It was on or about Friday, 1 September 1944, that the 35th PRS made the aerial leap from India to China across the Hump, the famed Himalayan Mountains.

The time preparing at Gushkara, India, was over; the squadron had received all its Lockheed F-5E photo recon aircraft. Col Sterling “Yogi” Barrow recalled that the squadron sent, pilots in twos or threes to go to Ondal and Kharagpur starting in late July, 1944, to pick up the aircraft. The aircraft had arrived to India crated, were then assembled, and then test flown before the pilots accepted them for the squadron.

A 35PRS Lockheed F-5E Photo Lightning makes a low-level pass over a building in Asia, circa 1944.  (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

A 35PRS Lockheed F-5E Photo Lightning makes a low-level pass over a building in Asia, circa 1944. (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

A final screening of personnel took place, identifying the 260 enlisted men who would proceed to China. The unit had 44 officers and 297 men as of 1 April 1944, before shipping out for overseas. By 30 September 1944, at final destination, 45 officers and 260 enlisted men were on the squadron’s roster.

The squadron commenced movement up north by train in groups of 70 to Chabua in late August, 1944, although according to a recollection by Anthony Garra, it was a rather circuitous route to get there. Garra recalled departing Gushkara on 18 August, arriving at Dum Dum Field in Calcutta that night. He was there two days after which he entrained in a “…box like car, bench seats which were very hard to sleep on and a roof which leaked every time it rained.” His part of the squadron travelled two and a half days north through India, east across the Brahmaputra River, and through Assam on a single narrow gauge railroad track to a camp at Chalura (Chabua?). There they camped in tents for a week and waiting for an aircraft. Mud in the camp area was shoe deep and the tents leaked when it rained.

Early one morning at 0230, his group was awakened and told to proceed to the airfield. The loaded bags into trucks in the rain, then were told they weren’t going after all. By 0430 they were back in the tents and “…were in bed again after relieving ourselves of several choice oaths.”

The next day was a go, and he boarded a Curtis C-46 Commando twin-engine transport named “Katie Baby.” Engines were warmed up and made ready to go when the control tower communicated a 20-minute delay. Twenty minutes later, the engines refused to start, and mechanics soon found a leaking gas line which flooded the aircraft batteries. Call it fortunate!

A C-46 receives engine maintenance (Courtesy Forum at AAF.com, Scott Burris)

A C-46 receives engine maintenance (Courtesy Forum at AAF.com, Scott Burris)

Back to the camp for another night in the tents, while mechanics worked on the aircraft. Garra returned to the C-46 in the afternoon. The plane took off OK, but then one of the landing gear refused to retract, and one engine started missing badly, so they landed again, fast as it turned out as the flaps were also having problems. The Commando hurtled down the runway, using up all of its length, before the pilot steered it off and cut the engines to help bring it to a stop.
That was it for the Redhawks and “Katie baby”, as Garra and his cohorts were given a new plane to fly the Hump.

A C-47 transport makes a trip over the Hump in “Over the Top of the World” by artist Roy Grinell (Courtesy Roy Grinnell.com)

A C-47 transport makes a trip over the Hump in “Over the Top of the World” by artist Roy Grinell (Courtesy Roy Grinnell.com)

Tony Garra described his flight from India to China: “The flight over the “Hump” was very beautiful as we first circled to gain altitude. The rice fields below began to look like a patch work quilt. Finally we started going through fleecy clouds. When we hit ten thousand feet altitude, we put on our oxygen masks. Going over the peaks of the “Hump”, the air was rough and the

In a C-46 passenger plane making the trip over the Hump ride Army men and a civilian technician or diplomat, headed for China. All use oxygen in the high altitude, wear heavy clothing.  (Courtesy LIFE, via CBI Theater webpage)

In a C-46 passenger plane making the trip over the Hump ride Army men and a civilian technician or diplomat, headed for China. All use oxygen in the high altitude, wear heavy clothing. (Courtesy LIFE, via CBI Theater webpage)

plane bounced as if it was really rolling over ruts. Everyone soon put on his jacket, coat or what have you, because at twenty thousand feet it got very cold in the plane. After three hours and fourty minutes of flying we rolled to a stop on the air strip of the Kunming air base. This was our destination.”

