January 1994 Issue By Lloyd A. Corkan
Courtesy John E. Thomas
Late in 1943, the War Department decided to reorganize several antiaircraft battalions of automatic weapons (semi-mobile) into air-transportable units. During February of the following year, it was my good fortune to be placed in command of the first of these, known as the 843d AAA AW Bn A/T. Since this unit was without precedent, many complex problems in equipment, movement, training and operations arose, the solution of which was both challenging and interesting. The personnel consisted of 25 officers, two warrant officers, and 700 enlisted men. Because of the availability of manpower at Camp Stewart, GA, early in 1944, it was possible to fill up the organization with able officers and excellent men. Having undergone artillery training during the preceding year, the personnel situation was fairly well stabilized. Non-commissioned officers were well acquainted with their jobs and few changes were necessitated by the reorganization of the battalion. Originally equipped with the standard four-wheel 40mm gun Ml on 40mm gun carriage M2A1, these were later replaced with the two-wheel model 40mm Automatic Gun Ml on 40mm Gun Mount M-5. The latter weighing approximately 4,000 pounds was considered much more adaptable for movement by air in the type plane usually available, i.e., C-47. Experience justified the selection of the lighter weapon, although due to its being equipped with airplane wheels, movement was restricted to dry terrain and for short distances only. In addition to the "40mm" equipment consisting of the guns, directors and power plants, each of the 32 sections had a single .50 calibre heavy barrel anti-aircraft machine gun. Originally this type armament was to be the multiple calibre .50 machine gun on mobile mount M55, but since they were not available when the unit left the Zone of the Interior, the heavy barrel machine gun was carried. Later overseas, 11 spread-beam mobile search lights were added, which along with bazookas, completed the crew served weapons of the unit. With the exception of motor personnel who were armed with the M-3 machine gun, all enlisted men carried the M-1 rifle. Initially, motor transportation consisted of 38 jeeps and 18 2-1/2 ton trucks, but the latter were deleted from the T/E of the unit shortly after it became airborne overseas. Air-transport training of the battalion was carried on intensively at Camp Stewart during February and March By use of mock-ups, training films and such literature as was available. In April, the entire unit moved by rail to Camp McCall, North Carolina, where experience was gained in flight-training. There, personnel were trained in loading and lashing the equipment in C-47, C-46 and C-54 aircraft. Because of the inability of the Air Corps to determine in advance, the type of plane available then it was necessary to work up very flexible loading plans. Whereas three C-47 planes were necessary to move an AAA AW Section, only two C-46 ships were required to accomplish the same task. Therefore, to have the unit tactically proficient, flexibility of loading and movement had to be highly developed. Returning to Camp Stewart in May, the unit found its time occupied by meeting POM qualifications as well as packing all of its material for overseas movement. By the end of the month all equipment, other than T.A.T., was in movement by rail to the Pacific Coast where it was transferred to ship for movement overseas. On June 14, the battalion left Camp Stewart, GA, and arrived at Camp Patrick Henry outside of Norfolk the following day. After two weeks spent in staging, the organization boarded the Navy transport "A. F. Anderson" and on the 29th, sailed out of Hampton Roads for Bombay, India. The next 44 days, made exciting by the constant presence of hostile submarines, were spent in transit out of Chesapeake Bay through the Caribbean Sea, Panama Canal, New Zealand, Australia, and finally through the Indian Ocean to India. After four days spent in "seeing Bombay," largely from shipboard, the battalion moved across India by rail over "The Great Indian Railway." Accommodations consisted of third class military coaches, railways of varying gauges, and numerous river ferries crossing at the native "ghats." Ten days later the unit reached its staging area at Teok, an abandoned air field in the upper Brahmaputra Valley. There, amid the monsoon, the command settled down to await its equipment. The latter had been shipped by water to Calcutta and then by rail to the battalion. While in the staging area near the India-Burma border, the troops had their first bout with malaria. Well trained in malaria discipline, the organization suffered little from disease which was ever present in the CBI theatre. There malaria, mite-typhus, dengue fever, and numerous other tropical diseases, were responsible for more casualties than the enemy. It was only units who constantly