Surviving the Japanese Onslaught, an RAF PoW in Burma

This new book features the memoirs of the late William Albert Tate who died in 2007 at the age

of 85. The first-hand account of an RAF aircrew has not previously been published and it adds

further personal insight that is valuable. Essential reading.


NAME: Surviving the Japanese Onslaught, an RAF PoW in Burma
FILE: R2414
AUTHOR:  William Tate
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back 
PAGES:  152
PRICE: £19.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War 1I, World War Two, Second World War, Pre-war 
RAF, Middle East, Far East, Burma, Wellington, bombing
ISBN: 1-47388-073-4
IMAGE: B2414.jpg
LINKS: Current Discount Offers 
DESCRIPTION: This new book features the memoirs of the late William 
Albert Tate who died in 2007 at the age of 85. The first-hand account 
of an RAF aircrew has not previously been published and it adds 
further personal insight that is valuable. Essential reading.

The author served in the RAF from 1938 to 1946 and these memoirs 
follow his service with special reference to his period as a 
Japanese PoW for two years, being held in Rangoon Gaol. The period 
as a PoW are a harrowing tale of deprivation and Japanese brutality. 
The service to either side is altogether happier and more positive.

The text reads well and the author has a natural talent for painting 
pictures in words, enhanced by a very interesting photo-plate 
section. What makes the book particularly interesting is that it 
sets out a family background and service history that was typical of 
many other individuals serving during WWII after their parents had 
served in WWI. This therefore also acts as a testament to all those 
who never recorded and published their experiences, served with quiet 
distinction, and formed the backbone of a fighting force.

As the service period shows, the author was not a wartime volunteer, 
or conscript, but an individual who chose a career in the RAF before 
war broke out. As such, his service started in an RAF in the throws 
of modernization and re-equipment. In 1938, the RAF was still largely 
a biplane air force with machines little advanced from those at the 
end of WWI. In the short space to the declaration of war in 1939, 
immense efforts were made to make up for the lost years of 
appeasement. On the outbreak of war, the RAF was still some way short 
of completing the process and fighter squadrons had to repaint their 
biplane fighters in camouflage while they waited for new monoplanes 
that were almost twice the speed, more than four times the fire power, 
and equipped with radio communications with each other and to the 
ground-based, radar-controlled, command and control system.

Bomber Command, in which the author served, was in a curious position. 
The justification for combining two different, but highly efficient 
air forces, RNAS and RFC, into a single service was largely on the 
claims that air power could win wars without the need for ground 
forces. It took the RNAS work on building long range heavy biplane 
bombers and the RNAS attacks on ports and military targets in Germany 
as the basis of the claims. Sadly, the RAF commanders spent rather 
more time on politics, at which they became very skilled, and rather 
less on the critical work required to build the war-winning force 
they claimed to have inherited. It was not entirely their fault, 
because politicians took every opportunity to cut budgets and frustrate 

The result was that the new monoplanes entering service were twin 
engine machines of modest range and limited bomb load, being procured 
in small quantities and incapable of mounting a sustained strategic 
bombing campaign. These aircraft were broadly similar to the German 
bombers, the difference being that Germany saw its bombers as army 
support aircraft, essentially flying artillery. They were similarly 
lightly armed with rifle calibre machine guns, but their bomb load was 
adequate for army support and bombing open towns in the terror bombing 
role. This was less of a problem for the Germans because they planned 
on having close fighter support with some of the best fighters then 
available. They triumphed until they were used to bomb London and other 
British cities in the strategic bombing role, when their fighters had 
insufficient range to provide continuing support, and where the RAF was 
able to direct much larger numbers of fighters than previous enemies, 
using the most advanced command and control system yet developed by any 

Of all the bombers available in the early war years, the Wellington was 
the most successful. Although still only twin engine, it had much longer 
range, a greater bomb load with a wider choice of bomb types, and a much 
more effective defensive armament. Having a twin gun nose turret, twin 
gun upper turret and a four gun tail turret, augmented by two hand 
operated waist guns, the Wellington mounted an effective defence against 
individual fighters. The unique geodetic structure was able to absorb 
considerable damage, to return to base. Until the new four engine heavy 
bombers began to arrive in numbers, the Wellington was the mainstay of 
the bomber force. As the heavy bombers arrived, it continued to provide 
a valuable component of Bomber Command, but was increasingly used to 
update Coastal Command which was equipped with a few good flying boats 
but mainly with obsolete and obsolescent aircraft. The Wellington was 
also sent to the Middle East and Burma where Bomber Command was as 
poorly equipped as Coastal Command.

The author was in one of those Wellington crews sent out to Burma to 
make a difference in a neglected theatre where the Japanese had been 
enjoying a happy period, faced only by inadequate numbers of very old 
Allied aircraft. Although the Wellington was huge improvement on the 
aircraft in use when it arrived, it was coming to the point in its 
service where fighter development had advanced, making it very important 
to escort Wellingtons on daylight raids. The Japanese had some effective 
fighters in service and a number of anti-aircraft gun batteries 
protecting key points. The author was unfortunate to be in a Wellington 
that was caught and shot down. Having successfully bailed out, he was 
taken prisoner and experienced the Japanese attitude to prisoners in 
their control.

The reader will find a mix of emotions  that match the different stages 
of the author's RAF career. Taken together, they paint a rare picture 
because there has been a shortage of first-hand accounts from people 
of similar rank and range of experience. We should be grateful that 
these memoirs survived and made it into print. It could so easily have 
been different, as for so many lost memoirs that died with their 
authors, often not shared even with immediate family.