Heroes: the U. S. Army Air Corps
"...We were in vertical dive. Both Dick and I grabbed the controls, pulled on the control columns with all our strength, our speed down was no longer shown on the speed meter, I feel were at 500 mph or more, 15,000 plus pounds dropping from 15,000 feet vertically toward earth is a velocity unknown to me. We were both jamming the floor pedals straight legged no response..."
- Branch of Service: U. S. Army Air Corps
- Unit: 33rd Squadron, 513 Troop Carrier Command
- Dates: 1942 - 1946
- Location: China - Burma - India
- Rank: 1st Lt.
- Birth Year: 1924
- Entered Service: Hartford, CN
World War II in China
by Jorgen Jorgensen
Mr. Jorgensen served in the China - Burma - India Theater during World War II as a C-46 pilot. His personal account of time in the US Army Air Corps follows and was added to this web site as presented by Mr. Jorgensen.
Jorgen A. Jorgensen at age 22
Jorgen A. Jorgensen at age 87
Some background information on Mr. Jorgensen...
"I was born Friday, 13 of June in 1924 and I was 1A drafted on my 18th birthday in Connecticut, from my folks farm. The induction center was Hartford, Conn. Served my basic training in Atlantic City, NJ. I was sent to Army radar school officer; but, became sick with yellow jaundice. When I became well, I applied for cadet pilot school. I was graduated in 1944 as a multiengine pilot and a second lieutenant. I was assigned to C-46 army planes. I was sent to China by way of India in 1945 to Kuming, the field of the "Flying Tigers" under the command of General Channault."
"I was drafted into the US Army in 1942 and separated in 1946 -- was required to stay in the Army reserves for five years.
"I trained pulling gliders and flying gliders. I had to pick up two gliders from the ground and pull to the drop off site in America, expecting to be sent for that job in the CBI.
"My rank was 2nd Lt at graduation and promoted to 1st Lt in China"
Devine Intervention. One of the many planes flown by Mr. Jorgensen when serving in China.
(Photo courtesy of Mr. Jorgen Jorgensen)
C-46 Smoke From Plane. At the end of a troop transport mission to Shanghai
(Photo courtesy of Mr. Jorgen Jorgensen)
Jorgen Jorgensen, C-46 Pilot (Photo courtesy of Mr. Jorgen Jorgensen)
Our mission as army pilots was to aid Chiang Kai Chek leader of the Nationalists in the war with the Communists under the leadership of Mao Zzedong.
My copilot and I met the Chinese raw soldiers at the C-46 cargo plane were we to fly them to a designated field from Kunming, China We looked at these seemingly half starved peasants with no uniforms, but just a cotton undershirt, and pants that looked like cotton underwear. They all were wearing the straw conical straw hats, and were wearing the fibre sandals with bare feet. They each had slung across their chest a pair of bullet loaded belts slung like a cross against their chest. Each had a rifle. There was a leader that under stood some English.
After loading the troops, we closed the doors of the plane, put on our parachutes. The parachutes were dual purpose so that in case the main chute failed to open, the second chute should. The main parachute formed our seat and the other chute formed our back cushion.
As we flew in a clear day and all was, well, we started to smell smoke coming from the back of the plane. My copilot went back to find all the Chinese huddled around a fire. My copilot managed to put out the fire, and asked why? The answer was they were cold and wanted to warm up.
We were happy to finally land and rid of these troops. We both were thankful they did not try to shoot us while in the air.
It was a rainy morning, and we were getting ready to start on the assigned mission. The procedure was to first inspect the outside of the C-46 for any obvious damage, and check all moving parts of the ailerons, tail elevators and the vertical tail. The length of the plane is 74 ft 4 inches.The wingspan is 108 ft. The two wing mounted engines are 2100 hp each with a set of four bladed props. The weight of the empty plane is 15,000 lbs.
We walked from the rear door of the plane, found and mounted the dual parachutes, using them for a seat cushion and the 2nd parachute as a back cushion. We started the two engines, while my copilot read the start up sheet, checking each control and dial indicator as instructed.
After finishing the required check list procedure, and warming the engines, checking that the mags were cleared, and the engines were running smoothly, we radioed the control tower for take off time.
We were at take off position, and when the tower gave us the GO command, I increased the power to maximum while we both pressed the brakes with our maximum strength. The entire plane shook as if it was about to fall apart. We removed our feet from the brakes, and the plane started down the runway. It was like driving a truck from a seat 22 ft above the ground. Between steering the plane down the center of the runway, I adjusted all the trim tabs for maintaining the plane to move straight, trim tabs to start the tail to lift to close to a horizontal elevation before attaining 130 mph, the speed needed to obtain flight.
The 130 mph once obtained, I set the controls to gain altitude at 500 ft per min.
Every take off was a play back in my mind of a take off start of a fellow pilot. He was off the ground about 50 ft when he had one of the engines die. His plane was carrying a load of about 7.5 tons of gasoline. The loss of one engine caused his plane to stall and the plane dropped to the ground. The plane stopped from more than 130 mph to zero, the plane burst into flames, and the pilots could not release their safety belts, the flames engulfed the plane, I heard the screams as the flight crew burned to death.
