Sketch by Jack Chalker

Far East

In late 1941, Norman’s 84 Squadron was sent to Palembang Airfield in Sumatra.   With the rapid advance of Japanese forces, Norman received orders to be “loaned” to “Fortress Singapore” to bolster the island’s fighter defence. He was to instruct the novice pilots, on the Hurricane and Buffalo fighters, in aerial combat tactics using experience he had gained in the Battle of Britain.   Most of the pilots in Singapore had never flown in combat, but their Japanese  adversary was well seasoned.

Brewster Buffalo -1

Brewster Buffalo fighters


NOTE:   The British had built a big Naval Base on Singapore that was finished in 1938.   Its large naval guns were meant to hold off an invasion from the sea.  The guns (the Jahore Battery) could be swivelled around 360 degrees, but only had armour-piercing shells made for sinking warships, and were unsuitable for use against land combat troops.   The British Commander, General Sir Arthur Percival, failed to provide defences to repel an invasion from the Malay Peninsula and north-west channel.   The General had been ordered to build defences in these areas several times, but refused because he said “it would be bad for morale”.   This phrase would come back to haunt him later.

By a strange quirk of fate, the German surface raider “Atlantis” had shelled and stopped a British cargo ship near Sumatra in November of 1940.   The German boarding party had blasted open a strong-room and discovered a treasure trove of British documents. This  included the whole  TOP SECRET mail for the High Command, Far East; new code tables, and a War Cabinet report on British forces DEFENCES of SINGAPORE.   The ship was sunk and it was not known until many years after the war that the Germans, who had shared them with the Japanese, had captured these vital documents in November of 1940.  This coupled, with having spies on Singapore Island, played greatly in the Japanese decision to launch their East Asia War Campaign.

It was into this situation that Norman and his squadron mates were pressed. The Japanese had air superiority and more modern planes, but the RAF pilots did their best with what they had. When the invasion came over land, the Japanese made rapid progress into Singapore. Just a week before the surrender, Norman got six other pilots together and developed a plan to evacuate, rather than be taken prisoner. Norman led a flight of seven of the last serviceable Brewster Buffalo fighters out of Kallang Airfield. They made a series of daring flights in 3 to 4 hour hops to RAF auxiliary airfields in Sumatra, Thailand, Burma and on back to RAF Dum Dum Airfield in Calcutta, India. Norman would land first at each of the auxiliary fields while his flight mates circled above, just in case the Japanese had captured the strip, (They did control much of the Malay Peninsula).  On the ground they had to refuel by hand, pumping gas from steel drums. Meanwhile, back in Singapore, General Percival raised the white flag and surrendered over 130,000 troops on February 15, 1942, little knowing that the Japanese were nearly out of ammunition.

Norman and his fellow flight mates were brought up on charges by a superior officer, but charges were dropped when he explained that they had done all they could to defend Singapore and could see no good purpose in becoming prisoners of war.   They were actually “conserving assets of the Crown” and living to fight again another day.


Next Chapter

Croix de Guerre



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[Norman] [War Clouds Gather] [German Onslaught] [Battle of Britain] [Far East] [Croix de Guerre] [Love of Adventure]


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