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U.S.A.A.F. Combat Cargo Groups of the Second World War

1st Combat Cargo Group, 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron

 

Introduction

Major John K. Moriarty

     Regarding your questions about my own background, I graduated from Birmingham-Southern College, in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1941 with a B.A. degree in English literature and a minor in Economics.  In my senior year (1940-41) I also completed the basic Civilian Pilot Training program, which was subsidized by the federal Government, and received my private pilot's license (40 hours in a Piper Cub).  Shortly after graduation from college in May 1941 I applied for the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadets, was accepted, and entered the AAF pre-flight program at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, AL. in early October.  (The AAC became the AAF in June 1941.)  I then went on to Primary Flying School in Jackson, Miss., Basic in Greenville, Miss., and finally Advanced Twin Engine School in Columbus, Miss., where I graduated in May '42 as a 2nd Lt. in Class 42-E.  (As I mentioned in our conversation, the attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place while I was in Primary, and for a couple of months we flew and trained on a seven-day-a-week schedule.  This practice went on until somebody eventually realized the war was probably going to
last quite a while and this was no way to conduct it.  I might also add, as a bit of private puffery, that I was selected as one of the two cadet captains in both Primary and Advanced; in this respect my earlier four years of high school ROTC became a great help to me in drilling and managing troops.)

     My whole graduating class at Columbus (as well as the classes from several other twin engine schools) was funneled into the newly-founded Troop Carrier Command which, aside from a few senior personnel, had virtually no pilots.  My first station was Camp Williams, Wisconsin, where our instructors, using DC-3 aircraft pulled directly from the airlines, were former airline pilots recently recalled to active duty. (Most airline pilots had originally graduated from military
flying schools, completed their mandatory three years active duty, and then gone to the airlines, while keeping their reserve commissions.)  At Camp Williams we soon began to receive new C-47 aircraft, and these became the basic aircraft of the new squadron to which I was assigned, the 3rd Troop Carrier Squadron.

The newly-created 63rd Troop Carrier Group (made up of the 3rd, 9th, 52nd, and 60th Squadrons) was deployed over the next couple of years at some fifteen or twenty different stations all over the United States--from Wisconsin to Michigan to North Carolina to Georgia to Mississippi to Texas to California to Missouri and other places in between.   During this process, we flew on maneuvers with the 82nd and 10lst Airborne Divisions for a number of months, towed gliders off dry lakes in California, and eventually began to train troop carrier replacement crews fulltime.  In the spring of '43, I was made commanding officer (as a first lieutenant) of the 60th Squadron. By the spring of '44 (I was a captain by this time), I had gotten very tired of training replacements in the ZI (Zone of the Interior) and got myself put on orders as First Pilot on a replacement crew for an overseas unit. Shortly before I was to ship out, my orders were cancelled and I was sent to Bowman Field, Louisville, KY, to become commanding officer of the 3rd Combat Cargo
Squadron in the newly organized 1st Combat Cargo Group.  (I have since realized that this was in many ways a great stroke of good luck:  If I had arrived as a replacement in almost any overseas unit I would have immediately been persona non grata.  No existing outfit wants a new, extraneous captain coming in to fill one of the few available T/O (Table of Organization) captains’ slots, on which a number of greedy eyes are already fixed.)

                                                   
  3rd Combat Cargo Squadron

The Combat Cargo concept involved: (l) a flight squadron of 30 C-47s with about 80-90 officers (all pilots except for some half dozen ground officers) and 100+ enlisted personnel (aircraft maintenance, communications, and a minimumof administrative and other specialists) who could move, set up rapidly, and even operate for a while on their own innew stations; plus (2) an Airdrome Squadron, which was intended to furnish more substantial support for basic functions such as aircraft maintenance, communications, vehicle operations and maintenance, supply, mess, etc., with some 500 or more men and 4 or 5 officers.  In redeployments the Airdrome Squadron could follow along later, moving by more conventional means, and then establish a complete base, giving the flight unit long-term operational and staying power.  But the Combat Cargo Squadron alone could, as I say, operate separately if necessary, and move quickly, thus affording great flexibility.

