Northwest Thailand during World War II

N19°16 E97°56

Mae Hong Son Airstrip
(Th: สนามบินแม่ฮ่องสอน / Jp: メーホンソン 滑走路 
page 3 of 6

Route 1095
Station 213


Text Notes

01-02 (?) January 1942

The first impact of the war on Mae Hong Son was recalled as having occurred early in 1942. From 1998 interviews with Sgt Major 3rd Class (SM3, retired) Kawila Chanopas, and his wife, Jawla:

Around 1500 hours on 01 or 02 Jan 1942, Allied aircraft flew . . . past Doi Kong Mu and dropped a bomb on Mae Hong Son Bridge. . . . One policeman was killed by the bomb at the bridge.[12a]

There is no Allied Forces record indicating that its aircraft bombed Mae Hong Son on 01 or 02 Jan 1942. The first report that the town had been attacked was on 03 Feb 1942, a month later, by a single Indian Air Force (IAF) bomber with RAF fighter escorts. Bombing of a bridge is not included in the bomber pilot's report for that attack (see report for 03 Feb 1942 below). Additional attacks with several IAF bombers occurred on the next two days (see reports for 04 Feb and 05 Feb 1942 below).

To add to the confusion, or possibly to demonstrate a problem with oral history, there are two reports of other bridges in the area being bombed, neither confirmed, nor even likely --- it is assumed that the reports actually refer to the more probable 03 Feb 1942 event:

According to Mr Porm Sootsukon (a civil servant in Mae Hong Son) around 1235 hours on 05 Mar 1945, a single two-engined Allied Forces plane from the direction of Burma . . . went on to bomb a bridge over the Mae Hong Son River, two km from Mae Hong Son's center. Two bombs landed 15 m from the bridge. The plane flew back and the pilot waved a handkerchief. After the plane left, inspection determined nothing had been damaged. It was assumed that the intent of the bombing was just psychological in support of the Free Thai movement.[12b]

Interesting explanation. If true, perhaps the pilot was just unloading bombs on a "target of opportunity" because he could not attack his assigned target. However, the more obvious target of opportunity would have been the airstrip. From the point of view of the scenario of a bomb off-target of the airstrip, it is much less likely: the bridge is 1.2 km to the right off the approach path.

Mr Yen Waraporn, (65 years old [in a 1998 interview]) stated that the Japanese Road from Wat Pha Bong Tai to Huai Pong crossed Mae Samat with a log bridge capable of supporting vehicles. Later, this bridge was bombed and damaged.[12β]

No date is specified, but most of the "Japanese Road" that was completed was finished by late 1943. The same target of opportunity observations apply here as above. With regard to a bomb intended for the airstrip, but landing off-target, the bridge is located about 3.6 km to the right off the approach path to the Mae Hong Son airstrip --- very unlikely.

It is assumed that the January dates from the first witnesses on the ground were in error and that the attack(s) they witnessed occurred during the period 03 - 05 Feb 1942. Two bridges are currently in the immediate area and bridges were probably at those same locations in 1942:[12c]

Location map for MHS airport & two bridges

The bridge over Pu Stream (N19°18.47 E97°57.86) is just 300 m (950 feet) to the left of the approach path for the westerly end of the Mae Hong Son airstrip and is the more likely candidate for a stray bomb. Such a deviation would easily have been possible in 1942, given the limited technology available at that time.[12d]

11-12 January 1942

Three Corsairs from [Royal Thai Air Force Squadron] 32 bombed a small village across the border from the Thai town of Mae Hong Son where enemy troops had been reported. [12e]

According to Young, the Corsairs flew out of Chiang Rai, where they had been transferred only a few days before from first, Korat, and then Lampang.[12ε] Having gone from Chiang Rai, the squadron's flight was probably visible from Mae Hong Son.

23 January 1942

RAF 67 Squadron Brewster Buffalo aircraft (number unspecified) "reconned" Mae Hong Son.[12f]

February 1942

A British General Staff map of Burma locates the Thai border town of Mae Hong Son (Me-hohngsohn):[13]

1943 map showing Mae Hong Son


February 1942

An oblique aerial view, looking southeast at Mae Hong Son airstrip:[14]MHS oblique

There is no commentary in the report on the photo; so it is unclear whether the "cross-wind" runway was in existence at this time or not --- if anything, there appears to be some development to the right (in the opposite direction to what Allied records later indicate). The quality of the photo is very poor because it is a microfilm copy of a printed publication of unknown quality.