Kunming Airfield during world War II.  (Courtesy Iblio.org)

Kunming Airfield during world War II. (Courtesy Iblio.org)

From Chabua the groups of Redhawk air and ground echelons flew over the Hump to Kunming, arriving around 10 September, according to the squadron’s history for April – September 1944. This date varies with what was recorded in the 35PRS Statement of Strength and Station in the Apr – Sep 44 history, showing 1 September as the date of arrival at Kunming. This may reflect the difference between when the first group arrived and the date by which the entire squadron was in China. The Redhawks had finally arrived at their destination, over 8,000 miles from Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, from which they had departed back on 10 April 1944.

The Hump air route between India and China  (Courtesy LIFE)

The Hump air route between India and China (Courtesy LIFE)

Flying over the Hump was not a simple thing, as indicated in this excerpt about Chabua from Wikipedia: “While the route kept the transports relatively free from enemy attack (Enemy action destroyed only seven aircraft, killing 13 men) it led over rugged terrain, through violent storms, with snow and ice at the higher altitudes the planes flew over the mountains.

A C-46 flies above the rugged Himalayan Mountains in WWII  (Courtesy LIFE, via Carl Woolman Flight Appreciation Center)

A C-46 flies above the rugged Himalayan Mountains in WWII (Courtesy LIFE, via Carl Woolman Flight Appreciation Center)

Flying the Himalayan Hump would turn out to be some of the most dangerous flying in the world. Over the course of action there were 460 aircraft and 792 men lost. Still, the operations were a success. There were 167,285 trips that moved 740,000 tons of material to support Chinese troops and other Allied forces.”

Control Tower at Kunming.  New tower at right before it was opened.  Old tower built out of old lumber and packing crates is at left.  (Photo courtesy Robert L. Cowan, via CBI History.com)

Control Tower at Kunming. New tower at right before it was opened. Old tower built out of old lumber and packing crates is at left. (Photo courtesy Robert L. Cowan, via CBI History.com)

After a week at Kunming, the squadron was ordered to a new “permanent” destination, at Chanyi, China. Again, a variance from this date is reflected in the Statement of Strength and Station, which indicates 19 September 1944 was the last day at Kunming.

Regardless of the specific dates, the fact is that by early September, 1944, some seventy years ago now, the 35th Photo Recon Squadron was in China. Of the original 110+ men assigned to the 123rd Observation Squadron in April, 1941, when the squadron started, there were 13 men left. All the others had been transferred to units all over the Army Air Force as Hap Arnold’s team went to war around the globe. But these 13 “Founding Fathers” were now to go into action in the unit they started before the U.S. entry into World War II. It might have taken a while, but the Redhawks were now in the fight.

References
35PRS History for April – September 1944

“Captain C.A. Gibson, Delta Air Lines 1946 – 1976 and Flying the Hump,” Carl Woolman Flight Appreciation Center website, at: http://nexus-station.typepad.com/the_station/2010/10/captain-ca-gibson-delta-air-lines-1946-1976.html

CBI Airfields, on CNBI History webpage at: http://www.cbi-history.com/cbi_airfields.html

“Chabua Air Force Station,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chabua_Air_Force_Station

“FLYING THE HUMP: A FACT SHEET FOR THE HUMP OPERATION DURING WORLD WAR II,” at
CBI History webpage, at: http://www.cbi-history.com/part_xii_hump5.html

LIFE Magazine, 24 April 1944 issue, on CBI Theatre webpage, at:  http://cbi-theater.home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater/life042444/life042444.html

Romanus, Charles F., and Sunderland, Riley, “Time Runs out in the CBI,” US Army in World War II, China-Burma-India Theater, accessed at: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-CBI-Time/USA-CBI-Time-1.html

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