Responses: 6
LTC Stephen F.
Thanks for sharing a event in the helicopter combat history SGT John " Mac " McConnell. Many consider the Korean War to be the first war where helicopters were used.
Precision airdrop into a jungle clearing was an amazing feat - yet that is exactly what occurred as search and rescue service members beat their way through the jungle to find the downed pilot. triage the situation and stabilize him. The first medevac via helicopter occurred as the 1st Air Commando Group Sikorsky R-4 helicopter lifted the US Army Air Corps pilot to safety and treatment.
Images: 1st Air Commando Group C-47; Pilots Of 1st Air Commando Group Burma; 1944-03 Sikorsky YR-4B-43-28247 piloted by LT Carter Harman 1st Air Commando Group Lalaghat, India; B-25H Mitchell (43-4380)- 1st Air Commando Group, Burma
The USAAF 1st Air Commando Group in March 2014 when the 5318th PUA was officially named 1st Air Commando Group

Here is some background on the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group
1st Chindits Operation in 1944 and second an overview of the creation of the 1st Air Commando Group
Project 9
At the Quebec Conference, the United States offered to support the 2nd Chindit offensive into Burma with American air power.
General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, Commander of U.S. Army Air Forces, who was always keen to explore new ways of using air power, selected two young veteran fighter pilots, Lt. Col. Philip G. Cochran and Lt. Col. John Alison, to devise and assemble an aerial task force to meet the needs of the Chindit operation.
The objective was to build a lean, self-sufficient force capable of sustained operations for up to 90 days, operating during the dry season before the monsoon. This operation was given the codename Project 9.

Air Power After discussions with Wingate, the Americans came up with the idea of flying in the Chindit force into Burma to save weeks of jungle marching. This was to be the first ever aerial invasion in history.

Cochran and Alison identified the main roles of the aerial task force to be,
- fly-in of troops
- evacuation of casualties
- supplies by air
- close air support
- air superiority

To meet these requirements the aerial task force was to consist of the following three main elements,
1. An airlift force with gliders and transport planes for the fly-in and transport of supplies. For this role the following planes were selected,
C-47 Skytrain/Dakotas for their ability to carry heavy loads and for use with short landing strips.
UC-64 Norseman planes for smaller loads and utility work.
Waco CG-4A large cargo gliders.

2. An assault force with fighters and bombers for attack, close air support and to establish the required air superiority. The planes used for this were,
P-51A Mustang fighters which were excellent for dive bombing and strafing.
B-25H Mitchell bombers, an attack version armed with canon and machine guns in the nose for forward firing allowing it to act as a gunship as well as a bomber. These were flown by fighter pilots.

3. A light plane force for evacuating the sick and wounded.
L-1 Vigilant and L-5 Sentinel were selected as both could operate from crude airstrips in jungle clearings. Six experimental helicopters were also included in the light plane force for rescue missions.
The force assembled by Cochran and Alison consisted of 523 men and the following aircrafts,

Gliders (CG-4A) 150
Light Planes (L-1/L-5) 100
Fighters (P-51A) 30
Training Gliders 25
Large Transports (C-47) 13
Small Transports (UC-64) 12
Bombers (B-25H) 12
Helicopters (YR-4) 6
Total 348

B-25H Bomber
C-47 Dakota
CG-4A Waco Glider
P-51A Mustang Fighter

5318th Provisional Unit (Air) . The force was assembled in America and then transported to India during November and December 1943. On their arrival in India they were moved to two bases in the Assam region, 100 miles west of the Burma border. The transport and gilder planes were stationed at Lalaghat and HQ, fighters and bombers went to Hailakandi. The light plane force was divided between the two bases.

Once in India the unit was re-designated the 5318th Provisional Unit (Air). The unit's planes were given markings of five white diagonal stripes banding the fuselage behind the cockpit. These markings were to give the unit an identification and also "to let the Japanese know who was dominating the skies of Burma".

900th Airborne Engineers: 5318th was then joined by the 900th Airborne Engineer Company. They were equipped with air transportable tractors, road graders and bulldozers, they would be flown into Burma by gilders and it was their role to construct the airstrips behind enemy lines for use by the transport planes.

Training: Joint training exercises with the Chindits commenced on 29th December 1943. Mechanisms for transporting the animals were devised and rehearsals of towing gliders and landing them with Chindits on board were carried out. The procedures to be used for directing air strikes by radio from RAF officers on the ground were developed and airdrop of supplies were also practised.

