Imphal, The Hump and Beyond
U.S.A.A.F Combat Cargo Groups of the Second World War
3rd Combat Cargo Group, 10th Combat Cargo Squadron
December 14, 1944 - Fighter Attacks
Lt. John G. Martin
December 14th, eight Combat Cargo aircraft were attacked by twelve Japanese Tojo fighter
planes along the road south of Bhamo. There the road turned east along a narrow
valley to the first ridge of mountains on the road to Lashio and the Burma Road hookup.
The target was approximately forty miles south east of Bhamo. The drop zone
was the road itself. The Japanese held positions on one side of the road and the
American, British and Chinese troops were positioned on the other side. Combat
action was heavy. Four of` the enemy fighters attacked the unarmed transports while
eight other Tojos acted as cover for the attacking- planes. Evasive action by the
transports was successful for seven of the aircraft.
The crew on my plane, I was flying #366 this day, consisted of Flight Officer Marshall field, co-pilot, S/Sgt. Ivan Damon, radio operator, and three kickers from the 3841st Quarter Master Truck Company from Dinjan. They were Privates D. V. Kientz, A. S. Fillio, and J. Ledue. These men had been my "kicker crew" for some time and they did a good job.
The area of the drop target was a small flat place on the road. On each side of the target were high mountains. We were dropping horse and mule feed. This meant we had to fly high along the ridge to the south, make a one hundred and eighty degree turn at the top of the ridge and drop down into the narrow valley. When we turned back toward the target, we dropped the landing gear and put down full landing flaps in order to slow the aircraft down for the drop. As we approached the valley, Flight Officer Feld, my new co-pilot, was asking me about the war. In reply to his questions I pointed out the puffs of smoke from the ground action below us. We made the first run up the ridge and back down into the deep valley over the target and the kickers made their drop. I milked up the flaps, retracted the wheels, gained speed, made my turn and started climbing back up the ridge for another drop pass. At the top of the ridge I made the turn to approach the target. Feld and I were still talking about the ground activity. As we lost altitude to approach the target for the second pass I heard the sound of gunfire hitting the airplane. I looked out the left window and saw a Japanese "Zero" with a big shiny red ball painted on its side just off my left wing tip.
All of` this happened in seconds even though it seemed an eternity. The chief kicker reported the attack by fighters and I ordered him to get the load out of the airplane. He replied that it was already being shoved out. As I looked out of my window back toward the cargo, door, I could see what seemed like a solid line of feed sacks falling in mass from the airplane.
Throttles, prop controls and mixture controls were shoved as far forward as possible (and probably bent all the more). I headed the plane down the valley as low as I could get and as fast as it would go. The airspeed indicator- went through the red zone and finally stopped at the peg. We were flying nearly 280 miles per hour. Sergeant Danion was standing on the radio room table looking out of the astrodome. He told me the plane behind us had just gone down in flames. He saw three other enemy fighters. We were the first plane out of the valley. This gave us the advantage of running for safety! As I flew down this valley toward the flat Irrawaddy Valley and Bhamo, I saw two very large trees in front of me. Conceding the reality of the trees, I put the plane on its side and, with the wingtip just a few feet off of the ground, flew between them. We were lucky to get away
We made our escape down that long narrow valley and turned north toward the field at Momauk. As we approached the strip I saw a C-47 behind us trailing smoke. We let that plane go on in. We had been hit but no one was hurt. The airplane was flying O.K. so I made the decision to continue north and land at one of the airfields at Myitkyina to see how much damage had been done to our plane. Sergeant Damon did all of the right things. He switched to an emergency channel "C" and yelled for help. We got no reply until we were close to the East Myitkyina strip. Then they acknowledged our distress signal. We landed and were greeted by a crash truck and an ambulance. Still somewhat shaken, we climbed out of the airplane among the rescue units waiting for us and found that the plane had suffered one very large hole in the vertical stabilizer. Wits and nerves collected, we then took off and headed home to Dinjan. We were met at the ramp by the C.O. Duch and other dignitaries and good old ''Doc" Unsell. Unsell greeted us with double shots of real medicinal whiskey. According to the Air Corp that was the proper thing to do. We were then officially debriefed.
Two days later I was again given this target and after dropping my load I flew down the valley and looked at those two trees. I decided that it was impossible to fly an airplane between them. Still thinking about the trees and our escape, a thought came to my mind, as Colonel Robert Scott said in a book he wrote, perhaps "God was My Co-pilot" that day. Some of the others were not as fortunate as we were.
