Airborne Chronology
Part II: 1944-1945

1944, 5 March-17 May: American glider missions into Japanese-held Burma; first use of double-tow in combat. At the Quebec Conference of August 1943, British Major General Orde Wingate was assigned the task of assisting U.S. General Joseph W. Stilwell’s two Chinese divisions in opening up the supply route from India through northern Burma into China. Since the spring of 1942, airsupply from the Assam valley of India over the high, rugged, and remote Himalayas had offered the only viable means of supplying forces in the region around Kunming, China. For these purposes, the Air Transport Command, in conjunction with assigned troop carrier and combat cargo outfits and British RAF transport units, delivered tons of vital supplies through extreme conditions—including attacks by Japanese fighter aircraft—over “the Hump.” In preparation for Wingate’s Burma operations, to begin in early 1944, a special AAF unit which came to be known as the 1st Air Commando Group was formed and went into training for purposes of flying Wingate’s troops into battle, evacuating the wounded, providing airsupply and direct air support. This elite unit included contingents of Troop Carrier, Fighter, Medium Bomber, and Reconnaissance outfits, and totaled more than 500 men. Aircraft in the Group included C-47s, P-51s, B-25s, observation aircraft, and CG-4A gliders. After Stilwell’s offensive had penetrated well into Burma in February 1944 and were reinforced by the American regiment that came to be known as Merrill’s Marauders, Wingate got his orders, which included the establishment of his forces in Burma to cut the supply lines of Japanese forces opposing Stilwell’s units. Wingate’s plan called for a forced march by one of his brigades through jungle terrain deep behind enemy lines, to be resupplied nightly by 1st Air Commandos. Next, beginning in early March, came the transport by glider of two of his brigades up to 165 miles behind enemy lines, where they would quickly carve out airheads, build up their forces, and set out to complete their primary tasks. Wingate’s forces, trained as guerrillas and known as the Chindits, included British, Gurkha, Burmese, Indian, and Nigerian troops. The Troop Carrier operation, which began on 5 March, authorized overloads for the Wacos (4,500 lbs payload rather than the standard 3,750 lbs). Eighty gliders were to fly double-tow for more than 250 miles and then make a night landing at a large clearing near the village of Indaw. A total of 34 C-47s and CG-4As took off and climbed to 8,000 ft., a feat that took some 80 minutes at full throttle on double-tow. Due primarily to overloading, most gliders broke loose, and only 31 made it to the LZ. Casualties were heavy among those who made it to the target: 31 men dead, 30 seriously injured. No resistance was encountered upon landing. The mission, preceded by a Pathfinder unit, delivered 539 men, along with 65,972 lbs of cargo and three mules. Gliderborne engineers cleared and leveled the field and by nightfall had built a runway 5,000 ft. long and 300 ft. wide. During this same night the first C-47s landed, delivering 500 more soldiers, ammunition, and supplies; by 11 March, more than 9,000 Chindits had been flown into this airstrip. On the night that C-47s began landing at the first airfield, 12 more CG-4As—on single tow—were delivered to a nearby location, and within two days engineers there had built a 3,000 ft. strip. During the next two months the 1st Air Commando Group flew 96 more glider sorties—most at night. Glider snatches were also performed, and most of those took place at night as well. Northern Burmese objectives were secured by Stilwell’s forces near the end of August 1944, and up until that time the Troop Carrier crews continued to fly airsupply missions to the Chindits and others in the Allied offensive in Burma.

1944, 6-7 June: Allied airborne operations in Normandy, France. On 6 June,  parachute assault missions followed by glider assault missions provided the spearhead for the Allied invasion of northwest Europe, the largest such invasion in history. During these two days, some 27,000 troopers and their equipment and supplies were brought in behind enemy lines to open the passageways inland from the landing beaches on the Cotentin peninsula, and prevent German counterattacks that could stymie the amphibious landings and jeopardize the establishment of a beachhead. For delivery, more than 1,700 Troop Carrier sorties were flown on D-Day alone (by American and British Troop Carrier outfits), delivering 17,000-plus paratroopers that day; by the end of D-Day, American and British glider serials had also delivered more than 600 American and British gliders containing more 7,000-plus troopers, more than a hundred artillery guns, several hundred vehicles, and over a thousand tons of supplies. It was in Normandy that the Airborne-Troop Carrier concept truly “came of age.” (For more information, see Into The Valley, Chapters 6 & 7.)

