“The 308th… performed some of the most accurate bombing of the US Army Air Forces and used the first American “smart bomb” called the Azon. The 308th also sustained the highest casualty rate in the USAAF, for its missions were long and hard, often conducted at very low level and at night through the very heart of Japanese-occupied territory and over their controlled sea lanes.”
“The 308th flew nearly 600 combat missions under conditions that would have been deemed impossible in Europe. At the end of a 12,000-mile supply line, every ounce of gasoline, every bomb, every spark plug, had to be dragged over the hazardous, high altitude route across the mountains, along what became known as “the Aluminum Trail” for the plane wreckage scattered along the way. There were few radio or navigational aids, and the weather was usually bad. Midway through the war, crew viewed combat missions as less stressful than the haul over the Hump. It took about four trips hauling supplies to be ready for one bombing mission.”
Walter J. Boyne, Former Director, National Air & Space Museum. Excerpt from the Foreword in CHENNAULT’S FORGOTTEN WARRIORS By Carroll V. Glines
KUNMING, China, Jan. 26 (Delayed) (AP) – The United States Fourteenth Air Force’s Liberator group, known unofficially as “the Liberators of China,” may now be referred to publicly by its official designation, the 308th Bombardment Group.
The group arrived in China on March 21, 1943. Up to Jan. 1 of this year the Liberators had sunk a total of 466,800 tons of Japanese shipping, including 34,000 tons in naval vessels. It had dropped more than 3,000 tons of bombs on Japanese installations, shot down twenty-two enemy planes and probably shot down eighty-four.
The 308th’s sea-sweeping activities produced one of the Fourteenth Air Force’s greatest heroes, Maj. Horace S. Carswell Jr. of San Angelo, Tex., who died last Oct. 27 in an attempt to save his crew after an attack on a Japanese naval formation.
Col. John G. Armstrong of New York is the present group commander.
By Robert Donnan
HIMALAYAS is Sanskrit for “Abode of Snow.” But the Army Air Force flight routes over this mountainous region earned a new nickname during World War Two – The Aluminum Trail – due to the abundance of crashed airplanes littering the ground. Why was this flying so hazardous?
Stretching between India and China, over thirty peaks of the Himalayas rise above 25,000 feet. Of these, Mount Everest is the world’s tallest mountain at 29,028 feet. Flight routes were charted between these peaks, but altitudes were great and the terrain inaccessible. Sometimes the altitude indicated on a flight chart wasn’t accurate, leading to many shocking surprises.
While defending China from the Japanese invaders, one of the greatest logistical problems was getting basic war materiel into China – food, ammo and fuel. The number of supply routes was severely limited by the rugged terrain. It came down to either using the treacherous overland route – the Burma Road – or flying supplies over The Hump into China.
Even though flying became the preferred method of resupply, there were severe limitations due to cargo weight and shortages of airplane fuel. Fuel to power the P-40’s and other planes in China was especially scarce. Therefore, some of Miss Mandy’s missions involved fuel resupply from India. The bomb racks were removed and large fuel tanks were hoisted into the bombays. According to crew member John Gillard, their Liberator carried as much fuel as a tractor trailer tanker truck (considering wing tanks and bombay tanks) when it lifted off from India.
The first challenge with a heavy load was making it up to altitude, so the B-24 could successfully cross The Hump. Weight was such a factor, that most of the armor plate had been stripped out of Miss Mandy when she arrived in the CBI Theater so the Liberator could haul more payload.
After takeoff, the climate inside the airplane rapidly changed from sweltering Indian heat to thin, frigid, high-altitude air, requiring oxygen masks and sub-zero temperature clothing. Flying at these altitudes, the weather could change in a split second, with visibility dropping to zero, wings icing, severe turbulence, air pocket free falls that would wrench your stomach and perhaps worst of all, lightning strikes!
These lightning strikes would reveal themselves as “Saint Elmo’s Fire” creating colorful frightful halos around the four propeller tips. Will the fuel explode? Are there any uncharted mountain tops we’re about to fly into? Will I ever see my family again? These are just a few of the questions the crew asked themselves while flying along The Aluminum Trail.
60 years later, search teams are still discovering downed US aircraft in this rugged mountain terrain known to CBI Aviators as THE HUMP.
