Now Comes Theodora

Bob Neale at Rangoon

[Here's the diary Bob Neale kept during his tour at Rangoon in January and February 1942, taken from a copy at the National Air & Space Museum Archives in Washington. I have corrected obvious misspellings but otherwise have followed Neale's style. Two pages are missing from the diary, and at one point Neale lost track of the dates. -- Daniel Ford]

Jan 12 [Kunming}

[Squadron Leader Robert] Sandell woke me from my wee nap about 0930 and told me that I was taking 8 planes (two 4-plane flights) to Rangoon around noon. Had a busy 3 hours getting planes & pilots & gear ready to go. Took off at 1330 for Toungoo but due to high head winds went into Lashio for gas. Took us 2 hours & 30 minutes to make 330 miles. Damn glad to see Lashio as I only had about 20 gallons of gas left. Refueled & took off about 1700 for Toungoo, but due to engine trouble turned back to Lashio after 30 minutes. Spent the night in the RAF barracks at Lashio. Glad that part of the flight is over.

Jan 13

Left Lashio at 1100 for Rangoon. Arrived in Rangoon at 1330. Uneventful flight and all planes arrived safely. Find that Rangoon has been bombed every night for the past 11 nights. Not much damage. [Jack] Newkirk found us a place to stay at a Mr. Scott. Went around there after the planes were dispersed. Lovely home, & we were treated as old friends. Had a lovely dinner & [Bob] Little and I went to bed very comfortably although I expected our sleep will be disturbed by the Jap bombers.

[Two pages missing]

Jan 16

No alarm last night. Took 3 planes off at 0730 to pick up a convoy 60 miles south of Rangoon. No luck due to the fog & haze. Spent the rest of the day laying around the alert shack (tent). At 1810 took 6 planes over to Satellite [probably the field called Johnnie Walker] & dispersed them there. Tomorrow is my day off which won't be hard to take. The longer I stay at this house the better I like it. Mr. Scott puts the whole household at our disposal.

Jan 17

Spent the whole day in town and went to a show in the afternoon. Nothing new except that I am going to have to send two pilots back to Kunming [because Newkirk wanted to put his own pilots in some of the planes Neale brought down]. Nobody wants to go so we are going to have to draw straws. Nice thing about being in charge of this outfit here is that I will have to stay here for a while. Just told one of the servants to bring me up a few sandwiches. Just like home.

Jan 18

Sent [Greg] Boyington and [John] Croft back to Kunming. A very quiet day at the field. Rumors have it that the Japs are sending a small force to Tavoy (about 260 miles from Rangoon). If they take this place they will be able to come over without giving over 15 or 20 minutes' warning. I hope the RAF bombs them out, however. I imagine that with their usual lack of foresight nothing will be done.

Jan 19

The moon is on the increase but it should be another week before the Japs start coming over at night again. The RAF was going to send some Blenheims southeast to bomb some enemy ships near Tavoy. However the flight was canceled--why I don't know as they probably carried the Jap troops coming up to take Tavoy. Another great day here although we did get one warning, probably caused by the bombing of Moulmein which is about 100 miles east of here and has been taking quite a beating for the past two weeks.

Jan 20

Had two air raids last night--both false. First one, Little & I were on our way to town--returned home. Rather a weird sound, those sirens. Six of us took off to guard six Blenheims which were going to bomb Meshot which is about 160 miles east of here in Thailand. Over Meshot we were jumped by eight Jap fighters and as we had to fly at a lower altitude than usual to keep the bombers in sight they surprised most of us. A Jap got on my wingman's tail which I believed I got. They are surprisingly fast and maneuverable. We kept them away from the bombers which bombed their objective. Lost one pilot, W.C. Moss. RAF also lost two fighters today. The Japs have taken Tavoy.

Jan 21

Moss bailed out of his plane and walked into Moulmein. Escorted a Blenheim over there to pick him up Jap troops are now reported working their way toward Moulmein. We will be in a dandy fix if they take that place as it is only 30 minutes by air from Rangoon and we won't have any warning. Took four planes over the Thai border looking for enemy action. All quiet. Found out the two RAF lads who were shot down [yesterday] were straffed just as they were taking off from Moulmein. Rumor going around that [Charlie] Mott was captured & is now in some concentration camp. Hope so.

Jan 22

Started out the day by escorting 6 Blenheims to a spot about 160 miles northeast of here to bomb a Jap airbase. The place was deserted by the bombs were dropped (missed) and we later went down & straffed. About 1200 had an air raid warning here--caused by Jap bombers bombing hell out of Moulmein. Spent another two hours patrolling at 20,000 feet over Rangoon. One Hudson bomber (RAF) was shot down by our AA. Took a flight of seven [Tomahawks] over by Mesoht about 1730 & returned to Satellite where planes were dispersed for the night. Moulmein airport & town were about bombed off the map yesterday.

