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Muthukumarasami, Balan

Stats:

rank: Flying Officer
status: survived
airforce: RIAF
born: 1923-10-23 Cuddalore India

added by: kurtis
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Bio / Text:

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Captain M. Balan was a flying officer with Number 4 Squadron ( The Oorials) of the RIAF ( Royal Indian Air Force) and was with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force ( BCOF) in Miho, Japan soon after WW2 ended. He flew Spitfires in Japan, patrolling the sea for smugglers from Korea ( traveled to Japan on HMS Dunera from India) and piloted Spitfire TZ165 in the July 4th, 1947 American flypast over Tokyo ( which actually took place on July 5th).

From his daughter Bhuvana, in California, who was in touch with this site ... "He is now 93 (Summer 2017) and lives in Chennai, India with my mom. Because WW2 ended soon after his training in the RIAF in India, he became part of the BCOF in Japan."

Editor's Notes: It was a privilege communicating with Bhuvana Chandra (retired physician) and being able to ask her father questions through her. So, through emails to California, and phone calls to India, we have some answers to some questions asked directly to Captain M. Balan in August of 2017.

Firstly, congratulations to Captain Balan, for his outstanding service, and, his love of flying and willingness to share some of his memories. Captain M. Balan, atlhough trained in wartime for combat, and, who lost good friends in flying duties in Japan, may be one of the few pilots who flew the Spitfire regularly (in dangerous conditions nonetheless) who could experience the joy of flying the Spitfire without being shot at! For those reasons, I was intrigued to ask Captain Balan about his duties, memories, and, mostly, what it was like to fly the Spitfire. In further researching Captain Balan's story, I found the interview on the bharat-rakshat.com site (see link right) very helpful. A number of Balan's colleagues were killed in training, either in India or in flying accidents in Japan, but this quote from Mr. Balan on the RAF's use of the IAF for dive bombing experiments (India) was alarming;

"They wanted to try out the idea of Dive Bombing, so they said, use Spitfires for the (dive) bombing. So we would go over target , flip over on our back, pull the stick and come straight down in a dive from 10,000 feet. At about 5,000 feet, you would release the bombs.

Now this trial was done by the IAF. The RAF in a way made us guinea pigs. One pilot (R Buchanan) even died. He went into the ground during the flight. By the time you are at 5k feet, you are pulling the aircraft up, the G becomes 7. and there is a danger of becoming unconscious."

When researching imagery on Oki Island (the mission destination), I found it looks quite beautiful and as I see the sea stacks and jagged rocks, I wonder if the pilots were tempted on good days to fly around them at lower altitude. I've included an image of the Oki Islands. The site wiki-travel has this to say about them:

"These islands are one of the lesser-known travel destinations of Japan, but are a surprising discovery for those seeking a change of pace and some of the most spectacular coastal scenery to be found on the Japanese Archipelago. The charm of these islands lies in their remoteness from mainland Japan; the adventure in getting there on the ferry or by plane, and experiencing the distinct island way of life, unique culture and traditions, and of course the beautiful coastal scenery of volcanic islands." I think the sentence about the adventure of getting there by plane may be an understatement in Captain Balan's case.

I should also point out the excellent resources and first hand interviews on the http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/history/ww2/veterans site. The link (clickable) is on the right in our links section; we have permission to use some of these images regarding Captain Balan.

Here is an interesting quote from his interview on the www.bharat-rakshak.com, since it refers to Canada and this site originates in Canada, where many EFTS schools welcomed pilots from around the world.

""When we were posted to No.6 Squadron, at Kohat, we arrived to hear the colourful stories of the six fellows who had just returned from Canada. They were sent there for Flying training (as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) , these included Manivelu, JJ Bouche, Lazarus, Stanley Santiago, Bahadurji – there were six of them. Well they went there and painted the town red, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves there and came back with a reputation! – Which ended any further talk of Indians being sent to Canada for training!"

