51st AIR SERVICE GROUP



Source:  AFHRA Microfilm Roll #B0818

HISTORY OF 51ST SERVICE GROUP
from date of Activation to May 31, 1943 (Inclusive)

Early in 1941 the 51st Air Base Group was activated at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, but shortly after its inception moved on to MacDill Field at Tampa, Florida.  The call for overseas duty reached the group while it was at Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida.  Morrison Field acted as a group collecting point for almost all the organizations then assigned to the group met there and collectively made plans for the trip across the United States to the San Francisco Port of Embarkation by way of the Sunset Trail Route.

Taking stock before leaving it was found that the following organizations were present and would comprise the 51st Air Base Group:

Hq and Hq Squadron
54th Materiel Squadron
Co "H", 31st QM Co (Trk)
Detachment 3rd QM Co Supply (Avn)
686th Ordnance Co (AB)
729th Ordnance Co (AB)
Co "B", 89th QM Bn (LM)
43rd Signal Co (Avn)

These then were the organizations which left the United States on the former luxury liner and now Army Transport Mariposa at 3:25 A.M. January 13.  The vessel sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to the harbor to join the cruiser Phoenix and USATs Monroe and Coolidge which made up the convoy.  The small convoy crossed the Equator for the first time on January 25th.  On February 1st the Mariposa docked at Melbourne, Australia and on the following day troops debarked for Bacchus Marsh to which they proceeded by rail and from that point to Camp Darley by foot.  The walk seemed all up hill and after the five mile hike the men dropped onto straw filled mats to settle down to a ten day feast of mutton.

On February 12th the troops left Camp Darley by truck for the dock area and at noon embarked on the USAT Katoomba which had carried troops in the last war.  The Katoomba, Holbrook and the Duntroon arrived at Fremantle on the 18th and there the told aircraft tender "Langley" loaded with P-40's, joined the convoy together with the US freighter, Seawitch.  The Phoenix was left behind.  The officers of the group had been told in Australia they were being sent for duty to Java but as events proved they never reached that island.  The group was on its way there when word was received of the Japanese invasion of that area and of the collapse of allied resistance.  The tender "Langley" pulled off perhaps to sneak into one of the harbors of Java, but at any rate she never reappeared to those on the convoy and it was on landing in India that the news was delivered that the "Langley" had been sunk.  The convoy made one other stop at Columbo, Ceylon on March 5th before pulling into Karachi harbor on March 13th.  It is hard to describe the position of the 51st Air Base Group for everything was in such a condition that plans and planning were subject to change almost without notice.  Whether or not the high command had ever planned on sending troops to India at that time it is quite certain that the 51st had not been included in those plans for no preparations had been made for its arrival in that country.  When the time came for disembarking the troops were moved into the huge Airship shed, Reinforcement Camp, west wharf, and there they began their round of working eating sleeping and living until a camp could be constructed for the Americans on the outskirts of the town.  Some of the organizations managed to bring their equipment and were not so badly off. Others had packed their property on their motor vehicles.  These latter units were the unfortunates for, although arrangements were made to send the vehicles by the next convoy from Australia, nothing more was ever seen or heard of vehicles and organizational equipment.  The biggest handicap for all units was the absolute lack of transportation.

Meanwhile certain of the companies had already started breaking up their complete units.   For example, the present 1100th QM Co left one distributing point in the Fiji Islands.  So did the present 59th Materiel Squadron, although strictly speaking it was not at that time a member of the Air Base Group.  So far as is known the 59th Materiel Squadron was never relieved from assignment from the 45th Air Base Group, but this latter group or at least the headquarters of it remained in Australia.  However, upon arrival in India the 59th was attached for administrative purposes to the 5lst Air Base Group and remained with the group at Karachi until the Tenth Air Force Service Command ended the attachment and proposed splitting up the 59th into six base units.  There were to be base units in China, Dinjan, Chakulia, Allahabad, and one that was to be held in readiness for transfer to the Middle East Theater of operations in support there.  This was at the time of the Axis thrust into Egypt when certain American units in India were actually sent Egypt.  The stiffening resistance of the allied troops changed the planning here and that one base unit remained in this theater.  By that time the 59th was in a peculiar position for under orders from the Tenth Air Force Service Command it was operating as a separate organization under no group and directly responsible to the Air Service Command.  So far as is known there is no similar parallel in this theater.

