Charles R."Bob" Pitzer

Keeping China Alive

Tales of "Flying the Hump."

By Charles R."Bob" Pitzer

This is about WWII, Flying the Hump, and simply existing in India. Our training for Hump flying was at, Reno Nevada AAF Base. Its purpose was to train us, both Pilots and Radio Operators, in high terrain flying over the Rockies. For us, boys from the east, this was awesome! We flew night and day. On one trip we got a real taste of the problems we would be facing. We had spent the night at Sacramento. Getting in there late, the mess hall had already closed so we borrowed a staff car and went off base looking for something to eat. The proper way to close down an aircraft at night was to top off the fuel tanks. Otherwise, condensation would settle in the tanks. Sadly, we waited to fill up the next morning. Over the Rockies on our way back ourengines sputtered and stopped. After some frantic checking, we were told to prepare to jump, and after what seemed like hours, they coughed and started.

On completion of this training, we were assigned to India. The picture of me there was taken the day before I left.My wife was expecting at anytime and our Doctor asked for an extension of my leave but was refused. Three days later my son was born; he would be a year old before seeing his Dad. Twelve of us flew over together after picking up our plane at Berry Field, Nashville, Tennessee and we then flew to Morrison Field in Florida where we were equipped for the trip. We were issued parachutes and Colt 45 pistols. The trip over was via South America and Africa – destination Karachi, India. There, they gave us many many shots and, to our surprise, took away our parachutes! All of our trips after that were without parachutes. With this change, we went on to Barrackpore (about

Just before leaving home for India.
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30 miles above Calcutta.) Two things you never get used to in India were the heat and stench. Most of our trips to China, destination mostly Kunming, were night flights to get us there in the morning. We were on the ground at Kunming for about a 2 hour offload then back in the air, west bound, a total time of 12 to 14 hours. We were a pretty tired crew when we landed. Because of this schedule, sleeping was mostly during the day. We slept on hemp rope cots wrapped inside a mosquito net. Sleep came slow with the temperatures in the 105 range and the humidity very high. Our quarters in India were large thatched huts called basha with about 16 men in each. We had a Hindu Indian bearer to keep things somewhat livable. One of the guys got some cans of tomato juice which he opened and passed it around. Raj, our bearer saw the color and thought that we were truly American Blood drinkers and fled from the basha. It took a lot of coaxing and someone who spoke his language to explain that it was Tomato Juice - not blood.
This is some of my basha buddies. I'm back row left. The Indian in front is our bearer.
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On one of my trips into Calcutta, I spotted an ice cream maker, the old hand cranked type. I bought it and took it back to the basha. A little late, I figured out it wasn't a whole lot of good without something to make ice cream with. I sent an SOS, via V-mail, back to my wife in the States requesting ice cream mixes. About two months later I received a package from Heaven with several, mostly Vanilla. Everything else we needed, mostly salt, we could get at the mess. We decided it should have a little fruit of some kind. Bananas were easy to get so I gave Raj one rupee note worth about 30 cents to get some. He looked at me kinda funny but took off on the quest and came back with all the bananas he could carry - far more than we needed and gave me back change. The Ice Cream was delicious and shared by all.
On my off days, when not flying, I worked the briefing room, keeping all the information up to date and typing the weather codes for the next day. This was always done late at night so the duty was until 5:00 in the morning. One night two pilots from the Upper Assam Valley came in and asked me if they could leave their pet with me while they went into Calcutta. The "pet" was on the other side of the counter and out of my view so it seemed like a reasonable request. I agreed. It was a young panther about 24 inches high equipped with many pretty white teeth! The counters had space under them for storage with a kind of door. That's where we put him. I propped the door open with a shim for air. On another night after getting all my chores done, I sat behind the desk and put my cap over my eyes and took a little snooze. Just as I began to nod off, I heard the rustle of paper nearby. I eased my cap up to see who it was. It was our base commander! That was the fastest move from at rest to attention on record! Happily, he was one of the good guys and he was just there to get a little flight time. I went back to sleep. One thing we were not hung up on was Spit and Polish.

