Thanks to a re-blog on “Pacific Paratrooper“, lots of people had a look at my post “Flying the Hump“. A heroic piece of history that should not be forgotten. I decided to post this addition and illustrate it with some pictures from my files.
And as I dedicated a chapter in “The Java Gold – Book One” to flying the Hump, here’s an excerpt describing the arrival of one of those flights
Suddenly the conversation in the primitive flight office died and everybody looked up. There wasn’t an airman between them who did not hate that sound; the coughing, blathering, backfiring noise of an airplane with engine trouble. They ran outside to see a C47 limping towards the northern end of the runway, its port engine belching and backfiring and leaving a trail of smoke. As they watched in silence, they all knew the pilot had one and only one chance to put his troubled ship down. If he overshot the runway he’d never be able to climb and go around again. So they watched and waited … and prayed.
Somehow the pilot managed to get a final burst of power out of both engines, just enough to cross the runway threshold. He leveled the wings of his staggering plane, cut the power and flared the aircraft. The C47 touched down hard, throwing up a spray of mud and ran down the bumpy runway, rapidly slowing down. It turned near the end and taxied to the loading area where it came to a noisy halt.
Another flight across the ‘Hump’ accomplished
The cargo door opened and the crew climbed stiffly out, the stress still visible in their faces. They waited silently in the shade of the wing for the duty jeep to pick them up. After the short ride across the blazing tarmac they wearily walked into the dispatcher’s office
“Captain Vandermerwe and crew back from Kunming” Peter announced wearily while he dumped the bag containing the flight papers and logbooks on the battered desk.
“Welcome back, captain, had a good flight?”
“No, the port engine fucked up over the Santsung Range and we barely made it past the Patkai’s.”
The dispatcher grunted. No real reply was necessary – he knew those ranges and how many planes had come to grief there during the past three years. More planes and men had been lost through faulty maintenance than to enemy action.
But, he asked himself, who in his right mind would want to work in this Godforsaken place? Where you did not even have a decent hangar? Where your fingers got burned and blistered if you tried to open an engine cowling of a plane that had been parked in the full sun?
Peter handed over the logbooks, loading out manifest and the rest of the documents and for a few moments the dispatcher went over the ‘gripes’ with the crew – the need for an engine replacement was obvious.
The formalities completed Peter picked up his flight bag.
“See you in two weeks!”
“You guys got yourselves some leave?”
“Absolutely; we’ll be going down to Calcutta on the first available transport!”
“Have a good one!” the dispatcher said as they left.
Slaloming between the weird collection of airplanes and equipment that littered this most basic of airfields they made their way to the improvised mess hall. They halted briefly in the doorway to determine what was on today’s menu. The choices were extremely limited. The only food served was either Spam (fried slices of tinned meat) or – the next day – SOS (Shit On a Shingle, creamed ground beef on toast). These delicacies were served with dehydrated potato mash and you could wash it all down with a glass of ‘battery acid’ – a drink made out of concentrated grapefruit juice that seared your stomach lining.
A single sniff was enough: It was bloody SOS again so they decided to skip lunch and have dinner in Calcutta. To quiet their rumbling stomachs they grabbed some hunks of bread, having first ascertained it was not locally baked. Even after three years of roughing it they did not enjoy to find gnats and other stray insects embedded in the dough. Some of the older hands insisted that the baked insects gave the bread a distinctly nutty flavor. But that was definitely an acquired taste…