Historical interview: Phil Cochran

Cover of the 400-plus page formal transcript of Col. Philip Cochran's interview.

Cover of the 400-plus page formal transcript of Col. Philip Cochran's interview.

Col Philip Cochran

Col Philip Cochran

Col Phil Cochran

Col Phil Cochran

Col Phil Cochran prepares for a mission in a P-51.

Col Phil Cochran prepares for a mission in a P-51.

Col Phil Cochran aboard his P-51.

Col Phil Cochran aboard his P-51.

Phil Cochran (right) and Johnny Alison (center) with air commandos by the Barbie III aircraft.

Phil Cochran (right) and Johnny Alison (center) with air commandos by the Barbie III aircraft.

Images of Phil Cochran in the early formation and operations of air commandos.

Images of Phil Cochran in the early formation and operations of air commandos.

Col Philip Cochran

Col Phil Cochran

Col Phil Cochran and Col Johnny Alison

Col Phil Cochran and Col Johnny Alison

Col Phil Cochran and Col Johnny Alison, architects of World War II air commandos that operated from India against the Japanese empire.

Col Phil Cochran and Col Johnny Alison, architects of World War II air commandos that operated from India against the Japanese empire.

Col Philip Cochran is decorated by Gen. Henry 'Hap' Arnold, Air Force chief of staff.

Col Philip Cochran is decorated by Gen. Henry 'Hap' Arnold, Air Force chief of staff.

20-21 October 1975
11 November 1975
United States Air Force
Historical Research Center
Office of Air Force History
Headquarters USAF





The following is the transcript of an oral history interview recorded on magnetic tape. Since only minor emendations have been made, the reader should consistently bear in mind that he is reading a transcript of the spoken rather than the written word. Additionally, no attempt to confirm the historical accuracy of the statements has been made. As a result, the transcript reflects the interviewee's personal recollections of a situation as he remembered it at the time of the interview.



Facilitorial notes and additions made by U.S. Air Force historians are enclosed in brackets. If feasible, first names, ranks, or titles are also provided. Any additions, deletions and changes subsequently made to the transcript by the interviewee are not indicated. Researchers may wish to listen to the actual interview tape prior to citing the transcript.





Col. Philip G. Cochran spent an eventful decade in uniform after joining the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in 1936. An Ohio State University graduate, Cochran relished his role as a fighter pilot and enthusiastically entered into assignments at Langley Field, Virginia, Mitchel Field, New York, and Groton, Connecticut. After some intense wrangling, Cochran accompanied the British aircraft carrier Archer with 35 P-40s which were launched off of Casablanca in support of the hard-pressed forces battling the Germans in North Africa during World War II.


His many daring exploits in this theater earned him fame and the attention of Gen H. H. “Hap” Arnold, who personally selected Cochran to plan and lead the aerial invasion of Burma as Commander of the First Air Command Task Force. After his notable duties in Burma were completed, the young colonel went to the European theater where he planned a similar air assault on Germany – Plan Arena – but the Third Reich collapsed before his plan could be used. Colonel Cochran retired from the Army Air Force in 1946 for health reasons but went on to serve as director for Howard Hughes and in 1952 returned to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he presently serves as the president of his brother's trucking company. The interview covers all facets of Colonel Cochran's illustrious career and gives revealing insights into the personalities of individuals such as Lord Louis Mountbatten, Gen. Orde C. Wingate, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, and Gen. George S. Patton.



CONDUCTED BY: Dr. James C. Hasdorff






Entering the Air Force



Hasdorff: What prompted you to apply for the Air Corps in the first place?



Cochran: I remember that. Number one, I wanted to fly an airplane. It intrigued me. Number two, I was passably mechanically inclined. I could take a Model-T apart. My father gave me a Model-T once when I was 16, and just like the kids are doing today, was always modifying it – I always took it apart. Now that wasn't that prevalent at that time that I remember. All the kids do it now, but in those days I did it. I always took my bicycles apart. I could overhaul; I could do a valve job, a ring job, and a band job on a Model-T.



My uncle had taught me that, and I was a pretty good pupil because it intrigued me. I liked to fool with things like that. I think that was in me, the desire to get up and fly, and to manage that machine intrigued me. Then when I was a sophomore at Ohio State, I was finishing my sophomore year, it was deep Depression, and I didn't think I was going to get into my third year. I didn't think I was going to get to come back. It would depend on band work, whether I would get work as a singer. At that time, people didn't have any money for bands. They didn't have any money for dances, and that was the basis of our work—fraternity dances, country club dances. In those days of Depression, kids could barely get to school, let alone belong to a fraternity. Most of them closed. It didn't look as though I was going to get back for my third year, so I started scratching and I read an article that I think was a three-part article, and it was written by a guy, whom I later met and was in a squadron with, named Richard “Red” Weller. And Lieutenant Weller had written a Saturday Evening Post series of three articles about the flying school in Texas.



“Red” Weller must have written an excellent article, because I didn't forget it, and it intrigued me. I remember one of the things that he wrote about was what value this course at the flying school was to the young man that got through it. I remember him saying that it cost the government $75,000 to put a kid through the flying school, and that one out of four made it. Another thing was that it was the toughest school. He figured it to be the toughest school in the world, to get through the Army Flying School in San Antonio, Texas – Randolph Field – and that if you could get through that, you really had something. Then he said you could get into the school if you had 2 years of college, and I don't remember if you had to take an exam or not at that time. I think you didn't have to take a written exam. If you didn't have 2 years of school, you had to pass an almost impossible written exam.



So here I had two years, and I was afraid I wasn't going to get the third and fourth. So this looked like something to take the place of the next couple years of college. I figured that if I could get through that toughest school in the world and also get to fly an airplane, I was interested. Now, I remember that first interest – and then I did get a job that summer, and did get jobs that could help me get back through my third year. I did come back and I got my third year.

Then I dropped out a year and worked in Erie.

Everything had fallen apart then in 1933 and 1934. There were no jobs, there was no money, and I was fortunate enough to he hired back in Erie at the Hammermill Paper Company, and I worked there and saved up that money.

Then I got back, and with the band money and so forth, I got my fourth year.

In the meantime, a very good friend of mine named Frank “Dude” Higgs had gone into the Air Force, and I, of course, heard about him and heard that he had made it through the flying school, and that he was, lo and behold, a fighter pilot at Selfridge in Michigan.

That, again, intrigued me. I said, “Now that rascal has done something that I kind of have an idea I would like to do.” And I also thought, rather arrogantly, “Doggone it, if Dude Higgs can get through, I can get through.” I remember that thought. So it just kept niggling at my head, and then I was graduated and no job. What do you do? I'm still a singer in a band. Am I going to continue that? I was with a band that was at an amusement park in Ohio. We had a two-week booking, and after the first week, lo and behold, there were no paychecks because the park went bankrupt, and there we were without any money and no job for the following week, and that disbanded the band [laughter], and things were pretty rough.

I then came back and I got a job with the State of Pennsylvania because I had had three years in a papermill, and I had ended up in the laboratory of the papermill testing paper, and I did know some technical things about that testing of grades of paper. There weren't many of that kind of cat around, and, lo and behold, the State of Pennsylvania needed a person like that to test the paper they were buying and the paper they were sending out to be printed on at printers and then brought back.

There was a requirement and I fulfilled the requirement and got that job. But in the meantime, I had taken my physical for the Air Force and passed it. I remember there being two of us that passed it out of 12, I believe, who were at Selfridge for that week.

I remember wondering after I saw the other 11 guys, I remember my mind saying, “What in the hell are you doing here?”

Because I was small, I was not the great physical type, and one of the guys was an Olympic diver and, boy, he had a body on him that wouldn't quit. Another guy, I remember, came in his Reserve second lieutenant uniform. He was ROTC from Wisconsin or someplace. Another man was a football player, and I looked at those physical types and had a misconception that certainly they were going to take all the slots, and little old me wasn't going to get there. But I noticed as we went along, the anxiety was terrific because you'd notice the first day there were 12, and then the next day there were 10, then the next day you noticed that there were only six, and you began to say, “Well, what the hell, I'm next. They are just going to get rid of all of us,” and none of these guys could pass it.

When I heard that the Olympic diver went out, I thought, “Gosh, if he hasn't got coordination [laughter], my coordination ends up riding the bicycle.” But there was a guy who really had it, and he had an excellent body, and a fine young man. Gosh, if they were throwing that kind of guy away, I thought, “They aren't going to want me.” Oddly enough, we ended up on Friday and there were two. Both of us were half-blind because we had drops in our eyes. Well, the other kid was a kid named Lyons from Buffalo, New York. So we had something in common. Buffalo is 90 miles from Erie.

Here the kid from Buffalo and the kid from Erie, Pennsylvania, end up being the only two candidates. I think we went through the psychological test that day, and then we met an officer who had the grand rank of captain.

You know a captain in those days, you figured he ran the whole place, and he told us that the only thing he could tell us was we had passed the physical examination, and that was as far as their jurisdiction went. He had no right to tell us that we would or would not get an appointment and that we'd be hearing from the Air Force, but he could tell us that we had passed. Then, of course, we did hear from the Air Force.

The kid from Buffalo and I went to the same class at Randolph and met 110 others of our ilk, and Lyons never soloed. He didn't make it. As I remember it, there was something wrong with his depth perception. He would land an airplane too high, or he wouldn't land it soon enough, or something like that. I barely remember that, but he didn't make it. And, by the way, neither did 80 or so of the others, so I think in my graduating class there were 28 guys. So you see that was about what the Air Force was going through in 1936. There wasn't any money, and they were barely keeping the school open, just to keep its cogs from getting rusty. I'm pretty sure there were just about 28 guys, and that was a third of the effort for that year. I think there were three classes a year at that time; they were all small.

Selection for special project

Then they were aware of my combat experience, and when the requirement came up for the type of guy that General [Henry “Hap”] Arnold said he wanted to send to Burma to support [British Gen. Orde C.] Wingate and to support the effort in taking back Burma, [Lt. Gen. Hoyt S.] Vandenberg lit on my name right away and said, “Get him in.” The deal was that they were to bring in five guys. General Arnold set the requirements, and said, “This is the kind of guy we want, and anybody in the staff that knows anyone, get around and bring in some guys, and I'll pick the man. You weed them out, and bring in five candidates.” That was why I was called down; I was one of the candidates, I screamed like a stuck hog right off the bat when I heard what they had in mind
General Vandenberg briefed me, and I said, “Why are you doing this to me?”

He said, “Well, this is a marvelous opportunity for you, and you are just the guy. As a matter of fact, I've recommended you to General Arnold, but he's going to choose.” But he said, “I think that's what you should do. You fit exactly what has to be done over there. They need somebody that has a lot of innovative ideas and all that sort of thing, and you popped into my head.”

