F/O John Irvine, RAF
RAF Burma Star Group, Caterpillar Club
The superb Second World War campaign group of four awarded to Wellington, Dakota and Hudson navigator, Flight Lieutenant J. Irvine, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who flew in at least 35 operational sorties over Burma, with 99 (Madras Presidency), 194 and 357 Squadrons, including a raid to Rangoon, 8 April 1944, on the return from which he earned his Caterpillar Club Badge when bailing out over Bengal.
John Irvine was a native of Scotland, and he initially served as a LAC with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during the Second War. He trained as a Navigator at No. 1 A.O.S. Malton, Ontario, Canada, from August 1942. Irvine carried out subsequent training at No. 11 E.F.T.S, Perth, Scotland and No. 11 O.T.U., Westcott, before being posted to No. 310 Ferry Training Unit in July 1943. Having completed training at the latter, he carried out a Ferry Trip to India, July - August 1943.
Irvine, having been commissioned Flying Officer, was posted for operational flying to 99 (Madras Presidency) Squadron (Wellingtons) at Jessore, India in December 1943. The Squadron were engaged against Japanese targets in Burma, and Irvine flew in at least 18 operational sorties between January - May 1944. Targets included: Prome Railway Yards; Mandalay Railway Yards; Heho Airfield (2); Ramree Island; Maymyo Railways Yards; Mingaldon Airfield; Rangoon Dumps, including 8 April 1944 ‘Bailed out over Chittagong’ (Log Book refers); Taungup; and 11 May 1944 ‘Imphal Battlefront. Tiddim Road’ (Ibid).
A contemporary newspaper cutting adds further detail to the operation on 8 April 1944:
‘Flying Officer J. Irvine, 23 year old Toronto navigator, recently surprised a native family in Bengal when he parachuted from a Wellington bomber and landed on the roof of a small basti hut (made from reeds, twigs and mud).
Occupants of the hut were rudely awakened when Irvine crashed onto the roof and slid unharmed to the ground to join his fellow airmen who had dropped safely from the skies a few miles from the Bengal airport. One of the engines of the Wellington had almost “conked out” after a flight over Rangoon, but the English pilot brought his aircraft almost 300 miles before he began to lose altitude.
The pilot believed he would be unable to make a good landing and ordered his crew to “hit the silk.” Irvine and his companions dived out into the night but the pilot stayed with the aircraft and brought it in safely.’
Irvine was one of the Squadrons’ aircrew that was loaned to 194 Squadron (Dakotas) during the Battle of Imphal, and he flew in at least 13 supply dropping operations throughout June 1944. Irvine returned to 99 Squadron in July, and flew one more operational sortie with the Squadron before being posted to 357 Squadron (Hudsons), Jessore, India in November 1944. The Squadron’s Hudsons were employed for supply drops to guerilla forces in Burma, and Irvine flew on 3 of these operational sorties. He continued to serve with the Squadron until March 1945, when he transferred to HQ 231 Group. Having advanced to Flight Lieutenant, Irvine resigned his commission in March 1946.
In addition to the 1939/45 Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal and 39/45 War Medal, the following original items and documents are included: 3 Identity Tags; Navigator’s brevet; Royal Canadian Air Force Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book (3 August 1942 - 14 February 1945); Royal Air Force Service and Release Book; Caterpillar Club Membership Card; programme for recipient’s Graduation Ceremony and Presentation of Wings to Air Navigators and Air Bombers of No. 1 Air Observer School, R.C.A.F, 20 November 1942; Air Ministry Letter to recipient on the occasion of him resigning his commission, dated 9 March 1946; Air Force (India) Form 441 complete with Navigational Observations for operations on 8 April 1944, when Irvine bailed out; newspaper cutting regarding recipient parachuting to safety; notes on Meteorological Conditions in India and Burma and other ephemera.
Note, the RNZAF Burma Star group to McCaughey (ZM172) relates, as McCaughey flew on the same crew as Irvine and bailed out over Chittagong, along with Irvine, in April 1944. Contact us for options on purchasing both groups together.