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Jan 23

Started out day by oversleeping. Arrived at Satellite about 0745 [illegible]. I arrived back at Rangoon found I had to go on an escort mission with 6 Blenheims & 11 fighters to bomb Tak. My flight covered the top (20,000 feet). Returned at border due to weather. All our airplanes landed at Satellite to refuel there. Kept my flight up to protect their landing. While circling heard report that large [numbers?] of Jap fighters were approaching Rangoon. Took my flight and intercepted about 25 or 30 Japs. My wingman was shot down (is OK). Little had some engine trouble I chased them about 50 miles east & shot down 1 fighter. No more than landed when another air raid sounded. I took off & climbed to 10,000 feet where I saw a formation of Jap bombers approaching base. Made a head-on run [then] returned from below rear & then up to direct rear where their tail gunners got me. Left wing was shot up pretty badly & engine shot up. Lucky enough to make a forced landing Satellite. [Bert] Christman (119-C bailed out & was shot in his parachute.

[Jan 24]

Good hunting today. About 1130 had a warning. Took off without my wingman. When I reached 12,000 feet, picked up 4 Jap bombers in formation about 1,000 feet below. Our lads had already engaged their fighter escort, so 4 Buffaloes (Brewsters) and myself went after the bombers which were the same type as we came up against in China. Closed on one to about 100 feet from the rear & blew up his starboard engine. Only two left by now, so took after the leader. Closed on him although I was getting a hell of [a] lot of return fire. I didn't seem to be getting hit so I closed to 50 feet and gave him a burst and the whole damn plane blew up, part of it coming back and tearing up my right wing & aileron. Force of explosion knocked me on my back and [I] started for the ground.

Checking the controls I found I still had good control. On the way back to the field, a Jap fighter dove in front of me so I took a shot at him. Although I didn't see him crash, I believe he did. About 20 miles from the field I was loafing along at 1,000 feet hoping my right aileron wouldn't come off, when 2 bullets came through the side of the fuselage. Two Jap fighters had caught me napping. Dove to [within] 10 feet of the ground and was lucky enough to get away. One of those shots had come through the side of the cockpit & smashed my microphone & went out the other side. Too damn close.

[Jan 25]

My day off. Had 2 false air raid alarms. Spent a very quiet day doing nothing but resting.

[Jan 26]

Had an air raid alarm about 1100. Took 4 planes & went up. Picked up about 20 Jap fighters at 12,000 [feet]. Looked like a bunch of buzzards milling around. Headed for them. When they saw us coming they split up, one group climbing above us. Didn't do much damage. First couple of runs, they always had the altitude on us and 1 or 2 would get on my tail & I would have to dive away. Lost them for a while but picked them up heading home. Was about 2,000 feet above & behind them. Picked out one of the rear ones and opened fire at 100 yards. Engine caught fire & I saw him crash in the Bay of Martaban. On returning home I found that [Cokey] Hoffman had been killed. It is believed he had a collision with one in the air.

Jan 27

Heard a rumor today that the Japs have [Charlie] Mott in a hospital in Saigon. Also another rumor to the effect that the AVG will shortly be inducted into the Army. Hope not. The Japs didn't come over today and we have all had a brief rest. Both the planes & pilots need one. The RAF have been bombing Bangkok. Hope they had better success than the missions I escorted them on. The moon is rather full now so I expect the Japs will start coming over again at night.

Jan 28

Japs came over last night. The RAF got one. Was quite a show. They dropped pamphlets and a few bombs but did not do much damage. Had several false air raid alarms today but all were false.... I haven't heard from home in about 3 months. I only pray that Fran and the folks are all right.

Jan 29

The Japs didn't come over last night, probably because they lost one [the previous] night. Had 3 air raids today. The first 2 were false but [then] about 20 Jap fighters came over. Knocked another one down. I guess they are just sending fighters over in an effort to knock out the AVG. I believe we got 16 of them. Anyway they are coming over in fewer numbers. Tomorrow is my day off which won't be hard to take. It is almost certain now that very soon we will be in the Army & [I] wonder when I will get home.

Tales of the Flying Tigers

Jan 30

Went out to the field this a.m. and was there when the news came that Tom Cole (Navy) was killed on a straffing mission. A lot of damn foolishness for we can't do much damage against troops in the jungle. Rangoon is just about deserted so far as Europeans are concerned, and it is just as well for the Japs are getting darn close to Singapore.

