April - May 1998 Issues
By Thomas E. Davis
In May of 1943, Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Wheeler submitted a plan for the restoration of communications in Burma in the then China-Burma-India theater of operations. Part of this plan included a proposal to establish an American barge line on the Irrawaddy River in Burma. Emphasis later shifted to development of the Assam Line of Communication (LOG). Some of the equipment and troops was then to be used to set up a long-haul barge operation on the Brahmaputra River. Requirements set forth in the fall of 1943 included 400 barges of 4-foot and 5 1/2-foot draft; 114 wooden towboats of 3 1/2-foot draft; 180 Chrysler-powered, twin screw Sea Mules with a 5.5-foot draft; 26 wooden patrol boats; an inland waterways headquarters; four harbor craft companies; a port battalion and an Engineer battalion.
While all these plans were being made, it was readily apparent that water transportation was to play a major role in CBI, and six Harbor Craft Companies of some 200 men each were organized and began training in Charleston, South Carolina. Two (2) of these companies were destined to be sent to CBI, the 326th and 327th.
In late June or early July of 1943, the author joined the 327th Harbor Craft Company. The unit was commanded by Captain U. G. Moser with Earl Ware as First Sergeant. Platoon Officers were 1st Lt. Henry L. Stubbs, a schoolteacher from Opelousas, Louisiana, Lt. Jerome Voeller and Lt. Cockrell. Memory fails when it comes to Capt. Ralph W. Johnson who later commanded the unit and 1st Lt. Frank J. Reardon who served at Goalundo.
There were insufficient water craft available at that time to train as a unit or to even practice the operational and navigational skills that would become necessary once the unit reached India. Much time was spent on close-order drill, extended-order drill, long marches, parades, guard duty, KP and the other tasks available to keep the troops busy. Personnel were housed in single-story, tarpaper-covered 'barracks' which were hot as hell in that summer of '43. The barracks were about 60 feet long and just wide enough to have two double-decker wooden bunks end to end with a 3-foot passage between. Heating during the winter of 1943-'44 was provided by one coal-burning space heater about 20 feet from each end of the building. To say the least, housing conditions were just above primitive.
Some of the training included practice on debarking a ship via the infamous cargo net, marksmanship at simulated aircraft and a trip to the Isle of Palms to try our hand at the DUKW (the old seagoing deuce and a half). Quite a few members of the 327th had been sent to Charleston ostensibly to be assigned to an amphibious unit which operated DUKWs. Thank God for small favors; as it later turned out, river and harborcraft operations were preferable. A trip to Fort Jackson to run the obstacle course was thrown in for good measure. One of our members, Pvt. Gallagher, a former drummer on a coastwise cruise ship, and rather large, over 225 Ibs. passed out. This author, at that time a skinny little Private all of 130 pounds, was directed to pull Gallagher to the finish line. Mission accomplished; we both survived.
In November of 1943, an entity known as American Barge Lines (ABL) was established and headquartered near Calcutta. An Engineer unit was assigned to ABL and began to assemble equipment which began arriving in the theater in early 1944. The Engineer unit was located in Khulna on the Kazi Bacha River and their major assembly units were the wooden BK barges of shallow draft, about 50-feet long and some 20-feet wide. The largest barges they assembled were of steel construction with interior tanks for fluid shipment. They were about 110-feet by 40-feet with 4-feet of draft empty and 9-feet filled with fluid.
In the January, 1998 issue of Ex-CBI Roundup an article by James L. Watson, "The 504th Engineer Light Ponton Co." noted that his unit arrived in Calcutta some months prior to the 327th Harbor Craft Company and assembled the floating cranes at King George Docks. The 504th also had the task of performing harbor duties and some river duties which would later be the responsibility of the 327th. Good going 504th!!! Watson is absolutely right about the horrendous Hooghly River traffic and tides!!
This may be an appropriate spot to clarify the waterways upon which the 327th would ultimately operate. Firstly, the two dominant rivers were and are the Ganges (Ganga) and the Brahmaputra. The Ganges has its headwaters in Uttar Pradesh State, India, in the southern portion of the Himalayas. It actually begins as the Pachila River on an ice cave at roughly 10,300 feet above sea level and falls about 350 feet per mile for some 150 miles. Near the village of Devaprayag, a point around 133 miles from its source, the Pachilati joins the Alaknanda to form the Ganges. From there it levels out somewhat to a fall of about 60 feet per mile continuing on in a southeasterly direction to Allahabad about 630 miles from its source. This first 600 plus miles is unnavigable due to shoals and rapids.