In Karachi the 51st Air Base Group was hard at work.  Quartermaster personnel was handling local procurement of subsistence until the formation of an SOS in June 1942.  Two officers and 19 enlisted men performed the complete base quartermaster functions for better than 5,000 troops at one time, and for an average of 3,800 during the whole time that it remained in Karachi.  With little previous training in the states these men planned menus, procured, broke down and distributed subsistence, purchased property locally, set up and ran warehouses, and handled such other items as salvage, shoe, tent, and typewriter repair, and laundry facilities.

Company B of the 89th QM Bn was doing a distinctive piece of work for in Karachi near the dock area it had set up an assembly line and as soon as the incoming vessels were unloaded it would begin to assemble whatever motor driven equipment was to be gotten ready for assignment to various units in the theater.  Although most of the assembly work was done on motor vehicles since that was an integral part of the function of that organization that was not the only extent of its job.  There were tractors and steam rollers, P-40's, power plants, special type vehicles which most of the men of the assembly line had never seen before.  Mechanical genius abounded and many were the visitors who came to see one working example of the famed American assembly line.  There was a great need for such an organization and many a plan was hatched in the minds of those involved for the formation of a port assembly unit.  One of the changes of this war was the introduction of the port battalion.  Just recently a Port Ordnance Assembly Company has been organized by the War Department with the job of doing nothing but assemble all the power driven equipment arriving, at a certain port.  

The amount of work done by these companies was matched by all the companies and squadrons in the group.  There was no routine and regular hours of work that the men could fall into.  Whatever work had to be done they were the ones to do it.  There was no one else to depend upon.

And during the stay in and around Karachi many changes were taking place in the designations of the units.  A few days after Company H of the 31st QM Regt had left the states or on January 16th 1942 to be exact, General Order #1, Hq Air Force Combat Command, Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., changed the designation to Detachment Hq and Second Platoon, 743rd QM Co Trk., but the company did not hear of the change until May 7, 1942.  The original group was joined by Lt. Yates and 73 enlisted men (Shipment 1598-F) on July 24 and then in October 26 the company was again redesignated, this time to the 1935th QM Co (Trk) Avn by paragraph #1 of General Order #31, Hq USAF in I & C, 10th US Air Force, New Delhi, India.

Under the authority contained in confidential letter from the Adjutant General's Office dated January 22, 1942, File 320-2, Co B of 89th QM Bn (LM) was disbanded and the inactivated personnel were transferred to the 866th QM Co (LM).  Later in the same year 10th Air Force General Order #19, Section H disbanded the 89th QM Bn (LM) and activated from it the 602 and 603 QM Platoons LM (Avn) with station of activation at Karachi, India.  General Order #29 had even more changes to make.  The 602nd QM Platoon LM (Avn) became the 602nd QM Co LM Avn and a similar change was made for the 603rd QM platoon.  Under the provisions of Section IV of War Dept. Circular No 245, dated.  July 25, 1942 the newly designated organizations were transferred to the Ordnance Department.

The 729th Ordnance Company, Avn (AB) was redesignated as the 1046th Ord Co (Avn) AB per General Order #34, Hq 10th Air Force, on December 1, 1942.

On September 2, 1942, the 43rd Signal Platoon was redesignated as the 43rd Signal Company Service Group by General Order 21, Hq USAF in I & C, 10th U.S. Air Force, dated August 28, 1942 without change of station.

In the United States at the Experimental station of fort Dix a new set up for servicing the U.S. Amy Air Force had come into being under the title of Air Service Command with headquarters at Wright Field, Ohio and later at Patterson Field, Ohio.  Successful in the states the new type of organization was sent around the world for adoption and in this theater the 51st Air Base Group and all attached units were assigned to the Air Service Command on July 22, 1942.  Then on September 16, 1942 General Order #23 of the 10th Air Force changed the designation of the 51st Air Base Group Hq & Hq Sqdn to 51st Service Group Hq & Hq Squadron.  The 54th Materiel Squadron became the 54th Service Squadron and 59th Materiel became the 59th Service Squadron.  But with the passage of time even more important changes were brewing.