01 February 1942

The Toungoo Airstrip in Burma was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF):

In the early hours of the morning . . . the 5th Hikoshidan commenced a series of four raids using between six and fifteen bombers, inflicting considerable damage . . . .[14a]

The attack is relevant to the Mae Hong Son airstrip because the IJAAF aircraft in the attack were believed by some to have flown out of that location.[14b]

At this time, military intelligence appears not to have been well developed. In a few days, 10 February 1942, United Press reported:

Military sources . . . said . . . the Japanese were concentrating at Chiengmai, Thailand, for an offensive aimed at Toungoo, 175 miles due west.[14c]

And later, 18 February 1942, the Associated Press reported:

. . . the RAF carried out a mass attack on a Thailand rail terminus in the north which the enemy is believed using as a base for a parachute invasion of territory vital to the supplying of China. . . . The raided parachute invasion base was Chiengmai . . . The Japanese also are believed to have parachute troops and air-borne infantrymen at Mehongson . . . and at Mesarieng . . . [possibly] to break through to Toungoo . . . .[14d]

Presumably this information was available earlier within the military system and would have been justification for suspecting Mae Hong Son. As it turned out, military sources were simply wrong regarding activities in Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son.

03 February 1942

Probably using the erroneous intelligence report as a guide, a Westland Lysander from 1 Indian Air Force (IAF) Squadron piloted by Sqn Ldr KK Majumdar and escorted by two RAF 67 Squadron Buffalos attacked the Mae Hong Son airfield. A hangar and an aircraft inside were reported destroyed.[15]

. . . [IAF] Squadron Leader Majumdar [in a Lysander] . . . flying in low . . . attacked the airfield's only hangar, which contained an aircraft, scored two direct hits and returned to Toungoo.[15α]

[Victor Bargh in an RAF Buffalo] was . . . escort [to] a Lysander attacking . . . (Mae Hong Son) airfield . . . [His] logbook reported, "Jumbo [the Lysander] dropped a couple of 250s [pound bombs] on hangar --- busted it. I strafed surroundings".[15ᴂ]

04 February 1942

The whole of the IAF No. 1 Lysander squadron without escort repeated the strike on Mae Hong Son:[15a]

The following day No. 1 Squadron repeated the attack . . . [they flew unescorted, relying on camouflage and their ability to fly at treetop height to keep them from the attention of patrolling Japanese fighters] . . . .[15β]

. . . They scored direct hits on airfield buildings and a wireless station, besides some hits and near misses on aircraft dispersed round the landing ground.[15Ҍ]

Conversely, the Associated Press, monitoring radio broadcasts from Japan, quoted a Domei Japanese news report, "for the second consecutive day today" (04 Feb 1942), IJAAF bombers attacked Toungoo, damaging aircraft on the ground and hangars.[15ҌҌ]

05 February 1942

IAF No. 1 Squadron without escort again attacked Mae Hong Son (this time with no damage report), and also Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.[15b]

15 February 1942

IAF No. 1 Squadron made a reconnaissance run from Toungoo which overflew Mae Hong Son.[15c]

16 February 1942

IAF No. 1 Squadron flew another reconnaissance run from Toungoo which overflew Mae Hong Son.[15d]

22 February 1942

IAF No. 1 Squadron flying out of Toungoo strafed Mae Hong Son facilities.[15e]

25 February 1942

IAF No. 1 Squadron made another reconnaissance run from Toungoo which overflew Mae Hong Son.[15f]

28 February 1942

IAF No. 1 Squadron strafed Mae Hong Son airstrip, destroying I J A radio facilities.[15g]

 03 March 1942

Regarding the Allied air activities in February noted above, the implication of anything Japanese in the Mae Hong Son area through at least this date was probably premature.

Deployment maps from the Japanese official history of the war are available on-line, with translations on the Warbirds Forum website:[15δ]

Air Units Deployment in Thailand and south Burma
(23 Dec 1941)

The 5th Hiko Shidan deployment (22 Jan 1942)

South Burma Air Operations, (mid-Feb 1942)

The 5th Hiko Shidan Deployment, (03 Mar 1942)

None show Mae Hong Son.

