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The war in Malaya: Sgt Buntain's diary

[Sgt. Ron J. Buntain was an Australian stationed at Sembawang airfield, Singapore island, when the Pacific War broke upon him. Evidently he was a crew chief servicing one of 453 Squadron's Brewster Buffaloes. A tip of the virtual hat to Tim Matthews, who faxed me the sergeant's diary. I've edited it a bit. -- Daniel Ford]

Monday, 8 Dec 1941 -- Was awakened by siren at Naval base at 0345 hours. Air raid warning yellow was given over amplifier system. 453 Squadron told to report to hangar immediately, while on the way to hangar we saw a formation of [Japanese] bombers which had been picked up in the searchlight beams. All told 17 bombers. Anti-aircraft guns went into action. Saw flashes of tracer bullets bursting around the kites [aircraft]. Bombs began to fall. The first indication that they were the Japs and war was declared by Japan at 0600 hours....

Tuesday, 9 Dec 1941 -- Air raid warning at 0200 hours. Out of bed in a hell of a hurry. Dutch squadron arrived today (Glen Martin bombers). Buffalo crashed while taking off just after dark. Hit dispersals pens. Plane wipe off [destroyed], twenty minutes later another Buffalo landed on top of a Glen Martin. Smashed cockpit of Glen Martin. Buffalo turned over and motor landed 50 feet in front of plane. Both pilots hurt slightly....

Thursday, 10 Dec 1941 -- Hudsons from 1 and 8 Squadrons arrived back from Quantan and Kota Bahru. Driven out by the Japs. Some in a bad way. Buffalo almost killed pilot today. Tail of kite refused to come down. 21 Squadron adjusted trimming tabs wrong.

Friday, 11 Dec 1941 -- Air raid at 0245 hours. No bombs dropped. Had a quiet day. Went into Singapore and taxis refused to run out to [aero]drome....

[Several entries missing]

Saturday, 20 Dec 1941 -- Travelled second class by train from Singapore. Arrived Kota Lumpur 0730 hours. Taken out to transit camps for breakfast by truck and then out to Sungi Besi aerodrome which was an aero club drome before we took it.... Barracks built on side of hill in the rubber trees 1/2 mile from drome. Trucks very handy.

Sunday, 21 Dec 1941 -- On parade 0545 hours. Had to stand by our kites at 0900 hours. Jap bombers escorted with fighters came over and bombed drome. Two of our machines attacked formation. [Sgt K.R.] Leys shot down but bailed out. [Sgt E.A.] Peterson alone shot down 2 bombers. Indians on Bofors guns did a good job. Kept kites flying high.

Monday, 22 Dec 1941 -- Buffaloes on patrol this morning. Had no sooner landed when Japs appeared overhead. Twelve of our kites engaged them; very big dog fight. Shot down 25 Japs with a loss of 6 of our kites. [Sgt S.G.] Scrimgeour forced to bail out and was machine gunned on the way down in his parachute. This afternoon 4 Navy Zero fighters straffed us. Not so good a feeling either and worst of all my machine which Peterson was flying was shot down while he was trying to get off the deck and was killed (burnt). Poor B-- and this morning poor P/O Bob Drury while in the dog fight got shot up bad. Half his aileron shot away and crashed on landing.

Tuesday, 23 Dec 1941 -- Helping to remove the remains of Bob Drury's kite off drome. Poor old Bob died today. Jap "reco" over today but was shot down by AA fire. Got orders to leave for Singapore tonight. Only have 4 machines left [in B flight?]. Leaving a few of the boys behind to service kites as an advanced base.

[453 Sq moved back to Sembawang on the island of Singapore, where it was combined with 21 Sq RAAF, for a total of 16 Buffaloes under the somewhat hapless Squadron Leader W.J. Harper.]

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Friday, 26 Dec 1941 -- No raids today. Boys are wondering what is wrong. Too quiet to be true. Working on test kite.

Saturday, 27 Dec 1941 -- No raids again today. Test kite flown. Test proved successful. Got 520 mph in dive....

[The stripped-down and smoothed-up Buffalo was 30 mph faster than others in the squadron.]