Any Place, Any Time, Anywhere:One training mission went tragically wrong when two gilders on tow collided with each other during takeoff resulting in one of the gliders crashing killing the 3 Americans and 4 British troops on board. The Americans had feared that this accident would mean that the British would now be less willing to fly with them, instead they received a note from a Chindit commander saying "Please be assured that we will go with your boys any place, any time, anywhere". This phrase became the motto of the unit.

1st Air Commando Group The unit commenced operations in February 1944 attacking enemy targets in Burma to prepare for the Chindit invasion.
In March the 5318th PUA was officially named 1st Air Commando Group.

As well as supporting the Chindits directly the 1st Air Commando also contributed by attacking the enemy's transport systems and supply centres. Targets included road and railway bridges, warehouses, truck conveys and river barges.

The Chindit fly-in, Operation Thursday, was launched on 5th of March 1944 with 1st Air Commando spearheading the invasion. Operation Thursday officially ended on 12th March after the successful fly-in of 2 Chindit brigades behind enemy lines without Japanese knowledge or interference. The unit then continued with its support role.

Air Superiority Air superiority was vital to the Chindit operation. The Chindits were totally dependant on air supplies and it was vital that transport planes could always get through and that the Chindits were not subject to heavy Japanese air attacks.

On 8th March an attack was launched against a Japanese airbase successfully destroying 48 enemy planes, this was one fifth of the known Japanese air force.

Enemy planes did not shoot down any transport or light plane during the entire operation. Air superiority was achieved with significant contribution from the Air Commandos.

Close Air Support The Chindit columns did not possess artillery, instead this was provided by the 1st Air Commandos in the form of 'aerial artillery'.

Mortar smoke was used to identify the target area and RAF officers on the ground would direct the air strikes against enemy positions using radio. Great accuracy was achieved and the close air support proved very successful. The accuracy achieved by this method allowed enemy in close proximity to be attacked from the air. Newly developed rockets were used in combat for the first time.

Casualty Evacuation In the first month of operation over 1,000 Chindit casualties were evacuated by light planes. The L-1 was supposed to carry a maximum of 3 passengers but was known to sometimes carry as many as 6 to 7.

Casualties were normally flown to Broadway and then transferred to transport planes to continue their journey back to India. Urgent cases were flown directly to India by the light planes.

Helicopters When a L-1 plane, carrying 3 wounded, had to make a forced landing in Japanese controlled territory was rescued by helicopter, it made aviation history with the first ever combat rescue mission. In total the helicopters flew 23 sorties rescuing 18 Chindits.

Withdrawal Wingate only expected his men to be able to operate effectively behind enemy lines for a maximum of 90 days, therefore the air task force was only planned and designed to operate for 90 days.

Withdrawal was planned for 1st May but with the movement of the Chindit force towards Mogaung and the establishment of the new Blackpool block, the 1st Air Commando agreed to extend the operations for a few weeks at the request of the Chindits.

The monsoon season then started and the arrival of the rain hampered missions and made the runways at the bases inoperable. 1st Air Commando finally withdrew with the last plane leaving Hailakandi on 23rd May.

The 1st Air Commando had played a critical role by providing an airborne weapon to the Chindits on the ground.

"Operation Thursday and the 1st Air Commando Group
Operation Thursday C-47 A C-47 dropping supplies over Burma. While support operations were not as glamorous as air strikes, Operation Thursday and supporting the Chindits took the fight to the enemy. National Archives.

SEAC – Southeast Asia Command – and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations may have been “the forgotten war” of World War II, but it was a strategic linchpin in the prosecution of the war for both the Allies and the Axis in the Far East. For the Japanese, possession of Burma, which it achieved in early 1942, was a plum rich in value. Burma’s rice paddies produced 8 million tons of rice a year. Three million of those tons could be shipped to the far-flung Japanese military outposts in the new East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that in 1942 covered almost half the globe. Japanese possession also cut off the Burma Road, the vital highway that carried supplies to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s armies fighting the Japanese in China. Finally, because Burma bordered India, it could be used as a staging area for invasion of what was then the crown jewel of the British Empire. In fact, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters was preparing an ambitious plan to invade India and ultimately link up with German troops advancing from the east.

The challenge facing Great Britain and the United States was daunting in the extreme. Britain’s resources, even with lend-lease aid from America, were stretched perilously thin. As a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the vast industrial and manpower might of the United States had gone from a standing start to high gear. But it would take time before the full weight of those resources could be employed. In those early months of World War II, the United States had at hand little in the way of trained men, materiél, and the ships to transport and guard both. And, in order of priorities, the CBI came a distant third behind Europe and the Pacific theaters.