1944, 15 August: Allied invasion of Southern France, staged from bases in Italy. Parachute and glider assaults provided the spearhead for an amphibious invasion of the French Riviera between Cannes and Toulon. The DZs and LZs were located inland near Le Muy, where troopers were to perform much the same tasks as in Normandy. Added to the list, however, was the job of preventing fleeing German forces from escaping into the interior. This operation, like Normandy, was successful. Most Troop Carrier crews flew two long missions on D-Day: one paradrop and one glider tow. More than 850 Troop Carrier sorties were flown, of which slightly more than half were on the parachute missions. Approximately 9,100 troopers were delivered, along with over 200 vehicles and 200 artillery pieces, plus approximately 500 tons of others supplies and equipment. (For more information, see Into The Valley, Chapter 9.)

1944, 17-30 September: Largest airborne assault in history: the spearhead of a coordinated air and ground assault in the Allied airborne invasion of German-occupied Holland. Three simultaneous operations were mounted—completely in daylight—against locations near Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem in an effort to lay a 60-mile carpet of airborne units from approximately 7 miles north of Eindhoven northward to Arnhem. Use of multiple lanes by different serials was implemented effectively to compress deliveries. Two routes were specified, southern and northern, and both were used to good advantage. On 17 September, Eindhoven lay approximately 15 miles behind enemy lines, Nijmegen was over 65 airline miles behind enemy lines, and Arnhem was 85 miles behind the lines. The American sectors were centered around Eindhoven (101st), Nijmegen (82d); Arnhem was in the British sector (1 Airborne). Troop carrier operations in Holland extended from 17-30 September 44, during which IX TCC flew 3,743 effective aircraft sorties, flew in 1,618 gliders, and delivered 30,385 troopers, 158 pieces of artillery, 710 jeeps, 465 trailers, and carried 2,856 tons of cargo to all three sectors combined. The RAF 38 and 46 Groups flew 1,191 effective aircraft sorties, and dropped more than 1,400 tons of cargo, delivered 621 gliders, 4,401 troopers, 1,026 vehicles, and 105 artillery pieces. The two American sectors were successfully taken, though not on schedule. The invasion, which depended on the rapid movement of British army units up a narrow corridor from south of Eindhoven to Arnhem, became over-extended by a combination of unrealistic plans, weather, communications failures and other factors. (See Into The Valley, Chapter 10 and 11, for more information on Holland missions.)

1944, 12 October: Mégara, Greece. The 4th Battalion of the British 2 Independent Parachute Brigade was dropped on the airfield at Mégara by crews of the 60th and 62d Troop Carrier Groups of the 51st Wing. This was the same airfield from which Student’s forces had taken off on the German invasion of Crete. By now, however, the Germans had withdrawn from nearby Athens, and British troopers were brought in to help stabilize the situation in that city, where various factions and ideologies fought for power. The mission was flown in high winds, and many of the troopers who jumped became casualties as the wind dragged their chutes across the rocky ground and into the water. Nevertheless, the field was secured and soon members of the British 1st Independent Glider Pilot Squadron brought in vehicles and supplies in a number of used CG-4As that were towed by pilots of the 60th and 62d Groups. During and after these operations, these two Troop Carrier groups, veterans of the Allied invasions of North Africa and Sicily, were based at the airfield at Pomigliano, Italy, and at Malignano Airfield in Italy, respectively.