I climbed to my designated altitude, all seemed well, and I started a turn to the left; the plane would not turn, I moved the vertical tail left to right, but nothing happened, there was no movement of the tail, it just flopped in the wind.
In order to make a controlled turn, a pilot uses his ailerons on the wings to tilt the plane in a rotating fashion while adding power to the engines and turning the vertical tail rudder. This method is needed to obtain a turn to keep from the plane being thrown out horizontally due to centrifugal force.
I called the field for permission to keep the runway open for emergency landing. This was a learning experience I was never prepared for. I used the engines to aid me in turning the as well as the ailerons, but it was like trying to dance with a bull buffalo. I managed a wide arc to where we could not even see the field. Finally after a struggle I lined up with the runway and made a landing that we were able to walk away from. I was told any landing that one can walk away from is a good one.
Shanghai, China 1945. Our mission was to fly a C-46 loaded with close to 10 tons of "fifty gallon" drums, loaded with high test aviation gasoline to Kunming, China, a 1300 mile plus trip. Because we had to add fuel to our plane at a field that our navigator had directions for, our air miles would increase beyond 1300 miles.
We all entered the plane, my copilot, my navigator, and my radio operator as well as myself. We put on our parachutes, as well as having gone thru all the pre-flight procedures.
It was a slightly cloudy day, but good for a normal take off. I got the go ahead from the tower plus move to "take off" position. After a final ok to take off, both my copilot and myself held the brakes in a locked position while I increased power to the engines to full. Upon the engines reaching max. rpm., we released the brakes, and my plane started down the runway. I adjusted all the trim tabs and the copilot set the flaps to "take off" position. As the speed of the plane increased, I raised the tail by trim tabs, to elevate the tail to a horizontal level. Upon reaching 130 mph., I eased back on the control column to start the 500 feet per minute climb to an assigned altitude given by the navigator. He gave me the compass setting for our first stop to add more fuel.
The radio signal from all army fields in China was a 50 mile radius; beyond 50 miles from the field was "silence", no radio contact.
The next sign of our "fuel stop field" is a radio signal which would activate my radio compass, and, indicate "0" if we were on course, otherwise a radio compass reading of other than "0" would dictate the angle needed to return to "O" heading.
I was relived of the thought of burning by a loss of an engine on take off, our engines were running smoothly as per the steady roar. We were out of radio range, and were entering a massive dark fog cloud mass. It looked like instrument flying from on.
The instrument landing is only allowed, if there is at least a 300 feet clear elevation. I must wait first for a radio signal to have my radio compass to show me the direction to the radio tower. When I reach, and pass the tower, the radio compass will rotate 180 degrees. I then have started to leave the tower. I radio the control tower, they give the amount of time in seconds that I must take leaving the tower, maintaining the 180 degree heading. At the end of the time, I must turn 180 degrees and complete the turn in the time span that the tower had given. These time intervals are so important that we clear all obstacles such as another plane or building. I then fly for another time interval at a compass heading given from the tower. This compass setting is a direction that parallels the runway I will land at. I must hold this compass heading at 1500 feet altitude to begin my descend for landing. At the end of this last time interval, the tower tells me to repeat the exact 180 degree left turn in the exact time interval that I took to do the first 180 degree turn. The only way possible to be able to make a safe landing is by the times and directions from the tower. There will be not enough time to make a direction change at 300 feet up in the air and travelling at 130 mph. Any other deviation from these instructions means a death sentence unless a pilot pulls up and repeats the above ritual.
We reach our field ready to go thru the above procedure when the tower returns our call. We are told we cannot land. The field is closed, so we either go on to Kunming, or return to Shanghai. I have a fast conversation with my navigator, and he looks at all his calculations. He tells me we can make Kunming. The need for the cargo is urgent, and, so we decide to go on to Kunming. The navigator gives me the compass setting. We are still in the fog that is like a dark blanket ready to gag us.
We still have a long wait until we receive a radio signal from Kunming airport, a time to think about our own private concerns, since it is too noisy for any conversation. I set the auto pilot on, it maintains our course and elevation.
My concern is the instrument landing because my training in America was listening to a steady radio hum signal, and, if I wandered off, I would hear a dot dot dot telling me to turn back to the hum. If I wandered in an opposite direction I would hear a da da da telling me to turn back to the steady hum. There was always a radio tower to tune into along with maps showing compass settings, and, all tower identifications. Every airport we landed at had runway lights , adding another aid to verify elevation, and, direction for a good landing. Even night flying was easy with all the information available.
