SPECIAL FRONTIER FORCE REVIEWS HUMP AIRLIFT OPERATION 1942 – 1945
On behalf of Special Frontier Force I would like to review “HUMP” airlift operation during the course of The Pacific War 1941 – 1945. Legacy of the “HUMP” cargo flight service operation endures to this day as the same US transport aircraft shaped the beginning of Tibetan Resistance Movement in 1948-49. Special Frontier Force which represents Tibetan Resistance Movement had acquired some US aircraft that provided cargo flights flying the “hump” route. I have flown in these aircraft in Indian sector of The China-Burma-India Theater of World War II, and visited various airfields in Assam, northeast India built by US forces who arrived in response to Japan’s successful military campaign in Southeast Asia during 1941- 42. About 71 years ago( April 04, to June 22, 1944) during the Battles of Kohima, and Imphal, Allied troops, mainly Indians, drove back the invading Japanese forces from India’s borders. “Hump” airlift operation was primarily intended to support Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist China at their capital Chungking. The Pacific War ended on August 14, 1945 but the “hump” cargo flights continued until September or November 1945 as Nationalist China fought a bitter civil war with Red Army supported by China’s Communist Party. However as US relations with Nationalist China cooled off, US Special Representative to China placed an embargo on further shipment of US arms to Nationalist China during August 1946.
I am sharing an article titled “The Hump was the Deadliest Cargo Flight in History” authored by David Axe. This author mostly refers to findings from Francis B Pike’s book titled ‘HIROHITO’S WAR – THE PACIFIC WAR 1941 – 1945’. To understand the “hump” airlift operation, it will be necessary to know about ‘Burma Road’, a road extending about 700 miles from Kunming, Yunnan Province., S.China, to Lashio, a railhead in Burma. It was built-in 1937- 38 over mountainous terrain by the Chinese. It achieved its greatest importance during World War II, when Japan controlled the East Asian coast and the road served as a vital artery for the transport of Allied military supplies to Chinese forces fighting Japanese. On December 25, 1941 Japan captured Hong Kong. Japanese forces based in Thailand invaded Burma on February 08, 1942. Japanese captured Rangoon on March 08, and Allied Forces lost control over Lashio on April 30, 1942 which closed the Burma Road ending overland supply to Nationalist China. By the end of May 1942, the Japanese held most of Burma and the Allied were left with no supply route to engage Japan on Chinese territory. The solution was found in an air route from Assam in India’s Northeast to Kunming, and various airports in Yunnan Province,Southwest China, the “Dangerous” hump route along the southern edge of Himalaya mountain range. The “hump” route covered a distance of about 525 miles passing over mountainous region of far north Burma and Western China. The height of mountains in Burma, North-South spur of the main East-West Himalaya mountain range, varied from 16,000 to 12,000 feet. In March 1942, the China National Aviation Corporation(CNAC) began freight service over the “hump” and the US began a transport program in April 1942. In 1944 Japan advanced toward Assam to cut Allied supply lines or capture the airfields at the Western end of the “hump.” Japan’s attack on Assam(March to July 1944) was defeated with help from transport planes withdrawn from the “hump.”
US Army’s Air Transport Command using elements of the 10th Air Force began flying cargo over the “hump” using Dakota C- 47 Skytrains, C – 46 Commandos which gradually expanded into first sustained, long-range, 24-hour around the clock, all-weather aerial cargo flight operation in history. Initially, the “hump” operation involved about 27 planes and about 1,100 pilots and support personnel. By December 1943, cargo planes carried tons of supplies equivalent to the tonnage carried along the Burma Road at the peak of its overland supply operation. In the fall of 1944, Consolidated C – 87s, Douglas C – 54 four engine aircraft were pressed into cargo flight service. In August 1945, the “hump” operation involved 622 aircraft, 34,000 military personnel, and about 47,000 civilian employees. During the course of the “hump” operation, United States lost 509 downed aircraft identified, and 81 aircraft were listed as missing. The loss of aircraft was mostly contributed by weather-related problems and a few due to enemy action. United States lost 1,314 crew members killed in action, and 1,171 personnel survived bailouts. US officials reported 345 as Missing in Action(MIA). The search and accounting of MIA has mostly concluded by 1950s and in recent times, there has been a renewed demand to continue search operations following the discovery of cargo plane crash sites in the jungles of Northern Burma along the “hump” flight routes.