     After intensive training for two or three months at Bowman Field (we had no Airdrome Squadron during this time), ourentire Combat Cargo Squadron flew overseas in our own (new) aircraft, leaving from Bangor, Maine; then through Gander Bay in Newfoundland; the Azores Islands; Marrakech in Morocco; Tunis in Tunisia; Cairo in Egypt; Abadan in Iran; and Karachi, Agra, Gaya and finally Sylhet in northern India.  All aircraft completed the trip safely. We arrived
in Sylhet in late August '44, and soon began flying missions out of there, chiefly to China.  In fact, more than half the squadron soon deployed on TDY to China for about two weeks, during which time they flew a heavy schedule, redeploying Chinese troops and also helping to evacuate Kweilin and Liuchow just prior to a determined drive by the Japanese.  (The latter, rather than continue defending themselves against U.S. aircraft attacking from these fields, simply moved ground forces in and took the airfields--with of course no Chinese resistance.)  We lost our first two aircraft during this China mission, one in very bad weather making a letdown at Kunming, while the other simply disappeared in the mountains.  Each of these aircraft had 50 Chinese troops aboard in addition to its regular crew of four, viz., pilot, copilot, crew chief, and radio operator.

     Shortly after our arrival in Sylhet in August I was promoted to major.  In October our squadron was selected by Group Headquarters to move to Imphal, in northeastern India, to support the British in their drive back out of the Imphal area, following the failure of the long Japanese siege there.  It might be of interest to note that the 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron selected its emblem about this time . The actual creator of the emblem was a communications sergeant (Bert Greer, I believe), who entered it in a squadron contest, and received a $25 war bond prize for the winning entry.   The sergeant used as his basic theme the appellation of "The Lucky 3rd," hence the horseshoe.  This name had actually been pinned on us by some of the other squadrons in the Group. During our several months of orientation and training at Bowman Field, and also during the flight overseas, we had far fewer accidents and also fewer other problems than the other squadrons.  Some members of these then began to make comments about the "Lucky 3rd squadron."  We in the 3rd were aware, of course, that "luck" doesn’t last forever, and in the succeeding months we too suffered a number of aircraft losses.  But I do believe the theme of the "Lucky 3rd" was not ill-placed.  We had no disastrously bad breaks, and things in general seemed to work out for us.  We later received several commendations from British senior officers for our support, and I myself was invited to British Theater Headquarters to receive an award for our performance.

     To return to the British "breakout" campaign from Imphal after failure of the Japanese siege: This campaign initially involved a two-prong drive southward, with (1) the 11th East African Division fighting its way down the west side of the Chindwin River in the Kabaw Valley east of Imphal, and (2) the 5th Indian Division fighting through the mountains down the Tiddim Road directly south from Imphal.

     In the Kabaw Valley the drop zones were larger and easier, and there were even occasional temporary fields where aircraft could land and be unloaded.   It was in the Kabaw, however, that the Japanese launched a surprise air attack one morning and shot down two of our aircraft, with complete loss of both crews.  This hit our squadron particularly hard because one plane was piloted by Capt. Lewis Ingram, our outstanding Squadron Operations Officer, and the other by Capt. John White, the most senior Flight Leader.  A Canadian C-47 squadron, that was doing the same kind of work we were, suffered equally badly with us.  They also had two aircraft shot down, plus some others damaged by enemy fire.  One of these latter, which I saw afterwards myself, was quite impressive due to the number of bullet holes it contained in various parts of its fuselage and wings.  That the fuel tanks were missed in all this had to be pure luck.  The captain of this aircraft had been, I was told, a former fighter pilot.  When the Japanese fighters began attacking, he took his C-47 down on the tree tops (which meant no attacker could dive down and continue past him, firing as it went, and that the attacker had to start pulling up well before he might want to.  The Canadian pilot also placed his radio operator where he could see out the plastic "bubble" dome that exists in the ceiling of all C-47s, just behind the pilot, and he told the operator to let him know (through the intercom) when a fighter began his attack, the direction he was coming from, his nearness, and any other pertinent information.  The Canadian would then start skidding into the attacker, meanwhile changing speeds and taking other evasive actions.  Amazingly enough, he survived a number of attacks, the Japanese finally had to give up, and the plane was brought back "alive," though full of holes.

