The War Illustrated No. 229, Vol. 9, March 29th 1946

f V o r h P Worsts Journey i sEnd e dOne of the most astonishing chapters in flying history began in March 1942, when the Japanese advance in Burma closed the Burma Road, so along symbol of China’s stubborn resistance. President Roosevelt promised airborne aid to China, and a handful of Douglas DC3 transports under Col. W. D. Old soon began implement­ing his pledge byway of the “Hump” route. Operating from a poor airfield, with no maintenance facilities, little staff and in­adequate ground crews, the pilots never dreamed that the air ferry they were pioneer­ing from Assam across the perilous Him­alayan spurs would result in more freight to China than the Burma Road had ever carried. These pilots of U.S. Air Transport Command and Chinese National Airways Corporation were flying an almost uncharted route, with no weather reporting and no fighter pro­tection, while running the gauntlet of attack from enemy aircraft. There was no radio beam and Col. Old*s H.Q. did not possess a radio set, until a wrecked one was obtained and repaired. For the first two months the flyers did not even have oxygen equipment, although they had to fly at 17,000 feet or over. Nor did the majority of the planes have any super­chargers to help them to climb the necessary height over the sabre-toothed peaks. For the first six months the weather was so bad that none of the pilots ever saw the country they were flying over—and some of them thought it was just as well !15 Transports Lost in One Day Yet within a year the Hump ferry was handling over 3,000 tons of freight a month. More pilots were involved than the entire U.S. air transport system had employed before the War, and traffic soon became greater than that of America’s three leading airlines together. Then the R.A.F. began taking part in the regular service in July 1944, and the tempo of Far Eastern warfare quickened, daily flights amounting to 200 aircraft. In Octobcr 1944,20,000 tons of war material was reaching China monthly over the Hump and in January 1945 no less than 44,000 tons were flown in. One British flyer, Squadron-Leader Michael Vlasto, D.F.C. and Bar, made over 120 crossings with supplies and passengers, through electric storms, gales and snow. An intrepid Canadian, Flying Officer Murray Scott, logged 600 Himalayan flying hours, and a Chinese-Canadian pilot, Capt. Harold Chinn, actually made over 400 Hump journeys within 18 months. On one voyage 75 people were carried and set down safely, an incredible load for an aircraft normally taking only 20 passengers. When the 4,000 h.p. Curtis Commando transport went into action, larger cargoes such as jeeps, dis­mantled 2A-ton trucks, tanks and rows of pack-mules were carried with impunity. 13 ut on one terrible day in 1945 no fewer than 15 Allied transports were lost on the Hump. The score would have been one higher had not Murray Scott and his crew fought a snowstorm for nearly seven hours in the air and then made an astonishing landing at Kunming without cither flaps or brakes. On another occasion, when five Spitfires vanished without trace and a Dakota limped home with awing torn off by a monsoon squall, a transport pilot found himself getting weak and discovered justin time that all his crew were unconscious. Flying blind through the monsoon with erratic instruments, he had unwittingly been forced to some 30,000 feet. Things like that were frequently happening. A young pilot finding his C46 icing-up at 12,000 feet gave the order to bale out, and when his crew had gone over the side found WM2 H 8 T 1 2 AFR W C JET T DRAM A TIC and perilous daily flights from North-East India over the Himalayan spurs with war supplies needed by China ceased at the close of 1045. But the service will not soon ba forgotten by those who blazed the trail and those who saw it through to the finish, for reasons out­ lined here. See also illus. pages 44-45, Vol. 8. c------- ®“—lie could still fly the plane. He crossed the Hump alone, and five hours later landed at a Yunnan field without his crew but with his planeload intact. Another plane, India- bound from China, became iced so badly that passengers and crew were forced to jump, and then walk to the base through the jungle. It was not till some weeks later that a Chinese colonel—one of the passengers— discovered this was not the customary way of reaching India !Then there was the exploit of five Americans who parachuted into Tibet and were royally entertained in Lhasa, before their 42-day journey home on foot and by mule. At best, a parachute jump into the precipitous mountains and unexplored gorges meant hardship and grim exposure. At worst— the secret valleys and untrodden peaks have become scrap-heaps of lost planes and grave­yards of dead men. Such was the heavy price paid for the conquest of the “roof of the world.” At first it was certain death togo down in this inhospitable terrain, but after the inaugura­tion of a Search and Rescue Squadron in October 1943 more than three-quarters of all the men who baled out over the Hump were saved. Each walk-out party brought added knowledge of the wasteland, and experience helped to develop a standard jungle kit to be dropped to stranded men with rations, medical supplies, fishing tackle and even a portable radio to help them keep in contact with the rescue planes. Money with which to buy the goodwill of the hillmen, and extra shoes and socks, were PAGE 739 not forgotten, and doctor parachutists were often dropped. As crashed crews tramped back to base, rescue planes (rarely able to inland this difficult terrain) circled over them daily, dropping supplies and guiding them 011 the long trek home. The round trip to China and back was 1,100 miles. Many men flew it two or thre times a week, and 011 one exceptional day 565 sorties were flown. As the War pro­gressed, the pace made itself felt in the Hump run. The Allied victories in North Burma enabled aircraft to take a lower, southerly route, and 13,000 feet became the regular altitude for the mountain crossing on the newer, safer line. Over the Hump No. 52 squadron of the R.A.F. operated daily for eighteen months, flying about 15,000 hours with the loss of only one aircraft. The last mission on this worst air journey in the world was flown 011 New Year’s Eve, 1945. by Dakotas of R.A.F. Transport Com­mand, the American service having ended the previous September. The end of the War made the southern route into China possible, and the saga of the Hump was closed. It had been 110 blind, unplanned battering at difficulties. Those who blazed this trail had been forced, by reason of enemy aircraft, to risk all on that route which meant registering a height of 17,000 feet and combating weather as bad as was to be found. But when the Burma victories brought a change for the belter, those who planned the airway charted the new and somewhat safer Online. this lesser climb the Dakotas crossed the mountains at the more reasonable altitude of 13,000 feet. Even so the journey was no joy-ride for air­crews when at last the R.A.F. closed the Hump route. T then end, however, the ferrying of the Himalayas had become so comparatively safe that a three-year-old girl, Wendy Earl, daughter of a British missionary freed from a Japanese internment camp, was overflown the Hump to Calcutta by Pilot-Officer Peter Kearvell. Wendy Earl symbolized the new era of achievement, the conquest of one of Nature’s last fastnesses. ANON ASSAM AIRFIELD a lorryload of material is being transferred to a U.S. Transport Command plane, for carriage over the Himalayan peaks to distant China. Always the air-crews were faced with the possibilities of having to bale out suddenly over wild country, and of risk of destruction by violent storms prevalent along the route. Photo, Sport &Genera'.
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