Burma Volunteer Air Force
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Title: Burma Volunteer Air Force
Abbreviation: BVAF


Narrative History:

After Burma was established as a Crown Colony on 1 April 1937 proposals were made for the creation of a small air force training unit, along the lines of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Air Force which had been formed in Malaya in March 1936. By early 1940 this idea was being taken seriously and in April 1940 the Air Ministry agreed to supply five Tiger Moths to equip such a force.

Accordingly, the Defence Department of the Government of Burma formally created the Burma Volunteer Air Unit (BVAU) in June 1940. The Headquarters was at Mingaladon Aerodrome near Rangoon, and the initial equipment comprised a local ex-civil Gipsy Moth and two ex-civil Tiger Moths obtained from the Government of India. An Aeronca 11 Chief was added a short while later. In October 1940 the 5 Air Ministry Tiger Moths arrived aboard the SS Burma and seconded RAF technicians began to uncrate and assemble them.

On 16 November 1940 the first 12 pilots began ab initio flying training with the BVAU and nine graduated in February 1941. They continued their training at No.1 SFTS at Ambala, India. At the same time the BVAU was renamed the Burma Volunteer Air Force (BVAF). A second Elementary Flying Training course commenced on 27 February 1941.

During 1941 two more Tiger Moths were obtained from Australia, followed by a locally assembled Curtiss-Wright CW-22 Falcon and also two well-used North American NA-64 Yale trainers from the Chinese Nationalist Air Force. In the meantime the BVAF kept busy with refresher training, target towing and cross-country navigation flights.

On 1 December 1941 three aircraft were dispatched to Victoria Point on the Kra Isthmus in the far south of Burma to watch the coast for possible Japanese activity. Heavy rains stopped flying on 7 December and on the following day Japan invaded neighbouring Thailand. On 11th December 1941 the Victoria Point detachment flew back to Mingaladon. On the same day, a Japanese air attack on Tavoy destroyed one of the Yale's, which was there on a reconnaissance trip. As the Japanese army advanced north, the BVAF operated from Letkokon beach on Army cooperation, communications and mail flights. Patrols of the main river deltas were also flown. On 23 December Japanese bombers attacked Mingadalon airfield, severely damaging the BVAF headquarters building and a hangar, together with two aircraft.

The BVAF retreated north to Toungoo, Pyawbwe and in mid-February moved to Magwe. In March two Lysanders were obtained to replace some of the lost Tiger Moths. In April the BVAF was reorganised into a Communications Flight for Nos. 221 an 224 Groups at Dum Dum, India. By November 1941 many of the former BVAF personnel had left the unit for No.151 OTU and then other postings within the RAF and IAF.

While this was happening, the original 9 pilots training in India finished their course on 21 September and subsequently went on to twin-engined training in New Zealand. This was completed on 31 March 1942 and most of the pilots then left for operational flying in Britain.

Between October 1940 and March 1942 the BVAF had flown some 4,000 hours, produced two flying instructors, provided initial flying training for 24 pilots and carried out numerous semi-operational missions and had suffered only one flying accident. In 1945 the BVAF was reformed for a time while plans were made for the establishment of the official Union of Burma Air Force (UBAF). The first commanding officer of the UBAF was a former BVAF pilot, Sqn Ldr Sammy Shi Sho.

Key Dates:
June 1940    Burma Volunteer Air Unit (BVAU) officially established
16 Nov 1940    Ab initio pilot training commences
Feb 1941    BVAU renamed Burma Volunteer Air Force (BVAF)
24 Nov 1941    BVAF begins coastal patrols
8 Dec 1941    Japan invades neighbouring Thailand
24 Dec 1941    Some pilots begin advanced training in New Zealand
Mar 1942    BVAF evacuation from Burma to India completed
31 Mar 1942    Pilots in New Zealand complete training and later serve operationally in Europe
April 1942    Communications Flight formed at Dum Dum, India, with ex-BVAF aircraft and personnel
1945    BVAF reformed for a short while in preparation for creation of UBAF.

Current Status:
Not applicable.

Future Plans:
Not applicable.


National Insignia:
Standard Royal Air Force national insignia were used at all times.

Aircraft Serial Numbering System(s):
The original ex-civil aircraft were allocated serials in the range Z-0000 to Z-0006 in 1940. The acquisition of more Tiger Moths by January 1941 led to a renumbering, so that all the Tiger Moths were grouped in a continuous sequence and the other types were numbered after this batch. For quick reference large single digit numbers were sometimes carried, e.g. '6', which not refer to the aircraft's serial number. By May 1941 the surplus zeros were being ignored and all serials eventually fell within the range Z-00 to Z-32. From March 1942, RAF serial numbers were used.

Unit/Base Aircraft Code System(s):
Not used.


Aircraft Designation System(s):
The standard RAF designation system was used.

Current Aircraft Inventory:
Not applicable.

All-Time Aircraft Used List:
Click on aircraft type for more details
Aircraft Type Quantity Service Entry Retirement Origin
Aeronca 11AC Chief 1 Nov 1940 Nov 1943 civil
Curtiss CW-22-57 Falcon 1 July 1941 Mar 1946 local
de Havilland D.H.60G Moth 1 June 1940 Dec 1941 civil
de Havilland D.H.82A Tiger Moth 9 June 1940 June 1943 India/RAF/Australia
Lockheed 12A 2 Mar 1942 Nov 1942+ RAF
Lockheed 14 Hudson 1 Mar 1942 Mar 1942 RAF
North American NA-64 Yale 2 Nov 1941 Dec 1943 Chinese AF
Westland Lysander II 5 March 1942 Nov 1942+ RAF/IAF

Aircraft NOT Used:
The Curtiss CW-21 fighter was not used. The Hawker Hind trainer was proposed as BVAF equipment, but none were delivered.

Aircraft Losses and Incidents:
See individual aircraft histories.


Main Headquarters:
Mingaladon Aerodrome, Rangoon.

Current Organisational Structure:
Not applicable.

Current Order of Battle:
Not applicable.

Historical Orders of Battle:
June 1940
16 November 1940
2 December 1941
15 December 1941
mid February 1942
April 1942

All-Time Flying Units List:
Not applicable.

Air Bases

Current Air Bases:
Not applicable.

All-Time Air Bases Used List:
The main airfield used was Mingaladon, near Rangoon. Victoria Point in the far south of Burma was used as a coastal reconnaissance base in December 1941. Other airfields at Kyaikto, Syriam, Megui, Pokpyin and Tavoy were used for navigation practice and as refuelling points. After the Japanese invasion, the main force moved to Letkokon, then to Pyawbwe, then to Magwe and finally to Dum Dum, near Calcutta.

More Information


Bloody Shambles Volume 1: The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore by Shores/Cull/Izawa, Grub Street Books.


Aeromilitaria No.1/1991 (Air-Britain)


None found.

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First Created: 30 June 2007 - Last Revised: 1 July 2007
Copyright 2007 John Hayles.    e-mail: john@aeroflight.co.uk