We are losing our WWII vets at an ever increasing rate. My father-in-law and my father, both veterans of the war in the Pacific, have passed away in the last 5 years or so. I am reading about the history of the Battle of Okinawa, which my father-in-law participated in, and today I received an e-mail about the incredible losses suffered in the air wars over Europe and the Pacific, and the heartbreaking losses in…the United States. The U.S. lost 14 or 15,000 aircraft alone in training in the United States, and at least 22,000 operationally in the war overseas.
There were literally kids with barely 100 hours or so flying combat missions. Transitions to new fighters were quick and not like we know training today. No ground school, no transitional training, no practice solos. You start it, you fly it.
My Dad had a story about his training after leaving the U. S. that amazed me and I’d like to share it with you.
Dad’s story was about when he showed up in India to fly the Hump.
The Hump. India to China, with the highest mountains in the world in between. No radar, no nav systems, no accurate weather predictions, and unpressurized aircraft. Direct reckoning navigation, and a mistake was a one time thing. Cumulogranite clouds are unforgiving.
Dad had never flown the C-46 and the first thing he does upon arrival at his base in India is to go flying as the left seater (aircraft commander) in a C-46 with an instructor. No ground school, no exams, just get in the airplane and let’s go.
That’s what his first flight was all about.
After numerous touch and goes, engine out drills, flap malfunction practice and all that, Dad made the final landing. The instructor tells him he passed his training.
A few minutes later, Dad is standing outside the airplane with the instructor and says, “That was something. How much time do you have in this airplane?”
The guy replies, “How long was the flight?”
“About two hours,” says Dad.
The instructor says, “That makes it about…seven hours total.”
Dad gets excited. “SEVEN HOURS! And you’re an instructor?!!”
The guy looks at Dad and says, “So are you.”
And walks away.
11 responses to “The Hump”
Just as scary – LeMay took the 305th to England and some of the pilots had only about 4 hours in 4 engine AC total. It was very commonplace, alas, but the pressure was on. We were totally unprepared for that war because of FDR’s policies during the 30s.
“We were totally unprepared for that war because of FDR’s policies during the 30s.”
This is not entirely true. By in large, the people of the United States rejected the idea that the U.S. should involve itself in world affairs after the war in Europe of 1914-1918. They felt that the oceans would protect them from any problems in Europe or Asia. FDR’s greatest fault, I believe, was to not try hard enough to make the voters see that the U.S. could not avoid the war(s) that were coming. This is a basic outline of a complex issue. In the past several months I have been reading several books about this period.
Those guys were amazing. You look at B29 Aircraft commanders – many all of 20 or 21 years old and 300 hours TT.
Or say a guy going though flight school – he qualifies in the T6/SNJ then it is time to try a P51 or F4U. single seat (with the exception of a few P51s), you get some classroom, the instructor sees you to the cockpit with a few last words of encouragement, and you start up that 2,000 hp engine.
Those planes killed a lot of students just in the takeoff due to too much throttle and the p-Factor – the prop with its torque literally wanting to flip the airplane while still on the ground.
And those guys in the 8th and 15th AAF – where chances good of being killed or wounded before your final 21 or 25 missions were completed.
Had an interesting story from a friend in my car club – what a pilot he has been. Flew for Air America , was captain in Alaska of a Lockheed Electra at age 25, retired as a Delta 777 captain (and he had some interesting things to say about the Oceania crew at SFO).
Anyway he was on layover in London and wanted to take a tour of an old Army Air Force field. He is passing Westminster Cathedral and the young (25ish) guide is saying a window is devoted to 2,600 who were killed in the 8th AAF there.
After the tour, Russ told her “26,000”, but he could tell she didn’t care one way or the other.
8th Air Force Killed in Action Statistics
A total of 350,000 airmen served with the Eighth Air Force in England, and to this number, 26,000 were killed, or 7.42 percent. Compared to the percentages of other military branches – U.S. Marines 3.29%, U.S. Army 2.25%, and U.S. Navy 0.41%. – the Air Corps sustained the heaviest losses. More airman with the Eighth Air Force lost their lives than the entire Marine Corps, whose enrollment included 250,000 more people. Strictly measuring the mortality rate for the 210,000 air crewmen the casualty figure soars to 12.38% and in addition, 21,000 from the Eighth Air Force wound up in prison of war camps. Of those who flew the original twenty-five mission bomber tour in 1942-1943, just 35% survived, the twenty-five to thirty mission requirements of 1944 saw 66% completed, and by 1945, 81% of the combatants flew the full thirty-five engagements.
I remember reading about B-17’s and B-24’s launching into the clag on missions. Mid-airs were just part of the deal. On a 500 plane mission it was common to lose 10 aircraft — 100 men — before even reaching the channel.
In contrast, combat loss rates today are lower than mishap rates were back in my day. Who saw that one coming?
That’s a great story, Busbob. Thanks for posting it.
Great story Busbob. I always look forward to your posts.
Busbob: I was wondering last night how many of these C46’s (which if I am not mistaken was underpowered to begin with) – jhow many are scattered 10s of thousands of feet up on Himalayan peaks in unknown places….
WW2 aviation was definitely a “sink or swim” proposition
Online research gives me the number of aircraft lost as 700 or so, but the losses are not listed by aircraft type.
Can you imagine making this flight over and over again?
I have another story about the cargo Dad carried once, he was astonished to find out what he had carried over the Hump.
Will save that for later (is the hook set?). 😎
Busbob, thanks for this story. I’d like to hear your Dad’s Hump story.
Giving that Vinegar Joe Stilwell was in command, I’d believe that some of the supplies were for bribes. He needed them to overcome his caustic personality.
IIRC, most of the supplies were for the 14th Air Force. A logistics nightmare for sure.
Pingback: Index – The Rest of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans