684th AAA Machine Gun Battery (Airborne)

Part II



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CBIVA Sound-off
Fall 1994 Issue

By Harold G. Russell, Jr.

(In the first installment of this saga, the 684th had undergone its training period at Camp Stewart, GA, shipped out from San Francisco 8 December 1942 on the He de France and arrived in Bombay 15 January 1943. Following the weeklong troop train tour of India, the battery made it to Calcutta and from there to Chabua where they set up their defenses and established their quarters. - Ed.)



PART TWO

PX items such as razor blades, tooth paste, cigarettes, cigarette lighters, flints, and pipe tobacco, (I am a confirmed pipe smoker) were in very short supply. You did without (or shredded cigarettes) until packages from home arrived, four months later.

Mail also was slow. I ran a little experiment. I sent three letters home, one air mail, one regular mail, and one by V-mail. The air mail letter arrived first followed shortly by the regular mail. The V-mail letter came through one week later. Stamps were hard to come by. Eventually we were given Franking privileges, and stamps were no longer necessary. Because of the lousy food, the shortage supplies, the want of PX goods, and slow mail, it was of no wonder that the saying developed, "The Japs are fifth on our list."

The weather in India and Burma varied. In winter, it was not too bad. The monsoons were a different story. Hot and humid with frequent downpours. It would pour cats and dogs and within an hour there would be dust on the roads. Letter writing was done in the early morning when it was cooler, but even then you would place a piece of paper under your writing arm so that the ink would not smear. Mold developed everywhere: on shoes, belts, and Jackets; in ears, and between the toes. One of our officers got a good case of "jock itch." He felt that ultraviolet treatment might help, so on a clear day, he sun bathed on a cot. He forgot that the ultraviolet treatment would also cause sunburn. He sure did walk funny for the next few days!


Captain Collard

As noted, the organic transportation of the 684th was two jeeps and jeep trailers. We needed more. I'm not saying that our men were a bunch of thieves, but they did have a knack for "moonlight requisitioning." There were a couple of traditional trucks around the Battery, but when British lorries started to show up at our gun positions, we put our feet down and most of the trucks were returned.

Gurkha Basketball

The infantry defense of Chabua was provided by a Company of the Mahindra Dal (A Regiment of the Gurkhas from the Kingdom of Nepal). Through the British liaison officers (Capt. Collard and Capt. Nicholson), we got to know the Subahdar and some of his men quite well. These fearless soldiers are very clean, industrious, and friendly when they are on your side. I still have a gift kukri given me by them. Capt. Collard was an interesting person. Only 23 years old, he had been wounded three times. He had been at Dunkerque, Tobruk, and Burma. We saw quite a bit of Capt. Collard - poker games and dinner exchanges.


Gurkhas ready for Kukris Inspection

We arranged for a basketball game between the 684th and the Gurkhas. The only stipulation was that the Gurkhas left their kukris at home.

While we were at Chabua, the Japanese were advancing on Fort Hertz (Putao) in Burma. It occurred to me that it was possible that the 684th might be called upon to cover an evacuation from Fort Hertz. It might be wise to look over the place. I hooked a ride on a C-47, flew over some snow covered mountains, landed, made some sketches, and returned. Fort Hertz was not much. Just a dirt strip with a few bashas. The C-47, which took off from Fort Hertz just ahead of us, must have attempted a straight climb over the mountains instead of circling to gain altitude. It crashed. It was an awesome sight seeing the wrecked plane and the oily black smoke against the crystal white snow. We circled several times, but saw no evidence of life, so we returned to Chabua. (None of the AAA Batteries were sent into Fort Hertz).


Rest camp at Shillong

I was sent to a five-day, British operated, Security Course at Gauhati. I found that there had been a mix-up on dates and I had arrived a week too early. I went up to the rest camp at Shillong to pass the time. Shillong is at 6000 feet on the Khasi Hills. The air is cool and dry as compared to the very hot and humid weather of the Brahmaputra valley. Some pine trees, neat lawns, and lots of flowers. There were horse races on Sunday, and I am quite sure that the same horses that raced on Sunday could be seen pulling wagons during the week. Shillong is also close to Cherrapunji. When the warm, moisture laden monsoon winds blow against the Khasi Hills; the air is forced upward, the moisture condenses and it rains. The annual rainfall at Cherrapunji exceeds 450 inches, making it the wettest place on earth.

The day I visited Cherrapunji was clear and I could see for miles across the Bengal delta. My stay at Shillong ended all too soon, and it was back to Gauhati.

The school had excellent instructors, and dealt with British-Indian matters (biased), as well as experiences that the British had had fighting the Japanese. Life at the school was different. We were awakened at 0745 by a bearer lifting the mosquito bar and serving a mug of hot tea. After a full breakfast at 0945 classes began. After lunch, classes ran until tea time at 1630. Dinner was served at 2000. This was a life-style foreign to American soldiers.