In this story about the “hump” cargo flight service, I may mention about Japan’s successful conquest of Andaman & Nicobar Islands in Bay of Bengal on March 31, 1942. Indian National Army or INA(known as ‘Azad Hind Fauz’) headed by India’s nationalist leader Subash Chandra Bose(“NETAJI”) participated in Japan’s Burma campaign and it had partial control of these Islands while Japan held on to them until October 1945 when Allied Forces recaptured Andaman Islands. Bose visited Andaman & Nicobar Islands in December 1943 renaming Andaman as “SHAHID DWEEP”(Martyr Island), and Nicobar as “SWARAJ DWEEP”(Self-Rule Island). To most Indians, Japanese conquest carries a mixed bag of emotions as Japan assisted India’s nationalist Champion. At Special Frontier Force I derive consolation from the fact that the legacy of the “HUMP” operation endures. The US transport planes played a role in shaping the Tibetan Resistance Movement from its early beginning during 1948-49 as United States, India, and Tibet recognized the security threats posed by growing Communist military power in mainland China.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-4162, USA
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THE HUMP WAS ONE OF THE DEADLIEST CARGO FLIGHTS IN HISTORY
A third of Allied aircrews died hauling supplies to China in World War II
by DAVID AXE
Few people appreciate it today, but for a period of more than three years
during World War II, a force of mostly American airmen undertook one of
history’s most complex — and deadliest — logistical operations, flying
thousands of tons of supplies from India over the Himalayas into China in
rickety, under-powered cargo planes.
“The world’s first strategic airlift,” the U.S. Air Force calls it.
These flights over “the Hump” were indispensable to China’s war effort
against the Japanese, and thus a major factor in the Allies’ ultimate
But at a tremendous cost. No fewer than 700 Allied planes crashed or got
shot down and 1,200 airmen died. “Every 340 tons delivered cost the life of
a pilot,” historian Francis Pike writes in his exhaustive new history
Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War, 1941–1945.
Within a few months after bombing Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the armies
of Imperial Japan occupied a swath of Asia extending from China and Korea
south into Burma and what is now Indonesia, eastward all the way to isolated
islands in the middle of the Pacific.
Tokyo’s march seemed inexorable. And Japan’s expansion might have been much,
much more aggressive if not for the valiant and bloody resistance that
Chinese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his fighters offered up in the
portions of their country the Japanese did not fully control.
Chiang’s soldiers tied up no fewer than 1.5 million of Tokyo’s own troops,
Pike asserts in his dense new tome, which at nearly a thousand pages defies
conventional review. But the Chinese were strapped for weapons, ammo and
supplies. The Allies — and America, in particular — were desperate to keep
China fighting and, by extension, keep Japan bogged down.
As Pike explains, prior to May 1942 the Allies maintained a land route from
India through Burma into China. But Tokyo’s conquest of Burma shifted the
burden of supplying Chiang’s forces to a contingent of initially just 25
planes — a mix of Douglas DC-3s, C-39s, C-47s and C-53s that was wholly
inadequate for the mission’s demands.
“When fully loaded, Douglas DC-3s could not climb high enough to clear all
the peaks and were forced to weave a perilous path through the mountains, a
task that was virtually impossible when the treacherous Himalayan weather
closed in,” Pike writes.
Turbulence could force a plane to drop thousands of feet in mere seconds.
“Flight operations were a pilot’s nightmare,” according to the Air Force.
Planes crashed. Japanese fighters shot down others. In April 1943 the U.S.
Army Air Corps rushed the bigger and more powerful Curtis-Wright C-46 into
production to help out with Hump ops, but the new plane’s engines had a
tendency to ice up. “The bugs were worked out over the Hump,” Pike quotes
one pilot as explaining.
At top — a C-46 over the Hump. At right — view from over the Hump. Photo by
By the end of 1943, the Allies’ Air Transport Command had 142 transports and
five crews for each plane. ATC eventually swelled to 700 planes supported by
84,000 military personnel flying 1,000 miles round trip delivering up to
10,000 tons of supplies a month, “with a plane crossing the Hump every two
minutes,” according to Pike.
Granted, the airplanes and aircrews were just part of what was, in fact, an
unbelievably vast effort, also involving cargo ships that deposited supplies
in Calcutta and trains that hauled the material to the airfields — not to
mention roughly two million Indian and Chinese laborers who built the
airstrips in their respective countries by hand.
But the aircrews arguably suffered the most of all the people involved in
the Hump operation. “There was an approximately one in three chance of being
killed,” Pike writes — one of the worst wartime survival rates ever. Of the
700 planes(US official estimate 590 planes) that went down trying to cross the Hump between 1942 and 1945,
some 500(US official estimate 81 missing aircraft and 509 downed planes fully identified) remain missing more than 70 years later.
Published on Jun 18. All rights reserved by the author.