The day’s flight was to be a fairly typical “rhubarb,” or a fast freelance strike, for the two pilots in their Bristol Beaufighters. It was to be a quick running attack on the Japanese airfield at Toungoo in Burma followed by impromptu strikes at anything they saw on the long trip back home over enemy-held territory to safety at Agartala. However, that February 13, 1943, mission was to be anything but routine for pilots Brian Hartness and Snowy Smith and their navigators.
They crossed the Irrawaddy River and then turned toward Toungoo. Spotting a Japanese supply train, they swooped down and attacked, leaving the crumpled locomotive in a cloud of escaping steam. When they got to the airfield, Hartness dived on an enemy bomber as it was taxiing into its dispersal, destroying it with a fierce burst of cannon fire. A second swing over the field enabled him to damage an enemy Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar fighter with his remaining .303-caliber bullets while dodging accurate Japanese flak and machine-gun fire.
Hartness was flying very low and momentarily took his eyes off the direct line of flight. To avoid the ground fire, he jinked the aircraft, but it was too late. His “Mighty Beau” struck a teak tree stump left standing after being stripped of its bark to season before being harvested.
“I hit the tree fair and square,” Hartness remembered. “It smashed in the leading edge of my starboard wing between the fuselage and the engine nacelle and severely dented the exhaust collector ring which formed the front cowling of the engine. By some miracle the propeller was undamaged.”