AIR SERVICE AND SUPPLY



Ex-CBI Roundup
March 1997 Issue

By Boyd Sinclair

Editor's Note: This story, written by Boyd Sinclair, is reprinted from the author's book series, "Confusion Beyond Imagination." For information about these books, contact J. F. Whitley Publishing, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Although air supply in CBI was the most decisive factor in beating the Japs, who had little if any of their own, still it was often a case of too little, and sometimes, too late, even as late as 1944. In the first six months of 1944, Chennault's 14th Air Force operated on supplies that could have been carried in a half dozen Liberty ships. A dozen of these loaded ships in 1945 would have been equal to a year's delivery over the Hump.

At around the same time, toilet paper was so short at the Hump airfields that newspapers and magazines were substituted.

"Read 'em and wipe," the GIs counseled.

Air supply in CBI really began with airdrops to refugees and Stilwell himself walking out of Burma in the spring and summer of 1942. Before the Hump air route was established, it was planned to ship supplies from Calcutta on the railroad to the Assam Valley, airlift them from there to Myitkyina, and from that point to float them down the Irrawaddy to Bhamo, on the Burma Road, where they would go on to China by that infamous thoroughfare. The Japs upset that plan when they captured both Bhamo and Myitkyina, necessitating more air transport to keep China in the war. General Wingate's penetration behind Jap lines in Burma in February 1943 was supplied by air.

With all this in mind, and with knowledge of the Burma climate and terrain. Stilwell directed that air-warning stations and other personnel along the beginning Ledo Road in the Naga Hills be supplied by air. Details of men came from laundry and ordnance organizations, the 51st Fighter Group supplied parachutes and packaging, the Ferry Command at Chabua furnished C-47s, and 1st Lt. Frederick L. Wood, Jr., an ordnance officer, was put in charge.

By the following autumn, air supply to combat organizations in north Burma was considered normal procedure. Combat supply troops selected delivery sites, Services of Supply troops stored and packed, and airmen delivered the goods.

When the Chinese opened the north Burma campaign in the fall of 1943, extensive air supply organizations were dedicated to supplying them: the 1st and 2nd Troop Carrier Squadrons, the 518th Mobile Quartermaster Battalion, which procured, warehoused, and packed, the 3841st Quartermaster Truck Company, which kicked supplies from the planes, and the 3304th Quartermaster Truck Company, which received and issued.

Air supply to the north Burma combat area increased from about 200 tons in April 1943 to nearly 1,400 the following December. To help the expansion, the Troop Carrier Command for four American and four British squadrons were activated under Brig. Gen. William D. Old that month with headquarters at Comilla.

Air droppers soon learned to use the C-47 on drop missions if possible because it was stable and dependable. If the cargo was stowed and secured far forward, it was easy to load and balance. When cargo was moved to the door in flight for kicking, it didn't affect flight stability. On the other hand, it wasn't possible to shift cargo in a C-46 without upsetting its normal flight attitude. It and the C-54 were useful only on transport at high altitudes for long distances.

The C-47 was such a dependable aircraft that in many ways it was still ideal for the air cargo business 40 years later. A. A. "Bud" Hulsey, a former Dallas, Texas, automobile dealer, spent nearly $1-1/2 million nearly four decades after the war building the nation's largest fleet of old propeller-driven cargo carriers. The C-47, because of its big cargo area and heavy lift capacity, began a comeback as a commercial air cargo plane in 1972 when a federal rule change made its use allowable by taxi-commuter carriers with a 7,500-pound load limit.

The 3962nd and 3964th Quartermaster Truck Companies of the 518th Mobile Quartermaster Battalion and the kicking crews of the 3841st Quartermaster Truck Company began their operations December 1, 1943, from the Sookerating Tea Factory. For nearly two months, all the equipment for air delivery came from the British and Indians. The first equipment from Uncle Sugar showed up at the supply center for Merrill's Marauders in Dinjan.

It was decided that combat troops at the front could handle distribution of air drops best, so the 3304th Quartermaster Truck Company was eliminated at the dropping points.

The personnel administration of the air supply kickers sometimes got somewhat involved. As Francis M. Yancey of Hinton, West Virginia, pointed out, his outfit, Company A of the 478th Quartermaster Truck Regiment, never had a truck, doing its duty kicking supplies in C-47s.

The unit had flown missions for six months when someone decided it should have flight pay for air-dropping. It was placed on detached service to four provisional air dropping platoons. Talk about confusion," said Yancey. "It took more men to drop supplies than there were in a company, so men from other outfits were placed on temporary duty to our outfit, then on detached service to one of the airdropping platoons - which existed only on paper. Four morning reports that no one wanted to see, and four sick books that even the doctors didn't care about."

