222 Group

 

The following is a summary of 222 Group's activities and was prepared for a radio broadcast in 1945; it is transcribed from the Public Records Office, Kew, England; File Air23/4802

 

A Resume of the Activities of -222 Group, R. A. F., By an officer of the R.A.F.

GOOD EVENING:

A few days ago No, 222 Group of the Royal Air Force, whose headquarters have been in Ceylon for the past four years, ceased to exist, -- on paper at any rate. Many of those who have formed its staff will, of course, remain in the island for some time yet, for one cannot close down an entire Group in one fell swoop.

But as Air Headquarters, Ceylon, takes over from the old 222 Group there will come many changes, changes which will indicate that the days of war are now past and that the Royal Air Force on this island has assumed its peace-time status.

It's never an easy thing to say, good-bye and in saying good-bye to their Colombo associations many of 222's staff know that they are leaving behind friends of many months standing. In saying goodbye to 222 Group the people of Ceylon, in their turn, will recall how the last four years saw the building up of an island aircraft-carrier from the jungles and forest lands of their country.

222 Group came to Ceylon soon after, the fall of Singapore. Before that there was one permanent R.A.F. station on the island - at China Bay. There was a civil airport at Ratmalana which soon became a station for fighters. The racecourse in Colombo itself was taken over and fighters installed there. Experts went out to surrey the jungle and select sites for new airfields. They are there today - Sigiriya, Minneriya, Vavuniya. At Koggala, a lake and the swampy ground around had just been turned into a R. A.F. base which was soon to become the largest flying-boat base in the east.

 

While preparations were still in hand, Japan's threat became more apparent. Catalina squadrons arrived at Koggala and began to search the seas. Their exploits have been told time and time again and I've no desire to dwell on them again. But let us never forget the tough assignments they carried out, varying from the shadowing of the Japanese Carrier Task Force, which attacked the island in Easter 1942, to racing the enemy to destroy stores left on the Nicobar Islands, from a bombing raid on Sabang at that time the longest bombing mission of the war - to anti-invasion patrols off the Andaman Islands. The number of aircraft at our disposal in those days was pitifully small, but they carried out their jobs to such effect that the Japanese thrust in the directions of Africa was halted.

The last six months of 1942 and most of the following two years were spent on defensive work. True, the Japanese never again attempted a large-scale frontal assault, but odd aircraft did sneak over Ceylon's coasts. By then we had our radar stations at strategic points on the coastline and even 5,000 feet up among the hills. They gave warning of the enemy's approach and the fighters were ready for the intruders by the time they neared our shores. Several were shot down, including a large flying boat which was sighted off Negombo early last year.

But for the most part 222 Group's function was that of general reconnaissance work. More and later types of planes joined the Catalinas and the range of patrols was extended. Even so, it was still necessary to carry out defensive rather than offensive operations.

 

As time went on it became more and more obvious that if general reconnaissance work in the Indian Ocean was going to be really successful it was necessary that all flying boat and other squadrons should be placed under one operational control and in April of last year this came into force. General reconnaissance aircraft of the Aden and East African Commands were placed under the operational control of 222 Group. Liaison was also established with the squadrons of the South African Air Force engaged on similar duties. This new formation was given the cumbersome title of Indian Ocean General Reconnaissance Operations, or, to use one of those abbreviated terms coined by the Services, IOGROPS.

So far as area was concerned it was easily the largest operational formation in the war. The Indian Ocean covers an area of 6,500,000 square miles and that was the territory for which IOGROPS was responsible.

it wasn't long before successes were gained. Wellingtons from Aden chased and sank a German U-boat which was operating off the coasts of Italian Somaliland. A further U-boat was reported off Madagascar and a combined chase by ships of the then Eastern Fleet and aircraft from East Africa, the Seychelles, and Ceylon resulted in the raider being destroyed off the Japanese submarine base at Penang, on the Malayan coast. The hunt, lasted for six days and nights, one of the longest of the war.

There were other happenings which weren't quite so pleasant. Often enough, the first indication that a submarine was operating came with news of an attack on a merchant ship. Late July and August of last year saw submarine warfare in the Indian Ocean reach its highest peak. At that time Catalinas from the remote bases among the Maldives and at Diego Garcia as well as from Ceylon, flew hundreds of hours in order to maintain contact with life-boats packed with survivors and divert rescue vessels to pick them up. Such searches went on for days at a time and more than 150 survivors were located by flying boats.

Since the outbreak of war flying-boats of 222 Group have been responsible for saving over a thousand survivors in the Indian Ocean.

