Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Mustangs Photos
When Iwakuni became overcrowded with the arrival of both the RAF and RNZAF contingents, 77 Squadron moved to the airfield at Bofu. The main 81 Wing ground party departed Iwakuni by train for the almost three hour trip west to Bofu on 16 March.
The Squadron’s twenty-four Mustangs departed Okinawa on 21 March and arrived at Bofu that same afternoon. On arrival the pilots put on a good display of formation flying which had the local Japanese working in the nearby paddy fields running for cover.
Over the next few weeks the Squadron flew familiarization flights over the BCOF area of responsibility. Once the pilots were familiar with the area, the Squadron settled down to the work at hand and began surveillance flights over the prefectures of Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Shimane, Totlori and Western Shikoku.
Pilots were to report on any concentrations of personnel and on the serviceability of towns, bridges and railway systems. The Wing was also required to keep four aircraft on 30 minute standby between first and last light each day. The pilots kept particular watch over the Inland Sea and Tsushima Strait, which lies between Japan and Korea, monitoring ship movements and checking on the smuggling of aliens into Japan, especially Koreans.
In addition to maintaining surveillance over the Inland Sea the Squadron put a large effort into air-to-air combat and gunnery exercises.
Unfortunately, the condition of the airstrip at Bofu began to deteriorate rapidly with the constant use. By late June it was closed to all but operational flying. With the closure of the airstrip it became exceedingly difficult for the pilots to maintain flying standards until full flying training recommenced in mid-July.
Despite these problems the Squadron began firing 60lb T64 High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR). These rockets went supersonic and were an extremely formidable weapon. They subsequently earned the nickname ‘the Holy Moses’.
During the next month, the Squadron was tasked with spraying DDT over all the BCOF areas. The insecticide was sprayed from specially-equipped Mustangs operating in groups of three. All flying was suspended between 1 and 19 September due to a lack of serviceable fuel. In fact the Squadron only flew a total of nine days for the month.
On 29 September 1946 the Squadron was detached to an airfield at Miho for air-to-ground attack training. Bad weather proved to be a constant problem. As a result live rocket firing did not commence until 9 October. In total, the Squadron fired 665 rockets during the course with the overall results being of a high standard. On the 16th an air to ground gunnery programme commenced with an average of 70% being achieved on the first day.
Flying was limited due to the harsh Japanese winter and a shortage of aviation gasoline. This resulted in only 93.4 hours being flown in December 1946.
1947 was welcomed with much celebration. On 1 January the Squadron ‘stood down owing to circumstances accredited to Bacchus and the advent of a New Year’. It is not surprising that the events over this period are not well recorded. A ‘Met’ report indicated that a ‘haze’ permeated the Station.
With February 1947 came a change-over period when many longer-serving members of the Squadron were posted out. Others were sent south to enjoy a period of leave before returning to Japan for another tour. The large change over of personnel resulted in the Squadron’s experience level dropping. This required training programmes to reverse the situation. New pilots flew familiarisation sorties toward the end of the month although poor weather hampered training.
In fact bad weather severely disrupted flying operations over the next two months as a consequence of frequent heavy snow storms and low cloud ceilings. However, the usual patrols were completed when the weather permitted. The Squadron’s flying effort for March was 100 sorties. During this quiet period, the Squadron had a change of Commanding Officer when Squadron Leader Ron Susans assumed command from Flight Lieutenant James Chenhalls on 31 March.
The weather improved considerably during May. Flying training continued at a faster rate with an emphasis on rocket dives and formation flying. A total of 340 hours was flown for the month which was a vast increase over previous month.
Unfortunately, just when the weather began to clear strip un-serviceability again curtailed flying operations. This meant that only essential flying was carried out with a minimum of training flights in June 1947.
During July the Squadron was called upon to join a mass formation flypast over Tokyo in conjunction with Independence Day celebrations. The Squadron flew in formation with approximately 300 American aircraft and two Spitfire squadrons.
September was to be a busy month for the Squadron associated with an Army co-operation exercise and a major Fire Power demonstration.
On the 23rd the Squadron took part in a massive fire power demonstration in which all squadrons of BCAIR participated. The attacks were carried out on targets set up on an island east of Iwakuni.
The remainder of 1947 was spent on routine duties consisting of patrols and general flying. On 21 November the Squadron participated in a large formation fly past over Tokyo. The fly past was in honour of the marriage of HRH Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Mountbatten. All the Squadron’s pilots assisted the ground crews in cleaning and polishing the Mustangs before the flypast which was judged as an unqualified success, both from a pilot, and observer point of view.
One major thorn in the side of the Squadron since arrival in Japan was a lack of a suitable hard stand area and a hangar for the Squadron’s aircraft. This resulted in all Squadron level maintenance being performed out in the open. The problem came to a head in December (winter) causing serviceability problems.
Another factor which contributed to the un-serviceability rate was the posting out for discharge of all experienced Squadron ground crew who had originally volunteered during World War II. Many of these people had not elected to re-enlist in the Permanent Air Force. Despite these obstacles the Squadron flew 280.25 hours during December.
1948 bought drastic changes to the structure of BCAIR. Due to the poor state of the British economy the majority of the RAF units were withdrawn from the BCOF. On 26 January, Nos. 11 and 17 Spitfire Squadrons, RAF, ceased flying and the rundown of RAF personnel at Miho and Iwakuni began. On the same day a mass formation flypast was flown over Bofu to mark the event. The formation spelt out the letters BCOF 77 Squadron formed the letters C and F.
Return to Iwakuni
With the run down of the RAF units at Iwakuni it was decided that 81 Wing would move in to take their place. 77 Squadron’s aircraft were transferred to Iwakuni on 11 and 12 March. The ground personnel joining them some three days later.
Japan appeared to be coming to an end, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Squadron would return to Australia, a country it had not seen for eight years. It was not until May that an order was received to disassemble the base and begin a wind down of operations in anticipation of the move. The last sortie was flown on 23 June 1950.
Unfortunately Squadron personnel would have to wait another four years before returning home as the clouds of war were beginning to gather once more for 77 Squadron.
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