March 1969 Issue
Sunday, March 19, 2006
6th FERRYING SQUADRON
March 1969 Issue
March 1969 Issue
By Joseph N. Mackrell, Jr.
Responding to your request concerning information covering units stationed in the CBI Theater, I have gathered together some facts, pictures and a lot of memory searching about the 6th Squadron, 1st Ferry Group, India-China Wing of the Air Transport Command (ATC).
It covers the period of time from March 8, 1942, at Fort Bragg, N.C., to February 1944 when I returned to the States.
To the best of my knowledge the 1st Ferry Group was formed at a field in the state of New York. The nucleus of this organization, consisting of three squadrons-the 1st, 3rd and 6th-was sent to Pope Field at Fort Bragg, N.C., for overseas briefing, there to be joined by a complement of men from various fields throughout the county.
At this juncture in history, the usual Army "snafu" was working in high gear. Among those men joining the command at Fort Bragg was a large contingent from Lowry Field, Denver, Colo. Most of these men were trained in bombsight maintenance, power operated turrets and aircraft armament. There being little for men trained in these skills in a transport outfit, many were assigned to other duties. A large number of armament men were later trained as radio operators by the Signal Corps, at Karachi, India.
We were at Pope Field for about 10 days and were then transported by train to Charleston, S. C., our port of embarkation.
Our voyage was on the Brazil, which was one of the most active troopships of World War II. This ship made more than 30 overseas voyages from United States ports between early 1942 and early 1946. The food on our voyage generally was terrible and a great amount of yellow jaundice broke out among the troops. Two men were buried at sea.
Upon arrival at Karachi, we were transported to the Malir cantonment, about 25 miles out of Karachi. The quarters at this camp were quite comfortable, being of an adobe type construction. One of the drawbacks to this place was that all working parties had to be transported daily to Karachi Air Field.
After a few months at Malir, the 6th Squadron was moved to a tent camp on the edge of Karachi Air Field. Living conditions were quite dusty here and the mess personnel did a good job of their makeshift quarters. The mess hall and kitchen were constructed out of aircraft packing cases. There were advantages to this camp, however, including the nearness to the field and occasional passes into Karachi.
While at this location, the squadron was reinforced by a large contingent of men who had arrived from the States, including another large group of armament men from Lowry Field. I believe this group came over on the Mariposa.
After several months at Karachi, an advance contingent of our squadron consisting of pilots, radio men, ground crew personnel, communications personnel, etc., were sent ahead to our advanced base at Mohanbari, near Dibrugarh in Assam. A short time later a small guard contingent was assigned to a freight train carrying the squadron's equipment to the advanced base. The freight was soon followed by a troop train carrying the main body of the 6th Squadron.
To the best of my failing memory the trip across India took about 10 days and was quite an experience. The equipment had to be unloaded and reloaded several times in order to cross rivers and due to the change in the railroad gauges.
Our first camp at Mohanbari was on a site that had been abandoned by Indian forces a short time before, and was on the primitive side. It consisted of long barrack-type bashas surrounded by deep drainage ditches. All the other buildings in the area were of similar construction. The area was pockmarked with slit trenches and there were several antiaircraft machine gun emplacements, which were manned by squadron personnel. Yankee ingenuity soon provided us with a fine hot water bath house that was not only a luxury but a real necessity. At this time the officers were stationed at various cottages throughout the area. These cottages were the homes of the managers of the tea plantations.
Operations and other necessary offices and shops were situated near the air strip. The communications building and the tower were a few hundred feet from the main group of buildings. There were several machine gun emplacements in this area and an Indian anti-aircraft battery had several guns near the field. Within the time covered in this report, I believe the field was under enemy attack twice, causing one casualty among the enlisted men and injuries to several natives.
After several months in this area the entire squadron was moved to a new camp on the far side of the air strip. Earlier the air strip was grass, making it necessary to move our flight operations to the Chabua area-which had a paved strip-during the monsoon season. At the time of this move, natives with the aid of a rather ancient rock crusher were paving the entire strip with crushed rock.
The new camp consisted of several rows of thatched bashas built to accommodate eight men and their belongings. There were also several large buildings on this base, including a mess hall and kitchen (manned by native personnel under the direction of our mess officers and enlisted personnel), a large day room and a fine theater.
The 6th Squadron's record of achievement was the envy of the Assam Valley. Much of the credit of our fine showing (leading in missions and tonnage over the Hump) was due to the work of our ground personnel. Our maintenance men worked night and day keeping the overworked and overburdened aircraft in the air.
During this period we lost many crews and aircraft, due to enemy action and weather. Many men were lost to duty for several weeks at a time due to malaria and other sickness. Those men rotated stateside were replaced by new personnel who were constantly being absorbed in the outfit.
The India-China airlift delivered approximately 650,000 tons of materiel to China at great cost in men and aircraft during its 42-month history
594 aircrew lost
1694 planes lost
In the spring of 1943, we started getting the new C-46 cargo plane. The transition of training pilots onto this plane was a real problem. We experienced difficulty at high altitudes with a de-icing screen on the engines.
We had another group of celebrities to visit our base at Chabua. William Gargan, actor; Paulette Goddard, actress; and Joe E. Brown, actor and comic, visited our base. William Gargan and Paulette Goddard had lunch with us at our mess hall. Joe E. Brown gave his performance at the polo grounds - our transit area. He could put four golf balls in his mouth at one time!
By the middle of 1943, we must have had 1,500 men stationed at Chabua. This went up to over 2,000 in the early part of 1944. We started night flights over to China, weather permitting.