1st Air Commando Group (USAAF)

1st Air Commando Group (USAAF)

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1st Air Commando Group (USAAF)

History - Books - Aircraft - Time Line - Commanders - Main Bases - Component Units - Assigned To


The 1st Air Commando Group was formed to support Wingate's Raiders behind enemy lines in Burma and was a mixed unit that carried out a wide range of tasks across Burma and beyond.

The 1st Air Commando Group was originally an experimental group, designed to be a self-supporting air force capable of supporting a Chindit style deep penetration. It thus had a mix of fighters, transport aircraft, bombers and gliders. Although the group performed well the rapid expansion of American air power allowed the same task to be performed by standard units types and some of the new Air Commando Groups that had been formed for Burma went to the South-West Pacific instead.

The group was formed in India in March 1944 and was originally formed into six sections - bomber section (B-25 Mitchell), fighter section (P-51 Mustang), light plane section (Stinson L-1 Vigilant ,
Stinson L-5 Sentinel and early helicopters), transport section (C-47), glider section (Waco CG-4A and TG-5 Grasshopper) and light-cargo section (Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman). After its first burst of operations the group was withdraw and reorganised and by the end of 1944 consisted of two fighter squadrons, three liaison squadrons and one troop carrier squadron.

The group entered combat almost immediately, operating in support of Wingate's men behind Japanese lines. It carried out a mix of supply drops and casualty evacuations to directly support the troops as well as attacking Japanese airfields and transport links. The group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for its actions between March 1944 and the end of the first phase of operations in May 1944.

The group was caught up to a certain extent in the complex command arrangements in India and Burma. As late as November 1943 it was the only USAAF that was officially committed to Mountbatten's South East Asia Command - all other American units in the area reported either to the American chiefs of staff or to Chiang Kai-shek.

By the autumn of 1944 the group formed part of the Combat Cargo Task Force, which reported to the Fourteenth Army and in October 1944 had 167 transport aircraft provided by the 1st Combat Cargo Group, 1st Air Commando Group and No.177 Wing, RAF.

In December 1944 the group was used to fly Chinese troops and their supplies back to China from Burma. For the rest of the war it was used to support Allied troops in Burma, flying a mix of supply, casualty evacuation and liaison duties.

As well as transport missions the group took part in standard ground attack missions. In May 1945 it was involved in the attacks on the rail network on Formosa, destroying two engines in an attack on 28 May. The group was used to attack Japanese troops, transport links and oil facilities across Burma and also provided some fighter escorts early in 1945.

The group returned to the United States in October 1945 and was inactivated on 3 November 1945.


To follow


North American B-25 Mitchell
North American P-51 Mustang
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
Stinson L-1 Vigilant
Stinson L-5 Sentinel
Douglas C-47 Skytrain (Dakota)
Waco CG-4A
TG-5 Grasshopper
Noorduyn UC-64 Norseman


25 March 1944Constituted as 1st Air Commando Group
29 March 1944Activated in India
October 1945To United States
3 November 1945Inactivated
8 October 1948Disbanded

Commanders (with date of appointment)

Col Philip G Cochran: 29Mar 1944
Col Clinton B Gaty: 20 May1944
Col Robert W Hall: c. 7 Apr 1945-unkn.

Main Bases

SHailakandi, India: 29 Mar1944
Asansol, India: 20 May 1944-6 Oct1945
Camp Kilmer: NJ, 1-3 Nov 1945

Component Units

5th Fighter Squadron: 1944-1945
6thFighter Squadron: 1944-1945
164th Liaison Squadron: 1944-1945
165th Liaison Squadron: 1944-1945
166thLiaison Squadron: 1944-1945
319th Troop Carrier Squadron:1944-1945-

Assigned To

Late 1944 onwards: Combat Cargo Task Force

Curtiss C-46 Commando

* The Curtiss "C-46 Commando" was a twin-engine cargolifter used primarily by the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in World War II, although it saw action with other services during the war, and in later conflicts. The C-46 remains largely forgotten, since it was overshadowed by the much more famous Douglas "C-47 Dakota" transport. This document provides a history and description of the Commando. A list of illustration credits is included at the end.

1st Air Commando Group (USAAF) - History

Recovery of RB26L (44-35782) that was lost December 6, 1963

All crewmembers perished in the crash

Capt Gary W. Bitton - Pilot Capt. Thomas F. Gorton - Instructor Navigator Capt. Norman R. Davison - Navigator Airman 2nd Class Richard D. Hill -Photographer Unidentified SVAF Crewman

Images Courtesy of Joseph W. Brown Jr.

1st Special Operations Squadron (constituted 1st Air Commando Squadron, Composite, and activated, on 17 Jun 1963 organized on 8 Jul 1963 redesignated: 1st Air Commando Squadron, Fighter, on 15 Aug 1967 1st Special Operations Squadron on 1 Aug 1968).

Pacific Air Forces, 17 Jun 1963 34th Tactical Group, 8 Jul 1963 6251st Tactical Fighter Wing, 8 Jul 1965 (attached to 3d Tactical Fighter Wing, 21 Nov 1965–8 Mar 1966) 2d Air Division, 18 Feb 1966 14th Air Commando Wing, 8 Mar 1966 56 th Air Commando (later, 56th Special Operations) Wing, 20 Dec 1967 18 th Tactical Fighter Wing, 15 Dec 1972 18th Tactical Fighter Group, 1 May 1978.

Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam, 8 Jul 1963 Pleiku AB, South Vietnam, 5 Jan 1966 Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand, 20 Dec 1967 Kadena AB, Japan, 15 Dec 1972 (segment of squadron operated from Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, 15 Dec 1972–28 Jan 1973).

B–26, 1963–1964 T–28, 1963–1964 U–10, 1963–1966 C–47, 1963–1966 RB–26, 1963–1964 A–1, 1964–1972 FC–47, 1964–1965 AC–47, 1965 C(later, MC)–130, 1972–.

Combat in Southeast Asia, 8 Jul 1963–7 Nov 1972 and 15 Dec 1972–28 Jan 1973. Trained Vietnamese Air Force pilots in counterinsurgency operations, Jul 1963–Nov 1972.

Vietnam: Vietnam Advisory Vietnam Defensive Vietnam Air Vietnam Air Offensive Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase II Vietnam Air Offensive,Phase III Vietnam Air/Ground Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase IV TET 69/ Counteroffensive Vietnam Summer-Fall, 1969 Vietnam Winter-Spring, 1970 Sanctuary Counteroffensive Southwest Monsoon Commando Hunt V Commando Hunt VI Commando Hunt VII Vietnam Ceasefire.

Presidential Unit Citations (Southeast Asia): 1 Aug 1964–15 Apr 1965

8 Mar 1966–7 Mar 1967 1 Nov 1968–1 May 1969 1 Oct 1969–30 Apr 1970 1 Apr–15 Dec 1972. Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with Combat "V" Device: 1 Dec 1970–30 Nov 1971 1 Dec 1971–29 Feb 1972. Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards: 1 May 1963–31 Jul 1964 1 Apr 1974–31 Mar 1976 Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm: 1 Oct 1967–15 Dec 1972.

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Unity of command problems in the Air Corps Edit

The roots of the Army Air Forces arose in the formulation of theories of strategic bombing at the Air Corps Tactical School that gave new impetus to arguments for an independent air force, beginning with those espoused by Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell that led to his later court-martial. Despite a perception of resistance and even obstruction then by the bureaucracy in the War Department General Staff (WDGS), much of which was attributable to lack of funds, the Air Corps later made great strides in the 1930s, both organizationally and in doctrine. A strategy stressing precision bombing of industrial targets by heavily armed, long-range bombers emerged, formulated by the men who would become its leaders. [5]

A major step toward a separate air force came in March 1935, when command of all combat air units within the Continental United States (CONUS) was centralized under a single organization called the "General Headquarters Air Force". Since 1920, control of aviation units had resided with commanders of the corps areas (a peacetime ground forces administrative echelon), following the model established by commanding General John J. Pershing during World War I. In 1924, the General Staff planned for a wartime activation of an Army general headquarters (GHQ), similar to the American Expeditionary Forces model of World War I, with a GHQ Air Force as a subordinate component. Both were created in 1933 when a small conflict with Cuba seemed possible following a coup d'état, but were not activated.

Activation of GHQ Air Force represented a compromise between strategic airpower advocates and ground force commanders who demanded that the Air Corps mission remain tied to that of the land forces. Airpower advocates achieved a centralized control of air units under an air commander, while the WDGS divided authority within the air arm and assured a continuing policy of support of ground operations as its primary role. [6] GHQ Air Force organized combat groups administratively into a strike force of three wings deployed to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts but was small in comparison to European air forces. Lines of authority were difficult, at best, since GHQ Air Force controlled only operations of its combat units while the Air Corps was still responsible for doctrine, acquisition of aircraft, and training. Corps area commanders continued to exercise control over airfields and administration of personnel, and in the overseas departments, operational control of units as well. [n 1] Between March 1935 and September 1938, the commanders of GHQ Air Force and the Air Corps, Major Generals Frank M. Andrews and Oscar Westover respectively, clashed philosophically over the direction in which the air arm was moving, exacerbating the difficulties. [7]

The expected activation of Army General Headquarters prompted Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to request a reorganization study from Chief of the Air Corps Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold resulting on 5 October 1940 in a proposal for creation of an air staff, unification of the air arm under one commander, and equality with the ground and supply forces. Arnold's proposal was immediately opposed by the General Staff in all respects, rehashing its traditional doctrinal argument that, in the event of war, the Air Corps would have no mission independent of support of the ground forces. Marshall implemented a compromise that the Air Corps found entirely inadequate, naming Arnold as acting "Deputy Chief of Staff for Air" but rejecting all organizational points of his proposal. GHQ Air Force instead was assigned to the control of Army General Headquarters, although the latter was a training and not an operational component, when it was activated in November 1940. A division of the GHQ Air Force into four geographical air defense districts on 19 October 1940 was concurrent with the creation of air forces to defend Hawaii and the Panama Canal. The air districts were converted in March 1941 into numbered air forces with a subordinate organization of 54 groups. [8]

Army Air Forces created Edit

The likelihood of U.S. participation in World War II prompted the most radical reorganization of the aviation branch in its history, developing a structure that both unified command of all air elements and gave it total autonomy and equality with the ground forces by March 1942.

