RAF Squadron Commanders and SOE Force 136

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by dustyshelf, Nov 28, 2013.

  1. dustyshelf

    dustyshelf Junior Member

    I recently acquired a US dollar signed by nineteen men and women, most of whom were OSS operatives in Burma, Thailand, and China. At least two were associated with the American 1stAir Commandos. On the back of the dollar are the signatures of three men I believe to be RAF or RCAF squadron/flight leaders working with British SOE Force 136.

    There is the signature of James Blackburn. I suspect he is the same James Blackburn who commanded 159 Squadron and was awarded the DSO for his work for Force 136. There is also the signature of Les (Leslie?) Brookes, who could be the leader of 628 Squadron. This squadron also worked with Force 136 and Brookes was piloting one of the Catalina Flying Boats landing operatives during "Operation Oatmeal." The third signature is Tommy Lee. I believe he is the Canadian Tommy Lee who was a flight leader in 357 Squadron. "B" Flight of this squadron (Catalinas) became 628 Squadron and also worked with Force 136.

    The American officer who owned the dollar was Major Frederick J. Roehs of the Army Air Corps. I have not been able to find much on him but one newspaper article from March 1944 states he was "a member of the staff of the general commanding the China-Burma-India Theater of Operation." I do not know which general (Stillwell, Sultan, Mountbatten?) or what staff position. However, it certainly had him in close contact with the OSS and SOE.

    Do any of the forum members have access to log books or documents that might include the signatures of these three RAF men? I feel this will be the only definitive way to be sure I have identified the signers correctly.

    Thanks for any assistance.




  2. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member


    I think you're spot-on with James Blackburn. Attached is his signature from the logbook of 159 Sqn flight engineer Penry Squires. W/Cdr Blackburn only signed "J. Blackburn" in logbooks that I have seen, and in the 159 Sqn Operations Record Book. I feel very confident saying that the "James Blackburn" on the dollar matches the "J. Blackburn" in the attached example, and in every other signature of his I have seen.

    He definitely had a Force 136 connection following his posting from 159 Sqn (C.O.) in late 1944. In his own words, from a 1992 letter:

    Two new SD [Special Duties] Squadrons, 357 and 358, were being formed, and Group needed a W/Cdr SD to take over and coordinate their activities, and although I had been sacked from the self-same job at MAAF [actually, MEAF in the Middle East] some 8 months previously, I was it. And I had to sit doing nothing - my No. 2 did it all - and watch 159 slowly going down the drain - Sorry!

    This is slightly in error; 357 Squadron had been formed in early 1944. 358 formed late in '44 and flew it's first op on 13 Jan '45, so Blackburn's posting from 159 at the end of Dec '44 fits in well with 358's activation. Both 357 and 358 were Special Duties squadrons, working with Force 136 in the Far East. Blackburn had extensive SD experience before joining 159 Sqn in mid-'44.

    Blackburn is definitely one of the unsung RAF leaders of the war. His personal papers and the logbooks that survived are held by the Imperial War Museum. One or more of his earlier logbooks were lost in the torpedoing/sinking of the Laconia (a well-known story). He became a POW in German hands for a couple of months until Patton's forces liberated him in N. Africa. He flew 200 ops, total, including one or two on US Liberators in India. His leadership of 159 Sqn, and his engineering feats in revolutionizing the use of the Liberator on long-distance bombing and mining ops, is the stuff of legends, but he was a quiet man, and no books were written about him. An amazing war record...too much to write about now.

    Sorry I don't know more about the other signatures. I don't have access to 357 Sqn Catalina records, so I doubt I'll find the Lee signature.



    Attached Files:

  3. dustyshelf

    dustyshelf Junior Member


    Thanks for the post of the Blackburn signature. There is no doubt it is his signature on the US dollar! I am feeling more confident about the Tommy Lee signature as well. Thomas "Tommy" Roche Lee wrote an account of a mission with Force 136, working with the OSS, SOE, and ISID. Lee was with 357 Squadron and one of the American agents who signed on the front of the dollar was brought in by his squadron during "Operation Siren." This cannot be a coincidence. Since Leslie Brookes was with 628 Squadron, which had been the flying boats (Catalinas) flight of 357 Squadron, I am quite certain I have identified him correctly as well.

    Again, thanks for the sample of the signature. I have printed it out to keep with my research. I will add to this post as new information is found.


  4. Matt Poole

    Matt Poole Member


    I found Tommy Lee's signature in a photocopy of the logbook of a 357 Sqn rear gunner, Canadian Walter MacDougald. The "Lee" part of the signature matches nicely to the signature on the dollar bill. Lee was a senior Liberator flight commander on 357 Sqn in 1945 -- flying many Special Duties ops. No doubt he would have known W/Cdr James Blackburn! He is mentioned as "Tommy Lee" in the book "Flights of the Forgotten", the classic about SD operations in the war.

    Lee was erroneously listed many times in the 357 Sqn Operations Record Book as T.H. Lee, but also as the correct T.R. Lee. This has caused confusion, and the index of "Flights of the Forgotten" and also Terence O'Brien's "The Moonlight War" have him as T.H. Lee. But he is definitely T.R. Lee.

    Details of his career and the wording of his DFC can be found on the website of the Canadian Air Force Association. I found it in a google search...no time to rediscover the link now! Late for work!



    Attached Files:

  5. Redwinedeeks

    Redwinedeeks New Member

  6. Redwinedeeks

    Redwinedeeks New Member

    Hi there.... my name is Brookes, and my father was Leslie Brookes.
    My father was involved in the 'Operation Oatmeal'. If there is anything I can help you with in regard to the story, please contact me.
  7. TommyLeesNiece

    TommyLeesNiece New Member

    Hi all - Tommy Lee was my dad's oldest brother. Great to see the logbook entry - thanks for posting it. A couple of notes that may be of interest: he was indeed T R Lee (Thomas Roche Lee); he held (for a while at least) the record for longest mission in theatre in a B-24 Liberator at 22 hours 45 minutes; was awarded the DFC. Pre-Burma, he was an instructor at SFTS Brantford. His three brothers (2 RCAF, 1 Cdn Army) and sister (WRCNS) all served. Funnily, I never knew him, yet this year I celebrate 30 years as a warbird pilot. Cheers!

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