He said, “It's going to be up to General Arnold.”

I said, “Can't you get me out of it?” Then I told him the job I had. I said, “General, I got a shot, and I'm going to England.” I told him what I felt about the P-47, and I thought there were misconceptions. I wanted to go over and prove it, and I said, “Gee, I got the orders, and I'm ready to go.”

He said, “Well, I got orders, too, and I have to do what I have to do, and you've got to talk to General Arnold.”

I said, “All right, I'll talk to him, but I’ll get out of it.” I said, ''You don't mind if I get out of it, do you?” He said, “No, I don't blame you.”

So I figured, what the hell, I can get out of anything. So I was set up to go before General Arnold, which I did, and he started to talk to me. Before we got very far, I told him I wanted no part of it. He kind of had a “where-do-you-come-off-telling-me-what-to-do'' attitude, but I wasn’t crass and I knew my place. But I also knew how to speak my piece and get across to him what I wanted to do. I knew that he had heard my war room speech, and question-and-answer thing, and I knew he knew what I had done. I knew that I dared say some things right-flat out, and there again is one of those wonderful things about the American way. Here was General Arnold, the chief of the whole doggone thing, and as far as I was concerned, he was right next to God. Because, my goodness, General Hap Arnold was the grandest thing that ever came along, and the rankingest person I ever would get to see. But I knew from his reputation, and I knew from the way he spoke, that it was perfectly all right for me to speak my mind. I thought this was my last-ditch chance, so I told him I didn't want to go. I didn't want to be a candidate for the job, and I was sure there were other people who would want this thing and would do a better job because they wanted it.

I said, “I don't want any part of it.”

And he said, “Well, you’ve got to tell me some reasons why since you're standing there like that.” He said, “Where do you come off telling me all this sort of thing?”

I said, “Well, feel that I just wouldn't be doing the right thing if didn't come out with it.”

He said, “Alright, you come out with it.”

So I said, “General, I have been in Africa, as you know. I worked hard, and I studied hard. I believe that right now I have more combat experience than any fighter pilot in your Air Force. I'm going to be brash enough to tell you that I think I know more about the practical side of fighter aviation than anybody in the Air Force. I've done it the hard way, and it's an attribute to the Air Force, and here you are sending me over to an alley fight.” I think this is the word I used—”some doggone offshoot, side-alley fight over in some jungle in Burma that doesn't mean a damn thing. The big show is in England, and I've got this job ready to go over there, and I think I can contribute a hell of a lot more with what I know and have been studying for 7 years.” I said, “I want to do it, and I want to fulfill it, because I think it's my destiny, and I think it's my life.”

I was at the point then, you know, like in the movies where you reach up and tear off your insignia and slam it, that old bit. I was getting a little out of hand. I think I got a little far out, because he got a little irked with me.

He said, “I don't know what kind of an Air Force office I'm running here when guys come in and tell me that they are not going to do something.”

I said, “No.” He said, “I understand.”

But I said, “I have to get it out. You would think less of me if I didn't tell you exactly how I feel. I'm a fighter pilot from start to finish, and I want to continue. I think I ought to be allowed to, because I think it's in the best interest.”

He said he would decide, and all that kind of thing, in a kindly way. He said, “That's enough for now. I'll see you later.”

I said, “By the way, there's one guy that I have learned about. I'm not supposed to know who the other five are, but I ran into a guy in the Pentagon yesterday and I know he is here for the same thing. That's the guy you ought to take, he is a grand person and that's, Johnny Alison.”

Here Johnny Alison is my best friend, and I'm pushing it on him. [laughter] I said, “Johnny Alison is from that area. He was in China. He is that area-oriented, he is a fine guy, and he will do the job.”

General Arnold said, “You get out of here.”

So I got out. I didn't say anything to Johnny, but I saw him afterward. I was there the next day when he came out. We walked down the hall together, and he was as close to crying as any tough little fighter pilot I ever saw in my life. He was just terribly discouraged, and he had refused it, too. But he was afraid that he was going to get it. I told him that I told Arnold to give it to him. [laughter]

I said, “Well, we are in the same boat.” I said, “Johnny, I'm not going to go. I don't give a damn what he thinks is necessary, goddammit, I'm not going to go. I don't care what the hell happens to me.”

We were down; and he was so down, and he was so mad. I went back to General Vandenberg. I said, “Jesus, this is an injustice, General.” I tried to get him to intercede. Oh, I was pulling all that stuff.

And Van said, “Hey, you guys, you smart-asses, do you think Arnold is going to pick you? He probably doesn't want any part of you.”

I said, “Oh God, I hope so. I hope he hates me. I hope he gets so mad, he banishes me to Europe.”

He said, “Well, he's got three or four other guys to talk to.”

So I said, “Oh boy, it will be one of them. It will be great!”

I knew one other guy, and there were three of us, and one guy was Charlie Bond. He had been with the American Volunteer Group, the AVG. That was the Flying Tigers. Well, we waited on pins and needles. I knew I had gone as far as I dared go. I did my job, and the next thing was just absolute mutiny, for heaven's sake.

So I was called in. They said, “General Arnold wants to see you again. “ I went in that room,. and he was sitting there, boy, and he was as stern as hell.

I thought, “Oh boy, you don't monkey with this man anymore.”

He stood up from that chair behind that desk, and he looked at me, and he said, ''Well, I made my decision, and you are going.” All right, that was the time to show what's in you.

I just looked at him, and I said, “Okay, where and when?”

He stopped, and he started to laugh, and he said, “Now, that's better.”

I told him later, “Boy, you don't know how close you came to a movie scene where guys are resigning and telling you everything.”

But he said, “You are going.”

I said, “Okay, where and when?”

He said, “That will come later. I want to get that other monkey in here.”

I said, “Who?”

He said, “That Alison is going with you.” [laughter] So that's how we got assigned to the 1st Air Commando Task Force. The 1st Air Commando Task force was to be designed by us to support the long-range penetration efforts of one General [Orde C.] Wingate.

Wingate was the great eccentric British soldier, the general who had distinguished himself many places and had led raids into Burma the year before, and he had designed this form of invasion called long-range penetration. He would effect long-range forays into enemy territory by using mules and letting the jungle hide him. He was using mules as transport and the jungle as his protection, and they would get in and disrupt the enemy and take over whole territories. He called it “long-range penetration.” He felt that if he had some air support, it would make him more effective.

So we were told by General Arnold to start studying General Wingate – try to find out all we could about him, what he stood for, what his ideas were, what he planned to do, and how we were going to support him.

Now, the original idea was support with light airplane's, because Wingate had brought this up with Churchill, General Arnold, and Lord Louis Mountbatten at the Quebec meeting between [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt and [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill. At that meeting, the plan to take back Burma was agreed upon.

Lord Mountbatten was there, and he was to go on out there and be in charge, and General Arnold promised him air support for Wingate's forces, because they flew him in to the meeting, and Churchill introduced him and said, “We are going to take back Burma, and here is the man. Wingate is going to do it.”

So General Arnold and Lord Louis had gotten together, and Arnold said, “Now, how can I help?”

Wingate said, “Well, if you could pull out my wounded. When we get on one of these things and I get a man wounded, we can't carry him because he becomes a burden. We have to prop him up against a tree and give him a gun or let him stay there and give him money and stuff, hoping that the natives would take care of him. But our attrition rate is terrible. When a man gets wounded, his chances with this kind of warfare aren't very great. That's one of the drawbacks of commanding this kind of a thing, and making it successful, because soon you can't get replacements and you can't get your wounded out.”

So he said, “Is there any way light airplanes could do that?” He thought there were enough clearings in the jungle that they could make, or find, that they could get their wounded out.

Arnold said, “All right, we'll do that. We'll study that.”

So that's how the idea got started. The commando name got started because Lord Louis had been the chief of the commandos in England, who used to make the raids over on the coast and that sort of thing. The tough guerrilla-type people who were trained for very, very rough duty. Quick strikes in and out, and that sort of thing. He called that “commando work.”

And General Arnold transferred that word in kind of deference to Lord Louis, that these were to be “air commandos.” That would be the name of the effort, and it was highly secret. This was the thing we were assigned.

We said, “Well, what does the guy do?” Then they explained some of the long-range penetration to us, from what they understood of it, and so we started to think.

So about two days later, I said, “Well, somebody's got to go and talk to that nut.”

We had all been told that he was quite eccentric and that he was a very fervent fellow and quite a character. So, I said, “The best way we can learn about what he plans to do is to go
and talk to him.”

So it was decided that would have to go, because Johnny was getting married. So I said, “All right, I'll go to Europe.” So I went over, and talked to Wingate. I reported to Lord Louis. was told to do that, and then I got with Wingate. As we often say, we took an immediate dislike to each other on first impression. I saw a very intense, opinionated guy that I could hardly understand, because he was so British and he talked so fast.

I always say, “If there is anyone I hate, it's another opinionated person.”

I took a dislike to him at first. His ideas, that first brush, seemed to be a little wild and rather boyish, amateur, if you will, and I found out that he knew a little bit about airplanes and tried to indicate that he knew quite a bit. Of course, that didn't do anything for my professional pride, but I picked up some valuable information in talking to him, and talking and talking.

I asked him over and over again how he thought we could help him and what he did when he got out there. Why would he do all these long-range penetration things? Then I began to realize that what he was doing on the ground was what we did in the air, and how we vectored aircraft, and how we sent them out and followed them and brought them back. He was trying to do this on the
ground; and this is just about all he was doing.

He had this fancy name for it. He would send out a column of 700 or 1,000 men with their mules and their guns that they were capable of carrying, their ammunition, the whole self-contained unit, and it would go out into the jungles for months. They would end up a couple 100 miles away; it would take them so long to go through the jungle. But then they'd get to their objective, and they'd blow a bridge, or they would set up roadblocks, and they'd command an area, and the Japs would come in and try to get them out and that sort of thing. They'd disappear then back into the jungle. Then they would radio back for air drops and that sort of thing.

It seemed rather simple to me. I met a couple of guys that were going to be with him and had been with him in his former campaigns, and I got a pretty good working knowledge about what he did and what was going to be required, and how we could help him.

I also spent some rather valuable time with Lord Louis. He and I hit it off immediately as good friends, I think. We are still good friends, and we took to each other. He was very, very appreciative, and he showed his appreciation of what General Arnold had done, fulfilled, on what he said he would do. He was so pleased with General Arnold's willingness to help, especially to help him.

It kind of rubbed off on me. He was so pleased that we were going forward with this thing, and there I was. I was the embodiment of what was going to go forward and the fulfillment of their planning.