1944, 6 December: The last Japanese airborne assault mission of the war arose out of the Japanese High Command’s decision to vigorously contest Leyte in an attempt to prevent the USAAF from establishing major bases on the island. The subsequent Japanese buildup on Leyte was countered in part by placement of Gen. Joseph M. Swing’s 11th Airborne Division into the central mountains with the objective of pushing west to the coast. From one of several makeshift airfields around Burauen, Swing staged a creative resupply, transport, and evacuation operation for his troopers, using 11 available L-4s, which had to fly many trips per day to keep up with divisional needs. In an attempt to strike at the division and the developing airfields, the Japanese assembled 350 highly-trained men of their Task Force Katori Shimpei, who were to drop on five different airfields in the Burauen area, then link up with two infantry divisions that had been reduced to battalion size or less by previous battles. Notice of a one-day delay was not received by one of these divisions, so a portion of the ground attack preceded the airborne assault by one day. This attack against the airfield at Buri caught some AAF service group personnel and a portion of a Troop Carrier squadron by surprise. A battalion of the 11th Airborne repelled the attack, however, but by evening 40 Mitsubishi Ki-57s began disgorging their troopers over the airfield. Four were shot down or crashed, but the others made their passes, then headed back to Japanese airfields to shuttle more parachutists in as Japanese troop transports were now in short supply in this region. Confusion reigned at the airfields through the night of 6 December, but American personnel from the miscellaneous units organized and held on. Swing, whose HQ was at Burauen, assembled all the troopers he could find nearby, including a nearby artillery battalion, and led an attack that reopened one of the airfields, then held his position until reinforcements arrived on 8 December. The Americans began rooting out the Japanese paratroopers and infantrymen, and by 11 December Japanese forces in the area had been eliminated. This Japanese operation, had it been adequately equipped with airplanes, and had it possessed gliders, might have been much more effective.

1944, 17 December: The last German airborne assault of the war, and the only German night parachute mission. Troopers were to drop near Baraque Michel approximately seven miles south of Eupen and seize the intersection of three key roads for use by lead units of 6th Panzer Army in the German Ardennes offensive. For the drop, 90 JU-52s were dispatched, most flown by inexperienced troop carrier crews. German troop carrier had been so depleted by operations on the Eastern Front that only about half of those available had any combat experience—none were trained in instrument flying, and none had ever flown a night drop. Ten aircraft were shot down by Allied gunners, and most of the rest got lost. 

1944, 22-29 December: USAAF Troop Carrier combat emergency resupply missions to Bastogne and the Bulge, plus airlanding of 17th Airborne troopers and their equipment near Reims as that unit was deployed into the Allied effort to reduce the German Ardennes salient. Though Troop Carrier resupply, troop unit movements, and evacuation operations had begun before and lasted longer than this period of time, it was this span of days that was designated by IX TCC as “Operation REPULSE.” During these eight days IX TCC units flew 2,137 aircraft sorties and carried approximately 5,541,000 lbs of supplies. Of this, more than 2,090,000 lbs was designated for the resupply of Bastogne, while 3,200,000+ lbs accompanied the more than 11,000 troopers of the 17th Airborne as they were brought from England to the Continent. Of the 2,137 aircraft sorties, 927 were dispatched to Bastogne between the days of 23-27 December, along with 61 gliders loaded with everything from heavy ammunition to volunteer medical teams. It was during the resupply of Bastogne that the communications and inter-unit coordination problems that had dogged Airborne-Troop Carrier operations throughout the war reached their most destructive point in the ETO. It was immediately after these operations that these problems were, for the most part, corrected. (For more on these missions, see Into The Valley, Chapter 13.)

1945, 3-4 February: Drop of three battalions of the 511th PIR, 11th Airborne Division by the 317th Troop Carrier Group on Tagaytay Ridge, 32 miles SSW of Manila, in part of a pincer move by the Eighth Army to take that city. Coming from the north were 1st Cavalry and 38th Infantry Divisions, while the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments of the 11th were advancing from an amphibious landing near Nasugbu up Route 17 from the south. The 511th was dropped on the highest ground between the 11th Airborne and Manila in position just behind the location that General Swing had correctly anticipated the Japanese would choose to make their stand. The drops began accurately, then miscued as parabundles were mistakenly knocked out and inexperienced jumpmasters hustled half the troopers out to follow, some five miles from the DZ, which had been marked by Pathfinders. No resistance was encountered on the way to or at the DZ, and troopers effectively performed their tasks. In Gen. John R. Galvin’s words, “the jump was a small-scale repetition of such earlier jumps as North Africa and Sicily, where nothing seemed to go right except the accomplishment of the assigned mission and the defeat of the enemy.”