     It might be of interest to note that the Japanese could not normally maintain fighter aircraft--or any other aircraft--deployed in Burma, because of British air superiority.  When an attack was planned, such as the one described above, Japanese fighters would be rapidly staged from one base to another starting far to the rear in places like Singapore or Bangkok, and after two or three days would arrive in, say, Meiktila south of Mandalay, toward evening.  Next morning they would suddenly appear and disrupt resupply operations, creating havoc. After a couple of days they would return whence they came.

     The Tiddim Road area involved much different terrain than the Kabaw Valley, with steep mountains 7000-8000 feet high, heavy jungle, and a one-lane "road" (really a one-lane track) snaking its way along the mountain side, with radical twists and turns.  This was, however, the only route the Division (5 Div, in British terminology) could follow between Imphal and Kalewa to the south. Anything else was completely impassable, due to the thick jungle and steep terrain.  I
was told once by a British infantry officer that if we missed a drop zone by a hundred yards, they'd write off five or six men for a half day to go find it.  If we missed by more than that, they didn’t even look.  A few Japanese soldiers, well dug in, could hold up an entire British division, and did so, every few hundred yards down the road.  At one point where the road curved back sharply with a steep U, the British decided to cut across down through the valley and up the other side, in order to come in behind a Japanese bunker holding them up.  I was told it took a company of Gurkhas (who know something about mountains!) three days to make the trek.  Our drop zones were quite small (trees had to be cut to make every one, with no chain saws) and they were situated on the sides of the mountains.  Flights were hampered frequently by violent and swirling vertical air currents because of the changing terrain.  We dropped at 200 feet altitude, with the aircraft slowed to between 110-120 mph, which meant swinging out over the valley 5000 feet or so below, and then completing the circuit to end at 200 feet above the ground at the drop zone.  The pilot had to watch the altimeter pretty carefully while doing this, meanwhile struggling sometimes to keep the aircraft more or less even in the turbulent air currents.  We lost two more aircraft on these Tiddim Road drops, with one having a parachute that caught across the horizontal stabilizer and thus destroyed control by the pilot.  This kind of thing could happen, of course, in turbulent air with a loaded aircraft at slow speed, in an occasional tail-low attitude.

     A couple more British divisions had meanwhile begun fighting their way southeast across Burma to intersect the highway and rail lines north of Mandalay, lines that continue on down the long Burmese central plain from Mandalay to Rangoon.  We now shifted our support to these forces, airdropping and then landing at the airfields the British engineers would quickly construct by having native labor knock the bunds out of the paddy fields, thus providing a dusty rough-and-ready landing strip.   These were sort of level, and you usually landed one way and took off the other.   We lost a few more aircraft and their crews during these operations. About this time the squadron moved from Imphal south to Hathazari, near Chittagong, in order to be nearer the areas to which we were flying each day.  (Our flights had gradually become longer and longer as the successful British drive moved farther south.)

     Around this time the British also began an eastward drive from the southern area of their control across the Chindwinand heading for Meiktila, a relatively large city and Japanese strong point some 100 or more miles below Mandalay.   The British objective was to disrupt the Japanese line of retreat, which was proceeding slowly southward from Mandalay toward Rangoon and clearly intending to hold everything up until the monsoon could begin.  The British invasion outfit was an armored division whose everyday practice was to drive forward several miles until evening, and then pull their tail in after them for the night.  In other words, they moved as a sort of "blob" eastward, with no logistical tail and totally dependent on air supply--which came from us. Their method of progress as a "moving island" of course meant that to reach them we often had to fly over some Japanese-held territory.   This involved some interesting adventures, and I think we had some aircraft hit but I don't remember that we lost any.