In the spring of 1941, the success in Europe of air operations conducted under centralized control (as exemplified by the British Royal Air Force and the German Wehrmacht's military air arm, the Luftwaffe) made clear that the splintering of authority in the American air forces, characterized as "hydra-headed" by one congressman, [n 2] had caused a disturbing lack of clear channels of command. Less than five months after the rejection of Arnold's reorganization proposal, a joint U.S.-British strategic planning agreement (ABC-1) refuted the General Staff's argument that the Air Corps had no wartime mission except to support ground forces. [9] A struggle with the General Staff over control of air defense of the United States had been won by airmen and vested in four command units called "numbered air forces", but the bureaucratic conflict threatened to renew the dormant struggle for an independent United States Air Force. Marshall had come to the view that the air forces needed a "simpler system" and a unified command. Working with Arnold and Robert A. Lovett, recently appointed to the long-vacant position of Assistant Secretary of War for Air, he reached a consensus that quasi-autonomy for the air forces was preferable to immediate separation. [10]

On 20 June 1941, to grant additional autonomy to the air forces and to avoid binding legislation from Congress, the War Department revised the army regulation governing the organization of Army aviation, AR 95–5. [10] Arnold assumed the title of Chief of the Army Air Forces, creating an echelon of command over all military aviation components for the first time and ending the dual status of the Air Corps and GHQ Air Force, which was renamed Air Force Combat Command (AFCC) in the new organization. The AAF gained the formal "Air Staff" long opposed by the General Staff, [n 3] and a single air commander, [10] but still did not have equal status with the Army ground forces, and air units continued to report through two chains of command. [11] The commanding general of AFCC gained control of his stations and court martial authority over his personnel, [12] but under the new field manual FM-5 the Army General Headquarters had the power to detach units from AFCC at will by creating task forces, the WDGS still controlled the AAF budget and finances, and the AAF had no jurisdiction over units of the Army Service Forces providing "housekeeping services" as support [n 4] nor of air units, bases, and personnel located outside the continental United States. [13] [14]

Arnold and Marshall agreed that the AAF would enjoy a general autonomy within the War Department (similar to that of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy) [12] until the end of the war, while its commanders would cease lobbying for independence. [n 5] Marshall, a strong proponent of airpower, left understood that the Air Force would likely achieve its independence following the war. Soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, in recognition of importance of the role of the Army Air Forces, Arnold was given a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the planning staff that served as the focal point of American strategic planning during the war, in order that the United States would have an air representative in staff talks with their British counterparts on the Combined Chiefs. In effect the head of the AAF gained equality with Marshall. While this step was never officially recognized by the United States Navy, and was bitterly disputed behind the scenes at every opportunity, it nevertheless succeeded as a pragmatic foundation for the future separation of the Air Force. [15]

Reorganizations of the AAF Edit

Circular No. 59 reorganization Edit

Under the revision of AR 95–5, the Army Air Forces consisted of three major components: Headquarters AAF, Air Force Combat Command, and the Air Corps. Yet the reforms were incomplete, subject to reversal with a change of mood at the War Department, and of dubious legality. [n 6] By November 1941, on the eve of U.S. entry into the war, the division of authority within the Army as a whole, caused by the activation of Army GHQ a year before, had led to a "battle of memos" between it and the WDGS over administering the AAF, prompting Marshall to state that he had "the poorest command post in the Army" when defense commands showed a "disturbing failure to follow through on orders". [12] To streamline the AAF in preparation for war, with a goal of centralized planning and decentralized execution of operations, in October 1941 Arnold submitted to the WDGS essentially the same reorganization plan it had rejected a year before, this time crafted by Chief of Air Staff Brig. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz. [10] [11] [16] When this plan was not given any consideration, Arnold reworded the proposal the following month which, in the face of Marshall's dissatisfaction with Army GHQ, the War Plans Division accepted. Just before Pearl Harbor, Marshall recalled an Air Corps officer, Brig. Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, from an observer group in England and appointed him to chair a "War Department Reorganization Committee" within the War Plans Division, using Arnold's and Spaatz's plan as a blueprint. [17] [18]

After war began, Congress enacted the First War Powers Act on 18 December 1941 endowing President Franklin D. Roosevelt with virtual carte blanche to reorganize the executive branch as he found necessary. [19] Under it, on 28 February 42 Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9082, based on Marshall's recommendation and the work of McNarney's committee. The EO changed Arnold's title to Commanding General, Army Air Forces effective 9 March 1942, making him co-equal with the commanding generals of the new Army Ground Forces and Services of Supply, the other two components of the Army of the United States. The War Department issued Circular No. 59 on 2 March that carried out the executive order, [20] intended (as with the creation of the Air Service in World War I) as a wartime expedient to expire six months after the end of the war. [17] [21] The three components replaced a multiplicity of branches and organizations, reduced the WDGS greatly in size, and proportionally increased the representation of the air forces members on it to 50%. [20] [22]

In addition to dissolving both Army General Headquarters and the chiefs of the combat arms, and assigning their training functions to the Army Ground Forces, War Department Circular 59 reorganized the Army Air Forces, disbanding both Air Force Combat Command and the Office of Chief of the Air Corps (OCAC), eliminating all its training and organizational functions, which removed an entire layer of authority. [23] [n 7] Taking their former functions were eleven numbered air forces (later raised to sixteen) and six support commands (which became eight in January 1943). The circular also restated the mission of the AAF, in theory removing from it responsibility for strategic planning and making it only a Zone of Interior "training and supply agency", but from the start AAF officers viewed this as a "paper" restriction negated by Arnold's place on both the Joint and Combined Chiefs, which gave him strategic planning authority for the AAF, [24] [25] [26] a viewpoint that was formally sanctioned by the War Department in mid-1943 and endorsed by the president. [27] [28] [n 8]

The Circular No. 59 reorganization directed the AAF to operate under a complex division of administrative control performed by a policy staff, an operating staff, and the support commands (formerly "field activities" of the OCAC). The former field activities operated under a "bureau" structure, with both policy and operating functions vested in staff-type officers who often exercised command and policy authority without responsibility for results, a system held over from the Air Corps years. The concept of an "operating staff", or directorates, was modeled on the RAF system that had been much admired by the observer groups sent over in 1941, and resulted from a desire to place experts in various aspects of military aviation into key positions of implementation. However functions often overlapped, communication and coordination between the divisions failed or was ignored, policy prerogatives were usurped by the directorates, and they became overburdened with detail, all contributing to the diversion of the directorates from their original purpose. The system of directorates in particular handicapped the developing operational training program (see Combat units below), preventing establishment of an OTU command and having a tendency to micromanage because of the lack of centralized control. [29] Four main directorates—Military Requirements, Technical Services, Personnel, and Management Control—were created, each with multiple sub-directorates, and eventually more than thirty offices were authorized to issue orders in the name of the commanding general. [30]

March 1943 reorganization Edit

A "strong and growing dissatisfaction" with the organization led to an attempt by Lovett in September 1942 to make the system work by bringing the Directorate of Management Control [n 9] and several traditional offices that had been moved to the operating staff, including the Air Judge Advocate and Budget Officer, back under the policy staff umbrella. When this adjustment failed to resolve the problems, the system was scrapped and all functions combined into a single restructured air staff. [31] The hierarchical "command" principle, in which a single commander has direct final accountability but delegates authority to staff, was adopted AAF-wide in a major reorganization and consolidation on 29 March 1943. The four main directorates and seventeen subordinate directorates (the "operating staff") [32] were abolished as an unnecessary level of authority, and execution of policies was removed from the staffs to be assigned solely to field organizations along functional lines. The policy functions of the directorates were reorganized and consolidated into offices regrouped along conventional military lines under six assistant chiefs of air staff (AC/AS): Personnel Intelligence Operations, Commitments, and Requirements (OC&R) Materiel, Maintenance, and Distribution (MM&D) [n 10] Plans and Training. Command of Headquarters AAF resided in a Chief of Air Staff and three deputies. [30]

This wartime structure remained essentially unchanged for the remainder of hostilities. In October 1944 Arnold, to begin a process of reorganization for reducing the structure, proposed to eliminate the AC/AS, Training and move his office into OC&R, changing it to Operations, Training and Requirements (OT&R) [n 11] but the mergers were never effected. On 23 August 1945, after the capitulation of Japan, realignment took place with the complete elimination of OC&R. The now five assistant chiefs of air staff were designated AC/AS-1 through -5 corresponding to Personnel, Intelligence, Operations and Training, Materiel and Supply, and Plans. [33]

Most personnel of the Army Air Forces were drawn from the Air Corps. In May 1945, 88 per cent of officers serving in the Army Air Forces were commissioned in the Air Corps, while 82 per cent of enlisted members assigned to AAF units and bases had the Air Corps as their combat arm branch. [34] While officially the air arm was the Army Air Forces, the term Air Corps persisted colloquially among the public as well as veteran airmen in addition, the singular Air Force often crept into popular and even official use, reflected by the designation Air Force Combat Command in 1941–42. [n 12] This misnomer was also used on official recruiting posters (see image above) and was important in promoting the idea of an "Air Force" as an independent service. Jimmy Stewart, a Hollywood movie star serving as an AAF pilot, used the terms "Air Corps" and "Air Forces" interchangeably in the narration of the 1942 recruiting short "Winning Your Wings". The term "Air Force" also appeared prominently in Frank Capra's 1945 War Department indoctrination film "War Comes to America", of the famous iconic "Why We Fight" series, as an animated map graphic of equal prominence to that of the Army and Navy. [n 13]

The Air Corps at the direction of President Roosevelt began a rapid expansion from the spring of 1939 forward, partly from the Civilian Pilot Training Program created at the end of 1938, with the goal of providing an adequate air force for defense of the Western Hemisphere. An initial "25-group program", announced in April 1939, called for 50,000 men. However, when war broke out in September 1939 the Air Corps still had only 800 first-line combat aircraft and 76 bases, including 21 major installations and depots. [35] American fighter aircraft were inferior to the British Spitfire and Hurricane, and German Messerschmitt Bf 110 and 109. Ralph Ingersoll wrote in late 1940 after visiting Britain that the "best American fighter planes already delivered to the British are used by them either as advanced trainers—or for fighting equally obsolete Italian planes in the Middle East. That is all they are good for." RAF crews he interviewed said that by spring 1941 a fighter engaging Germans had to have the capability to reach 400 mph in speed, fight at 30,000–35,000 feet, be simple to take off, provide armor for the pilot, and carry 12 machine guns or six cannons, all attributes lacking in American aircraft. [36]

Following the successful German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940, Roosevelt asked Congress for a supplemental appropriation of nearly a billion dollars, a production program of 50,000 aircraft a year, and a military air force of 50,000 aircraft (of which 36,500 would be Army). [37] [n 14] Accelerated programs followed in the Air Corps that repeatedly revised expansion goals, resulting in plans for 84 combat groups, 7,799 combat aircraft, and the annual addition to the force of 30,000 new pilots and 100,000 technical personnel. [38] The accelerated expansion programs resulted in a force of 156 airfields and 152,125 personnel at the time of the creation of the Army Air Forces. [39]

"The Evolution of the Department of the Air Force" – Air Force Historical Studies Office [40]

The German invasion of the Soviet Union, occurring only two days after the creation of the Army Air Forces, caused an immediate reassessment of U.S. defense strategy and policy. The need for an offensive strategy to defeat the Axis Powers required further enlargement and modernization of all the military services, including the new AAF. In addition, the invasion produced a new Lend lease partner in Russia, creating even greater demands on an already struggling American aircraft production. [41]

An offensive strategy required several types of urgent and sustained effort. In addition to the development and manufacture of aircraft in massive numbers, the Army Air Forces had to establish a global logistics network to supply, maintain, and repair the huge force recruit and train personnel and sustain the health, welfare, and morale of its troops. The process was driven by the pace of aircraft production, not the training program, [42] and was ably aided by the direction of Lovett, who for all practical purposes became "Secretary of the Air Corps". [43] [n 15]

A lawyer and a banker, Lovett had prior experience with the aviation industry that translated into realistic production goals and harmony in integrating the plans of the AAF with those of the Army as a whole. [44] Lovett initially believed that President Roosevelt's demand following the attack on Pearl Harbor for 60,000 airplanes in 1942 and 125,000 in 1943 was grossly ambitious. However, working closely with General Arnold and engaging the capacity of the American automotive industry brought about an effort that produced almost 100,000 aircraft in 1944. [45] [n 16] The AAF reached its wartime inventory peak of nearly 80,000 aircraft in July 1944, 41% of them first line combat aircraft, before trimming back to 73,000 at the end of the year following a large reduction in the number of trainers needed. [46] [n 17]