1945, 16 February: American airborne assault on Corregidor, the tiny island that dominated the entrance to Manila Bay and which had been held by an entrenched Japanese force since mid-1942. U.S. Sixth Army estimated approximately 600 Japanese defenders on the island, but in fact the number was closer to 5,000—all serving under the edict that they would defend the island to the death. As Allied forces converged from the south and north on Manila, AAF units and navy guns made it clear to the Japanese on Corregidor that they would soon be the target of an invasion. The defenders, led by Capt. Ijn Itagaki, prepared for an Allied amphibious assault on the island’s low east end. He established his forces in the steep crags and crevices leading up to the island’s 500 ft. heights on the west end, known as “Topside,” which is where he set up his CP. The Japanese command did not prepare for an airborne assault as the small, rocky island did not appear to have any feasible DZs. The 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team developed a plan, however, that proved otherwise. It was a risky plan, but the defenders of the island were at such an advantage over amphibious assault forces that U.S. Sixth Army CG Walter Krueger agreed to the airborne assault. In command was Col. George M. Jones, 503d CO, who for this mission would also have the use of the 3d Battalion of the 34th Infantry Division, Sixth Army. Jones picked out two small locations: the Topside parade ground, 1,500’ by 450’, and the golf course, 1,500’ by 200’. The area was so small that only a handful of troopers could jump at a time and Troop Carrier crews would have to make three or four passes each to jump a full stick. The Troop Carrier outfit that would fly the mission was Col. John H. Lackey’s 317th Group, which had at its disposal a total of 51 C-47s, and could deliver only one battalion at a time, in two parallel columns (one to each DZ) with a five-hour turnaround between drops. Jones scheduled his 3d Bn drop at 0830 on 16 February to allow for a heavy round of aerial attacks on the island’s high-ground defenses. The jump would be followed two hours later by an amphibious assault by 3d Bn of the 34th Division; three hours later, the 2d Bn of the 503d would come in by air, thus placing 3,000 men on the island on D-Day. The 503d’s 1st Bn would follow on D-plus-1. In the days prior to the 16th, the island took a tremendous aerial pounding, and Japanese communications link-ups were destroyed. On D-Day, Jones rode with Col. Lackey, and prepared to make adjustments to the delicate timing required to make this mission work. The first jumpers were hit by unexpected winds and missed the DZs. Jones, in the course of two more passes, adjusted the jump altitude and delayed the jump by 14 seconds until troopers were landing exactly on target. Adjustments were conveyed through Troop Carrier crews to individual jumpmasters. Col. Jones jumped on Lackey’s final pass. As it turned out, the first troopers who missed the golf course landed near Capt. Itagaki’s CP, and Itagaki was killed by a hand grenade. The Japanese defenders, victims of a well-coordinated surprise attack, had lost their commander, the high ground, and all communications. Though fighting was intense because of the fervor of the defenders, the outcome was never in doubt. After 10 days of mopping up, the Japanese dead numbered 4,506, with 51 prisoners. Hundreds more had been blown up or burned up, or were sealed in the island’s many tunnels and caves. The 503d RCT suffered 197 killed and 1,022 wounded.

