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China-Burma-India: 10th and 14th Air Forces

The 10th AF was activated in the desperate days of early 1942, when Allied fortunes in the Pacific war were at their lowest. The 10th was to take command of USAAF units in India and Burma, and also to assist China in any way possible to stem the tide of advancing Japanese armies in those countries.

In the earliest days, the 10th AF bomber force consisted of elements of the 7th BG and 11th Bomb Squadron in China, the latter flying B-25 Mitchells. The 11th BS flew alongside the American Volunteer Group, which, in a series of complex administrative moves to regularize its position, became the 23rd Fighter Group in July 1942. The few AVG personnel who opted to remain in China were inducted into the USAAF and formed the nucleus of the 23rd. The AVG's commander, Claire Chennault, then a captain (retired) in the USAAF, was speedily promoted, first to Lieut.-Colonel then to Brigadier-General (temporary) in the USAAF. Between 1937 and 1941 Chennault had served in China as Chiang Kai-Shek's aerial adviser, and had thoroughly reorganized and modernized the Nationalist Chinese Air Force in its fight against the Japanese. Chennault had held a unique position as a foreigner in China, and was held in great esteem. The 23rd FG, together with the 11th BS, formed the China Air Task Force from July 1942, with Chennault as its commander. In turn, the CATF was subordinate to Gen. Bissell, the commander of the 10th AF in India Burma.

The 7th Group was, on paper, equipped with two squadrons of heavy bombers (B-17s and B-24s) and two squadrons of Mitchells. In mid-1942, one of its squadrons, the 9th, had been hastily detached to the Middle East to bolster the Allied forces after the disasters of June 1942. Only the 436th Sqn. (heavy bombers) and the 22nd Sqn. (Mitchells) could offer any serious offensive action against the onrushing Japanese, their efforts being aided by a small RAF force. Attacks made by USAAF units were complicated by shortages of aircraft, crews, and support equipment. In particular there was a desperate lack of spare parts of every description. The Allied air forces retreated back to India as, time after time, the advancing Japanese captured their bases when ground defences collapsed. By the end of 1942, the Japanese had reached the India Burma frontier, and had cut the Burma Road, the only land supply link to China.

Men at work: mechanics check an engine of a 7th AF B-24 on a Pacific island airstrip with a backdrop provided by 42-40123, a B-24D-30-CO with the aforementioned nose turret modification. Much of this necessary beefing-up of the Liberator's nose armament was carried out by the air depot in Hawaii before the arrival of B-24H and J models with factory-fitted nose turrets in 1944.

Superfortress V square 4 of the 877th BS, 499th BG, takes off for the Musashino aero-engine works. Tokyo, the first B-29 strike on Japan from the island of Saipan. It was common for off-duty personnel to watch the giant bombers take off.

This meant that all supplies to China had to be carried by air over 'The Hump' - the Himalaya Mountains by transport aircraft. If the 10th AF in India was hampered by shortage of every form of supplies, the CATF was in desperate straits; often supplies intended for China were diverted to India-based units. CATF mediums attacked any target as and when the opportunity and the availability of fuel and bombs allowed, Russian-made bombs often being used. The AVG celebrated the last day of its existence, 4 July 1942, by escorting five B-25 Mitchells to attack airfields at Canton.

Much of the CATF's efforts were bound up with bombing airfields used by the Japanese, and similarly repelling attempts by the Japanese to bomb CATF bases. Wherever CATF runways were cratered, an army of Chinese workers descended on the damaged airfield and filled in any holes in a matter of hours. At one stage the CATF bomber fleet numbered only seven Mitchells, but in September 1942 a few more arrived.

Many attacks with small numbers of aircraft were mounted against dockside facilities in ports on the Chinese coast, airfields, railways, and so forth. Both bomber and fighter units were forced to constantly move their bases, partly to keep the enemy from bombing them on the ground, and also to enable them to reach targets in widely differing areas of China. In August 1942, the CATF made its first raid on an Indo-Chinese target, when its aircraft damaged warehouses at Haiphong and sank a freighter in the harbour.

On 21 October, the Lin-hoi coal mines were bombed by B-24s from the 436th BS of the 10th AF's 7th Group. It had been hoped that the raid would flood the mines and render them useless, but, although the target was hit, flooding did not occur. Other targets included the docks and warehouses at Hong Kong, attacked by Mitchells in day and night raids, and Lashio airfield in Burma.

As these raids on targets in Japanese-held territory usually resulted in Japanese fighter opposition, Chennault provided fighter escort for his bombers whenever possible and many Japanese fighters were destroyed. Numerous other enemy aircraft, both fighters and bombers, were destroyed in USAAF attacks on their bases. Consequently, Japanese bombing raids on Chinese dries eased somewhat, and US airmen in general and Chennault in particular enjoyed a high prestige in Free China which manifested itself in many ways. One of the most helpful was the seemingly large proportion of US airmen who, with Chinese help, eventually found their way back to Allied territory after being shot down.