The logistical demands of this armada were met by the creation of the Air Service Command on 17 October 1941 to provide service units and maintain 250 depots in the United States the elevation of the Materiel Division to full command status on 9 March 1942 to develop and procure aircraft, equipment, and parts and the merger of these commands into the Air Technical Service Command on 31 August 1944. [47] In addition to carrying personnel and cargo, the Air Transport Command made deliveries of almost 270,000 aircraft worldwide while losing only 1,013 in the process. [48] The operation of the stateside depots was done largely by more than 300,000 civilian maintenance employees, many of them women, freeing a like number of Air Forces mechanics for overseas duty. [49] In all facets of the service, more than 420,000 civilian personnel were employed by the AAF. [50]

Growth, aircraft Edit

USAAF aircraft types by year [46]
Type of aircraft 31 December 1941 31 December 1942 31 December 1943 31 December 1944 31 August 1945 Date of maximum size
Grand total 12,297 33,304 64,232 72,726 63,715 July 1944 (79,908)
Combat aircraft 4,477 11,607 27,448 41,961 41,163 May 1945 (43,248)
Very heavy bombers - 3 91 977 2,865 August 1945 (2,865)
Heavy bombers 288 2,076 8,027 12,813 11,065 April 1945 (12,919)
Medium bombers 745 2,556 4,370 6,189 5,384 October 1944 (6,262)
Light bombers 799 1,201 2,371 2,980 3,079 September 1944 (3,338)
Fighter aircraft 2,170 5,303 11,875 17,198 16,799 May 1945 (17,725)
Reconnaissance aircraft 475 468 714 1,804 1,971 May 1945 (2,009)
Support aircraft 7,820 21,697 36,784 30,765 22,552 July 1944 (41,667)
Military transport aircraft 254 1,857 6,466 10,456 9,561 December 1944 (10,456)
Trainer aircraft 7,340 17,044 26,051 17,060 9,558 May 1944 (27,923)
Communications [n 18] 226 2,796 4,267 3,249 3,433 December 1943 (4,267)

Growth, military personnel Edit

The huge increases in aircraft inventory resulted in a similar increase in personnel, expanding sixteen-fold in less than three years following its formation, and changed the personnel policies under which the Air Service and Air Corps had operated since the National Defense Act of 1920. No longer could pilots represent 90% of commissioned officers. The need for large numbers of specialists in administration and technical services resulted in the establishment of an Officer Candidate School in Miami Beach, Florida, and the direct commissioning of thousands of professionals. [51] Even so, 193,000 new pilots entered the AAF during World War II, while 124,000 other candidates failed at some point during training or were killed in accidents. [52]

The requirements for new pilots resulted in a massive expansion of the Aviation Cadet program, which had so many volunteers that the AAF created a reserve pool that held qualified pilot candidates until they could be called to active duty, rather than losing them in the draft. By 1944, this pool became surplus, and 24,000 were sent to the Army Ground Forces for retraining as infantry, and 6,000 to the Army Service Forces. [53] Pilot standards were changed to reduce the minimum age from 20 to 18, and eliminated the educational requirement of at least two years of college. Two fighter pilot beneficiaries of this change went on to become brigadier generals in the United States Air Force, James Robinson Risner and Charles E. Yeager. [54]

Air crew needs resulted in the successful training of 43,000 bombardiers, 49,000 navigators, and 309,000 flexible gunners, many of whom also specialized in other aspects of air crew duties. [n 19] 7,800 men qualified as B-29 flight engineers and 1,000 more as radar operators in night fighters, all of whom received commissions. Almost 1.4 million men received technical training as aircraft mechanics, electronics specialists, and other technicians. Non-aircraft related support services were provided by airmen trained by the Army Service Forces, but the AAF increasingly exerted influence on the curricula of these courses in anticipation of future independence. [55] [56]

African-Americans comprised approximately six per cent of this force (145,242 personnel in June 1944). [57] In 1940, pressured by Eleanor Roosevelt and some Northern members of Congress, General Arnold agreed to accept blacks for pilot training, albeit on a segregated basis. A flight training center was set up at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Despite the handicap—caused by the segregation policy—of not having an experienced training cadre as with other AAF units, the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves in combat with the 332nd Fighter Group. The Tuskegee training program produced 673 black fighter pilots, 253 B-26 Marauder pilots, and 132 navigators. [58] The vast majority of African-American airmen, however, did not fare as well. Mainly draftees, most did not fly or maintain aircraft. Their largely menial duties, indifferent or hostile leadership, and poor morale led to serious dissatisfaction and several violent incidents. [59]

Women served more successfully as part of the war-time Army Air Forces. The AAF was willing to experiment with its allotment from the unpopular Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) and became an early and determined supporter of full military status for women in the Army (Women's Army Corps or WACs). WACs serving in the AAF became such an accepted and valuable part of the service they earned the distinction of being commonly (but unofficially) known as "Air WACs". [60] Nearly 40,000 women served in the WAACs and WACs as AAF personnel, [61] [n 20] more than 1,000 as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), and 6,500 as nurses in the Army Air Forces, including 500 flight nurses. [62] 7,601 "Air WACs" served overseas in April 1945, and women performed in more than 200 job categories. [63]

The Air Corps Act of July 1926 increased the number of general officers authorized in the Army's air arm from two to four. The activation of GHQAF in March 1935 doubled that number to eight and pre-war expansion of the Air Corps in October 1940 saw fifteen new general officer billets created. [64] [n 21] By the end of World War II, 320 generals were authorized for service within the wartime AAF. [65]

USAAC-USAAF Military Personnel Strength, 1939–1945 [66]

Date Total USAAF Tot Officers Tot Enlisted # overseas Officers o/s Enlisted o/s
31 July 1939 24,724 2,636 22,088 3,991 272 3,719
31 December 1939 43,118 3,006 40,112 7,007 351 6,656
31 December 1940 101,227 6,437 94,790 16,070 612 15,458
31 December 1941 354,161 24,521 329,640 25,884 2,479 23,405
31 December 1942 1,597,049 127,267 1,469,782 242,021 26,792 215,229
31 December 1943 2,373,882 274,347 2,099,535 735,666 81,072 654,594
31 March 1944 (Peak size) 2,411,294 306,889 2,104,405 906,335 104,864 801,471
31 December 1944 2,359,456 375,973 1,983,483 1,164,136 153,545 1,010,591
30 April 1945 (Peak overseas) 2,329,534 388,278 1,941,256 1,224,006 163,886 1,060,120
31 August 1945 2,253,182 368,344 1,884,838 999,609 122,833 876,776
1939–1940 totals were U.S. Army Air Corps

Growth, installations Edit

The Air Corps operated 156 installations at the beginning of 1941. An airbase expansion program had been underway since 1939, attempting to keep pace with the increase in personnel, units, and aircraft, using existing municipal and private facilities where possible, but it had been mismanaged, first by the Quartermaster Corps and then by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, because of a lack of familiarity with Air Corps requirements. [67] The outbreak of war in Europe and the resulting need for a wide variety of facilities for both operations and training within the Continental United States necessitated comprehensive changes of policy, first in September 1941 by giving the responsibility for acquisition and development of bases directly to the AAF for the first time in its history, [68] and then in April 1942 by delegation of the enormous task by Headquarters AAF to its user field commands and numbered air forces. [69]

In addition to the construction of new permanent bases and the building of numerous bombing and gunnery ranges, the AAF utilized civilian pilot schools, training courses conducted at college and factory sites, and officer training detachments at colleges. In early 1942, in a controversial move, the AAF Technical Training Command began leasing resort hotels and apartment buildings for large-scale training sites (accommodation for 90,000 existed in Miami Beach alone). [70] The leases were negotiated for the AAF by the Corps of Engineers, often to the economic detriment of hotel owners in rental rates, wear and tear clauses, and short-notice to terminate leases. [71]

In December 1943, the AAF reached a war-time peak of 783 airfields in the Continental United States. [72] At the end of the war, the AAF was using almost 20 million acres of land, an area as large as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire combined. [73]

Installations Edit

CONUS Installations [74]
Type of facility 7 December 1941 31 December 1941 31 December 1942 31 December 1943 31 December 1944 VE Day VJ Day
Total all installations 181 197 1,270 1,419 1,506 1,473 1,377
Main bases 114 151 345 345 377 356 344
Satellite bases - - 71 116 37 56 57
Auxiliary fields - - 198 322 309 291 269
Total CONUS airfields 114 151 614 783 723 703 670
Bombing & gunnery ranges - - unk - 480 473 433
Hospitals & other owned facilities 67 46 29 32 44 30 30
Contract pilot schools unk unk 69 66 14 14 6
Rented office space - - unk unk 79 109 103
Leased hotels & apartment bldgs - - 464 216 75 75 75
Civilian & factory tech schools - - 66 47 21 17 16
College training detachments - - 16 234 2 1 1
Specialized storage depots - - 12 41 68 51 43
Overseas airfields [75]
Location 31 December 1941 31 December 1942 31 December 1943 31 December 1944 VE Day VJ Day
US possessions 19 60 70 89 130 128
North America 7 74 83 67 66 62
Atlantic islands 5 27 - 20 21 21
South America - 27 28 22 32 32
Africa - 73 94 45 31 21
Europe - 33 119 302 392 196
Australia - 20 35 10 7 3
Pacific islands - 21 65 100 57 56
Asia - 23 65 96 175 115
Total overseas 31 358 559 751 911 634

Command structure Edit

By the end of World War II, the USAAF had created 16 numbered air forces (First through Fifteenth and Twentieth) distributed worldwide to prosecute the war, plus a general air force within the continental United States to support the whole and provide air defense. [76] [n 22] The latter was formally organized as the Continental Air Forces and activated on 15 December 1944, although it did not formally take jurisdiction of its component air forces until the end of the war in Europe. [77] [n 23]

Half of the numbered air forces were created de novo as the service expanded during the war. Some grew out of earlier commands as the service expanded in size and hierarchy (for example, the V Air Support Command became the Ninth Air Force in April 1942), [n 24] and higher echelons such as United States Strategic Air Forces (USSTAF) in Europe [n 25] and U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific became necessary to control the whole.

A subordinate organizational tier within the numbered air force, the operational command, was created to segregate units of similar functions (fighters and bombers) for administrative control. The numbering of the operational command was designated by the Roman numeral of its parent numbered air force. For instance, the Eighth Air Force listed the VIII Bomber Command and the VIII Fighter Command as subordinate operational commands. Roman numbered commands within numbered air forces also included "support", "base", and other services commands to support the operational units, such as the VIII Air Force Service and VIII Air Force Composite Commands [n 26] also part of Eighth Air Force during its history. The use of Roman-numeral commands was nonstandard within the AAF the Tenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Air Forces did not field subordinate commands during World War II. [n 27]

Eight air divisions served as an additional layer of command and control for the vast organization, capable of acting independently if the need arose.