A recent Japanese-language review of I J A A F operations in Burma[15Γ] recounts the Allied version of 03-05 Feb 1942 events in Mae Hong Son, then observes:

. . . at that time, the 77th Sentai (Squadron) was 200 km SE at Lampang and the 31st Sentai was further away at Phitsanulok.[15ґ]

and finally comments:

Japanese records about these same air raids have not been found.[15Ґ]

Regardless of the above review, the Mae Hong Son airstrip was located in Thai territory and Thailand had allied itself with Japan; thus the airstrip was a legitimate enemy target.

An explanation for the presence of an aircraft in the Mae Hong Son hangar might lie in the original purpose of the airstrip: passenger and mail transport. Damage to a Thai civilian aircraft, particularly at a field not used by the I J A A F, would / could not have been reported by the I J A A F. Working against this interpretation are the other local memories of a bridge (somewhere around Mae Hong Son) having been bombed --- but no recollection of a plane having been attacked on the ground.

Thailand's Aerial Transport Co had seven Fairchild 24s and two De Havilland Puss Moths at the beginning of the war[15ϩ] and none functional at the end.[15Ϩ] Only the demise of the last of the Transport Co aircraft is recorded in Steve Darke's Thai Aviation History: Thai Air Accidents (Mar-45 entry), and that was associated with air service to Mae Hong Son.[16ϒ] 

Jagan Pillarisetti comments:

I am of the opinion that the wartime reports were exaggerated. When things were not going well for the Allied campaign, there may have been pressure for intelligence agents to come up with 'achievements'; so Majumdar may have blown up a building or a hangar, and someone put a spin on it and said an aircraft was inside.[16λ]

To put this comment in perspective, recall that the British Commonwealth in Southeast Asia on 31 January 1942 was looking at Singapore under siege --- the connecting causeway had just been cut, and Moulmein, Burma's third largest city,[16ω] had just been abandoned to the Japanese who were obviously steamrollering towards Rangoon.[16ψ] More revealingly was a United Press report relayed from Japan's "Imperial Headquarters" that its taking Moulmein "virtually ended" use of the Burma Road over which the US had been providing supplies to the Chinese.[16ψψ] Good news was desperately needed.


Continued on next page









12a.^  รายงาน การ สําร จอขุดค้น ตาม โครงการ คึกษาเชิงอนรักษ์แหล่ง
ฝังศพทหารญี่บุน - สมัย สงครามโลกครั้งที่ 2 จังหวัดแม่ฮ่องสอน - หัางหุ้นส่วนจํากัดเฌอ กรีน - เสนอต่อ - จังหวัดแม่ฮ่องสอน - สำนักงานโบราณคดีและพิพิธภณฑสถาน แห่งชาติที่6 ใชียงเหม่ (1999)
Report on Archaeological Research for the Japanese Soldiers Burial Project World War II Era - Mae Hong Son Province
(Chiang Mai: Green Tree, LLP, Ltd, submitted by/for Mae Hong Son Province Archaeology & National Museum Office 6, Chiang Mai, 1999), pp 80 & 118. Hereafter: Report on Archaeological Research.

12b.^ Report on Archaeological Research, p 117.





12β.^ Report on Archaeological Research, p 80.






12c.^ "Terrain" map from  Nations Online; accessed 20 May 2012. Overlay based on Airfield Report No. 32, Mar 1945, aerial photo "Mae Hong Son Landing Ground", unnumbered page (USAF Archive microfilm reel A8056 p 53). Annotations by author.







12d.^ Per reminder from Mark Haselden on Warbird's Forum page: Mae Hong Son attack, Jan 1942, 1739:55 01 Jun 2008.

In an unrelated, but illustrious, incident in Nov 1943, one bomb in the attack on Chiang Mai's rail station was recorded as landing 800 m (2600 feet) from the target; that was a high-altitude attack, but it demonstrates the problem of bombing accuracy in WWII.

For an interesting discussion on factors in bombing accuracy, see paragraphs 5, 6, & 7 of Bombing Accuracy in a Combat Environment which begin:

"Those who have not delivered weapons from an airplane have little or no conception of the problems involved or the requisite skills. There are so many variables in the accuracy equation and the chance for error is so great as to make one wonder how fighter pilots do as well as they do."

12e.^ Young, EM, Aerial Nationalism (Washington: Smithsonian, 1995), p 185; in reference to Foong Bin 32.

12ε.^ ibid, pp 184-185.

12f.^ Per Mark Haselden, ibid.

13.^ Extract from map titled Burma, Geographical Section, General Staff No. 4280 (North Sheet) War Office 1942 (USAF Archive microfilm reel 8021 p 19).

