Spring 1990 Issue
(In the Winter edition of SOUND-OFF, Stan Miller described how the 4th Combat Cargo Group was activated in Syracuse, NY, in June 1944; trained in C-47s, moved to Louisville, KY, where they converted to larger C-46s; flew to Sylhet, India, where they joined a task force of Canadians and Australians flying supplies to the British 14th Army which was retaking Burma from the Japanese who were offering heavy resistance. Last issue's account left the 4th Comcar landing at a strip at Meiktila which was overrun each night by the Japanese. All allied personnel retreated to a perimeter of tanks each night, swept the strip for mines each morning and another routine day at the office was resumed. - Ed.)
4th Combat Cargo Group Establishes a PrecedentCompiled by Stan Miller
Old Pueblo Basha, Tucson, Arizona
During this period, the first morning flights to Meiktila would check in with the control tower at Ondaw on the way south to see if the air strip had been cleared of land mines. Occasionally we landed there to wait for a "safe" field at Meiktila. Before the Japanese finally succeeded in closing the air strip during daylight hours, a number of C-46s off-loaded at Meiktila during 75 and 105mm shells attacks on the field itself. The advance of the 4th Corps of the XIV Army was stalled for a short time in the Meiktila area, but they did finally manage to secure the airfield. While they were stalled, the 4th Corps established a bridgehead on the river's east bank. The Japanese destroyed the bridges, effectively cutting off these advance forces. Our C-46s flew in Baily Bridging one night and by morning the bridge was erected and troops poured across to relieve the cut-off forces. While the Japanese were busy in the Meiktila area, the 33rd Corps was successful in taking Mandalay. Within two weeks, five air strips were built of which three were retained as supply points for the 33rd Corps. All the 4th Group aircrews continued to make many daily trips and log long days of flying hours. Cheap Thrill for Crew Late one afternoon after our third trip, we headed our C-46 west into the setting sun enroute back to Chittagong. The plane was on auto pilot and all four of us crew members dozed off. When the fuel tank being used for the left engine ran dry, the resulting engine backfires and aircraft yaw brought everyone wide awake. You never saw three sets of hands reach for fuel tank selector valves so fast. About the time the left engine came back, the right engine ran out of fuel. All of us stayed awake for the rest of the trip! One interesting mission at this time was in support of the Chinese forces fighting northeast of Mandalay. Four of our C-46s were tasked to move U.S. Army personnel and four Bofors anti-aircraft guns to a remoted area where the Japanese were threatening to overrun a Chinese unit. The Bofors guns had proven very effective when firing white phosphorus shells horizontally into the jungle. The white phosphorus would scatter like shotgun pellets inflicting many burn casualties. The place we landed our C-46s was a large grassy meadow where an occasional tree had been removed. White flags marked the corners of the landing area. The operation made us feel like we were barnstorming in the early days of flying. Burmese "Manufacture" Gems April was our busiest month when the 4th Group logged the most flying hours and delivered the most cargo of any period during the Burma operation. Meiktila reopened and a strip was established further south at Myingyan. Both of these fields were put on a 24-hour operation. Frequently the runway lights would be inoperative which added an element of chance to the landings and take-offs. The lights would be out because the Burmese would take them for the colored lenses. They would break the glass into small pieces and melt it just enough so when it cooled, the pieces looked like small gems. Many of us unsuspecting crew members traded cigarettes and candy for these "rubies and opals." The macadam road and more open terrain going south towards Rangoon greatly facilitated the XIV Army's advance. During a twelve-day period, when armored columns pushed south from Meiktila, the Japanese lost 3,500 men and much materiel. After 20 days, the XIV Army had covered 180 miles towards Rangoon. This rapid push increased the length of our flights from Chittagong and the total logged flying hours. The 4th Group flew a total of 18,412:35 hours during April. Personally, during April, I logged 117:05 hours flying time. When loading, unloading and ground turnaround times are added, the result was some very long days. Considering the Group had about 90 or so planes at this time, each one had to average nearly 190 hours flying time during the month. Each plane also had down time for the required 50 and 100 hour inspections. The maintenance personnel did a superb job keeping the planes in the air. March was the second highest flying hour month which was 1200 hours less than April. In early May, the last field to be opened specifically for Task Force use was at Toungoo, north of Rangoon. The route of the Japanese forces was almost complete. Except for a few strategic points, they were in full retreat. The two pincers of the 4th and 33rd Corps continued south cutting off all means of escape for the Japanese. Paratroops Dropped Another surprise for the Japanese occurred on May 2nd when Task Force planes dropped