4th COMBAT CARGO GROUP



Courtesy of Mr. Nick Sanchez, 4th CCG, 15th CCS


History of the 4th Combat Cargo Group


Compiled by
HEADQUARTERS,
4th Combat Cargo Group
APO 218 % Postmaster, New York City, N.Y.

This article is intended only to show the air-supply activities of the 4th Combat Cargo Group in relation to the movement of the British XIV Army in Burma offensives of the winter of 1944-45 and spring of 1945.

The majority of the 100 C-46 airplanes of the 4th Combat Cargo Group arrived in Sylhet, Assam India between the 1st and 10th of December of 1944.

Operations during December 44 were quickly tied up with the coming southwards drive through Burma of the British XIV army.  Quantities of supplies were hauled into Imphal, at the time headquarters for the XIV Army, and most return trips took battle casualties and the sick back to Commilla or Calcutta.

At Commilla, Chandina, and Imphal, the C-46's got their first taste of dirt or grassy strips and the engines met their future enemy-dust.

Throughout this first month, as pilots became acquainted with Eastern India, there was little night flying.  Only flight leaders and operations officers were allowed to return to Sylhet after dark.

In general, flying was restricted during this month, because of lack of OEL equipment with which to maintain the aircraft.  The most immediately necessary equipment was gradually picked up throughout the I-B theater.

Although a few scattered flights had been made between Ledo & Chabua Assam, and Myitkyina Burma by aircraft of the 13th Squadron in the first week overseas, no mass flying to Burma occurred until the 3d week of December.  At this time the planes began flying the 16,000 foot high flight from Sylhet across the jungle-clad mountains to Yasagwe, 150 miles southeast in the Kabaw Valley below Imphal.  Yasagye was the first of many dirt strips constructed in Burma with such amazing rapidity by British Engineers.

The XIV Army had its two l-Corps~the 33d and the 4th in this valley: 1 At Kalewa, where a road cut through the mountains to the Chindwin, and the great central plain of Burma, the 33d Corps turned East, and commenced its drive southeasterly.  The 4th Corps continued south down the Kale Valley, following the Myittha River.

Indiangale became the first huge airborne supply reservoir; and this, the 4th Combat Cargo Group filled to overflowing.  All but a few of its planes which were making daily "meat runs" to Imphal, and six planes of the 15th Squadron (on detached service to assist the 1st. Combat Cargo Group on it's move to China) were committed to the opening and prosecution of the Burma campaign.

The 4th CC Group moved to Argatela on the 1st of January and was stationed for the first time at a base where supplies could be loaded.  Sylhet never had been a loading point, and much time was wasted in flying to fields to loads.

Early in January there were three days of rain.  The dirt strips at Indiangale were quickly waterlogged.  On the first clear day, a C-46 piloted by Captain Clayton M. Doherty of the 15th Squadron and Captain Steve P. Ehrhard, of Group Operations made the first operational bundle dropping by C-46's of this Group.  The next day, many loads were dropped over the airfield at Indiangale: and, that night the first night bundle dropping by a C-46 was tried out.

The C-46 was not impressive as a bundle-dropping aircraft although several records had been established in the tonnage dropped in one pass.  It was with relief that the Group settled down again within a few days to landing with their usual large loads.

During January, the push across the heavily-guarded pontoon bridge at Dalewa, a few miles south east of Indiangale, led the 33d Corps into the foothills below which lay in the Central Burma Plain.  Before the month was out, the winding mountain road from Imphal and Indiangale was relieved of the burden of carrying rations, petrol, ammunition and miscellaneous supplies.  The C-46's began rolling into dirt strips at Ye-U while nearby villages were still burning from the strafing of P-47's and Spitfires, and the hammering of the 33d Corps Artillery.  The roads down from Indiangale were good, and the southward drive was on Schwebo road and the rail terminus above Mandalay very shortly became a standard haul for the 4th CC Group.

