1st FERRY GROUP



Ex-CBI Roundup
June 1989 Issue

By Oliver H. Endsley Jr.

On or about March 1, 1942, orders came out of Washington, D.C., to organize the First Ferry Group whose purpose was to go to India and set up the "Hump Operation." About 900 men assembled at Pope Field, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were assigned to the Third, Sixth, and Thirteeneth Squadrons and a few to a Headquarters Squadron. On March 19,1942, this group sailed from Charleston, South Carolina, on the S.S. BRAZIL. This was the maiden voyage for this ship as a troop carrier. The first stop was at San Juan, Puerto Rico. The next stop was Freetown, West Africa. The BRAZIL crossed the equator on April 10, 1942, and arrived in Capetown, South Africa, on April 18, 1942. Shore leave was granted at Capetown and again at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. On May 15, 1942, the SS BRAZIL arrived at Karachi, India, which is now Pakistan.

While at Karachi, some of our C-47s and flight crews started arriving. These crews had ferried the C-47s down to South America, across to the African Coast and across Africa and Arabia to Karachi. On July 29, 1942, we loaded up two C-47s and flew across India to Dinjan in the Assam Valley. At this time Dinjan was used by CNAC (China National Aviation Corporation) to fly between India and China. Occasionally CNAC DC-3s flew to Calcutta. William McDonald of Birmingham, Alabama, was the Operations Officer for CNAC at Dum Dum Airport in Calcutta.

After several days at Dinjan, the first group of men went to Chabua to set up operations for the third squadron. The airport runway was about 70 percent complete - maybe 3,500 feet. Thousands of natives under their "Churchill umbrellas" laid rocks by hand to complete the runway. There was only one rock crusher or steam roller to pack the rocks down before a coat of asphalt was applied. Before the runway was complete, we started sending C-47s over the Hump. The Chabua Airport was built by the Royal Engineers of the British Army and their contractors.

The Sixth squadron started operating out of a field at Mohanbari and the Thirteenth squadron set up a field at Sooker-ating which was up the valley above Tinsukia. We set up a rest camp at Sadiya where a C-47 could land. We also setup a weather station or contact point at Fort Hertz in the Kumon Mountain Range in North Burma about one hour's flying time from Chabua.

The Burma-Shell Oil Company had a refinery at Digboi, India. They furnished our aviation gasoline. Pan-American Airways flew across India as far as Jorhat. The control tower at our field at Chabua was in a tall tree. A young British soldier was our "tower operator."

In order to service our C-47s, we used a truck with ten or twelve 50-gallon drums on it. We pulled the truck up to a side track where railroad tank cars had been positioned. Gasoline was hand-pumped from the tank car to the drums on the truck. Then the truck was driven over to an airplane and gasoline was hand-pumped into the airplane. Each C-47 held about 750 gallons of fuel, enough for about eight hours of flying time. Two types of gasoline were pumped into the C-47s. One was 100 octane and the other was 90 octane. The 100 octane was used for take offs and landings and reserve after the 90 octane gasoline was used.

Most of our flights went from Chabua over the North Burma mountains to Kunming, China. Occasionally we flew into Yunannyi, about two-thirds of the way to Kunming. From Chabua to Kunming normally took about three hours and 15 or 20 minutes. General Claire Chennault commanded the air base at Kunming. General Joseph Stilwell headquartered his command in Chungking, China. He had his own private C-47 and crew.

At Chabua, the Service of Supply set the priority as to types of cargo to be hauled over to China. The Third Ferry Squadron hauled anything as long as the cargo did not exceed 5,000 pounds. This included Jeeps, gasoline in drums, bombs, people, ammunition, airplane parts, mail, etc. Return flights from China carried tungsten ore, soldiers for General Stilwell's Chinese Army to be trained in India and some food supplies like chickens and eggs and vegetables.

On October 25, 1942, late in the afternoon when the sun was high, the Japanese raided the Assam Valley Air Bases. The Japanese used about 30 bombers. They were high out of range of small arms. We had about five minutes warning. The Japanese hit Chabua, then split and one group dropped bombs over Dinjan and Sookerating. Another group split to the left and hit Mohanbari. At Chabua, one C-47 in a disbursal area was destroyed except for the tail section. A truck used by the construction crews was destroyed as well as four or five Indian native workers killed. One of two railroad gasoline tank cars was set on fire. The other was decoupled and pulled away. Several small holes were made in the runway but these were quickly patched. Sergeant Keel was injured and taken to the base hospital. He was later sent back to the United States. We had a "dummy" control tower on one side of the runway. A dropped bomb made a large hole next to the tower but failed to knock it down. This hole was five feet deep and 20 feet across.