Inclusive within the air forces, commands and divisions were administrative headquarters called wings to control groups (operational units see section below). As the number of groups increased, the number of wings needed to control them multiplied, with 91 ultimately activated, 69 of which were still active at the end of the war. As part of the Air Service and Air Corps, wings had been composite organizations, that is, composed of groups with different types of missions. Most of the wings of World War II, however, were composed of groups with like functions (denoted as bombardment, fighter, reconnaissance, training, antisubmarine, troop carrier, and replacement). [78] [n 28]

The six support commands organized between March 1941 and April 1942 to support and supply the numbered air forces remained on the same chain of command echelon as the numbered air forces, under the direct control of Headquarters Army Air Forces. At the end of 1942 and again in the spring of 1943 the AAF listed nine support commands before it began a process of consolidation that streamlined the number to five at the end of the war. [79] [80]

Combat units Edit

The primary combat unit of the Army Air Forces for both administrative and tactical purposes was the group, an organization of three or four flying squadrons [n 43] and attached or organic ground support elements, which was the rough equivalent of a regiment of the Army Ground Forces. [81] The Army Air Forces fielded a total of 318 combat groups at some point during World War II, with an operational force of 243 combat groups in 1945. [82]

The Air Service and its successor the Air Corps had established 15 permanent combat groups between 1919 and 1937. [82] With the buildup of the combat force beginning 1 February 1940, the Air Corps expanded from 15 to 30 groups by the end of the year. On 7 December 1941 the number of activated combat groups had reached 67, with 49 still within the Continental United States. Of the CONUS groups (the "strategic reserve"), 21 were engaged in operational training or still being organized and were unsuitable for deployment. [83] [84] [n 44] Of the 67 combat groups, 26 were classified as bombardment: 13 Heavy Bomb groups (B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator), and the rest Medium and Light groups (B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and A-20 Havoc). The balance of the force included 26 Pursuit groups (renamed fighter group in May 1942), 9 Observation (renamed Reconnaissance) groups, and 6 Transport (renamed Troop Carrier or Combat Cargo) groups. [78] [n 45] After the operational deployment of the B-29 Superfortress bomber, Very Heavy Bombardment units were added to the force array.

In the first half of 1942 the Army Air Forces expanded rapidly as the necessity of a much larger air force than planned was immediately realized. Authorization for the total number of combat groups required to fight the war nearly doubled in February to 115. In July it jumped to 224, and a month later to 273. When the U.S. entered the war, however, the number of groups actually trained to a standard of combat proficiency had barely surpassed the total originally authorized by the first expansion program in 1940. [85] The extant training establishment, in essence a "self-training" system, was inadequate in assets, organization, and pedagogy to train units wholesale. Individual training of freshly minted pilots occupied an inordinate amount of the available time to the detriment of unit proficiency. The ever-increasing numbers of new groups being formed had a deleterious effect on operational training and threatened to overwhelm the capacity of the old Air Corps groups to provide experienced cadres or to absorb graduates of the expanded training program to replace those transferred. Since 1939 the overall level of experience among the combat groups had fallen to such an extent that when the demand for replacements in combat was factored in, the entire operational training system was threatened. [86]

To avoid this probable crisis, an Operational Training Unit (OTU) system was adopted as it had been by the RAF. Under the American OTU concept, certain experienced groups were authorized as overstrength "parent" groups. A parent group (OTU unit) provided approximately 20% of its seasoned personnel as cadre to a newly activated, or "satellite", group. Cadres detached to the newly activated satellite group were first provided with special instruction on their training responsibilities, initially by the responsible air forces, but after 9 October 1942, by the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT) to standardize curriculum and instruction. [86] New graduates of training schools fleshed out the satellite group and also restored the parent group to its overstrength size. The parent group was responsible for the organization and training of its satellite, normally a process six months in length that began the day of detachment of the cadre, the first half of the process bringing the new unit up to strength, the second half devoted to flying training, with the final six weeks concentrating on fighting as a unit. [87]

The plan was first adopted in February 1942 by the AFCC's Second and Third Air Forces, which had only training responsibilities during World War II. [88] The creation of an "operating staff" on 9 March 1942 reorganization of the AAF and the dissolution of the AFCC halted the planned establishment of an Operational Training Command to oversee the program. Spaatz, last commanding general of the AFCC, was temporarily given supervisory responsibility for OTU while the new directorates were brought up to speed, [89] but after April 1942 the sub-directorates having jurisdiction over the training [n 46] tended to tell the air forces not only what to do, but how to do it. When the operating staff and its directorates were abolished in March 1943, control of OTU/RTU activities was placed under the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Training and administered by the Unit Training Division. [90] [91]

In May 1942 the plan was extended to all four continental air forces but not until early 1943 were most developmental problems resolved. [n 47] Before the system matured, each air force became predominant in one type of OTU training, heavy bomber in the Second Air Force, medium and light bomber in the Third, and fighters in the First and Fourth (which also had an air defense responsibility), but eventually both fighter and bombardment OTU were conducted in all four. When the bulk of new groups (and several parent groups) had been sent overseas, replacement training (RTU) [n 48] took precedence over OTU and except for three B-29 groups, [n 49] no new satellites were formed after October 1943. [92] In December 1943, 56 groups were assigned to the strategic reserve as OTU parent units or RTUs, [93] and the AAF had reached its maximum size, 269 groups. 136 were deployed overseas and of those still in the United States, 77 were also being organized and trained for overseas deployment. In the spring of 1944 all operational and replacement training was reassigned to "base units" of the respective CONUS air forces, [n 50] resulting in the inactivation or disbanding between 31 March and 1 May 1944 of 49 OTU/RTU groups, which reduced the number of active groups to 218. However, additional groups were formed in the following months to bring the AAF to its final wartime structure. [82] [93]

In February 1945 the AAF fielded 243 combat groups:

  • 125 Bombardment groups (25 Very Heavy, 72 Heavy, 20 Medium, and 8 Light)
  • 71 Fighter groups [n 51]
  • 29 Troop Carrier and Combat Cargo groups [n 52]
  • 13 Reconnaissance groups [n 53] and
  • 5 Composite groups. [78][n 54]

Between the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and VE Day in 1945, 149 combat groups fought against Germany, while by August 1945, when all combat operations ended, 86 groups were deployed in the Pacific and Far East. The European force was then either performing occupation duties or re-deploying to the United States. [82] [93] With the partial demobilization of the forces in Europe, the total of active groups in the AAF had been reduced to 213. Nearly all of the discontinued units were heavy bombardment groups (B-17 and B-24), which numbered only 35 at the war's end. The remainder had been inactivated or redesignated as very heavy bombardment (B-29). [93]

The basic permanent organization of the AAF for combat elements was the squadron. [81] 1,226 combat squadrons were active in the USAAF between 7 December 1941 and 2 September 1945. [94] [n 55] At the end of hostilities in 1945 a total of 933 squadrons remained active, with 868 assigned to the various groups. 65 squadrons, mostly reconnaissance and night fighter, were not assigned to groups but as separate units under higher command echelons. [78]

Composition of AAF Combat Units [95] 20 February 1945

Type of unit Type of aircraft Number of aircraft Number of crews Men per crew Total personnel Officers Enlisted
Very heavy bombardment group B-29 45 60 11 2,078 462 1,816
Heavy bombardment group B-17, B-24 72 96 9 to 11 2,261 465 1,796
Medium bombardment group B-25, B-26 96 96 5 or 6 1,759 393 1,386
Light bombardment group A-20, A-26 96 96 3 or 4 1,304 211 1,093
Single-engine fighter group P-40, P-47
111 to 126 108 to 126 1 994 183 811
Twin-engine fighter group P-38 111 to 126 108 to 126 1 1,081 183 838
Troop carrier group C-47 80–110 128 4 or 5 1,837 514 1,323
Combat cargo group C-46, C-47 125 150 4 883 350 533
Night fighter squadron 1 P-61, P-70 18 16 2 or 3 288 50 238
Tactical reconnaissance squadron 2 F-6, P-40
L-4, L-5
27 23 1 233 39 194
Photo reconnaissance squadron 2 F-5 24 21 1 347 50 297
Combat mapping squadron 2 F-7, F-9 18 16 8 474 77 397
1 Night fighter squadrons were not organized into groups. 2 For reconnaissance units, the organization of squadrons rather than groups is shown because groups did not have a standard number or types of squadrons assigned.

Aircraft Edit

The United States Army Air Forces used a large variety of aircraft in accomplishing its various missions, including many obsolete aircraft left over from its pre-June 1941 time as the Air Corps, with fifteen designations of types. [96] [n 56]

The following were the most numerous types in the USAAF inventory, or those that specifically saw combat. Variants, including all photo-reconnaissance ("F") variants, are listed and described under their separate articles. Many aircraft, particularly transports and trainers, had numerous designations resulting from differences in power plants.

A Special Forces Model

China-Burma-India SSI Detachment 101 Patch 10th Air Force SSI Ledo Road Patch 1st Air Commando Squadron Insignia

T he crowning achievement in Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell’s north Burma campaign from late February 1944 until 3 August 1944 was the hard-fought drive for Myitkyina (Mitch-in-aw). The multi-national operation involved American, Chinese, and British forces under Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC). The principal American units were the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), popularly known as Merrill’s Marauders, the 10th United States Army Air Force (USAAF), the 1st Air Commando, and Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Because Detachment 101 supported all the major Allied forces, it was the only ground organization involved in all parts of the campaign. During the long fight, Detachment 101 came of age to become an indispensible asset for the Allied effort. The unit evolved from an intelligence collection and sabotage force to an effective guerrilla element.

This article is the first of two covering the roles of Detachment 101 in the Myitkyina campaign. Months before D-Day in France, Detachment 101 was conducting one of the earliest Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaigns in coordination with conventional forces. While Merrill’s Marauders and the Chindits fought behind Japanese lines, they did so as conventional elements. Unlike the other forces involved, Detachment 101’s participation was in three phases. During Phase One, the preparatory period (December 1942 through early February 1944), OSS teams infiltrated into north Burma. During Phase Two, (February until 17 May 1944), Detachment 101 supported the 5307th as it maneuvered to capture the Myitkyina Airfield. The unplanned third phase (18 May to 3 August 1944) ended when the city of Myitkyina fell. This first article explains the OSS roles in the first two phases. It is relevant today because Detachment 101 with its Kachin guerrillas was the only true UW force in theater. As such, they were LTG Stilwell’s force multiplier. Effective intelligence collection, liaison, and coordination of indigenous combat forces were the keys to OSS success. One needs to understand the war in Burma to appreciate the importance of the OSS effort.

War came to the British colony of Burma in late January 1942. By May 1942, Japanese forces had summarily defeated a numerically superior British, Burmese, Indian, American, and Chinese defense force. Routed Allied forces and several hundred thousand refugees fled towards the Indian frontier on foot because there were no roads or railroads leading to it from Burma. The skeletons of several thousand people littered the paths and roads used by the Allies when they marched back into Burma.

Main article



The Japanese had now isolated China. They controlled the major land route to China the Burma Road that traced its course from Rangoon, Burma to Kunming, China. This road had been critical to resupplying China because the Japanese already occupied that country’s seaports. LTG Stilwell, the U.S. China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater commander, arrived in Burma in time to lead a group of more than a hundred military and civilian Chinese, Americans, British, and Burmese to India. They were forced to walk the final 140 miles when they reached the end of the dirt road. Stilwell said, “I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it. ” 1 However, this was easier said than done. Stilwell had to contend with rugged, mountainous terrain, bad weather, remoteness, the defeatism prevalent in the British Army, and Chinese politics.