Questions by editor at www.allspitfirepilots.org (this site) as answered by Captain Balan in summer 2017:

1. From a pilot's point of view, what did it feel like, to fly the Spitfire; what did he like about it?

2. How long over water would he have to fly?

3. What would he do if he saw smugglers?

4. Did he have any crash landings or other dicey situations (e.g. low fuel)?

5. What did it feel like to fly over Tokyo with the Americans?

6. Did he get a chance to visit Tokyo?

7. When did his squadron get the Spitfire?

8. What did he do after the war into the 50s / 60s?

9. Any humorous story that stands out?

10. Where does he live now?

The answers are as follows.

1. From a pilot's point of view, what it felt like to fly the spitfire, what he liked about it?

"He loved flying the Spitfire; for a young man, it was an exciting experience to pilot this plane as, once he took off, he felt as if the Spit's props were being "dragged across the sky by many dragons". The Griffon engine was so powerful that even though it was a small plane, "its forward power", for those days, was tremendous and it really packed a punch."

He found the plane to be comfortable, easy to fly and thrilling because a pilot could "play around with it quite a bit". He did not find the bubble canopy to be claustrophobic.

Take-offs were tricky; the Miho runway was narrow ( note from Bhuvana: 'the same runway was still in existence, though not in use, in 2008 when I got special permission to visit the base') so the Spits had to take off in twos, side by side. Because of "the airscrew torque", when the two planes taxied down the runway, they had a tendency to swing to the right which meant one could easily go off the runway (or hit the plane to one's right) unless 'full rudder" was applied.

Balan said the best way he could describe the Spitfire was: "It was a masterpiece of a plane, especially for those times".

2. How long over water would he have to fly?

"He flew forty five minute dawn and dusk patrols over the Sea of Japan from Miho air base, mainly going to and circling around a group of islands called the Oki Islands; he said these had many rocks that jutted out and a few of the islands were inhabited by Japanese nationals. He and his fellow pilots looked mainly for trawlers ( among other ships) that went to the Oki islands from Korea, with contraband for the Japanese that also included ammo. At that time, the Japanese were restricted from contact with anyone outside Japan. Dad said he saw some trawlers only a few times on the sea; that usually there was not much traffic. Most patrols, they saw none. The ones they did see, they would circle and fly low over, to try to make out the markings ( ships did not fly flags then after the war)."

3. What would he do if he saw smugglers?

"He and his fellow pilots would report any they saw to their debriefing officer in their squadron ( Number 4) in Miho when they returned; that info would then be transmitted to Central Command in Tokyo."

4. Did he have any crash landings or other dicey situations (e.g. low fuel)?

"He had no crash landings or dicey situations ; however, at Miho, two of his fellow pilots in Number 4 Squadron were killed when their Spitfires crashed a short distance from the air base. They had taken them low over flat ground, about 150 to 200 feet, when the weather became bad - cloud cover rolled in - and they could not see well. They became disoriented and crashed into a hill, one after another. The pilots' names were Sekhon and Martin ( both Indian; Martin was Anglo-Indian but could be mistaken for a Britisher). Dad was on leave for ten days in Tokyo when they were killed. He had been close to Sekhon and he got the news via telephone from pilot friends in the squadron, while still in Tokyo. When he returned to Miho, he was still in a state of shock over Sekhon's unexpected death. To make matters worse for him in his grief, he was moved from his room at Miho air base to Sekhon's room ( he does not remember exactly why but it had to do with making space for other pilots). Sekhon had hung a stock color picture of the bridge at Iwakuni, over his bed in his room, and Dad kept that picture when he left Japan, in memory of Sekhon. Dad said that at first, when he slept in Sekhon's room, he felt he'd see Sekhon come in. I asked him why Sekhon and Martin went on the low-flying mission; dad said low flying was actually prohibited but occasionally, for training purposes, they would have to practice going low in order to see better the lay of the land and take better close-up pics with the cameras mounted beneath the Spitfires. The two pilots though, Dad said, were young and adventurous as they all were, and were probably just flying low over the hills for the thrill, before landing at Miho, when they crashed."