Plane #343 of the 10th squadron was repeatedly attacked and badly damaged. A "kicker," T/5 G. Hatfield, was killed in the initial attack and the remainder of the crew was wounded. The pilot of this airplane was 2nd Lt. R. L, Severson, co-pilot was 2nd Lt. A. J. DeVito and the radio operator was S/Sgt. James H. Troglia from Globe, Arizona. The other two kickers were Cpl., A. Bergman and Cpl. J. F. Fry. The three kickers were from the 3841st Quarter Master Truck Company stationed at Dinjan. The lives of the rest of the crew were saved by the action of Sgt. Troglia. He observed the enemy action from the plastic astrodome and relayed information on the attacking fighters to the wounded pilot. The co-pilot, Lt. DeVito, was giving first aid treatment to the other wounded members of the crew. He also received severe wounds from shrapnel!
Surviving eight attacks by enemy fighters, the pilot managed to escape for an emergency landing at Momauk. During the engagement the hydraulic system had been destroyed by Japanese gunfire. When the plane landed the gear collapsed and the aircraft was destroyed. For his attention to duty and his bravery under fire, Sgt. Troglia was recommended for the Silver Star by C.O. Captain Duch.
2nd Lt. C. B. Shaw, pilot of Airplane #944, saw a fighter attack the C-47 ahead of him in the drop pattern. Then he heard bullets hitting his plane. Evasive action was taken while radio operator, Cpl. C. V. Marcantonio, attempted a distress call on the emergency channel "C." No contact was made because the air was cluttered with distress calls. The co-pilot, 2nd Lt. W. J. Bielauskas, saw four enemy fighters. Four passes were made on the airplane from the rear and the aircraft sustained numerous hits in the wings and tail section. There were no injuries to any crew member on this plane. The plane returned to Dinjan with his load intact. The two kickers on board for this mission were Pfc. C. J, Seiwell and Pvt. N, Milligan.
1st Lt. E, G, Foley and his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. W. R. Bookser, were flying airplane #359 when one of the kickers, T/5 A. F. Thornton saw two fighters and gave the alarm. Lt. Bookser saw one fighter peel off for an attack on his plane. The Zero appeared to be slowing down for a direct pass at the transport. Lt. Foley dove his plane under full power into the narrow valley and took a northwest heading toward Momauk after ordering the load thrown out. There were no injuries and the plane was not damaged. The plane returned to Dinjan. The radio operator on this mission was Pfc. G. W. Young and the other two kickers were Pvt. T. Compton and Pvt. E. F. Hamil, both from the Dinjan based Q.M. truck company.
The next plane in the attack by the Japanese was piloted by Captain E. L. Barham. His co-pilot was 2nd Lt. W. L. Coons. The radio man was Cpl. J, G, Morelli, The Kickers were Pvt. T. Doerr, L. G. Leonard and G. W. Jin. This plane was on the base leg of the target and had dropped one half of the load when Captain Barham saw four single engine enemy fighters diving on plane #343 which was ahead of him in the traffic pattern. Captain Barham immediately turned southwest away from the target, added full power and dived toward the ground to within a few feet of the tree tops. His indicated airspeed, he said at the de-briefing, was two hundred and ninety miles per hour! Once again the radio signals were blocked out by heavy "radio traffic" caused by the assault. The first attack on this plane was made from the rear by a single fighter. The pilot slipped his plane from side to side to avoid the Zero. A second attack was pressed by two enemy fighters, again from the rear and again Captain Barham evaded the enemy. The C-47 turned west toward the Irrawaddy Valley and once again a single fighter attacked. Over-shooting the target it chandelled and came around for another attack. After failing to score a hit the Japanese pilot ceased the attack. Captain Barham continued to Myitkyina, landed and unloaded his airplane. There were no hits to the aircraft nor were there any casualties to the crew members.
The 9th Combat Cargo Squadron had one airplane in the fracas, it was plane #348. This airplane received hits through the fuselage and elevator. It later landed at Momauk with no injuries to the crew. Airplane #379 of the 12th Combat Cargo Squadron was shot down and the six crew members were killed.
The Japanese planes involved in this ambush had been flown in from the southern part of Burma the evening before the attack. They were hidden under some trees along a narrow dirt road on the enemy side of the first ridge toward Lashio. These fighters were some of the last remaining combat aircraft that the Japanese had in the C.B.I. Theater. Obviously their commander thought it would be a "Turkey Shoot," if the Japs could trap the Allied supply planes in this narrow valley,
That day the P-47 Thunderbolt pilots from the 90th fighter Group destroyed four of the enemy fighters. The remaining airplanes escaped back to China. This incident was recorded as one of the last air attacks the Japanese made in our theater of war. So doubt these Japanese pilots were inexperienced. They were obviously very poor shots. Had these pilots been better trained I am sure all of the cargo planes would have been shot down. We were really fish in a barrel" that day.
Back at our base in Upper Assam, we talked about the day. Our good fortunes, and our bad. We had experienced enough excitement for awhile. But the very next day one more incident of note happened.
Lt. John G. Martin, 10th Combat Cargo Squadron, 3rd Combat Cargo Group. From his book Through Hells 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)
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