At Allahabad the Yamuna River from the southwest joins the Ganges which continues on past Benares, India's most holy city now called Varanasi, and picks up several more tributaries such as the Son from the south and, from the north, the Gumti, Ghaghra, Gandak and Kosi Rivers. Near the top of the Ganges delta in the Rajmahal Hills and some 550 miles from Allahabad, the river turns south and begins its 285 mile descending route to the Bay of Bengal. Near Pakaur, one branch departs the main river, assumes the original name of the Ganges and is again called the Pachilati. Some 70 miles further down, the Jalangi branches off the Ganges. These two follow individual courses for 120 miles and then unite to form the Hooghly which is the westernmost and principal channel of navigation. Calcutta, which in 1944-45 was the largest city in India and 2nd largest in the British Empire, is located on the east side and 75 miles north of the Bay of Bengal.
The main branch of the Ganges continues on into Bangladesh which was formerly Bengal State and takes on the name of Padma River. At Shivalaya (Sibalay) it joins with the Jamuna which is the main branch of the descending Brahmaputra and flows southward through the Meghna estuary into the Bay of Bengal.
The Brahmaputra (taken from the Sanscrit meaning "Son of Brahma") is nearly 1700 miles long. It begins its journey in the Kailas Range of the Himalayas of southwestern Tibet at an elevation of 17,000 feet and is known as the Yarlung Zambo. It flows eastward and then southward through Arunachal Pradesh State in India and into Assam where it is called the Dihang. Near Sadiya, Assam, it changes course to the southwest and becomes the Brahmaputra. After turning south again some 500 miles further down, it flows on into Bangladesh and, as previously noted, becomes the Jamuna, joins the Padma (Ganges) and flows into the Bay of Bengal. Steamers are able to navigate from the Bay of Bengal 800 miles north to Dibrugarh. Between the western Hooghly and the Jamuna are the many deltaic channels which form the 'Mouths of the Ganges.' The southern portion is mostly swampland known as the Sunderbans, named for the sundari tree that flourishes there. It is a most forbidding place, unpopulated by humans but with a huge population of creatures who do not take kindly to human intrusion. Man-eating Bengal tigers, many varieties of poisonous reptiles and several species of crocodiles frequent the entire area.
The 327th departed Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 6, 1944, aboard the General Mann. The first night out was one of the roughest most of us could remember; this coming from men who had served in the Merchant Marine on the Murmansk run, veterans of the Pacific on troop and supply transports to the islands, Australia, New Guinea, Alaska, the Aleutians, etc.
Most of the 327th personnel weathered that first night quite well with the exception of a man named Oiva Wuori. Oiva was a very good-natured guy, short in stature with a perpetual smile. We were stacked up about five or six high on canvas bunks. I saw Oiva coming past me with his steel helmet in his hand; he was green but wearing a wry smile and his helmet was full of his lunch and supper. He joined the long line going into one of the latrines, or as we say on the boats, the head.
Day 2 was still very rough but that didn't mean that housekeeping ceased. The heads had to be cleaned. Needless to say, those who survived that first night out without getting sick were detailed to head duty. About eight of us from the 327th, along with a couple of Navy plumbers, were assigned to one of the several facilities on the Mann. Every wash basin, urinal, shower stall and toilet bowl was full to overflowing as well as the deck (floor) which fortunately had about a 4-5 inch threshold. The Navy plumbers had a tool for reaching into the wash basins to remove the cross piece in order that a rooter could be threaded down to clear the lines. The first plumber stuck the tool into the mess and almost immediately dropped it in and then proceeded to upchuck into the same basin. His buddy followed shortly thereafter. Eight stalwarts, with iron guts from the 327th, cleaned up the entire head. End of that episode!!!
EARLY MORNING on the Jamuna River headed north to Goalundo. The trailing Landing Craft-River LCR being operated by the author who took the picture, will proceed on northward up the Brahmaputra River to Tezpur and will arrive on January 20, 1945, the author's 20th birthday. T5 Aguilar is the crewman at portside forward. This picture was printed from black and white onto color paper to gain better definition.
MOUNTAINOUS area in northern China presents this scenic view.