1945, 23 February: Coordinated airborne, ground, and amphibious assault on POW camp near Los Baños on the shores of Laguna de Bay, the large interior lake SE of Manila. Assault was made within two weeks of the 11th Airborne Division’s link-up with the 1st Cavalry Division in downtown Manila. Units included the 1st battalions of 11th Airborne’s 511th PIR and 188th GIR, the division’s reconnaissance platoon, 80 Filipino guerrillas, the 672d Amphibious Tractor Bn, and the 65th Squadron of Col. John Lackey’s 317th Troop Carrier Group. In what has been referred to as a textbook example of planning and execution, this small raid on the internment camp took place 50 miles behind Japanese lines in a heavily guarded area in which more than 4,000 Japanese soldiers were within four hours marching distance. The operation, for which plans were drawn up in a period of less than two weeks, had not only to get troopers in, but get them out again with more than 2,000 internees, some of whom were known to be weak and immobile. The operation began with the recon platoon and Filipino guerrillas moving across the lake in native canoes under cover of darkness the night before to get themselves in position. The next night they moved stealthily into the vicinity of the camp and quietly eliminated the perimeter guards. Their next major task was that of pathfinder: they were to mark the beach and the DZ. During the night of the operation the 188th troopers moved up as a diversionary force, approaching the camp by land near Route 1, coming in from the NW. Advancing on a 7½-mile swing across the lake in the dead of night were the amphibious tractors, first heading east out into the lake to minimize noise, then turning south to the beach 2½ miles NE of Los Baños. On board were companies A, C, and D of 1st Bn, 511th PIR. Navigation was by dead reckoning. Just before dawn nine C-47s led by 317th CO Col. John Lackey crossed low over the amphibious tractors, as both headed for the smoke that accurately marked their targets. Immediately after 0700, Co. B of 511th’s 1st Bn jumped from Lackey’s serial, and every trooper landed on the DZ near the camp, about 2½ miles SE of Los Baños. Japanese guards had stacked their rifles up in preparation for calisthenics, and within 15 minutes the troopers had made contact with the recon platoon and the guerrillas and moved in on the camp so quickly that when the smoke cleared, all 275 guards had been killed and only one internee had been wounded. Some of the amphibious tractors, including artillery tractors and transport vehicles carrying troopers, blocked out a beachhead while others proceeded quickly to the camp and loaded the most infirm internees. The prisoners, who comprised 2,147 Americans and Filipinos including women and children (among the women were several nuns and 11 navy nurses), were moved back out to the beach from where all were safely returned to freedom. The surprise had been so complete that the amphibious force had time to return and pick up the remaining soldiers, one of whom had been wounded. [The flurry of airborne missions in the Pacific within this timeframe is attributed by several historians to the insistence by Gen. Douglas MacArthur that more Troop Carrier aircraft be supplied to the Pacific theater. Resupply missions continued after this, and several lesser missions, all small-scale, were also executed. In one of these Col. Lackey led his 317th Group on a mission during which the crews and their C-47s bombed Japanese forces on Carabao Island with drums of napalm.

1945, 24 March: Allied crossing of the Rhine River just north of Wesel, Germany, and the largest one-day airborne assault in history. The entire operation took place in daylight, though in visibility hampered by smoke. Allied planners drew conservative operational parameters, mindful of the problems encountered in Holland. All missions were compressed into one day to eliminate weather delays of later missions; airborne objectives included the vertical flanking of the Germans’ east bank defenses and the capture of several key bridges that were located no farther than approximately six miles into enemy territory; Troop Carrier aircraft were scheduled to arrive six hours after ground forces had begun to cross the river. The entire invasion involved more than one million men, and was second in size only to the Normandy invasion. Troop carrier aircraft and gliders carried two airborne divisions, the 17th Airborne and the British 6 Airborne. The formation, in multiple lanes similar to the MARKET assault, was even more concentrated and massive. It flew flew three lanes abreast, 1½-miles apart, with a fourth lane above. The lanes contained various types of serials, including American, British, parachute and glider. The TC assault formation, which also included 240 B-24s bringing resupply fifteen minutes behind the multiple-lane formation, comprised 1,836 power aircraft and 1,348 gliders and took 3 hours and 12 minutes to pass a given point. Of the power aircraft, 1,156 were American. Of the gliders, 908 of those dispatched were from IX TCC units, and 592 of these were on double-tow—a first for European combat operations, and by far the largest use of combat double-tows in history. In slightly over three hours, more than 17,000 troopers and 7,000,000 lbs of equipment and supplies, including more than 130 artillery weapons and 1,200 vehicles, had been dropped or landed within an area less than 25 miles square. The paradrops and airlandings were very accurate. Extensive arrangements had been made to facilitate communications and cooperation between units, and Combat Control Teams were flown in by glider to coordinate ground-to-air communications if later resupply missions had been required. (For more on this operation, see Into The Valley, Chapter 14.)