1 This often-repeated quote is found in Joseph W. Stilwell, The Stilwell Papers (New York: William Sloane, 1948), 106.

LTG Joseph W. Stilwell, Commanding General of the Northern Combat Area Command, consults with LTC William R. Peers in Burma, Commanding Officer of OSS Detachment 101. Stilwell’s son, LTC Joseph W. Stilwell, Jr, the NCAC G-2, stands to the left. Terrain in north Burma was some of the most difficult encountered during WWII. Most ground movement had to be conducted on foot. (U.S. Army map, courtesy Center of Military History)

North Burma was one of the toughest fighting environments in WWII. Steep mountainous terrain, the foothills of the Himalayas, dominates north Burma, making foot movement arduous. Detachment 101 discovered it often took thirty days to walk the same distance that a light plane could fly over in an hour . 2 The distances involved were extensive: the area of the Marauder’s operations alone was nearly the size of Connecticut . 3 Thick secondary-growth jungle—some of it unexplored—slowed ground movement. Leeches, mosquitoes, and diseases plagued fighting men. For instance, the 3,000-man Merrill’s Marauders suffered 296 cases of malaria and 724 incidents of other diseases such as acute dysentery, and scrub typhus by 4 June 1944. They had only been in the field three months. This contrasted sharply with 424 killed, wounded, or missing during the same period . 4 High humidity and temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit were common from March through May. The monsoon season of torrential rains lasted from June through September. Constant moisture rotted or rusted everything. “A cleaned pistol will develop rust pits in 24 hours, a pair of shoes not cleaned daily will rot in a week,” read one Detachment 101 report . 5 The CBI Theater was also at the tail end of an overtaxed logistics chain. Confusing command and control arrangements with the U.S. Army Air Forces, and the British, who had supreme command over Burma, caused some to say that the theater acronym stood for “Confusion Beyond Imagination.” But, nothing compared to Stilwell’s difficulties with the Chinese.

2 [Brief Chronology of OSSSU Detachment 101], F 74, B 42, E 190, RG 226, NARA.

3 Anonymous, Merrill’s Marauders (Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, 1990), 19.

4 Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, United States Army in World War II: China-Burma-India Theater: Stilwell’s Command Problems (Washington, D.C: Center of Military History, 1987), 286, 240.

5 Carl F. Eifler to William J. Donovan, “Report Covering Period June 1 to June 30, 1943, inclusive,” 1 July 1943, F 1, B 65, E 99, RG 226, NARA.

Much of north Burma was thick jungle through which trails had to be cut to allow movement. This area represents a relatively clear section. These Marauders, all suffering from illness, are being evacuated from Myitkyina on 21 May 1944. The Marauders suffered appalling casualties from malaria, acute dysentery, and scrub typhus.

American strategy in the CBI was built around keeping China in the war. American war supplies kept the Chinese fighting. Since the Japanese controlled the Burma Road and the Chinese coast, the USAAF established an aerial resupply route (airbridge) from Assam, India to Kunming, China affectionately nicknamed “The Hump.” Its route through the Himalayan mountain passes was hazardous and costly. Adverse weather and collisions with cloud-cloaked mountains caused almost daily aircraft losses. The U.S. needed an alternate solution. The obvious answer was to build another road that circumvented the Japanese-controlled Burma Road. In December 1942, U.S. Army engineers began construction on the Ledo Road from upper Assam in India. It would cut across north Burma to Lashio, south of Myitkyina, to meet the original Burma Road. A ground campaign was necessary to secure the route of the Ledo Road though north Burma. But, LTG Stilwell and the NCAC were short on troops.

The majority of the troops available to LTG Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC) were troops of the Chinese Army in India. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek

General Stilwell’s largest contingent was the Chih Hui Pu, or Chinese Army in India. It consisted of the 38th and 22nd Chinese Divisions (each 11,000-12,000 men) and the 1,900-man American-Chinese 1st Provisional Tank Group. The 38th and 22nd Divisions had been part of the force sent to Burma by Nationalist Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to help stem the Japanese invasion. After these two divisions retreated into India, they were reorganized, refitted, and trained to American standards at the Ramgarh Training Center. Although they were part of Stilwell’s command, the Chinese officers would do nothing without the Generalissimo’s approval and unless he discreetly told them to comply. This situation forced Stilwell to lean heavily upon the American and British troops in his command. This became clearly evident during the north Burma campaign.

For General Stilwell, Myitkyina’s capture would provide two immediate benefits. Securing its airfield would eliminate the Japanese fighter threat to the “Hump” resupply line. The USAAF pilots could fly a shorter and safer route over lower terrain into China. The new lower altitude air route would reduce gasoline consumption and permit heavier cargos. The city of Myitkyina could serve as a major supply depot along the Ledo Road route. But, capturing both the airfield and the city would not be easy.

The elite Japanese 18th Division was in north Burma. The 18th had sacked Shanghai and Nanking, China, in the late 1930s, and helped rout the Allies during the late 1941-1942 invasions of Malaya and Singapore. They captured the largest number of British Empire prisoners of war ever taken—some 130,000—at Singapore. At 6,300 men, the 18th Division was severely under strength by January 1944. Only some 3,000 of those remained by late June 1944. The veteran 56th Division was also based in north Burma, as were elements of the 15th, 53rd, and 33rd Divisions, and the 24th Independent Mixed Brigade. In all, the Japanese had more than 50,000 troops in the north Burma area . 6 Luckily, Stilwell had a wildcard OSS Detachment 101, which had arrived in theater in July 1942.

6 Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, 130 220 Louis Allen, Burma: The Longest War: 1941-45 (New York: St. Martin’s, 1984), 662.

Detachment 101 was the first overseas unit created under the nascent Special Operations (SO) branch of the Coordinator of Information (COI), the predecessor to the OSS. OSS Chief MG William J. Donovan envisioned units that could “effect physical subversion of the enemy,” in three distinct phases: infiltration and preparation sabotage and subversion and direct support to guerrilla, resistance, or commando units . 7 After conducting several largely unsuccessful long-range sabotage operations, Detachment 101 filled a critical need by focusing its efforts on intelligence collection. Its agents reported on enemy order of battle, the political situation in Burma, and the weather. The former was critical to the 10th USAAF.

7 Kermit Roosevelt, War Report of the O.S.S. (New York: Walker & Company, 1976), 206 70.


In December 1942, Detachment 101 infiltrated the group code-named FORWARD, behind Japanese lines in north Burma from Fort Hertz, the only Allied outpost in the area. This began the unit’s first phase of the Myitkyina campaign. A second group, KNOTHEAD, commanded by CPT Vincent Curl, moved into the upper Hukawng Valley in August 1943. Other OSS groups followed to expand the net of intelligence collection. PAT (led by Pat Quinn) placed an agent on a hill ten miles from the Myitkyina airfield to report Japanese air activities . 8 These groups became familiar with the region, but also recruited indigenous agents.

8 William R. Peers and Dean Brelis, Behind the Burma Road: The Story of America’s Most Successful Guerrilla Force (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963), 147-148. (see Veritas 3:2006, Troy J. Sacquety, “The Failures of Detachment 101 and its Evolution into a Combined Arms Team”).

Pat Quinn, a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) operative on loan to the OSS, waves to the camera as he prepares to lead a Detachment 101 patrol from the RED group, Burma, 1944. His radio operator is in front. CPT Vincent Curl, behind Japanese lines in Burma, late 1943-early 1944. Curl was the commanding officer of Detachment 101’s KNOTHEAD group.

During Phase One, Detachment 101 blanketed the area north and west of Myitkyina with agents that reported a constant intelligence stream to NCAC and the 10th USSAF. By January 1944, FORWARD was observing road traffic, and had agents in Myitkyina and further south. They reported the status and locations of Japanese forces, and identified important bombing targets hidden under the jungle canopy. Major General Howard Davidson, commanding general (CG) of the 10th USAAF, wrote “OSS furnished the principal intelligence regarding Japanese troop concentrations, hostile natives, stores and enemy movement. Up to 15 March 1944, some 80% of all combat missions were planned on the basis of intelligence received from this source. ” 9 The bombing raids were particularly stinging to the Japanese only ground observation could have found the targets. One example was a bridge constructed across a river near Myitkyina that was hidden just below the water’s surface . 10 This was the advantage of recruiting Kachins.

9 William R. Peers to William J. Donovan, “Report covering period 31 July to 31 August, 1944,” [31 August], F 15, B 34, E 190, RG 226, NARA. See Davidson to Donovan, “Contribution of Detachment 101, OSS, to USAAF in Northeastern Assam and North Burma,” 1 August 1944 William R. Peers to William J. Donovan, “Report covering period 1 February to 29 February, 1944, inclusive,” 29 February 1944, F 52, B39, E 190, RG 226, NARA. The USAAF flew up to 170 sorties/day in the Hukawng Valley. According to Lt. Jenkins, a downed P-40 pilot picked up by Detachment 101, airmen often did not know why they were bombing through tree cover or that they were causing so much damage. They considered these missions a “dull assignment,” and preferred ones in which they knew that they were damaging the Japanese. “KNOTHEAD Group-Report April,” 1 April 1944, F 433, B 29, E 154, RG 226, NARA.

10 “Theater Officer’s Pouch Report,” 2 May 1944, F 31, B 75, E 99, RG 226, NARA.

The Kachins were the most willing and effective ethnic group that Detachment 101 employed in Burma. They were armed with a mixture of British and American weapons, as well as their own “dahs,” a short sword that doubled as a machete.

The Kachins were fierce warriors, and experts in guerrilla hit-and-run tactics and junglecraft. They were natural hunters. Best of all, they were pro-Allied and liked Americans . 11 Technician Fifth Grade (T/5) Tom Moon of KNOTHEAD said, “Every time they got a chance to knock off a [Japanese] patrol they did it because it was a psychological play. ” 12 The Kachins exploited expedient measures. “The Kachins can do terrible things with sharpened bamboos. They fill the bushes on both sides with needle-sharp stakes … When a [Japanese] patrol was fired upon, and dived for the timber—well, I hardly like to talk about it. After a few ambushes like that, the [Japanese] never took cover when we fired on them. ” 13 A captured enemy soldier said that Japanese patrols did “not mind working in American or Chinese-occupied territory but never volunteered for assignments against the Kachins as casualties were always about 50 percent. ” 14 A 1943 OSS report compared “a Kachin with a dah” [traditional knife/sword] to a “whole panzer division in his own country. ” 15 It was only natural for the OSS to enlist these indigenous warriors.

11 James C. Luce, “Background, historical, military and political of the Kachin Hills area,” 28 January 1944, original in author’s possession. The terms Kachin or Jinghpaw are an amalgamation of several minor tribes, the largest being the Jinghpaw Although most were loyal, plentiful examples exist of Kachins who spied for the Japanese, meaning that the OSS always had to keep a wary eye on their indigenous recruits.

12 Tom Moon interview by Heidi Vion, April 13 1995, Garden Grove, CA. Copy in author’s files.

13 Ralph Henderson, “Jump-In to Adventure,” Reader’s Digest, June 1945, 47.

14 “KNOTHEAD GROUP,” [March-May 1944], F 48, B 38, E 190, RG 226, NARA.

15 Agent Robey to Wilky [William C. Wilkinson], “Introduction (report on travels)” [early 1943], F 495, B 29, E 154, RG 226, NARA.

Despite working with a willing indigenous population, Detachment 101 still had to conduct effective counterintelligence. Numerous Kachins and other locals were in Japanese pay—willing or not—such as this spy (right) captured by KNOTHEAD in late 1943. T/5 Melbourne L. Rackett, USN Warrant Officer Robert R. Rhea, T/5 Thomas N. Moon, and agent “King” somewhere in Burma, early 1944. Rhea, a photographer for the OSS Field Photo branch, was later assigned to the Marauders and later made an “official” unit member.

KNOTHEAD was first to create a guerrilla force. CPT Curl incorporated the Myihprap Hpuing [Lightning Force] into his group to serve as its offensive element. The Lightning Force was an already existing resistance group of several hundred men formed by Kachin leader Zing Tawng Naw . 16 The Kachins also helped with the recovery of downed Allied aircrews. Curl reported in February 1944: “We have this whole area pretty well organized and if [the pilots] will tell [the Kachins] that they are Americans there is only one chance in a thousand against their being brought to … [here or] one of our other units. ” 17 Having a network emplaced behind Japanese lines would prove critical as the Allied forces began to go on the offensive.