I suppose I was a symbol to him, but he treated me just grandly. I stayed at his house, and he just couldn't have been kinder.

Then I came back, and I got stalled in Iceland. I think I was in Iceland or Greenland, I can't remember where, but the weather was so bad that everybody was stalled. The trans-Atlantic airplanes that were going back and forth were all jammed up there. I was in a club or something – a big, big room there just waiting-and I heard there was to be a briefing.

I said, “What 's the briefing about?”

They said, “Well, General Arnold is on the base. He is hung up, and he is coming from England.”

I said, ''He has been in England?”

They said, “Yes.” I had only seen him maybe five or six days before when he assigned me this job.

So I said, “I’ll go to the briefing.”

They said, “We are going to brief the General about what's going on up here.”

I said, “Fine, I got nothing else to do, I’ll listen to it.”

Bernt Balchen, do you remember that name? He was to give the briefing. He was the grand old guy of the Arctic, you know. So I went in there and was sitting there, and I saw General Arnold across the room. I had nothing to talk with him about, and he had a lot of people around him. He kept looking over at me.

I thought, “He's looking at me and thinking it can't be,” you know. He kept looking across the room.

Finally, he sent an officer over who said, ''General Arnold wants you to come over.” I said, “All right.”

I went over, he looked at me, and he said, “Cochran, what are you doing here?”

I said, “Well, General, I'm in the same boat you're in; I'm stuck. We had to learn something about what Wingate does, and the quickest way for me to know what that man is thinking about and what he is planning, somebody has got to talk to the guy before we do a lot of planning that is no good, and before he gets a lot of grandiose ideas of what we are going to have. So I went over and saw him.''

He said, “You have been to England?”

I said, “Yes sir, I was in England. I left a day or so after you assigned me.”

He said, “That's great. That's fine. It's all right. You're stuck here, huh?”

He said, ''I was in England, too.”

I said, “Yes, I went over.”

He said, “It's too bad you didn't get to see Mountbatten. I would have wanted you to see him, but he is in the hospital.”

I said, “Yes, General, I know; I took him.”

He said, “What do you mean you took him?”

I said, “I was staying at his house, and you know what's wrong with him, don't you'?”

He said, “No, I just know he is in the hospital.”

I said, “When he was playing polo one time, he hurt his hand right in here, and these cords are starting to shorten on him and he can't straighten up these fingers. They cut in there to let it out. It's nothing very serious, but he had to go in the hospital and have it done. So I took him down to the hospital.”

He said, “What do you mean you took him?”

I said, “He had to go to the hospital, and I had been staying at his house, and he said, 'Cochran, you will need a car while you are here,' so I took him to the hospital in his car. He let me have his car for the rest of the time I was there.”

Arnold looked at me; he said, “Okay,” and laughed. He said, “You'll do,” or something like that, you know. So he said, “You need a ride?”

I said, “No, I got the next ride out. I'm gone.” I was giving him the idea, “I don't want to be stuck with you; you'll take forever.” So I got on and got away, and that's how we got started on the idea of building this Task Force.

Forming a concept

After talking to Wingate and to Lord Louis Mountbatten, I began to form a different concept of how this effort would be supported by air capability. I came home and talked it over with Johnny Alison, and we began to form some ideas of how best an air capability could be used in this long-range penetration-type of fighting, jungle combat, jungle warfare, if you will. As we studied it more and more, our natures came to the fore; we began to want to support him with combat action. We said that he not only needed to get his wounded out but that when he got in place, they could point out targets on the ground. He could use ground-air support; he could use
bombardment; he could use fighters; he could have a lot of direct military action brought to bear after he got into an area.

So we began to expand on Wingate's plans. The more we thought of it, the more we built and built. Then we figured that we could turn this thing around and make it partially a doggone good air combat effort and really he or great assistance to these ground troops. We could be their artillery, we could be their supply, and we could be their air combat forces. So, really unconsciously, what we were doing was building a whole small region of warfare where we had ground troops, artillery, infantry, air-ground support, fighter support, and bombardment
support, plus finding a way to fly them into their area and get them in rather than have them spend months on the ground walking. The bare hones of those ideas started to form in our minds as we were building this thing.

Every time we thought of a new thing, we'd kick it around and say, “Why don't we learn about that technique and see what it's about.”

Both of us, from separate experiences, ran on to the idea of gliders. So then we went to the people in the Pentagon who were glider men, and who were pushing gliders, and said, “Now, what can you do in this situation?” Then we began to learn that you towed gliders with aircraft, and they could cut loose and land in outlandish places. That intrigued us. Then we learned that there was such a thing in the Air Force as a reel that you could put in an airplane that would give the plane the capability to snatch a glider off the ground by flying over it and grabbing on to it and pulling it into the air.

We just searched out all these things and read them into our plan. And as we built and built, our plans became more and more complicated and grandiose. So we, in a laughing kind of way or in a half-serious kind of way, said, “What we will do is design this thing. It will be so big and so ambitious that General Arnold will get mad and kick us out. Then we won't have to go.”

We kept building and building, and although we were kind of half kidding, we were serious about what we were doing. We had to figure what aircraft we wanted, what we wanted them for, how many pilots we needed, how many mechanics we needed, and how much ammunition you needed, because there wasn't any animal like this in the Air Force zoo. We were inventing a new one. There was no precedent. This is an air commando task force that is going to support ground jungle troops who penetrate behind enemy lines, and there just wasn't anything on the books that was anything like us, and also it was very secret. None of this was let out at all.

We were called Project Nine, and nobody really knew what we were doing. I think they could have guessed when we started ordering jungle shoes and that sort of thing. But, anyway, it was Project 9, and the one was supposed to know other than the staff, John and myself exactly what we were up to. None of our people knew exactly where we were going. They could guess it was going to be warm, and that's about all.

We had to plan on supplying ourselves. We were to be superimposed as a task force on an already beleaguered region, being China, Burma, India. They didn’t have any supplies; they were destitute out there. The big effort was going on in Africa and Europe, and they were not getting all the things they needed. Then this task force was to be super imposed on that, and it was realized by the Air Force and by General Arnold's staff that we couldn't go out and just be sent to them, and say, “Take care of them.”

So we had to plan to take much of our own supplies. We even took, for instance, our own cigarettes and our own powdered milk. Different people advised us about what we ought to have and what should be sent, and then they got into a problem of the bottoms [aircraft carriers] to carry it over there on, because they were all full. They decided to dismantle our aircraft, rebuild them, crate them, deck-load them, and that sort of thing. They were all good sized problems that we were helped with by logistics and staff people at the Pentagon. But, in the meantime, we were designing our own equipment, even down to what kind of radios, what radio nets we would need, how many operators, and so forth.

We were given the right to ask for any guy we knew in the world that would fulfill a job that we needed. For instance, we needed a top Signal Corps guy, or top guy that knew aircraft radio and ground radio, and knew how to set up base stations, and could set up a whole network, because, you see, the British had nothing of that sort.

They were going into Burma. They were rather primitive ground people, and we would need rather elaborate radio communications setups, so we would have to take our own. There weren't any over in that theater. So we had to design the system, and we decided how many. So we were allowed to bring in from anywhere-if we knew that man's name, we'd send for him. We knew them through our time in the Air Force.

We'd say, “Oh boy, if we only had so-and-so.” We'd send his name down, and lo and behold, he would come in. They would bring them from China or anywhere. We had great powers and we didn’t overdo it, but we tended to [laughter].

We gathered this whole thing together, and then it was time to present the idea, and present what we had thought up, to General Arnold. It was to come through General Vandenberg, to him and the staff; and we thought, “Oh boy, here is where we are really going to get it.”

We had really laid out a grandiose scheme. We were just going to haul out wounded with liaison airplanes, little L-5s, and we expanded that to not only a few L-5s, we had a couple hundred of them. We had a whole group of them. We now wanted gliders, transports, DC-3s, P-51s or better fighters, and B-25s.

We really built ourselves an air force, and we thought, “Boy, he's going to throw us out of the office.” But we knew we had designed something pretty doggone good, and we knew it could do the job, and it was going to do a job that no one had ever seen or tried before, but it would work.

So we went in, and we thought we were really going to get something. General Arnold, as you have probably heard, always insisted that his staff not give him long things to read. He didn't have time to assimilate a whole bunch of junk.

He said, “That's what you people are for – the details.'' And if you gave General Arnold anything that was more than a couple of paragraphs long, he would fire it back at you, I'm told. We shortened it up, and it was a pretty good report. Everybody sat in the room, and he sat there and he read it, and he kept reading.

He would read along, and I was sitting there thinking, “Oh boy, here it comes.”

He just looked over at Vandenberg, and he said, “Van, does this thing make sense?”

Vandenberg said, “Yes, it's a very, very ingenious plan.''

General Arnold took the papers and put his initials on it, slammed it down, and said, “All right, do it.”

I know he sensed what we had done. I kind of remember a little bit of a sly look, that he looked over at the two of us, and.he said, “All right, do it!”

We went from there and, boy, the cooperation we got was just astounding, because the effort became important, and the people wanted to get it done, and we got great, great support. We got nearly everything that we asked for, or that we put in for, except one thing, and I'll tell you a little funny anecdote. We got everything but four helicopters.

Now, the Air Force didn't have any helicopters. There were two experimental models, and I think they were at Dayton, and then the one, two, three, four, five, and six articles that were to come out of production were already asked for, and here we were asking for four; we were asking for the four of the only six that were coming available, and word came down that we couldn't have them.

We went to General Arnold, and we said, “Well now, you said we were going to have them, and we think we can really use helicopters in that jungle situation. We've studied them, we know their capabilities, and those things will really do some things that airplane's can't do. We have some ideas on the support of Wingate's troops, and if you ever want proof of an airplane, and you want to learn about this piece of aircraft, here is a proving ground. We don't want to do just proving, we can use them.”

He said he would try.

There was a committee of Air Force, Navy, I forget what the committee was called, but it was the highest place you could go in this land during the war. It was here where all industrial effort was coordinated so that people didn't go off half-cocked and start using wrong materials for wrong things, and using up materials for not a strategic reason, trying to use our limited supplies for their best use.

This got all the way up to that thing, and General Arnold said to us, “I'm sorry I couldn't get that for you.” He said, “Now that's the only thing I haven't done for you. I said I would back you, and now you've got everything but that.”

I said, “No, General, there is one other thing.”

He said, “What other thing?”

I said, “They won't let us have Clinton Gatey.”

He said, “Who is Clinton Gatey?”

Well, Clint Gatey was in civilian life an aeronautical engineer. Clint had come into the Air Force and he was the chief of the modification section of the Air Force. He was very, very busy modifying aircraft before they went into combat. You know as an airplane comes out at first, you will find out then that it needs modification. He was in charge of this, and he was a very, very valuable man.

