Project 7

CBIVA Sound-off
Summer 1998 Issue

Tales of Chabua and the Assam Valley, India
During World War II from June 1943 to October 1945
Chabua Tale #1

By Rudy Gaum

Rudolph (Rudy) and Carl Gaum enlisted into the US Army Air Force in September 1942 at the age of 20. After basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, we were sent to the Air Force Training Center at Atlantic City, New Jersey, to receive MOS evaluation, military training, shots, etc. They were assigned as MOS 747 and sent to Airplane and Engine Mechanics school at Seymour Johnson Field, Golds-boro, North Carolina. After graduation, we were chosen to attend the C-47 specialist school at the Douglas Aircraft Factory, at Long Beach, California, and upon completion some of us were assigned to a C-47, as a crew chief, and followed its assembly through the plant, issued a parachute and went on the initial acceptance test flight. Then, as crew chiefs, flew to various modification centers and around the west coast. At Great Falls, Montana, a red star was painted on the wings and tail, and it was flown to Russia as part of the Lend Lease program.

On May 14, 1943, we were assigned to the Air Transport Command (ATC) and sent to the ATC Replacement Center at Camp Luna, Las Vegas, New Mexico, for weapons training and medical shots. Little did we know, events taking place in Washington, DC, would effect our lives. While we were learning to fire Springfield rifles, carbines and tommy guns, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Madame Chang Kai-shek, Generals Stilwell and Chennault and their staffs were meeting at the Trident Conference to discuss increasing tonnage of supplies to China and to increase the war effort against Japan. The attendees agreed to substantially increase the number of planes flying the Himalayan Hump and to speed up the construction of the Ledo Road. To meet the need for additional aircraft and support personnel "Project 7" was formed. This committed additional C-47s but mostly the new Curtiss Wright C-46s, which with their newly assigned pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and radio operator would be flown to Assam, India. Additional pilots, crews, mechanics and service personnel were flown to India under a contract with Pan American, American and Northwest Airlines.

Changing spark plugs on a C-46 at Chabua.

Boarding a steam train in New Mexico we arrived several days at Boca Raton, Florida, to await further orders. On June 12, 1943, our shipping orders were posted on the bulletin board. We followed the usual procedures, packed our barracks bags and tied the towel to our bunk to identify those who would be awakened early in the morning, for transfer to the Miami Airport. Here we received Secret orders not to be opened until we were one hour out. About 14 of us boarded this brand new C-46, with six black auxiliary overseas fuel tanks, and sat down in the bucket seats, facing an aircraft engine and a B-25 gun turret, tied down in the center.

[We were unaware that the new Curtiss Wright C-46 was the largest and heaviest twin engine propeller driven aircraft ever built. The first C-46 had come off the assembly line and been accepted by the Air Force, at Boiling Air Force Base, in Washington, DC, in March of 1943, only two months before we were passengers.

Also unknown to us, the C-46's had a number of mechanical deficiencies including problems with the new electric props, hydraulic system, deicer boots and the engines. But, amongst the worst having a propensity to blow up in flight, because of gasoline leaks. It was later discovered by the Curtiss Wright Tech Reps, sent to Assam, that the problem was caused by a check valve in the fuel transfer system that had been added to improve safety, but caused the opposite results. Also, the new rubber gas tanks in the wings were hard to seal and leaked.]

The pilot taxied out to the runway and took off. After 30 minutes, we were handed our Flight Ticket, marked destination Chabua. We all sounded off, Where in the "F--" is Chabua. The Pan American copilot came back and explained to us that we were going to Assam, India, where we would be assigned to an ATC squadron that was flying supplies over the Hump to China. He livened it up with some war stories, so by the time we got off the plane we all thought we would be immediately bitten by cobras, eaten by tigers or captured by the Japanese or if we survived, die of malaria, cholera, jungle rot and other tropical diseases or from eating the bad food or go down over the Hump.

By the way, I still have my ticket.

This C-46 lived up to its reputation and, after about one hour, we had to turn back because the prop on one of the engines malfunctioned. It was repaired and we took off a second time headed for India, 14,000 miles away.

