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Bob Neale at Rangoon (January)

[Here's the diary Bob Neale kept during his tour at Rangoon in January 1942, taken from a copy at the National Air & Space Museum Archives in Washington. I have corrected obvious misspellings but otherwise have followed Neale's style. Click here for the February diary -- Dan Ford]

Jan 12

[Squadron Leader Robert] Sandell woke me from my wee nap [in Kunming] about 0930 and told me that I was taking 8 planes (two 4-plane flights) to Rangoon around noon. Had a busy 3 hours getting planes & pilots & gear ready to go. Took off at 1330 for Toungoo but due to high head winds went into Lashio for gas. Took us 2 hours & 30 minutes to make 330 miles. Damn glad to see Lashio as I only had about 20 gallons of gas left. Refueled & took off about 1700 for Toungoo, but due to engine trouble turned back to Lashio after 30 minutes. Spent the night in the RAF barracks at Lashio. Glad that part of the flight is over.

Jan 13

Left Lashio at 1100 for Rangoon. Arrived in Rangoon at 1330. Uneventful flight and all planes arrived safely. Find that Rangoon has been bombed every night for the past 11 nights. Not much damage. [Jack] Newkirk found us a place to stay at a Mr. Scott. Went around there after the planes were dispersed. Lovely home, & we were treated as old friends. Had a lovely dinner & [Bob] Little and I went to bed very comfortably although I expected our sleep will be disturbed by the Jap bombers.

Jan 14-15

[Two pages missing]

Jan 16

No alarm last night. Took 3 planes off at 0730 to pick up a convoy 60 miles south of Rangoon. No luck due to the fog & haze. Spent the rest of the day laying around the alert shack (tent). At 1810 took 6 planes over to Satellite [probably the field called Johnnie Walker] & dispersed them there. Tomorrow is my day off which won't be hard to take. The longer I stay at this house the better I like it. Mr. Scott puts the whole household at our disposal.

Jan 17

Spent the whole day in town and went to a show in the afternoon. Nothing new except that I am going to have to send two pilots back to Kunming [because Newkirk wanted to put his own pilots in some of the planes Neale brought down]. Nobody wants to go so we are going to have to draw straws. Nice thing about being in charge of this outfit here is that I will have to stay here for a while. Just told one of the servants to bring me up a few sandwiches. Just like home.

Jan 18

Sent [Greg] Boyington and [John] Croft back to Kunming. A very quiet day at the field. Rumors have it that the Japs are sending a small force to Tavoy (about 260 miles from Rangoon). If they take this place they will be able to come over without giving over 15 or 20 minutes' warning. I hope the RAF bombs them out, however. I imagine that with their usual lack of foresight nothing will be done.

Jan 19

The moon is on the increase but it should be another week before the Japs start coming over at night again. The RAF was going to send some Blenheims southeast to bomb some enemy ships near Tavoy. However the flight was canceled--why I don't know as they probably carried the Jap troops coming up to take Tavoy. Another great day here although we did get one warning, probably caused by the bombing of Moulmein which is about 100 miles east of here and has been taking quite a beating for the past two weeks.

Jan 20

Had two air raids last night--both false. First one, Little & I were on our way to town--returned home. Rather a weird sound, those sirens. Six of us took off to guard six Blenheims which were going to bomb Meshot which is about 160 miles east of here in Thailand. Over Meshot we were jumped by eight Jap fighters and as we had to fly at a lower altitude than usual to keep the bombers in sight they surprised most of us. A Jap got on my wingman's tail which I believed I got. They are surprisingly fast and maneuverable. We kept them away from the bombers which bombed their objective. Lost one pilot, W.C. Moss. RAF also lost two fighters today. The Japs have taken Tavoy.

Jan 21

Moss bailed out of his plane and walked into Moulmein. Escorted a Blenheim over there to pick him up Jap troops are now reported working their way toward Moulmein. We will be in a dandy fix if they take that place as it is only 30 minutes by air from Rangoon and we won't have any warning. Took four planes over the Thai border looking for enemy action. All quiet. Found out the two RAF lads who were shot down [yesterday] were straffed just as they were taking off from Moulmein. Rumor going around that [Charlie] Mott was captured & is now in some concentration camp. Hope so.

Jan 22

Started out the day by escorting 6 Blenheims to a spot about 160 miles northeast of here to bomb a Jap airbase. The place was deserted by the bombs were dropped (missed) and we later went down & straffed. About 1200 had an air raid warning here--caused by Jap bombers bombing hell out of Moulmein. Spent another two hours patrolling at 20,000 feet over Rangoon. One Hudson bomber (RAF) was shot down by our AA. Took a flight of seven [Tomahawks] over by Mesoht about 1730 & returned to Satellite where planes were dispersed for the night. Moulmein airport & town were about bombed off the map yesterday.