We were not a group that flew as squadrons. Rather, it was more like an airline operation whose purpose was to supply the Free Chinese operation in West China as well as all air operations. The Flying Tigers and several Bomber bases' very existence depended on the freight we flew to them. The point I'm trying to make is we weren't "A Band of Brothers." We were just a bunch of guys doing our job. I was a Flight Radio Operator. Mostly we were a crew of three: pilot, copilot and radio operator.

The operation was to supply the Chinese and our Troops. All land routes were in the hands of the Japanese and, on a few occasions there were Japanese aircraft in the area. The flight to Kunming was via the route designated N or "Nan"which was approximately 1010 miles long. Because of our heavy loads, we used the Nan route because it was on the lower end of the Hump with altitudes only about 15000 feet. When we arrived over Kunming, depending on weather, we could be stacked, sometimes for almost and an hour before getting permission to land.

Face Page of the Facility Chart used in the Hump Operation.
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While waiting in this pattern, traffic was so bad I actually heard pilots call asking for clearance to land ahead of others due to a shortage of fuel. The answer was invariably negative! They were given a heading away from traffic and wished Good Luck.

There were two landing strips, both 10,000 feet of crushed stone built by coolie labor. The rough stone was very tough on our tires, often causing blowouts. We once had a nose wheel blow on takeoff, just as it left the runway. This made for an interesting landing back home. On the good side, Kunming was the only place we could get fresh eggs. As soon as the engines were shut down, we headed to the line shack where the Chinese cook knew only one English sentence, "How do you want 'em Joe?" No matter what the answer, they came scrambled.

Chiang Kai-shek. Photo coutesy Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
Once, while on the ground at Kunming waiting to be offloaded, a CNAC (Chinese National Air Corp.) fighter was in the warmup circle of the 2nd runway. His engine was running really rough - kind of a snap, crackle and pop noise that he seemed unable to smooth out. After clearance he rolled down the runway but could not get it to take off speed. He'd go to the end of the runway, then taxi all of the way back to the warmup circle and go through it all again with the same results. After several attempts, he decided that mind over matter would prevail. There was a levee at the end of the strip. He evidently thought that the slope would help get it airborne so, once again he
rolled it down the runway to the end and up the slope. It did get airborne but only for a few seconds. Up and quickly down - nose first!

On one flight I left my issue sun glasses on the radio on the C-54*. There was a crews quarters nearby with a door. When we came back to the plane, the glasses were gone. I told the G.I. in charge about it. He then told the Chinese honcho who had the coolies frisked. They found them. The honcho called to a couple of Chinese Army guards who took him behind a building. Shots were heard - matter closed.

Our return trip was on O or "Oboe" route generally at 20,000 feet or higher. While at Kunming, all extra fuel was drained leaving us about 30 minutes reserve. West bound was over higher mountains where the weather was mostly bad, some times with winds that would almost stop us. Air speed would show 220mph, but actually our ground speed was very slow. The thunder storms were massive and there was no way to go around them. The mountains were just below us and climbing above was impossible. All too often we had to lighten the load - sadly, quite often, we had to get rid of those wonderful eggs.

On one return to Barrackpore, our home base was shut down because of a low ceiling. The minimum ceiling allowed was 500 feet. Radar was yet to come so we were diverted to another base. But then, it shut down! We were able to find a small base about 100 miles west, Asansol. It was still open but by the time we got there, it was closed with a ceiling of 480 feet. The pilot told them there was one more incoming - us! We broke through at 450 feet. The pilot, then made a violent fighter maneuver to get lined up but lined up we were. After touchdown, while rolling out about half way down the runway, our engines sputtered out from fuel starvation. They had to tow us in. We were already entitled to a 4oz shot from the Flight Surgeon following all Hump Flights, but we hit the club anyway. Next day, after refueling we flew on home only slightly the worse for wear.