The General Mann had gotten separated from the convoy which had departed Hampton Roads and according to the "Daily Poop" she was fast enough to proceed alone to our final destination and could purportedly outrun any enemy submarines. That information didn't set too well with those of us who had already served time in dangerous waters and that included a whole bunch of guys from the 327th. Submarines don't have to pursue; they can lie in wait and take a few shots at broadside. Nevertheless, we went on our merry way and arrived in Casablanca about a week after leaving the good old USA.
In Casablanca, we were billeted in a tent city known as Camp Don Passage somewhere south of the city. Co-resident with all the transients was a US Army confinement facility. Most of the inmates were ostensibly AWOLs and Deserters from units in other parts of Africa. Also, there were some prisoners of war who were not co-located with US Personnel. The confinement facility had a fantastic marching band. They were up at the crack of dawn and we were awakened by rousing march music and put to bed by the same. We had at least one pass into Casablanca; we had to walk in and back several miles. We went to the Casbah, old and dirty, and to the famous or infamous American Bar and with the aid of a French-English dictionary did our best to persuade some lovely mademoiselles to show us around the city and then . . .! No luck at all!!!
After about a week, the 327th was loaded aboard a forty and eight train to someplace else. It's true about the 40 & 8; it will carry 40 troops, some who must be standing at all times since there is not room for all to sit down or lie down simultaneously. We headed northeast passing through Rabat, the capital of Morocco, turned east through Fez (Fes), through the night and on into Algeria stopping finally in Oran. We were taken by open 6X6, about 25 to a truck, standing with full field packs and weapons on what seemed like an interminable ride, to Hill 26 south of Oran and another tent city. This was desert in late March, 1944. It was already very hot by 1000 hours and we were making 25 mile marches with a canteen of water which was not to be drunk unless absolutely necessary. This was to teach Vater discipline.' Nights we wore everything we owned, slept on the ground and froze. COLD, COLD, COLD!!!
We were there only a few days but got one day in Oran. Four of us walked around looking at this ancient city. We stopped near an Army Headquarters building and asked an MP on duty where the "Red Light" district was. His response was, "Look, youse guys stay da hell away from da cat houses, they's 'off limits'." So, we hired a horse-drawn carriage called a garry and asked the driver to take us to a local bordello. He did, we didn't. Even though we all went inside, one at a time while three (3) waited in the garry, a 7-foot 'Punja' at the big iron gate, wearing a 2-foot turban, pointed-toe slippers and carrying a 4-foot scimitar nodded toward 'Salome' and her seven veils. Each entered her boudoir, a 6 by 8 hole in the wall with a narrow cot, paid her the requested amount of Francs and after a couple of minutes departed hastily adjusting the uniform. As we all affirmed a couple of months later, 'Punjah' scared us all and we just kept up the pretense. After all, we were macho GIs. We then told the driver to take us back to the headquarters building where we inquired of the same MP, "Where's the Pro Station?" He just looked at us with a how-dumb-can-you-be look, nodded in the proper direction and off we went. Boy! Did we go to some lengths to look like real men. We not only did not partake of the carnal pleasures, we did go through the whole process of taking a full prophylaxis and wore the little 'bull durham' sack for the prescribed period of time. DUMB? You bet!!!
The unit was taken by truck convoy to the dock area in Oran where we boarded a former British Castle Lines cruise ship the Winchester Castle. Compared to our previous modes of transportation, The Winchester was absolute luxury. The food was excellent, the staterooms (three men to a room) were air conditioned, the bunk beds were spacious and comfortable and, above all, it was just too good to last. We had at last learned that our final destination was India and we just knew that the Winchester Castle was to be our home for the next 8-10 days. Wrong! After a short couple of days punctuated by a submarine scare and hearing that a convoy out in the Mediterranean had been attacked, we arrived at Port Said, Egypt. There we were quickly transhipped to the British-operated former Polish transport Otranto. The crew operating the Otranto didn't do a thing to make the next 7-8 days very pleasant. We slept on hammocks slung in a large hold area, ate two meals a day, one of which was salty fish in the morning, were allowed one canteen of fresh water each morning and spent the remainder of each day playing cards or shooting craps.