Jan 31

Had two air raid alarms today but both were false, caused by the Hurricanes they have been bringing in here. Are supposed to get 3 squadrons within the next 2 weeks. Moulmein has fallen which brings the Japs within 100 air miles of Rangoon. Quite cozy.

Feb 1

They bombed the place 4 times last night. Slept through 3 of them. Only 2 or 3 bombers came over. I guess they haven't very many of them left. The night fighters the RAF sent up couldn't pick them up. Had another false alarm [today]. Rather nice. Believe we are going back to China in the next week or so. Just as well I guess as I believe Rangoon will soon be under Jap control.

Feb 2

Had 2 air raid alarms last night but I don't believe any bombs were dropped. A very quiet day at the field with the usual 2 or 3 false air-raid alarms. With the fall of Moulmein our warning is very short. At the most 15 or 20 minutes. The 2nd Squadron is going back to [Kunming] but we will be staying here for a while. I hope everything is all right at home as I haven't received any mail from the States for 3 months. Tomorrow is my day off.

Feb 3

Spent a quiet day. In the afternoon [Bob] Little and I drove out to the Kokine Swimming Club of which we are honorary members and had quite a time swimming. Another air raid last night. At least so they told me as I slept through the damn thing. The next time we get a day off, we are going to get a sail boat and go for a wee sail in Victoria Lake. The Japs have crossed the Salween [River]....

Feb 4

Had a rather large air raid last night. The Japs bombed the city and destroyed about 8 blocks in the native quarter. Killed quite a few of the poor devils. Had an air raid alarm [today] which was caused by the fact that they were bombing Toungoo. Understand not much damage was done. Very glad to receive a letter from Mother dated Dec 8 today. I believe our induction into the Army has been postponed for a while and the AVG will retain its identity.

Feb 5

Escorted 3 Blenheims to Pa-an where [Japanese] troop concentrations are reported. For a change they hit their mark. Had about six alarms last night. Japs dropped a large number of bombs on the runway at the field. Darn near ran into one of them on the way home from Johnny Walker this a.m. Air raid in the p.m. which turned out to be false. Second Squadron is preparing to pull out leaving us their planes.

Feb 6

Another series of bombing raids last night. One of the Hurricane night fighters made contact and shot one down. The air raid at 1030 brought 35 Jap fighters. I was in a good position with 8 planes about 2,000 feet above and behind. Our outfit knocked down 10. I was lucky enough to get 2. Tomorrow is my day off which doesn't make me mad at all.

Feb 7

Slept in. Returned from town to find an urgent message for me to report to the airport. Had a feeling that something awful had happened. Arriving at the field I found that [Robert] Sandell the [1st] Squadron commander had been killed in an accident while testing his plane (4). This news hit me harder than I can put into words. A darn nice lad. Received radio message from the Colonel to the effect that upon the departure of the 2nd Squadron I was in sole charge of all AVGs in Burma.

Feb 8

No one will ever know the mental anxiety I am going through for on top of losing a very close friend I have shouldered the responsibility of running the squadron and assuring its safety. Sandell was buried today and [2nd Squadron Leader Jack] Newkirk is leaving this evening. Japs are now closing in on Moulmein [an error, surely] which if they do will mean a shorter warning.

Feb 9

No enemy air activity today. Laid down immediate plans for the evacuation of the AVG in Burma should it become necessary. Chennault places full confidence in my decisions. I only pray that I will be deserving of his confidence. The worries I have had in the past are minor compared to those I have now.

Feb 10

No enemy air activity. Two escort missions. RAF could only get 2 Blenheims in air so we didn't do a hell of a lot of damage. Japs closer to Moulmein[?]. At 2030 today the police men informed me that they were looking for one of my men who after having an accident got out of the car and fired several shots--killing one native and wounding 2 others. Found [Crew Chief George] Reynolds at 0130 who denies everything. Turned him over to police for further questioning. More worries.

Feb 11

Got Reynolds released in my custody this a.m. pending further investigation. No enemy air activity today. Had 2 escort missions with the usual 2 Blenheims. Japs have finally taken Moulmein and are starting across the Salween at Pa-an and at Moulmein. Many small boats reported at these two places. Went round to the AOC's house (Air Marshal Stevenson) tonight for dinner.

Feb 12

Drawing more trucks and getting our equipment together in case an evacuation is necessary. Japs have now taken Martaban and are working up the east side of the Gulf of Martaban [from Moulmein]. Using small boats to encircle our positions. No enemy air activity. Escorted 3 Blenheims over Moulmein where they bombed the docks. Amount of damage unknown.

[Two pages missing]

Feb 15

No enemy air activity today. More escort missions. Rangoon is like a morgue for nearly all the Europeans & Indians have left. Don't much blame them.