I remember my arrival in Kunming from Calcutta, India, and, the army issue of following: fleece lined boots, fleece lined flying overall type leg and body cover, fleece lined bomber jacket, and, the dual gloves to keep my fingers from freezing at the high altitudes I would be flying. The 45caliber semiauto pistol with a 9 bullet magazine was given with the warning : always carry the pistol and holster when flying because if the time comes you crash, or, must bail out, your only protection is the 45. Always save the last bullet for yourself. The soldier issuing my gear demonstrated how to do the final act. Stick the muzzle of the gun in your mouth and tilt the barrel up at a 45 degree angle, pull the trigger. You wonder why he said all this is because there will be no search party if you go down. There are still bands of Japs, even Chinese that are expert in pain; "examples" : Pulling out all your hand and toe nails. Tying your body to the ground over a newly planted crop of bamboo that will grow thru your body while you die a horrible death. Another death is by being strapped spread eagle and deprived of water. To die without water will probably drive you out of your mind before the end comes.
I checked all the controls, gauges etc, the engines were running smoothly, and the gyrocompass was keeping us at elevation and direction without any manual interference. I went back to day dreaming. My thoughts sent me back home with my wife. We were married a few months before I was sent to China. Our families are on neighbouring farms. I did not want to think of things that might happen. I checked with our navigator, he said we were on course on a correction for wind direction. Based on our present flying air speed of 180 mph, he said we should contact the Kunming radio signal soon so that would get all information as well as our radio compass indicating the direction, in degrees, to the radio field tower. The navigator will give me a five minutes warning to expect the radio contact.
It had been about six hours since we started from the time we started on our compass setting for Kunming. I was getting anxious. After about 10 minutes our navigator came forward, and, said we must be lost because we should have made radio contact 15 minutes ago. All I saw was 3 faces of a pasty grey, and, not a word was said: we all knew what was ahead.
The first thing that came to mind was to bail out, but then there would be no hope of survival, or, direction to reach any aid. I said to to make my best guess what direction that would at least bring us a little closer to the field. I had this overpowering feeling to to make a 60 degree turn to the left, and, do it immediately. I checked all the 6 gas gauges, and, read "E " so I then decided to start at the rear tanks, I would then sequence tank selection from rear, center, and front tanks. I had to keep the engines running as long as possible. We had to get as close as possible to the field to have at least a chance of being found before entering the fires of hell.
I reduced the rpm on both engines until we had an air speed of 130 mph, "the air speed below of which would cause a stall". A stall would send our plane into a nose dive that I could not pull us out of. I then set the left and right engines to the rear gas tanks selection. I started a slow descent to aid in maintaining, and, gaining air speed. We were in this dense fog, and, I realised we might run into an unseen mountain, but what choice did I have?
No radio contact, but we continued, my mind was keeping on the same compass setting. I do not remember of the length of time before we made contact. As soon as we made radio contact, our radio operator called the tower; the tower answered by telling us we had been given up for dead, crashed, and gone up in flames. He thought it was a ghost calling in.
I was concentrating on the sound of the engines, the first engine, the left one started to cough, ready to quit; I switched to the left center gas tank, and, the engine started to run smooth again. This game continued where the engines alternately started the cough, and, I kept switching tanks. The time now came where both engines were on the final front tanks. The left engine coughed, and, died. Only the right engine was running.
All of us were straining to see any sign of the field. We were still under the blanket of dense clouds and fog. I could see the rock strewn ground below, the huge rock formations that looked like rock ice cream cones turned upside down. We were below these formations, and, flying between them. I maintained my original 60 degree setting. I estimated we started about 1500 feet above ground when I first heard the tower radio. I maintained our gradual descend.
Soon the final engine died, I had my copilot lower the flaps to full down to help keep us in the air as long as possible. I thought I could see a strip of concrete, it was the beginning of the runway. I saw this concrete, and, I could not believe my eyes. We had a chance of living if we could at least have the two front wheels reach, and, contact it, the tail wheel could hit the ground which would just give us enough drag to slow us down. I put all my strength into pulling on the control column to keep the nose up, and not cause a stall. Another miracle was that my flight direction was in line with the center line of the runway.
I was told it is impossible for a C-46 to glide, that the loss of engines would be an absolute crash. We did glide well enough to have our two wheels reach, and, make contact with the runway. I managed to keep the plane on the runway until we came to a stop.
The runway was alive with fire engines, meat wagons, and, tractors coming at us for any aid needed. The tractor hitched the nose of the C-46, and, pulled us to the end of the runway, and, off the runway. As soon as we were parked, the doors opened, both navigator, and, radio operator departed never to be seen or heard from of again by me. I tried to get out of my parachute and safety harness. I then tried to get up, but, my legs refused to move. I was lifted out of my seat, and taken out of the plane. I do not remember any thing later until I found myself laying on a bunk.
After getting back to home, I did a simple calculation. Based on a speed of 130 mph, and, 50 miles starting at the moment I contacting the radio signal, I found it was a 23 minutes and 5 seconds to make contact with our landing. I also found that if I had taken any other than a 60 degree left turn and at the very time that I did, I would have missed the runway, and, crashed by landing on soft earth. The drop in speed of 130 mph to an almost sudden stop would have caused a leak in some of the 55 gallon drums filled with highly flammable gasoline plus having crushed us by the safety harness that kept us in our seats. If I had taken a plus or minus .017 degree deviation from 60 degrees at time that I did, we would have missed the runway by 28.9 miles. If I had not made the 60 degree turn when I did, it would have been impossible to line up with the runway. There is only "one" combination of time and direction from any approach direction. I am certain there was DIVINE intervention, we were meant to live.