maintained the highest state of malaria discipline and strict sanitary measures that escaped. Passing through two monsoon seasons during the next 17 months, this battalion suffered little from disease. By early September 1944, the monsoon had abated sufficiently for General Stilwell to get his Burma campaign under way. The 843d had been attached to the Tenth Air Force upon arrival on the India-Burma border, so little time was lost shuttling the several batteries over the "Little Hump" to cover important air fields. Since the drive started at Myitkyina in North Burma, the battalion headquarters was established on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River above the ruins of the town. There, the unit from its CP directed the AAA operations of its own batteries as well as attached AA Machine Gun batteries, covering the General Headquarters in and about the town and reaching as far south as Mogung. Because of Allied air superiority, Japanese raids were few and then only of the nuisance variety, the battalion saw little combat. Yet so well had the men been drilled on "alert" procedures that each hostile target venturing near their fields was promptly driven away. So much training had been given to "air guards" that on one occasion when a hostile plane, with landing lights ablaze, attempted to sneak over a field at night in the wake of one of our own transports, it was immediately detected and taken under fire. The battalion remained in North Burma covering the fields of the 10th Air Force until the 23d of November. Late that day, it was ordered to West China and assigned to the 14th Air Force with the mission of protecting the fields of the 20th Air Force. The movement began the following day and was completed within 36 hours. On this occasion, the unit really had the flexibility of its loading plans thoroughly tested, since all batteries were shuttled from their respective Burma fields to individual stations in West Sczechwan, China, some 500 miles away. Although every battery had close to 100,000 pounds of men and equipment to move, in no case were more than five planes available to each. While loads were originally set up for C-47 type ships (5,000-pound pay load), in numerous cases C-46 planes (8,500-pound pay loads) were substituted. Complicating the situation to some degree was the fact that because of the necessity for rapid movement neither the battalion commander nor any of the battery commanders had an opportunity for reconnaissance. More than half of the flights were made during the hours of darkness, yet the entire transfer of the organization over the "Hump" was accomplished without the loss of a man or piece of equipment. It might be observed here that although several hundred sorties were flown during the sojourn of the 843d in CBI, the same good fortune was experienced by all of its personnel. The men were always loud in praise of the ability of the transport pilots while the latter ever expressed their appreciation of the rapidity and expertness of loading and lashing by the AAA. In West China, the battalion initially occupied four fields in the Chengtu area. Since they were designed for operation of B-29s, with runways of 9,000 feet, the task of covering each with but one battery was extremely difficult. However, with the employment of searchlights, which were supplied the unit on its arrival in China, the night defense of each field was materially improved. Since the fields themselves were separated 30 to 40 miles, the maximum use of searchlights belonging to Chinese AAA was utilized as "carrying lights." Here, too, the intensive training of gunners on the M-7 Computing and the Forward Area Sights paid off as directors and power plants of the battalion had to be left in Burma As was true in Burma, only nuisance raids were experience in China, never by more than one or two hostile planes. Each battery worked out of the "control" room of the 51st Fighter Group centrally located. Also, the battalion operated with P-61 night fighters, the guns taking targets up to 5,000 feet altitude, and the "Black Widows" responsible for those found above the level. With the capture of Saipan, the 20th Air Force abandoned their West China bases in the spring of 1945. This relieved the battalion of responsibility for covering two of its former fields. The batteries relieved were in turn sent north to cover air fields at Ankiang and Sian, respectively. These sites were behind the Chinese-Japanese lines in the vicinity of the Yellow River. In mid-summer, a third battery was reorganized for participation in a proposed landing on the South China coast by an allied task force. Before the latter operation could get under way the war ended. During the autumn, the battalion was reassembled near Chengtu, China, from which point its personnel was flown back over the "Big Hump" to Calcutta. After several weeks delay, it embarked for arriving home in December.
Flying Ack Ack