Passing through the Suez Canal was interesting since we had all heard of it but never realized the scope of the undertaking to build it. After leaving the canal, we entered the Red Sea. The weather was very warm and humid. As we proceeded farther south it got much warmer and then we entered the Arabian Sea near Aden where it really warmed up. We turned about 90 degrees to port into the Indian Ocean and headed for Bombay. This part of the trip was very tranquil. The ocean was, for the most part, smooth as glass. We could see various types of marine life but really wanted to take a swim in such inviting water. The Otranto pulled into Bombay harbor around the 10th of April, a few days after an ammunition ship had blown up at the dock. The evidence of a monstrous explosion was everywhere. From the deck of a not-too-elegant ship freshly arrived in a devastated port, the sights, sounds and smells of a major tropical city make a lasting impression.
One of the Military Police units aboard the Otranto drew the detail of cleaning the troop areas after the troops were off-loaded. Fortunately, the 327th had done a great job of cleaning its billeting area. The reason will become clear a little later. The 327th was very quickly marched, with full field packs and duffel bags, about a mile or so to the railway station and loaded aboard a military train bound clear across India to Calcutta some 1,250 miles east. There were no 'pull-mans,' no cushioned seats, no fans, no decent latrine facilities, no 'dining' car, no nothin'. As on the 40 & 8 across North Africa, there was no room to lie down and catch a little sleep. We sat on the equivalent of park benches. The begging for 'bahksheesh' started almost immediately and lasted until we left India in 1946.1 doubt any of us had seen such grinding poverty nor had we seen such filthy living conditions.
Photo from Dottie Yuen Leuba.
PRETTY PICTURE of Lake Nagin in Kashmir.
The unit arrived in Calcutta around the 15th of April and was housed temporarily in Calcutta proper at Lady Bradbourne College until we could take up residence in our wartime quarters at Camp Togao north of Calcutta on the Barrackpore Trunk Road. While in our temporary area, just a few days, we were given passes virtually anytime we wanted. As young men, far from home and having had no female company for several weeks, other than in Oran and that didn't count, we soon found that houses of prostitution were plentiful nearby. Remember the MPs on the Otranto? They had arrived in Calcutta about the time we did and were patrolling the area. When they found out we were the 327th, they let us know that we were OK because our troop area was so clean they didn't have to do a thing. The 326th Harbor Craft left a mess and was targeted by the MPs!
Calcutta was a fascinating city. It was a city of huge contrasts. Evidence of poverty was everywhere surrounded by beautiful buildings and parks including a zoo. Beggars, whose caste is at least one step up from a street sweeper, were everywhere. We learned that children born to the beggar caste were oftentimes intentionally deformed in order to increase their earning capacity. Fine restaurants were only a stone's throw from open markets where freshly killed lamb and chickens hung in the open air and were usually covered with flies. People, usually men, with arms, legs or testicles of huge proportions from the effects of Elephantiasis, walked the streets. Lepers, with flesh falling from faces and limbs, were a common sight.
Finally we were sent to Camp Togoa and set up housekeeping. The main building was a palace formerly occupied by the noted India poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who had died just three years earlier. There were a few permanent outbuildings which formed the estate area. Company headquarters, a dayroom and officers' quarters occupied the main building (the palace). Company supply was located away from the main building as was the motor pool. The mess area was to the west of the 'palace' and was near the PX area which also had a screened area where personnel could sit and play cards and quaff a beer or two. From old packing crates, our company carpenters built an outdoor theater, added some clothing cabinets, heated by a single light bulb to help prevent mildew, and various other amenities to make Camp Togoa more like home.
All enlisted men slept in tents with screened sidewalls and on two-tier bunks made of 4 X 4s, laced with jute rope. Each individual bought his own mattress on the local economy as well as sheets and pillowcases. Mosquito netting was used at all times when sleeping. GI blankets were used and were absolutely necessary in the winter months when it got very cold and damp. Boots and shoes had to be checked carefully before putting them on to insure that no reptile or biting insect had taken refuge during the night (day for some individuals).
Within the compound was a fairly large pond with a marble step area leading down into the water. Though probably ill-advised, the water was too inviting to ignore when the weather was hot and sticky which was most of the time. The compound was walled and the front entrance was guarded by those phenomenal Gurkha soldiers. They were generally quite short in stature, wore British uniforms and were armed with their pride and job, the Gurkha knife. These knives were razor-sharp and custom dictated that if a knife was pulled from its sheath, blood had to be drawn before the knife could be replaced. It is very understandable that the Gurkha was somewhat reluctant to withdraw the knife to satisfy a GI's curiosity because it meant he would have to cut his own finger to draw the blood. At least that's what they did rather than requiring that someone else's finger be extended for ritual bloodletting.
