Arnold Beckhardt's Roy Neely Novels


The Roy Neely Files  


Goering's Gold  

Black Gold  

Mexican Gold  

The Kashmir Dilemma  

The Paris Surprise  

About the Author  







Arnold Beckhardt

I thought readers of my Roy Neely novels might enjoy hearing a few of my real "war stories" from World War II. Some of them have ended up as part of Roy's adventures in my latest novel, THE KASHMIR DILEMMA.

The China-Burma-India Theater. The fighting that took place in China and Burma has often been described as "the forgotten war," so let me briefly remind you of some of the history. The Japanese first occupied China in 1937 and their Air Force began using Western China to perfect their bombing and strafing tactics. Longtime U.S. air commander Claire Chennault, who left the Army in 1937 (some say he was forced out) came in contact with China’s Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, who sought Chennault's help in training Chinese pilots and aircrews. This led to the formation of the Flying Tigers, a group of U.S. pilots and ground crew who flew and serviced 140 P-40 aircraft. They immediately had an impact. On Nov. 27, 1941, for example, they destroyed an entire Japanese bomber squadron in a battle over Kunming, China. On Christmas Day 1941, they destroyed about 130 Japanese planes with the loss of only two of their own planes. Chennault returned to active duty with the U.S. army air force in 1942 and commanded units in China until the end of the war. The Flying Tigers were to exist as a flying unit for only seven months, from December 1941 to July 1942 when they were integrated into larger Army Air Corp units.

The Japanese Army in the CBI Theater was determined to drive the British out of Burma. On March 7, 1942, the capital city of Rangoon had surrendered; later that spring U.S. General "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell had to lead a retreat of American and British ground troops from the Burma jungles to India. Meetings in Washington between Chiang Kai-Shek, President Franklin Roosevelt and the British led to the allocation of additional U.S. resources to support the Chinese Army. Taking off from bases in Assam (a province in the northeastern part of what was then British India), Air Transport Command planes began flying military cargo over the Himalayas to Kunming on the so-called Hump route. Back in the States, the formation of troop carrier squadrons and combat cargo squadrons to provide close air logistical support to Army ground units in the CBI theater began.

I was in college when WW2 started and I was called to active duty after finishing my junior year in February 1943. After a lengthy training period, I joined the 1st Troop Carrier Squadron based at Sookerating, Assam, in the fall of 1944 as a replacement pilot. The squadron's primary mission was to resupply the American, British and Chinese troops that were fighting the Japanese in Burma. My log book for Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, 1945, has entries that describe the squadron's typical missions: On those days, we flew our C47 transport planes at treetop level with "drop loads" of provisions and ammunitions from the base. Once we spotted the troops, we would circle over them and the "kickers" at the back of the plane would push the pallets out the door. We flew these missions no matter what the weather was; sometimes the monsoon rains were so heavy we would have to make a real tight circle several times to spot the flares in the drop area. We were flying so low you always worried about getting hit by ground fire.

My squadron remained at Sookerating flying missions in support of the ground troops in Burma during the spring of 1945. As Burma was recaptured from the Japanese, landing strips were improvised in the Burma jungles. The squadron moved to Warazup, Burma, on April 20, 1945, where we made the transition to C46s. The transition was accomplished by shooting a few touch and go landings at Sookerating and then ferrying the C-46s to Warazup.
Flying from a dirt air strip, the squadron began a new mission: to transport Chinese Army units over the Hump back to China. It was typical to load the C-46 to its maximum gross weight with Chinese troops and their equipment, lock the door to the crew compartment, take off in any kind of weather, climb to 12,000 feet, and cross the Himalayas to Kunming. There have been many stories written about the weather conditions over the Hump. One particularly bad day was described this way: "This was the wildest night in transport aviation," with between 15 and 48 planes lost during the storm. The weather over the Hump was described as "Solid instruments, extreme turbulence, severe icing, 100 plus mph winds from 200°."

As a pilot in a Troop Carrier Squadron, I had the opportunity to utilize one of the squadron's airplanes for a "rest and recuperation" mission. I flew a C47 with a group of five pilots and some nurses from the hospital at Sookerating to Sprinigar, Kashmir. I rented a houseboat on Nagin Lake with Ray Dahl, who I flew a lot of missions with. We lived like the owners of a British tea plantation for a week, with cooks and servants. One of the highlights of the trip was an overnight hunting trip to the Himalayas. The only guns we had with us were our 45s. But the Indian guide we had hired somehow got us a couple of old shotguns. I had a chance to shoot at a black bear (which I missed). This story became the basis for one of the incidents in THE KASHMIR DILEMMA, my latest Roy Neely adventure.

The peace treaty with Japan was signed on Aug. 26, 1945. That day the squadron was moved to a dirt landing strip in Chihkiang, China. The squadron was assigned the mission of redeploying the Chinese 6th Army, and it was awarded a second Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation during this period. We flew at least two missions a day and piled up the hours flying between Dinjan, Kunming and Chihkiang. On Sept. 3, 1945, my buddy Ray Dahl and I flew a C-46 into Shanghai with an OSS team on board to accept the Japanese Army surrender in that city. The only clue we had about where to land was an air photograph of a landing field near a river. There were no published radio aids. We found an airfield, which looked like the one in the photo, and when we landed, we were met by a contingent of Japanese troops led by a young lieutenant in a truck. We unloaded the jeep we were transporting and followed the truck into downtown Shanghai, where the OSS team commandeered a hotel as their headquarters. (There continues to be controversy over who arrived first in Shanghai, but we were one of the first to arrive by air. There were other OSS people there who arrived from a Navy ship.) Ray loves to tell the story of our one night in Shanghai where we saw the first white women we had seen in quite awhile. They were "white Russian" refugees, and we ended up together in a local bar. I evidently had too much saki to drink (or whatever else we were drinking; Ray says it was Japanese beer!), and somehow I lost my 45 side arm. We did a lot of searching after sobering up and finally found my 45, which kept me out of a lot of trouble back at squadron operations.

I had accumulated enough flight time (1088 hours) and mission points (the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters) to be eligible to get sent back to the States. I hitch-hiked a flight to Calcutta, India, on Oct. 6, 1945, but I could not get air transport back to the States and had to take a "30-day cruise" to New York. I arrived in New York on Nov. 6 with $400 I had won at poker on the cruise home and the benefits of the GI bill. I have more "war stories" for my readers, but I'll save them for future Roy Neely novels.

— Arnold Beckhardt
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