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


Air Transport Command Background

     Essentially the Air Transport Command was to be an airline in military uniform, it’s life began with the beginning of the Second World War and when the war ended it was an organization larger than the combined United States commercial airline fleet.  The ATC was an outgrowth of the Ferrying Command, which had been established to deliver US-built aircraft destined for Britain under Lend-lease from the factories on the West Coast to embarkation points on the East Coast.

     Just a few months prior to the beginning of the Second World War, Pan American Airways had contracted with both the US and British governments to deliver U.S. built aircraft to Khartoum in Sudan.  Soon after Pearl Harbor this route was extended and Eastern Airlines began assisting Pan American Airways with its delivery's.  During this time new delivery routes were being developed both at home an abroad and more airlines were contracted for these new routes.  Eventually there were so many contracts to so many different airlines, that a proposal was made that would allow all airline contract operations be conducted under a single command reporting directly to the President of the United States and operate independent of both the Army and the Navy.  Thus was born the Air Transport Command, the ATC was to be made responsible for all ferrying and transportation tasks of the U.S.A.A.C. except those tasks necessary for combat operations.  Ferrying and transportation tasks necessary of combat operations were assigned to Troop Carrier Command.

     Although the ATC division of the Ferry Command was established as a military airline, it drew heavily upon the commercial airlines for personnel.  Before the Second World War began the ATC was also using U.S.A.A.C. pilots to ferry aircraft from one point to another.  With the country now at war, the ATC soon found itself deprived of these military pilots who had been ferrying aircraft.  In early 1942 non-airline civilian pilots were to be employed on a temporary basis for a 90-day trial period.  If, at the end of the trial, a pilot was found competent for transport flying, he was offered a commission as a service pilot with the ATC.  By the end of 1942, over 1,370 service pilots had been commissioned out of 1,730 pilots who had been recruited for the program.  From 1943 on, the number of available civilian pilots dwindled, but the number of military pilots available for use in the ATC increased.  By 1944, when pilot training programs were being curtailed, an large number of civilian instructors were made available and were commissioned for duty with ATC.

      Prior to Pearl Harbor, the War Department had made commitments to purchase Douglas Aircraft's C-47 and C-54 aircraft.   These two models would perform admirably during the Second World  War.  The C-47 would be a major work horse in every theater during the war, especially with Troop Carrier Command, while the C-54 would find a own niche.  But before these models became available in great numbers the ATC was forced to to press into service civilian airline aircraft and adapt them for their mission requirements.  

     The C-47 was considered to be too slow and lacking in payload for over-water flights.  It was this fact that caused the ATC to put its hopes on the new Curtiss C-46, ‘Commando’.  More than 450 C-46s had been ordered by the Army before the war, but only two were in existence when war began.  Initial testing on domestic routes indicated that the C-46 had excellent performance.  But when the airplane entered service with ATC, a number of defects emerged.  But still hundreds of C-46s were put to use by ATC and their defects were repaired in theater.

     As for four-engine transports, the C-54 was on order but not yet available. Prior to the war Ferrying Command operated a few modified B-24s, and after Pearl Harbor, some LB-30 Liberators were repossessed from British contracts and converted for transport use. Two of these LB-30’s went to Australia where they served with Troop Carrier forces, while an additional five were put to work on a route between California and Australia.  A transport version of the B-24 came into being as several B-24Ds were converted to become C-87 transports.  The C-87s and C-46s were to become responsible for a good portion of the ATC mission until the C-54 entered service in sufficient numbers.

     As the war progressed, the Air Transport Command developed routes from the United States to every theater of the war.  These routes went from the East Coast to England by way of Canada, from the West Coast to Australia by way of Hawaii and the South Pacific Islands, from Miami and other East Coast bases to North Africa, across Canada to Alaska and into the Aleutians and south into Central and South America.  The longest of the ATC routes, was the route to China and the CBI theater.  The route to China went south out of Miami to Natal, Brazil, then across the Atlantic to Africa and on across the Middle East to finally arrive in India, which was the rear area for the CBI.      

      Bill Bielauskas  copyright    8/2001

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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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