The time to return to Shanghai was now, so only I and my copilot climbed aboard the C-46 that was set for us. After the exterior visual checks, we strapped on our parachutes, sat and fastened our safety straps. While my copilot read the pre flight instructions, we both checked all, and, I started the two 2000 hp. plus engines. After permission to proceed to the start of the runway, we waited for our permission to take off.
I turned on to the runway, both Dick and I depressed all four brake pedals, the 15,ooo pound mass of airplane shook as if was going to break into a thousand pieces. Upon max rpm, we released the brakes and the plane started forward, gaining speed every second. About reaching 100 mph. I set trim tabs to elevate the plane tail to an approximate horizontal condition, and, reaching 130 mph. I started the 500 feet per minute rate of climb by trim tabs, while Dick adjusted the flaps for take off. As soon as we cleared the runway, Dick raised the landing gear. We climbed and starting turning left in a spiral circle manner until we reached 20,000 feet. While turning these climbing circles we looked at the rice paddies cut into the side of the mountain like giant steps reaching up the mountain side until it was time to plant the rice.
After reaching 20,000 feet, I set our course at the compass setting for Shanghai. We entered a mass black clouds and fog. The radio compass read 180 degrees which meant were leaving the radio tower. Out air speed was about 180 mph, I engaged the auto pilot thinking we could sit back and relax. All was well for about two hours into the flight when I lapsed into a vertigo attack, I thought the nose was diving into the mountains, and Dick fought my erratic antics. After I got control again, the auto pilot control was off, the gyro compass was spinning and we were losing our direction. We had to have a compass to obtain reachin the 50 mile radio signal at Shanghai airport. This was living in hell, we would wander until we ran out of gas and crash. If we tried to bail out, the plane would not stay level with no one controling the plane. We would have to choose which one of us would jump first.
The only way of possibly coming out alive was to find a compass. The survival kit behind our secondary parachutes should contain a hand held compass. Dick was first to get out up from his seat, remove his parachute, open his survival kit. There was supposed to be food and equipment for survival after parachuting. There was nothing left, some previous pilot had taken everything. I had to fight to keep from panicking. Dick replaced his parachute, resumed his seat and took control of the plane. I then went thru the same as Dick to where I opened my survival kit. It too was stripped except for a plastic cylinder tube. I looked at this object and found a screw top with matches therein. I looked at the top and saw the nickel shaped compass. I clutched that compass while holding the mini compass with a grip that was like hanging on to a life-line. I took the controls while looking at the compass and setting our course, wondering if the compass was giving us a correct reading due to magnetic interference of any components in the cockpit area. I fought to keep hope and Dick's face had the color of death. We still had at least 5 hours of flying left.
To add to our misery I saw ice forming on the wings, I immediately turned on the pulsating leading edge of the wings, and to my horror only one wing boot was working. It seemed we had more problems than we could cope with. I pushed the control column down for rapid descent. I did not know if we might hit a mountain but to stay in icing conditions meant certain loss of lift and a certain crash. We continued down to about 14,000 feet altitude where the ice stopped to form.
The rest of the time was in flying and looking at the compass, the controlling with one hand was exhausting. Then another miracle occurred, we picked up a radio signal, Dick called the control tower to clear the runway for a landing. The tower called back, agreed to keep the field open for an emergency landing. We have 1000 feet clear visibility.
I started down to 1000 feet altitude when we both could see the field. I did not approach the runway in correct army flight procedure. The correct method was to fly at 1500 ft high and parallel the runway looking at the runway at the lower left side while flying at a 180 degree heading. Turn, let down at 500 feet per minute to make a good landing. I saw the start of the runway and dove, turned to line up with the runway and made the landing.
Dick and I had to report our flight with all details. The commanding officer and a flight doctor listened and recorded our adventure. The doctor poured Dick and I a glass of medical alcohol, which was a good brand of vodka.
It was a gloomy day in Shanghai, Dick and I were in our room in the Japanese barracks that was taken over by our Army. The room was bare except for two bunk beds. I used the lower bunk, and Dick the upper bunk. From the quartermaster, I received my sleeping bag, it was an escape to lay in the bag, zip up and escape for a moment in time. I slept in the lower bunk while Dick on the upper bunk, the bunks were made of two by four lengths of wood. We were at the left side of a window, while, our other roommate was on the right end. The fourth room mate was missing. Paul left to be alone for awhile. The three of us had to fly the next day. Dick and I decided to join him, because were a little concerned about him. His face had that look that was so common these days. We met him downstairs outside at a table, starting to write a letter. When he looked up, he asked us to join him. Paul asked our opinion about proposing by mail to his girl friend in the States, but, felt hesitant. He told us his girl was a double widow, her first marine pilot husband was shot down in the Pacific, the second husband was a navial officer also killed aboard ship in the Pacific. Paul had this gut feeling that if he sent this letter, it might predict his doom? Dick and I both agreed we would have waited to until back in the USA, then do the deed in person.
