(Courtesy of Mr. Lee Schnur, 2nd ATS)


"Sylvester's Circus" Removes All Equipment in Face of Japs

ICD BASE, CHINA -- Flying in the face of imminent Jap air and ground attack, the newly organized Second Air Transport Squadron (Mobile) evacuated American airfields at Suichwan and Kanchow, accomplishing the mission without loss in less than 24 hours, it was revealed this week.

The ICD squadron, dubbed "Sylvester's Circus" and flying under command of Maj. Frank Sylvester, Santa Barbara, Calif., received orders calling for utilization of 15 C-46A transports to proceed from the 1343d BU and shuttle men and material.

Ready in Three Hours

Japanese ground and air forces were converging on Yank installations at Suichwan and Kanchow, in Kiangsi Province, hoping to knock out the bases which had been sending aircraft to attack Nip communication lines and installations.

First call was received at 5:30 P.M. on Jan. 21, and plans called for the first takeoff at 2 A.M. the next morning, with the remainder of the mission fleet scheduled to leave the ground as soon as possible. Within three hours after the orders arrived Sylvester's Circus was ready to fly.

First Cargo Leaves

At 2:10 A.M. the first aircraft was wheels-up for Suichwan, with the other 14 ships following at 20-minute intervals. The transports flew in radio silence, sweating out not only the customary hardships of difficult terrain, sudden storms and adverse winds, but also some 130 miles of enemy-held territory without fighter support.

The route led through a triangle of enemy fighter bases concentrated at Lingling, Hengyang and Paoching, but the aircraft passed over the Jap airfields in broad daylight without interference. Crews attributed their good fortune to element of surprise and the support of 14th Air Force fighters which flew against enemy installations in incessant sorties until noon. The pursuits used spare fuel which the transports brought with them in drums.

First of the fleet of C-46s reached Suichwan 3 hours and 10 minutes after takeoff and began the shuttling of personnel and engineering, medical, photographic and miscellaneous equipment to the Kunming area.

Cargo earmarked for evacuation had been dumped on the middle of the airfield between the taxi strip and runway. Capt. T.A. Miller, of P & T; Lt. Harry Dilts, his assistant, and four GIs handled the loading. They did their weight and balancing work on the spot. Cpl. Jack Blincoe, operations clerk, pinch-hitting for space control, checked passengers and equipment. The evacuees, bomb-weary but cool, posted themselves as enemy plane spotters before and during the flight back to safety.

Through the day and into the late afternoon, the arduous job continued, as ground crews struggled with bulky, unwieldy cargo and fliers fought sluggish controls of the planes loaded beyond ordinary allowances.

The last plane departed from Suichwan at about 4 P.M. with the sound of Japanese gunfire rumbling in the distance. The final transport left Kanchow at 5 P.M.

The mission was accomplished without loss of a ship or a piece of cargo. When the "Circus" departed, all unmovable equipment and construction had been destroyed.

At midnight Maj. Sylvester landed at his base with the last plane load of cargo, the 1500 mile round trip completed, 22 hours after the first ship had taken off.

Hand-picked Crews

The terse report -- "Mission Accomplished: 15 ships, each completing mission successfully" -- only told part of the story.

Lt. George W. Shoemaker, Cusick, Wash., assistant chief pilot, holder of a civil engineering degree and a topographical engineer of the Coulee Dam project as a civilian, worked feverishly on let-down maps of the four American airfields over which the squadron had to fly in the mission and on which they might have to land, with Lt. H.B. Williams, Oswego, N.Y., assistant operations officer, aiding him, Lt. Shoemaker put to use the technical information furnished by the 14th Air Force in preparing the maps.

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