Ex-CBI Roundup
June 1992 Issue

By Jay Blankenship

80th Fighter Group At Myitkyina

Early in the summer of 1944, C-Flight went to Myitkyina air strip while the town was still under siege. The Japs were dug in 30 feet deep, and Gen. Stilwell's American Chinese forces were firing on them constantly while our pilots were running missions all day long going over the town bombing and strafing, and being back on the field in matter of a few minutes. It was 3,000 yards from the airfield to the town of Myitkyina, and one day Capt. Allred took off in a P-40 and swooped down over the town and bombed and strafed, and was back on the field in eight minutes. It was recorded that it was the shortest bombing and strafing mission during WWII.

The American planes had bombed the air strip at Myitkyina so much, that when we took our planes in there, the mud had worked up through the black top and the whole thing was like mush. Many times when our pilots would start to take off, it would take two or three men under each wing pushing like hell 'till we got his tail off the ground, and then we would run like hell away from the plane to avoid being hit by the stabilizer.

Seven Zeroes broke through the radar system one day and were all over us before we had time to do anything. Some of the boys didn't have time to hit a fox hole. Al Fellers hit the ground and something told him to turn over - he did, and a burst of shells hit the exact spot where he first hit the ground. They used 30 calibers in the Zero, and they sounded like firecrackers. We clawed several bullets out of the ground that hit next to Al. They were throwing out anti-personnel bombs, and the shrapnel from one hit George Aird in the leg. It bled a lot and I believe he was awarded the Purple Heart. A nurse was coming off a C-47 one day and was hit in the hip, but I don't know if she got the Purple Heart.

The damn Japs had a big gun across the Irrawaddy River and they would shell our ass every night. They would always wait 'till dark - during the day, we would have been able to spot their position and blow that gun to kingdom come. We could hear the shells coming across the valley as they would make a loud swishing noise before they hit. Sometimes we would roll off our bunks into a fox hole.

We had four P-40s up one day on patrol and looked down the valley and saw 24 Zero's coming straight at us. Capt. Allred, and perhaps Roundtree and Gail (if I'm wrong they may correct me), and a new pilot just over there intercepted the Zero's and had a helluva dog fight. Allred knocked down one and another one got on his tail - he called the tower and told them he was bringing him across the field. When Allred went across and a split second later the Zero went through, and the ack-ack boys cut his tail section off. He went end over end into the jungle. Allred dipped his wings in appreciation and pulled back upstairs and knocked down another Zero, and one went down the valley smoking like the devil; we heard later on that it went down. The other pilots chalked up one or two each.

The new pilot was unlucky. He went down over Myitkyina and bailed out, but the Japs got him, and you boys know the rest.

Those Australian gun crews were real experts when it came to handling the big Bo-fors guns. There were 12 of them around the field. When all of them were firing at the same time, the airfield would shake like we were having an earthquake.

One day they saved all of us from sure death when everything was very quiet, and, all of a sudden, the big guns took a pot shot at something high above the field - It was a Jap bomber getting prepared to drop a load of bombs on the field, but the Australian gun crews sent 'em on their way.

I wasn't sure who volunteered C-Flight to go to Myitkyina first after Merrill's Marauders took the air strip. One flight was all they would let go because the field was under siege every day as well as the Japs in the town of Myitkyina. The rest of the squadron was still operating off the base of Shingbwiyang. When C-Flight was sent to Myitkyina, I was just coming out of the hospital recovering from an attack of Malaria. They were already there, and I got my things together and got a ride on a C-47 to Tincoxycan where I stayed over night, and went on in the next day. I was given a set of high-powered binoculars. They helped out in watching for enemy aircraft at high altitudes. I took our beer ration the day I went to Myitkyina, and all the guys were so damn happy about it that we drank beer and sang gospel songs most of the night. Allred said it was good for the morale.

PERFECT PROFILE photo of P-40E showing the clean line of the aircraft. (USAF).

Lt. Schlagel and Lt. Burns were in some of the dog fights around Myitkyina.

There was a P-51 outfit stationed at Tincoxycan, and one of their pilots was on patrol and a Zero got on his tail and he couldn't shake him, so he put his P-51 In a shallow dive and came over the field hoping he would follow, but the Zero turned back - he was afraid of the big guns.

We had our bunks underneath a tarp - about 20' by 20'. One night after old Betsy had fired a few rounds at us, we heard a strange noise that nobody could figure out. It turned out to be a rhinoceros that came up from the river, had smelled the mess hall tent, and was rootin' around there and making a funny noise.

When C-Flight went to Myitkyina, there was only one man that refused to go. I approached him when I was getting ready to leave, and asked him If he would go with me and I also said the rest of the boys were already there. His answer was, and I quote the exact words, "I never lost a damn thing at Myitkyina."

There was a bomb dump at the north end of the field over an embankment about 10 to 15 feet down. All we had to haul them on was a small Jap truck - about 3/4 or maybe 1 ton - that Merrill's Marauders left for us when they took the airfield. We would use an iron bar and put it through the ring on the bomb, with a man on each end of the bar, and carry it up the steep and load it on the truck. On one occasion, we took the truck down the steep where the bombs lay, loaded the truck, and then backed up and took a good run and made it up the steep onto the runway. George Aird said, "I believe that is the most powerful damn truck I ever saw in my life. It is a wonder we didn't blow ourselves to kingdom come."

Reed Williams from Utah was one of our best men in C-Flight. He stood steadfast with us through thick and thin. He was there every minute for everybody. He knew his airplanes as well as anybody in the outfit. He could do a great job on engine changes and all phases of the airplane, for that matter.

Al Spangenburg, Lyle Shutvet, Abe Shelly, Frank Detwiler, Al Fellers, Bill Henry, George Aird, Ralph Collie, Carl Schmierer, Bob Vance, Hagood Morris, Thomas McGlynn, Guy Askew, and John Taylor were the best. George Schlagel said at our reunion in San Diego - "if I were going to war today, I would want C-Flight to back me up." I admire him for his confidence in C-Flight. We had a helluva pile of 100-pound bombs on the edge of the runway, and it was suggested to Allred, and he was all for it, that we put a bunch of them on a C-47 and make a run over Myitkyina and kick 'em out over the town and run like hell back to the airfield. Stilwell got wind of it and advised Allred that we might lose a plane, a pilot and men to make the run, so we decided not to make the run in a transport.

Lt. Siegler augered in a short distance from the runway in the mar and muck. Allred took the remains in a plastic bag and flew him back to the cemetery.

I ran into Carroll Cummings at Foster Field in Victoria, Texas, and he told me that he wrote Sgt. Galloway's parents and explained how he was killed in the line of duty at Shingbwi-yang that day when the P-47 Thunderbolt chopped up the tail section of the plane in front of it just as he was releasing the tail wheel. His parents wrote Cummings and thanked him for the letter. The pilot in the plane was also killed.

I have a high regard for Merrill's Marauders as they paved the way for us when they took the airstrip at Myitkyina and we moved in closer where we could kill the enemy faster.

Merrill's Marauders were a brave, courageous, and dedicated group of fighting men.

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