Thursday, 30 Dec 1941 -- Very quiet all day. Went on guard with Pat in the rubber 1800 hrs with Tommy guns. Air raid 1830 hrs. 17 machines bombed Tengah. Another raid 16 [enemy planes] 1945 hrs. Bombed Singapore docks. Started big fires. Another at 2100 hrs. Bombed the docks again. At 2115 hrs the C.O. gave us a warning that the suspect paratroops have been dropped. 2330 hrs another raid; this time Siletar was bombed. At 0030 hrs another raid on Naval base ... and at 0445 hrs another aid on Singapore. At 0600 hrs off guard--boy, what a night! I began to pack....

Saturday, 3 January 1942 -- No air raids today. The Squadron has 12 kites ready for the air now owing to action over the sea towards Java. Sgt [H.H.] Griffiths is missing.

Sunday, 4 Jan 1942 -- A fairly quiet day. While working in the hangar, a .5 gun exploded and one of the boys was wounded....

Saturday, 10 Jan 1942 -- Lost count of number of raids today. Almost one continual raid. Had a hell of a time--nerves just beginning to feel the strain. Buffaloes returned from operations--two missing....

Monday, 14 Jan 1942 -- 12 Navy Zero fighters over today. Our Buffaloes went up to meet them--shot down two. Japs only 70 miles away now. Paper reports 125 planes over Singapore Island this morning....

Thursday, 15 Jan 1942 -- Air raid at 0930 hrs. Our Buffaloes went up. One pilot shot down one Jap bombers. Japs dropped stick of bombs on Naval base setting fire to big oil tanks. Flames leaping 600 feet up into the air. Hudsons and our Buffaloes as escort out on operations today. Don't know results yet.

Friday, 16 Jan 1942 -- No raids today. Glen Martins with our Buffaloes as escort went to bomb the Japs at Mersing. Our Buffaloes did the straffing causing the Japs a little strife. Goodie! Goodie!

Saturday, 17 Jan 1942 -- What a day. Air raid 1030 hrs, a formation of 27 Jap bombers accompanied by Navy Zero fighters came over drome from the direction of the Naval base. Japs were in V formation until our drome was in sight, then they lined out covering the full width of drome. The first bombs landed about the centre of the runway and right across the hangars.... One bomb hit our hangar and set fire to a plane in the hangar and boy did the bullets make a terrible noise. The size of bombs ranged from 120 lbs antipersonnel (Daisy Cutters) to 500 lb general purpose and two men were killed and many injured. Kites in the dispersal bay were set on fire and quite a number of the boys were buried in the shelter trenches....

Sunday, 18 Jan 1942 -- Been cleaning up as much wreckage as possible. Taking machines off target area into the rubber.... In operations from Sembawang today lost 1 Hudson and 1 Buffalo. Off west coast of Jahore saw Hurricanes flying for the first time....

Monday, 19 Jan 1942 -- Our Buffaloes shot down 2 Navy Zero fighters over south end of island. Filling in bomb holes in drome.

[Sgt Buntain was hit by shrapnel in a raid on 20 Jan but kept on working, getting medical attention every day.]

Friday, 23 Jan 1942 -- Reported to hospital this morning. Leg getting worse. Almost one continual raid today. Drome looks like somebody let a lot of rabbits on it. Holes everywhere. They make a good dugout to sleep in. All buildings down to ground and to make matters worse they bombed our cookhouse. On bully beef and dog biscuits now. Wish to God the war was over. Buried quite a few of the dead this morning before dawn. Nerves going to hell. Just wondering how much more I can stand....

--- 3 Feb 1942 -- Started shelling us today. Boy, give me good old Aussie and I'll never leave it again. Air raid siren just gone [off].

[This was the last entry in Sgt. Buntain's diary. When Japanese troops began to cross from Jahore, the men of 453/21 Squadron destroyed its aircraft and all useful materiel, then made the best of their way to the Singapore docks. They boarded City of Canterbury, which escaped that night--presumably the night before Singapore surrendered--and took them to the Dutch island of Java, where Sgt. Buntain's leg was saved by a Dutch doctor. Other ships took him to Columbo and in time to Adelaide, Australia, which he reached on 17 March 1942. Postwar, he worked for the Australian airline Qantas, and went on to earn a civilian pilot's license.

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