14.^  Airfield Report No. 21, Apr 1944, "Record of Airfield Activity & Development - Thailand", unnumbered page (USAF Archive microfilm reel A8055 p645).


















14a.^ Pearson, Michael, Burma Air Campaign (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books, 2006), pp 36, 37.

14b.^ "Into Burma" in Air Marshal YV Malse: A Tiger Pilot Remembers by Jagan Pillarisetti.

14c.^ as printed in The Racine Journal-Times, 10 Feb 1942, p 2.





14d.^ as printed in The Charleston Gazette, 19 Feb 1942, pp 1 & 4.






15.^  Frances, Neil, Ketchil (Masterson NZ: Wairarapa Archive, 2005), p 76: also Shores, Christopher & Brian Cull, with Yasuho Izawa, Bloody Shambles vol II (London: Grub Street, 2000 reprint), p 259. Much more detail on Indian Air Force (IAF) action during this 03-05 Feb 1942 is available at:
Bharat Rakshak: No. 1 Squadron, (Bharat Rakshak is "The Consortium of Indian Military Websites") and Air Marshal YV Malse: A Tiger Pilot Remembers by Jagan Pillarisetti).

15α.^ Pearson, ibid. Note that the aircraft in the hangar is not identified.

15ᴂ.^ Frances, ibid, p 76. Note that Bargh does not mention an aircraft in the hangar.

15a.^ ibid. Plus, per Jagan Pillarisetti email 00:11 29 Jun 2008: flight logs of Pilot Officers Anantha Ananthanaryanan and Haider Raza. Unfortunately, as yet, no independent confirmation has been found for the hits.

15β.^ ibid. Note: the patrolling aircraft may have been Thai Air Force: Squadron 22 with Vought Corsair biplanes, flying out of Chiang Rai, had been assigned to surveillance duties over Burma's Shan States (Young, p 185). A part of the 50th Sentai did not arrive in Chiang Mai until 18 Feb 1942 per JAAF deployment, 18 Feb 1942.

15Ҍ^ From RIAF official history sources, per Jagan Pillarisetti email 10:44 21 Jun 2008: information cited in The Official History of the Royal Indian Air Force 1933-1945 (Ministry of Defence, India, 1961).

15ҌҌ^ "Toungoo Airdrome Bombed", The New York Times, 05 Feb 1942, no page cited in on-line archive.

15b.^ Sources same as those in Note 15 above.

15c.^ Per Jagan Pillarisetti email 10:44 21 Jun 2012: flight log of Pilot Officer Haider Raza (later Air Vice Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force).

15d.^ ibid.

15e.^ ibid.

15f.^ ibid.

15g.^ Per Jagan Pillarisetti email of 00:11 29 Jun 2008: information cited in The Official History of the Royal Indian Air Force 1933-1945 (Ministry of Defence, India, 1961).

15δ.^ Warbird Forum links are as shown. Maps are from:
戦史叢書 (東京: 防衛庁防衛研修所戦史室, 南方進攻陸軍航空作戦 (編集), 1970年)
Senshi Sosho (War History Series) vol 34 (IJAAF’s Drive to South Pacific Area) (Tokyo: Asagumo Shimbunsha, 1970), pp 338, 583, 597, 607.

15Γ.^ 装丁寺山祐策, ビルマ航空戦・上 (東京: 本印刷株式会社, 2002),
Umemoto, Hiroshi, Air War in Burma (Tokyo: Dai Nippon, 2002)

15ґ.^ ibid, p 64.

15Ґ.^ ibid. "この空襲に相当する日本側の記録は発見できなかった。"

15ϩ.^ Young, ibid, p 102.

15Ϩ.^ Young, ibid, p 216.

16ϒ.^ See entry for
               20 Mar 1945.

16λ.^ Jagan Pillarisetti email of 10:29 01 Jul 2012.

16ω.^ The United Press, 02 Feb 1942, in "RAF Blasts Foe in Boats in Burma", The New York Times, 02 Feb 1942, no page number cited in archive.

16ψ.^ Oakland Tribune, 31 Jan 1942, p 1.

16ψψ.^ The New York Times, 03 Feb 1942, no page number cited in archive. But according to The United Press, quoted in "Fliers Smash Japanese in Burma . . .", The New York Times, 05 Feb 1942, no page number cited, this assessment was a bit premature: this goal was still perhaps 90 miles (144 km) beyond.