     Later in 1945 we moved to Myitkyina in north Burma, and set up operations on an air strip there on the east side of the Irrawaddy River.  When I say we moved to an air strip, I mean exactly and only that--nothing else was there besides the concrete runway.  But by this time, when the squadron moved it moved like a city, i.e., we brought everything with us that we needed to operate.  We had tents for everybody, most of them British tents of the sort that had been developed over the past century or more in India, with a white outer cover that reflected the sun's rays, and a blue inner liner that provided an insulating block of air from the heat of the sun.   These were relatively light in weight and infinitely superior to the heavy, olive drab, tar-treated, pyramidal and other American tents, that were hot as Hades and which literally required almost an entire squad to put up a squad tent.  The British also had huge "stores tents" of the same general type, 40' by 30' or so in size, that we had acquired and used for administrative functions such as supply, communications, operations and the like.  We had traded the British out of these for various things over a period of time, often for alcohol, which they valued highly and which we seemed to have more of than they.  Our squadron supply officer had also, over the months, managed to secure a C-2 Wrecker with a 40' trailer (depot equipment, in which the Wrecker--or tractor/truck--alone weighed 27,500 Lbs.) plus two caterpillar-tread Cletracs (also base or depot equipment) and some other depot stuff.  Some of our personnel had developed portable showers
by this time, plus our own movie projection capability, as well as Officers' and Enlisted Men's Club bars (with vari-colored parachutes for interior ceilings and indirect lighting), and other comparatively sophisticated equipment.  (I remember a British officer saying once to me that "we’ve been here for years and don’t have anything like this.")  Most of the squadron officers and enlisted men had also improved their living quarters in various ways--though I will admit
the enlisted men were still required to make their beds in the morning, and there were inspections of their quarters every now and then.

    Drinking water, plus all the utility water, came right out of the muddy Irrawaddy River, which drained the villages and cess pools of north Burma; the medics simply poured chlorine into it until, as they said, "you could easily smell it.''   This gave coffee a unique taste. Almost all the officers, as well as many of the enlisted men, by this time had native "bearers," or servants, who kept quarters clean, shined shoes, etc., and also travelled to new bases with us. (  My bearer, who was superb, would have my hand-crank phonograph, which I had bought on a trip to Bangalore, ready with a stack of 78 rpm records on it when I got home in the evening.   He couldn't read English, of course, so in the stack there would be perhaps one or two parts of a movement of a Beethoven symphony, followed by some John Charles Thomas operatic arias, then parts of Cesar Franck's Symphony in D Minor, then John McCormack, etc, in a 7 or 8 record stack.).  Our squadron also had a native barber, tailor, bootmaker, and some others, who all moved with
us while we were in India or Burma. Both Protestant and Catholic religious services were also usually available to our personnel, and of course we had our own squadron surgeon and very competent medics.

     In effect, the 3rd operated as a separate squadron, both physically and operationally, virtually the entire time it was in India, Burma, and China.   There was relatively little direct oversight from Group Headquarters, though of course theywere still over us administratively.  It was an ideal setup, at least for the squadron commander.  And after only little over a year--which was short in some ways but immensely long in others--the "city" that our squadron now constituted had
become a very different organization from the uncertain, rube, Stateside-oriented crew that arrived in Sylhet in August of '44.

     From Myitkyina we moved to China, first to Luliang and a short while later to Kunming, which became our last station overseas.  The war had ended during this period, and our squadron tasks became the movement of all kinds of material and personnel throughout eastern China. Many of our own personnel were now going home; new personnel were moving in rapidly to replace them, and so many things were happening that I must admit, after more than fifty years I simply have lost track of much of it.   Squadron morale was certainly not as high; many of the old people were leaving and many new ones were trying to learn their jobs and find their way around.  Meanwhile, everybody was now waiting to go home, and rumors became rife regarding what was going to happen next.  Somewhere in here I was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

                                                                     
Conclusion

In the 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron I believe I had no doubt that I was the best pilot in the squadron (maybe in the entire Air Force) at instrument flying, formation flying, short field landings and takeoffs, paradropping, or what have you.  I now realize that I was almost certainly not the best pilot in any of these things.  But it is still true that a pilot musthave self confidence, while at the same time exercising good judgment; above all, he must never get into something he
hasn't already thought about how to get out of.  We had many good pilots in the 3rd Squadron and they did an outstanding professional job under some very difficult circumstances.  Admittedly toward the end of the war, with many people going home, rapid replacements and the like, things undoubtedly got a little sloppier and we lost more aircraft.  When I returned to the Zone of the Interior (i.e., the US), I personally had logged over 2900 hours of flying time, in just over 3 1/2 years. Other 3rd Sqdn pilots had flown comparable amounts.  These were workmanlike, professional, highly motivated people, even though almost all were in their early twenties.  Their attitude was simply that "one does the job in front of one, as best one can."  The 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron was filled with people who had that attitude.