Hq & Hq Squadron personnel were transferred to become the Hq & Hq Sq personnel of the newly organized 80th Air Depot Group.  The personnel of the 54th Service sq were transferred to become a service squadron for the same group.  General Order #4 of the 10th Air Force was published on January 27, 1943 and under the provisions of Section III Hq & Hq Sq was to be transferred less equipment and personnel from Karachi to Chabua in Upper Assam effective the 1st of February.  The personnel of Base Unit #3 of the 59th Service Sq which had been previously stationed by order of the Air Service Command at Dinjan were transferred by the same order and became the Hq & Hq Sq of the Group.  Other personnel were obtained from 3rd A.D. Group and fillers from the states.  The Base Unit which had been stationed in Kunming now became the 54th Service Sq.  By the same order the Headquarters of the 59th Service Squadron which was in Allahabad was ordered moved to Chabua but would retain its own identity.  From all this it is clear that in reality, the Air Corps troops of the new 5lst Service Group which was set up in Chabua was a broadening out of the old 59th Service Sq.  This squadron, which has received the commendation of General Bissell for its fine work, provided the Hq & Hq Sq of the Group, the 54th Service Sq servicing the 14th Air Force in China, and the 59th Service Sq, all this without the benefit of the detachment 59th Service Sq still left at Dum Dum or ASC Base Unit #6 at Bangalore.  Survival of the fittest must really describe the 59th for it shed officers and enlisted men and was split up almost innumberable times but it always had the strength and ability to stand up under the strain of working with reduced and sometimes untrained personnel and still managed to do its job well and faithfully with not too much complaint.  Rated among the top Mteriel Squadrons when it left the states it has done much to live up and even/increase the value of that title.

The attached service units were gradually moving their station from Karachi to Chabua.  On November 28th, 1942 Lt Yates and 25 enlisted men of the 1935th QM Co Trk left Karachi for Chabua under secret orders.  And on December 20, Captain Pritikin and the rest of the company followed.  The 1602nd Ordnance Co MM Avn Q (the name had again been changed by General Order #2 of 1943, Hq 10th U.S. Air Force) moved up to Chabua also in December.  On February 8, 1943 the 43rd Signal Co. moved out of Karachi and up to Chabua.  The 1046th Ord Co. had left Karachi in January and were set up in a bamboo bari at Balijan in Upper Assam.  Meanwhile the Detachment 3rd QM Co Supply (Avn) had become the 114th QM Co Service Gp (Avn) and it was this company that arrived in Chabua on February 21, 1943.

10th Air Force General Order #4 provided for the disposition of the 1603rd Ordnance Co MM Avn which had been formed on the breakup of the 866th Ord Co in Karachi.  This organization was reassigned to the 305th Service Group stationed at Ondal and its place was taken by a former unit of the 305th which had just recently arrived in the theater.  This unit, the 638th Ord Co, had been left behind by the 305th when it left the states and, until it too finally received its movement orders, was in somewhat of an orphaned state never knowing if it had been reassigned or was to be another of the bastard organizations that the war has produced.  This general order cleared up the difficulty by relieving the Ordnance Company assignment to the 305th and reassigning it to the 51st Service Group without change of station.  Furthermore by secret letter, the unit's designation was changed from the 638th Ord Co MM Avn Q to the 1638th Ord Co MM Avn Q.