Up at Dinjan, Colonel Homer Sanders lost several P-40s on the ground; however, his squadron of P-40s shot down several of the Japs. One Jap Zero fighter plane was shot down by small arms. Sergeant Orville Crouch, using a BREN gun, placed several shots in the Zero's tail before it changed course. It was beautiful!

On October 26th, we had an air raid alert. No bombs were dropped at Chabua. On October 28th, we had a second raid on Chabua. The Japanese missed the main part of the airfield and hit a small village, killing a small number of Indian natives. The Japs had 18 bombers on this raid. Six were shot down. "Photo Joe," the Japanese high flying reconnaissance plane made several flights over the Assam Valley for several days afterward.


P-38 UNLOADING PX supplies on the Mawn-nubyin strip, Akyab Island, Burma.
Photo courtesy W. T. Basore.

I do not know the exact date, but it was in November or December 1942, that we had our first celebrity visit. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, WWI Ace, visited our base and gave a speech in our recreation hall. He had previously been shot down in the Pacific Ocean and subsequently rescued. He gave us a personal testimony on his belief in God at this meeting. He also assured us that we were going to win this war.

On November 17, 1942, Captain William Owens was returning on his flight from Kunming to Chabua. He was bringing 40 Chinese soldiers to India for training. His airplane iced up and he was in trouble. His co-pilot, Lt. Williams, and the radio operator "bailed out." They landed in the same tree and were rescued by natives the next day. Thirty days later, they arrived back in camp with a native guide. Captain Owens was lucky, he brought the plane back to base. The Chinese soldiers were sick but happy to be on ground. They thanked him graciously. That night we reloaded the Chinese in another C-47 and flew them up to Sookerating for assignment.

Over in our technical supply building, we had three or four enlisted men who were billeted there in case any of the line chiefs needed parts while working at night. These GIs had a still in the back of one of the rooms. The wine was made with raisins, so they told me. They wouldn't tell where they got the sugar. The still was crude, but effective.

John W. Dalton who drove a truck for the transportation group and who worked sometimes on "the line" bought two small pigs from some local natives. He put them in a pen not too far away from the administration building. He arranged with the mess sergeant to get the left-over food to feed his pigs. After several months, the pigs were a very good size, so, John decided to process the pigs (hogs) and make ham and sausage. The medical officer would not let John do this, inasmuch as they had not had shots by a veterinarian. John Dalton took his pigs to downtown Dibrugarh, about 15 miles west of the Chabua Air Base, and sold them to the owner of a Chinese restaurant. Then, we had ham and pork chops to eat when we visited Dibrugarh. The good meat vanished quickly.

Our water for drinking was pumped from a well and placed in the famous "Lister Bag" with chlorine tablets for purification. We supplemented our drinking water with very hot tea at mealtime and a beer or Coke when we could get them.

Shortly after the October 25, 1942, air raid by the Japanese, our group commander gave orders that all flights east of the Assam Valley were to be designated as combat flying time by our crews. We, in operations, started recording on the Form 5, the take-off place, designation and return flight destination, as well as the time of flight. When a member of a flight team completed 25 flights over China, he was given an Air Medal. Additional flights, totalling 25 flights over to China, added an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal. We also had to make a monthly flying time report for all crew members, giving the combat time, non-combat time and number of flights over the "Hump." This report went to the group headquarters.

During the months of December 1942 and January 1943, in addition to flights over the Hump, we made a number of food and fuel drops along the Indian and Burma border to British and Indian Army Troops. During this time period, Lt. Paschang ran low on gasoline on his return trip from China and landed on a large sand bar on the Irrawaddy River in Burma. The next day, we loaded up gasoline in large cans with parachutes attached and flew a mission over to his position and air dropped the fuel. He got enough to take off and fly to Ranchi where he fueled up and returned to Chabua a couple of days later.

Colonel Kight flew into our base at Chabua with the cargo version of the B-24 aircraft. He had four of these airplanes in his squadron. He set up his flying operation and slowly trained our pilots on four-engine aircraft. These planes had the top gun turret with 50 caliber machine guns, as well as two forward fuselage-mounted 50 caliber guns for the pilot to use, if needed. These planes made good tanker airplanes for hauling fuel over to China. We lost two of these B-24 types in the Assam Valley due to high altitude winds and weak tail construction. We grounded all B-24 type aircraft until additional support bolts could be added to the tail structure. One of these types of aircraft was used to air drop fuel to Lt. Paschang on the Irrawaddy River sand bar. Captain "Hut Sut" Ralston flew that mission.

On February 23, 1943, we had another air raid by the Japanese. Eight aircraft were in the Assam Valley for about 30 minutes. No bombs were dropped at Chabua.