"Dad said he resisted the urge to horse around in his Spit ( yeah, right, then why did he say he could "play around with it a bit", as above?!). But he did find the "approved" dives exciting and daring. He said they'd be at 19,000 feet, come down to 15,000, then start the dive and go down to two to three thousand feet before pulling out and up. The G force was enormous and all his blood would rush to his legs and feet and he would "temporarily black out". He said their flight uniforms were the usual standard issue, and although other Spitfire pilots in the RAF ( not RIAF) wore anti-G suits, they were not issued those, so the dives could be deadly. But being young, he and his fellow pilots didn't even think they could possibly crash and die."

5. What did it feel like to fly over Tokyo with the Americans?

"Tokyo was pretty well preserved and not as targeted, because the Allies concentrated on destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki ; so at that flypast in 1947,Tokyo looked almost normal from above. Only a few buildings were destroyed during the war. The Americans, according to Dad were quite friendly; he said the Commonwealth pilots and the Americans hit it off, no matter what countries the Commonwealth pilots came from."

6. Did he get a chance to visit Tokyo?

"He had ten day leave in Tokyo; General MacArthur was headquartered there in the Dai Ichi building right across from the Imperial Palace ( Dad did not remember the name of the building; he described it as "a beautiful building in Marunouchi District of Tokyo," so I googled and found its name - and it is across the Imperial palace gardens). Dad said service people were prohibited from entering the building but apparently General MacArthur, whose office was on a top floor, had the Japanese Emperor report to him in that building in the mornings!"

7. When did his squadron get the Spitfire?

"Dad came to Miho on the HMS Dunera, docking first at Kure. At Miho, all he did was pilot Spitfires. Before that, in India his occupational duties included Transport Officer as well."

"His squadron got the Spitfires while still in India in 1945 ; he was flying Hurricanes before the Spitfires. He does not remember where the Spits came from ."

"He told me that his Spitfire was "G" for "George" .

He took many of the pics that appear in the online album on the Bharat Rakshak website, himself - he loved photography and developed his own pics in a makeshift darkroom."

8. What did he do after the war into the 50s / 60s?

From http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/ article on Mr. Balan who had joined the Civil Aviation industry after the war.

"Balan’s first assignment was to join up as the Assistant instructor at Jakkur in Bangalore, where he also flew as the Asst Captain on the Dakota aircraft of the Mysore State Maharaja. The Maharaja had lent his aircraft to the Government of India and on many an occasion, Balan got to fly several VIP’s around, including Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Balan then became the Chief Instructor at Bhubaneshwar’s Orissa Flying Club, followed by Chief Instructorships at Coimbatore Flying Club, Coimbatore and Gauhati Flying Club in Assam. During his stint at Orissa, Balan came into contact with Biju Patnaik, then a dare devil pilot as well as a seasoned politician – a rare combination in India."

From his daughter:
In addition to his Chief Pilot Instructorships, Dad also flew a modified version of the Piper Pawnee in later years, in agricultural spraying operations in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Punjab states of India.

"Throughout his career, Balan remained a hard working man, sacrificing much to give his two sons and daughter every advantage and comfort in life. He was ably assisted in all his ventures by his wife. Balan’s flying career lasted nearly four decades till he retired from flying in the 80s."

9. Any humorous story that stands out?

" One of his fellow pilots in Miho said after he returned from a Spitfire dive ( describing the effect of the anti-G force): "I put my hand under my balls and each weighed ten tons!"
( Sorry about the language, but I'm just very innocently repeating what Dad said - Smile emoticon). From then on, this pilot's nickname ( in a friendly way) was "Big Balls". Of course, Dad would not name the pilot for me!!).