Battles and Campaigns
Distinguished Unit Citations
August 21, 1943
May 24, 1944 – April 28, 1945
East & South China Seas
Straights of Formosa
Gulf of Tonkin
Headquarters Fourteenth Air Force – 20 May 1945
Pursuant to authority contained in Circular 55, U.S. Army Forces, China, Burma, and India, dated 29 May 1944, and under the provisions of AR 600-45, dated 22 September 1943, the AIR MEDAL or the OAK-LEAF CLUSTER thereto is hereby awarded to the following named officers and enlisted men of the 308th Bombardment Group (H) for meritorious achievement in aerial flight. Flying from bases in China, they completed 100 or more hours of combat flight during the periods indicated. Although fire from hostile aircraft and enemy ground installations was encountered frequently, they carried out their missions with courageous determination. Chief among their targets were enemy installations, lines of communication, vessels at sea and troop and supply concentrations. Their missions ranged throughout Occupied China and over the China seas, where they inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. Many of their flights were made through adverse weather over mountainous and poorly charted regions with a minimum of navigational aids. The accomplishments of these officers and enlisted men reflect great credit upon themselves and upon the Army Air Forces.
DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
Headquarters Fourteenth Air Force – 5 September 1945
Pursuant to authority contained in this letter, AG 200.6, Headquarters, USF., China Theater, subject: Decorations and Awards, dated 5 August 1945, and under the provisions of AR 600-45, dated 22 September 1943, the DISTINGUISHED-FLYING CROSS or the OAK-LEAF CLUSTER thereto is hereby awarded to the following named officers and enlisted men of the 308th Bombardment Group (H) for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight. They distinguished themselves while participating in 200 or more hours of combat flight from bases in India and China in heavy bombardment type aircraft. During the first portion of the periods cited they flew in attacks against enemy installations, lines of communication, supply dumps and troop concentrations, inflicting heavy damage on the enemy. In the latter part of the cited periods they carried large loads of gasoline over the “Hump”, encountering the dangers of flying over rugged terrain with highly flammable cargo. The accomplishment of these officers and enlisted men reflect great credit upon themselves and are consonant to the fine traditions of the Army Air Forces.
CHUNGKING, Jan. 6. — (UP) Despite the loss of bases in Eastern China, the U.S. 14th Air Force had its best month in history during December, destroying 241 Japanese aircraft and sinking 73,950 tons of merchant shipping without loss of a single plane in combat, Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault announced today.
An additional 113,900 tons of shipping probably was sunk or damaged, he said.
The planes destroyed on the ground and in the air represented a substantial portion of the entire Japanese air strength in China.
“We struck deeper into enemy territory than ever before,” Chennault said. “In short we are hitting the enemy harder, exacting a heavier toll every day. With the full support of the theater command and the Chinese we shall continue to do so.”
Chennault resented the newspaper stories printed in the United States implying that the position of the 14th Air Force was precarious.
“I have even seen reports that the 14th might be getting out of China,” he said. “That is ludicrous. I predict that the 14th still will be operating in China when the last [Japanese soldier] on Chinese soil has passed through the gates of a prisoner of war camp.”
Below is a Flight Log which appears to be from the 308th Bomb Group. Some of these missions match ones that included ‘Miss Mandy.’ Click on each image to advance the 17-image carousel:
Length: 66 feet 4 inches
Wing span: 110 feet
Height: 17 feet 11 inches
Speed: 300 mph
Range: 3,300 miles
Ceiling: 36,000 feet
Armament: Ten .50-caliber machine guns
Bomb load: 12,800 lbs.
Gross weight: 41,000 lbs.
Loaded weight: 56,000 lbs.
This Consolidated-built heavy bomber reached higher production than any other U. S. World War II combat aircraft. A total of 18,188 of these versatile four-engine bombers was built for the U.S. Air Corps, Navy, and Allies. The B-24 went through many modifications which added armor, power-operated gun turrets, self-sealing gasoline tanks, and armament to the original model. The B-24 was not only used as a bomber but as a tanker and transport, and although it flew in all theaters of war, it was used most in the Mediterranean and Pacific, where longer range gave it an edge over the B-17. This range made it particularly useful in the Pacific for search missions for downed airmen. Source: “China Up and Down” by John T. Foster