Ex-CBI Roundup
January 1996 Issue

By Robert W. Griffey

Shingbwiyang Airstrip

At a Summit meeting in Canada, General Orde Wingate, after success with the Chindits behind the lines in Burma, convinced some people that this was the way to go. They immediately pulled Company "C" of the 877th Battalion. They designated it the 900th Airborne Engineer Battalion (sic) Company and shipped them to India.

The primary mission was the glider landings behind the Jap lines. The 900th arrived August 12, 1943. The glider missions didn't start until March 5, 1944 (see operation Thursday, Ex-CBI Roundup, February issue 1995, page 16). The 900th had to have a job so they sent 50 men and Lt. Rolland Brown as an advance party into the Hukaung Valley.

They left Hellsgate, September 27, 1943, walking the trail into Burma (see getting there was half the fun, Ex-CBI Roundup, January 1995 issue, page 26). They stopped at Tagap, October 6th. Colonel Seagrave's Hospital Unit was there. While the men of the 900th were trying to hack out a strip to land L-ls to flyout wounded, several were being treated at the hospital for malaria including the writer.

On October 18th, Lt. Brown went on into the valley with some members of Detachment 101 and Kachin scouts. October 23d, we heard Lt. Brown had been killed in an ambush (see story by James Fletcher, "Jungle of Burma," Ex-CBI Roundup, January 1991 issue, page 6).

November 4th, the unit moved on to Ningem Sakon and could go no further. Seagrave's unit was there and the 900th tried to be as much help as they could. A perimeter was set up along with some members of an ack ack unit that had come in later. The men dug in, trying to offer some protection for the hospital. The Japs had bypassed the Chinese and were seven miles down the trail. They had captured American Colonel Gilbert. They also caught Chinese porters about a mile down the trail and bayoneted them. They evacuated most of Seagrave's Burmese nurses.

December 12, 1943, the 900th returned to Shingbwiyang to build a dry weather strip. Planes dropped chain saws, dynamite, picks, and shovels. They cleared the eight-foot tall elephant grass, cleared trees and brush for approaches and leveled the ground with the help of the Chinese Pioneer troops. The high ground was knocked off with pick and shovel and the dirt was moved to the low places. This was done by Chinese using two bamboo poles with burlap bags stretched between, like a litter. The dirt was dumped and it was tamped as hard as possible.

The work was started on December 15th and less than two weeks later it was ready for use. On Christmas Day, a C-47 pilot made some passes over the strip and thought it looked OK. He set down, followed later by a second plane.

Finally, there was a usable air strip at the head of the valley where supplies could be unloaded and sick and wounded could be evacuated to the larger hospitals.

You can make your choice as to who was first (which is not really important), in an attempt to settle the argument. Hugh Crumpler in the Ex-CBI Roundup, January issue 1994, page 28, says the road crew arrived December 23d. John McDowell, in Ex-CBI Roundup, December issue 1993, page 9, says first vehicle to arrive was on December 27th. On December 25, 1943, two planes landed and unloaded supplies and ammo. At that time, there was no road into Shingwiyang. The first vehicle that broke into the clearing was pulled by a dozer.

On February 3, 1944, the 900th had been flown back to Dinjan and were preparing to go to Lalaghat to join the First Air Commando Force, but that's another story.

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