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

Feb 16

No enemy air activity today. Our forces were cut off again by boats moving up the Bay of Martaban. They are now nearing Bilin. Singapore fell [yesterday] which puts this place more or less on the spot. They will probably hit us from the land, sea & air now. (No place like home.) The people with whom Little and I are staying are leaving in a few days.

Feb 17

No enemy air activity today. Several bombers escort missions over Bilin area. With Singapore gone we can expect a raid on Rangoon from the sea. All in all this isn't going to be the greatest place in the world in another week or so. I haven't heard from my wife or the folks since around the 1st of December. A hell of a war.

Feb 18

No enemy air activity today although we had an air raid alarm which turned out false. Escorted 8 Blenheims over to Bilin. Hit their target. Japs have now crossed the Bilin river and have occupied the town of Bilin. They are about 40 miles from Pegu now and at the rate they have been moving they should be in Pegu in another two days. I expect an air blitz in another two or three days.

Feb 19

No enemy air activity. Escorted bombers over Bilin area. Preparing to send part of ground personnel to Magwe. Expecting [Japanese] parachute troops here. Most of the Europeans have evacuated and Rangoon is like a grave. Rather strange to drive through the deserted streets of a city as large as Rangoon.

Feb 20

No enemy air activity. Are now keeping a constant air patrol over Rangoon area as several [Japanese] observation planes were seen over Rangoon yesterday. Went to dinner with the Group Captain [Manning] this evening. Sending a convoy with 13 of the AVGs to Magwe tomorrow.

Feb 21

On an escort mission today we ran into about 12 Jap bombers and about 40 I-97 [Ki-27 "Nate"] fighters. As we were below them we only got five. No enemy air activity over Rangoon. The enemy are now across the Bilin river and will soon be up to the Sittang [river bridge]. The British army don't seem to be able to stop them. Maybe because they retreat before they see the enemy.

Feb 22

Report came in that the Japs have occupied Bassein about 90 miles west of Rangoon. Not confirmed. Put the whole squadron on an hour's evacuation basis. Straffed a Japanese motorized column. Did a lot of damage. Japs have now taken Kyaikto and our forces are now crossing the Sittang. It won't be long now.

Feb 23

Sent 6 planes to Magwe to guard our convoy which left yesterday. No enemy air activity. However, the ground forces aren't doing so well. They blew up the Sittang bridge and left a couple of brigades on the other side. Darn nice organization! Straffed the river bank & town north [of the bridge?] Rangoon is deserted & looting is underway. All criminals have been turned loose. A hell of a nice place.

Feb 24

It's getting about time for the Japs to be coming back. Sent another convoy out as men are getting a little nervous. There are dead natives all over Rangoon shot by soldiers for looting. The damn Burmans are setting fire to most of the buildings.

Feb 25

Air action again. At 1030 enemy fighters were reported east of Rangoon. Squadron followed Little so only myself & 2 others made contact. About 40 Jap fighters. I shot down 2. Sure'n hell wish the rest had been with me. At 1600 Japs reported coming from southwest. This time I had 8 planes behind me. Were 12 bombers & about 30+ fighters. I got another 2. Bombers were damn well protected. Total bag for the Squadron today was 20 Jap planes. Bombed last night again.

Feb 26

A day I don't think I will forget for a while. At 0800 I took 6 P-40s over to Moulmein airport and caught the Japs on the ground taking off. It was a damn good fight until I went down and straffed the Japs taking off. I got a couple but picked up a couple of Jap fighters. When I got back [home] I had 17 [bullet] holes and one from "flak". Damn lucky to get away for I had no altitude. Japs came back in p.m. Took off last & hit them first. Sent [illegible] more to their god. Total bag for squadron was 23. Not bad. 43 in 2 days. Bombed again last night. [Ed] Liebolt missing from p.m. raid.

Feb 27

Found out last night that the RDF [radar set] had been dismantled & sent to Magwe. So at 0130 I got everybody packed up and sent up the road a ways. Sent all planes but myself & another lad to Magwe. Will stay here for a while in an effort to locate Liebolt.

Feb 28

Left Rangoon for Magwe. Still no word from Liebolt. However, I feel he is okay. Didn't have any maps of the [Magwe] area so like a darn fool I got lost. Flew right over Magwe but couldn't see it for the haze. Lost my wingman bout 50 miles north of Magwe. Used up all but 10 gallons [of gasoline] looking for him. Finally set the plane down in a peanut field near [illegible]. No damage to plane. Got in touch with head man of the village & rode a horse to the post office where I phoned up Magwe. Are bringing out gas tomorrow.

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