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Bob Neale at Rangoon (February)

Click here for the January diary

Feb 1

They bombed the place 4 times last night. Slept through 3 of them. Only 2 or 3 bombers came over. I guess they haven't very many of them left. The night fighters the RAF sent up couldn't pick them up. Had another false alarm [today]. Rather nice. Believe we are going back to China in the next week or so. Just as well I guess as I believe Rangoon will soon be under Jap control.

Feb 2

Had 2 air raid alarms last night but I don't believe any bombs were dropped. A very quiet day at the field with the usual 2 or 3 false air-raid alarms. With the fall of Moulmein our warning is very short. At the most 15 or 20 minutes. The 2nd Squadron is going back to [Kunming] but we will be staying here for a while. I hope everything is all right at home as I haven't received any mail from the States for 3 months. Tomorrow is my day off.

Feb 3

Spent a quiet day. In the afternoon [Bob] Little and I drove out to the Kokine Swimming Club of which we are honorary members and had quite a time swimming. Another air raid last night. At least so they told me as I slept through the damn thing. The next time we get a day off, we are going to get a sail boat and go for a wee sail in Victoria Lake. The Japs have crossed the Salween [River]....

Feb 4

Had a rather large air raid last night. The Japs bombed the city and destroyed about 8 blocks in the native quarter. Killed quite a few of the poor devils. Had an air raid alarm [today] which was caused by the fact that they were bombing Toungoo. Understand not much damage was done. Very glad to receive a letter from Mother dated Dec 8 today. I believe our induction into the Army has been postponed for a while and the AVG will retain its identity.

Feb 5

Escorted 3 Blenheims to Pa-an where [Japanese] troop concentrations are reported. For a change they hit their mark. Had about six alarms last night. Japs dropped a large number of bombs on the runway at the field. Darn near ran into one of them on the way home from Johnny Walker this a.m. Air raid in the p.m. which turned out to be false. Second Squadron is preparing to pull out leaving us their planes.

Feb 6

Another series of bombing raids last night. One of the Hurricane night fighters made contact and shot one down. The air raid at 1030 brought 35 Jap fighters. I was in a good position with 8 planes about 2,000 feet above and behind. Our outfit knocked down 10. I was lucky enough to get 2. Tomorrow is my day off which doesn't make me mad at all.

Feb 7

Slept in. Returned from town to find an urgent message for me to report to the airport. Had a feeling that something awful had happened. Arriving at the field I found that [Robert] Sandell the [1st] Squadron commander had been killed in an accident while testing his plane (4). This news hit me harder than I can put into words. A darn nice lad. Received radio message from the Colonel to the effect that upon the departure of the 2nd Squadron I was in sole charge of all AVGs in Burma.

Feb 8

No one will ever know the mental anxiety I am going through for on top of losing a very close friend I have shouldered the responsibility of running the squadron and assuring its safety. Sandell was buried today and [2nd Squadron Leader Jack] Newkirk is leaving this evening. Japs are now closing in on Moulmein [an error, surely] which if they do will mean a shorter warning.

Feb 9

No enemy air activity today. Laid down immediate plans for the evacuation of the AVG in Burma should it become necessary. Chennault places full confidence in my decisions. I only pray that I will be deserving of his confidence. The worries I have had in the past are minor compared to those I have now.

Feb 10

No enemy air activity. Two escort missions. RAF could only get 2 Blenheims in air so we didn't do a hell of a lot of damage. Japs closer to Moulmein[?]. At 2030 today the police men informed me that they were looking for one of my men who after having an accident got out of the car and fired several shots--killing one native and wounding 2 others. Found [Crew Chief George] Reynolds at 0130 who denies everything. Turned him over to police for further questioning. More worries.

Feb 11

Got Reynolds released in my custody this a.m. pending further investigation. No enemy air activity today. Had 2 escort missions with the usual 2 Blenheims. Japs have finally taken Moulmein and are starting across the Salween at Pa-an and at Moulmein. Many small boats reported at these two places. Went round to the AOC's house (Air Marshal Stevenson) tonight for dinner.

Feb 12

Drawing more trucks and getting our equipment together in case an evacuation is necessary. Japs have now taken Martaban and are working up the east side of the Gulf of Martaban [from Moulmein]. Using small boats to encircle our positions. No enemy air activity. Escorted 3 Blenheims over Moulmein where they bombed the docks. Amount of damage unknown.

Feb 13-14

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Feb 15

No enemy air activity today. More escort missions. Rangoon is like a morgue for nearly all the Europeans & Indians have left. Don't much blame them.

