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The first mission "over the hump" took place on 8 April 1942. Flying from the Royal Air Force airfield at Dinjan, Lt. Col. William D. Old used a pair of the former Pan Am DC-3s to ferry 8,000 U.S. gallons (30,000 liters) of aviation fuel intended to resupply the Doolittle Raiders.[17][f] The collapse of Allied resistance in northern Burma in May 1942 meant further diversion of the already minuscule air effort. The ABC Ferry Command resupplied Stilwell's retreating army and evacuated its wounded, while establishing a regular air service to China using ten borrowed DC-3s, three USAAF C-47s,[17][25] and 13 CNAC C-53s and C-39s.[2] Only two-thirds of the aircraft were serviceable at any time. Dinjan was within range of Japanese fighters now based at Myitkyina, forcing all-night maintenance operations and pre-dawn takeoffs of the defenseless supply planes.[26] The threat of interception also forced the ABC Ferry Command to fly a difficult 500-mile (800 km) route to China over the Eastern Himalayan Uplift, which came to be known as the "high hump", or more simply, "The Hump".[2][g]

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The Assam-Kunming route...[was situated] the middle of...three Eurasian air masses that were stirred and conflated by the presence of the Himalayas themselves. Moist warm air from the Indian Ocean to the south produced high pressure that swept north, while cold dry air from Siberia moved south. These lows and highs were extreme, producing violent winds...and when those winds hit the immovable mass that was the world's tallest mountain range, they shot upward at startling speeds until they cooled and then rushed downward in terrifying drafts that hurled airplanes...earthward at stupefying rates of descent...Turbulence inside the cloud mass was severe; pilots reported being flipped upside down by gusts, while many others were unable to report anything because they went missing. Hail, sleet, and torrential rains lashed the aircraft. Thunderstorms built suddenly...[into]...a whirling opaque world that not only meant no visibility but also frequently meant icing. The peaks of the Hump were waiting; the pilots called them "cumulo-granite"...[30]

A C-87 Liberator transport must consume three and a half tons of 100-octane gasoline flying the Hump over the Himalaya Mountains between India and Kunming (to get) four tons through to the Fourteenth Air Force. Before a bombardment group can go on a single mission in its B-24 Liberators, it must fly the Hump four times to build up its supplies.[66]

As a result of these efforts, President Roosevelt directed that the Presidential Unit Citation be awarded to the India-China Wing. Hardin was given a month's leave in the United States, promoted to brigadier general, and as the representative of the wing received the award from General Arnold on 29 January 1944, the first ever awarded to a non-combat unit.[6][7] Hardin returned to the India China Wing in February 1944, just as the first of a trickle of four-engined Douglas C-54 Skymaster transports arrived in theater (see Operations on the low hump and in China below). With a maximum load ceiling of only 12,000 feet the C-54s were unable to hurdle the high Hump. Japanese interceptors blocked use of eastbound routes at lower altitudes and the C-54s were limited for the time being to freight movement within India or flights between the CBI and the continental United States.

The first significant diversion of India-China Wing resources to operations in the region other than the Hump airlift began in February 1944. The Japanese attack in Arakan, followed by an offensive against Imphal in March and April, resulted in assistance to the British that Hardin estimated reduced hump deliveries by 1,200 tons. The ICW also had a stake in resistance to the offensive because the threat to Imphal imperiled the Assam-Bengal railroad along which not just Hump cargo but fuel for the airlift passed.[122] The crisis occasioned by the Japanese attack on Imphal led Admiral Louis Mountbatten, the commander-in-chief of the Allied South East Asia Command, to request 38 C-47 aircraft to reinforce Imphal. Mountbatten had no authority to divert planes from the Hump,[123][124] but he was backed up by two of the principal American commanders in the theater: Major General Daniel I. Sultan, the deputy commander of the CBI Theater, and Stratemeyer, who in addition to all his other duties commanded SEAC's Eastern Air Command, which for all practical purposes made him Mountbatten's air commander.[125][ap] After the request was approved, ICW provided 25 C-46s as the equivalent of 38 C-47s.[126][aq] These were attached to the EAC Troop Carrier Command[ar] to support the British and were used to fly the personnel and light equipment of the 5th Indian Division to Imphal and Dimapur, where it arrived in time to thwart the Japanese offensive.[127]

XX BC had the unfortunate coincidence of arriving in the theater just as the Japanese started a major offensive in East China to open a corridor for lines of communication to its forces in Indochina, seize the airfields of Chennault's Fourteenth Air Force situated in that corridor, and possibly knock China out of the war.[139] The load allocations that ICD had to commit to XX BC early on caused "mutual recriminations" between XX BC, ICD and Chennault, from whom most of the altered allocation tonnage was taken, with each blaming the other for problems that ensued.[140] The Japanese offensive continued inexorably all summer and into the fall, threatening the efficacy if not the very existence of 14AF.[141] Relations were never entirely smoothed with Chennault, but workable compromises were eventually fashioned by Stratemeyer, Hardin and Tunner to accomplish the tasks necessary to keep 14AF in the fight.[142] Supplying Matterhorn during the concurrent crisis did have the positive effect of increasing the resources and effort committed to the airlift, and recognition by all involved that ICD was the only agency that could efficiently handle the logistics.[143]

Grubworm lifted 25,009 Chinese troops, 396 Americans, 1,596 draft animals, 42 jeeps and 144 pieces of artillery in 24 days of flying.[151] ICD crews provided 597 of the 1328 sorties of the operation and moved more than 14,000 of the troops involved.[98] Although three C-47s were lost during the operation, ICD had no losses.[151][av] When the Japanese offensive shifted to seize the Fourteenth Air Force bases at Suichwan and Kanchow, the 2nd ATS evacuated the bases in a single day on 22 January.[146][152]

In 1942 Chiang Kai-shek insisted that at least 7,500 tons per month were needed to keep his field divisions in operation, but this figure proved unattainable for the first fifteen months of the India-China airlift.[155] The 7,500 total was first exceeded in August 1943, by which time objectives had been increased to 10,000 tons a month. Ultimately monthly requirements surpassed 50,000 tons.[100]

Slowly, however, an airlift of unprecedented scale began to take shape. Construction of four new bases was begun in 1942, and by 1944 the operation flew from six all-weather airfields in Assam. By July 1945 the air corridor from India began at thirteen airfields strung out along the North-east Indian Railways in the Brahmaputra valley,[156] with seven in Assam , four in the Bengal valley, and two near Calcutta,[157][ax] and terminated at six Chinaside airfields around Kunming.[157][ay]

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