Within the compound, those things which an army does as routine such as personnel matters, sick call, mess, supply and motors were carried out. In addition, there was one other detail carried out by our Brooklyn connection, John Allogiomento. He took care of mosquito control. Very necessary in India. Even though we all took Atabrine every day to help prevent malaria, John sprayed every little water hole to help control the dreaded Anopheles mosquito.
The operations area was located at King George Docks in the Calcutta port area. The docks were separated from the tidal waters of the Hooghly River by the King George Locks. The basin area was kept at a set water level in order to accommodate the draft requirements of large oceangoing ships. When the Hooghly was at full flood, its level was considerably higher than the level within the basin. Conversely, when the Hooghly was at ebb slack, the river level was much lower.
The Hooghly is one of only two or three rivers in the world which experiences a bore tide usually near the full moon. This tide which results from an unusually strong tide with an exceptional amount of water trying to be pushed up the river from its estuary in a much shorter time than is usual for that tidal area. On occasion, the tide is so strong and of such volume that the tidal crest rises as much as 40 or 50 feet on the outer edge of a bend in the river. This force is so great that anything in its path is swept away; cattle, dogs, humans, boats, cars, homes are the usual victims.
Some of the water craft which were to be used by the 327th were already in the basin and others arrived by ship very shortly after the unit set up operations. The first craft with which we began operations were Motor Tow Launches (MTL) which were 46 feet long, 10 foot abeam and 5' 10 1/2" draft. Power was supplied by Cummins Diesel or Buda Diesel or 108 horsepower Chrysler Royal Marine 8-cylin-der engines delivered to a single three-bladed propeller 40 inches in diameter and having some 22 inches of thrust per revolution. At 2200 RPM reduced by a 4.48 to 1 reduction gear, these were not speed boats. Fre running i.e. no tow, speed was approximately 9.5 knots. They were, however, quite powerful for their size and proved to be relatively efficient for the tasks assigned the unit. The unit frequently assisted in the docking operation of Liberty Class vessels within King George Basin.
Some wooden BK barges were in the area and the unit was quickly assigned to rendezvous with American ships which tied up at Budge-Budge (Baj Baj), a facility operated by the US Army Engineers on the Hooghly several miles south of Calcutta. Ship's personnel off-loaded deck cargo onto the small BK barges. Most often this consisted of aircraft such as P-51s, P-47s, P-38s or P-61s. We could haul 2-3 per barge and transported these aircraft to Barrackpore Airbase, located 15-20 miles north of Calcutta. Depending on the tides, this trip took anywhere from 6-10 hours. US Army Air Corps personnel utilizing a long-reach, shore-mounted crane off-loaded the aircraft and processed them for movement to forward areas. On occasion we transported high explosives from Budge-Budge to Kanchapara (Kachrapara) further upriver from Barrackpore. Kanchapara was a supply point and also housed a military prison and a replacement depot.
Very shortly it became necessary to have more barges. These were being assembled by Army Engineers located in Khulna which is only some 75 miles northeast of Calcutta but the primitive roads required a drive of about four hours to get there. The boat trip from Calcutta south on the Hooghly, east through a short stretch of the Bay of Bengal and then a turn to the north and through the Sunderbans, the mangrove swamps of the Mouths of the Ganges, and some 32 major twists and turns through uncharted waters took five days to Khulna!!! This writer was one of the first, maybe the first, to make this trip. A river pilot was assigned for the first trip only for each boat operator, thereafter you were on your own. An attempt was made to utilize radios for boat to base operations but they were generally ineffective. If a boat broke down or a crewmember became sick while in the Sunderbans, training, common sense or plain old ingenuity were necessary to survive. Fortunately, all our equipment was first-class. I can't say the same for our messing arrangements.
Upon arrival in Khulna, we checked in with the engineer people and found the messing facility. This was really the highlight of the trip because on the boats we had inefficient facilities for preparing decent hot meals. Although the MTLs had a kerosene stove in the tiny galley, it was generally too hot to stay below and cook, none of us were accomplished cooks and we had no refrigeration other than an icebox with no ice. Mostly we subsisted on K-Rations. If it weren't for the perpetual diarrhea endemic in the tropics, we would have been constantly constipated. Hot meals, prepared by even poor cooks, would have been preferable. We did have some hot food on the boats.