He wanted so desperately to get into combat and to get overseas with us, and we felt that we needed somebody who was exceptionally innovative. We were going to have all kinds of peculiar uses for aircraft, and we thought, if we could get Clint as our guy to head up our whole maintenance-engineering function, to take care of these aircraft in the jungle, to practically rebuild them if we had to, because-again, we were going to have to be on our own – we needed talent, and this was a talented person.

We said, “We think it's right that we ask for Clint Gatey.”

Well, the word came down: “Clint Gatey is too important where he is; you can't have him.” Gee, I forget who was G-4 at the time who was the head of procurement; he headed the whole supply thing for the Air Force on General Arnold's staff. Who would that have been? I'll think of it later. I can see him as plain as day. But, anyway, General Arnold reached over to his box and he pressed down the button for his G-4.

He said, “Why can't I have Clint Gatey?” [laughter]

At the other end, there was a lot of mouthing and muttering, and he said, “Well, General, I didn’t know you wanted him.”

General Arnold said, “Cochran is here, and he said that they want Clint Gatey for that project of theirs, and you won't give him to them.”

He said, “Well, I didn't know you wanted him.”

So we got Clint Gatey, and he went over. When I left over there, when I came back, he took over command from me. He was killed in a P-51 over there at that time. But we got Clint.

So the General said, “All right, I got you everything. Now I did what I promised you guys, but there is no way you can get those helicopters. I just can't do it, because the Navy is demanding one, the British are demanding one, and the Coast Guard is to get one, and then Wright Field is going to get something like that.” He said, “They are all taken; there aren't any.”

As you can see, a helicopter was a brand-new animal. There weren't any. There weren't any helicopter pilots in the Air Force. I think there was one, and he was the guy that was head of the project. So we let it go at that.

We said, “Well, we fizzled on that one. We aren't going to have helicopters.”

But Johnny Alison had known Harry Hopkins. Now, if you didn't live through World War II as an adult, you don't know who Harry Hopkins was, but he was about as powerful a person as you'd ever want to see, next to the President. Harry Hopkins was President Roosevelt's right hand, and he not only was his right hand in some things, he was his everything.

Harry Hopkins was a very quiet, kind, nice individual who was powerful as hell, and he could get things done. Johnny had become close to him as a friend and acquaintance in Russia. John was trying desperately to get out of Russia. Johnny had been lent to Russia to put together and test fly, and then train on, P-40s, and Johnny and Hubert Zemke got that job. They were over in Russia doing that thing when the war broke out.

Then when the war broke out, they kept John over there as air attaché in the embassy, and Alison was trying his damndest to get out of that doggone place and get into combat in China. There he ran into Mr. Averell Harriman who was then our Ambassador to Russia, and he ran into Mr. Harry Hopkins who was over there visiting and lend-leasing, and all that sort of thing – big deal. So, Johnny and Hopkins became acquainted, and I think they had a kind of a rapport.

So John was in Washington and Mr. Hopkins was in Washington, and Mr. Hopkins heard about it , and he said, ''Johnny, come over and visit me.”

He said, “Well, I'm coming over, Mr. Hopkins.'' So he came over. I think he had dinner with him or something. But he spent some time with Mr. Hopkins, and they kicked around old times, how they used to run around Russia kind of crazy-like, and they had a good old time. Then he asked Johnny what he was doing and what he was up to. Hopkins had heard, of course, about this arrangement and that we were going to support Wingate in this effort of taking back northern Burma. He asked him how he was coming along and if there was anything he could do.

It snapped into Johnny's mind-he said, “Well, they won't give us these helicopters.”

Hopkins said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “There are going to be four, and we think we can use those helicopters better than anybody in the world. We won't be' monkeying around with them. We'll have them in combat, and we'll really use them.''

So Johnny got back, and he told me about telling Hopkins about the helicopters. We didn't hear anything further.

And [laughter] then General Arnold at the next meeting got me and said, “How did you get those helicopters?”

It dawned on me then, and I said, “Well, General, you just have to know the right people!”

Johnny and I have often laughed and laughed about that. Harry Hopkins. It was that funny and that simple. When General Arnold couldn't get the airplanes, we got them through Harry Hopkins. Lo and behold, we were the first users of helicopters in combat, and used them in the jungle. We didn't use them as-no tricks, you know, just for using them. Serious business.

H: Were they effective?

C: No, these were so terribly underpowered. They were effective for what we used them for. We pulled out and documented the saving of 18 lives that we wouldn't have gotten out in any other manner. You just couldn't get them out any other way. We saved some kids that wouldn't have gotten out any other way.

They were woefully underpowered. If you got a pilot in them, that was about their capable load. Then you would add another person. And a couple of times we were able to get two out at a time by using the stretcher on the sling on the side. There was a way to put a stretcher on hangers, like on the outside of the helicopter, and we were able to use that. We actually made good use or them, and we did save some lives with them, and we did prove that they were quite a capable machine.

When we came back and wrote our many, many reports we had to write, I remember that one of them was that the helicopter, a proper one, well-built, would do anything that the right airplane would do, and more. If you don't need speed, and you do need an awful lot of short-landing kind of thing, and that sort of thing, it just beats a light aircraft for that kind of work.

Of course, the Vietnam war has shown that it is an effective weapon, although I think sometime they have been misused. think in a limited situation, they are the best article. We so said when we came home, and probably advanced the helicopter a great deal more if those four would held been held here. I'm sure they got busy and built some more rather quickly, but we got articles two, three, four, and five, or whatever it was, through the help of John's friend, Harry Hopkins, and much to the amusement, I imagine, and dismay of General Arnold.

But now that we had designed it and General Arnold had put his initials on it, and fooled us, and said, “Go forward,” then we had our work cut out for us, to amass all of these supplies and get them ready, and get out there and get in place, and coordinate getting the ships and getting our airplanes loaded. They were deck-loaded, as I said, and then we had to have the replacements. We had to figure replacements because, again, I remind you that we were a superimposition on a theater; we weren’t a part of any organized effort.

We were a thing apart, because we were a task force and everything had to be taken from scratch. There was no table of organization, for instance. If you had a fighter group, you knew what a fighter group was. You knew what it needed and how much gas a day it needed, and how many bolts and nuts were needed, and how many pairs of pants you needed, and how many shoes of what size. They had that all. You just said, “fighter group,” and the thing would spit out the plan.

When you said, “Air Commando Task Force” with everything from light planes, gliders, and DC-3s, transport airplanes, UC-64, a little transport airplane, and P-51 fighters, and the whole conglomerate, the system would spit back, “don't know, cancel.” “Tilt.”

Men and machines

So, we had to build it. I say we built it, we just kept showing our plans, and there were people who were capable of this sort of thing. It was their job to tell us what we needed and all that sort of thing, and ship it over there and get it there, and get us in place. So after the design, then we were about ready, and then we had some training to do, and then we had to gather our people, and again we were allowed to gather anyone we wanted, even down to getting Clint Gatey.

We brought in people whom we knew. We knew their capabilities, we knew their specific talents; This would be officers and pilots, as well as enlisted men. We knew sergeants, we knew master sergeants that were extremely capable at maintenance, and at gunnery, and those things, and at repair of radios, and we sought these people out. We remembered them from the outfits we had been in, and we gathered those folks from all over the world and brought them in. Then after we would get them in, we would tell them as much as we were allowed to tell them, and then ask them if they wanted it, and told them they didn't have to go if they didn't want to. We warned them it would be a dangerous mission, and that it would be a difficult one.

We didn't con them; they were allowed to volunteer. So everybody of the original 500-odd people we had that we went over with, the original core of the task force, were all volunteers.

Each person was required to be able to do three things: sometime we had to stretch it a little bit to get the third thing, like if you could play a guitar or a harmonica, that qualified for the third thing. But the other thing, maybe he might be a gunnery sergeant who also had spent some time maybe in office work somewhere, where he had been in an office in a squadron or something like that. We searched for people with double talent so that we could double up. We didn't need a number of men. We were told by General Arnold to streamline and not to take along a bunch of staff, and to get rid of the things that weren't absolutely necessary, none of the amenities, the smallest amount of paperwork that you possibly could get away with, and that sort of thing.

That's what we did. So everybody had to do his job and more.

Nearly all of our pilots that we took had already been overseas at least once and had some combat. That was kind of difficult to do, but we found guys that were close. We didn't take anyone inexperienced with us. Now, we picked up some after we got over. But it was an unique outfit, and probably nothing like it ever before or since was formed.

Then having designed it, gotten it all set and got it shipped over, then we started over to start to run it. I went over first. John remained back here still building and gathering personnel. We had had to train glider pilots. We found some guys that had some training; we had to fulfill their training. We found glider pilots that had never had any night training, We had to train pilots and mechanics on the reel that would snatch gliders. We found out that there was such a new thing as a rocket that had never been used, and we said, “Oh boy, what a powerful thing. and what a capability that would be to have on our P-51s if we could get them.”

We found that there was a design and that there were blueprints. The whole thing had been designed but never had been built. It had been tested and approved, but they had never built any. We were allowed to have the design, and we had them made. We had the brackets made to hold the rocket launcher for the P-51 in a machine shop in Dayton, Ohio, that was recommended to us by Wright Field, and we got that done.

We had to do several extraneous things like that that were not usually done by military combat leaders. Then, as you can see, this thing became ours. You began to have a possessive feeling about this. Then all the personnel felt they were a little bit set apart. For instance, when we went overseas, everybody went priority, high priority, because we had to get there all at once. There was no dribbling. You can't go by sea. So we had the highest priority, and we had sergeants bumping generals on the way over.

Naturally, everybody would wonder, “Who in the world are these people?” We would just say “Project 9,” and we would get nearly what we wanted. We were getting spoiled.

But I went over first with a small group, and we then went forward. Having studied more and more and more, we then started to study with Wingate who was over there in place. We began to learn where he was going to set out from, knew the geography, and where the railheads were, and all that sort of thing. So with their advice, we went forward and looked over some air strips that the British had built in paddy fields. They knocked down the paddies, and they were just long level grass places, pretty well done, pretty well drained. We took two of these over. These were to be our two bases. Then we moved in and got in place by, I believe our target date was January 15th, and I think I sent a cable to General Arnold on that day and told him that the first combat mission had gone out from our base, and we were in place from then on in.

The combat mission was Colonel Arvid Olsen and myself. We went out with two P-51s with our guns loaded. We went over stooging around in Burma and shot up a few likely looking targets and came back, and that was the first mission.

But we did get in place, and you can tell that it took a lot of doing. India is not the greatest place to find transportation. But we did get in place, and we did go forward with the Burma campaign, and it was a success.