On February 25, 1943, they attacked again in the Assam Valley, over Digboi. Reports came in that ten or twelve were shot down. This brought to an end the Japanese air raids over the Assam Valley.

One other interesting event happened shortly after our first air raid in October 1942. The Maharajah of Cooch-Behar let us have the use of his private air field to be used for engine overhaul. We sent several air mechanics there as well as Sgt. Finkelstein, our former first sergeant. Occasionally, the Maharajah flew into our air base to visit and to get experience in flying C-47s. He had a commission in the Indian Air Force.

Captain Ross, our armament officer, had the privilege of going on a tiger hunt in Cooch-Behar as guest of the Maharajah.

In the spring of 1943, we started getting the new C-46 cargo plane. The transition of training pilots onto this plane was a real problem. We experienced difficulty at high altitudes with a de-icing screen on the engines.

Also, during the spring of 1943, we had a small unit-squadron of B-24 bombers assigned to our field. They bombed as far south as Rangoon, Burma, and returned. I didn't know it until I got back home that one of my high school classmates, Sylvester Hendrix, was assigned to this squadron and was on our air base at the same time that I was.

We had another group of celebrities to visit our base at Chabua. William Gargan, actor; Paulette Goddard, actress; and Joe E. Brown, actor and comic, visited our base. William Gargan and Paulette Goddard had lunch with us at our mess hall. Joe E. Brown gave his performance at the polo grounds - our transit area. He could put four golf balls in his mouth at one time!

By the middle of 1943, we must have had 1,500 men stationed at Chabua. This went up to over 2,000 in the early part of 1944. We started night flights over to China, weather permitting.

During the latter part of 1943, we built a new large operations building and a new control tower down on the field.

In January 1944, we changed our designation from the Third Ferry Squadron to Station Six, Area Three, A.P.O. 629, New York, New York.

On February 17, 1944, our unit at Station Six was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by General Hoag.

We made plans during February to celebrate March 19, 1944, by having a two-year party. On March 1st, Sergeant Jessie Walton and two other GIs and I flew in a B-25 from Chabua to Lalmanir-hat, India, and from there we took a train to Siliguri. From there, we took a taxi up to Darjeeling, which is 6,000 feet above sea level in the mountains. We purchased several boxes of ham and cheese from Mr. Ellis Bee, who was manager of Kaventer's Dairy Farm. We spent one night at Ellis Bee's farm and the next morning we hiked up to Tiger Point to see the sunrise. When the sun came up, we could see Mount Everest about 125 miles away. Mount Everest is 29,028 feet high and is snow-capped year round. We left Darjeeling on March 15, 1944, and rode the narrow gauge train downhill to Siliguri, then another train to Lalminirhat where we caught our flight back to Chabua.


DO YOU REMEMBER the snack bar and PX at Tezpur?
Shot sent by a former member of the 436th Bomb Squadron.
Photo courtesy Kenneth B. Wilson.

In the meantime, we sent Sgt. J. D. Neelans to Calcutta and Gaya, India, to purchase several cases of gin.

On March 19, 1944, we had our two-year party. Sgt. Charles C. Dumbris and his crew in the mess hall really "put it together." We had baked ham, baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, bread and butter, coffee with cream, doughnuts, cake, cheese and several types of gins, beer, Scheneley's Old Charter, and Scheneley's Ancient Age. We had 16 officers and 151 enlisted men attending the party. Ralph C. Buckhold broke his leg that night when he fell in the drainage ditch. I understand that later he had the leg amputated. We also had two guests that were in the British Corps of Royal engineers - Sergeant Raymond L. James and James Williamson.

Sometime in the early summer, we started getting the new P-51 Mustang fighter airplane. These were for Colonel Sanders at Dinjan. We had several assigned to our air base with crews reporting to Colonel Sanders.

Also, during the summer or early spring of 1944, the new B-29 long-range bombers came to India. We had a couple of them land at Chabua. They used the full length of the runway when landing and taking off. Their crew members were touchy and refused to let us near their airplane.

In the summer of 1944, the Allied Forces went back into Burma. These included Merrill's Marauders, the British and Indian Armies, General Stilwell's Chinese Army, Gurkhas, Chindits, Ka-chins and African Units. We flew troops over the mountains into Burma. Our airplanes were used to bring wounded out of Burma.

In September 1944, we started rotating the original Third Squadron personnel back to the United States. On October 5, 1944, I received my orders and in four days I was on the ground in Miami, Florida, at Homestead Air Force Base.


MESS HALL LINE of the 40th Photo Recon at Akyab Island, Burma.
Photo courtesy W. T. Basore.


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