Chiang Kai-Shek himself wanted a separate American air force in China, rather than a sub-organization of the India-based 10th AF, and eventually, in March 1943, command changes took place which activated the 14th AF in China under Chennault's command. In effect, this consisted of the CATF, with the addition of bomber and fighter units.

The 341st BG had been activated in India in September 1942 with its component 490th and 491st BS, which were taken from the 7th Group. The 341st was then moved over the Hump to China, and absorbed by the 11th BS.

The 308th BG, a Liberator unit originally intended for the 8th AF in England, was diverted to the 14th AF and arrived in China in March 1943. This group had to be self-supporting in the matter of supplies lifted over the Hump, and several supply sorties had to be made for every operational sortie that was flown.

Meanwhile, in the 10th AF, the 7th BG had been re-equipped with 1 liberators by the end of 1942 and now had a full four squadrons; the 9th, 436th, 492nd and 493rd. For several months the 7th Group represented the sole striking force of the 10th AF, its targets including Rangoon (dockyards), airfields, and many points along the Burmese railway system, upon which the Japanese relied heavily to bring their troops and supplies up to the fighting areas along the Burmese Indian frontier. The 7th also attacked Bangkok, then capital of Siam, as the port assumed great importance towards the end of 1943. Two night raids were made in December 1943, the second of which resulted in heavy explosions and large fires.

Before moving to China in September 1943, the 341st Group's Mitchells interdicted the rail system farther north, and also went after any river traffic. As attacks on railways became more effective, the Japanese began to use the great Burmese rivers, the Sittang, Irrawaddy, Chindwin and their tributaries, as supply lines.

The 10th AF also activated the 1st Air Commando Group, specifically charged with air support for ground expeditions in Japanese-held territory. The 1st Commando Group had fighter, liaison and troop carrier squadrons, and for a time a bomber squadron, equipped with B-25G and H models fitted with the 75mm cannon, which the Air Commandoes used to some effect.

From April 1944. the 10th AF had another Mitchell group, the 12th, a combat-hardened organization which had seen much service in the Mediterranean. Later re- equipped with strafer B-25Hs and solid-nosed Js, this group immediately made its presence felt and was a welcome addition to the 10th AF, commanded since August 1943 by Maj.-Gen. Davidson.

Despite the growing strength of the Allies in Burma, the Japanese had by no means given up the attempt to break through into India. In March 1944 they launched attacks, which were stopped at Imphal and Kohima by defending British and Indian troops. Many attacks were made by 10th AF Mitchells and Liberators on enemy supply points and lines of communication and the Allies slowly drove the Japanese back.

In China, the Japanese launched a series of offensives, beginning in April 1944. These had a two-fold immediate objective - to occupy a number of 14th AF bases in the south, and establish a Japanese-controlled land corridor between their occupied areas in the north and Indo-China in the south, They already controlled much of the Chinese coastline, with its many ports and cities.

T square 26 of the 498th Group at rest. Serialled 42-65210 the aircraft was the first of three aircraft to carry this code and was lost on 24 March 1945 with no word from the crew. Named 'Fay' her two successors were 'Fay' and 'Filthy Fay', and both were lost with no survivors or any word of their fate. The last four digits of the serial on the aircraft rudders shown here was common practice in the 73rd Wing. In the background is T square 24.

A 505th Group B-29 at its hardstand on North Field, Tinian, during May-August 1945. Carrying the 313th wing circle and group ID letter 'W' und green fin tip, the machine has black-yellow-black tail stripes to denote a lead crew.

The 14th AF did its brat to assist the ill-equipped Chinese armies in stemming the Japanese advance, but with a dire shortage of all forms of supplies, air support was not as helpful as it might have been. The fighters of the 14th AF took on much of the support work, whilst a considerable proportion of the 308th Group's time was devoted to flying sorely needed petrol over the Hump.

Eventually the Japanese did establish a land corridor from northern China to the Indo-Chinese border, which split Chinese-controlled areas into west and east China. From the sizeable east China area, a squadron of Mustangs and a detachment of six 308th Group Liberators operated until forced by fuel shortage to return to west China.

Following the success of the anti-shipping 'snooper' Liberators in the 5th and 13th Air Forces, the 373rd BS of the 308th BG was equipped during 1944 with black-painted H2X-radar-equipped Liberators. Operating up and down the Chinese coast at night, this squadron took a great toll of Japanese shipping until July 1945, when it was transferred to the 7th AF.

The difficulties facing the 14th AF were compounded by the fact that it was made responsible for the defence of the Superfortress bases around Cheng-tu. The supplies needed for this purpose cut into Hump tonnage, which could have been used elsewhere in China. Other difficulties arose from differences of opinion between Gen. Still well, the US overall commander in the theatre, and Gen. Chennault and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek in China.

