolish day"

There were six of us up in the second battle [D 25], and five were shot down, four killed. I found out later that Chennault had been down and told us not to do this dog-fighting. Well, we were in for keepers, weren't we? But I didn't get [hit?]. I was on the side. And I was attacked, there was a swarm of Japanese fighters, you couldn't see for the damned things above us, and when he attacked me I dived right away, and I come up again like I did a couple days before, and I couldn't see any Japanese at all. I missed them. But the others were all shot down. I reckon it was a damned foolish day.

I learned very quickly. I never really got caught. He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. I didn't get shot down because I bolted. Just as soon as one was turning on me, I went back down, and I got away.

Willie [Gordon Williams] was a real good fighter pilot. He was a tough little nut. He was always trying to work out how to beat those Japanese--both of us was trying to do it. We were using what they call a rolling attack. You had to be above them. And when you saw them coming, you pulled up steeply and rolled over on your back as you were going up. You could see everything below you, you see. Well, we were quite used to flying the aeroplane; it didn't matter a damn whether we were upside down or right way up. You just curled over at the top--when you lost a lot of speed, you'd turn into a dive, and you twisted around so you came in from behind. Straight in behind. You can do it if you tipped upside down and you watched them coming along; I've done it, I've done it. I did it twice, and I lived.

[Installed armor plate shortly after.] They were putting in armor plating as quick as they could do it. Everybody had it about a week after that. If you didn't have armor plating, it made it a bit lighter, but if you didn't have it you were really open, like a sitting duck.

We lost eight pilots and eight aeroplanes shot down in the first fortnight, and there were several others [destroyed] on the ground. I had an E on mine.

I can tell you, it was funny, really. There were four of us, and another chap and I shot down two each of these bombers [24 Jan 1942], and when we got back we walked over to the American Volunteer Group chappies, and we said to them, look, there are four aeroplanes here; we can tell you exactly where they are. The last one was at a place called Pegu, which was not very far from Mingaladon, really. I said, well, you chappies are getting five hundred dollars paid by the Chinese. You can have 'em. You can say they're yours. It don't worry us. They put in a report saying they'd shot them down. It was one of those things that happened.

They shot down a lot more aeroplanes down than us. They had the right tactics, you know. There was no British or American fighter ever built that could dogfight with the Japanese. You had to use other tactics--come in from above, or on the same level at the very least, then dive away before they got onto you. Because if they got onto you, well, you were shot down.

We ran out of aeroplanes and pilots. That's why there's nothing said about us after awhile, because we just didn't have any more aeroplanes. They were all damaged or shot down. We never got replacements. The people with the Hurricanes that arrived . . . they were a different lot to us, and we were just left on the ground, gazing at them. [As for the pilots:] A lot of them never flew. They were either sick or useless. And they were generally officers, for some reason or other.

[Vic flew one of four survivors that went out to Dum-Dum, Calcutta, and the squadron kept two of them along with their Hurricanes.] Willie and I tried them out, the Hurricane versus the Buffalo. The Buffalo wasn't so bad.