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Flying The Hump

To honor the men who flew to support the men on the ground….

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The first massive airlift in history

One of the chapters in ‘The Java Gold’  is dedicated to ‘…flying the Hump…’as the ‘air bridge’ into China across the Himalayas soon became known. ‘It was the first massive airlift in history.

image The Himalayas as seen after take off from a field in Assam

‘The Hump’  started early in 1942, initially with just a handful of aircrew and airplanes. Most of these planes were hastily ‘converted’ civilian DC-3’s that had been ferried across the Atlantic, Africa and India by a Pan American subsidiary. Often the former civilian owner’s logo and lettering couldstill be seen shining through the hastily applied olive drab army paint.
The US 10th Air Force, ATC and CNAC attempted to carry 10.000 tons of cargo each month into the beleaguered Kunming area that was isolated after the loss of the Burma Road.

image Chabua airfield in 1944, with a view of…

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Intermission Story (2) – Biggest Airlift of WWII – The Hump

C-47 flying over The Hump

C-47 flying over The Hump

 In April 1942, the Allied Forces initiated an airborne supply line  that crossed the Eastern Himalaya Mountain Range. This airlift supplied the Chinese War effort against Japan from India and Burma to the Kunming area and beyond.  The C-46 Curtiss Commando and the DC-3/ C-47 Douglas Skytrain in the China- Burma- India Theater of War (CBI), also dubbed as the Hump operations. Other Cargo aircraft types that were also activated in this operation: the Douglas C-54 Skymaster, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator converted as a fuel transport C-109 and its Cargo version C-87 Liberator Express.

Loading in a grasshopper

Loading in a grasshopper, (Piper L-4, observation or ambulance aircraft)

 The Allied Forces supplied the war effort of Chinese Nationalists first by road, later by air. They flew day-and-night missions from airfields in eastern India over the Himalayan Plateau known as the “Hump.” The 500‑mile air route to Kunming in China became known as the “aluminum trail”. More than 1,600 airmen and some 700 transport planes got lost in the mountains or in the jungles on either side of that huge hurdle. (Almost 1,200 men were fortunate to be rescued or walked out to safety.)

The high incident numbers were explained by the extreme altitude and weather of the Himalaya, and another factor was the duration of the Hump operations. From April 1942 until August 1945, 42 months of continuous and massive flight operations, the longest airlift in days of operations that ever existed so far and in numbers of tons of cargo transported only exceeded by the post-war Berlin Airlift (1948).

Burma Road Hump map

Burma Road Hump map

By July 1945, on average a whopping number of  332 aircraft a day flew over the Hump, a number five times bigger than the hard-pressed 62 aircraft on the route in January 1943. During its history, the Hump transport fleet carried 650,000 tons of gasoline, supplies, and men to China.

Part of the clandestine support to China also materialized in the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG) with their “Flying Tigers” Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. That daring initiative to fight the Japanese Imperial  Army & Air Force in China with 100 pursuit aircraft and 300 American “volunteers” was masterminded by Claire L. Chennault, a retired USAAC officer.

Internal loading view

Internal loading view

The AVG (later integrated into the USAAF) efforts needed crews, pursuit planes, fuel, food and spares. All that plus the huge supplies needed for the Chinese Army had to come over that single and most challenging Burma Road by truck! In spite of all setbacks of the extreme terrain, unpaved roads and adverse weather, it worked well. But that all changed dramatically.

Allied access to that lifeline Burma Road was suddenly cut off. From that moment, it was decided to organize an airlift operation, running from NE India’s Assam Province town Dinjan with its airfield Chabua to the city Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province, in the region between the upper Mekong River and the Yangtze River.

C-46 flying over The Hump.

C-46 flying over The Hump.

Airlift operations over the Hump started in May 1942 with only 27 aircraft, mostly Douglas C‑47 Skytrains and 10 ex PANAM DC-3’s. The C‑47’s were gradually augmented by Curtiss C‑46 Com­mandos, with their stronger R-2800 turbocharged engines & more cargo space a better match for the extreme altitude flights. Air transports flew through mountain passes that were 14,000 ft high, flanked by peaks rising to 16,500 ft. Flying time was four to six hours, depending on the weather. The airlift ultimately operated from 13 bases in India. In China, there were six bases, with the main airport at Kun­ming, which became one of the busiest airports in the world with this unprecedented airlift operation.

It became a somewhat remote and forgotten war operation in this outback of the Highest Mountains in the World.  Eastern India’s city Calcutta was since April 1942 the seaport, from where all goods had to be shipped in from overseas. A logistical nightmare had to be resolved to get the goods from Calcutta up north to Chabua Airport. By train turned out to be a disaster with the overload of a poorly functioning railroad infrastructure, so soon yet another air bridge was created between Calcutta and Chabua in the North.

1459424829-5566-c46-loadout3jeepsplustroops

Only the “second stage” airlift brought all goods to Kunming. For the transport of fuel, the converted B-24 Liberator (designated C-109) was able to fly non-stop from Calcutta directly to Kunming over the ‘Low Hump route” more to the south. This route was frequently patrolled by the Burma-based Zero Fighters.

Military commanders considered flights over the Hump to be more hazardous than bombing missions over Europe! For its efforts and sacrifices, the India-China Wing of the Air Transport Command was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation on January 29, 1944; the first such award made to a non-combat organization!

Condensed from the article in The Dakota Hunter and War History On-line.

Click on images to enlarge,

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 Military Humor –

pilots1ph

Warning: Low Flying Planes

Warning: Low Flying Planes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes –

Anthony Brozyna – Hartford, CT; USMC, WWII, PTO, 8th Marines, PFC, KIA (Tarawa)

Thomas Crump = Pense, CAN; RAF & RC Air Force, WWII

Missing Man formation

Missing Man formation

Andrew Hickey – Mosman, NSW, AUS; RA Navy # S10567

Gilbert Horn Sr. Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, MT; US Army, CBI, Merrill’s Marauder, Assiniboine Code Talker

Elmer Jenkens – Wilcox, NE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Medic

Howard Kelly – Jersey City, NJ; US Army, WWII, ETO

Charles Long – Washington, NC; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT

Edward ‘Leo’ Pabst – Parma, OH; USMC, WWII, Sgt.

Ralph C. Toothaker – Kansas; US Navy, WWII, Petty Officer 1st Class

James Whitlock – Lake Worth, FL; USMC, WWII

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