The traffic into these two airstrips was massive in number. The dust was terrific. The only control was a red and green “biscuit gun” in the blackness. The squadron began with a flight carrying forty fully-equipped Gurkhas followed by a second carrying seven badly disoriented mules and their attendants. For those reading this tale, if you haven’t flown an aircraft with scared, frisky mules in the back you’ve missed one of life’s rare sensations. Average loads were 4,000 pounds over that specified by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and used by the airlines. The temporary airstrips were considerably shorter than runways in the United States thus requiring the “short approach landings” for which the pilots of the Twenty-Seventh became famous for and proficient in. Landing lights were out of the question. One would fly by the seat of his pants watching for the exhaust glow from the stacks of the ship in front. The only technique was to line the lady up, hold the air speed steady, aim then pray and sweat. As for the guy behind - you just kept your fingers crossed.
For security against air and ground attacks the strips were established
to permit but one approach with take off in the opposite direction regardless
of the wind direction. The strips were like giant caves with the roofs
knocked off. The high peaks that rimmed one end and both sides did not
allow for “overshooting.” There was no pull up and go around procedure
- thus no second choice.
The tactic would be improved on by the pilots for months to come as the squadron transferred into China and its landing strips within the Himalayas with high rock ridges at the perimeters and mother nature tossing the worst of weather at them.
In spite of all the afore mentioned obstacles the safety record of the Twenty-Seventh was phenomenal. With no casualties and but two aircraft damaged in the dust clouds at Chowringah the squadron received much praise from higher commands.
(The story of the two
aircraft damaged is yet another tale of bravery placed on this site.)
With the last mule stumbling down the bamboo ramp into the dark Burma jungle the airborne invasion was completed “according to plan” and successful far beyond the wildest of hopes of the planners. The “Chindit” forces went into action with their only link to the outside world being the men and aircraft of the Troop Carrier Command. There would be no fumbling around in the daylight - it was strictly night club hours. In the ensuing two and one half months we would often recall the good American tradition of “the night is made for love” – or carousing - or sleep, anything but placing your life at risk flying in the most inhospitable terrain on the face of the earth. One would remember that panicky feeling the first time, as a little boy, you were lost in the woods, or in the darkness at the foot of the cellar stairs. You received all of these little boy fears, plus the grownup worries of weather, navigation, gas supply and letting down in the thick of the blackness in a row of fires a thousand feet below the invisible peaks.
The enemy lines, at this time, stretched north and south just east of the high Imphal range. The days got hotter, weather a little thicker and more thunderstorms to dodge. Some of our night missions carried 250 miles beyond. Failure of even one engine could mean a one way trip for the crew and aircraft.
Aberdeen, White City, Clydeside - all strips with nostalgic names. As the Chindits fanned out in the area between Mandalay and Myitkyina, new “strongholds” were built. The Japanese kept them all under intermittent siege. Our traffic patterns were in range of their 30 caliber and 37mm. weapons. In making the landings and takeoffs there was nothing to do but duck and run for it. The tracers reminded you of evenings at home watching symphonic fireworks. You could hear something like hail on a barn roof and you knew it wasn’t bouncing. One night Captain Robert H. Hunt returned from White City and casually stepped out of the aircraft with the left wheel and half of the control column in his hand. He put forth a huge grin and we all gave thanks for dual controls.
One moonlight night an R.A.F. transport flicked on his landing lights as he lined up on his “final” into Aberdeen and the next thing he knew a flock of 20 mm. shells whistled through the ship literally knocking out one engine and most of his tail. The transport crashed beside the runway as the Japanese intruder sailed away. Made one even worry about a luminous dial watch.
The Twenty-Seventh lost its first aircraft at Aberdeen in the pitch darkness of the night when 684 stubbed her toe landing. No one was injured but extensive repairs in such a hot spot were out of the question. Personnel of the squadron flew into the strip a few nights later to salvage as many parts as possible. Tojo was running an hourly shuttle from Shwebo. The first bombs caught the men by surprise and they headed for a drainage ditch about fifty yards away. It was a soft landing as the bottom was full of West Africans who used the ditch as their chamber for sleep at night. Several of the enemy bombs hit the runway thus taking off was similar to a slalom run on a ski slope.
Clydeside was opened by gliders and closed by Japanese mortar fire. Three
of our men lived through the ordeal and were rescued by the braveness of
one of our pilots. You will find the
tale on this site titled “The Burma Inferno” and “Hell Has Its Fury.” A trip to Clydeside was not a very “lovely way to spend an evening.” Clydeside was later renamed Blackpool by the British Forces.
As one flew into a strip it would be easy to know that a big fight was cooking. Our cargo of barbed wire made it obvious. On one fight into Broadway it was noted barbed wire was stretched through out the normal parking area. Trying to make their question as nonchalant as possible the crew inquired as to how far away the enemy was. The British Major replied “Plenty of dead ones under you feet and the live ones but a hundred yards out there.”
