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75th Anniversary Battle of Endau

Written By: - Date published: 4:24 pm, January 26th, 2017 - 9 comments
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Today marks 75 years to the day since the Battle of Endau, which was fought off the eastern coast of Malaya. When a Japanese fleet was discovered heading towards the coast of Malaya with the intention of landing troops at Endau, it was realised they would be positioned further south than the Allied troops already trying to hold the Japanese advance back on the peninsula and therefore this new force could cut off the Allied Army. Every possible aircraft was put into the air to attempt to intercept the Japanese ships and prevent the landing.

This consisted of the the Vildebeest and Albacore bombers of No.’s 36 and 100 Squadrons that were based at Seletar in Singapore. There were 25 New Zealanders serving with those two squadrons. Since the outbreak of war with Japan the two units had been performing night bombing operations on Japanese held airfields and camps up and down the Malay Peninsula with quantifiable success as the Japanese fighters did not fly at night, and their gunners on the ground had considerable trouble hitting the Vildebeests, usually firing too far in front of the lumbering aircraft. Their five Albacores, which had been ‘found’ after being left by the Navy, were having even more success.  However they were now being thrust into the attack at Endau in broad daylight, against a very well defended fleet, virtually suicide. Two RAAF Hudson crews had spotted the Japanese convoy at 07:45 on the 26th of January, but their radio messages were jammed so word did not get back to base in Singapore till they landed at 09.20 hours. Both Vildebeest squadrons had flown operations the night before so had to rest till they were fit to fly again.

So it was not till the early afternoon when the first wave took off. It was made up of 12 Vildebeests and nine Hudson bombers, with a fighter escort composed of twelve Brewster F2A Buffalos and nine Hawker Hurricanes. The Japanese landings on Endau had been in progress for over four hours by the time the planes arrived at 15:00. The Japanese naval force had air cover consisting of 19 Nakajima Ki-27s and a single Nakajima Ki-44 fighter. Despite heavy opposition, the two transports carrying troops were bombed, and men and equipment on the beach were strafed. Five Vildebeests were lost in the attack, including the commanding officer of No. 100 Squadron, while one Ki-27 was shot down.

The second wave consisting of seven Vildebeests and three Albacores of No. 36 Squadron and two Vildebeests of No. 100 Squadron took off at 16:15 hrs. They arrived over Endau at 17:30, but their escort of 7 Hurricanes and 4 Buffalos were late and the biplanes were set upon by ten Ki-27s and two Ki-44s before their escorts could reach them. Five Vildebeests, two Albacores and one Hurricane were lost from this wave. Andy was flying one of the Albacores. Of the 72 aircrew from Nos. 36 and 100 Squadrons who participated in the raids, 27 were killed, seven were wounded and two were captured. The returning pilots were congratulated by Air Vice-Marshal Paul Maltby, who promised them that further daylight attacks were unnecessary.

Six Palembang Hudsons of No. 62 Squadron RAF attacked next unescorted in the third wave. Two were shot down by six Ki-27s.
A fourth raid, consisting of five Palembang-based Bristol Blenheims of No. 27 Squadron RAF, aborted the mission when darkness fell before they reached the target. Despite claims to have scored multiple hits on both transports and a cruiser, neither the transports, nor any of their escorts were damaged; the former were hit by splinters that killed 8 and wounded 18, but Sendai and the smaller ships were untouched.

My uncle Andy Fleming was shot down and killed flying an Albacore in the second wave. One of the survivors of Endau was RNZAF pilot Ron Reid, who’d flown night operations against the enemy from the war’s beginning, and carried on the fight after this raid, including when the remains of his No. 36 Squadron withdrew to Java. Eventually he was captured, and spent three and a half years as a POW. For a significant period he was a prisoner in camps on Java, before he was shifted to Sumatra along with hundreds of others who were put to work building a Japanese railway line.

I met Ron in 2014 shortly before he died at the age of 92. He was alert and remembered it well. I thought he was a very brave and modest man. In this Wings Over New Zealand Show Episode 132, Dave Homewood interviewed Ron Reid in 2010 about his time in the RNZAF, his service in Singapore, Malaya and Java, and his time in Sumatra on the death railway. This very special episode is released to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Endau, to remember those who took part and those who died – none of whom ever received any medals, awards or special recognition for their extreme bravery on that fateful day.

