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
Operation Jackrabbit - December 1944
Lt. John G. Martin
Jackrabbit began on the morning of December the 10th. Eighty-eight planes from the
3rd Combat Cargo Group in Assam were airborne for a Hump crossing into China. Only a
few of our crew members had ever flown the Hump Route. Without navigators for their
first trip across the mountains, the pilots of the 3rd Combat Cargo Group showed
versatility in changing their zone of operation. With no previous preparation, we
took off for China.
Loads to be flown into China were picked up at Warazup, Myitkyina North and other staging areas in Burma. Chinese troops who had been withdrawn from fighting areas in Burma, were loaded with their equipment into our C-47s and flown back to their native land to help stem the Japanese advance in that area.
The trips were interesting to say the least. We carried as many as thirty-five Chinese soldiers, their field equipment, cook stoves, ammunition and armament at one time. In contrast, had these troops been American or British, we would have been able to move only thirty-five men and comparable gear since the oriental man is smaller than those of the white races.
The first trip I made with the troops was a disaster according to my crew chief. We loaded the soldiers and all their gear and hauled them up over the mountains into China. By the time we were halfway across the Hump every soldier was sick and vomiting all over the floor of the airplane. By the time I landed at Kunming these poor soldiers weren't yellow, they were green! The floor of the airplane was covered with vomitus that consisted of pure white rice mixed with yellow stomach juices! We tried to get someone to clean the airplane before we returned to Dinjan. For some reason we did not get much cooperation. When I got it home the crew chief and I cleaned and hosed out the flying machine and hoped that it would not happen again.
My second trip was the next day. When I picked up my "load" of Chinese soldiers I was happy to note that their unit commander was a sharp looking Chinese Lieutenant that spoke a smattering of English. He lined his troops up outside the airplane ready to have them load when I gave the word. He saluted me and in words we all remember said, "Ding How, Lieutenant." Now that I had a Chinese soldier who could speak some English, I told him, and made sure that he understood, that if any of his men got airsick that they were to vomit in their helmets and not on the floor of my airplane. With a toothy smile and another "Ding How" he informed me that if his men got sick they would "puke" in their helmets. I thought that I had made my point and we took off for China.
I crossed the first ridge and underneath us, the weather in the area at that moment was clear. I could see the valley of the Salween River coursing its way between the very rugged mountain ranges on each side of the river. I looked back through the door into the cargo area and saw that no one was sick. Since we had just started our flight, the turbulence had not as yet affected the soldiers. The flight from Myitkyina to Kunming was about two hundred seventy-five miles and by this time we were barely one hundred miles into our mission. I was pleased, it was going so well.
Over the next ridge we eventually came to the Mekong River Valley. By this time stomachs in the cargo section were beginning to churn. I looked back through the door and now saw that most of the soldiers were airsick. They were throwing-up in their helmets. I prided myself on using such strategy. As I looked up the Chinese lieutenant saluted and once more with his Chinese grin said "Ding How." I thought my day was made.
Finally we crossed the last ridge and homed on the beacon to Kunming. As the wheels touched down on the airstrip I was satisfied that I would return home with a clean airplane. We taxied to a parking place, and shut down the engines. I looked back and gave the Chinese officer the word to unload his troops and with one more "Ding How," he ordered his men to stand up and be ready to de-plane. He also added a few more words in Chinese that I did not understand. As they stood up on his command, each holding a helmet full of stomach contents, they emptied them on the floor of the airplane and marched out onto the soil of their homeland, China. What could I say I had at least tried. When I got back to Dinjan late that night I had some explaining to do to the crew chief. Some days it seemed you just could not win!
Operation Jackrabbit continued for seven days. Of the total one hundred seventy-one sorties, over one half, were flown on the 10th of December. During this operation we carried three thousand, six hundred and eighty-two troops and two hundred eighty-seven thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds of freight. The freight tonnage included personal equipment, horses, mules, food, gasoline and medical supplies.
I flew the trip again on the 12th and 13th of December. I had no problems with the third load of soldiers. My thoughts were of vengeance if there was a repeat of the other trips. I never did figure out how I would do it. The fourth trip I made for the Jackrabbit was a gasoline hauling trip. The airplane was first loaded with empty fifty-five gallon steel drums that were lashed securely to the floor of the ship. After these empty drums were in place, a gasoline truck drove up to the cargo door and filled each drum. After the drums were full, the gasoline fumes were unbearable. Needless to say we were apprehensive as hell when we fired up the Pratt and Whitneys. Had we had "No Smoking" signs on board, they would have been turned on for the entire trip!
We were beginning to think the Hump was an over-rated piece of cake built up in the minds of the people at home by the public relations people. We later learned it was indeed a treacherous flight with unforeseen adventures on every trip. Most of these were weather related. Since our planes had no de-ice equipment, no turbo boosters, or no oxygen, there was a certain amount of apprehension every time we encountered instrument conditions over the Hump.