The British barbed wire strategy was to let the enemy banzai charges roll
right on up to the “block” and as they wriggled through on their bellies
a “greeter’s committee” of well-knived Ghurkas were sent to meet
Note: This tale is composed from notes of Major Lewis C. Burwell and the memory of yours truly.
Harry A. Blair, Historian
Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron
La Crosse, Wisconsin
10 May 2001
12 March 1944
: Commanding Officer, 117 Wing, Royal Air
: Commanding Officer, 31 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer, 62 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer, 117 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer, 194 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer, 27TH Troop Carrier Squadron, APO 433
: Commanding Officer, 315TH Troop Carrier Squadron, APO 433
1. The following
is a paraphrase of radiogram received from
Commander, Special Force:
“TO ALL YOUR COMMAND, PLEASE CONVEY MY SINCERE THANKS AND ADMIRATION ON BEHALF OF SPECIAL FORCE FOR THE SMOOTHNESS, DASH AND EFFICIENCY WITH WHICH THEY HAZARDOUS OPERATION HAS BEEN CARRIED OUT WITH 100 PERCENT SUCCESS TO DATE. ALL RANKS OF SPECIAL FORCE HAVE BEEN FILLED WITH CONFIDENCE BY THE PERFORMANCE OF “TROOP CARRIER PILOTS.”
T William D. Old
Brig. General, USA
16 March 1944
TO : Commanding
Officer 177 Wing, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer 31 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer 62 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer 117 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer 194 Squadron, Royal Air Force
: Commanding Officer 27th Troop Carrier Squadron, APO 433
: Commanding Officer 315th Troop Carrier Squadron, APO 433
1. The following
paraphrase of radiogram from the Air Commander,
Eastern Air Command is forwarded for dissemination to all ranks of your
“THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE
HAS BEEN RECEIVED FROM SIR RICHARD PFIRSE, WHICH I FULLY ENDORSE.
I AM PROUD THAT MY COMMAND HAS DONE SO WELL IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS OF
ITS EXISTENCE: THE REPORTS OF THURSDAY OPERATION REFLECT UTMOST CREDIT
ON ALL CONCERNED WITH PLANNING AND EXECUTION AND UPON YOURSELF AS AIR COMMANDER
EASTERN AIR COMMAND, AND ARE WONDERFUL READING. MY PRAISE GOES IN PARTICULAR
TO COCHRAN, OLD, BALDWIN AND WISE AND THEIR SUBORDINATE COMMANDERS IN THE
SUCCESS PAR EXCELLENCE OF AN OPERATION WHICH MAKES HISTORY IN GROUND AIR
WELL AM I AWARE THAT APART FROM PLANNING IN DETAIL WITHOUT WHICH NO
OPERATION BE A SUCCESS, SUCCESS LIES IN THE INDIVIDUAL COURAGE AND SKILL
OF THE AIR CREW OF THE TRANSPORTS AND GLIDERS. THEIRS IS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT.
TO ALL THOSE WHOSE HARD WORK HAS MAINTAINED THE AIRCRAFT FOR SERVICE
AND TO THOSE WHO WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR MARSHALING AND LOADING, ALSO GOES
MY PRAISE. IN BIG MEASURE THEY ARE THE SUCCESS OF THE OPERATION. TO ALL I SAY WELL DONE, AND WILL BE GRATEFUL IF YOU WILL CONFER MY MESSAGE TO THEM. PEIRSE.”
William D. Old
/t/ William D. Old
Brig. General, USA
March 24, 44
Officer 177 Wing, RAF
Commanding Officer 31 Sqdn. RAF
Commanding Officer 62 Sqdn. RAF
Commanding Officer 117 Sqdn. RAF
Commanding Officer 194 Sqdn. RAF
Commanding Officer 27TH Troop Carr. Sqdn. APO 433
Commanding Officer 315TH Troop Carr. Sqdn. APO 433
1: THE FOLLOWING SIGNAL HAS BEEN RECEIVED FROM THE SUPREME ALLIED
COMMANDER, SOUTH EAST ASIA: “I HAVE GREAT PLEASURE IN PASSING ON
TO YOU A TELEGRAM THAT I HAVE JUST RECEIVED FROM THE PRIME MINISTER.
I WOULD BE GLAD IF YOU COULD PASS IT ON TO WINGATE AND THOSE TO WHICH HE HAS REPLIED AS FOLLOWS: I AM THRILLED BY THE NEWS OF MOBILE COLUMN SUCCESS UNDER WINGATE. PLEASE GIVE HIM MY HEARTY GOOD WISHES. MAY THE GOOD WORK GO ON. THIS MARKS ANOTHER ACHIEVEMENT FOR THE AIRBORNE TROOPS. NOT FORGETTING THE MULES.
IF YOU WOULD BRING THIS TO THE NOTICE OF ALL CONCERNED, I SHOULD BE VERY GLAD.”
/s/ WILLIAM D. OLD
/t/ WILLIAM D. OLD
Brig. General USA