Towards the end of January, the 4th Corps, moved down the Kale or Myittha Valley 654 miles to Kan which lay right below the highest peaks of the Chin Hills.  Kan airfield was, like Indiangale, placed under the control of personnel of the 4th CC Group.  It was used throughout late January and February.  Actually it was over-supplied and later the Group had to return to make shuttle runs from Kan to more advanced fields.  The rapid advance of the British XIV in the Burma war made such forward shuttles frequently necessary.

As the battle line moved south, the runs from Argatala became longer.  On 1 February, the aircraft supplied the 4th Corps at Kan, and the 33d Corps at a constantly changing set of dirt strips.  Ye-U was abandoned-even Shwebo became too far behind the 33d Corps.  Budalin, southwest of Shwebo lasted only two weeks-almost long enough for the heavy C-46 to turn the single strip into a rough and bumpy landing ground.

Alon succeeded Budalin, and, eight miles south of Alon, Monywa airfield became a major supply landing base.  Fields farther east, close to the Irrawaddy, began to appear.  Allagappa airfield, immediately opposite the bridgehead made throughout the first of March.  Ondaw a few miles above Mandalay was flown to day and night.

Ondaw was the first of the forward strips where the 4th CC Group met Japanese 105 millimeter shells, a few of which occasionally reached the strips.  It was several weeks before these guns finally were cleared from the 1500 foot range of hills lying against the west bank of the Irrawaddy River above Mandalay.

During the last two weeks of February and the first week of March, the 4th CC Group went on an almost constant flying schedule.  Co-pilots, radio operators and crew chiefs were rushed in from B-24, B-25, and P-47 groups to relieve some of the tremendous strain of 20 hour operations.

The stepped up flying was closely keyed to the coming smash of the XlVth Army across the Irrawaddy River to establish a base behind the Japanese Lines.  Some C-46's would return to Chittagong from a fourth trip into Burma only an hour before they were to take off on their next day's flying.  (The 4th CC Group had now moved to Chittagong, India, chief port on the Bay of Bengal.)

In the last week of February, the C-46's began carrying to the forces of the 4th Corps, which had made their spectacular tank break-through to stand behind the Japanese lines at Meiktila.  This was the first time the Group aircraft had consistently flown over the Japanese lines.  Although a few aircraft were fired upon by LMG and MAA, only a few small-arms holes were made in the aircraft.  The first operative field in the region Thabutkon, was used for one week.  In the first week of March, the main strip at Meiktila was opened.  Thabutkon was closed, and promptly occupied by the Japanese, who were beginning to regroup, and pull forces into the area to attempt to smash the new isolated-by-land forces of the 4th Corps.

Flying to Meiktila became a routine job during the next week of March.  During this period, Japanese usually overran the airstrip each night.  The tower and all other personnel withdrew before dusk into a tank perimeter one-half mile west of the airfield.  Before the Japanese finally succeeded in closing the airstrip during daylight hours, a number of C-46's had off-loaded at Meiktila during the 75 and 105 mm shell fire on the field itself.

The fall of Mandalay at this time opened stretches of black gumbo, "Cotton Land" south west of Mandalay, on the south side of the Irrawaddy River.  Within two weeks time, five airstrips were built and three abandoned in favor of these chosen as the focal point of the 33d Corps activity.

CHAPTER 2

By the first of April 1945, almost all sorties were being made to the 4th Corps and 33d, Corps fields across the Irrawaddy River in the rich agricultural plain of Burma.  Myingyan was opened for day and night flying.  Meiktila, having successfully emerged from its siege, again was re-opened, this time for 24 hour operation.  Fields south of Mandalay of the war machine which sent a series of concentric lines around the Japanese forces.

The 4th CC Group again was stocking the fields with ammunition, rations (including beer and cigarettes) Bailey Bridges, small arms, bombs and all of the miscellaneous necessities of modern warfare.

The victorious British-Indian Army did not delay long at Meiktila and a few weeks after the Japanese pressure had ceased in that area, 17 Indian Division struck south.

During April, armored columns spurted down the Rangoon-Mandalay macadam road.  The first resistance came at Pabwe, a small town 26 miles south of Meiktila, where in a three-day battle, the Japanese were completely routed.  The first 12 days of the advance from Meiktila had cost them 3500 men and many guns.

