Friday, Oct 07, 2022
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A Sortie Back Into Year 1943

As wreckages of Allied planes on WW-II missions surface in Arunachal, America comes looking for its lost airmen

A Sortie Back Into Year 1943 Harsh Man Rai

The Story So Far

  • During WW-II, hundreds of Allied planes carrying essential supplies to besieged Chinese forces crashed in the dangerous air corridor connecting Assam and Kunming
  • The remains of over 400 missing US airmen and wreckage of several planes are believed to lie in the Northeast
  • The US government, pressed by relatives of missing airmen, has now got permission from the Indian government to search this restricted area for remains
  • The joint Indo-US search expedition, aided by local tribals, will be launched in August and will continue till December this year.

***

Hot as Hell, they called it. A premonition, perhaps? As the B-24 Liberator took off on a freezing January 25, 1944, en route to a crucial World War II mission, its crew members—including navigator Flight Lieutenant Irwin Zaetz—probably knew they were highly perishable commodities. In April 1942, the Japanese had captured the Burma Road, cutting off all land supply routes to the Chinese forces. The only way the Allies could help the beleaguered Chinese stave off defeat was with a wildly ambitious operation—creating the war's first 24-hour, all-weather military resupply operation. Planes flying from Assam across to Burma and then on to Kunming in China. In military parlance, it was called 'Flying the Hump', the Hump in question being the Himalayas, with ranges over 20,000 ft.

Trouble was, the B-24 making this journey was not known for its technological sophistication. A bomber converted to fly essential supplies, it was notorious for catching fire during flight, a terrifying prospect when the bulk of supplies carried along the Hump was gasoline. The only tools Zaetz had at his disposal were a compass, unreliable maps, and weather reporting that couldn't predict the 150 kmph winds that could suddenly pick up across the high mountains.

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