There was a time, not too long ago, when the very word “Hump” struck terror into the hearts of airmen, and well it might. Gallant youngsters, and oldsters, too, had given their lives in getting precious freight to China, in pioneering this largest of all aerial transport ventures. Known as the most hazardous of all aerial routes, its jagged peaks reached 20,000 feet into the sky; its 100-mile-an-hour gales forced pilots far off course, to crash on snowy peaks or into jungles so dense they hid all trace of plane and crew.” (ATC India-China)

I never talked to Meck about his time with the Air Transport Command during World War II. When Meck and Bea starting sorting through their things in order to make a move from Long Island to Hawaii and Meck had a box full of WWII pictures on the curb for garbage collection I said “Are you sure you want to throw those out?” He replied “Yes”. I said “Maybe donate them to a historical society or group?” He said “No”.

He did save his flight/navigator training book that logged his training for “stalling”, “landing”, “skidding”, “180 degree landings”, “series turns”, “spiral stalls”, “air work” and such. He did save his Air Navigator’s Log book….and there are a few photographs of places and faces while he served in the ATC. (below: Tezpur Airport, Greenland, and unknown)

Meck began his flight training in August of 1941 at Roosevelt Field NY. He finished in August of 1943. His Flight Navigator’s Log begins February 13, 1943, still doing some training, and on the last page dated October 4, 1945, Meck writes “THAT’S ALL BROTHER!” I can almost hear him!!

The log book records 357 missions. The shortest flight was about 89 miles and the longest was logged at 2377 miles. He was the navigator for over 25 pilots. I stopped counting. Noted in the log book in poignantly short sentences, the death of four of them.  July 16, 1943 the entry reads “Lost #2 engine 770 miles out. “On August 22, 1943 Meck notes: “First flight over Hump”.  September 23, 1943 four words: “caught in an alert”.  On October 13 Meck notes: “Zeros got a CNAC plane”. October 16 he writes: “First night flight over Hump”.  The next day’s entry is: “J. Keating killed.”  On Nov 11, 1943 he saw Mount Everest and three days later the entry reads: ” Red Alert 31 bombers”. On November 25, 1943 he flew a C87 #123696. The next day he makes an entry that the same plane: “Burned up next day with crew”. What would it feel like to write : “Glenn Golden and crew killed ” (8-27-44) when you had flown with them on many missions? Three months later he cites the death of two more peers: “C. Watkins and S. Barton killed”.  December 15, 1944, the birthday of his wife Bea, he notes in black pen: “Almost in a bad way on this one”.   Blown engines, 4 inch ice accumulation on the planes, alerts, failed this and broken that, faulty electrical equipment, lightening storms, heavy winds, snow and fog, are all entered and now serve as witness to how close Meck may have come to being injured or killed. For all the remarks “turned back”, I took a deep breath.

Destinations included Ascension, Natal, Maidugui, Aden, Agra, Tezpur, Kunming, Yunnani, Chengkung,Chabua,Jorhat,Accra,Presque Isle, Prestwick, Casablanca, Marakech, Mingan, Goose Bay, New Castle,  Santa Maria, Paris, and others.  North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia.

Photographs of India, including the Taj Mahal with the camouflage netting:

Two pictures from Accra, Gold Coast, Africa

Street sweeper in Casablanca

Salt beds, Aden, Arabia

Harbor, Aden

more Aden

Brrrrr…Labrador

Iceberg somewhere in the North Atlantic…

So, what was the Air Transport Command, The HUMP and the CBI? The “Hump” was the first sustained, long range, around the clock, all weather,high altitude military aerial supply route. The route was between the Assam Valley in northeastern India, across northern Burma, to Yunnan province in southwestern China, flown during World War II.  There was no precedent for it. Nothing like it had ever been done before.  “China lost the Burma Road, its last remaining supply line to the outside world, due to the invasion of Burma by Japanese troops in April of 1942. The Burma Road extended 425 miles from Lashio, Burma to Kunming, China. China’s eastern seaports had previously been closed by Japanese Navy.”

“The United States determined a continuous flow of military supplies into China had to continue in order to allow the Chinese Army, and the U.S. Army 14th Air Force (formerly the American Volunteer Group (AVGs) and the China Air Task Force) in China, to remain effective and keep pressure on Japanese occupational troops, thereby denying their use as fighting forces in other parts of the CBI or south Pacific. The only means left for getting supplies to China was by air. Due to the presence of Japanese Army and Air Force in northern Burma, the only available air route to China was via the Hump route. In April 1942, pilots started flying the “Hump,” and continued missions until 1945, when the Burma Road was reopened.”

“The dangerous 530-mile long passage over the Himalayan Mountains took its toll. Official records from Search and Rescue were closed in  1945.  Final records showed 509 crashed aircraft records had been “closed”. 81 lost aircraft records were still open. 328 of the “lost” flights were ATC planes. 1,314 crew members were know to be dead. 345 were still listed as missing. “In addition, China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) lost 38 planes and 88 airmen. ”

“Living  in the Assam Valley was difficult. Conditions were primitive. Personnel generally lived in tents or bamboo bashas. A few lived in tea plantation bungalows or in bungalow outbuildings. During the monsoon season bases were seas of mud. Sidewalks and tent foundations had to be elevated to stay above standing water. Temperatures during the monsoon season were extremely hot with very high humidity. Clothes and shoes mildewed within days. Food was government issued C-ration. Personnel did not eat off base for sanitary reasons. Malaria and dysentery were prevalent diseases. Water could be consumed only after purification by iodine.”

Leave papers December 3, 1943 for 6 hours….

“Maintenance of aircraft was a serious problem due to a shortage of parts and poor working conditions. The need for maintenance was high due to the need to fly aircraft well above their normal operating limits. Work during the monsoon season mostly had to be done at night due to the heat. There were no hangers for aircraft maintenance. All maintenance work had to be done in the aircraft parking areas. Make shift covers had to be placed over engines to complete engine work during the rainy season.” (Below maintenance in Natal)

“Loads carried over the Hump were many and verified. The primary load was gasoline, carried in 55 gallon drums and added to by siphoning from tanks of the carrying aircraft. Also carried were: small arms and ammunition, small vehicles, heavy equipment cut up and carried in pieces, truck and aircraft engines, bombs and aircraft machine gun ammunition, mortar shells, hospital equipment, personnel, 20′ lengths of 4″ pipe, etc.” (below, transporting Chinese soldiers to India for the Burma Campaign)

“All operations over the hump required use of oxygen. Oxygen was provided to crewmembers by a demand system which provided oxygen on inhale. It also had a constant flow and an emergency forced flow capability. Oxygen masks were very uncomfortable. Regulations required that oxygen be used above 12,000 MSL during daytime and above 10,000 MSL at night.”

Sources and credits: CBI Hump Pilots Association and http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1733.html,  and photographs from the personal collection of HM Howlett.

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