H: General Arnold seemed to exercise very tight control over the entire air commando operation. Is this true?

C: Yes, it was a special task force. It was his effort, and he was going to see it through. Now, there were several reasons for that. Task forces sent out by headquarters in Washington were not popular. I think we were called “9,” because there might have been eight before us of these special projects. They weren't popular, because they always came on a theater that was already in short supply. Then here comes an unplanned-for thing, people who come in and say, “Well, we are going to do this, and just this, and nothing else, and we're special.”

Most task forces, up to that time, failed. Most of them got out and never really got to do what they were sent out to do, because they had a habit of disintegrating when they would get into the area into which they were inserted, and upon which they were superimposed, and in which they were going to work, and they never worked. I think in this one, General Arnold said to Mountbatten and Wingate that we would do this, and this one is going to work.

By the way, boy, he indoctrinated me with that. It was going to work. That's all there was to it. I'll have to tell you later here ... well, I'll tell you now. Maybe here is an anecdote, the kind that we were speaking of. I sensed the political overtones that were present in this whole thing, in this plan. The American policy was to keep China open. Roosevelt wanted to keep China open. He had Claire Chennault over in there with an air force, such as it was. At that time, it wasn't very large because you couldn't supply it very well. But we wanted to keep that line open. Now you see, Burma was the barrier to a good air route or land route into China from India. The Japs had taken Burma to be a barrier in between India, the supply area, and China. So they took northern Burma, and that's what forced us to go up and fly the Hump. You've heard of flying the Hump so much. it became a part of the effort. They had to fly the Hump because they didn't dare to fly over Burma, because the Japs were in Burma and they had airdromes in there.

Now, how do you relieve that situation? Take back northern Burma . How are you going to do it? Well, here is this guy Wingate with long-range penetration; he's going to do it. He's going to go in there and get behind the Japanese lines, collapse their front, and make them come back down. Is he going to be able to do that? Well, if you give him air support, he may be able to do it.

That, in a nutshell, is what we were up to. Taking back northern Burma would make the Hump unnecessary. You could fly over the lower land of Burma into China.

Now, every gallon of gas that got into China had to come over the Hump in terrible weather, and by a very difficult effort, and it wasn't satisfactory, but it was the only thing we had. Now Roosevelt and the American policy wanted to keep China open. The British weren't interested. They wanted to keep Singapore open.

At the meeting in Quebec, however, it was decided that we would take back northern Burma and keep China open. The British said they would agree, and here is this guy to do it. They weren't too happy about it, but here they were going to do it. Now, where does that put us? They want Singapore. They want their chestnuts taken out of the fire, too. So, this isn't exactly accurate. It would be a violation of history, but it's a feeling I had, in a sense, and it's not important. But what was going to happen was this Wingate, a Britisher and a British effort, was going to keep China open for the Americans.

Someway or the other, the Americans were going to have to help the British get back Singapore, which we didn't have much interest in. And that is probably a capsule account of some of the political aspects of this activity. In other words, American participation in the effort was called for, and American participation with the British was the best thing to be called for, and it was to be fulfilled through the use of air support.

That's why we dared build the task force that we built and the size of it, and the expanded capability of it above the ability to bring out wounded. That's why we sensed that we were being sent. So the last day I was to meet with General Arnold and go over and get my final instructions -- none of this was written, you see, because it was this secret. General Arnold called me in. I told him I was ready and what we were up to, where I would be, where Alison would be.

He said, “All right.” Those blue eyes, boy, they had me, and that finger. He said, “All right, you know what I want you to do, don't you?”

I said, “Yes sir.”

He said, “What?”

So I said, “You want us to steal that show and make that as much an American effort as possible. You want that to be an American effort, and that's what we are going to do.”

He said, ''Do it!”

Man, that finger came up, and I'm telling you I don't think I would have ever gone home – I wanted to come home in a box before I faced that guy if I didn't get it done. He had a very, very close interest in this, and he watched it, and he watched our every move. When we were doing things he didn't like, we heard about it.

As I say, he had that interest. There was a political interest that we be successful, and there was interest that we be a big part of it to take back Burma, that the air effort be an acceptable part or that undertaking. So I sensed that. I knew that there was more on us than just going over there and supporting this nut Wingate. I say that in a lovable way. So this was his [Arnold's] interest, and he had the experience of having task forces start out and fizzle. We were told about those that fizzled, and we were pretty darn well sure that we would never hear the end of it if we fizzled.

Yes, he did have a great interest, a close interest in this.

H: I understand that there was some effort by the British to amalgamate the air commando units with the existing air tactical organizations as they then existed, and that General Arnold resisted this quite strongly. Are you familiar with that?

C:: Yes, I'm very familiar with it. As I have been saying here, and let me repeat, when a task force is superimposed upon a theater, it is not a very popular visit, and we were not that popular. Also, when it starts to do its work, and when we started to do our work to support Wingate's troops directly, we would be about our own business. We would have to do things quickly. Our lines of communications were direct right from us to Wingate’s forces. It was designed that way. And when it got working, it would mean that that's the way it would be done.

We were an effort within an effort. We were a specialized effort within the effort as a whole. Sometimes I can agree that it was disruptive. They wouldn't quite know exactly what we were doing. We couldn't tell them what we were going to be doing tomorrow morning nor could we tell them what we were going to be doing in the afternoon, because in this kind of hot, immediate situation, we would have to react, and we kept ourselves that alert.

We didn't need the difficulty of going through a set of headquarters—or you might say a set that might mean more than one or two, or three – to have someone always approving what we were going to do, or should we do it in light of what they were doing?

So they were having to put up with us. Our attitude was, “We have been sent to do this job, and since you know that we' re having to do this job, and some of the requirements of it, maybe you should let us do it. Even though it does bother you, you should find a way to put up with that so we can get this done.” Now, that sounds a little bit – it doesn't come out right, but that's about the way it ended up in some minds. Most of the folks – the commanding general realized what we had to do.

General George E. Stratemeyer who was the United States Air Corps person in charge, he understood what we had to do. But we stepped on some toes; and in getting our job done, we were probably at times a little brusque, and at times independent. I think it was the best way to do our job, and we did insist on our independence.

Now, naturally, the British air force and the other Air Force people – well, there was an Air Force establishment there, the Tenth in India. We were rather remote. We were much farther advanced from their base activity. We were way up front, and we were physically removed from them; therefore, we weren't that much of a headache to them and they to us, but their sense of order and organization was somewhat violated in that we would do these independent actions. They wouldn't quite know what we were up to, and that didn't sit very well with the command.

So, as I told you before, it always happens that a task force begins to be diluted. It begins to be fragmented when it gets into the theater in which it's going to operate, because it is a strange body. It's an irritant, if you will, and the body wants to eject it or assimilate it, one or the other, because it's there and it's disrupting things. “It's not orderly, it isn't our way, and we just can't have that.” So, there is that tendency. Now that started to operate on us, and I began to he questioned more and more about what we were doing, why we did that, why we didn't inform them of what we were going to do, why we were doing it, and that sort of thing.

Naturally, I was an Air Force officer and I had to live within the rules of an organization. I understood that. On the other hand, I had to get the job done, too. I began to sense that there was a movement afoot to end this situation by bringing us under the wing of one or the other of the existing formal commands, that they would operate us, and that the request for air operations would come through them. At least, they could come through me, but they would have to be approved so that everyone would know what we were doing up there.

I can imagine that maybe the British air were being questioned, “What are those fellows doing?”

Well, when you are questioned by a command above you, maybe home command, maybe England was, maybe London was asking those chappies out there, “Just what are you folks about?”

They said, “Oh, you don't know.”

You see, in a way you can't have things like that. They just don't work. So I can imagine some of that was going on. I also know that there was kind of an ill feeling – I think that's about as strong as I ought to say it.

There was some ill feeling between Wingate's forces and the regular forces. Now he, too, was a special force superimposed on an established area. He, too, was unpopular, and he was doing some rugged, rugged fighting. This is tough work. This is the hardest work in the world. Jungle fighting is the meanest, lowest kind of fighting that a human being can get himself caught up in. It's hard. It's hard on the men. He was doing it, and he was doing something that it could be said they should have been doing all along. Here he was a special force brought in because
“You folks have been over here all this time, anti you've been sitting; you've done nothing.” There was a little bit of that in our forces also.

India wasn't a very active area, and they were low on supplies. They were low on everything, and they were kind of a stepchild. Then here comes a task force that starts doing things just frantically, we will say, very, very industriously with an awful lot of purpose and a great resolve. Here, have been those poor guys sitting over there not having an awful lot to do, being in a place they don't want to be in, and that sort of thing. So, there wasn't any resentment, but maybe there was a little bit of jealousy that we were getting to accomplish things that they hadn't even been allowed to accomplish, and, golly, they had been over there but nobody ever let them do anything. So, there was some of that, too.

We weren't the most popular people in the area, yet we had to get the job done.

Now, I can tell you an anecdote. We weren't popular to begin with, but when we got there, we had some excellent equipment, and it was new. It was brought from the states – at least, it was rebuilt. Some of the first things that arrived were some of our liaison air planes. We got them together and got them forward. Now, these were L-5s and L-ls with an excellent short-field, small-field – just dreamed up airports, hacked out airports – capability. They could get in and out of places other aircraft couldn't, and we had the guys that could do it.

Now Merrill's Marauders were also in the area and were to be brought into this. They were first to be brought over to be put into Wingate' s command. They were going to be the fourth brigade, so to speak. There were to be three British units and an American unit . When the American unit got over there, it never joined the British because Stilwell wouldn't have it.

Stilwell started out on his own and used them to try to break down through where he was building the Lido Road. They also were in another action over there. As you remember, Merrill's Marauders got beat up pretty badly, and they suffered. The jungle got them, and the Japs got them. It was a valiant effort, but I think it would be fair to judge it, that it was a limited success operation and it showed what we were willing to try to do. But it wasn't a smashing success. Those fellows took an awful beating.

But when they first started in, in one of their early contacts with the enemy, they had a lot of guys hurt. They said, “Well, all right, that Project 9, that's Cochran's outfit. He has got some L-ls and L-5s, we'll just send him down here and he can start working for us.”

I said, ''No.” I mean it was incumbent upon me to say, “No, I can't do that.”

They said, “What the hell? Here you're American Air Force guys, and here our American guys are in there suffering, and you're withholding a capability! You've got the capability.”

I said, “As I know my instructions, I am sent here as a project to support Wingate's penetration into Burma. That is my job, and I'm going to do it.

Now, if I started using my airplanes and start losing them down here, and I send you a squadron of those to help down here, and then you want them somewhere else, by the time Wingate gets in position and I am needed there, I won't have the aircraft.''

