HISTORICAL SKETCH - by Capt. J. R. Downs
Surrounded on three sides by the imposing heights of the age-old
Himalayan mountains and the dense Naga Hills, lies the Assam Valley
whose tea plantations have been wrested by man from the almost
impenetrable jungle, bamboo thickets and treacherous swamps breeding
the dread malarial mosquitoes.
Assam Valley has, over a period of years, become an important province
of the Indian empire. This importance has been brought about by its
many natural commercial products, namely: mineral oils from the Digboi
district; silk, rubber and coal from Niak___(?) inthe Lakhimpur
district. Today, when most of the pre-war sources of these items are in
Japanese-held territory, the Assam Valley assumes new importance in
supplying these vital products to the United Nations.
Japanese hordes overran Burma and closed the famous Burma Road, lifeline
to the Chinese armies, there was but one trail over which tens of
thousands of refugees died attempting to escape into India. This
refugee trail, through the combined efforts of the American and British
armies, became the Ledo Road, the overland answer to China's pleas.
However, pending completion of this momentous project, the survival of
China depended on immediate delivery of supplies of every conceivable
type. Air traffic was the only answer to this problem. The closest
possible air route was from upper Assam, over the world's highest
mountains -the Himalayan range, the Mishmi and Naga Hills, and vast
desolate mountains of China. This route, better know as "The Hump of
the World", was later called "The Hump", and the course flown as "The
Aluminum Trail". It was first paved with C-47's and P-40's---later with
the giant C-46's, C-87's and C-109's.
Under General E. H.
Alexander, the Ferry Command, without benefit of any previous
experience, began the stupendous task of building air bases in Assam.
the efforts of Mr.Caseborne, superintendent of the Dum Duma Tea
Company, the Sookerating tea estate was selected as a site for one of
these bases. The location of the runway was formerly the tea planters'
golf course and race track. Work started on July 7, 1942, and soon
bulldozers, trucks and men cleared the surrounding tea bushes and
trees, and had leveled the ground. Buildings were constructed for
Operations, Line Shacks and living quarters.
At first the
mission of this field was the movement of Chinese troops. These
soldiers were transported from China to Assam to be trained and
equipped for operations against the Japanese in Burma. Four and
one-half acres were selected, near a bamboo thicket approximately
one-half mile from the runway, as the Chinese Transient Camp.
the __th. of October, during a tour of inspection by General Stilwell
and General Wavell, the Japanese pulled their first air raid on this
base. Slit trenches became the most popular spots in the vicinity. One
officer and enlisted man were awaiting completion of the loading of
their plane when the alert sounded. Under such conditions the crew was
not expected to take-off, but they elected to save their plane and
cargo from destruction and, without regard for the danger involved,
took off at once. Upon clearing the airdrome they were attacked by
three Zeroes. Displaying extreme coolness and presence of mind, the
airplane was so maneuvered that the fighters were unable to bring
accurate fire on the transport. One of the fifteen drums of 100-octane
gasoline, which comprised their load, and one of their auxiliary fuel
tanks were punctured but they continued to their destination more than
three hours away. Their action not only saved the airplane but
undoubtedly withdrew attention from three DC-3 type transports which
remained on the ground. For this heroic action, the officer and
enlisted man were awarded the Silver Star.
On October 26th., at
0900, the alert was again sounded and three Japanese fighters and
seventeen bombers appeared. The runway was blocked with gasoline drums
to prevent the possibility of a landing. About 45 minutes later they
departed, but some damage was done to the field.
On the 28th. of
October, at 1330, the Japanese were once again over the field. This
time they dropped about 10 bombs and managed to kill one native. The
bombs landed on the surrounding tea estates; no military installations
were hit. The absence of air and ground defenses allowed the raiders
absolute freedom but fortunately they were not accurate bombardiers.
the month of October the operation of the field had grown to an amazing
size. Planes were landing and taking off raising a cloud of dust from
the runway that could be seen for miles. The number of Chinese soldiers
had swelled the ranks of General Stilwell's army and eventually helped
to stop, and later defeat, the Japanese at Myitkyina, Burma.
November 1, 1942 the first fighter squadron arrived at the field,
bringing in P-40's; and anti-aircraft guns arrived with the 484th. AA
Company. With the knowledge that they were to have fighter protection,
the pilots became more enthusiastic. The results became more and more
evident, and the Hump traffic soon gained world renown.
December 1st. the Headquarters Squadron, First Ferrying Group, was
relieved from assignment to the Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Forces in
India and China, Tenth U.S. Air Forces, Delhi, India and reassigned to
the India-China Wing, Air Transport Command. In that manner Squadron 13
of the Air Transport Command was born.
On August 9, 1943 the
personnel of the 13th. Ferrying Squadron were transferred to the 29th.
Transport Group, with Lt. Col. J.W. Gurr as the first commanding
officer. Lt. Col. Gurr remained in command until December 9, 1943 when
he was replaced by Major R.M. Wilson.
The situation in China and
North Burma was critical. In China the "Flying Tigers" were keeping the
Japanese at bay, but their continued effectiveness was questionable. In
order to get more supplies over the Hump the Air Transport Command was
reorganized. General Earl S. Head replaced General E.H. Alexander as
Commanding General of the India-China Wing, Air Transport Command, and
a period of intense expansion was under way.
On December 10th.
orders were received reorganizing the Command. Sookerating was once
again changed ---this time from the 29th. Transport Group to Station No.
On the 12th. of February 1944, Lt. Col. Silas Morehouse
became the Commanding Officer, and with Lt. Col. Byron Enyart as his
Executive Officer, set out to improve and raise the tonnage over the
"Hump". The transportation of cargo tonnage reached a new high. Return
trips brought back thousands of Chinese soldiers. Incidentally, only
one Chinese life was lost.
When the Japanese invaded India,
through Imphal, the ATC rendered valuable service to the Allied Armies.
The call for air droppings, food and supplies of war was answered
immediately. Pilots and planes were loaned to the Troop Carrier Group.
Even with the temporary loss of men and planes, the daily tonnage quota
to China was maintained.
Daily the situation became more and
more critical on the Imphal-Kohima front while conflicting stories as
to the Japanese advance flew through the air. At one time small
Japanese patrols of the 31st. Division, advanced to within a few miles
of Dimapur, the main allied supply base and Headquarters of the British
4th. Corps. Had they been able to breach the Assam Railroad, the
situation in Upper Assam would have indeed become critical. The
Japanese Army, consisting of the 15th., 30th., and 31st. Divisions,
45,000 strong, were out to eliminate all ATC bases in the Valley.
Fortunately the greater part of these forces were tied up at Imphal and
Kohima and never were able to advance in strength into th Assam Valley,
but were held and finally driven out. The aerial lifeline was paying
dividends and the Japanese were feeling the sting.
In view of
the critical situation, the Air Transport Command began to fly in more
and more Chinese troops. Sookerating, or Station No. 7, was playing an
important part in driving out the Japanese, however, never forgetting
its primary function of maintaining "Hump" operations and tonnage to
Due to the willingness of the station personnel, to work
and sweat, the quota set by Wing was met. This could only have been
brought about by men capable of leading and directing the over-all
effort. China in appreciation of this tremendous task awarded a citation
to the Air Transport Command.
On August 1st., 1944, Station #7
was changed to 1337th. Army Air Force Base Unit. This has become the
permanent identification of the base.
Colonel George S. Cassady
assumed command on December 2, 1944. His friendly and undemanding
manner has kept Sookerating in the lead over most of the other valley
stations. And in spite of the pressure of duty under the adverse
conditions of heat and weather, the morale of the men has been high,
their spirit commendable.