Saturday, September 21, 2013

Humping

By Julie Rahm



As promised in last week’s column, I have continued the “over the hump” theme into this week. The “Hump” name was given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. These allied pilots flew military transport aircraft from India to China. Their mission was to resupply the Chinese (Chiang Kai-shek) war effort against the Japanese. Here is the history:

After the Japanese invaded China in 1937, they controlled China's Pacific coast. The Chinese could not be resupplied by sea. Then, in the spring of 1942, Japanese units overran Burma, cutting off the land route that supplied the struggling armies of Chiang Kai-shek. When Japan cut off the Burma Road supply route, the U.S. (with planes commandeered from U.S. domestic airlines!) began flying the treacherous route over the Himalayas and became the lone supplier of China’s combat forces along with Air Force General Chennault’s American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers. The United States and its allies needed to keep China in the war. Chinese forces preoccupied hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops. Holding China permitted the Allies to attack Axis powers in Europe. China could also be a launch site for an Allied attack on Japan's home islands. However, the grand strategy could only work if China could be supplied; hence the airlift.

Furthermore, it is not exact to believe the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The reality is, the U.S. began to help the Chinese before the December 1941 Pearl Harbor Attack. Aid to the Chinese began in April. And, in June the Flying Tigers were sent to fly missions against the Japanese. The U.S. was engaged in conflict with the Japanese six months before Pearl Harbor. The Japanese know this. (Ever wonder why Pearl Harbor was attacked?) Now you know!

Anyway, creating an airlift presented the Air Force with a huge challenge. In 1942, there were no units trained or equipped for moving cargo. There were no airfields in India for basing the large number of transports. Flying over the Himalayas was extremely dangerous and made more difficult by a lack of reliable charts, an absence of radio navigation aids, and no information about the weather. Regardless, in April 1942, pilots started flying the "Hump," and continued missions until 1945, when the Burma Road was reopened. The dangerous 530-mile long passage over the Himalayan Mountains took its toll. Nearly 1,100 men and 638 planes were lost over the Hump. The thousand-mile roundtrip was full of high winds, sub-zero temperatures, thunderstorms and 18,000 foot mountain peaks. They flew it without cabin pressure or heat in the transport planes of the day, twin-engine C-46s and C-47 "gooney birds". Navigation was by radio and dead reckoning. Each of the men earned a Distinguished Flying Cross! The effort is legendary by any measure.

So my message this week is when you are trying to make it over the Hump, I hope the heroic efforts of the Hump pilots inspire you to persevere!

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