The schedule of the Troop Carrier Command in north Burma was rigid, and 90% of supply requests were labeled "urgent," so naturally conflicts arose among combat troops, Services of Supply and the troop carrier airmen. After nearly six months of argument, the supply chief of Stilwell's field headquarters was authorized in May 1944 to set up priorities. This gave Stilwell control of air supply in north Burma, and the arrival of the 3d Combat Cargo Group in India not only gave that operation a lift, but also the British-led defense against the invasion of India by the Japs at Imphal. With the addition of the cargo group, the number of air transports supporting combat operations in Burma was almost doubled from a little more than 100 to nearly 200.

Up till this time, the techniques of air supply were by trial and error. Beginning with the last half of 1944, the system began to show excellent results. But, even so, it didn't always run like clockwork. Stilwell's headquarters, for example, asserted 60 drops were made to the Chinese 38th Division, but the 38th, supported by its American liaison officer, said it got only 25. Supply failures caused soldiers to dress wounds with parachute cloths. But air supply, when all was said and done, brought food for men, feed for animals, clothing, arms, ammunition, medical supplies, and equipment for five Chinese divisions, a British division, an American brigade, and a tremendous number of scattered service troops.

Aircraft were loaded at night for take-off at first light. When a transport completed a mission on time, it flew to points where cargo was available before returning to base. Industrial techniques and production lines to speed packaging were begun and operated around the clock. These improvements came from the initiative of all ranks, half of whom were American blacks. If the emergency were great enough, air supply people worked 24 hours a day. The cargo had to be flown on time if it were possible for men and machines to do it.

Supplies were landed at forward strips, parachuted, and "free-dropped" without parachute. Oil and gas in 55-gallon drums, around which sacks of rice chaff were tied to cushion it, were dropped under multiple parachutes, but they hit the ground hard anyway.

The Indians provided the first packaging and parachutes, among the first containers being the highly successful "country basket," woven out of bamboo, covered with hessian cloth, and set in folds of heavy rope fastened to the parachute. It was so strong and shock-resistant that it needed no rice chaff or sawdust around it. Even eggs survived in it.

Drop containers for supplies were constantly improved. Lt. Riley G. Jones, officer-in-charge of the Quartermaster Specification Branch of Services of Supply, developed a container that took 465 pounds and cost $3.50 each where former baskets carried 200 pounds and set Uncle Sugar back $54 apiece. Heavy machinery, delicate instruments, and high explosives were dropped without damage because they were packed and crated with utmost care.

Far more tonnage was landed at forward strips than was parachuted or free-dropped to the combat troops in north Burma.

Air supply to the Chinese combat units there had to be different in some respects and was replete with both comic and tragic events. Live chickens and hogs were dropped to them, for instance. Foolish Chinese soldiers ran onto drop zones while drops were in progress and got themselves killed by free-dropped cargo such as sacks of feed. They couldn't wait for the heavenly manna falling from the skies. Chinese soldiers let horses and mules drink blood plasma dropped to them, and when they were questioned about it, they admitted their animals were in no need of the veterinarian's attention; they just thought the plasma would be good for them.

It was easier to supply the Chinese than Americans or British, since a Chinese soldier got along fine on three pounds of food a day, compared to five for the Yankee or Limey. Variety in the diet meant nothing to the Chinese and he took care of what he got, while the American had to have a change, if possible, and often threw away almost as much as he received.

American liaison teams with the Chinese had trouble getting their own particular supplies. Even their mail vanished once it got into Chinese supply channels. If the Chinese got away with ordering more than they needed, it landed in Yunnan's bazaars at a whopping profit, for their idea was not to invest four dollars and make one, but to put up one and realize four. Medical teams had to move at double-time at supply drops to get the specia rations for hospitalized soldiers, as they knew the Chinese were out to get everything they could get their hands on.

On top of all this, trigger-happy Chinese sometimes fired on the supply transports in the drop patterns, thinking they were Japs. Naturally, under the unpleasant circumstances, the aircrews took them for Japs, fired back, and heaved the grenades they sometimes carried.

The supply chiefs learned to rely on the Bengal and Assam railroad to get the supplies up from Calcutta to the Assam airfields. River barges were often aground because of low water, which caused shortages, particularly in hessian cloth, rope, and parachutes. The idea for a big barge line died, and the big barges for it rusted in Calcutta till they were taken to Burma for use as bridge pontoons. The air supply situation was also improved when a teletype system was set up to get away from reliance on the Indian telephone lines.

Air supply crews lost planes, just like their brothers flying the combat arm. A total of 32 were destroyed in the first eight months of 1944, and 24 were damaged.