paratroops just south of Rangoon at Elephant Point. As May came to an end, so did the requirement for round the clock support of the XIV Army. During the first eight days of June, the 4th Group did haul 5,192 tons of supplies, logging 3822:40 hours flying time. The 4th Group's support of the XIV Army ceased at this time. Bailey Bridging Poor Cargo Of all the priority items moved by the crews of the 4th Group, Bailey Bridging was probably the one most disliked by the air crews. It consisted of large preformed metal sections resembling huge erector set pieces and way too large to throw out if the plane lost an engine. Crew members would have had an impossible job getting back to the door if a bailout was required. We also hauled bombs, gasoline, food and all the myriad items required to support and maintain an army. As the Burma war took its place in history, it marked a new phase in the annals of warfare. Its success had depended solely on air-power, and more specifically, that part of airpower known as Combat Cargo. It established for the future the viability of air logistic support for both static and fluid combat situations. During the time the 4th Group supplied the British XIV Army, 465,302:55 flying hours were logged and 133,832.6 tons (267,665,200 pounds) of materiel and personnel was moved. A quote from an article about the 4th Combat Cargo Group in an official British publication, "Phoenix" published in Calcutta, dated June 16, 1945, states, "In the past twelve weeks, the 4th Group has doubled the tonnage carried by all other cargo groups and now hauls more in a day than could be moved to the front by trucks in a month." The flying was accomplished day and night, many times in extremely adverse weather with minimal navigation facilities. Credit and many thanks must be given the British for their voice direction finding equipment. All of us called for a "DF Steer" on occasion. The 4th Group backup personnel did a marvelous job in keeping the planes flyable and in providing all the other support requirements. The aircrews delivered the loads, but it was the concerted effort of all personnel that made it possible. (The above information is from a 4th Combat Cargo Group Report, 4th CCG S2, 13 Sept. 1945.)
The Author in his "Office"
Move to Myitkyina When the Burma campaign was finished, the 4th Combat Cargo Group moved from Chittagong to Myitkyina, Burma (a strip built from the material we had hauled in during the past December). We were assigned to the Air Transport Command and began flying the Hump. The Group retained its designation and command personnel but its flying hours and tonnage hauled is buried in the ATC records. The 4th Group aircrews continued to log a lot of flying hours in support of the ATC mission. During September 1945, I logged 101:45 hours flying the Hump. One mission we were a part of was the moving of Chinese troops from eastern Burma back to south China. Most of the troops were flown from Lashio, Burma, to Nanning, China. There were some interesting, if unpleasant incidents associated with this operation. One Chinese soldier decided he wanted to go back to China ahead of his assigned flight. He climbed into the wheel well of a C-46's main landing gear. Even with the wheels retracted, the engine heat and fumes and the lack of oxygen, he survived the trip over the Hump to Nanning. When the landing gear was lowered, one of his hands became caught in the mechanism. When the plane came to a stop, the soldier was dangling, unable to free himself. Even though war action gunfire could be heard in the distance, the plane was jacked up, the wheels retracted and the soldier released. After all this effort, the Chinese Military Police marched him over to the side of the airport and shot him for deserting his unit. Some of the C-47s also used in this operation were missing their paratroop jump doors. The story is told that enroute to China, a soldier would get up to look out the door and another one would push him out. The rest of the soldier passengers would laugh because the pushed out person would have to walk home! The Chinese troops were considered cargo and did not have parachutes. In the C-46, there was a crawl space under the cockpit with access doors in the cockpit and out under the right wing. We kept our crew parachutes in the cockpit and were briefed to bail out through this avenue of escape if needed. There had been reports of crews trying to bail out through the rear door but the Chinese would not let them. After the war ended, some units of the 4th Group were moved to Shanghai, China. There they assisted in moving Chinese troops to areas in northern China where the Communists were beginning to rebel. In February, 1946, the 4th Combat Cargo Group was moved back to Panagarh, India, where it was ultimately inactivated. 4th Can Be Proud All of us can be proud of our contributions to the successful end of WW II. The 4th Group has a special niche in the history of the war for its contributions to the total war effort. The Group was awarded three Battle Stars and individual crew members were awarded many Distinguished Flying Crosses and Air Medals for heroism in combat flying. The viability of Combat Cargo support as established by the Task Force and 4th Group has subsequently been proven again during the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and during Vietnam.
C-46 Unloading in Burma