When Roosevelt presented him with Wingate’s proposal, Arnold was initially cool, as it dealt with support operations instead of air strikes against enemy installations. But then he saw in Wingate’s design an opportunity to demonstrate a hitherto unrecognized benefit of air power: The singular ability to support sizeable units for an extended period of time behind enemy lines.

Those desperate times called for desperate measures. Fortunately for the Allies, one man who saw opportunity where others saw only looming disaster was British Brig. Gen. Orde Wingate. Creating the long range penetration group called the Chindits, he conducted a guerilla campaign behind Japanese lines in Burma that caught the imagination of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was always receptive to unconventional ideas of waging war. Churchill took Wingate with him to the Quadrant Conference in Quebec where, in a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wingate outlined his concept for continuing his unconventional campaign in Burma. Wingate’s plan, even in expanded form, required relatively little in the way of resources. The key factor in the campaign would be adequate air support. Roosevelt, as enthusiastic about unconventional warfare as Churchill, endorsed it as a way of keeping China in the war.

Simultaneously, Army Air Corps Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold was looking for an opportunity to demonstrate how the war could be won with air power. When Roosevelt presented him with Wingate’s proposal, Arnold was initially cool, as it dealt with support operations instead of air strikes against enemy installations. But then he saw in Wingate’s design an opportunity to demonstrate a hitherto unrecognized benefit of air power: The singular ability to support sizeable units for an extended period of time behind enemy lines.

Gen. Arnold selected two officers to be co-commanders of the new unconventional warfare unit, Lt. Col. Philip G. Cochran and Lt. Col. John R. Alison. Cochran was a smart, daring, and imaginative fighter pilot with a distinguished war record earned in combat over North Africa. Cochran’s exploits had made him a national hero and the inspiration for the character Flip Corkin, the pilot hero in cartoonist Milton Caniff’s syndicated strip Terry and the Pirates. Alison was another exceptional pilot with a distinguished war record that included a combat tour with Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault’s 23rd Fighter Group, which earlier in the war had fought the Japanese under the name American Volunteer Group or “Flying Tigers.”

Gen. Arnold defined the mission of the new unit, initially named Project 9, in four points:
1. To facilitate the forward movement of the Wingate columns.
2. To facilitate the supply and evacuation of the columns.
3. To provide a small air covering and striking force.
4. To acquire air experience under the conditions expected to be encountered.

And in case there might be any doubt as to what the unit should do once it reached its base in India, Arnold declared, “To hell with the paperwork, go out and fight.” This order was taken so literally that later, when Cochran saw a dozen typewriters on a list of material to be shipped to India, he crossed them off the list."
SFC Joe S. Davis Jr., MSM, DSL LTC Stephen C. Maj William W. 'Bill' Price Capt Tom Brown Capt Seid Waddell CW5 Charlie Poulton SFC William Farrell SFC James J. Palmer IV aka "JP4" SSgt Robert Marx SSgt (Join to see) TSgt Joe C. SP5 Mark Kuzinski SGT Robert George SPC (Join to see) SrA Christopher Wright SP5 Robert Ruck SCPO Morris RamseyCPL Eric Escasio SPC Margaret Higgins
SGT John " Mac " McConnell
SGT John " Mac " McConnell
3 y
Great pictures LTC Stephen F. . Great information indeed.... Thanks for sharing.
SGT David A. 'Cowboy' Groth
Thank you for the great video and share on the first S&R operation.
SGT John " Mac " McConnell
SGT John " Mac " McConnell
3 y
My pleasure David...
Katha Howell Henderson
My father was in the OSS, Detachment 101 Rangers group in the CBI theater. He did search-and-rescue for down to Airman in the Burmese jungle and also Patrol to keep the Burma Road open. They flew supplies over the hump into China and he was in about Rangoon.
He named me " Katha" Joy. (Kay-tha). A name easily recognizable to anyone that has looked at a map of Burma from that time. It is both a city in Northern Burma, and the name of the railroad that transacted Burma. I love the history of the CBI and Wild Bill Donovan. I grew up on the stories that I would listen to my dad tell of things that happen, things they did, missions they conducted. I was a history poli-sci major because of his influence from hearing the stories not about the killing but the things that they did that was Cutting Edge in the development of Special Ops. I love the Legacy he left me.

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