Air supply cost a lot of money, particularly if by parachute. Services of Supply said it cost nearly $2,000 a ton to parachute supplies, $100 a ton to free-drop, and $50 to land by plane. The big cost was the parachute, returned in less than 10 out of every 1,000 cases. Soldiers in the jungle had too many uses for them. They made good tents, were excellent cover on a cold night, and were fine for trading with the Burmese. The 50th Chinese Division surprisingly departed from the Chinese (and American) norm when it came to parachutes, however. It returned nearly 1,000, saving almost $40,000. The Air Force had to have its own system of intrasupply and intraservice, the first of which was the 10th Air Force Service Command, succeeded in August 1943 by the Air Service Command, which became the largest command in CBI.

The 10th Air Force Service Command was activated in May 1942 at New Delhi under Brig. Gen. Elmer E. Adler, and Col. Robert C. Oliver took over in August. Promoted after the first nine months of operation of the Air Service Command, Brigadier General Oliver was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Hanley, Jr. Personnel came from the first troops to come to CBI in a unit, the 51st Air Base Group, which arrived in mid-March and was soon scattered in detachments from Karachi to Kunming. Two months later, the 3d Air Depot Group landed at Karachi and set up shop at Agra.

The 10th Air Force Service Command got supplies in universal usage from Services of Supply and both repaired and manufactured aircraft. It contracted with Hindustan Aircraft, Limited, at Bangalore for repair and fabrication of parts for American planes and engines.

The Air Service Command's supply and maintenance function for the Air Force served as the "spokes for the air umbrella," as Maj. Thomas H. Moriarty so aptly put it.

The air service groups did everything in the way of repair, supply, communications, and housekeeping for the fighters, bombers and transports.

The air service groups, the 44th, 51st, 52nd. 301st, 329th, 381st, 3S3d, 54th, 61st, 305th, 380th, 382nd, 12th, 68th and 315th, carried on administration, flew planes, repaired and maintained them, searched for and rescued lost personnel, salvaged equipment, armed planes with bombs and ammunition, and trucked and stored goods. These outfits were made up not only of Air Force men, but Signal, Quartermaster, and Ordnance Department organizations as well. There were also members of the Chemical Warfare Service, Finance Department, Medical Corps, and the Corps of Chaplains in these 15 air service groups. In addition to the service groups, CBI had seven air depot groups, the 48th, 28th, 83d, 3d, 47th, 80th, and 84th, one of the largest at the Bangalore site of Hindustan Aircraft.

The service group men sometimes made improved and better parts than the manufacturers. Sgt. Townsley R. Wills of Tarboro, North Carolina, distinguished himself by designing a new recoil spring guide for a machine gun which was deemed better than the original. Sgt. Edward Dillen of Cleveland, Ohio, who arrived with the first Air Service Command outfit in India, made aircraft parts when there was none to be had. At the site of the future big air depot at Agra, when an emergency existed for parts, and no foundry was available, Dillen made a workable molding of GI molasses and river sand, fashioned his own crucible, and depended on salvage for metal. The ASC mechanics converted B-24s into gas-hauling transports and P-38 fighters into bombers.

Within a few months after the Air Service Command was activated in August, 1943, area commands were set up at Kunming, Chabua, and Calcutta. ASC headquarters was established at Hastings Mill, and the 28th, 47th, and 83d Air Depot Groups constituted operations for the Calcutta area, the three being known as the Bengal Air Depot.

There were service group operations outside China, the Assam Valley, and the Calcutta area. The 301st Air Service Group operated in Burma, as well as the 315th, which later supported the B-29s in China, the 382nd served at Chittagong, and various other groups operated between Calcutta and the Assam Valley. The 44th Air Service Group and the 89th Air Service Squadron of the 305th Air Service Group supported the 1st Air Commando Group and the Wingate-Cochran glider invasion of Burma. The 89th, after receiving the first shipments to the 1st Air Commandos addressed only to "Project 9", was transferred from the 305th to the 54th. ASC operated the Central India Air Depot at Agra, the Southern at Bangalore, and the 80th Air Depot Group at Karachi. The easternmost operation was the 12th Air Service Group at its Kweilin location.

By April 1945, ASC had more than 35,000 officers and men in India-Burma and more than 7,500 in China, these being the largest command in both theaters. By July 1945, 45,000 civilians, mostly Indians, worked for ASC, most of them at the Bengal Air Depot and the Bangalore operation.

ASC always had plenty of ammunition on hand to fight the war. In March 1944, for example, it delivered only 730,000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition out of a stock of 100 million rounds. The story was different when it came to bombs, however, serious shortages existing at times. Sufficient reserves of general puupose bombs up to 500-pounders did not exist till June 1945.

ASC had a good record at keeping the planes of operational units in commission. The percentage of aircraft in operation after June 1944 never fell below 73%, and the planes increased a lot faster than ASC strength.


Please send additions / corrections to