The following day we dressed in our flight gear, checked our pistols, went to breakfast, got our "k" rations, and reported to the flight line before dawn. Our mission went well until it was on our return to Shanghai. We entered rain in a dark low cloud and fog mass. Only Dick, and, I at the controls, no navigator wanted to fly with us, and, the radio operator went to sick call. We were at 15,000 feet when we made radio contact at 50 miles from the field. The field tower operator told us the field was clear up to 300 feet, the minimum clearance to land on instruments.
I radioed out compass heading and altitude to the tower, they gave us permission to start our procedure to land. Our radio compass was my guide now, and, I kept my eyes off the gyro compass in order to fly directly at the radio tower. I had turn the plane until the radio compass rotated to "O". We were now in line with the radio tower. I reduced our speed to 130 mph., the speed that kept us from stalling, any less than 130 mph could mean a stall, and, we would crash. I asked the tower operator for landing instructions, I was to fly on the the new compass setting that would parallel the down wind the landing strip as soon as reached the tower center. We reached the tower when the radio compass turned from 0 to 180 degrees We flew at the tower given compass setting for 4minutes and then made a left 180 degrees turn, Dick measured the time to complete the 180 degree turn. We then maintained the new compass setting for 15 minutes, then made another left 180 degree turn, while Dick timed the turn to see if the same time was the previous time. As soon as the compass reading was identical to the tower compass setting. I started the let down. When we reached 700 feet above the ground, I could see the runway and made a safe landing. We gave our thanks for DEVINE help. We maintained radio contact and heard a call from an incoming pilot about to go thru the same procedure we finished.
We traveled to the end and off the landing runway. The tower cleared the new plane to land. To make the tale short, their plane missed the first trial, the second trial. We heard there were 6 pilots, 6 copilots, navigators, and radio operators on board. The second pilot to take a turn to land tried three times without success, finally, the third pilot tried and failed. The tower told them to all jump after clearing the field, because there was another plane wanting to land and it was low on fuel. All jumped, and, landed in the Yangsee River. We got word that the swollen body of Paul washed ashore three days after the accident . There was no notice, or, funeral for any lost air men. I do not know if any letter was sent from our group to relatives. Our loss of our friend is still in my mind.
We were on our compass setting from Kunming to Shanghai. The sky above was clear, and, the clouds below were dark, it looked like a blanket of grey ruffled blankets. I asked Dick if he would like to take the left seat and I would use the copilot seat. He liked the idea, so we switched seats.
I was listening to the radio for a signal as we approached the 50 mile signal radius of the tower radio signal. The radio compass picked up the signal, indicated our path by the gyro compass indication. Dick turned the plane until the radio compass indicated "O", and we now started the way to the tower. I heard the instruction to let down to 1500 feet. 1500 feet is the normal altitude for making a normal landing. I waited for Dick to start the descent but he threw up both hands. I was startled, I had to take over.
I had never before made a landing from the copilot position, I was used to handle all the controls with both hands automatically, now I had to handle the controls mirror image. This was another learning experience while flying without an instructor.
I started the descent to 1500 feet, leveled out, proceeded to find and turn to the down wind direction. The wind sock confirmed my direction, I flew beyond the approach to the runway to a distance that gave me enough distance to start the left turn left. I was now in line with the runway, still at 1500 feet, when I slowed the plane to 130 mph from 180 mph. I set the flaps, lowered the landing gear, and waited to land. It was a tough change in body contortions, I managed a safe power landing. There would never again be an exchange of seating positions. Dick and I never again discussed this flight.
My orders was to report for a mission of an extended time from home base at Shanghai. Dick and I reported to our designated C-46. The plane was already loaded with some Chinese high ranking officers and US Army high ranking officers. The selected crew comprised of a radio operator, a navigator, and us to fly the plane.
The navigator gave compass setting, altitude, and said Canton is the destination.
There were two planes that were going to Canton at the same time, they also had Chinese and Army brass as passengers. The tower gave each the order of take off. All three of us where in the air, the weather at Shanghai was fine. The weather was starting to cloud up, and when the radio compass indicated the direction to the Canton field, we had been in heavy fog for the past half hour at least. I lost track of the other two planes, I called to the tower for landing instructions. I learned the field was in-between two mountains, the visibility was good about 600 feet elevation, any higher than 600 feet was dense fog. We were between mountains, and not following the next instructions would mean a crash.