The Quartermaster Rations provided us with 14 pound cans of a very lean and tasty sliced bacon. This was a real treat. Our on-deck stove consisted of a wide-mouth can about 20 inches in height, about a foot across the bottom and 18 inches across the top, i.e. a large truncated cone. In the can we placed about 3-4 inches of sand above which we punched out a few holes. Onto the sand we poured some fuel, lit it and cooked our bacon in a fry pan purchased on the local economy. We also prepared powdered eggs with some onions and local hot peppers added for flavor and also we made good use of dehydrated potatoes cooked as hash browns with onion and hot peppers.
Among the other amenities of the Khulna area was a coterie of ladies of the evening available for the night at the staggering sum of 2-4 rupees. One rupee was equivalent to 30 cents American. In order to keep a relative monopoly on these lovelies, one sergeant in the engineer unit acted as overseer to insure that this bevy of beauties was available only to the American troops. I am sure this service helped keep the venereal disease rate much lower then the CBI average.
Generally we stayed only one night unless something went awry. Early on the following morning we departed Khulna with 2-4 barges in tow. In very wide water areas we could use a trailing tow; in tighter areas we usually used a side tow with a bow line, a stern line and the string or towing line. Five days later we arrived back in Calcutta. If we were lucky, we got a day or so of rest and back to work.
Later on, the unit took on the added responsibility of transporting 100 octane gasoline in large steel barges of approximately 99,000 gallons capacity from Goalundo at the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers downriver and eastward to Dacca. At that time, Dacca was in East Bengal but is now the capital of Bangladesh. The gasoline was hauled 'over the Hump' to China aboard Air Corps Transports.
It should be noted that Goalundo was a branch headquarters of American Barge Lines and was commanded by 1st Lt. Frank J. Reardon. The operational area was located in an office shack on a barge anchored in the backwater eddy on the north side of the Ganges and just west of the main flow of the Brahmaputra.
The river courses in this area are very confusing. Although the Ganges is the dominant river in India both religiously and geographically, the Brahmaputra most likely carried the most river traffic because it was less volatile and did not have the volume of water of the Ganges. At the pipeline head on the south side of the Ganges, the river bank was constantly in a state of flux due to the high volume of water and a current speed at time approaching 22 knots. This necessitated very close monitoring of the discharge valve mechanism and also the assistance of an India river steamer to assist us in getting our barges into receiving position.
When the barge was loaded, its freeboard had diminished from some seven feet to about one foot. We were, of course, facing upstream (west) into the Ganges current; we applied full power to both Chrysler Royal Marine 8-cyl-inder engines of the catamaran pusher known as the Sea Mule which was used for this task. At full power in calm water, the Sea Mule could almost reach 8 knots. We were at a decided disadvantage in 20+ knot current. The retaining 2-3 inch cable was given slack and cast off the bitts on the barge. A very rapid right turn ensued followed by a hasty departure from Goalundo enroute to Dacca. On these trips we could not smoke, cook or create any sparks which could have caused a major catastrophe. We went barefoot or wore rubber-soled, locally-purchased sneakers. Thought the tanks in the barge had so-called vapor barriers made of copper mesh, one can never be too careful around 100 octane gasoline vapors.
Arriving at Dacca some 36-48 hours after leaving Goalundo, we secured at the Air Corps facility and their personnel off-loaded our cargo. This left us in a more dangerous situation; vapors are much more volatile than fluid, so we were extra careful on the return trip to Goalundo. There were exceptions. Paul Kleinbart now living in Philadelphia, told me about one incident in which Smith Lewis of Harlan County, Kentucky, and a veteran of the 25th Division fighting in the South Pacific, and one of our unit screwballs, decided to shoot out the mast light of a passing Indian river boat. Very quickly his carbine was removed from his possession.
Although the tasks which have been noted constituted the majority of our duties, we had a few other assignments carried out by only couple of crews. The following five such assignments fell to this writer. I am unable to state for certain that my navigational skills or ability to speak the Malim Sahib's Hindustani were instruments in my being assigned. The first of these involved taking a long tow of three steel barges from Calcutta back up to Khulna for either refitting, repairs to further shipment to Goalundo. This task was undertaken at the height of the hurricane season and involved stringing the three 110-foot barges out behind an MTL and heading down the Hooghly into the Bay of Bengal. A river pilot was again provided since we would have to follow a totally different route through the Sunderbans due to the nature of the tow.