Part of the last trip I made during the Jackrabbit Operation was a cliff hanger. Flight Officer Marshall Feld was my co-pilot on this mission. We left Kunming just at dark and after takeoff finally got the airplane to crossing altitude which was fifteen thousand feet. It was a clear night and the bright moonlight made the crossing something to look at. We could see the high peaks jutting into the China sky and I was satisfied that the ride home would be without instrument flying. Our only oxygen was the small walk-around bottles that we used if we were to fly at extreme altitudes or in case we thought we were becoming oxygen starved. At fifteen thousand on a clear night it was a Safe trip. After getting the airplane to altitude I told Feld that I was tired and he could "drive" us home. I slumped down in my seat and took a nap. Before dozing off I looked out the right cockpit window and could see Tall Mountain and at its base the long narrow body of water that bathed the mountain's feet. That was Lake Erh. I closed my eves and dozed. We were on course and on schedule. I do not know how long I slept but when I woke up I asked Feld if he was O.K. and if everything was alright. He replied, "affirmative." Out Feld's window the lake and Tall Mountain were just where they were supposed to be. There was a lot of air chop, but nothing too uncomfortable. We were getting closer to home and we hoped a good meal. It had been a long day. After awhile I woke up again and after rubbing the sleep from my eyes lighted a cigarette and again asked Feld if everything was alright. Again he told me we were O.K. I took a puff on my Chesterfield and checked the cockpit instruments. Satisfied that they were O.K., I looked out the window and saw that Tall Mountain and Lake Erh were in the exact same place. Startled, I asked Feld how long I had been sleeping and he said, "maybe five or ten minutes." I realized that something was not just right and putting out the cigarette I reached for the oxygen bottle and breathed heavily through the face mask. Now everything looked brighter and my sleepiness was gone. It dawned on me that we were bucking a tremendous head wind and that the airplane had been almost standing still! At this rate we would exhaust our fuel before we ever crossed the mountains! The airspeed indicator was reading one hundred sixty five miles per hour; that meant our headwind was about the same velocity I double checked the situation, the lake and the mountain had not moved. Feld and I both agreed that we had to change altitude and get out of that awful wind. The C-47 was not the greatest altitude machine and our only way was to fly lower. We figured that if we went down to twelve thousand we might possibly get under that gale that was blowing its might across the Hump. On a clear night and the bright moon we were reasonably safe at that level.
I pointed the nose down and the altimeter started to unwind. The trip out of fifteen thousand to twelve was like riding a wild water buffalo. It was scary! The airplane creaked and groaned and shook and vibrated until I thought it would come apart. Ivan Damon, my radio man, was hanging on for dear life and in a clear voice asked me : .. What in the hell is going on .. ." I could not answer him. Finally I leveled off at twelve thousand feet. The air by now had become much calmer. We had passed through what today the meteorologists call the Jet Stream. Back in 1944 nobody had ever heard of it. The extreme turbulence was created when we passed from the high altitude's swiftly moving air mass into a more ste flow of air below us. Today the phenomenon is called a "Wind Sheer- Factor." Like the Jet Stream, we had never heard of it. This time the damned tiger almost had us by the tail
Down at twelve thousand I trimmed up my plane and headed towards Burma. Tall Mountain and Lake Erh had fast disappeared from sight and now instead of having a very strong headwind we picked up a wind on our tail. We calculated our ground speed and found that instead of standing still, we were heading home at an amazing two hundred miles an hour
It was not long before we came to the last ridge on the Burma-China Border and in the distance we could see the lights at Myitkyina. Now we were only two hundred miles from home and a warm meal, even if it was warmed over Spam and C-rations.
Safely on the ground at Dinjan and through debriefing, we discussed this strange weather phenomena with our friends. Some said we should have gone back to Kunming, others said we should have stayed on the oxygen because we had an illusion, while others shook their heads, said, ":.. have a drink ... and remember that you just had a good trip back, You are alive!" They said this in jest but they knew that we had been through another one of the Hump's surprises and they also knew that had we not made the correct decision to change altitude that we might be another statistic in the long line of` lost Hump pilots.
The squadron lost one crew and plane on this mission. On December 10th Airplane #613 "The Jinx Buster" was missing on a return flight from China. Weather was bad and it was believed the plane picked up an overload of ice and crashed into the mountains. The plane was piloted by 2nd Lt. R. L. McGraw; co-pilot was 2nd Lt. C. R. Griffin; radio operator was J. E. Parker, a sergeant; and the engineer was T/Sgt. A. J. Janek. All four men were extra fine people and with Christmas just two weeks away the accident was even more sad. Lt. McGraw was a very personal friend who had flown with Laird and me from Florida to India. So, with a note of sadness we closed the "Jackrabbit Operation."
Jackrabbit was just the first of our "happenings" during the month of December.
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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