My Pilot, Lt.Moore on the right and Lt.Johanson, Copilot. Note the crush rock surface.
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Our off days were used for flights mostly in India, not considered combat. After the Japs surrendered, we had a flight to Singapore. It was a long haul, about 1600 miles. These flights were the first heavy aircraft to land there. The tower advised us to land tenderly, as there might be mines - very reassuring. Our purpose was to bring out POWs but in the usual Military snafu's, the Navy had all on board and gone, but it was a fun trip, though very long.

After the war was over and the bases in north India were shut down, a buddy of mine was transferred down to Barrackpore. He saw my name on the flight list and asked if he might be put on as my Assistant. He was assigned with me. We didn't get out that night because of weather and the flight was cancelled the next day. When we did go out, he had been removed from the crew list. It was a normal flight in and out of Kunming but with our trip almost over between the last two check points, I was day dreaming when a sensation like a ball of fire hit me; I actually jumped up and looked around. Everything was OK except for an eery feeling. Shortly afterwards, Barrackpore called to report a missing aircraft. Somehow I knew he was onboard. After landing and going through debriefing, I checked. He was! I've run this by ministers and psychologists, but got the same answer. We were just on the same brainwave that day. Brainwave??

With one of my fellow FRO's,,J.J.Moore from Elizabethton,Tenn. Note my slim figure,compared to the fat boy, before I left.
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On another day before the War ended, we taxied out to the warm-up circle. After pre-flight, the pilot asked for clearance for takeoff. The tower told us to hold for an incoming disabled B-24 Bomber, coming in from a bomb run over Burma. When he came into view, we saw that just two of his four props were turning and smoke almost totally engulfed the entire plane. We sat there praying silently for him to make it. Not more than 30 seconds from touchdown the other two engines quit. They went down short of the runway. We sat stunned for about a minute. We snapped out of it when the tower coolly transmitted "522 You're cleared for takeoff." That day wasn't a day we wanted to fly but we did. We would fly the hump 55 times before coming home.

Finally, in December of 1945 I flew out of there to the Good Old USA. I returned to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida - the point I left from a lifetime ago. I, immediately called my wife. The final lap of my trip was by bus. She met me on a corner three blocks from her home where the driver stopped and opened the door. We flew into an embrace with a bus load of people watching. We were completely lost in time. After a maybe a couple of minutes, the driver asked, do you want your luggage Sarge? What luggage?. What a homecoming!! Holding hands, we walked up the hill to home and to see my son.

The beginning!

In all these places that I went, KILROY had been there first I sometimes think maybe we won the war because of KILROY. I've often thought that Kilroy and the "Who Dat" perennial and
ubiquitous banter might be related. Sometimes when things were quiet over the Hump, between our check points, you would hear over the radio, "Who Dat?" followed by "Who
Dat who say Who Dat?" This might go on for, maybe a minute or two. These outbursts were considered (and were) unnecessary transmissions! Finally, some ground station would send "Aw come on guys, cut it out." This was invariably followed by a long pause then "Who Dat say Dat?" which would set the whole thing off again. With luck, we would eventually hear something like "this is Capt..Jones! If I hear one more transmission like that, you will all be written up! We will find who is behind this! Then, after a little longer pause would come. "Who Dat?" Probably some who read this will find it a little childish. To them I say, most of us were not too far removed from our own childhood.

Editor's note: We at Kilroy Was Here are, again, amazed at the sense of humor that continued throughout the war, one that was maintained during stress we can only imagine today. It keeps popping up throughout Do a simple search of Kilroy Was Here for "humor" or for "Gremlin," or "Foofighters." There is a search engine at the bottom of most main pages.

*We received the C-54 in early 1945. In fact, the aircraft we ferried over was a C-54. Her ID number was 999, the last numbers of her registration. It (999) was a headache for a radio operator using CW (code.) The original Hump operation was with the old DC3 (C47), then the C46 (Dumbo) which we trained in at Reno. I didn't make any Hump trips in C-47's although I made a few trips around India in them. I did make a few Hump trips in C-46's. It had more range and had a higher ceiling than the C-47's. The early 46's were prone to fuel leaks though. I lost a buddy when one blew up over the Rockies. I'll always remember that we made a bet on the Army Navy football game that year. He won. I was never able to pay him.

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