16 William R. Peers to William J. Donovan, “Report Covering period 1 April to 30 April, 1944, inclusive,” 30 April 1944, F 54, B 110, E 190, RG 226, NARA. Under a policy set up by previous commander, Colonel Carl F. Eifler, the families of the Lightning Force were under the care of Detachment 101. Much like what occurred later in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, families clustered around KNOTHEAD’s main camp. This stretched food supplies leading Peers to order the practice stopped because it interfered with operations. The families/refugees were given the option of being led to Allied lines, but the “care and welfare of the Kachin refugees was not in any way to influence the actions or policy of this unit.” “KNOTHEAD Group-Report April,” 1 April 1944, NARA.

17 William R. Peers to William J. Donovan, “Report covering period 1 March to 31 March, 1944, inclusive,” 31 March 1944, F 53, B 40, E 190, RG 226, NARA.

Detachment 101 commander LTC William R. Peers conferred with his field units and sent liaison and Kachin teams to the British and American units when he learned of the upcoming north Burma offensive. These liaison officers were critical because they alerted Allied units of the friendly forces already behind enemy lines, facilitated coordination, and disseminated intelligence. LTC Peers assigned U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer Robert Rhea and U.S. Army LT Martin J. Waters to Merrill’s Marauders, LT Charles C. Stelle to the Chindits, and CPT Peter S. Joost to the 1st Air Commando. CPT Chester R. Chartrand was assigned to NCAC to brief the headquarters staff daily and to disseminate Stilwell’s intelligence requests to the OSS liaison elements . 20 In January 1944, Joost commented, “abysmal ignorance existed regarding Intelligence and Plans between the Americans and British.” Though the Chindits were not part of Stilwell’s command at the time, MG Orde C. Wingate’s British liaison officer at NCAC was never “up-to-date on the [Chindit’s] plans and position. ” 21 After joining Wingate’s headquarters in the field, Stelle became the de facto link with NCAC. At this point Detachment 101 entered Phase Two of the campaign, in direct support of the Chindits and the Marauders.

20 Peers to Donovan, “Report covering period 1 February,” 29 February 1944, NARA Peers advised Merrill to transport the Marauders 125 miles to their jumping off point. Merrill insisted that they go on a conditioning march, but this only contributed to their fatigue. See Peers and Brelis, Behind the Burma Road, 141-142 Rhea had the singular honor of being made an official member of Merrill’s Marauders Peers to Donovan, “Report Covering period 1 April,” 30 April 1944, NARA.

21 Sherman P. Joost to Peers, “On or about January…,” 28 May 1944, F 466, B 66, E 190, RG 226, NARA. Another copy can be found in F 2010, B 109, E 154, RG 226, NARA. Joost was the “jack of all trades” in Detachment 101 during the Myitkyina Campaign. As liaison officer to the Air Commando, he went into BROADWWAY by glider, was later given command of the DEMOS group and accompanied a Chindit column called the “Dah” force. He later replaced James C. Luce as the Commanding Officer of FORWARD.

Unit History: Commando Group

During the Quebec Conference in August 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was impressed by Brigadier Orde Wingate’s account of what could be done in Burma with proper air support. To comply with Roosevelt’s proposed air support for British long range penetration operations in Burma, the USAAF created the 5318th Air Unit that was redesignated "Provisional Composite No. 1 Air Commandos" and tasked with supporting the Chindits. Eventually they were designated the 1st Air Commando Group in March 1944 by General Hap Arnold.

The commander of the Air Commandos was Colonel Philip Cochran (1910-1979), a model for a main character named "Flip Corkin" in the Terry and the Pirates (comic strip).

The group consisted of C-47 air transports, Waco CG 4A military gliders, a squadron of P-51 Mustangs, a squadron of B-25H bombers, and L-1 and L-5 Sentinel liaison aircraft. All of the planes were marked with five diagonal white stripes at the back end of the fuselage. The group also tested the United States’ first use of a helicopter in combat, the Sikorsky R-4, in May of 1944.

The Chindits were delighted to hear they had their own private air force. John Masters’ Chindit memoirs The Road Past Mandalay stated that the Chindits’ relationship with the Royal Air Force was problematic saying "Whatever we asked them to do they declared to be difficult, impossible or against Air Force policy. Whatever they offered to do, we didn’t need"

Cochran earned the Chindits’ respect by agreeing to letting them call in air support themselves and evacuating a Chindit injured in a training accident by landing an L-5 in a field 400 feet long when 600 feet was the minimum.

Later in the campaign under the designation of the 1st Air Commando Force, they supported other units of the British Fourteenth Army during their victorious drive to Rangoon. One of the glider pilots who participated in landing the Chindits was actor Jackie Coogan.

After a glider training accident, the Commander of the Chindits General Orde Wingate sent the 1st Air Commando a message:

"Please be assured that we will go with your boys, any place, any time, any where."
It was adopted by the 1st Air Commando as their motto, and in an abbreviated form this is still used as the motto of the USAF Special Operations Command.

Special Operations Outlook 2019 Digital Edition is here!

A C-47 dropping supplies over Burma. While support operations were not as glamorous as air strikes, Operation Thursday and supporting the Chindits took the fight to the enemy. National Archives.

SEAC – Southeast Asia Command – and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations may have been “the forgotten war” of World War II, but it was a strategic linchpin in the prosecution of the war for both the Allies and the Axis in the Far East. For the Japanese, possession of Burma, which it achieved in early 1942, was a plum rich in value. Burma’s rice paddies produced 8 million tons of rice a year. Three million of those tons could be shipped to the far-flung Japanese military outposts in the new East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that in 1942 covered almost half the globe. Japanese possession also cut off the Burma Road, the vital highway that carried supplies to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s armies fighting the Japanese in China. Finally, because Burma bordered India, it could be used as a staging area for invasion of what was then the crown jewel of the British Empire. In fact, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters was preparing an ambitious plan to invade India and ultimately link up with German troops advancing from the east.

The challenge facing Great Britain and the United States was daunting in the extreme. Britain’s resources, even with lend-lease aid from America, were stretched perilously thin. As a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the vast industrial and manpower might of the United States had gone from a standing start to high gear. But it would take time before the full weight of those resources could be employed. In those early months of World War II, the United States had at hand little in the way of trained men, materiél, and the ships to transport and guard both. And, in order of priorities, the CBI came a distant third behind Europe and the Pacific theaters.

When Roosevelt presented him with Wingate’s proposal, Arnold was initially cool, as it dealt with support operations instead of air strikes against enemy installations. But then he saw in Wingate’s design an opportunity to demonstrate a hitherto unrecognized benefit of air power: The singular ability to support sizeable units for an extended period of time behind enemy lines.

Those desperate times called for desperate measures. Fortunately for the Allies, one man who saw opportunity where others saw only looming disaster was British Brig. Gen. Orde Wingate. Creating the long range penetration group called the Chindits, he conducted a guerilla campaign behind Japanese lines in Burma that caught the imagination of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was always receptive to unconventional ideas of waging war. Churchill took Wingate with him to the Quadrant Conference in Quebec where, in a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wingate outlined his concept for continuing his unconventional campaign in Burma. Wingate’s plan, even in expanded form, required relatively little in the way of resources. The key factor in the campaign would be adequate air support. Roosevelt, as enthusiastic about unconventional warfare as Churchill, endorsed it as a way of keeping China in the war.

Simultaneously, Army Air Corps Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold was looking for an opportunity to demonstrate how the war could be won with air power. When Roosevelt presented him with Wingate’s proposal, Arnold was initially cool, as it dealt with support operations instead of air strikes against enemy installations. But then he saw in Wingate’s design an opportunity to demonstrate a hitherto unrecognized benefit of air power: The singular ability to support sizeable units for an extended period of time behind enemy lines.

Chindits at a jungle river crossing. Successful supply of the force did not mean that the Chindits didn’t undertake a dangerous and arduous mission.

Gen. Arnold selected two officers to be co-commanders of the new unconventional warfare unit, Lt. Col. Philip G. Cochran and Lt. Col. John R. Alison. Cochran was a smart, daring, and imaginative fighter pilot with a distinguished war record earned in combat over North Africa. Cochran’s exploits had made him a national hero and the inspiration for the character Flip Corkin, the pilot hero in cartoonist Milton Caniff’s syndicated strip Terry and the Pirates. Alison was another exceptional pilot with a distinguished war record that included a combat tour with Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault’s 23rd Fighter Group, which earlier in the war had fought the Japanese under the name American Volunteer Group or “Flying Tigers.”

Gen. Arnold defined the mission of the new unit, initially named Project 9, in four points:

1. To facilitate the forward movement of the Wingate columns.

2. To facilitate the supply and evacuation of the columns.

3. To provide a small air covering and striking force.

4. To acquire air experience under the conditions expected to be encountered.

And in case there might be any doubt as to what the unit should do once it reached its base in India, Arnold declared, “To hell with the paperwork, go out and fight.” This order was taken so literally that later, when Cochran saw a dozen typewriters on a list of material to be shipped to India, he crossed them off the list.

Cochran and Alison, both old friends, realized that two equal heads of the unit would not work. They agreed that, for administrative purposes, Cochran would be the commander and Alison his deputy. In practice, the two had such a close and harmonious working relationship that decisions made by one were automatically endorsed by the other. Project 9 would experience five name changes, including Project CA 281, followed by the 5318th Provisional Unit (Air), then the Number 1 Air Commando Force, and finally the 1st Air Commando Group (the name they received during operations in Burma). According to legend, Arnold selected the name “Air Commando” to honor SEAC CinC Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had once commanded the British Commandos.

On March 5, 1944, Cochran, now a colonel, announced to his men, “Nothing you’ve ever done, nothing you’re ever going to do, counts now. Only the next few hours. Tonight you are going to find your souls.”

Arnold gave Cochran and Alison carte blanche. They compiled a list of their needs and used their broad authority with a vengeance. For troop transport, they requisitioned 13 C-47s, 100 CG-4A Waco gliders, and 25 TG-5 training gliders. For casualty evacuation, they obtained a combined total of 100 Vultee L-1 Vigilant and Stinson L-5 Sentinels. For fighter cover, 30 North American P-51 Mustangs were acquired, and after some extraordinary wrangling that included intervention by Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s special assistant, so were four Sikorsky YR-4 helicopters. Later, in India, the Air Commandos would be augmented with 12 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers.

Col. Philip “Flip” Cochran of the USAAF in 1944. National Archives photo

Given the unique status of Project 9, Cochran and Alison only wanted volunteers. Thanks to their extensive contacts, they were able to contact the type of people in the Air Corps who they felt could get the job done. No person interviewed was told where he would be going or what the mission would be. He was only told that it would involve combat, that it would last six months, and that he should not expect a promotion. A total of 87 officers and 436 enlisted men, including former child actor Jackie Coogan, accepted the mysterious offer, and on Oct. 1, 1943, began an intensive training program in North Carolina. Two months later, the unit was in India training with the Chindits.

On March 5, 1944, Cochran, now a colonel, announced to his men, “Nothing you’ve ever done, nothing you’re ever going to do, counts now. Only the next few hours. Tonight you are going to find your souls.” Operation Thursday, part of the most complex and innovative combined operations action of World War II prior to Operation Overlord, was on.

Operation Thursday was part of British Gen. William Slim’s strategic response to Operation U-Go, the planned Japanese invasion of India. Slim’s two-month campaign was the first to combine tactical air support at every level (1st Air Commandos) with the extensive and far-flung ground operations (Chindits) conducted deep behind enemy lines. This support included air interdiction, transport, supply, medical evacuation, and reinforcements. Such assistance was critical for the Chindits’ success because distance and terrain isolated many of the Chindit units, making the Air Commandos the only means of logistic and combat support readily available.