Following this battle, 5 Indian Divisions took the lead, and in 16 days had covered 180 miles: Yatmethin, Pyinmana, Lewe, Thawatti, Thagaya, Yodashe, Kyungen, Toungoo, Oktwin, and Pyu were all left behind.

As the month of April neared an end, the armor and infantry pushed on to the Japanese stronghold of Pegu, an important rain and communication center.

Pegu was not only a natural defensive position, but also a cover for the enemy's escape to the east over the first bridges over the Sittang River.  The Japanese blasted those bridges and fought hard for the town.  As soon as the main rail bridge had been repaired, armored spearheads and infantry sped on toward Rangoon.

In the meantime other British-Indian units had overrun all of the territory west of Meiktila to the Irrawady River and were mopping up the remainder of the enemy forces between that line and Mandalay.

With that finished, they turned again to the sough to follow the Burma Railroad from Kyaukpadaung, half-way between Meiktila and the Chauk oil fields to Natmauk and thence down to Taungdwingyi.  From there they proceeded south along both the highway and railroad to Satthwa.

At this last town the forces separated, one following the railroad as it curved abruptly toward the southeast and then east to join the Rangoon-Mandalay railroad at Pyinmana: the other continuing south of the highway to reach Allanmyo, and forge on toward Prome.  It was along these three lines of advance that the 4th Combat Cargo Group was to unload its vital cargoes throughout the month.

The first field to open for these supplies during April was Taugtha, south of Mingyan.  This was ready on 5 April, and into it was poured nearly 200 tons within three days.

Kume opened for a limited life on 8 April, and in rapid succession, Thedaw, on 13 April, Bonzukan, on 15 April, and Kwetnge on 18 April were visited for the first time by the 4th CC Group aircraft.  These three latter fields were all clustered around Meiktila.

Along this all important highway-railroad route, other fields began to mushroom: Iewe, Tennant, Lalewa and finally Pyuntazis were opened by the Allied engineers.  To reach this latter field, planes of the 4th CC Group were flying 439 miles, and round-trips nearly 900 miles a mission.

Along the second route, that from Satthwa to Pyinmana, two fields were opened as supply depositories midway between the principal route on the east and the Irrawaddy River on the west.  One of these, Natmauk, was opened on 21 April, and the other, Taungdwingyi, received the first cargo on 30 April.

The third route, that running parallel to the Irrawady Rover, was static during most of the month.  However, one field Maida Vale, was opened on 30 April.  The run of only 260 miles south east of Chittagong was one of the shortest the Group was making at that time.

Thus, at the end of our third month of operating out of Chittagong, the line of flight, which in February stretched in northeast direction, had gradually moved clockwise to the east, and now was on a southeast course.  The flights that had taken but an hour and fifteen minutes before, now were about the three hour mark.

The accelerated schedule needed to reach these more distant fields, zoomed the hours flown for the month of April to 164,123.35 whereas the previous month only 16,717.35 hours were credited to the Group.  Despite the greater flying distances, the total tonnage hauled during the month was 26,055 tons or only 467 tons less than the 26, 522 ton peak deliveries of the preceding month.

In mileage flown the Group showed a tremendous jump.  Assuming the average ground speed of the C-46 to be 160 mph, the Group had flown roughly 2,956,013 miles during its April operations into Burma fields.

The rout of the Japanese had become complete.  They held few strategic points in Burma as May came in, and these were being threatened by the victorious forces of XIV Army.

The last battered remains of the Japanese at Pegu, gave way under the preponderant weight of the British-Indian combination.  The road to Rangoon was clear for the victorious Allies who raced toward Zayetkwin and momentarily stalled on the banks of a chaung at Heigu.

Meanwhile the 33d Corps, led by Lt.  Gen. Stopford, accelerated its advance toward Prome.  With that stronghold in its hands, it continued down the Rangoon-Prome road along the Irrawady River axis, toward the capital of Lower Burma.  In the wedge created between these two forces, thousands of Japanese were cut off from all means of escape.

