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

3rd Combat Cargo Group, 10th Combat Cargo Squadron

Cold Beer

Lt. John G. Martin

     Late in July 1944 we were told that we were to move the entire 10th Combat Cargo Squadron north from the valley of the Ganges River to Upper Assam and a place called Dergaon.  Dergaon is located in the large valley created by the Bramaputra River just south of the border of Tibet.  A spur of the Bengal-Assam Railway as well as a permanent road system served the area.  It was to be known by us as A.P.O. 446, New York, New York.

     The orders came through and the process of moving from our base in Sylhet, north across a range of hills into the tea growing area of Upper Assam began on August 3, 1944.  Our mission at Sylhet was completed and a new job was ahead of us.   Concurrent with our leaving for Dergaon, was the move of the 3rd Combat Cargo Group Headquarters from Sylhet to Dinjan which was also located in the Upper Assam Valley only farther east toward the Ledo area.

     So we took off with our loads.   We packed everything we had, our damp mildewed clothes, typewriters, engine stands, mechanic's tools.  File cabinets; cook stoves and flatware, food, movie projector and everything else that had been part of our life for the last ten weeks.  We loaded it all in the airplanes and flew a heading of fifty degrees for one hundred and eighty five miles or so over the range of hills that separated the two river valleys.  We shuttled back and forth across the hills several times each day until the entire squadron and its equipment had been moved.  It took two days to complete the job.  I was still flying as Jim Laird's co-pilot and on the last trip over the hill he asked me if we had any beer on board and I told him that we did. He said, "get it." I did.   The beer was tied to some wire and was trailed out the small ports in the side windows of the fuselage trying to get it cooled.  As I walked back through the airplane through the maze of squadron articles, there were two passengers, both officers, slumped down and dozing as best they could in the bucket seats of the "bird."   As I walked by them I asked if they would like to have a beer.  Both emphatically  said "yes" so I obliged.  I fished the partially cooled cans out of the window and as I offered them each a brew I saw the insignia on their collars and realized that I was about to quench the thirsts of the clergy!  I hoped that I was blessed.

     Now, about the beer.  This commodity was on the top of the list of important things to have in a war zone -- at least the men thought so.  Warm beer was finally available but to chill it or make it cold was a problem we all faced.  We tried hanging it out of the airplane windows on a wire as described on the trip from Sylhet to Dergaon but this method was nor very satisfactory. Someone tried packing the beer in an empty metal tub covering it with sand and then soaking the entire thing with gasoline.  This container was then placed just inside the cargo door and during flight the gas would evaporate and in turn chill the brew.  This did not work too well either.

     One day Sgt. Hudkins told Lt. Laird that he thought that he had figured out the answer If he would help him, they could manufacture a true refrigerating unit.  Both men scrounged for materials and in the end a system of radiator hoses was devised that stretched from one gun port into the fuselage and then through a cooling coil in a twenty-gallon water can.  From there another radiator hose exited the can and made its way out into the open through the opposite gun port. The bottled warm brew was then put in the can around the coil.   All was ready for the test.

     Three cases of warm beer were loaded into the new cooler and Laird and Hudkins took the airplane up to 10.000 feet and stayed there for nearly an hour.  The cold air circulated through the unit and did its job. When they landed their secret was out and about twenty-five of their buddies met them at the flight strip to sample the product.  It was the first cold beer that they had tasted for a long time.  The unit was successful and the three cases were consumed on the spot!  Staff headquarters heard about the project and immediately issued an order that only authorized missions would be flown from that day on.  So ended Jim Laird's career as a refrigeration man and newer methods were soon invented.   Eventually an old icemaker was found in Bombay and smuggled home.  It soon faltered and ground out frozen water for awhile until it too gave up the ghost.   Later another icemaker was imported.  We had tried our best to conquer a minor problem in a major war and eventually we were victorious in both causes.

Lt. John G. Martin, 10th Combat Cargo Squadron, 3rd Combat Cargo Group.  From his book ‘Through Hell’s Gate to Shanghai’ Copyright 1983; Printed by The Lawhead Press Inc.

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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

Imphal, the Hump and Beyond  Copyright 1999 Bill Bielauskas  All rights reserved.

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