FLYING THE HUMP AND RENEWED FIGHTING IN CHINA

RENEWED FIGHTING IN CHINA

left In late 1944, the Japanese stepped up their fighting in China as part of an effort to wipe out forward bases for the United States Air Force. Between September 8 and November 26, 1944, seven large air bases were overrun by the Japanese. Less than a month later the Japanese split unoccupied China and opened up new route that allowed the Japanese to travel between Singapore and Korea

In the spring of 1945, the Chinese began a counteroffensive that regained much of the territory lost the previous year. Imperative to this drive were 35 divisions trained and supplied with the help of Gen. Stillwell. Air support was provided by American and British planes based in Luichow, India and Kunming, China.

In contrast to the devastating defeats the Japanese suffered in the Pacific the Japanese were largely able to hold their own in China and were able to mount an effective offensive into the spring of 1945. At the time of surrender Japan held about half of China and the attacks by Nationalist and Communists were little more than harassments,

"When the Americans were here, it was pretty peaceful, a member of the Dai hill tribe told the New York Times in 1995, "For a while, we used American money. I remember because American coins were so big.

Good Websites and Sources on China during the World War II Period: Wikipedia article on Second Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ; Nanking Incident (Rape of Nanking) : Nanjing Massacre cnd.org/njmassacre ; Wikipedia Nanking Massacre article Wikipedia Nanjing Memorial Hall humanum.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/NanjingMassacre ; CHINA AND WORLD WAR II Factsanddetails.com/China ; Good Websites and Sources on World War II and China : ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; U.S. Army Account history.army.mil; Burma Road book worldwar2history.info ; Burma Road Video danwei.org Books: "Rape of Nanking The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II" by Chinese-American journalist Iris Chang; “China's World War II, 1937-1945" by Rana Mitter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013); “The Imperial War Museum Book on the War in Burma, 1942-1945" by Julian Thompson (Pan, 2003); “The Burma Road” by Donovan Webster (Macmillan, 2004). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Uneasy Kuomintang- Communists Alliance During World War II


Chinese Nationalist soldiers

The collaboration between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party took place with salutary effects for the beleaguered CCP. The distrust between the two parties, however, was scarcely veiled. The uneasy alliance began to break down after late 1938, despite Japan's steady territorial gains in northern China, the coastal regions, and the rich Chang Jiang Valley in central China. After 1940, conflicts between the Nationalists and Communists became more frequent in the areas not under Japanese control. The Communists expanded their influence wherever opportunities presented themselves through mass organizations, administrative reforms, and the land- and tax-reform measures favoring the peasants--while the Nationalists attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence.

“In 1945 China emerged from the war nominally a great military power but actually a nation economically prostrate and on the verge of all-out civil war. The economy deteriorated, sapped by the military demands of foreign war and internal strife, by spiraling inflation, and by Nationalist profiteering, speculation, and hoarding. Starvation came in the wake of the war, and millions were rendered homeless by floods and the unsettled conditions in many parts of the country.

“The situation was further complicated by an Allied agreement at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 that brought Soviet troops into Manchuria to hasten the termination of war against Japan. Although the Chinese had not been present at Yalta, they had been consulted; they had agreed to have the Soviets enter the war in the belief that the Soviet Union would deal only with the Nationalist government. After the war, the Soviet Union, as part of the Yalta agreement's allowing a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria, dismantled and removed more than half the industrial equipment left there by the Japanese. The Soviet presence in northeast China enabled the Communists to move in long enough to arm themselves with the equipment surrendered by the withdrawing Japanese army. The problems of rehabilitating the formerly Japanese-occupied areas and of reconstructing the nation from the ravages of a protracted war were staggering, to say the least.

Kuomintang, the Chinese Communist Party and the United States


Chiang Kai Shek with Roosevelt and Churchill in Cairo

During World War II, the United States emerged as a major actor in Chinese affairs. As an ally it embarked in late 1941 on a program of massive military and financial aid to the hard-pressed Nationalist government. In January 1943 the United States and Britain led the way in revising their treaties with China, bringing to an end a century of unequal treaty relations. Within a few months, a new agreement was signed between the United States and China for the stationing of American troops in China for the common war effort against Japan. In December 1943 the Chinese exclusion acts of the 1880s and subsequent laws enacted by the United States Congress to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States were repealed.