As the Allied advance rolled southward, another surprise was in store for the Nipponese.  On 2 May 1945, transport planes of the Combat Cargo Task Force suddenly appeared over Rangoon, and hundreds of paratroopers of the 15th Corps spewed down to earth at Elephant Point, just south of the Metropolis.

The fields serviced by the 4th Combat Cargo Group during May formed a rough diamond shape.  At the northern head of the diamond, were Myingyan and Kinmagan.  These bases supplying the march on Prome.  They received 5296 tons of combat cargo at the hands of the 4th CC Group.  On the western point of the diamond was Magwe, which received 4283 tons.

Lying along the southeast facet of this diamond were Meiktila and Payagyi, where 2,783 tons were dumped by the Combat Cargo Group.  On 9 May Zayatkwin, 26 miles NNE of Rangoon was opened to supply the troops in the south.  This completed the diamond.

The 3 strips opened to this Group during the month of May were Ywataung, Magwe and Toungoo.  With the opening of the last named field, on 20 May, probably the greatest era of combat airstrip building the world ever had known came to an end.

Once more the 4th Combat Cargo Group had outstripped all others in the amount of supplies flown to the front lines.  During May, it hauled 20,002 of the total 53,687 tons request by Combat Cargo Task Force by the British-Indian Forces.

The highest priority items flown in during the Burma campaigns were Bailey bridging, medical supplies, gasoline, ammunition, rations, concrete and other miscellaneous materials for the construction and maintenance of the forward airstrips.  Of such supplies, large lots of rations, clothing, gasoline, and etc. were set aside and stockpiled in Central Burma areas for use during the approaching Monsoon season, when deliveries could be much more difficult.

CHAPTER 3

Although the accomplishments of the 4th Combat Cargo Group during May had fallen off from the March and April "high", they still are quite impressive.  During those 31 working days, the Group had flown 17,991 hours.  This was only 423 hours less than the flying time of April, yet total tonnage hauled was 6,053.  This decline was directly attributable to the greater distance that the Group was flying to "deliver the goods".

To reach this 17,991 total flying hours figure, the 4th CC Group ships were in the air on an average of 520.20 hours daily.  They flew 5,445 trips or an average of 175.6 loaded trips completed each day.

Actually the Group flew 8,547 stories during the month of May.  Of these, the above-mentioned 5,445 trips were completed with laden aircraft.  2,993 more were completed empty.

The Burma war, the first of its kind, was ready to take its place on the pages of history when the first days of June rolled in.  Brilliantly planned and executed it marked a new phase in the annals of warfare.  It's success had depended solely on air power, and more particularly on the arm thereof known as Combat Cargo, whose great worth no longer was a matter of conjecture.

The 4th Group's stay in the Combat Cargo Task Force and the British Forces was drawing to a close in early June, and sorties out of Patenga had been reduced to about 95 per day.  The great port of Rangoon was already in operations, and the essentials of war were flowing into it in a never ending stream within three weeks after it had been taken.  Chittagong had quickly become "back country".

One final burst of operations during the first 8 days of June resulted in the Group's putting 5,194.4 tons of material and personnel into Burma.  This was accomplished in 3,822.40 flying hours.

The activities of the 4th Combat Cargo Group may be epitomized in two sets of figures: (1) The total number of hours flown --- 465,302.55, and (2) the total number of tons of cargo and passengers hauled to the fighting front - 133,832.6.  These figures prove the Group to be the greatest air-cargo carrier for its size that the world had ever known.  During this six-month period the Group had flown the equivalent of nearly 550 "round-the-world" trips.

The 4th Combat Cargo Group's operations in support of the British XIV Army ceased on 8 June 1945, when the Group was moved from Chittagong to Myitkyina on the Irrawady River, where it started to fly supplies over the "Hump" to China.

The accomplishments of our Group and Squadrons is best measured by the participation in the campaign outlined above.  The Hump portion of the mission was a measure of the versatility of the organization.  The low loss of planes and crews in spite of the heavy flying schedule attests to the skill and dedication of the crew chiefs and their crews.


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