Title: B-24 Bridge Busters...
Author: Colin Pateman
Publisher: Fonthill Media
...RAF Liberators over Burma
There are two topics from WW2 that most of us will have heard of, and these are the Bridge over the River Kwai, and the B-24 Liberator. The B-24 will most likely bring to mind the USAF bomber fleets flying at high level, in company with the B-17 Flying Fortress, perhaps with Mustangs and Thunderbolts flying protectively close by. As for the bridge, then most likely we will think of the film with Alec Guinness and a wooden bridge along with the terrible treatment of the POW's by their Japanese captors. Given this context, I found it fascinating to read this story of RAF operated Liberators conducting long range missions in the Far East, often dropping bombs and mines from heights down as low as 100ft.
The book starts with the background story of the early stages of the Japanese attacks into Burma and against Singapore. They used the thousands of POWs to help build a new railway infrastructure within Burma, to support there advancing troops, and with the thought of supporting in invasion of India, a stage which thankfully it never reached. The RAF, flying from bases in India, used well-worn Wellington bombers. Then we get to the stage when new aircraft arrived, in the form of the US built B-24 Liberator. In particular it looks at the work of both 99 and 159 Squadrons and the various missions they undertook. One of the most notable things to strike me about this story as a while is the importance put on the roles of both navigator, bomb aimer and flight engineer, every bit as much as the pilots themselves. Flying from India, the missions were often well over 2000 miles there and back, and the fuel load was in the balance. If they carried too much then it meant reducing the bomb load. It took careful fuel management by both plot and flight engineer to ensure they could get there and back safely. Then there was the Navigator, who had to be accurate in his wrk to find the correct target, and then the bomb aimers not just to hit their targets, but to miss things like the POW camp that was close to bridges such as the ones over the River Kwai. This led to low level attacks, sometimes dropping bombs from as low as 100 feet. I can't remember accounts of Liberators operating at such low altitudes in Europe.
The attacks on the railway system in Burma proved very effective, and in 1945 both bridges over the River Kwai, that is a permanent concrete and steel on as well as an adjacent wooden 'by-pass' bridge were destroyed and not restored until after the war was over. Couple this to shipping attacks, mining of rivers and harbours all while coping with not just enemy flak and fighters, but the violent weather associated with the monsoon season, which in itself was capable of bringing down a heavily laden bomber.
It is a very different life to that faced by the bomber crews in Europe, and the Liberator clearly proved itself a very reliable aircraft. Tying it all in with the story of what happened in the war in Burma, the building of the railways and the harsh treatment and deaths of s many POWs as well as native Burmese labour, this was a story I found difficult to put down until I had finished it.
B-24 Bridge Busters
... a new book from Fonthill Media