I could see the starting of the split-off, and this is what I was warned against. So I said, “No way.”

I went back to the rule that I was a one-purpose outfit, and that I was to hold myself and my capability together until the time it was to be used, and I wasn't to be diverted. Now, certainly, those kids needed it. Hell, I wanted to do it as badly as anybody, but I also didn't want to break the orders that had been given to me, as far as I could see it. If I had had orders out of General Arnold's office to divert and go and do that job that I wasn't sent over to do, I'd have done it. But I was told to do as I was told.

General Stratemeyer backed me. He said, “That’s very true. Cochran is right, and he doesn't have to do that.”

Everyone then understood when we explained it except, of course, the guys in the American jungle outfits never had it explained to them, and they didn't feel too happy toward us. They felt we should have dropped the British and gone to them. I felt that I was to do what I was
told to do, so that's how that came out. So, there was an unpopularity from that area, but it stems from that same peculiarity when you're inserted into an already established organization and you become a thing special. They wanted to get rid of you. They wanted to assimilate it.

So, there were many attempts to assimilate us and make us a part of the grand design, the order for the theater. And heretofore, many of them, as I said, had failed, because when you get remote, and you get out under an area commander, he runs his area, and Washington doesn't often come back at him and say, “Hey you, we told you to do so-and-so.''

He's liable to come back to them and say, “You sent me out here to run this area, and I am running it.”

You can see when a supreme commander gets an area like that, he's the power. When you get out into his area, he is the power. [laughter] You are on his area, and it's hard to overcome him. I'll tell you later how we overcame it. But to answer your question – yes, there was a tendency always to try to take away our autonomy and bring it into the formal command and have it run that way. That would have ended our special task force status and made us just another unit in the air command. It would have been cumbersome. I know we wouldn't have been as effective as you can when you are a specialist and you are living right next door with the guy that you are working with. If you remove it, something is lost. Also, something is gained.

I understand order, and it isn't entirely true that the thing would have collapsed, but it wouldn't have been that effective, because we had set up such a close association with these Chindits with the ground troops, and we knew the man that was talking to us on the ground. He would be an RAF person, an airman who was directing our air activities. We trusted that airman, and we knew his voice, and we knew the commanders. We knew the people we were above. We just had a very, very close working team going. We worked hard on it, and it was working like a charm. We felt to lose that was a serious disruption of the fulfillment of our task and what we were sent for, so we resisted.
Now, let me go back to my last meeting with General Arnold when he had me explain to him what I thought he wanted us to do.

He gave me a letter, and this shows you what a forward-thinking, farsighted person he was, and what a cagey man-he was. He gave me a letter. He instructed me again about watching out for the diversion that would probably happen, but I wasn't to al low it to happen. It was my job to keep that unit together and do the job I was sent out for. “No matter what, that's your job, and you do it.”

This letter that he gave me was to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, and Mountbatten's nickname was “Dicky.”

Here is this great big, courageous, handsome hero, but his nickname was Dicky, and Arnold used the nickname. He said, “Dear Dicky.” Then in a very concise way, he said to Lord Mountbatten, “When the air commandos get out there, they are to do certain things.” He listed four things, very, very straightforward, and the idea was, “They will retain their autonomy. They will not be absorbed into any other of the commands. They will have one task and one task only, and they are a fast-in, fast-out outfit. They are not built to last very long. They are going to work for six months, and we'll see what happens.” He outlined that in no uncertain terms.

He gave me a copy of that letter. He said, “Now, you carry this. You keep this in case you need it, and those are your instructions.”

So no one else saw that letter. I carried that in my own personal stuff, because, after all, it was a personal letter to “Dear Dicky,” and I realized that maybe there was a little bit of ill manners going on here, and I wasn't to throw that around or let anybody see that, because he didn't have to tell me. But I knew he didn't want that broadcast. So that was one thing.

Then, I also had an order from him saying that none of our supplies were to be used by anyone else. You see, you'd send all those supplies over to a hungry theater, and all this beautiful new stuff, and they would grab it. They would take everything you got as it would come in the ports. They would steal it from you.

An unalerted task force could lose their identity before they even got in place, because their supplies would be used by people who said, “My God, we haven't seen any of those for two years. I think we need those,” and they would take them.

That happened in armies, as everyone knows. But, anyway, they didn't dare take our stuff, and I had a letter signed by General Arnold with a countersignature down on the bottom of it saying the same thing, and it was signed George C. Marshall, general of the whole caboodle. So I not only had that to keep us straight and keep our equipment out of the hands of the hungry, but I had the “Dear Dicky” letter that said no one is going to assimilate that outfit after it gets in. It is going to do its own job, one, and that's all.

As I said, that finger of General Arnold's [laughter] was so emphatic that I wouldn't have wanted to go home if I didn't get that done. So, I not only had the courage of my convictions, I also was backed by a very wise commander that knew this probably would happen to me. We didn't realize it. We walked in and thought everybody would be our friends, and that we were going to do this special thing and everything, but we weren't wise to the ways. But he was, and he foresaw it, and therefore he armed me with the letters. So when this pressure to bring us into the fold and to get rid of the special status arose more and more, finally one day, I got word that Lord Louie was going to visit. He was coming in, and he was bringing quite a staff with him.

So in they came, way up to our forward base, and Louie had been there before. He kind of had a special feeling for the air commandos, because he had been in on the planning and been in on the birth, and “commando,” we knew, was his favorite word and were one of his favorite groups over there. He came and visited us, and that's how we struck up our relationship.

Lord Louie came in this day, and he was on a tour of bases. He had quite a few folks with him, staff people. They all spilled out of the airplane, and we all greeted and everything. We were ready for him, as ready as you could be up in that jungle airport. The amenities were not what he would be used to, but he liked that sort of thing. He liked to see the guys that were doing the work. He wanted them to know that he appreciated them, and he expressed it many, many times, and he expressed it by being there. Of course, to our guys, he was a kind of a character. You know, he was the famous Lord Louie and, of course, they had fun calling him “Louie the Lord.” They knew he had a special liking for us, and they knew the story, and they were rather proud to be a little bit special in his eyes, and he became one of our guys' favorite characters.

He got ahold of me and he said, “Cochran, can we get somewhere where we can talk privately? I don't want anyone else to be with us.” He said, “Perhaps a car.”

I said, “Sure, we'll do that. We'll get a jeep and go down to the end of the runway.”

He said, “That will be good.”

He said, “Do you have a driver you can trust?”

I said, “I think so,” and I motioned over at a guy. I said, “Get the jeep, Joe, and bring it over here and come on with us.” Then I said, ''Lord Louie, this is my brother,” and it was my brother, Joe, who as I told you was a liaison pilot in the air commando outfit. He drove the jeep, and Lord Louie and I sat in the back.

Lord Louie said, “I don't like this, but I've got to tell you that my staff has been after me, and they have very strong and compelling arguments of why you should be brought into the formal organization and be run through the regular chain of command, and through the Tenth Air Force command, through the tactical air part.” He said, “They have many reasons that are plausible, and before I make up my mind, I thought it was fair that I talk to you.” He said, “They have good reasons, and you probably are aware 'of some of them.”

I said, “Yes, I am, and I am aware of the effort. I've been worrying about this; I felt it was coming.”

He said, “All right, I want to hear, though, what you have to say about this. I want you to be as open as you possibly can with me. I want you to tell me everything you can. You can tell me anything you want.”

So, here I was. I'm talking to the Supreme Commander. He was the Eisenhower of that theater. So I told him that, number one, I felt that he was misinformed and that there were some people on his staff that were capable of misinforming him, and I gave him a few examples.

I said, “That stuff gets down to us, and I think that they are doing you a disservice when they advise you that way.” I said, “Now, that's my basic attitude.”

I told him how we wanted to work closely, and how closely we had to work, and how well it was working, and that he knew it was working well. I said, “I don't want to stop something that's a success and start another one. I will admit we bother other people, but I would think until we get through with this task, that they can put up with us, and I'll ask them to put up with us rather than change the whole doggone thing just because we are a bother. I hope that you can see it that way.”

Then I said, “Now, I'm going to have to do something that's a little impolite. But when I left General Arnold, he warned me that this was going to happen to me, and I didn't understand what he was saying at the time. But now I know. He forewarned me, and he put me on my guard against this.” I said, “Lord Louie, you and I know the plans that there are three more air commando units to come over into this area that you have asked for. You've explained the plans to me, and Wingate has told me that they are going to come, and they are going to be modeled after this one. When this season of fighting is over, I will bet you that if I go back to Washington and say, 'General Arnold, I didn't get my job done because they came in, and over everything I could do, they just took that outfit, broke it up, put the fighters over here, put the transports over there, put the bombers back where they belonged, and just dissolved the whole doggone thing,' I'll tell you that I would almost bet that if that happens to me, you'll never see another air commando come into this area, let alone three. I would think that General Arnold would say, 'If that's the way they want to play it, no way.' I can't speak for him, and I don't have a right. But I do have this, and this is where the impoliteness comes in. You are going to have to pardon me, but I have this letter that General Arnold gave me, and I would like for you to read number three in paragraph 2.”

I handed it to him.

He looked at it, and here was the “Dear Dicky” letter, and there in no uncertain terms, it said: “You will not … that outfit will retain its autonomy.”

I said, “Lord Louie, that's the order I have been working on. Those are my orders, and now you're going to have to do something pretty doggone drastic to get me to accept being dissolved. That's all there is to it.”

I said, “Now, I've got to tell you one more thing. When General Arnold sent me out here, he set up with George Marshall not only the right, or the capability, but the order that I was to communicate by cable with him direct.”

Now, this very, very seldom happened. I didn't have to go through the Army chain of command. My cables didn't have to go through “Vinegar” Joe's headquarters, then up through the Air Force headquarters, then through the bridge, and then the whole command, as anybody else's cable would have to. Commanders in the field don't send cables directly back to the Chief of the Air Force without going through their own chain of command, and then through the Army chain of command, and the theater chain of command. I said, “Now, I've used this very seldom, but what you are forcing me to do is to go right back with you to the headquarters” – in New Delhi or Calcutta, wherever it was – “and I'll have to send a cable directly to General Arnold and tell him what's occurring.”

Mountbatten said, “Hey, you've lifted the whole thing off my back, and I'm so tickled. I can go back with this and tell those guys to hell with it.”

Now, we came that close. I had to pull all the stops, but isn't it marvelous that Arnold just about knew that was going to happen to me? [laughter] He forearmed me, and, boy, forearmed is forewarned, and I could lay that on to Mountbatten.