Feb 16

No enemy air activity today. Our forces were cut off again by boats moving up the Bay of Martaban. They are now nearing Bilin. Singapore fell [yesterday] which puts this place more or less on the spot. They will probably hit us from the land, sea & air now. (No place like home.) The people with whom Little and I are staying are leaving in a few days.

Feb 17

No enemy air activity today. Several bombers escort missions over Bilin area. With Singapore gone we can expect a raid on Rangoon from the sea. All in all this isn't going to be the greatest place in the world in another week or so. I haven't heard from my wife or the folks since around the 1st of December. A hell of a war.

Feb 18

No enemy air activity today although we had an air raid alarm which turned out false. Escorted 8 Blenheims over to Bilin. Hit their target. Japs have now crossed the Bilin river and have occupied the town of Bilin. They are about 40 miles from Pegu now and at the rate they have been moving they should be in Pegu in another two days. I expect an air blitz in another two or three days.

Feb 19

No enemy air activity. Escorted bombers over Bilin area. Preparing to send part of ground personnel to Magwe. Expecting [Japanese] parachute troops here. Most of the Europeans have evacuated and Rangoon is like a grave. Rather strange to drive through the deserted streets of a city as large as Rangoon.

Feb 20

No enemy air activity. Are now keeping a constant air patrol over Rangoon area as several [Japanese] observation planes were seen over Rangoon yesterday. Went to dinner with the Group Captain [Manning] this evening. Sending a convoy with 13 of the AVGs to Magwe tomorrow.

Feb 21

On an escort mission today we ran into about 12 Jap bombers and about 40 I-97 [Ki-27 "Nate"] fighters. As we were below them we only got five. No enemy air activity over Rangoon. The enemy are now across the Bilin river and will soon be up to the Sittang [river bridge]. The British army don't seem to be able to stop them. Maybe because they retreat before they see the enemy.

Feb 22

Report came in that the Japs have occupied Bassein about 90 miles west of Rangoon. Not confirmed. Put the whole squadron on an hour's evacuation basis. Straffed a Japanese motorized column. Did a lot of damage. Japs have now taken Kyaikto and our forces are now crossing the Sittang. It won't be long now.

Feb 23

Sent 6 planes to Magwe to guard our convoy which left yesterday. No enemy air activity. However, the ground forces aren't doing so well. They blew up the Sittang bridge and left a couple of brigades on the other side. Darn nice organization! Straffed the river bank & town north [of the bridge?] Rangoon is deserted & looting is underway. All criminals have been turned loose. A hell of a nice place.

Feb 24

It's getting about time for the Japs to be coming back. Sent another convoy out as men are getting a little nervous. There are dead natives all over Rangoon shot by soldiers for looting. The damn Burmans are setting fire to most of the buildings.

Feb 25

Air action again. At 1030 enemy fighters were reported east of Rangoon. Squadron followed Little so only myself & 2 others made contact. About 40 Jap fighters. I shot down 2. Sure'n hell wish the rest had been with me. At 1600 Japs reported coming from southwest. This time I had 8 planes behind me. Were 12 bombers & about 30+ fighters. I got another 2. Bombers were damn well protected. Total bag for the Squadron today was 20 Jap planes. Bombed last night again.

Feb 26

A day I don't think I will forget for a while. At 0800 I took 6 P-40s over to Moulmein airport and caught the Japs on the ground taking off. It was a damn good fight until I went down and straffed the Japs taking off. I got a couple but picked up a couple of Jap fighters. When I got back [home] I had 17 [bullet] holes and one from "flak". Damn lucky to get away for I had no altitude. Japs came back in p.m. Took off last & hit them first. Sent [illegible] more to their god. Total bag for squadron was 23. Not bad. 43 in 2 days. Bombed again last night. [Ed] Liebolt missing from p.m. raid.

Feb 27

Found out last night that the RDF [radar set] had been dismantled & sent to Magwe. So at 0130 I got everybody packed up and sent up the road a ways. Sent all planes but myself & another lad to Magwe. Will stay here for a while in an effort to locate Liebolt.

Feb 28

Left Rangoon for Magwe. Still no word from Liebolt. However, I feel he is okay. Didn't have any maps of the [Magwe] area so like a darn fool I got lost. Flew right over Magwe but couldn't see it for the haze. Lost my wingman bout 50 miles north of Magwe. Used up all but 10 gallons [of gasoline] looking for him. Finally set the plane down in a peanut field near [illegible]. No damage to plane. Got in touch with head man of the village & rode a horse to the post office where I phoned up Magwe. Are bringing out gas tomorrow.

Click here for the January diary