Drunken Tales

Now begins the alcoholic tales told to me of a lieutenant from a Highland Regiment, whom I first met at Shillong. The scene is Edinburgh. The lieutenant was on one of his evening drunks. On his way to another "spot" he was dumped into the back seat of a taxi where he passed into a drunken oblivion. Somewhere along the way, he roused enough to discern a place he knew. He said, "Here's where I get out," and did so while the taxi was going 30 miles per hour. They gathered him up and took him to a hospital where it took six weeks to piece him together again.

He was to return to his Battalion in Ireland but, as usual, he was "stewed." He wandered down to the docks and was carried aboard ship. He continued to drink as long as his supply lasted. Then it soaked through his soused head that the trip was taking longer than usual. When he sobered up enough to ask questions, he found that the ship was pulling into Cape Town, South Africa, on the way to India. He did his best to explain his way out, but no soap. A member of a cadre for India was very ill and was taken off the ship at Cape Town. The Lieutenant was put in his place to continue to India.

The Lieutenant got off the ship at Cape Town to replenish his liquor supply. He was so intent on his job that he forgot to notice where his ship was tied up. It so happened that right next to his ship was a sister ship. The Lieutenant had secured enough liquor to last him to India, and had drank enough to get him half way there. He staggered up the gangplank and into cabin 10, which was the right number, but someone else had had the audacity to move in with his baggage and had gone to bed. The Lieutenant threw the intruder and his baggage into the passageway, locked the door and went to bed.

In the morning, he discovered his mistake, sneaked back to his own ship and hid until his ship was clear of Cape Town.

The Lieutenant completed a Battle Indoctrination (Commando) course in India and earned a few days rest at Shillong. After such work a little indulgence was indicated. Well, he passed out in the club right in front of the General and his wife who made some remark about "intoxicated officers." The Lieutenant let It be known that some women he knew, talked too much; whereupon a Major escorted him outside. He went without any trouble, but later returned walking through a plate glass window on the way in.

I met the Lieutenant again at Gauhati. He came into the officers mess for breakfast with a quart of gin under one arm and a quart of lemon squash under the other. They were his breakfast. Then he got banged up a good deal when he fell down a flight of 15 stairs.


China-based B-24

A Close Encounter

In addition to being a shipping point for food and material going to China, Chabua was an airfield where China based B-24 bombers received rear echelon maintenance, such as engine changes. When we saw a B-24 "slow-timing" an engine on the ground, we could be pretty sure that in a short time it would take off for an engine check.

Such a flight was an invitation to hook a ride. Now I loved to fly. While at Fort Monroe, Virginia, I would go over to Langty Airfield, get a ride on anything available, even an old B-18A. When in San Diego, I rode in primary trainers and in Navy SNJ's.

One day I saw a B-24 "slow-timing" an engine and started to make arrangements for a ride. The plane was parked in the middle of a huge pool of standing water. I said, "To heck with it," and went on my way. That afternoon the B-24 took off with a complement of passengers. During the flight, the pilot dropped down and "buzzed" the Brahmaputra River. There was a cable operated ferry that crossed the river. The plane hit the cable. The belly of the plane was ripped out along with four of the passengers (who were never found.)

Somehow the pilot managed to keep the plane airborne and managed to return to Chabua. Wheels were lowered by hand but there were no brakes. The plane got to the shoulder of the runway where there were small ditches which drained water from the runway. The plane hit one of the ditches and buckled nose down. Those passengers in the nose (where they were not supposed to be during a landing) had to be cut out.

The pilot took off and hid in the tea patches for several days before he turned himself in. He was later court martialed and sent back to the States. My ardor for flying cooled considerably after this incident, and I flew only on business. No more Joy-riding!

We had a casualty. Pvt M__ was cutting out the end of a 55 gallon drum with a cold chisel and was doing so without safety glasses. A piece of steel flew and put out an eye. The real strange thing about It was that during World War I, his father had been pounding on a steel drum; and had lost an eye.

Move to Tezpur

In October 1943, we moved by train to Tezpur. Capt. Adkins had checked into the hospital so I was in charge of the move which went quite smoothly. Tezpur was further from the "Hump," but closer to Imphal and Kohima where the ' British were repelling a Japanese attack. The country is flat with no hills for about 40 miles in all directions, but on clear mornings we could see the snow-capped Himalayas. There was nowhere near the air activity at Tezpur as there was at Chabua.

We emplaced our guns and lived in tents until our bashas were built. My first discipline case concerned a gun crew which had painted the gun mount red, and refused to remove the paint when told to do so by the platoon commander. We now had three new noncoms who would do what they were told to do when they were told to do it.

Once the guns were emplaced, we had plenty of time for recreation. We played badminton in the evenings and cards after dark.

One evening, after a badminton game and showers, one of our men saw something on the ground under his tent. He stomped it and kicked it outside. The next morning he saw what it had been - a Banded Krait. This is one of the most poisonous snakes in India.


Lt. Largay

I played cribbage against Lt. Largay. He usually won. When we could get enough officers together, we played poker. We also read a lot of books.

One night the Red Cross came over. I got a phonograph from one of the day rooms and the men had dancing lessons. We used a blast pen for the dance floor and unfused bombs served as chairs. We also organized a few deer hunts - on elephant back. I was surprised how hairy the creatures were, and how fast they moved. We shot no game on the trip I went on, but we had a darned good time.


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