It so tickled Mountbatten. He was relieved. He didn't want to do it, but his staff was after him so much that he just had to listen to them. I could understand that, and there was no more of that talk. That ended that right then and there. It was the end of that. It's funny. I told General Arnold later that I had to use the “Dear Dicky” letter, that I came awful close to being ruined. I said, “I pulled the 'Dear Dicky' letter on him, and that ended it.”

H: Would you characterize General Arnold as being a real innovator, and a type of person that would advocate an unconventional way of doing things?

C: Oh yes, this was his delight. He was always looking for new tactics, I think, and this is just a kind of “let's dream a little better, let's just suppose.”

But I think that General Arnold was a captive of the War Office. He was a captive of his own office there in the Pentagon. He, being the type of man he was, wanted to be out there doing it. He wanted to be with the guys. He identified so with his combat pilots, and with his leaders and commanders, and he inspired them. But a younger General Arnold would have wanted to be out there doing things. It probably griped him that here were all these guys out there getting to do all these fabulous feats of air warfare, and he had to sit back and be the administrator-planner.
So, there was a lot of the innovator in him, and he wanted to be in on the action. He was an action guy, and he wanted to be in on the action.

I wouldn't be surprised that the 1st Air Commando Task Force was an expression of that. He saw an opportunity, and he made a deal, and he said, “Now, I'm going to see that fulfilled, because it's mine.”

I know he felt that the idea of global warfare could be run from the Pentagon. This was his idea, and it was actually a fact. As I say, he was an action guy. He wanted action, and I think perhaps this kind of task force, and this effort, this new type of warfare that he could be a part of and get going, was really an expression of his wanting to be in on the action. It was innovative. It was new, and it had not been done. I have a copy of the campaign over there sent to me from Mountbatten, and Mountbatten wrote on the inside flyleaf a little thing to me. In it he credits me with – Oh, I forget his wording – but changing jungle warfare significantly with the use of air power. This is what Arnold did in sending us out there. It was a whole new military design of the support of jungle troops, the worst kind of warfare with air capabilities. Yes, he was innovative.

H: Tell me, did you have any regrets accepting that assignment as you initially had in the beginning?

C: I cannot call it regrets, but I never liked it. I always felt that I was slighted some way. At the time we were out there, I hated it. I didn't want to be there, because I knew the big things were going on in Europe.

Then lo and behold, right in the middle of our effort out there, General Eisenhower had asked if one of us people who had now done a glider invasion ... You see, we invaded Burma with gliders, and it was the air invasion of Burma. Now, we had the experience and he wanted some of that experience. He asked Lord Louie if he wouldn't send him an officer-advisor to help plan the glider invasion of Europe. They were getting ready for D-Day.

Mountbatten got ahold of me and said, “Now who, other than yourself,. are you going to send?”

They wouldn't hear of me going.

I was going to say, “I'm the best guy for that,” because I wanted out. I wanted into Europe and so did Johnny Alison. So we decided that John would go, and Mountbatten said that that was fine. They felt that I had better stay, and I had to. I had to fulfill that role. I couldn't run off, but I was tempted.

But I never liked what I was doing. It was hard for me, as I remember it. I had to really work at it to get the job done, because there was no enthusiasm in my soul. I just was not enthusiastic for the job. Although, golly, what a big thing it has been in my life, and a big hunk of it was my association with General Arnold.

This is priceless. It is a fine thing in your life if you know you have been assigned a tough job by a person you admire, and then fulfilling it for him, getting it done. Let's face it, that's a hell of a part of life, the satisfaction of doing something well. That's something you can keep. You don't have to spread it around, or talk about it, or act arrogant about it, but it's something you can hold in your heart, and you say, “I got it done. I like what I did there. I feel good about it.” That is a great reward. I've been rewarded greatly for the bit of inconvenience I was caused by not being able to do as I wanted to do.

I guess that's the old thing. You don't get to do always what you want to do. Who knows how the others would have turned out.

H: Well, tell me, did General Arnold ever renege on his command, “To hell with the paperwork. Go out and fight”?

C: No, never did. He never batted an eye, and I know that we caused him trouble at times, little troubles. I know that maybe he was criticized for some of the things we did, but he never let us know about it, never expressed it. He backed us every inch of the way, and the closest he ever came to a remonstrance for the lack of paperwork, he had told me that I was to keep in touch with him and to cable him directly.

I was reluctant to use that authority. I was conscious of our being guests, so to speak, in another area. I felt that we were not to overdo that special status, and I was reluctant to use the authority to send cables to him directly and not through my superior officers in the Air Force, and the Army, over there in India. It was a little bit of “you mind your manners.” I had enough military training to know that you didn't go out of the chain of command, and that you did conduct yourself properly the way you were supposed to, and this seemed a little bit much, and I didn't do it.

Then one day, I got a cable from General Arnold, and it said, “You were instructed to cable me directly on your progress. Where is your first cable?” So there was a little bit of a dig in that, and that was about the time I did send the direct cable and said we were in place, and that the first mission had been accomplished, and we were on target. I didn't tell them what we had to do to get there, but it took some doing.

Later, I sent another cable that I figured would please him. It was an inside thing for just the two of us. Two days after the invasion, and now that I knew we had planted the troops in there and they were in place, and that we in fact had pulled a great surprise on the Japanese, and that we had planted a good strong brigade right there in their guts in Burma behind their lines, and we were in place to support them, and we had two working airports in behind their lines, protected so they couldn't get at us, and we could go in and out of there at night, bring supplies in and bring wounded out, and so forth, and it was actually going according to plan.

I sent him a cablegram. I said, “The aerial invasion of Burma was strictly an air show.” I picked the words so that he and I would know that last thing when he said, “What are you supposed to do?”

I said, “You want us to steal that show. You want the American involvement to be quite sizeable, an important part of it.” It had to be, politically. So I told him the invasion of Burma was strictly an air show.

I didn't send many cables, and he didn't require me to, but he did bring me up on where my first one was.

H: Did General Arnold's orders to return specialists to the United States in each phase of air commando operations hamper your ability to operate with your existing units? In other words, you were supposed to send so many back for training purposes?

C: No.

H: It didn't hamper your operations in any way?

C: No, and then you see the rainy season came upon us, and the season was ended. Then we sent a lot back. We sent a whole slug. I sent back most of the people who had completed their second tour of overseas duty.

When we formed the outfit, we were only to be short-lived. We thought we were operating only six months, and we had supplies for six months, and that was it, up and out. But after the success of this type of unit, they decided to build some more.

They left a 1st Air Commando [Force] there under Clint Gatey, and we sent back several people who could build the next two air commandos. I think three air commandos were built, or four, and I know only one new one, the 2nd Air Commando, I believe, went back to India. Then, I think two maybe were sent to the southwest Pacific and were – I don't believe ever used us units. I think they were assimilated into the whole.

Operating from India

H: Colonel Cochran, would you like to resume talking this morning about starting your operations in India?

C: All right, fine. Now, we've got in India. As I was saying, you remember, I went on ahead for several reasons, one of which was to prepare for the incoming material, the airplanes, and the supplies. They had to be put someplace. We had to arrange for a facility in which we could put aircraft and gliders together. We had P-51s.

As you remember, I said they were sent over deck-loaded in crates, so we had the job of putting those together, test-flying them, and getting them ready for combat, which was no small chore. Then we had gliders in crates that had to be assembled and test-flown and towed on upcountry. We had all the liaison aircraft to put together. Then we were going to fly the C-47s on over. All those arrangements had to be made.

If you've ever been in Karachi, you've seen the very large balloon hangar that was built years and years ago when the Navy had a project of flying a dirigible around the world.

In order to accommodate that great airship at various spots, Karachi being one, they had to build large hangars. If you came into Karachi and looked up, you'd think, “What is Akron, Ohio, doing here?” because there was a very, very good sized balloon hangar, as we called it. It was a dirigible port sitting on the air base in Karachi, India.

So this was made available to us, and we set up a production line there for aircraft, to assemble them there in Karachi. Those arrangements had to be made. Also, my other main purpose was to get with Wingate, who was already in New Delhi, and start to get to know him better, and to know his plans more specifically, and to start planning directly with him. When I arrived there, I found a very sick Wingate, a man who was just out of the hospital and who was very, very ill, so ill that it almost scotched our project right then and there.

It seemed that this special Project 9, being what other people laughingly called “Tragedy 9,” was destined for many barriers. It seemed that things were just getting in our way to stop us.

I remember feeling that if Wingate didn't pull out of this illness that he was in, if he weren't to be there, all our efforts were going to go for naught. We would just be assimilated into the theater, and that would be the end of Project 9, because he was the key. But he was a hardy devil. He kept improving and improving, then came back to work, and we started the plan.

That early association with him there where we were working together was a time for building mutual respect, and we got to work much, much better together, and it wasn't difficult. Folks have asked me if it was difficult to work with him, because Wingate had never been truly successful working with anyone. He was such an individualist, and I think there were many people who felt that I was having a very difficult time because his reputation was that he was a difficult person. Actually, I think what made it a little easier, a little more simple for me, is that I understood that it was my job to work with him.

I remember. saying and thinking, “Well, it doesn't matter whether he is difficult or not, or whether this is going to be hard for me or difficult or anything.” I'm pretty sure my attitude was, that's the job and there is no other, and that the only alternative is to say, “I'm not going to do this,” and walk away. Then, of course, I knew – and everybody knew – I wasn't going to do that. So I approached it as, “This is what I must get done.” So that made it a lot easier, and also I was not incapable of handling his brashness. It kind of amused me. Also, I know that he began to feel an affection toward me, and I'll have to say that it was mutual.

We began to like working together, and I know that there was a mutual respect, and I know that he began to believe the things that I was telling him that we could do. I think at first, for instance, when I said we took a kind of dislike to each other in England when we first met, I thought that some of the things that he was talking about were a little bit wild, a little bit crazy, and I thought that he simplified things a little bit too much. He didn't really realize, he didn't know enough about the airplane and air work, and air warfare, to be making the conclusions that he was drawing of what they could do, and what they couldn't do.

He had been telling me at the time what he thought aircraft could do, and I thought that he was a little bit impractical. I suppose there was some professional, I won't say jealousy, but my judgment was a little bit different than his, and I felt I knew more about it than he did, and I didn't want to be told these things, because I knew them to be inaccurate. So I think we got first impressions of each other. He also thought that I was bragging on some of the things that I said we could and would do.

We used to laugh and say, ''Wingate isn't going to believe this,” because he has never had anything like this.

He never really had the power or the authority from his own service, from his own army, that he got from the United States Army Air Corps. You've got to realize this wasn't my authority, and this wasn't my largesse.