Late Summer 1944 through Mid-Spring 1945: Airsupply, Evacuation, Transport, and Repatriation. On most days and many nights when IX TCC outfits were not involved in airborne assault missions and training, units were fully occupied by tasks that included hauling gasoline, ammunition, and other supplies and equipment to the armored columns that led the Allied ground advance. On return trips these units often carried medical evacuees from the Front, and later in the war, returning POWs. In between these flights came the routine transport duties, as well as unit movement by air of various military outfits. Competition for Troop Carrier services was fierce as some ground commanders, unable to obtain necessary resupply by ground, tried to gain access to these highly mobile resources, even at the sacrifice of airborne operations. Though IX TCC records are admittedly incomplete with regard to the proportions of these “other” missions, the statistics that we have gathered provide insight into the proportions of this “doubleduty.” In 1944, IX TCC estimated that its units hauled 242,024,000 lbs of total freight (including gasoline, ammunition, and vehicles), carried 200,676 airborne and gliderborne passengers on missions and training flights combined, evacuated 125,009 patients, transported 132,366 passengers, and moved 41,965 troops in units. Note that the C-47 had a maximum allowed payload of 5,850 lbs, though they often carried more. Between 1 January and 10 May 1945, IX TCC estimated that units hauled 173,622,400 lbs of freight, including 12,929,212 gallons of gasoline. During April’s critical push into Germany by armored columns, monthly totals added up to a staggering 118,793,000 lbs of freight and 10,255,509 gallons of gasoline delivered on 20,979 TC sorties. During these critical last months of the war, IX TCC crews flew 128,449 medical evacuees from the Front to rear areas, and in the last month-and-a-half of the war, evacuated over 165,000 POWs. (For more on this airsupply, evacuation, transport and repatriation missions, see Into The Valley, Chapter 15.)

[Sources for the development of the Airborne Chronology include information developed for Into The Valley’s coverage of Allied troop carrier missions, and as such, reflect the sources cited in the References. The American Airborne-Troop Carrier operations in the Pacific, as well as the Japanese, the early British and the German operations have been summarized from information primarily contained in the book Air Assault, The Development of Airmobile Warfare, by John R. Galvin. We recommend that those who wish to learn more of these missions, as well as of the early Soviet experiences, obtain a copy of this book. It contains valuable summary information and insight into these operations that is generally unavailable elsewhere. The book is out of print, however, though it can be accessed through local libraries' interlibrary loan program. Most of our information on the pre-war and WW II Soviet airborne and troop carrier operations has come from Lt. Col. David M. Glantz’ study, The Soviet Airborne Experience, as well as from Galvin’s Air Assault. Other specific sources for the Chronology include: CBI Hump Pilots Assoc., China Airlift—The Hump, Vol. 2, Gerald Devlin’s Silent Wings, John W. Gordon’s Wings from Burma to the Himalayas, Bill Gunston’s Aircraft of World War II, Alan Lloyd’s The Gliders, John L. Lowden’s Silent Wings at War, the USAF’s Air Force Combat Units of World War II (Mauer), USAAF Historical Study Nos. 74 and 97 by Dr. John C. Warren, and John Weeks’ The Airborne Soldier. Resupply, Transport, Evacuation, and Repatriation statistics come from a variety of sources, mostly unit histories. Those centralized sources include IX TCC's various Statistical Summary publications and the USAAF's Statistical Digest and supplementary material.]  

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Last modified: 16 Mar 2014