World War II CBI Air Campaign: Flying the Hump (1942-45)

Figure 1.--The U.S. Army Air Corps before the War had given virtually no attention to military air transport, but after Pearl Harbor was faced with a major air transport problem. There were bases in China that could be used to bomb the Japanese Home Islands. But to get men and supplies into China, they had had to solve the most daunting transport problem of the War--how to deliver the needed supplies over the Himalyan Mountains--the Hump. The AAC had given little attention to transport issues in general, the idea of delivering supplies of all places. over the Himilsyas was beyond the imgination of any AAC commander. While the AAC had given little thought to air transport, American industry had. Two aircraft devloped as commercil airlinrs proved the best air transports of the War. The iconic Douglas DC-3 (C-47) is the most famous, but over the Hump it was the Curtis C-46 Air Comando with its powerful engines that proved the workhorse.

It was important for the Allies to keep Chiang and China in the War because the bulk of the Japanese Army was deployed there. And President Roosevelt believed that China could play a major role in the war. But to do so, the Chinese needed the equipment and supplies the United states provided its other allies. Unfortunately, there was no way of getting the needed supplies to China. Japan occupied all the Chinese ports. And they cut the Burma Road (February 1942). he only way to support China was by air. It was not possible, however, to supply the vast quantity of equipmnt and supplies the Chinese Army needed by air. The air lift capacity could not begin to meet the mamouth needs of the Chinese Army. The AAC's focus before the War was on bombers. Other aircraft types like fighters and transports were given little attention as well as other missions. Not only the aircraft, but the AAC's training programs focused primarily on strategic bombing. The AAC was totally unprepared for a important air transport operation--let alone one over the Himalayas. Not only did the United States not have the plans or enough enough transport planes and crews to do his, but the route over the eastern Himalayas was extrenmely dangerous. It was the worse place in the world to fly heavily laden transport planes, but it is here the AAC was forced to organize a major air transport opertion. Set squarely between the supply depots in India and the airfields of China were the high mountains of the eastern Himalayas. There was no way around. To the west were even higher peaks. To the east were the Jaapnese. The route became known by thevmen who flew it as the Hump. Many planes air crews were lost flying the route. [Diebold] And in the many of the areas in which the planes went down, there were few survivors. The Allies began supply runs to China from India over the forbidding Himalayan Mountains (April 1942). The AAC used a variety of tranports in the CBI and the Hump, the two most important was the Curtis C-46 and the Douglas C-47 Neither had been designed for the military nor did the AAC play any role in their development. Both were made as civilian air liners. Only aftr the War began (1939) did the AAC realize the need for transports and began ordering both aircraft. It was the C-46 Air Comando that proved most capable of handling the many adverse conditions encountered. Air crews faced unpredictable weather, heavy cargo loads, field maintenance, intensive use, high mountain terrain, long runs, and poorly equipped and often flooded airfields. The C-46's powerful engines proved most capable of overcoming these condition, especially achieving the high altitudes needed on the Hump run (figure 1). The C-46 required, however, more maintenance than the C-47. Among the dangers were the unknown reception of the flyers by people like the Lolo tribesemen. The pilots referred to these runs as flying "The Hump". The flights because of the Himalayas were dangerous. They were 530-mile flights. The flights began as part of the AVG and then 10th Air Force operations, but there never was a centralized Hump command. Hump flights were conducted by all the major Americn CBI air commands, usually to supply their own operations. The Air Transport Command (ATC) was especially important. Nearly 1,000 men and 600 ATC planes were lost during the CBI operations over the Hump. The China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) lost an additional 38 planes and 88 airmen.


Diebold, William. Hell Is So Green: Search an Rescue Over the Hump (2011), 272p.


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Created: 4:49 AM 7/6/2016
Last updated: 5:47 PM 7/6/2016