When the 5lst Service Group was moved to Chabua Lt. Col. Lee W. Fulton succeeded Col.George H. McNair as the commanding officer under authority contained in Radiogram (Secret) Hq USAF in I & C, 10th U.S. Air Force dated 26 January 1943.  Col. Fulton seemed a happy choice for the position having, as he did, a long experience in the Army and an education which would fit in well with the nanifold duties which would confront him.  As a student at the Normal University of Illinois, Col. Fulton pursued a course of instruction which he felt would be of great benefit to an army officer - a course consisting of some medicine, surveys of various fields and a specialized study into psychology with special emphasis on that psychological force needed to influence rather than to coerce individuals to make wortny use of their leisure time.  Originally commissioned as an Infantry Officer in the National Guard in 1930, he was recominissioned in the Field Artillery in 1932 by competitive examination.  Beginning in 1933 he was on active duty with various CCC units and for a major part of his service in this field he was engaged in trouble shooting which helps account for the thirty or more separate moves he made since entering the army.  Transferred to the growing Air Corps by War Dept. Orders on January 1, 1940, Col. Fulton served as C.O. for the 31st School Squadron at Jefferson Barracks for three months, as Post S-3, and as Post Adjutant for one year.  He arrived in this theater as a major in command of the 3rd Air Depot Group.  Later he was superceded in command and became the group S-2 and S-3.  From the 3rd Air Depot Group he was sent out to assume command of Base Units 3 and 5 of the 59th Service Squadron in Dinjan-Chabua area.  He was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel on January 1, 1943.

Upon the arrival of the 59th Service Squadron from Allahabad the commanding officer, Major Henry Schweitzer, was relieved from command and made executive officer of the group.  Major Schweitzer in civilian life is member of the law profession.  He received his A.B. from Pomona College and his LL.B. from the University of Southern California Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1932.  From 1928 until 1941 he served as a member of the staff of the city prosecutor and city attorney's office of the city of Los Angeles.  His original commission was received through ROTC in the Infantry Reserve.  When called to active duty in August 1941 he was assigned to duty with the Air Corps.  He attended the Adjutant General's School in Sept and Oct 1941 and was assigned to work as adjutant for the 59th Materiel Squadron at Hamilton Field.  A First Lieut. when he left the states he was promoted to captain on February 26, 1942 and to major almost a year later on February 2, 1943.

The theoretical Service Center employs between 1250 and 2500 enlisted men and officers in servicing two complete combat groups.  At the present time there are about two thirds of the smaller number serving two ferry groups, a fighter group, and other smaller units in India and the 14th Air Force in China.  In addition almost every unit in the group has enlisted men on detached service throughout India.  The following figures show the gradual growth of the 51st Service Group since its removal to Chabua:

February 28thOfficers & W/O39
Enlisted men624
March 31stOfficers & W/O41
Enlisted men634
April 30thOfficers & W/O50
Enlisted men691
May 31stOfficers & W/O55
Enlisted men803

Having arrived without tools and equipment the l638th Ord Co was immediately broken up into two groups; one group being sent to handle ammunition with the 1046th Ord Co and the other group with the the officers being attached to the 1602nd Ord Co to do motor maintenance work.  Such an arrangement might have gone on indefinitely were it not for the fact that operations of the India China Wing of the Air Transport Command were steadily increasing in scope and new fields were to be opened first at Jorhat and Tezpur and later at a number of other fields.  With a service group at half strength serving more than its normal quota of two full groups the need for manpower was critical, and so it was planned to use the 1638th Ord Co in operating an ASC Refill point at Jorhat for the Jorhat-Tezpur area.  All men on detached service from the Air Service Center installations were to be attached to the Ordnance Co for administration and when the organizational equipment of that company finally arrived from the states it could then begin its planned operations as a mobile third echelon shop.  For a while this plan operated with some success but other conditional circumstances were entering the picture and present plans call for the return of Air Corps Supply, Signal Supply to Chabua and the establishment of a Quartermaster DP in the town of Jorhat.  The eventual disposition of the Ordnance Co is as yet undecided principally because of a projected reorganization of a service center ordnance setup.

On the 23rd of February, a sizeable force of Japanese bombers and fighter escort droned over the Chabua area. Anti aircraft fire kept them at a high level and damage from bombing was slight and of such a nature that it could easily be repaired.  The work of the Detachment 235th Signal Operations Company, on detached service with the Service Group, and commanded by 1st Lt John W. Gaustad, was especially praiseworthy.  The following letter was sent to Lt Gaustad by Lt. Col. Fulton and a copy indorsed on to General Bissell in New Delhi:

H E A D Q U A R T E R S,
FIFTY FIRST SERVICE GROUP
Office of the Commanding Officer
Chabua, Upper Assam, India
LWW/ehh

24 February

SUBJECT:Commendation.
TO       :Commanding Officer, Detachment 235th Signal Company, A.P.O. No. 629.

     1.  I wish to commend you and your organization for the excellent work performed following the Japanese raid on this area on 23 February 1943.

     2.  The efficiency and rapidity with which your unit repaired and reinstalled communications is indicative of excellent training and a high morale.

     3.   A copy of this letter is being forwarded to the Commanding General, 10th Air Service Command.

/s/ Lee W. Fulton
/t/ LES W. FULTON,
Lt. Col., Air Corps,
Commanding.

One other result of this raid was the first and, to date, the only award of the Purple Heart medal for injuries received in action against the enemy.  The award announced in General Orders #2, Hq 51st Service Group, AAF, dated 18 March 1943:

GENERAL ORDERS )
)
NUMBER             2 )
HQ, 51ST SERVICE GROUP, AAF
Chabua, Upper Assam, India
18 March 1943.

        1.  The PURPLE HEART is hereby awarded to Staff Sergeant Woodie D. Drinkard, 14015395, **** Quartermaster Company Truck (Avn), for wounds received on 23 February 1943, during a raid on an airdrome in Assam, India.  Sergeant Drinkard drove his truck to cover under a large tree and upon dismounting from the truck was struck by fragments from enemy bombs causing injury necessitating medical treatment.  Home address: 613 West North Street, Dothan, Alabama.  Next of kin: Mrs. Hattie Drinkard (mother), 613 West North Street, Dothan, Alabama.  Auth: Army Regulations 600-45 (C-4) War Department, Washington, D, C., 8 August 1932, and Memorandum 75-2, Headquarters U. S. Forces in India & China, 10th U. S. Air Force, New Delhi, India, dated 2 March 1943.

By order of Lieutenant Colonel FULTON:

J. A. REKTORIK,
1st Lieutenant, Air Corps
Adjutant.

OFFICIAL:
/s/ J. A. Rectorik
/t/ J. A. REKTORIK
1st Lieutenant, Air Corps,
Adjutant.

Two days later on the 25th of February part of the Japanese Air Force again came over but again damage was negligible.

Of almost more consequence than the visits of the enemy air force was the acute shortage of motor vehicles in the Chabua area.  For several months the 1935th Trk Co operated with a very small number of vehicles.  At one time with only eighteen vehicles assigned and with ten of them on the deadline the remaining vehicles were run twenty four hours a day in order to keep the supply of rations and other critical items flowing.  Until just a short while ago transportation was a problem which curtailed many activities.  Now that the vehicles are arriving in some numbers the next big problem is that of motor vehicle parts.  In order to keep vehicles running the third echelon shops have had to delve deeply into forth echelon work and perform small miracles with the limited shop equipment on hand.  Some indication of the shortage of spare parts may be gained from the fact that springs have had to be welded and many a prayer uttered that the welding job would hold up until the next box of spare parts should arrive.  When Dodge transfer cases began giving up the ghost the 1602nd Ord Co began making mud slingers to prevent the entry of mud and sand.  The slingers worked well and a description of the field modification with a request that it be forwarded on to the manufacturer was sent on to New Delhi and won approval there.  Meanwhile all Dodge light vehicles were equipped with the homemade device and the transfer case mortality rate dropped rapidly.  Problems such as this were met continuously all along the line and by all the organizations.  Hard work, ability, and loyalty were being manifested without any thought of reward or praise and in most cases there was no reward or praise. But that didn't stop anyone from solving the next problem vhen it came up.

On May 23rd, the 54th Service Squadron was relieved from assigned to the 51st Service Group and assigned directly to the 14th Air Force.  Greatly under strength, the squadron and a greater number of Chinese craftsmen maintained and are still maintaining the entire 14th Air Force from its base at Kunming.  However, the Assam area continues to be an advance depot for air corps and other supplies for the Air Forces in China.


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