"Anyway, this fleet we saw was identified very very quickly as a friendly fleet. We couldn’t figure out what it was doing where it was. Well, we were never told. But anyway, we got chased, one of the aircraft carriers fired off some sea fires who didn’t like us nosing around, so they chased us but we were able to find some clouds to disappear into."
I was given the choice of staying in the UK with Canadians or going overseas with the Royal Air Force in 1943. So I selected the latter and I had the good fortune of being one of a crew of 10 on the Sunderland [British seaplane, flying boat patrol bomber]. We left Scotland and went to Ireland, from Ireland to Gibraltar, anyway, we was on our way to Ceylon [now Sri Lanka] and in Ceylon, we did a lot of practicing. We joined the RAF squadron Number 230. What I was engaged in was maritime. And we were stationed at air bridge and later we came from Sri Lanka to an island on the north coast of the Arabian Sea. Not the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal. An island called, gee, it’s just escaped me for a minute.
Anyway, from there, we would fly out way off land and then fly south, looking for Japanese flotillas and navy equipment, which was about to land somewhere we knew not where. But Ceylon was vital, which was quite a ways west of there, across the bay [Bay of Bengal]. But oil had to come from the Middle East and it could not go through the Mediterranean [Sea] because we did not possess control. So it had to go from the Middle East down the coast of Africa, around Africa, up the Atlantic into the UK. And the Japanese decided it would be nice to intercept those transports and destroy them. So this is what we were on the search for.
Subsequently, we moved further down the coast to another island called Ramree [island off the coast of Burma]. We moved on islands because being flyboats, you didn’t need an airport. All you needed was a place to moor your boats, you’d drop your anchors or moorings and put a whole bunch of line boats in there, maybe a dozen. And it was a quick move, quick at building an airstrip. And we would work from Ramree down the south of Rangoon [former capital city of Burma], go west across the Malay Peninsula into the South China Sea and try to interrupt maritime shipping. Because the railroads had been bombed quite sufficiently by the Royal Air Force and so the Japanese had to resort to coastal shipping. So we tried to interrupt that shipping to some extent. We were moderately successful but not hilariously so.
But looking at empty ocean, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of square miles of empty ocean is just about as boring as you could consider anything would be. If you were to see something of interest, you’re immediately sparked into a terrible excitement. And then you did what you had to do there but it just didn’t happen to everyone, you know, a lot of guys could go through the whole war in Coastal Command [Royal Air Force’s maritime arm] and see nothing but empty ocean.
Now, what did they do? We would have the, if we were out on patrol, we would have one, two, three turrets manned constantly. So that’s three guys tied up. And if there were something of interest arising, there were four more guns which could be manned by guys who were doing other duties like flight engineers or wireless operators, who were not doing duties at that time. It would only take one person to do all those duties, so that would leave a spare or two would be sleeping or resting or getting, feeding the others or whatever. But there were always, oh, maybe five or six pairs of eyes doing all the, scanning all the water.
The most exciting thing in that was we came upon an allied fleet which we had never been briefed, who’s presence had never been told to us, but just to come out of a cloud and find a tremendously fleet of battleships and cruisers and aircraft carriers was rather scary. And we fortunately were able to, always had to be good at aircraft recognition. You see an aircraft for maybe a tenth of a second and you had to be able to identify it. Well, was it friendly or was it enemy. And the same thing with ships. You did a lot of practice in ship recognition. So they were all specifically particular and say you identified.
Anyway, this fleet we saw was identified very very quickly as a friendly fleet. We couldn’t figure out what it was doing where it was. Well, we were never told. But anyway, we got chased, one of the aircraft carriers fired off some sea fires who didn’t like us nosing around, so they chased us but we were able to find some clouds to disappear into.