9 comments on “75th Anniversary Battle of Endau ”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    On 14 May 1940, in a desperate strike at the German panzers crossing the Meuse, the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force launched an “all-out” attack by all available bombers against the German bridgehead and pontoon bridges at Sedan. The light bombers were attacked by swarms of opposing fighters and were devastated. Out of a strike force of 71 light bombers 40 were shot down and most badly damaged. Or Eugene Esmonde, who led six unescourted biplane Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers to attack two heavily escorted and armed German battlecruisers that were guarded by over thirty modern fighters, all six were shot down on their attack runs and not one abandoned it’s attack to try and avoid the fighters.

    There are lots of other examples of such attacks, unflinchingly pressed home with astonishing courage and little chance of success, from 1939 to the middle of 1942.

    The losses of the RAF light bomber squadrons flying obsolete aircraft like the Vickers Vildebeests and Fairey Battles and obsolescent aeroplanes like the Bristol Blenheim and Fairey Swordfish and Albacores in the first three years of WWII amounted to a martyrdom, of which scandalously little is known about today.

  2. GregJ 2

    Thanks Mike for sharing the story and the links. It takes the breath away listening to these personal stories of war – both fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

  3. esoteric pineapples 3

    I’ve been watching a few Youtube videos on mostly World War II planes, ships and submarines lately and the level of bravery in all those situations was extraordinary.

  4. millsy 4

    “…Eventually he was captured, and spent three and a half years as a POW. For a significant period he was a prisoner in camps on Java, before he was shifted to Sumatra along with hundreds of others who were put to work building a Japanese railway line….”

    Bring a prisoner of the Japanese in WW2 is not something I would wish on anyone.

  5. Peter ChCh 5

    Great article Mike. Was not aware of this episode. Much appreciated.

  6. Tim Canterbury 6

    The bravery of many individual pilots and other men and women fighting on both sides in the war is something few would wish to deny. Nor would many wish to deny that a lot of other men and women on both sides ran away, hid, pissed and shitted themselves, threw up and suffered lifelong trauma as a result of being sent to war by the governments on both sides. Don’t we need to ask ourselves whether it made sense for New Zealand to have gone to war against Germany, Italy, Thailand and Japan? We were in no danger of invasion. We were supporting states – such as Britain and France – whose own record of conquest and authoritarian control of subject peoples was not very brilliant.

    • Mr Nobody 6.1

      Hi Tim,

      I think your comment re Thailand is a little unfair. Otherwise you should include France, Holland and Denmark in your list of Axis force (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thailand_in_World_War_II).

      As for whether it made sense for NZ to have gone to war as there was no immediate threat to NZ (an arguable point), I personally believe that the quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” is the best reason why we should have participated.

    • Mike Smith 6.2

      Hi Tim
      I think that’s what we did in Iraq.

  7. Tim Canterbury 7

    Hi Mr Nobody

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” is based on the notion that good and evil are opposites, and that we can agree on what’s good and what’s evil. You and I don’t agree, clearly – and we’re both citizens of one country. Nor do the peoples of the world agree on such things. Also, what might be correct moral behaviour for an individual person doesn’t necessarily equate with correct moral behaviour for a state. In the case of the Second World War, for example, although the militarist state in Japan and the fascist state in Germany behaved appallingly, killing tens of millions of people, which perhaps justified the New Zealand state going to war against them, why did the New Zealand state not also go to war against other states in the 20th century that killed millions and tens of millions of people – among them, two of our allies in the Second World War, namely the Soviet Union controlled by Stalin and the Nationalist China controlled by Jiang Jieshi? Not to mention going to war against another state in the 20th century that killed tens of millions of people, namely the People’s Republic of China controlled by Mao? Why the cherrypicking? Any why are we not at war right now with, for example, Indonesia because of its policies of near-genocide in West Papua? Clearly no state can be a permanent crusader against ‘evil,’ to return to that loaded word in the famous quote. When does a state decide to go on such a crusade, and when to abstain from crusading? Is it primarily to do with morals? Or is it more to do with less noble things such as making money (eg from exports to Britain in the mid-twentieth century, leading to our government deciding to go on a crusade to protect those profits against a rival European state, Nazi Germany; or to protect British commercial and industrial interests in 1940s China against the commercial and industrial interests of Japan in 1940s China?) I think Mike Smith’s comment about Iraq is relevant here; our ‘allies’ the United States and Britain have economic interests in Iraq and lean on the New Zealand state to intervene there, while they have no economic interests in West Papua and are more or less indifferent to the troubles of its people.

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