Sunday, July 26, 2009

The AURI strikes back !

Our air force began with one pilot and a handful of junked Dutch planes. Volunteers were put through a rigorous examination. The sole question asked was "would you dare go up in our planes?" If they answered "yes". They were inducted into the air force
(Soekarno : An Autobiography page 243)

It was still a foggy dawn on 29th of July 1947 when roaring engines sound of two modified Curen basic trainers and a Guntei dive bombers owned by the Indonesian Air Force (AURI) suddenly emerged at Maguwo airfield. The three airplanes were going to perform a bombing mission against dutch-occupied targets as a revenge for their millitary agression 8 days earlier. As time went to 5 am, the planes started leaving the runaway to the Jogja sky. The Guntei crewed by flight cadet Muljono as pilot and Dulrachman as his gunner took off first and headed toward Semarang. Then followed by the first Curen, piloted by flight cadet Sutardjo Sigit with a gunner also named Sutardjo, aimed for Salatiga. Lastly the second curen, piloted by flight cadet Suharnoko Harbani with Kaput as his gunner, went off toward Ambarawa.

The Curen airplanes, one of the planes that participated in the air raid

The Curen airplanes were originally made as basic trainer with minimum equipments that technically ruled them out for a combat mission. Standard equipment such as navigational equipment, radio for communication purpose and even signal lamps couldn`t be found aboard. The airmen were only given portable flashlights as a communication device as well as search light as replacement. on the other hand, the pilots were only flight cadet with no night flight and combat experiences. And to make it worse, there were chances that they could be intercepted by the more superior P-40 kitty hawk fighter of the Dutch air force. Hence, it could be said that it was such a high risk (if not nearly suicidal) mission. Despite such obstacles, the mission had to go on.

Airmen of The 29th July 1947 Air Raid (R-L : cadet Suharnoko Harbani, cadet Sutardjo Sigit,cadet Mulyono, Kaput, Abdulrachman and Sutardjo)

The first Curen that went to Salatiga had it own story regarding the mission. Due to some technical difficulties at the time of plane modification, this curen couldn`t be armed with machine gun to defend itself. So Sutardjo the gunner only had manually thrown incendiary bombs at his disposal which was rather difficult to use against agile fighters (such as P-40 Kitty Hawks). The Curen had three bomb handles located at the left side of the pilot seat. The red handle would release one set of bombs which was placed at container below the left wing while the second handle with green colour woluld release set of bombs under the right wing. The third handle, coloured yellow, would release another set of bombs simultaneously at the right and left wing of the airplane.

As the plane approached its target at Salatiga, it began conducting diving maneuver to bomb the target. The first bomb on the left wing was successfully release and hit the target. However the green handle was broken because the wooden handle had decayed and to make it worse, the same thing also occured with the yellow handle. in that critical situation, the flight cadet Sutardjo Sigit managed to reach wires that connect the handles with the bombs. In that split seconds, he managed to pull altogether the wires and triggered the bomb`s release mechanism. After the mission had been accomplished, the curen flew back to Maguwo and successfully avoided being intercepted by Dutch`s Kitty Hawk by flying low several metres above trees. The other two planes also manage to finish their mission and landed safely at Maguwo. The airplanes then rushed into their hideout at the vicinity of Maguwo to prevent its destruction from retaliation attack by the Dutch. As predicted, The Dutch indeed attacked the Maguwo Airfield and done some damages to the airfield facilities. Fortunately, none was killed.

Sadly, the joy wasn`t last long. In the evening, the Dutch Kitty Hawks shot down a C-47 Dakota VT-CLA which carried medicine from Malaya Red Cross for Indonesian Red Cross. The plane then crashed at Ngoto village on the westside of Maguwo airfield. The crash casualities included three air force officer; commodore Adi Sucipto, commodore Abdur Rahman Saleh and officer(?) Adi Sumarmo; Zainal Arifin (Indonesian trade consul for Malaya) along with the air crews of the Dakota.

The fateful C-47 Dakota VT -CLA who was shotdown near Maguwo Airfield

The raid mission by the Guntei and Curen airplanes might be only did minimum damage to the Dutch facilities due to the insignificant number of planes involved. Nevertheless it succeeded in giving them physcological shock because they didn`t even think the Indonesian Air Force had the ability to conduct an air raid against them. On the opposite side, the raid significantly boosted the moral of the Indonesian armed forces after the Dutch millitary agresion on 21st of July (especially AURI that had lost most of its plane) and proved their bravery and determination despite numerous limitation. To commemorate the raid and the tragedy of Dakota C-47, started from 29 thJuly 1961, the day was enacted as the service day of the air force (Hari Bhakti Angkatan Udara)

Reference and Further Reading
Tabloid Patriot, August 2006 edition
Hari Bhakti Angkatan Udara on Official website of TNI AU
Irna A.N et al. Awal Kerdigantaraan di Indonesia; Perjuangan AURI (1945-1950) Penerbit Obor

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