The radio compass indicated a compass reading, I turned the plane until the radio compass reading was "O". As I approached the tower, the radio compass turned to 15 degrees. This was crazy, which direction was correct to cross over the tower? I made a 180 degree turn to the left, as I was in the turn, the navigator came forward and started to yell at me for not proceeding to land, instead of wandering around the sky. I was wet from perspiration and no mood to answer him, I turned the plane until the radio compass again indicated. Again we proceeded to the radio tower, and, again the radio compass swung 15 degrees to the left. I had to make a choice which direction was the first "O" or the "15" indication prevented the crashing into a mountain. I had all this brass on board as well as my crew. I chose the initial direction "O", continued to the tower, and called the tower for landing instructions. I was given a compass setting to turn to, and, an altitude to fly at, the length of time to fly past the tower, continue for a given time at 180 radio compass indication, turn to a gyro compass setting given me, fly at the given direction for a given time interval, turn 180 degrees, and start the let down to the runway. I followed the tower instructions. I made a safe landing. One of our planes used the "15" degree signal, and, crashed into the side of a mountain. The third plane landed safely.
We were all set up with sleeping and eating services since we had to wait for better weather before flying to Hanoi. The remains of the personnel were found by a search party. The identity of the pilot, from his teeth, was found in his stomach remains, he used to fly for an airline in the States before coming to the air corps.
The stay was three days of hot, very humid weather. My shoes we showing mold and my uniforms were damp. I felt sad for our commanding officer of the Canton army air field. He did his best to find ways of reducing our boredom.
Finally the weather let up, an, we started our trip to Hanoi. We were the last plane to take off, and the navigator gave me compass and altitude instuctions. As soon as clearing the field, we were flying below mountains, which was a zigzag cruise, rather a fun time.
We ended at the coast line at the bay of Tonkin. I was ordered to fly up over the cloud overcast to where we were in bright blue sky, and, the clouds below looking like a dark grey blanket. I was ordered to go down into the dark fog mass. The navigator was sitting between Dick and I. He suddenly looked up from his map, and told me to immediately turn sharply to the left, we were in the heavy fog at this time. I turned sharply up into a left turn as my right wing missed the rocks by about three feet. This trip was no fun.
I came out of the clouds as I straightened and reduced my altitude. Below I saw a mass of mud flats at the outlet of the RED RIVER. The direction the navigator was to follow the entry to the RED RIVER which \would guide us to the Hanoi air port. The river is a winding 29 miles, or more, with all twists and turns. The navigator studied his map and he located the entry to the river. I let down to about 1000 feet, and, followed the navigator's direction. I was happy that he found the way, because I was totally confused by all the mud flaps with the water canals between.
As I started following the river, the fog ceiling got lower. I slowed to 130 mph.. As we progressed along the river, the fog was now so low that I could see only about 180 feet ahead,I reduced my altitude so much that now that the power of the propellers churned the water in the river. Then stone columns appeared at the left of the plane, so I had to bank to the right and elevate to avoid hitting the column. In the next few moments, a stone column appeared at the right and I banked sharp and up to the left. These stone columns continued to appear for about another 20 minutes as I banked left & up and down, right & up and down. The navigator came up to me, and wondered if I had lost my mind. The passengers were throwing up from getting air sick, they not realize the twisting up and down was done to prevent a crash.
Finally after 94 minutes of winding our along the river, Hanoi appeared along the river. At last I could contact the tower there, get landing permission and instructions I could see French tanks and trucks lined up at the field. The French army was at the northern edge fighting the Viet cong.
We left our plane while bullets were flying by, it sounded like bees flying by us. After reaching the building, we rested, the Major from our plane, invited us to a "gombai" party, We were in for a treat. We were served hot rice wine, it was delicious, after the wine came a large bowl of fish eye soup with a ceramic spoon. I dipped the spoon, and, as I raised the spoon, the soup became a thick string of what looked like glue, I replaced the ceramic spoon while looking down into the soup, I looked at all the dead fish eyes staring back at me. I with the rest of our group, had no soup. The food continued to our table, such as fried grass hoppers, fried termites, and another fried insects, the rest of the meal was good, I was happy not to know what kind of meat was used in the dishes.
By the time the meal was ending, I had to relieve myself, I tried to get up but my legs lost feelings, I was really starting to sweat, finally after a few minutes, feeling came back, and, I was able to leave for relief.
I was anxious to leave Hanoi but had to wait for orders. The French that made their home in Hanoi, had shops of French wares, and French food, there were many young women, a mix of native and French birth. I attended a dance as an observer, the French men were dancing with the young ladies of mixed, native, and French origin. There was an aura of gloom, and I asked a person there why. I was told that the French troops were starting to retreat, the war in Indo China had been going on for years, and, the Viet cong was winning, They knew the day was soon where the killing of the residents would happen, and, the dance was to try help escape the inevenable.
The following day, I was told to leave with our radio man to an army field that was on a given compass setting, where we would land, refuel,rest, and return to Shanghai. The navigator had enough of me, so no navigator for us. As we started on our way, we watched tanks and trucks leaving Hanoi and the Viet cong. I was happy leaving Hanoi, wondering if the others made it out, I saw none of the others again.
The trip to the field was uneventful, we picked up the tower signal, landed, and were given food and sleeping quarters.
