Wilfred, or Wilf as he was known to his friends, was born on the 2nd February 1919 in Hamilton, New South Wales. He signed up for the RAAF in Sydney on the 9th December 1940.
The following story is told by Wilf. It covers the time he was with 607 Squadron RAF fighting the Japanese in western Burma. In March 1942, 607 Squadron had left England for RAF Alipore (Kolkata) in Bengal, India to join 166 Wing RAF. It was still equipped with Hurricanes, but these were replaced with Spitfires in September 1943, making the Squadron the first unit in SEAC (South East Asia Command) to operate the aircraft. Wilf’s story starts at the same time, in September 1943, and initially refers to the First Arakan Campaign, which started in December 1942 and ended unsuccessfully three moths later. The Second Arakan Campaign, which involved Wilf, started on the 30th December 1943 and was a success. Arakan, now Rakine State, is in western Burma, now Myanmar:
A post mortem on the first Arakan campaign from our point of view was a large amount of disorganisation and lack of communication – inadequate radar and the knowledge that whilst the Hurricane was an excell ent ground attack aircraft, it was out classed in aerial combat by the more manoeuvrable Japanese fighter, the “Oscar” (the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa). It is September 1943, and we are still at Alipore in our Hurricanes, when the news filtered through that we were to be equipped with Spitfire VCs. This was great news as I am sure none of us, especially me, wanted to mix with Oscars in Hurricanes. Our Squadron and Squadrons 615 and 136 were singled out and it was obvious that we were to be specialist combat fighters.
A short list of pilots, about eight who had previous experience on type, were flown over to Karachi and brought the first batch back. We were given experience on type and, on September the 25th, a bunch of us flew to Karachi in a Short Empire flying boat, it took 11 hours and 55 minutes. Having assembled our new planes, we flew back to Alipore without any hitches, only to find that we couldn’t fly our Spits as some clown in Area Headquarters had consigned all the spares back to the Middle East because, “he knew we didn’t have Spitfires in this area”. Fortunately, we were able to get the matter sorted out, and we began to enjoy our new planes.
In October, the Squadron flew to an Advanced Flying Training Unit at Armada Road to get used to flying the Spitfire in combat roles. Armada Road was a place where only the best was accepted. It was staffed by experienced operational pilots; the Chief Instructor was Frank “Chota” Carey, DSO, DFC and Bar, DFM and Bar and so on.
We spent about 14 days doing all sorts of attacks and we felt very comfortable in our new planes. On return to Alipore, we put into practice the lessons we had been learning. This took us through November and on the 30th we moved to Ramu, code name “Reindeer”. This was a dirt strip south of Chittagong with the usual Basha huts for living and dispersal. We had been there for five days when we were scrambled twice when Calcutta was bombed by 80 plus Japanese. We were unable to make contact, much to our disgust. It was becoming apparent that the Japanese were going to mount a major effort, and we were briefed to expect more activity from their Air Force.
On December 16th, Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived on our strip and I was one of four to escort his Mosquito over the forward areas. He gathered everyone around him and told us of his plans and then told us what he expected of us. There was no doubt this time; there was no turning back. January arrived and the expected happened. The Japanese Air Force began their offensive to establish air supremacy and I see in my log book, on January 15th, three Jap fighter sweeps of 45 plus each time. This continued almost daily through the month, my claims were one probable and one damaged. The tactics we were using were similar to those used by the Luftwaffe against our Hurricanes, ie. height advantage, then diving in, attacking and regaining height. The Japs used what we called a “Beehive”, aircraft from a basic height up to about 25,000 thousand feet. They were colourful and highly polished, except for about a dozen who, we learned, were the “aces,” who flew in drab coloured Oscars. Our radar was very good, so we were always in the top position, but they were so manoeuvrable that – zip, and they were gone.
February opened up with even more aggression by the Japs. Scrambles were an almost daily occurrence with anywhere from 50 plus to 100 plus, usually about seven to eight in the morning. Nervous pees were the order of the day and this became a problem. When the phone rang in dispersal, there was a mad rush to get to our planes, only to find it was Ops wanting a weather report! DOC solved it by having the phone in a separate Basha and, if it was a scramble, a Klaxon horn was blown. At the same time, Signals rigged up a system where the ground crew could listen in to the interceptions, which was great for morale. Intense activity continued and I see on February 9th, 70 plus, and I recall that we intercepted with good height, with the Japs everywhere as usual.
I, with my No.2, dived in, attacked this Oscar, saw hits on his tail assembly – then he was gone. I pulled up and repeated the exercise, but this time it was a melee, with planes turning everywhere. Pulling up again, I lost my No.2 and then dived into the “beehive” again without success. Pulling up again, this time I formatted with three Oscars, the leader had a bright orange cowling. I don’t know who was the more surprised! As I was on my own and there were three of them, I decided to get out, so I put everything in the corner, pushed the throttle through the gate and went for the deck. This time they did not follow me, so I levelled off at tree top and headed for home. Almost immediately I saw two Oscars ahead and up a bit. I was closing fast and I opened fire on the left plane and saw heavy strikes on the fuselage. His canopy shattered and he did a violent turn to the left. I switched to the other and as he also turned left. I hit him in the tail unit and fuselage. I didn’t hang around to see results as the Japs had been using this tactic to get to unsuspecting planes turning north, and I expected there would be others around. I had no sooner landed and got out when some Oscars followed our Spits back to base. They made a run down the runway, strafing what they could.
My claims for this sortie were one probable and one damaged. At this time I was Acting Intelligence Officer, (IO) pending the arrival of a new IO. The next day, the Army confirmed two Jap fighters crashing in the area where I had been, so my claims were for the two were confirmed.
Wilf was discharged from the RAAF on the 14th September 1945. He became a talented artist and tended to specialise in Australian landscapes. He exhibited widely and was successful. It was a far cry and a World away from the young steely eyed Spitfire pilot in 1944. Wilf died in March 2010.
The two photos are of Wilf at home with his paintings, and the sketch by Wilf (courtesy of Bruce Goold) is of Spitfire 785 in Darwin, Northern Territory.
Wilfred Gould and edited by David Hamilton
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association