Initially in Operation Thursday, the Air Commandos would land a glider force of Chindits, engineers, and supplies that included bulldozers and pack animals at two jungle clearings deep behind enemy lines code named “Broadway” and “Piccadilly.” The engineers would develop these clearings into air strips that would be utilized for the duration of the campaign. Gliders would be lifted off the airstrips using the new “snatch” technique, in which a hook attached to the end of a boom that extended from a C-47 Dakota flying 20 feet above the ground would grab a glider’s tow rope that had been suspended in a frame about 12 feet off the ground. As the campaign commenced, this boom and hook system would also be used to disrupt Japanese communications. Low-flying planes would snare telephone and telegraph lines, sometimes uprooting the poles as well.

A last-minute aerial photoreconnaissance of Piccadilly revealed that it was littered with fallen logs, making it a deathtrap for gliders. Thus all gliders were ordered to land at Broadway. Alison, now a colonel, led the Air Commandos on the mission and was in the second glider that landed. The men in the gliders discovered, too late, that Broadway had numerous natural obstacles as well, and landing gliders slewed in ground filled with ruts or struck tree stumps that ripped off undercarriages. Other gliders, trying to avoid recently the wrecked aircraft littering the clearing, overshot Broadway and crashed into the jungle. Because of the wreckage, the codeword “Soyalink” was radioed back to Chindit headquarters, halting the operation. But before additional details could be transmitted, the radio at Broadway failed.

The chief engineer responsible for constructing the air strip and most of his staff were killed in crash landings. Alison turned to the senior surviving engineer, an inexperienced second lieutenant, and asked him how long it would take to make Broadway ready for the C-47s. The lieutenant replied, “If I have it done by this afternoon, will that be too late?” Hours passed as Alison and his men, with the help of the Chindits, desperately worked to make Broadway serviceable. Meanwhile, at Chindit command, tension mounted as everyone worried over the cause of the delay. The tension broke when, at 4:30 p.m., the code words “Pork Sausage” – ordering the operation resumed – were received.

Chindits prepare a railway for demolition.

Though most of the gliders on Broadway were damaged or destroyed, and the force suffered 30 killed and 33 injured in crash landings, 539 men and almost 30,000 pounds of supplies successfully landed in the clearing. The Air Commando engineers had created an airstrip capable of accepting heavily laden C-47s. Before the next day dawned, 62 C-47 sorties would land at Broadway. By March 11, approximately 9,000 men, 500,000 pounds of supplies, and about 1,200 mules and 175 ponies were established 200 miles behind Japanese lines. At this point, Operation Thursday was officially over, but the Air Commandos’ work supporting the Chindits had just begun.

The Japanese quickly responded once they discovered the location of Broadway. On March 11 a fighter-bomber strike was launched, the first attack in an attempt to neutralize what had become a major enemy air base behind their lines. This air attack was followed up by successive ground assaults. Despite attacks that continued sporadically throughout the campaign, the Japanese were never able to eliminate Broadway.

On March 24, tragedy unrelated to enemy action struck. After completing a front-line inspection, Gen. Wingate boarded his B-25 at Broadway and took off for the Chindit home base in India. He never arrived. Days later it was discovered that his aircraft had crashed into a hill, killing everyone aboard.

Coordination between the Air Commandos and the Chindits was gratefully noted by Chindit Sgt. Cyril Hall. Hall was part of a 300-man unit assigned to establish a road block across one of the main Japanese north-south lines of communication and supply code-named “White City.” The unit’s mission was to prevent supplies and transport from reaching the Japanese 18th Army in the north that was fighting Gen. Joseph Stillwell’s army. Hall later noted, “White City should have been renamed ‘Red City’ from the blood that flowed there. . . . Each night, ferocious hand-to-hand battles would take place, British troops wading in with bayonet and rifle butt, whilst the Gurkhas and West Africans engaged with their native knives, the Japs with their two-handed swords. . . . At one crisis of a battle, Cochran’s Air Commandos planted a huge load of high explosives on Jap concentrations preparing to move up. The pilots, whom I cannot praise too greatly, were reluctant, for so short was the distance separating our forces that they feared hitting our own men. However, urging column commanders . . . insisted that it was necessary, so with deadly precision they unloaded everything they had, killing hundreds.”

Keeping the Chindits supplied helped ensure that Japanese forces were unable to mass to invade India. National Archives photo

On March 24, tragedy unrelated to enemy action struck. After completing a front-line inspection, Gen. Wingate boarded his B-25 at Broadway and took off for the Chindit home base in India. He never arrived. Days later it was discovered that his aircraft had crashed into a hill, killing everyone aboard. The consequences on future Chindit operations proved unfortunate, as Wingate’s replacement, Maj. Gen. W. D. A. Lentaigne, did not share Wingate’s passion for unconventional and long-range penetration tactics.

The Air Commandos’ versatility – particularly in the role of medical evacuation – was underscored when it made history on April 25, 1944, near the conclusion of the campaign. An Air Commando L-1 carrying three wounded Chindits had crash landed on April 21 as a result of enemy ground fire. The only suitable location for a rescue was a clearing too small for an airplane, but not too small for one of the Air Commandos’ Sikorsky YR-4 helicopters. Second Lt. Carter Harmon was ordered to pilot his “eggbeater” 500 miles from his base in Lalahat, India, to “Aberdeen,” one of a number of additional advance bases established during the campaign, which was about 60 miles away from the rescue site. At Aberdeen he would receive final instructions regarding the rescue. Harmon faced numerous challenges. His helicopter was small (it could only carry one passenger at a time), it was underpowered (its engine produced only 175 horsepower), and its range was limited (he would have to refuel about every 100 miles). The plan developed was for Harmon to shuttle the evacuees from the pick-up location to a British-held sand bar that doubled as a landing strip about 10 miles from the rescue site. From there an L-5 would carry the wounded to Aberdeen. On the afternoon of April 25, Harmon carried off the first, most seriously wounded Chindit. But an overheated engine and an approaching tropical storm prevented him from returning to extract the rest that day. The following morning, Harmon completed the rescue, becoming as a result the first pilot in history to perform a helicopter combat rescue.

At the end of April, the Chindits, exhausted but in high spirits, returned to India having successfully completed their mission. The three Japanese divisions assigned to invade India as part of Operation U-Go had been prevented from doing so. When interviewed after the war, Japanese Imperial Army generals testified that, “The penetration of the airborne force into Northern Burma caused the failure of the Army plan to complete the Imphal Operations. . . . The airborne raiding force . . . eventually became one of the reasons for the total abandonment of Northern Burma.” An even blunter assessment of the Air Commandos and Chindits’ success came from the commander of the Japanese 31st Division, Lt. Gen. Sato, who, in a message to Japanese 15th Army headquarters, complained, “Since leaving the Chindwin [River valley], we have not received one bullet from you nor a grain of rice.” And in response to a reprimand from 15th Army headquarters that threatened him with a court martial for insubordination, he stated in part, “The 15th Army has failed to send me supplies and ammunition since the operation began. This failure releases me from any obligation to obey the order – and in any case it would be impossible to comply.”

Gen. Arnold, meanwhile, had taken note of the Air Commandos’ success in Operation Thursday and the subsequent campaign. New Air Commando units were authorized, and Cochran would find himself reassigned and responsible for a new, larger Air Commando campaign in Europe.

This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2004 Edition.

1st Air Commando Group B-25 Medium Bomber

During the 1944-45 Allied campaign against Japanese forces in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater, B-25Hs of the 1st Air Commando Group were used extensively in close air support and interdiction role on behalf of British General Orde Wingate and his Chindit Commandos. They were also used to support other American and Allied ground forces throughout the theater until the end of World War II.

Erected by the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park Council.

Topics. This memorial is listed in these topic lists: Air & Space &bull Military &bull War, World II.

Location. 30° 24.854′ N, 86° 42.068′ W. Marker is in Hurlburt Field, Florida, in Okaloosa County. Memorial can be reached from Cody Avenue. Located at the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park and access to the base is restricted. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 315 Independence Road, Hurlburt Field FL 32544, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Medal of Honor Recipients (a few steps from this marker) C-46 Commando (within shouting distance of this marker) MH-53 Pave Low (within shouting distance of this marker) Operation Kingpin (within shouting distance of this marker) HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant"

(within shouting distance of this marker) Special Tactics Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker) World War II Air Commando / Chindit Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker) Operation Ranch Hand Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Hurlburt Field.

Related marker. Click here for another marker that is related to this marker.

Also see . . . Chindits Special Forces Burma and the 1st Air Commando Group. (Submitted on November 18, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)

1st Air Commando Group (USAAF) - History

USAAF/USAF Air Commando and Special Operations units from WWII to 2002

59 Years of Commando Service

World War II Air Commando Units

1st Air Commando Group, China-Burma-India

Formed as a Fighter, Bomber, Transport and Light Plane and in late 1944 organized as follows:

5th and 6th Fighter Squadrons.

164th Liaison Squadron activated 1 Sept 1944 and inactivated 3 Nov 1945.

165th Liaison Squadron, activated 1 Sept 1944 and inactivated 3 Nov 1945

166th Liaison Squadron, activated 1 Sept 1944 and inactivated 3 Nov 1945

319th Troop Carrier Squadron

2nd Air Commando Group, China-Burma-India, activated 25 April 1944

1st and 2nd Fighter Squadrons.

127th, 155th and 156th Liaison Squadrons.

317th Troop Carrier Squadron activated 1 May 1944 and inactivated 28Feb 1946.

327th, 328th, 340th and 342nd Airdrome Squadrons.

3rd Air Commando Group, Southwest Pacific

3rd Fighter Squadron activated April 1944 and inactivated Feb 1946.

4th fighter Squadron activated 1 May 1944 and inactivated Feb 1946.

157th Liaison Squadron activated 23 Feb 1944 and inactivated?

159th Liaison Squadron activated 1 Mar 1944 and inactivated 31 May 1946.

160th Liaison Squadron activated Mar 1944 and inactivated Dec 1945.

318th Troop Carrier Squadron activated 1 May 1944 and inactivated 25 Mar 1946.

334th Airdrome Squadron activated 1 May 1944 and inactivated 8 Nov 1945.

335th Airdrome Squadron activated 1 May 1944 and inactivated Feb 1946.

341st Airdrome Squadron activated 31 May 1944 and inactivated Sept 1945.

343rd Airdrome Squadron activated 1 May 1944 and inactivated 29 Oct 1945.

237th Medical Dispensary activated 15 Mar 1944 and inactivated 31 Dec 1945

Air Commando and Special Operations aircraft used at major bases during the Vietnam War

Base Unit Aircraft/Call Sign Tail Code

Bien Hoa 8 AS/3 TFW A-37B CF

FS©/3 TFW F-5A None-transferred its 18 aircraft to 522nd FS, VNAF, 17 Apr 1967

History [ edit | edit source ]

16th Pursuit Group [ edit | edit source ]

Emblem of the USAAF 16th Pursuit Group

Curtiss P-36A 38-33 16th Pursuit Group 1940 (16P33)

The beginnings of the 1st Special Operations Wing can be traced to the authorization by the Army Air Service of the 16th Pursuit Group on 24 March 1923 as part of the United States Army Panama Department at Albrook Field, Canal Zone. The unit, however, was not activated until 1 December 1932. The 16th Pursuit Group spent its entire existence in the defense of the Panama Canal. The Group was progressively redesignated, in keeping with the changes sweeping through the Army Air Corps, becoming first the 16th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) in 1939 and finally the 16th Fighter Group in 1942. It was disbanded in the Canal Zone on 1 November 1943.

