Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Mustangs Photos
Japan -Iwakuni Airstrip
In mid-January 1946 the order was issued to commence packing for the trip to Japan. The order came much to the relief, and delight, of Squadron personnel who had become weary of continual delays. On the 21st all personnel attended lectures on the Japanese people and their customs. Ten days later a final issue of eight bottles of beer per man was allocated to each member before embarkation for Japan.
By early February the Squadron was packed ready to embark for the 1,775 mile journey to Japan. The SS River Murrumbidgee docked on the 8th and the loading of 77 Squadron’s vehicles commenced. Two days later the majority of the Squadron’s personnel boarded HMS Glengyle, a converted cargo steamer. Glengyle set sail the following afternoon. Conditions for the airmen were most uncomfortable as the accommodation was extremely cramped.
In the late afternoon of 20 February 1946, 77 Squadron personnel caught their first glimpse of the Japanese coast as the convoy entered Japan’s Inland Sea. The first thing the men noticed was the extremely cold climate. It was winter time and they had just left a tropical island in mid-summer only eight days earlier!
Early on the morning of the 21st the ships anchored off the Japanese port of Kure and the men surveyed the awesome scene before them. Squadron member Gerry Walshe noted: “On the shore the former workshops of Japan’s great naval base were only masses of twisted metal, bombed-out wharves, devastated factories, and general wreckage caused by bombing and the resultant fires could be seen. The area was littered with wrecked and sunken vessels, battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers..... the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy lay at the bottom of the sea”
77 Squadron personnel disembarked two days later and marched through what was left of Kure to the railway station where a train was waiting to take them south to their new base at Iwakuni. The journey to Iwakuni took them through the city of Hiroshima and here Squadron personnel saw for the first time the effects of the American Atomic Bomb. Gerry Walshe recalled: “We saw the city of Hiroshima and its people – the devastation was total. As far as the eye could see it was flattened. People sat around with burns visible on parts of their body – old people, young people and children – pathetic. I felt lost, and for the first time I felt for the Japanese people”
The airfield at Iwakuni had been a Japanese Naval Air Station and consisted of a single concrete runway, a slipway for flying boats and accommodation for 4,000 personnel. Although the majority of the buildings were still intact they were badly in need of repair. However, despite their neglected state, the rooms allotted to the airmen were far more comfortable than a tent at Labuan.
Meanwhile back in Labuan the pilots and rear party were preparing the Mustangs for the long ferry flight north. Base domestics facilities were limited due to the small number of Squadron personnel still at Labuan. All camp hygiene was carried out by Japanese POW’s. The Squadron’s diet was supple-mented with large amounts of fish ‘caught’ by Flight Lieutenant Robert Cock and Flying Officer Frederick Inger with the help of hand grenades and TNT.
Due to the lack of accommodation available at the first re-fuelling stop to Japan (Clark Field in the Phillipines) the departure date for the ferry to Japan was being constantly deferred. This resulted in much disappointment all round.
On 4 and 5 March the pilots got as far as strapping into their aircraft only to be informed that the ferry was delayed for another day because of bad weather at Clark. The other Squadrons, 76 and 82, were also delayed. Finally on 11 March 1946 the first formation of fifteen 77 Squadron aircraft, led by Squadron Leader Curtis, took off for Clark Field.
The second formation of fifteen aircraft, led by Flight Lieutenant Ivan Crossing, departed one hour later. All aircraft arrived safely by 1300 hours on that day. The ground crew travelled with the formation in C47 transports. The departure from Clark Field was consistently delayed due to unfavourable weather. As a result it was not until the 18th that the Mustangs of 77 Squadron started out for the island of Okinawa, the next stop on their flight to Japan.
When Iwakuni became overcrowded with the arrival of both the RAF and RNZAF contingents, 77 Squadron moved to the airfield at Bofu.
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