A rare bird at Iwakuni – Part 1

The People’s Mosquito enjoys friendly relations with many Service units and their Associations. Two cases in point would be No 81 Squadron Association – an Affiliate of TPM and the holder of the proud record of having performed the last operational sortie by a Mosquito in RAF service – and No 656 Squadron, Army Air Corps Association.

81_sqnNo. 81 Squadron, RAF had a distinguished record in Europe and North Africa during WW2, before being sent out to India to convert onto what many have called ‘the nicest Spit’, the Mk VIII. Briefly refigured as a P-47 Thunderbolt unit, it disbanded before seeing any action with the ‘Thud’. It received a new lease of life on the 30th June, 1946, when the Far East Reconnaissance Squadron, No 684, was renumbered as 81 Squadron, operating, initially a mix of Spitfire PR.XIX and Mosquito PR.34 aircraft. The Squadron had detachments at RAF Tengah and RAF Seletar in Singapore as well as RAF Kai Tak in Hong Kong.

656_sqn_smlThe Malayan Emergency between Commonwealth Forces and Communist insurgents broke out in 1948, and 656 Sqn, which had disbanded in November , 1946 was hastily reformed as a Squadron HQ and four Independent Flights. With the outbreak of the Korean War on the 25th June, 1950, British Forces were sent to support the U.N. attempt to roll back the Communist attack from the northern half of the Korean peninsula and found themselves in two regional conflicts at the same time. (Fortunately, the Soviet abstention on a vital U.N. vote had allowed that body to act against the invasion of South Korea, and cobble together a coalition).

Two of 656 Independent Flights 1913 and 1914 supported the British Forces involved in Korea, supplying personnel either for A.O.P. or Light Liaison Flights. No. 1914 Flight had a detachment at the large US base at Iwakuni, Japan just 200 miles from the southern portion of Korea. Austers operated from here as well as in Korea, as did the Royal Air Force’s impressive Short Sunderland flying boats, mainly because there were excellent moorings just offshore, along with berthing facilities, on an inlet of the Seto Inland Sea. These moorings were sometimes shared with USN PBM-5 Mariner flying boats from VP-42, who shared patrol duties with the RAF Sunderlands.

With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in 1950, RAF and USAF units moved to Iwakuni in quantity. These included 3rd USAF Bombardment Wing (Light), equipped with the B-26 Invader, which undertook mostly night intruder missions over Korea. Also visible in our photograph are many USN P2V Neptune aircraft; these carried out many duties from maritime patrol to mine spotting, to direction of naval gunfire. In the early stages of the conflict the USN Neptunes also made attacks on coastal targets in the North using rockets, 20mm cannon fire and machine guns.

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PHOTO – KEN MATTOCKS, GLIDER PILOT REGIMENT, 1913 LIGHT LIAISON FLIGHT, KOREA

Iwakuni airfield had been opened on July 8th, 1940, when the Imperial Japanese Navy established a training base with 96 assorted trainers and 150 Mitsubishi Zero fighters. It was heavily bombed by B-29s during the latter stages of WW2, with the last attack coming on the day before hostilities ended. In the early stages of the occupation of the Japanese Home Islands by the Allies, mixed units from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand all utilised the facilities at Iwakuni, with the Royal Australian Air Force taking control in 1948.

Now we come to the part where the two Squadrons’ paths cross. The People’s Mosquito has had some very interesting contacts with members of 656 Sqn Association, and the Squadron Archivist recently supplied us with some startling photographs of a de Havilland Mosquito being serviced by members of the Squadron at Iwakuni, Japan. The date is indeterminate, but is likely to be either towards the end of hostilities in Korea (amazingly, the war has still – officially – not ended) or immediately afterwards.

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PHOTO – KEN MATTOCKS, GLIDER PILOT REGIMENT, 1913 LIGHT LIAISON FLIGHT, KOREA

In the photograph you can see from the serial, RG238, that this Mosquito is a PR.34a. It was one of a small batch of PR.34 Mossies that were modified with Merlin 114A engines and improved Gee equipment, to give even better performance. It was capable of 422mph and had the very impressive service ceiling of 43,500ft. The range was a staggering 3,200 miles, thanks to the two large belly tanks totalling 1,192 gallons of fuel which were concealed behind the bulged bomb bay doors; this Mosquito also carried two 200 gallon drop tanks, one on each wing.

As you can see, this PR.34a has an all-over silver finish, apart from the spinners, which by comparing the RAF markings on the aircraft, are likely to have been painted Insignia Red; the propeller blades would have been black, with Insignia Yellow tips.

More of this fascinating Mosquito story will follow next month.

All images © 656 Squadron Association, and are reproduced by kind permission of the Association, and are credited where identified.

We would be very happy to hear from anyone who can shed more light or add detail to this story.

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