Paratroops at Pladjoe
On the 15th February, Lockheed Hudson aircraft approached and circled the P1 aerodrome. These were thought to be friendly, but as Zero fighters circled above them doubt set in.
The appearance of hundreds of Jap Paratroops leaving the Hudson planes quickly dismissed all doubt. They were Jap Kawasaki Ki-56 planes made under license from Lockheed Hudson in 1938. As the paratroopers fired toward the ground, the Bofors and machine guns on the ground opened up.
Jap troops were also landing from boats on the river to reinforce the paratroops.
Dennis’ cousin, Vern Richmond, was on a gun site that was overrun by the paratroopers but he managed to escape with Freddy Smith and another of his crew.
A story Dennis heard of this incident was that some natives helped Freddy Smith evade the Japs by guiding him to an air raid shelter and wrapping a native garment around him, covering his uniform. Freddy was a dark skinned lad before setting out for the Far East and now with a sun tan, he passed easily for a native. This was a life saver as a Jap paratrooper came into the shelter looking for Allied soldiers. With bayoneted rifle he walked slowly passed the frightened natives and Freddy, and out the other doorway. It had been a very close call!
Vern was to tell Dennis later that he managed to get to some Dutch authorities with a couple of his gun crew. They suggested he take one of their vehicles under the cover of darkness that evening and try to find the rest of his crew, if they were still alive.
That night they slowly reversed the vehicle with a gunner guiding it, down the narrow track as far as they dare. They then crept toward the direction of the gun site. Hearing movement at the site, Vern called out for the site commander…..“Bombardier Stutterford……..”
The reply was a hail of gun fire. Vern and his mates turned and ran as fast as they could to the waiting vehicle and sped off back down the narrow winding track, crashing through bushes and bouncing off trees in the darkness. He could now only assume that the rest of the crew were either dead or captured.
More Japanese troops had landed from craft coming up the river and reinforcing the first wave, secured the oil refinery at Pladjoe.
That day, orders were issued to abandon Pladjoe and head for Palembang.
A road block between PI and Pladjoe was set up by the Japs and was to change hands many times during the day. Reports were made by a British flyer of seeing hundreds of bodies of Jap, British and Dutch soldiers strewn around the area.
The oil refinery too changed hands in counter attacks and both sides took many losses.
The paratroops made three drops and at the end of the battle for Palembang, the paratroops were to pay a high price with 80% casualties. The Japs were still unaware of P2.