Robert Dark while serving in the Royal Indian Navy, 1945.Robert Owen Dark
Japanese occupation money issued in 1945.Robert Owen Dark
Robert Dark's bosun's pipe, which was given to him by his mentor and Chief Petty Officer Baba Bawa (DSM) in 1945.Robert Owen Dark
A tail spinner from a bomb that landed near Robert Dark after an attack by a Japanese Zero in 1944.Robert Owen Dark
Robert Dark took this picture of a Fairmile Motor Gunboat while serving with the 55th ML Flotilla in the Royal Indian Navy.Robert Owen Dark
"I don’t know how he managed to do it, but not one of the bombs hit us. And we thought, well, the next round is going to be strafing."
I was born in the United States. My parents, after the First World War, joined the Salvation Army and were in college in New York City. And that’s how come I was born in the States. I still maintain my Canadian citizenship.
In 1927, I was two years old and they were posted to Rangoon, Burma. After five years in Burma, my dad was transferred to Pune, India as the Salvation Army assistant auditor. So I was sent off to boarding school, a place called Panchgani, 75 miles southwest of Pune, to a Church of England Mission School. I stayed there until I wrote my senior Cambridge exams in December 1942; and went right from school almost to enlist in the Royal Indian Navy. And started courses in January 1943.
Well, it was very exciting and going through the courses, different courses, and there’s something new and very demanding. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you recall in history that 1942 - 43, the Japanese overrun Burma and actually sent a fleet to invade India; and they reached in the vicinity of Ceylon, when [RCAF No. 413 Squadron Leader] Len Birchall flying a [Consolidated PBY] Catalina [flying boat] spotted the Japanese fleet coming towards India and, I guess, that was the start. India was expecting to be invaded; and at school, we were digging trenches and we were preparing for the worst.
October of that year, I was given a couple weeks leave and was posted to the 55th [Motor Launch] Flotilla in Madras, which was where the boats were, in Madras. They had just come back from a tour of operations along the Arakan coast, based in Chittagong. And I joined the ship in October in 1943. It was called a motor launch. It was actually a gun boat and very heavily armed for the size of the boat. And our first mission there was dropping Burmese trained secret agents behind the lines. And we’d go down 200, 300 miles down the coast, behind the lines and go in at night and drop them off by kayak or folding kayaks. And then hopefully picked them up a week later or two weeks later at a designated place and time.
So it was exciting and dangerous. We also would support the army; and go in at night and bombard certain designated targets. We had started down the coast in daylight, of course, at about 20, 25 miles off shore and was spotted by a Japanese bomber. The bomber just followed us down, dropped an occasional bomb way out of range of our guns. And this carried on for quite a while and then suddenly the bomber disappeared and about half an hour later, we were attacked by eight [Mitsubishi A6M] Zero [long-range] fighters. They came in at different angles, quite unexpectedly; and the skipper was maneuvering the boat. I don’t know how he managed to do it, but not one of the bombs hit us. And we thought, well, the next round is going to be strafing.
But I think, I don’t really understand what happened … or what but, the Japanese Zeroes took off. And I think they probably thought, why would a little boat like this be way down 200 or 300 miles from home, all by itself? They must have expected, must have thought, well, there’s sure to be fighter cover around somewhere. And they were probably out of fuel because they’d, you know, been out quite a while and they took off. And so we headed home as fast as we could get because we knew our position was noted; and so we arrived safe and sound back in our base.
Our first tour of operations was mainly support and these covert actions. The second tour, we were on the offensive. The Japanese had been driven south from Kohima; and so we would do quite a bit of bombarding down the, of positions down the coast and support small craft going in and skirmishes, and so we’d escort them in.
And then later in February, March, they started a series of landings down the coast. The first one was at an island called Akyab; and it was bombarded by aircraft and battleships. We got in and there was no show. The Japanese had already left Akyab and gone inland. But the next follow-up to that was another one at Cheduba and Ramree Island. There was a lot of opposition encountered there.