Even as late as April 1945, the Japanese were mounting land offensives in China, but eventually they began to withdraw their troops northwards, in the face of the mounting US Pacific offensive, then dangerously near the home islands - the troops might soon be needed to defend their homeland.

The 308th Group was put permanently onto air-lifting fuel over the Hump into China and was virtually withdrawn from bombing operations. Offensive operations were left to fighters and the small numbers of Mitchells left in China.

In Burma, the 7th Group (Liberators) and 12th Group (Mitchells) continued their attacks on enemy lines of communication, and made many sorties against railway junctions and yards. Railway bridges in particular were singled out for attention. From December 1944, the 493rd Sqn. used the Azon radio-controlled bomb on railway bridge targets. This weapon was fitted with controllable fins, and was dropped singly from about 8,000ft. The Liberators using Azon bombs could be recognized by three downwards-pointing aerials under their tails.

Rangoon fell in May 1945 to a landward drive combined with a seaborne landing to mark the end of the Burmese campaign; 7th Group Liberators continued to range forward over Indo-China, however. After some initial indecision, plans were made to move the 10th AF to China, to become a tactical air force, whilst the 14th would assume a strategic role. However, these plans were in only an embryonic stage when Japan surrendered.

'Joltin' Josie the Pacific Pioneer' was 42-24614, the first 73rd Wing Superfort to touch down on Saipan, currying Gen. Haywood S. Housell, the commanding general of the 21st Bomber Command. 'Josie' carried the code T square 5 and was assigned to the 498th Group's 873rd BS. She crashed into the sea shortly after take-on an 1 April 1945, and was lost with her crew.

The nose of an F-7 Liberator of the 20th Combat Mapping Squadron, renowned for the exotic artwork of Al Merkling, a talented artist of the 1940s. In the process of being stripped back to NMF, 'Pappy's Passion' shows how a patch of blue photo-recon finish paintwork, in which F-7s were delivered, was commonly left behind the nose art.

North Pacific: 11th Air Force

After an initial flurry of action when the Japanese occupied Kiska and Attu as part of the Midway operation, the 11th AF settled into a campaign characterized by attacks by small numbers of aircraft on Japanese-held islands.

The bomber strength of the 11th AF, under the command of Brig.-Gen. William O. Butler, consisted of the Mitchells of the 406th BS, and the Liberators of the 21st and 404th BS. These units arrived soon after the Japanese carrier-borne air attack on Dutch Harbour in June 1942. Originally intended to undertake a desert warfare role, the 404th's B-24s were complete with sand camouflage and were, appropriately, dubbed 'pink elephants'.

The 11th AF was the smallest of the seven ranged against the Japanese, and for most of the war had only two groups assigned, the 343rd Fighter and 28th Composite Group, the latter operating fighters alongside its Mitchells and Liberators.

In sixteen missions, '20th Century Sweetheart' also claimed the destruction of five enemy aircraft. Further details tire unknown, but the aircraft was almost certainly photographed in the Marianas.

The B-29's smooth uncamouflaged nose section became an ideal 'canvas' for 20th AF artists, 'Tanaka Termite' being an ideal example. Gracing a machine of the 874th BS, the lady shares the nose with the squadron badge, a marking widely applied by some units. The group was the 498th, part of the 73rd Wing.

North American B-25C-NA Mitchell, 41-30117, of the 405th BS, 38th BG, 5th AF, flown by Major Ralph Cheli to lead an attack on Dagua airfield. New Guinea, on 18 August 1943. His aircraft set ablaze by enemy fighters, Cheli continued to lead his squadron in a successful attack before crashing - for which leadership he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

A 444th BGB-29-1-BW, 42-6225, being readied for its 13th mission, on 25 October 1944. Nose markings include yellow with white outline name 'Ding How' and Chinese characters, white hull number and three bombing and eight Hump missions, mission 12 having yet to he chalked up.

Neat echelon formation by B-25Hs of the 1st Air Commando Group over Burma, led by 43-380. Each aircraft has a plane in group nose number: 380 was '1' and 43-4271 was '6' (also named 'Dolly').

Douglas A-20G-DO Havoc, 43-1815, of the 89th BS, 3rd BG, 5th AF. The squadron was identified by the colour of the tail tip and the skeletal figure on the rear fuselage reflected the group nickname - 'The Grim Reapers'.

North American B-25J-NC, 44-302085, of the 430th BS, 42nd BG, 13th AF. Unusual in marking a second serial number on its B-25s, the group did not distinguish squadrons by different tail tip colours, all known examples being red.

A typical well-decorated A-20G: 'H' of the 312th BG, with while skull and cross bones group marking on the nose lip and bomb log, while group tail stripe and squadron playing-card symbol on rear fuselage. (J. H. Hill)

Boeing B-29 Superfortress of the 505th BG, 313th BW, North Field, Tinian, 1945. Shown with rear fuselage formation leader stripes, this machine has the nose marking style common in the 313th Wing, albeit incomplete.

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