Blackest Day for 615
10 August 1944 would be the blackest day for 615 Squadron and not due to enemy action. Having been stationed at Palel near Imphal, since 23 May, operating principally in the ground-attack role or as bomber or fighter-bomber escorts with latitude to strafe targets of opportunity, the squadron were due to move Baigachi, 28 miles north-east of Calcutta (Kolkota), for a period of rest. During this period, 615 Squadron had transitioned from the Spitfire Mark V to the Spitfire Mark VIII, often flying a mix of their types on operations. By the end of July, however the conversion process was complete.
Early on the morning of 10 August, 16 Spitfires took off from Palel heading for Baigachi, near Jessore flying at 6-7000 feet the squadron flew into wispy cloud which rapidly developed into severe monsoon cloud. Monsoons are characterised by rain squalls and heavy winds which resulted in a number Spitfires spinning out of control. At that altitude the pilots would have had very little time to react and attempt to recover any loss of control. Another Australian pilot, flying a Hurricane, described on entering a storm at around 8000 feet having to react very quickly as his aircraft fell and bale out from an inverted spin. His parachute descent was very brief but he escaped unhurt. The 615 Squadron diary describes how the pilots were thrown around,“mercilessly in thick cloud, rain and hailstorms.” One was thrown up to 11,000 feet whilst another was only able to pull out of a spin at eighty feet. The last communication heard from Squadron Leader McCormack, who was leading the formation, was an order for the squadron to reverse course. Unfortunately, the leading elements of the squadron were too deep into the storm to be able to safely execute this order. As a result of entering the storm the squadron lost 8 Spitfires with four pilots killed and three injured as a result of baling out. The casualties of this tragic incident were:
Squadron Leader David McCormack (RAAF) DFC & Bar – Killed
Flying Officer Wilfred Bond (RCAF) – Killed
Flying Officer Malcolm Pain (RAAF) – Killed
Warrant Officer Alan Chappell (RAAF) – Killed
Flying Officer H D Costain – Injured
Flying Officer G R Armstrong (RCAF) – Injured
Flying Officer F P Fahy (RNZAF) – Injured
Flight Sergeant C M G Watson made a forced landing suffering minor injuries. The remaining eight pilots were able to land their Spitfires safely. On arrival at Baigachi, the squadron were immediately made non-operational.
Squadron Leader David McCormack (RAAF) DFC & Bar
McCormack was on his third tour with the squadron, the only one he served with, having first joined 615 as a Pilot Officer in May 1941 when they were based at RAF Valley. He was Mentioned in Despatches in the 1945 New Year’s Honours List. He was the third child of David Ralph and Mary Josephine (nee Kennedy) McCormack of Seddon, Victoria, Australia. He is buried in Plot O, Row G, Grave 4 at Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery, Kollata, India, remembered on Panel 126, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT and on the Roll of Honour in his birthplace Footscray, Victoria. McCormack was described as – “A ‘full out’ leader of a fighter squadron with real offensive spirit which he imparts to his juniors.” After his death, the squadron subscribed to a remembrance window in St Augustine’s Catholic Church, Yarraville, Melbourne.
Flying Officer Wilfred Bond (RCAF)
Bond joined 234 Squadron at RAF Charmy Down in August 1942 and remained with them until the autumn of 1943 before joining 615 that December. He had originally unsuccessfully applied to join the RCAF in March 1939, but joined the Royal Rifles of Canada in September 1940 before being accepted into the RCAF on 25 May 1941. He had a keen interest in flying and had some flying experience as a pilot. The son of Edgar S Bond and Florence Barclay Bond, he left behind a wife Emily Grace (nee Hirst) Bond of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada. He is buried in Plot 10.F.6 at Maynamati War Cemetery, Comilla, Bangladesh.
Flying Officer Malcolm Pain (RAAF)
Pain had spent six months with 610 Squadron at Perranporth, Bolt Head and Exeter before joining 615 on 1 April 1944. Enlisting in October 1941, he underwent his training in Australia and Canada before arriving in Britain in December 1942 where he joined a Spitfire Operational Training Unit before joining 610 Squadron in June 1943. He received his commission in December 1943. His father was the Reverend Kenneth Wellesley Pain M.A. and mother Maisie Octavia Pain of Wahroonga, New South Wales. He is buried in Plot 3.C.1 at Chittagong War Cemetery, Chattogram, Bangladesh.
Warrant Officer Alan Chappell (RAAF)
Chappell by contrast was on his first squadron posting having joined 615 in April 1944. He enlisted in March 1941 with his training beginning that September. After initial training he sailed for Britain in November 1942 to receive advanced training during the spring and summer of 1943. Posted to India in November 1943 he spent tim assigned to 224 Group before joining 615 Squadron. He was the son of Cecil Ernest Chappell & Sarah M (nee Lancaster) Chappell and brother to M & J Chappell of Coonabarabran, New South Wales. He is buried in Plot 10.F.5 at Maynamati War Cemetery, Comilla, Bangladesh.
National Archives, Kew AIR 27/2123 & AIR 27/2124
National Archives of Australia
Imperial War Museum Online Collection
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Australian Government Department of Veteran’s Affairs Anzacportal.dva.gov.au