MILITARY MUSINGS

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Dedicated to the memory of my friend, Marine Private First Class Carroll C. Charles, age 22,

killed in action on the island of Guam on July 21, 1944.

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takeoff

LOST: Courtesy of The Hump

I had just returned to my tent after seeing the evening movie when the runner came to inform me that I was alerted for another flight. After being up all of the day of February 7, 1945, I felt more like hitting the sack than hauling a load of avgas* to China, but because I was in the army, I had to do the latter, The crew, including me, griped while riding down to Kurmitola (GI) Operations in a bouncy GI truck.

Operations was the office where we got our orders and weather reports before taking off. I remember distinctly one of my friends, Berky, who worked in Operations, telling my pilot and me that he didn't blame us for not wanting to fly at 11 o'clock at night. Finally after 1st. Lt. Stanley V. 'Weezie' Weisbruch, our pilot, had signed all of the clearance forms and red tape papers, we got out to the plane, which was parked in a revetment.

It was our best type of transport, a four-engine Douglas C-54 Skymaster loaded with maybe thirty-five 55-gallon drums of 100-octane gasoline. After helping "walk" the propellers through, I left my parachute near the rear door and climbed over the barrels to the crew compartment. There I checked the radio equipment while the pilot, with the help of the co-pilot and flight engineer, taxied to the runway and checked the 5800 horses in the engines. The control tower cleared us for take-off and, streaking between the straight rows of runway lights, we lifted slowly into the moonless night.

In the darkness the monotonous throb of the engines sounded reassuring. Very few lights are seen on the flooded plains of India at night but later we would see the fires of the Burmese hill people who evidently have more wood to spare. The needle of the radio compass still pointed back to our home field. When 'Weezie' tunes in the station which is one hour ahead of us, we will be able to follow this compass arrow in the right direction. That station will be our first check point. When we fly over it, I will send our position, altitude and other data to home base.

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Meanwhile I listened for weather reports over the radio, hunted for ever-fading music on the dial or just thought of home. Soon 'Weezie' called me and said he could not get our check point on the compass. I tried my trained ear but not a sound could be heard. When by dead reckoning we judged that we were over the station, the compass still had not verified our figuring. Not knowing your exact position is serious business over The Hump.

We were in Burma so I called Myitkyina and asked for a bearing. They said we were 10 miles south of them and to fly north. 'Weezie' refused to do this because we were only 14,000 feet up and there might have been mountains to the north if the bearing was incorrect. I asked Myitkyina (FC) to show us a light. They complied but we could not spot their beam through the cloud blanket below. Still uncertain of our location, Weezie did a 180 degree turn and headed back home.

Since we had traveled east for an hour, it was logical that by flying west for about an hour, allowing for wind, we would be home. Mother Nature was snickering quietly to herself. When two hours had elapsed and we had not found our home field, we knew we were LOST. Being "somewhere" almost three miles high over The Hump at 2 o'clock in the black morning with a limited supply of gasoline is a good definition of the word "LOST".

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"Where in the World were we?"

For the next two hours I talked with a station in upper Assam obtaining headings which my pilot would not fly for safety reasons. About 4 o'clock my voice gave out from counting to a hundred and back so many times. Then I switched to using Morse code. Still all the ground stations would give me were northbound headings while Wezzie continued shuttling in various other directions. A poll taken among our four crew members assured everyone that we were definitely in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations, but all three countries got votes.

About daybreak three distant ground radio operators gave me a "fix" which was supposed to pinpoint our exact location. Alas, the fix as plotted on a map did not match the locale or direction of the river we were just then flying over, proof positive that it was defective. A little after sunrise, at about 6:30 AM, we spotted a small landing strip in the jungle below. We could not tell for sure whether it was Japanese or Allied controlled. We decided to risk a landing since our gas gauge was flirting with the word 'empty'.

As we circled lower I made out two or three American C-46 transports and a flock of British Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. On our final approach we received a green light from the tower and made our landing. An American lieutenant came up to the cockpit and 'Weezie' asked him a simple question, "Where are we?" We had arrived at a British fighter strip just twenty minutes north of the Japanese lines. We could see dead bodies of Japanese snipers still tied in nearby trees. "Weezie" said to me, "Stumpy, we've been flying north for over an hour and if my arithmetic is correct we have just come from a hundred miles behind the Japanese lines." So we went and got some breakfast.