Our first refueling stop was at Borinqen Field in Puerto Rico, then on to Port of Spain, Trinidad, and next Georgetown, British Guiana, and on to Belem, Brazil, for an overnight layover. At Belem, Brazil, just below the equator, we were alongside the Rio Para River, one of the fingers of the Amazon River Delta. The mess hall and barracks were grass-roofed shacks with orange and blue lizards running on the thatched roof, plus large colorful macaw parrots in the trees. The table in the mess hall had large bowls of fruit including bananas. We went to an assigned bunk in the barracks and in the evening, they wheeled in this large spray tank and sprayed throughout tne building for bugs and mosquitoes. In the mo'rning, I looked out from the mosquito netting and hanging onto the net were large five-inch diameter Tarantula spiders, undisturbed by it all. In the morning, our group boarded and took off for Natel Brazil. At Natel, we had something to eat and watched the C-46 refuel. It then took off for Ascension Island, with its cargo, destination India, while we waited for a C-87. Well, anyhow we made it this far.

Cleaning up the mess kits at the Polo Grounds, Chabua.

Later that day, we would board a four-engine C-87, a B-24 modified by a cargo plane. We just tossed our barracks bags on to the floor and sat on top of them. We ask, where are the parachutes and the pilot said they are useless over the ocean, if we have any trouble we will have to ditch and enter the inflatable life rafts. Fortunately the pilots found the runway of the small 37 square mile volcanic speck called Ascension Island, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Upon landing, we noticed a number of PBY patrol planes and bombers. We were told German submarines would occasionally sit off the island and shot down the approaching aircraft. Our plane had a problem with a fuel pump so we stayed overnight. Our group decided to go down to the beach for a swim. On the beach were tracks that looked like a jeep had come up out of the water. They were made by sea turtles coming on to the beach to lay their eggs. When we got back, the permanent party asked where we had been. We told them we had gone for a swim. They said, no one swims in these waters because of the rough surf, plus man-eating sharks and a fierce barracuda-type fish. The next morning, after a breakfast of seagull eggs, we took off past the screeching Wide Awake birds that inhabit the island and the C-87 headed for Accra, Gold Coast, Africa.

At Accra we boarded a C-47, which also carried the mail, and made occasional stops as we flew across Africa. At each stop, we would get something to eat and pick up some peanut butter and jelly or egg sandwiches and refill our five-gallon water container. The plane had to land before dark since the ATC fields did not have any landing lights.

At Madugri, Nigeria, we landed early enough to rent horses from the natives and take a ride out into the African velt. Periodically, the plane would fly through very turbulent weather and some of us got air sick. Fortunately, the fear of attack by German fighters was no longer present, since Rommel had been defeated a month before, on May 12, 1943.

After a few days, we landed at Aden in the Aden Protectorate on the Red Sea, and boy was it hot. We then flew to Salat, Oman and to Missara island for refueling. We were told the Arabs were allies of the Germans and if we were forced down and captured they would cut off our heads. We made our final over water flight, across the Arabian Sea, and reached Karachi, India, seven days after leaving Miami, and were now CBIers. Upon the landing approach, we could see the huge dirigible hangar used by the German Zeppelins to make their around the world flights in the 1930's. It was now used to assemble USP 40s, and B-25s. After a few days, we boarded another C-47 and headed for Chabua, Assam, on a plane carrying the mail and upon landing at Agra, flew over the Taj Mahal.

The arrival at Chabua was near dark, the pilot pulled up to the edge of the warm-up circle and said you guys get out, I am heading back to Calcutta, a truck will come out to pick you up. We jumped out into a heavy monsoon downpour, moved away from the plane, into the mud, and the C-47 took off. We stood there abandoned in the monsoon downpour anxiously looking to see, if the large poisonous cobras, fierce tigers or Japanese soldiers were lurking in the tall tiger grass. After a short wait, an old beat-up civilian, flat bed type truck , with bomb shrapnel scars, arrived. We climbed aboard and hung on for dear life as he traveled over the muddy, bumpy road to the famous Polo Grounds. We were told that the truck had belonged to the Stilwell troops in Burma in early 1942.

We were assigned a cherappe, an Indian bed made of a wood frame and woven bamboo or rope support. Soaking wet we got something to eat and later retired to our mosquito netted bed on the open porch, subject to the driving rain.

Welcome to Chabua and the CBI!!!

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