Meeting at Quebec, Canada in August of 1943 (“Quadrant Conference”) the
Supreme Command brought to a reality General Orde Wingate’s dream of long
standing -- a far-reaching invasion behind enemy lines by, and with all
support, solely by air.
To accomplish this feat Generals Marshall and Arnold established Project 9 to be later renamed four times - Project CA 281, 5318TH Provisional Unit (Air), No. One Air Commando Force and finally First Air Commando Group. Selected as Co-Commanders were Colonels Philip G. Cochran and John R. Alison.
Over the years writers and historians have given much deserved credit to the Commandos for their successes and valor in participating in the battles to drive the Japanese from Northern Burma. However recorded history has left an impression that First Air Commando accomplished the fete as a singular composite unit.
The fact should be stressed that six Troop Carrier Squadrons under the command of William D. Old, Brigadier General of the United States Army Air Force, serving under the South East Asia Command, flew with First Air Commando in achieving the goal. The units flying with and along side the Commandos were:
UNITED STATES ARMY
Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron
315TH Troop Carrier Squadron
BRITISH ROYAL AIR FORCE
31ST Transport Squadron
62ND Transport Squadron
117TH Transport Squadron
154TH Transport Squadron
The Historical Division of the Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron has worked diligently over the past fifteen years to bring this fact out of the ashes of time to the frames of written and video history. Success has been achieved in that the two aforementioned American Units have been included in many volumes of recent vintage still the four British squadrons have yet to received the acknowledgment they deserve.
Now let it be known that all flew side by side in “Operation Thursday” and all deserve the well earned credit and glory equally.
A recent study of Major Barbara P. King and Major Edward M Leete, of the United States Air Force, published by the Air University of the United States Air Force Research Center endorses the fact that 70 Douglas Aircraft C-47s (named “Dakota” by the British) and the crews of the Troop Carrier units partook in the invasion and support the operation from their on.
NOW FOLLOWS THE TALE
OF ONE OF THE NAVIGATORS OF THE TWENTY-SEVENTH TROOP CARRIER SQUADRON WHO
FLEW THE MISSIONS.
(His remarks are made in reference to articles written in the “Ex-CBI Roundup.”)
The May 1944 issue, your “CBI IQ column No. 147" told of the First Air Commando invasion of Burma fifty years ago. Something that is always left out of articles about the operation is the fact that First Air Commando did not pull that off without help. They provided all the gliders; but, only a fraction of the C-47s. The balance of the tow ships were furnished by the United States Army Air Force and the British Royal Air Force. The squadrons flew the short distance to Lalaghat where some of the First Pilots were replaced by Air Commando pilots who had flown recon flights in earlier weeks. Principally they flew the lead ships. The remainder of the crews were of the Troop Carrier Squadrons.
The gliders were overloaded, as we were to learn later. I seem to remember that it took some 30 minutes of circling Lalaghat before we could go on course and clear the first ridge. The pilot described the controls as very “Mushy.” I recall the airspeed in the 90 to 95 mph range. Throttle and mixture controls were full forward. Fuel consumption was awful. We passed the point of no return long before we reached the drop zone. Engines heated up passed the red line. Of course, after the gliders were cut loose the aircraft’s operating parameters returned to normal. But, we were close to three hours with mush controls, full throttle and hot engines. Brig./General William Old of Troop Carrier Command was at Lalaghat and became concerned about the wear on the engines, knowing the aircraft were needed to support the Chindits in the weeks ahead.
The plans were that we would do two tows that night. But, after it was learned that the engines were taking such a beating, the second mission was scrubbed as far as the Troop Carrier aircraft were concerned. The troop carrier units were to be the life line for the Chindits from that day on.
Our aircraft had already been “rigged” with bamboo poles by the British to haul mules. So, we were back at Lalaghat the next afternoon to haul mules, five per aircraft with a mule tender. The engineers and their little airborne dozers had scraped the ground clean at “Broadway.” We were able to start landing the next night less than 24 hours after we had delivered the engineers and dozers to the valley by gliders.
I am not certain if we hauled mules one or two days. But in either case, after that we flew nightly from Sylhet, Assam, India to “Broadway” with their required supplies. In one case, while helping evacuate “Chowringhee,” we were given a load of ammo to take back to Sylhet. We thought, “what the hell,” someone would only have to carry a load of ammo to “Broadway” the next day so we took it up the valley to “Broadway.” There were no manifest, anything that landed was unloaded. In addition to landings, many deliveries were made by night air drop to the columns which had fanned out from “Broadway,” to play their mischief on the Japanese.
The British supply depot for the operation was on the south side of the road, west of Sylhet. The airbase on the north side had a new concrete runway with individual revetments for the aircraft. Personnel quarters were the typical Indian bashas.
“Piccadilly” was not established. “White City” and Chowringhee” were established shortly after “Broadway,” but were short lived.
I was a navigator with the Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron and flew in the second tow with our squadron Commander, Major Lewis C. Burwell, in the right seat. I believe it was Major Cherry of the First Air Commandos in the left seat. I had also attended, with a couple other Troop Carrier representatives, the briefing by General Wingate in Imphal, Assam, India a couple of weeks prior to the mission.
Howard M. Itz
Captain United States Army Air Force
Captain Itz’s tale has been amended by the Twenty Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron Archives with data uncovered since its writing. Side remarks are also those of the squadron.
Harry A. Blair
HARRY A. BLAIR
TWENTY-SEVENTH TROOP CARRIER SQUADRON
LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN
28 APRIL 2001