653d ENGINEER TOPOGRAPHIC BATTALION



Ex-CBI Roundup
March 1999 Issue

By Hugh Crumpler

Where did the Armed Forces get the many maps that were used in CBI?

Up until the Spring of 1944, map acquisition in CBI was pretty much catch-as-catch can. Useful maps were so scarce, that when General Joseph W. Stilwell left in 1942 to establish the CBI Theater of Operations, he carried a supply of maps purchased from the Washington book store of the National Geographic Society. Those commercial maps were the best he could find for the area embracing his new war theater.

But "Map City USA" was on the way to CBI about 19 months after Stilwell's arrival in CBI. In October 1943, the 653d Topographic Engineer Battalion arrived in India and established Base Camp Sunderwala in the foothills of the Himalayas, 40 miles northeast of Debra Dun. That was the beginning of CBI's "Map City USA." Maj. A M Eschbach was the first C.O.

The Dehra Dun area was selected by the 653d because Dehra Dun was headquarters for the Survey of India, the British-Indian government agency that made the famous survey of the entire Indian subcontinent in 1806-1843 under Surveyor General Sir George Everest (1790-1866), for whom Mt Everest is named.

Survey of India maps served as the base for many of the India and Burma maps revised by the 653d. The GI outfit also produced many original maps, and many maps outside the domain of the Survey of India.


Yellow River Bridge map is typical of the hundreds of Target Map
produced by the 653d Topographic Engineers for the 14th Air Force, China.


How many maps did the Battalion produce?

Although the Survey of India's work had been the most famous survey of a large, contiguous land area, its equipment had not kept up with progress in map making and map reproduction.

"Their equipment was hopelessly outdated, 50 years at least," says M/Sgt Al Kleeman, whose recollections of the 653d form the basis for this report. 'We were given the task of making most of the maps for CBI."

And that task was formidable. From 1944 until the end of the war, the 653d produced and delivered 9,948,000 maps and related sheets. Production included target maps for the 14th and 10th Air Forces, the RAF, the XXth Bomber Command, and the Eastern Air Command.

"We printed Burma maps with Chinese characters for General Stilwell's Chinese troops," Al Kleeman recalls.

In fact, the 653d rolled out maps for about every combat specialization. Among them were walk-out maps of Burma and China for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

One of the first Japanese targets for the XXth Bomber Command's B-29 raids from China was Nagasaki, a center of Japanese munitions production. The target chart for that raid was reproduced by the 653d in September 1944.

Maps produced specifically for Lord Mountbatten's Southeast Asia Command included charts of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean, and Java and Sumatra. Also included were invasion maps for Siam and Java.

Camp Sunderwala - "Map City USA" - in the foothills of the Himalayas near Dehra Dun was the CBI home of the 653d Topographic Engineers. The battalion produced nearly ten million maps for the CBI and SEAC theaters.

Twelve trucks of "C" Co., 653d Topographic Engineers, were equipped for surveying and printing of maps in the field. In the foreground are electric generators and reels of electric cable and water hose.



PART II

Short Takes from the 653d Topographic Engineers

By Al Kleeman

Upon arrival at Dehra Dun we were, for a time, quartered at an RAF Rest Camp, living and working in British desert-type tents. Food was bad, mostly Australian canned beef. Almost all of us had dysentery.

Using heavy equipment from the Indian Army and using local labor we had the base camp up in record time. A bit of compensation to the natives helped a lot!

The whole town of Dehra Dun came out to see our long convoy arriving. In the vanguard were "C' Go's printing plant, housed in 12, van-type trucks. It included eight 22x29 high speed Harris Litho presses, a 16-foot, 30x30 inch repro map camera, a Pako aerial film developing and printing machi, a litho plate-making outfit, and a film-assembly van.

"B" Co. had their map compilation and drafting equipment on some 20 trucks.

"A" Co. had four, 50-foot triangula-tion towers plus all their survey equipment in 12 trucks.

The rest of the motor pool included two heavy tow trucks, two gasoline tankers, hospital equipment, jeeps, etc.

Three large diesel generators supplied all the current needed for the base camp. Each van also towed an electric generator for field use.

"A" Co. was split into survey platoons. They surveyed the Ledo Road, surveyed work on several USAF airfields for the B-29s, and surveyed a road along the Persia-India border for supply convoys to Russia.

Because of our work for the Southeast Asia Command, we were authorized to wear the SEAC patch as well as the CBI patch.

Gen. Joe Stilwell came to visit us. Wearing his old campaign hat, he stood in front of our camera van. I was standing at strict attention.

"Sergeant, that thing looks like it came out of a blankety-blank submarine," he commented.

"Yes, Sir," I replied and he went on his way with a smile.

Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived one day at one o'clock in the morning. The guard at the gate showed Mountbatten to our mess hall, as it was the only place open at 0100 hours. He sat with enlisted men and talked about his job with SEAC. He gave us a "well done" salute. He was a true gentleman. I was very sorry when he was assassinated.

Some of our equipment was assigned to the Indian Army after the war. We spent many hours getting other equipment ready to be shipped back to the U.S. by way of Calcutta. Much to our chagrin, it was loaded onto old barges and sent into the Indian Ocean for target practice by the Australian Navy!


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