Crossing the Bay of Bengal, with a tow of over 500 feet, we encountered the edge of a very violent hurricane. We were forced to just make headway and take the waves on our starboard quarter. This lasted some eight hours and we escaped without damage. We proceeded to Khulna without further incident. The aftermath of the hurricane was tremendous destruction to civilian areas and a large loss of or damage to some American aircraft bases in East Bengal.
We headed on north up the Brahmaputra, the first trip for any of our unit beyond Goalundo. Earlier reports on current were not exaggerated. In some areas of very swift rapids, we had to use our negotiating skills to 'hitch' a ride alongside one of the many Indian civilian steamers plying the Brahmaputra. These were, in most instances, steam driven side-wheelers operated by very capable river boat people.
Knowledge of Hindustani turned out to be extremely valuable. The Indian crews actually seemed impressed that an American soldier could speak Malim Sahib's Hindustani. Incidentally, a Malim Sahib is a Caucasian officer (usually British) on a boat crewed by Indians. My deckhand, Aguilar, spoke no Hindi and almost no English after having been drafted after jumping a Mexican fishing boat somewhere around Galveston.
To supplement our K-Rations, we frequently ate with the Indian crews at their invitation. Their diet was neither lavish nor did it have much variety. There was always rice sometimes with a curry of chicken but usually a fish prepared as 'gualmas' which had a sickly green sauce which turned out to be a type of curry. Two British officers aboard one of these boats were aghast that a white would sit down cross-legged on the deck and eat with 'bloody natives.' These selfsame allies never offered to share any of their native-prepared haute cuisine in their luxury staterooms.
The LCR was powered by twin Gray Marine gasoline engines and the craft had, as part of its inventory, a complete tool kit sufficient to make almost any repair or adjustment required. However, with both engines turning at 2200-2300 RPM, it was virtually impossible to negotiate most of the shallow water rapids encountered above Gauhati which is in Assam. The Indian steamers were invaluable. We arrived in Tezpur 32 days after leaving Calcutta and were flown back to Dum Dum Air Base in Calcutta.
The final special detail involved handling mud dredged from an Air Corps dock facility located on the east side of the Hooghly across the river and upstream from the Air Corps base at Hastings Mill. We really enjoyed going to Hastings Mill because the food was a welcome relief from K-Rations. The mud dredged from the bottom was loaded on a barge which we then towed north above Barrackpore. The mud was off-loaded and we returned for another load.
During one of these return trips undertaken in daylight at the full of the moon, I was able to observe to my right (south) across a tidal flat at a bend in the river, the approach of the aforementioned 'bore' tide. Though we had experienced several bores previously, this particular one was much higher than usual. It had a wave crest at least 10-12 feet high in midstream. We were headed downstream on a relatively slack ebb and this monster was coming around the bend toward us at a much higher rate than usual. It became obvious that this wave front posed a major threat to our survival; on the far river bank the advancing wave was already sweeping buildings and other built-up areas away like so much straw. It looked like a huge muddy wall with rubble embedded in it. Fortunately, we were on the right side of the channel and faced a smaller wave of some 4-6 feet high.
From the first sighting to impact was barely a minute. This was a fast-moving wave carrying some large pieces of debris which could have done major damage to a small boat. When the wave hit, the empty barge being flat bottomed and relatively light, rose immediately some five feet and snapped our spring line. In that particular instance, the spring line was about a two-inch manila hemp angled from the forward portion of the boat rearward to bitts on the barge and taking the full stress of the tow. The bow and stern lines being somewhat slack did not break and we were able to attach a new spring line to the barge. The tide was so strong that with full power applied and remaining in the weakest portion of the current, we made NO forward progress for about 3-4 hours! We learned later that here was much destruction and loss of life and property In the area previously described.
Since the war in Asia was over August-September, 1945, troops were starting to move very rapidly back to CONUS. One of the final tasks of the 327th was to barge fresh water to ships tied to buoys at Princess Ghat on the Hooghly across the river from Howrah and north of King George Docks. From my conversations with Paul Kleinbart and with Fred Hirsimaki in Findlay, Ohio, it seems that the 327th did not return to the USA as a unit, but as individuals on the point system with the last of the unit leaving in very early 1946.
This writer re-enlisted in October 1945; returned to the US by way of Karachi, the Suez,; across the Atlantic and a huge storm and NYC on December 3, 1945.
Photo by John Bondurant.