Editor's note: Could it be Captain Balan (Big Balan)? We'll leave that question for Captain Balan to deny!
His daughter's note: I asked Dad about Kurt's enquiry in a follow-up phone call on August 30, 2017 and he laughed a lot, chuckled and said, "No, it wasn't me." When pressed, he said, still chuckling, " It is actually an old joke that was repeated in our squadron ." I wonder, why, then, did he say he would not mention the pilot's name?!?

10. Where does he live now?

"Dad lives in Chennai, India with my mom, Thulasi."

Other Notes:

"Dad went through the Great Nankaido Earthquake in Japan in December 1946; he was in Miho and was sick with a high fever, so was in the base " hospital"- a barracks building converted to a hospital of sorts - which was staffed by Commonwealth medical personnel, all of whom, according to dad, took excellent care of the patients. His fellow pilot officer, George Nallaya, was also apparently in the hospital at the same time, for "fluid in his lungs". All dad remembers is the staff suddenly dashing around, transferring patients to stretchers, rushing outside carrying the wobbling stretchers and putting them down on the snow. It was very cold despite his blankets and he looked up to see the top of Mount Daisen moving from side to side. Because he had a high fever, he attributed this to him having hallucinations/delirium. It was only a bit later that he realized it was an earthquake. None of them were hurt, thankfully, but the quake killed thousands along the coastline. The tsunami it engendered took many lives as well but Miho was not affected by the tsunami because it was further inland. "There was some flooding here and there some miles from the base but nothing significant."

"At Miho, each pilot had separate rooms; they got all their rations and necessities for daily life, from Australia, including food ( preserved, canned etc) and thick wool blankets. ( I remember those blankets while growing up - they were gray in color and rough but very warm). Australia was closest to Miho, that's why - Britain was too far off. The Aussies had their own mess but would occasionally join the RIAF squadron in their mess. Dad said he was more used to New Zealanders and British while at Miho. The RIAF squadron did have Indian cooks who would occasionally make some Indian-type dishes using the meat and other rations sent from Australia but for the most part, the squadron ate Western food."

"He flew from and to Miho air base while in Japan - for the American fly past in 1947,they had to fly from Kisarazu to Tokyo and then flew back to Miho. His log book indicates that he also landed at Iwakuni, Itami, and Nagoya aerodromes."

"They had Japanese maids on base who cleaned their rooms, ironed their clothes, made their beds, as soon as the pilots left in the morning ( they'd come back to their rooms only in the evenings or nights). Each pilot had his own room."

Aerodromes he landed in, as a pilot, apart from Miho and Tokyo : Iwakuni, Itami, Nagoya.

Squadrons:

Squadrons add
AirforceSqdrnDate
RIAF 6 1944-05-01
RIAF 4 1945-08-06

Aircraft:

Aircraft Flownadd
SerialMarkingDate
TZ165 G- 1946-06-06
TX986 1946-11-13
NH809 1947-03-24
SM891 1947-03-12
SM934 1947-03-12
MV379 1947-03-14
TX977 1947-03-06
NH809 1947-03-24
NH746 1947-04-03
SM931 1947-04-10
SM925 1947-04-14
TX979 1947-04-16
RN197 1947-04-24
SM916 1947-04-29
SM916 1947-04-29
NH871 1947-03-28
* to make a correction, please email admin

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Comments / Questions:


by: kurtis Captain M. Balan RIAF 2017-08-26 04:25:25

Thank you Captain M. Balan for your interview question answers, and for your service with the RIAFin India and later Japan as part of allied duties with the occupational force.
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reply: Bhuvana Chandra Thank you, Kurt! 2017-08-30 22:11:09

On behalf of my dad and myself, thank YOU, Kurt, for taking the time to create this page regarding my dad's (Capt.M. Balan) service in the RIAF and with the BCOF. Your effort, enthusiasm and kindness are greatly appreciated. It was a pleasure communicating with you via email.
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