We entered this old vacated Jap barn equipped with canvas beds, assigned one of them each to Dick and I. The first night was misting and damp. We were each given an army blanket. I was could, damp, could not sleep. The following morning, we saw all the manure disposal openings along the base of the walls where all the damp cold air came in to keep us cold and miserable. I left thru the stable door into the recent Jap grave yard. It must have been a hasty Jap escape, since so many did not become fully buried. I saw this hand and arm sticking out of the ground, there was black skin on the hand, and the near naked skull that seemed to belong to the arm. The black lips that pulled away from the teeth looked like the Jap was buried alive.
The breakfast took place at the outdoor army mess. The food was served on trays by a couple of unhappy soldiers wearing helmet liners and raincoats. Both Dick and I wanted to leave to Shanghai; to warm barracks, and comfortable sleeping bags. I checked with the weather officer at the tower, he said we could leave this morning. The mist was still heavy. He said his ground crew would turn our plane and position it in line with the runway. We would have heavy fog up to about 6000 feet, and, then be in the clear weather for a safe flight to Shanghai.
Dick and I agreed to the plan.
I checked the compass setting, pre-flight procedure, and started the engines, while looking at the runway, I only saw runway for about 60 feet in front of me. It was to be an instrument take off, or stay another night here. We agreed to take off, what a mistake!
It was my first, and, last instrument take off, I understand the standing orders a mandatory ceiling of 300 feet minimum for landing or take off. I maintained the compass setting while taking off. I started the 500 fpm climb to 6000 feet. We reached 6000 feet but no clear weather. I forgot to tell you we still had our radio operator with us. I thought we would be clear, but we were now at 8000 feet, I was starting to worry, and by the looks on the faces of the other two, they were feeling the same way.
The wings were starting to pick up ice, so I started the operation of the deicing boots. As we continued climbing, the peto tube froze up, and, the air speed meter indicated "O". Now the instruments of interest was the altimeter and rate of climb meter. The engines sounded strange, I turned on the propeller deicers, and ice started bombarding the fuselage, I thought we would end up with holes in our airplane aluminum shell. The altimeter reached 14,900 feet, my controls went limp, nothing worked, the altimeter reading had reached 15,000 feet, and the plane seemed to shift, we all were trying to get up to go to the back to jump, I could not move, both Dick and our radio operator were clinging together, trying to move, we were all anchored to our seats. We were mesmerized by the altimeter as it wound slowly down from 15,000 ft.
As I watched the unwinding of the altimeter reading similar to a clock turning backwards, I was trying to remember every moment of memory of my wife and parents before we reached the earth, I have a hard time thinking of about that span of time.
At 3500 feet on the altimeter dial, the ice melted, and flew off the wings in large chunks. We were in vertical dive. Both Dick and I grabbed the controls, pulled on the control columns with all our strength, our speed down was no longer shown on the speed meter, I feel were at 500 mph or more, 15,000 plus pounds dropping from 15,000 feet vertically toward earth is a velocity unknown to me. We were both jamming the floor pedals straight legged no response. Then there was start of movement, I watched my left wing bend up, and heard the sound of crunching metal, I was afraid of losing the wings, but they held. The ground looked like a freight train coming at us as we were fought the controls. Finally the plane started to respond. We slowly came out of our dive, and, leveled out above the ground by a couple feet, if the landing gear had been down, this letter would never existed. I saw the face of a Chinese flat on the ground with a face staring at me in stark horror, and, (I will never forget seeing it). I leveled out, and started the climb back up to 1500 feet, turned to the field from which we started. The sky was clear, we had fallen between two mountains a few minutes before.
We agreed to return to our starting field, since none of us were in a mood for Shanghai at this time. The sky was blue, and, we anxious to get back on ground to try to make sense of our flight. I could not have returned to the field at the time when I reached 8,000 feet, an instrument landing was impossible because the landing field was still in fog.
A sad ending to our tour in China, it was about a week before we got the orders to pack all our gear and prepare to return to Shanghai to go back to USA by boat. Dick came to the room we shared in Peiking, he was bleeding and bruised. What happened. It never happened before; he was stopped by one of the airmen and was beaten because we were still alive and we would be leaving soon. There was a lottery that had started soon after we arrived in China, taking bets on whom was a sure bet to die, and he lost a lot of money.
I think our destiny prediction was started by either by the navigator or radio man that was on that time we were lost and managed to land safely, we had never seen or heard from those two again after that mission and since that mission was close to the time trips to Kunming from Shanghai started. We made more similar trips with no problems.
Dick was a C-47 pilot and had no experience in C-46 until I asked him to be copilot, information I did not know at the time. I was given a copilot initially and gave him a test in flying the C-46. He did well on take off, flying, and started to land. He was coming in to the field and started to pull, slow down, ready to land about 100 feet in the air. We would have crashed if I did not take the controls, run full power and managed to pull up in time. That ended his copilot time with me. I met Dick on the plane that we came from Calcutta, India over the hump to Kunming. He mentioned he was 28 years old at that time, I was 21 years old. He was a graduate architect and since my interest was engineering I felt we would make a team. I see where I now know why he did not want to land our plane, he had no experience in the C-46. I had no time to train him but I choose Dick as copilot, Dick never complained.