“The wartime policy of the United States was initially to help China become a strong ally and a stabilizing force in postwar East Asia. As the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists intensified, however, the United States sought unsuccessfully to reconcile the rival forces for a more effective anti-Japanese war effort. Toward the end of the war, United States Marines were used to hold Beiping and Tianjin against a possible Soviet incursion, and logistic support was given to Nationalist forces in north and northeast China.

Hump Fliers,Kunming, Lashio and Ledo

left Kunming in the Yunnan province of southwest China was the main distribution point for supplies arriving from the Burma and Ledo Roads. It was controlled by the Nationalists forces of Chiang kai-shek even after the Japanese claimed Burma in May 1942. In the early stages of the war entire factories were moved to Kunming to keep them out of the hands of the Japanese.

Lashio in Burma was a critical entrepot for the Allies in Southeast Asia. Food, fuel, medicines, and other supplies reached Lashio by railroad from Rangoon and were then carried by truck to Kunming.

Ledo in India was connected to the port of Calcutta by rail. It was the main source of material to China after Lashio and the Burma Road were captured by the Japanese. Ledo was important to the British mainly as a coal source. In the 1870s, a 2.4 billion metric ton coal supply was discovered here and the railroad was built primarily to bring this coal to Calcutta.

After the Burma Road was cut off military cargo was brought into China by "Hump Fliers" who flew through 15,000-foot-high passes in the Himalayas. About 1,000 planes went down over China during World War II. A total of 607 of them were hump fliers. Others were Flying Tigers who fought for the Nationalists.

Flying the Hump

Planes flying over the "Hump" arrived in Asia from America via South America and Africa. On their missions they departed from India and flew over the mountains on the China-Burma border to Kunming.Describing his flight from Kunming to India, Ronald Schofield wrote in the BBC’s People’s War: “I was then 'flown over The Hump' to Dingjan in Assam, India, then to Dum-Dum near Calcutta the following day. 'The Hump' is a region in Western Yunnan consisting of high mountains running in long ranges from north to south. The Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers run parallel to each other in spectacularly deep trenches separated by snow peaks. [Source: BBC’s People’s War website]


There were no seats, no crew, no gunners, and no wireless operator, only a pilot. The loss rate was more than 25 per cent. The pilots were paid in gold American dollars and allowed two hundredweight of 'profitable goods' (ie smuggled contraband) on each trip. But it was better than walking!

My pilot was a Texan who never took the cigar out of his mouth for the whole trip. To avoid being attacked by the Japanese, we had to fly through the gorge of the Kali Gandaki River, which is much deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon, and cuts through the Himalayas. The mountains on each side soar to over 28,000 feet, but the plane couldn't fly this high.

The pilot said in a broad southern American drawl, 'See those mountains over there’ They're thirty thousand feet! Wanna know the ceiling of this kite? Eighteen thousand feet! We're lookin' for a pass that is fifteen thousand feet---sometimes we find it --- sometimes we don't...' I didn't ask what happened if we didn't find it, but you can guess!

Divine Landing After Flying the Hump to Kunming

Recalling an experience in 1945, Jorgen Jorgensen, 1st lieutenant in 33rd squadron 513 group, wrote in The War Experience: “I remember my arrival in Kunming from Calcutta, India, and the Army issue of following: fleece-lined boots, fleece-lined flying overall type leg and body cover, fleece-lined bomber jacket, and the dual gloves to keep my fingers from freezing at the high altitudes I would be flying. The 45 caliber semiautomatic pistol with a 9 bullet magazine was given with the warning: always carry the pistol and holster when flying because if the time comes and you crash or must bail out, your only protection is the 45. Always save the last bullet for yourself. The soldier issuing my gear demonstrated how to do the final act. Stick the muzzle of the gun in your mouth and tilt the barrel up at a 45 degree angle, pull the trigger. You wonder why he said all this. It is because there will be no search party if you go down. There are bands of enemy soldiers that are experts in pain: pulling out all your finger and toe nails; tying your body to the ground over a newly planted crop of bamboo that will grow through your body while you die a horrible death. Another death is by being strapped spread eagle and deprived of water. To die without water will probably drive you out of your mind before the end comes. [Source: The War Experience Memories of World War II]

“I checked all the controls, gauges etc. The engines were running smoothly and the gyro-compass was keeping us at elevation and direction without any manual interference. I went back to day dreaming. My thoughts sent me back home with my wife. We were married a few months before I was sent to China. Our families live on neighboring farms. I did not want to think of things that might happen. I checked with our navigator who said we were on course with a correction for wind direction. Based on our present flying air speed of 180 mph, he said we should reach the Kunming radio signal soon which would get all information as well as our radio compass indicating the direction, in degrees, to the radio field tower. The navigator will give me a five minute warning to expect the radio contact.


