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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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215 Crest
1945-01-03 Flt Lt Charles Milne RCAF Attacks Burma Siam Railway

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215 Squadron from 355 Squadron on 1 December 1944, flying Liberators. He joined C. M. Brodie’s crew and commenced operations on 13 December, bombing bridge 286 at Nakorn Chaisri, On 1 January 1945 they bombed the Bangkok railway bridge at Anakwin, and two days later attacked Bridge 19 on the Burma-Siam Railway. Nesbitt was killed in action during this operation when Liberator KH214, piloted by C. M. Brodie, was shot down and crashed into dense jungle. All the crew were killed. The Squadron O.R.B. states: ‘Aircraft “D” at 1335 hours at 400 feet was seen to be hit by bursting LAA and crashed just NE of the bridge at Milestone 37.’

There exists a photograph taken on 26 September 1945, of a memorial service at the KH214 crew gravesite. In it are seen Japanese soldiers standing on the rim of the bomb crater, along with local Anankwin villagers. The bomb crater is purported to be the grave of the crew.

A Japanese Army captain who had been in charge of the anti-aircraft gun crew which brought down the bomber had come forward on 26 September to explain what happened on 3 January 1945. His details, recorded in a padre’s diary, were very accurate when compared to the R.A.F. records documenting the circumstances of KH214’s downing.

The padre in question was a newly liberated Death Railway Prisoner of War, Padre Henry C. F. Babb. he had volunteered to participate in the first post- hostilities graves survey along the length of the railway in late 1945. His diary, entitled ‘War Graves Commission Search for Graves Along the Burma-Thailand Railway September-October 1945’, survives in the archives of the Australian War Memorial. Below is an excerpt from Padre Henry C.F. Babb's trip diary, dated 26 September 1945:

‘We were up at 06.00 hours - wash and brush up - the sky is badly overcast and we can expect showers today. At 08.15 hours we left Anarkwin by diesel and returned to the 380 km mark. Near the line was a single Australian grave which was checked by Lt Leemon. Through the interpreter, Capt. Sakai, who was acting as our guide, told us a very interesting story, which seems to ring true. "On Jan 3rd 1945, four planes (B 24) flew in from the sea over Anakwin. Ronsi and Apparon (85 km) were bombed, and back came the planes to Anarkwin - they were flying fairly low and circled the area once. An AA unit of the India National Army opened up with their Bofors. 2 planes were hit and one crashed on the left hand side of the line coming from Thanbyuzayat. It fell some 100 yards from Army Post Office building near the bazaar area. The plane was burnt out, and Capt. Sakai collected the bones of 10, evidently all the crew, and had them buried nearby. The grave stands in a 250 kilo bomb crater which was made on a previous raid.
Capt. Sakai took us to the grave, which was in perfect order and a 6 ft cross had been erected. The Padre took a burial service, and all the party paid their last respects to 10 fellow comrades. Nips and Burmese watched the ceremony in silence. Capt. Sakai told us that on 4 January 1945, the day after the B-24 was brought down, 12 planes came over Anankwin for revenge as he put it. They plastered the area with 58 bombs, killed every Nip soldier in the area except himself, knocked out the Bofors and killed 2 Indians of the AA unit.
We were then taken by a staff car back to the Officers’ Mess of last night [in Anankwin]. Our favourite sweet drink was provided and bananas. We then walked to the Railway Track and crossed it to find an Australian grave, a lad by the name of Barnard. [It was Barnard's grave which was recovered the following year and moved to Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, 28 miles away, while the Liberator crew grave was completely forgotten.]
We had completed what we had set out to do plus the visit and service at the B-24 grave. It had been raining as it only can in Burma. We were soaked, but happy in that we have done a good job of our work in spite of torrential rains.’

Interestingly the mid upper gunner of the Liberator was Hkun U Sao, a member of the Burmese Royal family. Posted from 357 Squadron on 8 December 1944 he arrived at 215 Squadron 7 days after Nesbitt.

A further account of the Liberator’s crash was given by Pilot W. W. Frazer, who wrote an account of his time with the Squadron. He was a good friend of Flight Officer Potts and Flight Lieutenant Cox who perished with the crew. He writes of the 3 January raid [in the first person, whilst waiting for the aircraft to return from the sortie]:
‘The Tower confirms five aircraft landed, and a signal from Chittagong that Flt/Lt Wallace stopped there. No news about the seventh. I’ll call the CO at de-briefing; the crews returning may know something ... Another short conversation. He puts the receiver back on the hook, turns to face us, we’re all trying to read his face. “Rather bad news” he says, his high voice much lower than usual. “Very bad news I fear, the report is that one of our aircraft was seen to crash. There were no parachutes, no survivors, no chance at all.”
A stunned silence, then a tumult of shouts, of questions: “Which aircraft? are they sure? who was it? which crew?” We all have particular friends in one crew or another. But I’m not shouting. I can’t. My heart’s in my mouth blocking off the air. “My information is it was Flt/Lt Brodie’s crew”. Oh no, not Brodie. Omigawd!
Steve and Murray and Chota and Ken - my best friends here. Two others from the mess - Nisbett [sic] on the bombsight and Flt Lt Sao substituting as top gunner. And six NCO’s, Washbrook and Irvine [sic] the RCAF guys I knew a little. Eleven men, the whole crew, and no survivors.’

A little later in his narrative Frazer talks with Eddie Gilbert, one of the pilots who was on the raid:
‘Eddie Gilbert came in yesterday. I like Ed - a straightforward kind of guy, just a bit sardonic at times when he’s trying to sound cynical and tough. But not then. He admitted he was badly shaken.
“I saw Brodie crash you know. Three of us went after the same bridge and a locomotive stopped halfway across. It was in a valley, steep hills on both sides. We were five hundred feet, lower than the hills, Wallace the Fiji guy, went in first. Steve followed him and I was right behind. There were gun positions on the hills, both sides of the bridge. They hit Wallace, then they got Steve, hit his number 4. I could see the flames. Steve and Murray did a good job, everything they could, jettisoned the bombs, got the prop feathered, as fast as anyone could. They tried to climb but there wasn’t room. Hit the top of a hill just one big explosion”.’

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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