On the plane back to Shanghai as passengers, I sat next to Dick and he seemed frozen on his seat, I tried to talk to him but he sat silent. When we were on the boat back to the States, he seemed like his old self. We were discharged and our way home, I was back to Connecticut and Dick to Ohio. I went back to University of Connecticut to finish the last 3years to get my BSME. I was in my Junior year when I received a letter from Dick asking me to write a letter to the Army address in Ohio telling them some of our missions in China. He said he was in the hospital and was broke. He had a wife and two children, he needed money.
I received a letter from Dick thanking me and said he was getting help from the Army.
I visited Dick in Ohio after obtaining a job in Massillon and he told me after two years in the hospital, he spent time as a brick layer, a carpenter and starting back designing churches. He still could not sit but a few minutes when his neck starting to get red and he had to get up and move.
On a trip to NW China to a field ready to land where we saw a line of Chinese waiting by the landing strip ready to cross the field to have their shadows crossed by our plane shadow. I buzzed the field to warn the people to stay out of our way. I came around again to land the second time, and as we came down we were flooded with blood, intestines, brains, and bits of bones, all of our windows were flooded, I could not see the runway until the windshield wipers wiped enough blood away to see the runway.
We landed, got out and looked at the entire fuselage turning rusty brown from all the body parts that dried on the plane. The seven foot long prop blades acted as powerful vacuum cleaners. After deplaned, we both had to vomit. I was asked to go back to the remains of the bodies left with legs or no upper bodies or heads. I could not go back.
I remembered the short runways we had to land at, the runway was all crushed stone by Chinese peasants to form the landing strip in the middle of brush and trees. The strip was fine for the C-47 but was so short for our C-46, I had to let down close to the brush and trees in order to get our plane to stop before running into the trees at the end of the runway. We had to take off after unloading our cargo. As soon as we landed back in Shanghai, and disembarked, I looked at the nose of our plane and saw the bullet holes that decorated the nose of our plane. It was getting shot but not hurt, but another trip to the same field I was coming in for a landing when the right engine quit with no time to restart the engine. It was a desperate hurry to set trim tabs and line up with the runway.
The concern was having both engines working to get us airborne and home; there was no one to rescue us if we did not make it out. We were lucky, we got back to Shanghai and the plane was sent to repairs. Every mission was with another plane back from repairs.
Another trip to the same rock strip was coming in for a landing when I was too high, I tried a " slip maneuver " which the plane was tilted, power reduced and a rapid drop in altitude. This was a method that was not recommended because the plane was close to stalling and no time to recover, I never tried it again, but we made a safe landing to unload and return to Shanghai.
The entire group was moved to Peiping from Shanghai, so many trips had to made to transport equipment and personal. The first trip Dick and I made the 750 mile to Peiping from Shanghai with no radio man or navigator or crew chief. We were wondering why so many trips were without the additional crew, I found out so many times, the men posted for crew went to sick call, a clew that the lottery was having its effect. But back to our trip, it was snowing in Peiping, I made the landing in snow on the runway and when I applied the brakes to stop the plane from over shooting the end of the runway, one of the brakes locked and caused the plane to run off the runway and onto the earth. We were struck until the plane was repaired as well be removed from its stuck position. We were housed in a hotel in town, it was cold in the room, no heat, the toilet was stuck. Dick got sick on that trip and he was sent to the hospital in Shanghai when we returned.
I visited Dick in the hospital with the hope for a rapid recovery. I was assigned back for several trips to Peiping thinking I would get a temporary copilot, no such luck. I made several trips with no problems usually with a man to unload cargo. The one time that did not go well, on the way to Peiping, we were caught in a wind storm that blew us way to the east and partly over the water of the Yellow Sea. In addition, we dropped several thousand feet. The only help was the poor man that had no knowledge of flying, I really missed Dick that trip.
Another trip I had a full Colonel as a copilot, he had many more hours flying and was on a special mission which I was not to know at that time. He gave me the direction and elevation to fly, He saw his target and we landed. We deplaned and began our walk to his destination, we saw and were escorted by two fully armed Chinese communist soldiers. The trip ended at a compound at which both of us were escorted into a large building, through an open meeting room filled with photos of battles of nationalist and communist soldiers, It looked more like a slaughter field. We stopped at a door to an office where sat Mao Zedong, the colonel and Mao talked while I was escorted out of the office while the two soldiers taunted me waiting until I showed any anger, I kept hoping the colonel finished his meeting so that we could return to home base. He finished his mission to return to Shanghai. After two weeks Dick was well and back as copilot.
A very special THANK YOU is extended to Mr. Jorgen Jorgensen for his kind and generous permission to use the materials contained on this web page. Stories such as this story go a long way in preserving yet another piece of the overall picture that was World War II.
Original Story submitted 4 January 2012.
Story added to website on 24 January 2012.