Although subordinate squadrons assigned to the Group changed over the years the Group headquarters remained at Albrook Field throughout its existence. Squadrons assigned were:

As the U.S. prepared for World War II in 1940–1941, the 16th Pursuit Group, as of 1939 could count only 22 Curtiss P-36A Hawks on hand as of 1939, although these were the best fighter aircraft to be had at the time (in addition, Group Headquarters had two Northrop A-17's and two North American BC-1's). Additionally, as of February 1939 the Group was shown on Order of Battle documents with 10 Douglas B-18's, but these belonged to its 44th Reconnaissance and 74th Attack Squadrons, which were assigned to the Group at the time (the 44th Recon Squadron changed its status from "Assigned" to "Attached" on 1 February 1940, and finally being transferred entirely to the 9th Bomb Group 20 November, to whom it was it also attached).

In June 1941, relief for the P-36A's arrived in the form of 6 Curtiss P-40B's and 64 P-40C's, although, though these were split between the 16th and 32nd Pursuit Groups (the 16th got 32 P-40C's). These new aircraft arrived not a moment too soon, because as of April and May 1941 not fewer than 17 of the Groups P-36A's were either unserviceable or awaiting deposition due to either a lack of parts or as a result of the hard use they had endured during the intense training program then ongoing. With the arrival of the P-40's, morale improved dramatically, and the Group headquarters added a rare Sikorsky OA-8 to its roster for rescue and communications duties, and had lost one of its A-17's and one BC-1 by August, at which time all remaining P-36A's were transferred to the newly formed 32d Pursuit Group.

As of the outbreak of war in December 1941, the Group had 20 serviceable P-40C's (plus five others awaiting disposition and three unserviceable – two from the 24th Pursuit Squadron and one from the headquarters squadron (HHS), 41-13498) but 10 new P-40E's had arrived, although one of these was promptly crashed. One other P-40C didn't have a prop, and all elements of the Group were dispersed at Albrook Field.

By mid-January 1942, it was found expedient to send a detachment of the Headquarters to Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico to liaise with the VI Interceptor Command headquartered there, and detachments of six P-40C's were also quickly moved to Atkinson Field, British Guiana and Zandery Field, Dutch Guiana, to provide local air defense for the other elements stationed at those remote bases for Ferrying Command. Besides these, the Group had 23 P-40C's, eight P-40E's and 14 of its former P-36A's back at Albrook.

As of mid-February 1942, the Group elements still stationed at Albrook had the following aircraft on hand but only had 11 pilots between them of whom only seven had more than one year experience on pursuit aircraft (the numbers in parenthesis indicate the number of each type operational):

  • Curtiss P-40C = 19 (15)
  • Curtiss P-40E = 8 (6)
  • Curtiss P-36A = 9 (7)
  • North American BC-1 = 1 (1)

As the squadrons of the group moved through their various deployments from the start of the war on, the group headquarters became less and less important in day-to-day operations and, finally, on 17 January 1943, the Group Headquarters was moved from Albrook to La Joya Auxiliary Airdrome No. 2 to attempt to get the men assigned at Group back into the midst of "field" operations that were being endured by the subordinate squadrons.

In actuality, the Group was disbanded on 31 October 1943, at which time the HHS still had a solitary Curtiss P-36A assigned. The Command and Control responsibilities of the surviving former Squadrons of the Group then came under the umbrella of the XXVI Fighter Command.

1st Air Commando Group [ edit | edit source ]

Emblem of the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group

P-47 Thunderbolts of the 1st Air Commando Group, 10th Air Force, taking off. Republic P-47D-23-RA Thunderbolt 42-228152 in foreground.

The next unit in the linage of the 1 SOW is the 1st Air Commando Group, which inherited the history and lineage of the 16th Fighter Group.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, amidst the Quebec Conference in August 1943, was impressed by Brigadier Orde Wingate's account of what could be accomplished in Burma with proper air support. Α] To comply with Roosevelt's proposed air support for British long range penetration operations in Burma, the United States Army Air Forces created the 5318th Air Unit to support the Chindits. In March 1944, they were designated the 1st Air Commando Group by USAF Commander General Hap Arnold. Arnold chose Colonel John R. Alison and Colonel Philip Cochran as co-commanders of the unit. Β]

Alison was a veteran flight instructor of P-40 aircraft, and gained renown as a pilot with Major David Lee "Tex" Hill's 75th Fighter Squadron, part of Col Robert Lee Scott, Jr.'s 23d Fighter Group, the USAF successor of the AVG's famed Flying Tigers in the China-Burma-India Theater. General Claire Lee Chennault lobbied to Arnold, who knew Alison from service at Langley Field, suggesting Alison be given the new command. Cochran was a decorated P-40 veteran pilot from the North African Campaign noted for his unconventional aerial tactics. Γ]

As a result, the 5318th Provisional Air Unit was formed in India in late 1943. As a miscellaneous unit, the group was comprised until September 1944 of operational sections (rather than units): bomber fighter light-plane (and helicopter) transport glider and light-cargo. The 1st Air Commando Group consisted of a squadron of 30 P-51 Mustangs led by Lt. Col. Grattan M. "Grant" Mahony, a squadron of 12 B-25H bombers led by Lt. Col. Robert T. Smith, 13 C-47 air transports led by Major William T. Cherry, Jr., 225 Waco CG-4A military gliders led by Captain William H. Taylor, Jr., and 100 L-1 and L-5 Sentinel liaison aircraft led by Major Andrew Rebori and Lt. Col. Clinton B. Gaty. Δ] The group tested the United States' first use of a helicopter in combat, six Sikorsky R-4s led by Lt. Col. Clinton B. Gaty, in May 1944. Ε]

The unit was redesignated the 1st Air Commando Group on 25 March 1944. It provided fighter cover, bomb striking power, and air transport services for the Chindits (Wingate's Raiders), fighting behind enemy lines in Burma. Operations included airdrop and landing of troops, food, and equipment evacuation of casualties and attacks against enemy airfields and lines of communication. Converted from P-51 Mustang to P-47 Thunderbolt fighters and eliminated its B-25 Mitchell bomber section in May 1944.

In September 1944, after the original unit was consolidated with the headquarters component of the new establishment (also called 1st Air Commando Group), the sections were replaced by a troop carrier, two fighter, and three liaison squadrons. The group continued performing supply, evacuation, and liaison services for allied forces in Burma until the end of the war, including the movement of Chinese troops from Burma to China in December 1944. It also attacked bridges, railroads, airfields, barges, oil wells, and troop positions in Burma and escorted bombers to Burmese targets, including Rangoon. Switched back to P-51 Mustangs in May 1945. Left Burma in October and inactivated in New Jersey in November 1945.

Cold War [ edit | edit source ]

Emblem of the USAF 1st Air Commando Wing

4400th CCTS North American T-28A-NA Trojan Serial 51-3579 wearing South Vietnamese Air Force markings flies over Vietnam

Repainted U.S. Navy RH-53Ds in sand camouflage and without markings aboard USS Nimitz (CVN-68) used in 1980 as part of Operation Eagle Claw.

In April 1961 General Curtis Lemay directed HQ Tactical Air Command to organize and equip a unit to train USAF personnel in World War II–type aircraft and equipment ready surplus World War II-era aircraft for transfer, as required, to friendly governments provide to foreign air force personnel in the operation and maintenance of these planes develop/improve: weapons, tactics, and techniques.

In response to Lemay's directive, on 14 April 1961 Tactical Air Command activated the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The provisional unit had a designated strength of 124 officers and 228 enlisted men. The 4400th CCTS consisted of World War II aircraft: 16 C-47 transports, eight B-26 bombers, and eight T-28 fighters. The declared mission of the unit would be to train indigenous air forces in counterinsurgency and conduct air operations. The 4400th CCTS acquired the logistics code name "Jungle Jim," a moniker that rapidly became the nickname of the unit.

As the military conditions in South Vietnam continued to deteriorate, United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara actively began to consider dispatching United States military forces to test the utility of counterinsurgency techniques in Southeast Asia. In response, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay pointed out that the 4400th was operationally ready and could serve as an Air Force contingent for that force.

On 11 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy directed, in NSAM 104, that the Defense Secretary "introduce the Air Force 'Jungle Jim' Squadron into South Vietnam for the initial purpose of training Vietnamese forces." The 4400th was to proceed as a training mission and not for combat at the present time. "Jungle Jim" was a code name and nickname of the original 4400th CCTS and Air Commandos. Members wore an Australian-type green fatigue slouch hat in the style Johnny Weissmuller wore in the Jungle Jim films. Ζ]

The mission was to be covert. The commandos were to maintain a low profile in-country and avoid the press. The aircraft were painted with South Vietnamese Air Force insignia, and all pilots wore plain flight suits minus all insignia and name tags that could identify them as Americans. They also sanitized their wallets and did not carry Geneva Convention cards.

Elevated to group level as 4440th Combat Crew Training Group, 20 March 1962. The provisional TAC group was replaced by AFCON 1st Air Commando Wing in Apr 1962 and assumed air commando operations and training responsibility. Trained United States and South Vietnamese Air Force aircrews in the United States and South Vietnam in unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency, psychological warfare, and civic actions throughout the Vietnam War.

Between 11 January and 30 June 1974, the USAF Special Operations Force and 1st Special Operations Wing merged their operations, and on 1 July 1974, concurrent with its redesignation as the 834th Tactical Composite Wing, the wing assumed responsibility for operating the USAF Air Ground Operations School, which trained personnel in concepts, doctrine, tactics, and procedures of joint and combined operations until 1 February 1978, and the USAF Special Operations School, which trained selected American and allied personnel in special operations, until March 1983.

Elements of the wing participated in the attempt in April 1980 to rescue US hostages held in Tehran, Iran. Thereafter, continued to work closely with multi-service special operations forces to develop combat tactics for numerous types of aircraft and conduct combat crew training for USAF and foreign aircrews. Conducted numerous disaster relief search and rescue medical evacuation and humanitarian support missions.

Supported drug interdiction efforts in a coordinated program involving multiple US and foreign agencies, 1983–1985. Conducted airdrop and airlift of troops and equipment psychological operations, close air support, reconnaissance, search and rescue, and attacks against enemy airfields and lines of communications in support of the rescue of US nationals in Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury), October to November 1983, and the restoration of democracy in Panama (Operation Just Cause), December 1989 to January 1990.

Modern era [ edit | edit source ]

Beginning Aug 1990, deployed personnel and equipment to Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield/Storm). These forces carried out combat search and rescue, unconventional warfare, and direct strike missions during the war, including suppression of Iraqi forces during the Battle of Khafji, January 1991.

Deployed personnel and equipment worldwide, performing combat search and rescue, and supporting contingencies, humanitarian relief, and exercises that included Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Kuwait, and Central America. Elements of the wing deployed to participate in Operation Provide Comfort in Iraq, 1991 to 1996 and Operation Deny Flight, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1993 to 1995.

It supported Operation Deliberate Force/Joint Endeavor, August to September 1995 and 14 to 20 December 1996, flying combat missions and attacking targets critical to Bosnian-Serb Army operations. Wing elements participated in operations Northern and Southern Watch in 1997 and again participated in combat operations in Desert Thunder, February to June 1998 and Desert Fox, 17 to 21 December 1998. It assumed an additional mission, supporting the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces in February 2000.

In 2001 and 2002 deployed elements to Afghanistan and Iraq and performed combat operations in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).