A Pilot's History: Chap. 5 -- The Hump

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[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]


Operations sent for me and I soon found myself on the way from Okinawa to Tokyo with a load of passengers. From there we flew to Manila where we took aboard a pilot from India who was familiar with the "Hump" (Himalayan Mountains) and had the necessary maps, radio frequencies, etc. We quickly took off for Kunming, China, and then to Tezgaon, India. There seemed to be a big "push" for some reason, but that was not shared information. Arriving at Tezgaon Airfield in India, just outside of Dacca, there was a four-day delay to get a local check ride to see if I could fly an airplane in their command. Sometimes the "procedures" really seemed unfit for the occasion. I observed there being a lot of pilots around that were not flying. "What's the story?" I asked. "Oh, they have finished their required flying and will have to wait awhile to get air transportation back to the Big PX." I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Procedures, again!

Life of (Relative) Luxury

Basha Hut

It was not all bad there, with good food and service in a pleasant Officers Club. I also ran into a couple of classmates that were well-established and waiting for transportation. Bill had a "basha" (thatched hut with solid concrete walls), very nice, and asked me to move in with him. He was a great companion. He showed me around and had me hire a servant, actually a young lad about eight years old, very pleasant to have around. In the evening when the sun was setting, Kim would sing very well in a soft, melodious voice. In the morning as I climbed out of the mosquito netting, he would hold out my pants so I could step in them and the same with the shirt. One thing he would not do and that was to rinse out a pair of socks, shirt or underwear. I got angry but Bill wised me up about the cast system. He really could not wash items. It takes some getting used to the cast system. This was the best living conditions I had experienced west of Honolulu. I was given a new co-pilot, radio operator and flight engineer. We did not require a navigator. On these short flights, with radio beacons along the route, navigation was not a problem. I had heard a lot of horror stories about 100-mph winds, solid instrument flying, and heavy icing, coupled with extremely high-altitude requirements to clear the mountains. The high winds and monsoon came at different times of the year to simplify things, plus we had good voice communications and navigational radio beacons to make it easy. The earlier crossings during the war had a different route farther north, which required a high altitude. The DC-3's and C-46s had engines that gave them a higher altitude capability than the R-2000-7 engines of the C-54s we flew. Our first trip was from India to Luliang, China, carrying drums of gasoline. We probably burned as much fuel as we delivered. A horribly inefficient way of delivering fuel, but it was about the only way. We sucked on oxygen masks most of the time, which inhibits conversation. So the pilot off duty would catch up on his reading while watching the clouds go by. It was easy to make a round trip without laying over in China.

News From Home

Ganges Funeral

I had pretty well kept my problems to myself about leaving California and Jeanne months before on a two-week flight across the Pacific. Now I was in India not knowing when I would return. The war was over but I couldn't put in for a discharge because I was not at my home base. I still had not heard from Jeanne and the baby's due date had come and gone. Bill and I were standing on the banks of a holy river watching the natives try to burn the bodies of the dead, but the soft rain and wet wood was making it difficult. "Congratulations," Bill said softly. He never spoke loudly. "Why, Bill?" I asked. "On becoming a father," was his answer. I then asked, "How do you know?" "My wife received a birth announcement from Jeanne and enclosed it with a letter to me." Having heard for the first time about my being a father, I continued to ask questions. "Hey, how about the details?" Bill replied, "I really do not remember any details but I might not have thrown the announcement out." We took a fast jeep ride back to the basha, as I was eager to find out all the information I could about my new baby. Bill found the announcement: It was a boy, on target date, and every one was well. After hearing the good news, it was a wet night at the bar in the "O" club in India. I was only six weeks late in finding out I was the father of a baby boy. Jeanne's letters, cables, wires and Red Cross messages never did reach me. Jeanne had driven herself to the hospital. I so wished I had been there for her. Most of my trips were routine but a few proved to be interesting. One was a trip to Karachi, across the vastness of India, to the shores of the Arabian Sea. It is a huge country, well diversified with a lot of desert. We flew low around the Taj Mahal and agreed that the white marble could use a good cleaning. Flying low over some villages, farms and vast masses of humanity, I felt Kipling was flying with us. After a trip over the Himalayan Mountains into China, landing on a little-used strip, I picked up a U.S. Army man with his Chinese companion who had been on a reconnaissance run behind the Japanese lines. There was a reward out for him by the Japanese troops, dead or alive, posted in the towns and villages. He did not know if everyone knew the war was over. He said a knife attack had recently been made on him in a hotel room. He thought it was time to leave.

