THE SINGAPORE LINK – 36 AND 100 SQUADRON
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, there is a historical link between 36 and 100 Squadrons that covers the period from 1934 to 1942 when both units served in the Far East. As Editor of the 100 Squadron web site, I was pleased to help my brother Martyn, a former 36 Squadron member, with the organisation of this site.
My friend and colleague, Arthur White, a former 100 Squadron navigator on Lancasters, researched and wrote an excellent book "The Hornets’ Nest" – A History of 100 Squadron 1917-1994. Arthur is currently working on a supplement to his book, covering 100’s activities between 1994 and the present time. With his permission, I would like to quote extracts from his book that relate to 36 Squadron (quoted passages in italics).
It is well documented that the air defence of Singapore was woefully inadequate. Equipped with the biplane Vickers Vildebeest, an aeroplane of a quite different era, 36 and 100 Squadrons suffered dreadfully. The Japanese advance was unstoppable, but the RAF threw all its available resources against the enemy. The following is an account of the raid on Endau:
On January 26th, 1942, a last desperate effort to halt the advance was made in the late afternoon. Nine Vildebeests from 100 and 36 Squadrons, led by three Albacores and escorted by four Buffaloes and eight Hurricanes, took off from Singapore. They were met by a large number of Japanese Zero and Army fighters but, although hits were made on a transport, the whole operation was futile. Five Vildebeests, all the Albacores and one Hurricane were lost. Both Commanding Officers were killed and many of the survivors were "congratulated by the AOC who told them they would never again be sent on a similar mission."
There were many recriminations. The Official History records that: "The Station Commander at RAF Tengah, when asked to explain why his handful of Hurricanes, recently arrived without groundcrews and their guns still packed in grease, had not prevented the debacle. For a man who, like many others, had argued in vain against complacency, and who had been forced to watch his squadrons destroyed and his Station’s morale deteriorate, it was the last straw. He had a final drink with his remaining crews, bade everyone "Goodnight", and retired quietly to his room where he shot himself."
January to May 1942
At the end of January, 1942, the remnants of 36 and 100 Squadrons loaded up with torpedoes and took off for Kemajoram in Java. According to two sources, Bill Rafter and David Vincent, the remaining Vildebeests of 100 Squadron were handed over to 36 Squadron and operated under the command of Squadron Leader J.T. Wilkins as 36 Squadron at Tijikampok on the 8th February. There was certainly some resentment on the part of 100 Squadron crews at the loss of the Squadron identity, but, unknown to them at the time, the Beaufort "Q" Flight was operating as 100 Squadron at Richmond in Australia. Basil Gotto reports that, even today, there is still friendly rivalry, in Australia, between the survivors of the two squadrons. Another bond was forged between the two squadrons when Flight Lieutenant Hutcheson, a 100 Squadron Flight Commander, became the last Commander of 36 Squadron. Later promoted Wing Commander, he survived three and a half years as a prisoner of war and died in 1992.
Les Hughes and Doug Scott, former Corporal electricians with 36 Squadron, give their account of their last days at Seletar and evacuation to Sumatra.
"During the last week of 36 and 100 Squadrons, we were under constant fire from Japanese positions at Johore Baru and it was decided that all personnel would be taken by coach, each night, to a Chinese cinema/theatre at Paya Lebar near the centre of Singapore. They would return to camp the following morning for breakfast and duties. One morning the coach failed to arrive so I took a taxi back to camp to see what had happened.
The camp was completely deserted and, on my return no-one would believe my story. Doug and I, however, decided to find out more in Singapore itself. Singapore was in a state of chaos – the docks had been bombed and fires were burning everywhere – but nobody knew anything about the two Squadrons. Thanks to an Australian officer we were able to get a meal at the Raffles Hotel although other residents didn’t take too kindly to us and were carrying on as though it was peace-time. We were told by a Sergeant MP that the Japs had crossed the Straits and were fighting on the island and advised us to try to get away by boat.
That evening, about 9 pm, we saw the lights of a small ship making its way to the coal wharf and when we reached her she had tied up and the Malay were leaving in a hurry. The Captain, a Scot, told us the crew had deserted but if we found more helpers to coal up the ship and stoke the boilers he would try to steam out at first light for Sumatra. This we did and sailed at first light. At 11 am we were attacked by a Japanese ‘plane but suffered no damage. The following day we reached Sumatra and docked at Palembang in the late afternoon.
On reaching the shore we learnt that Jap paratroops were fighting on the outskirts of town and we were advised, along with many others, to make our way by train to the south of the island. After an overnight journey we reached Medan and managed to board the last ferry to Oosthaven in Java where we were told that most RAF personnel had made their way to Batavia. After several days on the road we reported to the Queen Wilhelmina School in Batavia only to be told that 36 Squadron had been there but had moved on".
Quotes taken from "The Hornets’ Nest – A History of 100 Squadron Royal Air Force 1917 – 1994, by Arthur White © 100 Squadron Association, available from 100 Squadron Association Treasurer, John Willis at 10 Orchard Close, Harston, Cambridge, CB2 5PT, UK ISBN 1-872017-82-7