Guarding a plane in China

“It had been about six hours since we started from the time we began our compass setting for Kunming. I was getting anxious. After about 10 minutes our navigator came forward and said we must be lost because we should have made radio contact 15 minutes ago. All I saw was 3 faces of a pasty gray and not a word was said: we all knew what was ahead.

“The first thing that came to mind was to bail out, but then there would be no hope of survival. I said to to make a best guess what direction that would at least bring us a little closer to the field. I had this overpowering feeling to make a 60 degree turn to the left, and do it immediately. All 6 gas gauges read “E” so I decided to start at the rear tanks. I would then sequence tank selection from rear, center and front tanks. I had to keep the engines running as long as possible. We had to get as close as we could to the field to have at least a chance of being found before entering the fires of hell.

“I reduced the rpm on both engines until we had an air speed of 130 mph, the air speed below which would cause a stall. A stall would send our plane into a nose dive that I could not pull us out of. I then set the left and right engines to the rear gas tanks selection. I started a slow descent to aid in maintaining and gaining air speed. We were in this dense fog and I realized we might run into an unseen mountain, but what choice did I have?

“No radio contact, but we continued. My mind was keeping on the same compass setting. I do not remember the length of time before we made contact. As soon as we made radio contact, our radio operator called the tower. The tower answered by telling us we had been given up for dead, crashed, and gone up in flames. He thought it was a ghost calling in. I was concentrating on the sound of the engines, the first engine, the left one started to cough, ready to quit. I switched to the left center gas tank and the engine started to run smooth again. This game continued where the engines alternately started the cough and I kept switching tanks. The time now came where both engines were on the final front fuel tanks. The left engine coughed and died. Only the right engine was running.

“All of us were straining to see any sign of the field. We were still under the blanket of dense clouds and fog. I could see the rock strewn ground below, the huge rock formations that looked like rock ice cream cones turned upside down. We were below these formations and, flying between them. I maintained my original 60 degree setting. I estimated we started about 1500 feet above ground when I first heard the tower radio. I maintained our gradual descent.

“Soon the final engine died. I had my copilot lower the flaps to full down to help keep us in the air as long as possible. I thought I could see a strip of concrete. It was the beginning of the runway. I saw this concrete and I could not believe my eyes. We had a chance of living if we could at least have the two front wheels reach and contact it, The tail wheel could hit the ground which would just give us enough drag to slow us down. I put all my strength into pulling on the control column to keep the nose up, and not cause a stall. Another miracle was that my flight direction was in line with the center line of the runway.


B-29 In India


“I was told it is impossible for a C-46 to glide, that the loss of engines would be an absolute crash. We did glide well enough to have our two wheels reach and make contact with the runway. I managed to keep the plane on the runway until we came to a stop. The runway was alive with fire engines, meat wagons, and tractors coming at us for any aid needed. The tractor hitched the nose of the C-46, and pulled us to the end of the runway, and off the runway. As soon as we were parked, the doors opened. Both the navigator and radio operator departed never to be seen or heard from of again by me. I tried to get out of my parachute and safety harness. I then tried to get up but my legs refused to move. I was lifted out of my seat and taken out of the plane. I do not remember anything until later when I found myself laying on a bunk.

“After getting back to home, I did a simple calculation. Based on a speed of 130 mph at 50 miles, starting at the moment I received the radio signal, I found it was a 23 minutes and 5 seconds to make our landing. I also found that if I had taken any other than a 60 degree left turn and at the very time that I did, I would have missed the runway and crashed. The drop in speed of 130 mph. to an almost sudden stop would probably have caused a leak in some of the 55 gallon drums filled with highly flammable gasoline. And if that didn't do us in, we would have been crushed by the safety harness that kept us in our seats. If I had taken a plus or minus .017 degree deviation from 60 degrees at time that I did, we would have missed the runway by 28.9 miles. If I had not made the 60 degree turn when I did, it would have been impossible to line up with the runway. There is only “one” combination of time and direction from any approach direction that would have allowed us to land safely. I am certain there was DIVINE intervention, we were meant to live.