Chinese Cross-Fire

Another of our trips to Kunming required an overnight stay due to our return load not being ready. My crew thought it best to sleep in the airplane. The elevation was over 6000 feet with a large lake bordering the airport. During the night, the temperature kept dropping, with a brisk wind blowing. With six blankets under me and six over, my teeth still chattered. Light machine-gun fire and rifle fire with tracers started flying across the airport. We did not understand what was going on. We got out of the aircraft in case it went up in flames. That night I was colder than I have ever been, even in Northern Greenland, the Canadian Artic or in Antarctica. The next morning it was explained the shooting was between two Chinese generals, each trying to get the upper hand, perhaps politically, militarily or materially. The base was mostly deactivated, but I was able to get my usual Chinese meals, four small chicken eggs for breakfast, six for lunch and eight for dinner. I never had stomach upsets on this restricted diet. General Chiang Kai-Shek wanted to get his Nationalist troops to Shanghai before Mao got his communist troops there. Shanghai was on the Yangtze River, which flowed through the rice basket of China ... therefore a large factor in the control of the rice supply. Several C-54's were dispatched to pick up Nationalist troops. I was ordered to pick up troops at either Luliyang or Luchow. China is one big mountainous country to cross. We arrived over the airport to pick up the troops only to find a solid undercast with a decent ceiling height below. The trouble was the airport was in a valley and a mountain peak or two was sticking up through the cloud cover into the bright sunshine above the under cast of clouds. Our ADF was on vacation and would not point out the radio beacon at the airport. We had the tower operator give us a long count on the radio and we would listen to the signal to get stronger or weaker. We thought we knew which peaks were sticking up through the clouds but we want to know for damn sure! The tower could hear our engines but could not pin-point our location. We slowed the aircraft down and eased into the undercast. It was not a healthy way to do it, but sometimes you just had to earn your pay and get the job done. It was only a couple of minutes of anxiety but we could all swear it was a lot longer. Needless to say, we were lucky again, but I was getting tired of having to be lucky to do my job. We loaded 80 Chinese troops, fully armed, when 50 would have been a normal load. We did have them unload their weapons before loading the plane. We did not have seats for all of them, but we pampered them by putting half of a 50-gallon drum in the center of the floor to take care of their propensity for getting airsick. Away we went, on our way to Shanghai.

There Are Japanese Here?!

Chinese Troops Marching

Landing at an abandoned Japanese airbase, a few miles from Shanghai, the crew and I secured the aircraft for the night and the co-pilot arranged for berths in an old Japanese barrack with cold water and slit trenches in the latrine. Not having a mission the next day, the co-pilot and I started out for the city. The airport was located in a farming area, so he flagged down a charcoal burning truck with two men in the cab and we stood up in the back. The charcoal burner put out enough gas for us to lope along about 15 miles an hour, as we headed down a narrow dirt road with ditches on each side and bordered with wet, muddy fields. I saw our Chinese troops ahead of us marching in column. Looking further up the road, I saw another column of men marching toward us. To my utter amazement, it was a Japanese company four abreast, with the Japanese flag up front, men fully armed and behind the troops men were pulling a long field artillery piece. There had been some talk that the Japs would not give up the land they had conquered and occupied in China and Manchuria, but they might try to set up a new Japanese government. The area was larger than the Japanese homeland and rich with raw material. I never expected them to be in Shanghai, certainly not fully armed. As the two columns approached one another, there did not seem to be enough room for them to pass on the narrow dirt road. I could see each column get into step and the soldiers stiffen up and shape up. We rapped on the cab and pointed to the side of the road. We jumped off the truck into the ditch and held our breath. Other than the tramp of the feet, you could have heard a pin drop. They had been killing each other for many years and I am sure that the rape of Nanking was in every one's memory as well as other atrocities. We were very still as the columns met, passing along side of each other as they continued their march down the dirt road. I presume they were as tense as we were and knew what a historic event it was to turn over a major Chinese city to the victors.

Shanghai Bargains and Bears

Shanghai was a shopper's paradise, with fine silk brocades selling for just US$1 a yard. A 15th Century bamboo brush-holder with finely carved hunting scenes sits on my desk to this day, with the complements of a Chinese gallery owner. Chinese paper currency was worthless. Shoeshine boys had stacks of it, amounting to millions of worthless Chinese dollars. There were no taxis about but we had plenty of rickshaws to get about the city. I marveled at how the men pulling us could trot long distances with their strongly muscled legs, seemingly not to tire. The Japanese were still in Shanghai and most were still armed. The number was reported as being about 280,000 troops. We returned to the airport in late evening light. In the barracks, we were to sleep in a small room with double-decked bunks. Three feet of space separated the head of the bunk from the wall, which I promptly filled with my purchases. I slept lightly, concerned about petty thieves and assassins. In the early hours I woke without moving a muscle and heard the crinkling of the paper on my packages. This went on for a while, with me wishing someone would turn on a light or enter the room. After a while, I felt a hot breath on my cheek and I could no longer lie quietly; I was imagining all sorts of events taking place. I whipped the cover blanket over my head at whoever was on top of my packages, and at the same time I hit the floor. In the dim light, to my great surprise, I saw a black bear standing on my packages and trying to untangle himself from the blanket. He stood pretty damn tall! I darted into the large room with perhaps a hundred cots and men and called for C.Q. (change of quarters) and yelled "There is a bear in here!" Those that heard me just groaned and rolled over. One voice said, "I wish I had a drink of that." Suddenly, there was a commotion as the bear loped through the cots for the door and another voice yelled, "My God, there is a bear!" I was glad no one shot him or their bunkmates. I was told he was probably a tame dancing bear that had escaped his owner. Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the end of my Bear Story.

Danger Isn't Past

We made trips to Luchow and Hangchow. Hangchow was supposed to be a scenic, large city, but to me it was a dark, deserted city, perhaps because of the war. We finished hauling cargo over the Hump. One of the cargo loads consisted of dismantled Coca-Cola equipment to Dum-Dum airport, outside of Calcutta. We soon left India for Manila and Guam, having completed our assigned task of over 30 trips over the Hump. Arriving in Guam, things appeared to be in chaos with the dismantling of the military. It was a mad house, with people trying to return on anything that would fly or float, to the U.S. I spent the night in a tent near the take-off end of the runway, watching all sorts of heavily laden, long-range aircraft taking off. We were enjoying a sundowner and the company of our peers. A B-17 lined up on the runway, put on full power, stuck on the runway for its full length, failed to lift off the end and then burst into flames. I knew that ended a lot of dreams. Someone made a mistake. Fate was still the hunter. [Continued with Chapter 6.]
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