The hours of patrol continued to mount up, but towards the end of last year the submarine menace in the Indian Ocean was mastered. The Royal Navy and the R.A.F. controlled the approaches to the East.

Meanwhile, 222 Group was planning the opening of the next phase. This meant the attacking of the enemy's own shipping lanes, rather different from a couple of years before when our shipping lanes were ever-threatened. So that it could do this, 222 Group was extended so that all general reconnaissance squadrons in the Indian Ocean came directly under its operational control. Although its headquarters remained in Colombo, it had its squadrons operating from Madras, Cuttack, Akyab, and later, Rangoon and the Cocos Islands.

Mine-laying was one of the main tasks of the early part of this year. In four months one squadron, operating from Minneriya carried out some of the longest sorties on record to lay nearly a thousands mines in enemy waters off the Malay Peninsula, the Kra Isthmus and the South East Indies. During this period, the percentage of success was 86.9, believed to be the highest ever achieved by any squadron employed on this role. The longest sortie was one of 3,350 miles to Singapore, which involved a flight of over twenty-one hours, mostly under appalling weather conditions.

At the same time, attacks on enemy shipping in the Andaman Seas and the straits of Malacca were mounted. In four months, Liberators, operating from both Ceylon and India, sank and damaged some fifty vessels of various sizes. When destroyers of the British East Indies Fleet attacked and sank an enemy cruiser in the Straits of Malacca, 222 Group's Liberators from a station on the Jaffna Peninsula carried out reconnaissance flight that helped us to maintain contact with the enemy warship during the most critical stage of the operation.

At the time of Rangoon's fall, the joint efforts of the British East Fleet and 222 Group had virtually cleared enemy vessels from the seas west of the Malay Peninsula.

Then the strike aircraft looked further east. Crossing the Kra Isthmus, 222 Group's Sunderlands, now operating from Rangoon, began to reconnoitre the Gulf of Siam. They found a multitude of small vessels, coasters, frigates, and so on - and immediately began working destruction among them. Before the end of June they hand sent down 800 tons of small craft.

The vessels attacked by those Sunderlands were quite small as ships but, more than any other nation, the Japanese placed great value on their little ships. A cargo . of 100 tons of foodstuffs was reckoned as sufficient to keep a division of 18,000 men in the field for six days. Every cargo that went to the bottom of, the Gulf of Siam was an irreplaceable loss to men still holding out in Burma or attempting to force a way. aver the mountains into Siam and Indo China.

Sunderlands from Rangoon were still attacking - and sinking - Jap vessels off the Kra Isthmus when the final cease-operations order came through. At the same time, Liberators flown by a squadron of the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service, which had been with 222 Group since 1942, were operating from their new base on the Cocos Islands,

There's been another I aspect of 222 Group's work from which the veil of security has only just been lifted. It is now known that a great guerilla army, trained in secret by hundreds of British officers and NCOs who had arrived in Malaya either by submarine or had been parachuted from long-range Liberators was on the point of striking when the Japanese surrendered.

Right from December of last year, this guerilla army has been built up as the Liberators, flying sorties of 3,000 miles, dropped more men, more arms and equipment. In some places air drops were so difficult that they could only be done by daylight. At the end of July operations were in full swing and Liberators flew from Ceylon's jungles daily with reinforcements. To increase their range all armaments, except the tail turret, were removed. The longest sortie was one of over 4,000 miles and occupied more than twenty-four hours.

The end of the war came quickly. Ceylon's Liberators were quickly transformed into "mercy" aircraft. Within three weeks they had dropped over 280,000 lbs of Red Cross parcels and medical supplies to Allied prisoners of war in Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. In addition, ninety-five doctors, medical orderlies, administrators and others were dropped by parachute.

Sunderlands were stripped of armament and turned into flying hospital ships. Every day they crossed 1,600 miles of water between Ceylon and Singapore as they went to and fro for their loads of sick prisoners-of-war.

222 Group's last flights were missions of mercy. They added a final chapter to the story of work done here in Ceylon.

What then has been the key-note of this story? I would, without hesitation, use the word "distance." From the day when Catalinas from Koggala set out to bomb targets at Sabang and execute the longest bombing raids of the war to that time, right until these final mercy missions over Southern Sumatra: and Java 222 Group's aircraft have been engaged on conquering distance.

Because they have succeeded, Ceylon has remained the headquarters of operations over the largest battle arena of war - two and a half million square miles of Indian Ocean.

 

GOOD NIGHT,

 

19th October, 1945.

 

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