     After all this talk about pilots and flying (which perhaps naturally are the memories most in my mind at this stage of life) I would like to add a general comment about the entire 3rd squadron: I was fortunate to have in the outfit a large number of what I call "self-starters."  These were people, both officer and enlisted, who took a personal responsibility for their jobs, tried to figure out ways to do them better, and would take action on their own without waiting for somebody to tell them what to do.  This was especially fortunate for us because in most cases I myself didn't know what to do.  So I was hugely dependent, first, on my staff officers who through the luck of the draw were all outstanding: Glenn Smith and then Barney Ross as Squadron Adjutant; Raymond Lacey in Engineering; Lewis Ingram and then Jean Tool in Operations; George Glass in Supply; and Sam Edelstein in Communications.  The Line Chiefs and Crew Chiefs in Engineering, and the other Non-Coms in Communications, Administration, Supply, and the other departments simply carried the outfit on their shoulders. They, plus the men that they led, will never receive the credit to which they are entitled.  They never asked for any credit, but I say now that they were the primary motive power in the squadron's accomplishments.  Without them, not the first aircraft would have flown anywhere.

     When somebody was as young as I was, with no more experience than I had, it would have been totally destructive if I had tried to decide everything.  I learned a great deal in the war years, but still, I was only 24 years old and very inexperienced when I took command of the 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron.  At times I have looked back and cringed at some of my stupid, unthinking actions in that period. If I could do it all over, knowing what I know now, I would do many things differently. But that's not one of the choices life offers.

     So hats off to them all. Nobody was more important or less important than anyone else, in the final analysis.  All I can say in summary is that I think the 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron earned its way.

* * * * * * * * *

      Regarding my "post 3rd Squadron'' career, I stayed in the AF for another 9 years after the war. For the first four of these years I was in the Air University, first as an instructor in Troop Carrier operations in the Special Staff School, then an instructor and later Deputy Director of the Air Force Management School, and finally Deputy Director of the Air Force Comptroller School, a school for whose creation I was project officer.  (This was the first school of its type in the Defense Dept).  I designed the curriculum, put together the staff and was course director for a year or so.  I then spent another four years in the Office of the Comptroller in HQ USAF in the Pentagon, during which time I was promoted to colonel, and finally 3 years and a half as Deputy Comptroller, 12th AF, in Germany.  Meanwhile I had applied for release from active duty and I came hack to the States at the very end of 1954.  I enrolled in Georgetown University Graduate School in Jan 1955 in the Department of Government and received my Ph.D. in 1962. Prior to
receiving my doctorate I worked part-time from 1958-60 as a special assistant to Thomas E. Murray (former Commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission) in his consultant relations with the Congress and Executive Branch, and then, beginning in 1960, as a fulltime analyst for the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA).  In 1963 I moved to the State Dept for some 2 1/2 yrs as a Defense/Foreign Policy analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, then returned in 1966 to IDA where I remained until I retired in 1984.   Since then I have more or less loafed.

(The above item constitutes follow-up material sent by John K. Moriarty, former commander of the 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron during WWII, to the 328th Airlift Squadron, Niagara Falls, N.Y., after a personal interview in 1999 by the current Commander and some other members of that squadron. The 3rd Combat Cargo was later redesignated the 328th Troop Carrier Sqdn, and then the 328th Airlift Sqdn.)

Major John K. Moriarty, Commanding Officer, 3rd Combat Cargo Squadron, 1st Combat Cargo Group CBI 1944-1945.  May 26, 1999  Reedited Sept 2000


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    I am looking for former members of the 3rd Combat Cargo Group,  1st, Combat Cargo Group, 2nd Combat Cargo Group and the 4th Combat Cargo Group.  In fact I would like to hear from anyone who flew over the Hump during WW II, or flew any Combat Cargo Missions at any time (Berlin Air-Lift, Korea, etc.) 

Please e-mail comment, suggestions, corrections,etc to: bill@comcar.org

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