Flying Chinese Soldiers to Kunming

Jorgen Jorgensen, 1st lieutenant in 33rd squadron 513 group, wrote in The War Experience: Our mission as army pilots was to aid Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese nationalists in the war against the communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong in 1945. My copilot and I met the Chinese raw soldiers at the C-46 cargo plane and we were to fly them to a designated field from Kunming, in southwestern China. We looked at these seemingly half starved peasants with no uniforms, but just a cotton undershirt and pants that looked like cotton underwear. They were all wearing straw conical straw hats and fiber sandals with bare feet. They each had a pair of bullet-loaded belts slung like a cross against their chests. Each had a rifle. There was a leader who understood a little English. [Source: The War Experience Memories of World War II]

After loading the troops, we closed the doors of the plane and put on our parachutes. The parachutes were dual purpose so that in case the main chute failed to open, the second chute should. The main parachute formed our seat and the other chute formed our back cushion. As we flew, it was a clear day and all was well. But soon, we started to smell smoke coming from the back of the plane. My copilot went back to find all the Chinese huddled around a fire. My copilot managed to put out the fire and asked why they had started a fire in the plane. The answer was they were cold and wanted to warm up. We were happy to finally land and deliver these troops. We both were thankful they did not try to shoot us while we were in the air.

Flying the Hump Crash

During World War Two, nearly 1,000 Americans and 600 planes were lost over Myanmar due to bad weather and Japanese guns while flying from India to China. About 730 Americans remain unaccounted for, according to the U.S. Defense Department. Many planes doing the Over the Hump run crashed in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state, a remote region of dense jungles, high mountains, poor roads and an ongoing insurgency.

Military historian Frank McLynn wrote in his 2010 book, "The Burma Campaign": "Take off was often in heavy weather with no radar, no traffic control and inadequate radios. After fighting through zero visibility, the pilots would often get above the cloud canopy into clear air to find a plane flying straight at them; mid-air collisions were frequent." Pilots spoke of being "tossed about like an egg in a tin" by roiling clouds and savage crosswinds that could tear an airplane apart. In 1943 alone, nearly 400 airmen went down, with only 125 of them rescued.

Denis D. Gray of wrote: “Forced to skim the ground under a 100-foot (30-meter) cloud ceiling, fighting rain and wretched visibility, the C-47 Skytrain probably proved an easy target for Japanese gunners. Packed with ammunition, the aircraft exploded, plunging into a jungle that swallowed it up for 57 years.” One of those on board was Clarence Frantz. “Clarence had volunteered in 1941, serving in the U.S. Cavalry until it was disbanded. He was then sent to fly as a radio operator on resupply missions along a 600-mile (965-kilometer) route between northeastern India and China, dubbed the "Skyway to Hell" and the "Aluminum Trail" for the number of planes that didn't make it. [Source: Denis D. Gray, AP, March 14, 2012 **]

“Clarence's plane, according to accounts pieced together from the MIA search and other sources, took off from India, made it over a Himalayan range known as "The Hump" but probably veered off course as it prepared to drop desperately needed food and mortar shells for embattled U.S. troops at Mytikyina in northern Burma. Japanese ground fire appears to have brought down the aircraft some 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Laiza. Searchers, delayed by poor weather for 2 1/2 days, scoured the area for 66 hours but found no trace of the two-engine plane. **

“The JPAC [Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command] team discovered a number of airplane parts along with six teeth and bone fragments. Two of the crewmen were identified through DNA testing, and the others were confirmed dead from other evidence. All seven were buried with full honors in 2010. Robert Frantz, the only one of six brothers and sisters still living, received an identification bracelet that was found at the crash site; their mother had given it to Clarence. Before his death at age 24, he had mailed an engagement ring to his high school sweetheart. "But he never got home to get married," Robert said. **

Image Sources: National Archives of the United States; Wikimedia Commons; Gensuikan;

Text Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, Lonely Planet Guides, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Eyewitness to History , edited by John Carey ( Avon Books, 1987), Compton’s Encyclopedia, History of Warfare by John Keegan, Vintage Books, Eyewitness to History.com, The Good War An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel, Hamish Hamilton, 1985, BBC’s People’s War website and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020


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