Epilogue

My frustration as a flight radio operator was complete when immediately after landing, I called our home base and received their reply as clear as crystal. I was calling from what we learned was a place called Kan, Burma which was code-named Fox Dog. This village was 285 statute miles SW of Myitkyina. We had been 'blown' at least 160 statute miles off course and were still 255 statute miles from our home field. After a very sparse breakfast shared with us by the few GI's there, the problem of little or no gas in our wing tanks was attacked. We still had almost 2000 gallons of high-octane fuel as cargo but the logistics of getting it into the wing tanks could prove hazardous.

Our pilot dickered a trade with the English for a gallon-for-gallon swap. And so as American drums of gasoline were being unloaded from our cargo section, a gasoline truck pumped petrol into our wing tanks-----gallon-for-gallon. Since a British Imperial gallon was 20 percent larger than a U.S. gallon, we took great pride in beating the Redcoats as our Revolutionary forefathers had done so many years before.

by R.A.Stumpf


*Addendum No. 1 -provided by Rae Weisbruch, the pilot's wife, 56 years later: "Stan loves your tale just the way it is. He remembers that after the night of flying back and forth: a little after sunrise, the crew spotted a plane climbing up toward you. Didn't know if it was a Zero or what. When it came close enough, you could see the British markings. He led you down to the landing strip. It was a small strip; and 'Weezie' didn't know if it was long enough for a safe landing; and certainly not sure if it was long enough to take off. Well, of course, we all know how that turned out. He said you could see Japanese snipers tied to the trees and dead. He also said that when you all returned to Kurmitola, he had a hard time convincing the brass that he hadn't sold the missing gasoline to a black market. Said the whole crew was called in for de-briefing. That's a lot for him to remember."


Addendum No. 2 - excerpt from recollections of W/O John Vickers, SAAF, of 152 (Hyferabad) Sqn. :

"7. KAN. I made it back to this dump of a Strip by the middle of January 1945 and reported to our new C.O. S/Ldr. Grant Kerr DFC. Garry Kerr was a charming Scot, ever mindful of the welfare of all his Squadron's Personnel. On Feb. 8th 1945 we moved to Sinthe, tents and all."


Addendum No. 3 -To give the reader some idea of what each member of our crew was thinking to himself as the fuel in our wing tanks was being consumed, this item from the Hump Express, Vol. 1, No. 5 of February 15, 1945 is presented. This newspaper was published by the India China Division, Air Transport Command.

Quick Thinking Saves Luckless Fuel Transport Gasoline Pumped From Cargo Keeps Plane Aloft 15 Hours     1345 BU, Kurmitola, Bengal, INDIA - Her own cargo, coupled with the cool-headed performance of her crew, kept a C-54 aloft for exactly 15 hours last week until she finally broke out of a storm to find a place to land.   With the liaison transmitter and radio compass useless, the radio operator, Pvt. Donald K. Pierce, sweated over his set attempting to establish contact with the ground. In the cockpit, the pilot, Capt. Frederick M. Mills, and the co-pilot, 1st Lt. William W. Wetzel, used every flying trick they knew to come out of the storm. The engineers, Sgt. F. A. Kliembriel and Pvt. William D. Carter, watched the ship's instruments - saw her gauges indicate a critically low fuel reserve.   Realizing that if the gasoline in the cargo compartment could be transferred to the tanks, the C-54 could be kept aloft almost indefinitely, the engineers cast around for a means of accomplishing this.   They found a piece of hose in the rear of the plane. Shoving one end of the hose into one of the gasoline barrels and the other into the fuselage tank, they pumped barrel after barrel of gasoline to replenish the constantly-decreasing reserve. By the time her gear touched a familiar airstrip in China, 20 barrels of gasoline had been pumped from the C-54's cargo compartment to the power plants.   After the ship landed, the pilot, Capt. Mills, expressed his admiration for the two engineers thus: "By their presence of mind and hard work, pumping gasoline, these two boys saved the ship and us. For my money, they are strictly OK."


* av·gas (ăvʹ găsˈ) n.   Gasoline formulated for use in piston-driven airplanes. [av(iation) gas(oline).]
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