Jan 23

Started out day by oversleeping. Arrived at Satellite about 0745 [illegible]. I arrived back at Rangoon found I had to go on an escort mission with 6 Blenheims & 11 fighters to bomb Tak. My flight covered the top (20,000 feet). Returned at border due to weather. All our airplanes landed at Satellite to refuel there. Kept my flight up to protect their landing. While circling heard report that large [numbers?] of Jap fighters were approaching Rangoon. Took my flight and intercepted about 25 or 30 Japs. My wingman was shot down (is OK). Little had some engine trouble I chased them about 50 miles east & shot down 1 fighter. No more than landed when another air raid sounded. I took off & climbed to 10,000 feet where I saw a formation of Jap bombers approaching base. Made a head-on run [then] returned from below rear & then up to direct rear where their tail gunners got me. Left wing was shot up pretty badly & engine shot up. Lucky enough to make a forced landing Satellite. [Bert] Christman (119-C bailed out & was shot in his parachute.

Jan 21

Good hunting today. About 1130 had a warning. Took off without my wingman. When I reached 12,000 feet, picked up 4 Jap bombers in formation about 1,000 feet below. Our lads had already engaged their fighter escort, so 4 Buffaloes (Brewsters) and myself went after the bombers which were the same type as we came up against in China. Closed on one to about 100 feet from the rear & blew up his starboard engine. Only two left by now, so took after the leader. Closed on him although I was getting a hell of [a] lot of return fire. I didn't seem to be getting hit so I closed to 50 feet and gave him a burst and the whole damn plane blew up, part of it coming back and tearing up my right wing & aileron. Force of explosion knocked me on my back and [I] started for the ground.

Checking the controls I found I still had good control. On the way back to the field, a Jap fighter dove in front of me so I took a shot at him. Although I didn't see him crash, I believe he did. About 20 miles from the field I was loafing along at 1,000 feet hoping my right aileron wouldn't come off, when 2 bullets came through the side of the fuselage. Two Jap fighters had caught me napping. Dove to [within] 10 feet of the ground and was lucky enough to get away. One of those shots had come through the side of the cockpit & smashed my microphone & went out the other side. Too damn close.

Jan 22

My day off. Had 2 false air raid alarms. Spent a very quiet day doing nothing but resting.

Jan 21

Had an air raid alarm about 1100. Took 4 planes & went up. Picked up about 20 Jap fighters at 12,000 [feet]. Looked like a bunch of buzzards milling around. Headed for them. When they saw us coming they split up, one group climbing above us. Didn't do much damage. First couple of runs, they always had the altitude on us and 1 or 2 would get on my tail & I would have to dive away. Lost them for a while but picked them up heading home. Was about 2,000 feet above & behind them. Picked out one of the rear ones and opened fire at 100 yards. Engine caught fire & I saw him crash in the Bay of Martaban. On returning home I found that [Cokey] Hoffman had been killed. It is believed he had a collision with one in the air.

Jan 27

Heard a rumor today that the Japs have [Charlie] Mott in a hospital in Saigon. Also another rumor to the effect that the AVG will shortly be inducted into the Army. Hope not. The Japs didn't come over today and we have all had a brief rest. Both the planes & pilots need one. The RAF have been bombing Bangkok. Hope they had better success than the missions I escorted them on. The moon is rather full now so I expect the Japs will start coming over again at night.

Jan 28

Japs came over last night. The RAF got one. Was quite a show. They dropped pamphlets and a few bombs but did not do much damage. Had several false air raid alarms today but all were false.... I haven't heard from home in about 3 months. I only pray that Fran and the folks are all right.

Jan 29

The Japs didn't come over last night, probably because they lost one [the previous] night. Had 3 air raids today. The first 2 were false but [then] about 20 Jap fighters came over. Knocked another one down. I guess they are just sending fighters over in an effort to knock out the AVG. I believe we got 16 of them. Anyway they are coming over in fewer numbers. Tomorrow is my day off which won't be hard to take. It is almost certain now that very soon we will be in the Army & [I] wonder when I will get home.

Jan 30

Went out to the field this a.m. and was there when the news came that Tom Cole (Navy) was killed on a straffing mission. A lot of damn foolishness for we can't do much damage against troops in the jungle. Rangoon is just about deserted so far as Europeans are concerned, and it is just as well for the Japs are getting darn close to Singapore.

Jan 31

Had two air raid alarms today but both were false, caused by the Hurricanes they have been bringing in here. Are supposed to get 3 squadrons within the next 2 weeks. Moulmein has fallen which brings the Japs within 100 air miles of Rangoon. Quite cozy.

Click here for the February diary