I wasn't saying that “I'm going to get you this, and I'm going to get you that.” I didn't have to say that sort of thing, because you've got to remember that General Arnold had said this was going to be done, and the whole Air Corps, the staff and everybody, had let it be known that they were behind us, and that they had approved what we said we were going to do. It was all approved by them, so I was passing on that authority. I had to wave the American flag behind me. I had our country's military authority backing me, and I didn't have to brag.

We were there; we knew what we had coming. We knew about what we were going to do.

By the way, it's amazing how well we were trained, how well we were supplied, and supported. We followed just about everything that we thought we were going to do. Many of the things that even we thought were a little audacious, and maybe a little ambitious, turned out to be feasible, workable plans that we put into action, that were rather innovative, and in some instances did establish new ways of doing air support of ground people, especially in the jungle.

I'm certain that the British officers, Wingate and his staff, maybe this was a little bit too much for them. It was kind of hard for them to believe that they were going to luck into this kind of support. I don't believe I ever got that across, until finally we were in position and proved to them that 'here we are, and let's go,” and they saw it with their own eyes.

The British at that time were equipment poor. They were just rundown. Their efforts in Europe had just about cashed them in. As you know, a great amount of their supplies they were getting from us on lend-lease. They didn't have the industrial capacity to keep themselves up. They had lost so much. And by the time you would get to a British outfit out in India, and a special task force to boot, they were destitute – they didn't have the supplies. They had been living this way for so many years that they just didn't realize they were going to really be supplied and supported from the air by an American outfit that had what it needed, and had what it said it was going to get. It was hard for them to really believe. They would kind of always look at us and say, “Are you sure you can do that? Are you sure you are going to do that?”

Another thing, at first I don't believe they thought I had that kind of authority. I can understand that, because I know when I first went to England, they pictured the person that was going to come over there to make the plans and be the air support officer in charge that General Arnold had promised Lord Louie that he would get, that he would supply for him.

I’m certain that they had a different type of fellow in mind than I was. You have to remember that I was a young looking person, even at age 33. As I look at pictures now, it amazes me how young I looked; and I can see the effect and we knew it at the time. We kidded about it. Johnny Alison would kid about it, and my other officers would laugh about what Wingate and Lord Louie thought when I showed up. They didn't know or understand any of the selection, and they didn't know a great deal about me, or why I was there, and that sort of thing. I can imagine that my physical appearance had an impact, and Wingate's physical appearance had an impact on me.

Let's talk about Wingate now, and I'm going back. When I saw him in India again, and saw him after he had been in the hospital, he looked terrible. He looked atrocious. He frightened me. He looked like death warmed over.

When I first saw him, I noticed some things about him that I later found were just peculiarities of his physical being and his character. You know Wingate was a terribly opinionated man. He was extremely eccentric. Many folks felt that he was a little bit on the edge of being a mystic. I had been told that, and I heard all this stuff, and I read it. People used to say he was mystic, or he was a mystic. I'm not sure I ever knew what they meant or what it is now. I have pictures of gurus and oriental people who are mystics, something like witches or spooks, or something. Of course, I knew what a mystic was, but I had never run across a mystic.

People say, “Well, is he a mystic?”

I say, ''I don't know. He is a mystery to me in some of the ways he thinks, but all I can say is that he's odd. He's not your normal run of fellow, I'll tell you that.''

Of course, already he had a reputation for being everything from a nut to a mystic, a fanatic. He was on the edge of all those things, and yet he was a brilliant man that wars spawn.

Wars don't look for shrinking violets and the bookkeeper type of Sunday-go-to-meeting fellow. Wars require audacious people, and they require people with tremendous egos, whether it comes out as a Patton who had an honest ego. Patton just let his ego hang out there all over the place, and he flaunted it. But you cannot suppose that dear General Omar Bradley didn't have a tremendous ego, but he controlled it, and he showed you that he knew how to control his ego. He gave the rather pleasant, comfortable, outward aspect of being the old-shoe type fellow who was easy to get along with, and who deferred to your comforts, and who made you feel comfortable to be with him. I'm almost taking two extremes there between Patton and General Omar Bradley. But I'm certain that General Omar Bradley had a monumental ego, or he wouldn't have been able to effect his personality and his will and leadership on other people. He just did it in a different way.

But to get back. The war brought out what Orde Wingate was, and that is, that he was a fervent, dedicated, single-purpose man who was going to impose his will or else, and he didn’t much care whether he was obnoxious. And he was. He didn't care whose feelings he hurt. And he did. If he saw something, and he believed it was the truth, he would come out with it, no matter whether it hurt anybody or not.

Now, in our society, you don’t do that and have good manners, and Orde Wingate didn't have good manners. He didn't care about manners. He was the eccentric-type of person that's going to get this single purpose of theirs done; and come what may, they don't want to care about these little things of hurting anybody's feelings, or even considering being wrong. Wingate didn't ever consider that anything he was doing was going to be wrong, or anything, he was just going to do it. If it didn't work out, so what? Who cares? Why doesn't somebody else do better if they think they can?

So, he was a forceful person, but not a mystic, not a mumbling person with out-of-this-world concepts. He just was a very, very eccentric person, and his whole being, even his physical being, his movements, were not ordinary. I think you know, and it's been written about many times, that at one phase in General Wingate's career, he in great depression and in great disappointment after his work with the Ethiopians in the Ethiopian war against Italy, it was one of his strong opinions, and it was his conviction, that if Great Britain didn't come down there and take over the Ethiopian situation and keep the Italians from just taking over Ethiopia in that war, that that was the start of World War II, or another World War. He was convinced, and he wrote it and said it, and was screaming from the housetops that the war was starting here, and if Great Britain didn't stop it right then and there and take over the protection of Ethiopia, that they were wrong.

So, here was Orde Wingate, the soldier, preaching to the Parliament and preaching to the British government that they were wrong. He was forceful about it. He minced no words, and he told them. He told everybody, and he would come to England to rail at the government. They got so sick of him, they again sent him back out. But in between time, they got him out of Ethiopia. They banished him and got him out of there, I think it was to Cairo. It was there that he was in his depression and in the traumatic thing that he was going through personally. He attempted to take his life by slashing his throat with a razor, I'm told. I think it was a razor, but I know he slashed his throat. Of course, he did not die. He was found and patched up. Then, his attitude toward that seemed to be, “Well, so that's that. I didn't make it, and I guess I'm supposed to carry on my work, as I believe it.”

So he continued in the gadfly business, and he got well. But it left him with a scarred throat, of course. It may have changed his voice. His voice was a little bit tight. Folks thought they detected a difficulty in his speech and all that sort of thing. Having not known him before, I never knew how he spoke before he did the deed. But I know that afterward, his voice was a little tight like that {imitating Wingate's speech}, not exactly that, but there was a little effort, a slight effort to speak. But if you saw him and knew him, then you would think, “Well, that's just the way the man speaks, and he's kind of an odd duck anyway.''

Physically, his head is set a little bit oddly, and that's the way he's made. You've known people that are built that way. They just are a little neck-tight, and they tend to hold their head in a peculiar way as if they had a stiff neck. I think that physical impairment that came from that injury gave him a bearing of his head, a way of holding his head, that again attributed a little bit to his oddity, and it was the reason he grew a beard, I'm pretty sure. He had a beard, and the beard, of course, hid the scars on his neck. I don't know whether he was conscious of the scars or not. When I first saw him, he did not have a beard; he was clean-shaven. But the next time I saw him, he had a beard.

They said that he always grew a beard when he went into combat, and many of his officers did, which seemed to be a British thing. Some of our kids did it, anticipating jungle combat. The thinking was, if you had a beard and you got slashed on the face, your face would heal quicker, and that you had some protection of your face and your throat. This was the talk.

I don't know whether our guys ever believed it or not. I think they just wanted to grow beards for fun, or kind of a braggadocio thing of being a jungle fighter. And who has time to shave in the jungle? So you let your beard grow.

But Wingate had a beard that he combed constantly and parted. It was one of his nervous preoccupations, that while you would be speaking, he would drag out a comb and start combing his heard, which would be a little bit distracting to some folks. [laughter] I got so every time he'd do it, I'd just smile at him and laugh, and he and I knew it was a joke between us. But he stroked his beard all the time as he talked and thought. It was a nervous kind of thing. Although nowadays beards are prevalent, in those days a beard was an oddity, and why wouldn't this odd stick grow a beard? [laughter] It fell right in with the character. But anyway, speaking of the way he held his head, I always thought, and I still remember that I thought, that this is where his piercing eyes the people spoke of came from. Now, his eyes were deepset, and they were blue. He would train them on you as he spoke.

I think because there was a slight restriction in the front part of his neck, when he moved his head he didn’t do it normally as we do, and he just glanced over by moving his head above his shoulders. He would move the whole upper part of his body, and there would be a shoulder movement with it as he turned. As you know, a body accentuation like that, we call it body language now. If you just turn your head over and glance and say something to someone, that’s one thing. But if you move your whole shoulder, and straighten up and move over, and give them a shot of those eyes, what you're saying is rather accentuated, and that would give the appearance of an attempt to dominate with the eyes, and it would tend to make the eye-part of the communication a little more piercing and a little stronger, so he was known as having a hell of a set of piercing eyes. He did. He used his eyes in that manner, which again lent a little bit to the arrogance if you didn't like it, .and a little bit of dominance if you allowed yourself to be dominated by this attitude, this seeming attitude. Now, that lent a lot to, again, the mystic-type fellow, and a man that is on the edge of being such a dedicated person that you slop over into fanaticism. As you know, folks that are right on edge, about ready to blow, do get a piercing look, I suppose. We’ve been taught that. I think actors do it in order to get the thought over to you that this character they're portraying is just about to blow his stack, and that's why this terrible intensity in the eyes. Well, he did it even when he was calm.

So that, again, gave him the reputation of being a little different, if not right on the edge of flying off the handle, and he could fly off the handle! Believe me, he had a temper. He could rage, oftentimes for a purpose. He knew what he was doing; he got his way, as you can see.

Believe me, he got his way, and this is the way he did it.

I think, unconsciously, I understood all this stuff, and, again, it was my job to work with the guy. It wasn't my job to decide whether he knew what he was doing or not, but he convinced me that he certainly was a dedicated person, and I was fully convinced that he could do what he said he was going to do. I got to learn that he, in fact, did have Churchill's backing and he did have General Slim's [Sir William Joseph] backing.

General Slim was the head of all the British armies over there – a grand, grand person. I could see in the meetings and in the association that, in fact, Wingate, too, had the authority of his Government, and despite all the harassment, or despite all the tendencies for the theaters in which we were in to slow us up and to try to discredit what we were going to try to do, or try to tell us that we couldn't do it, or discourage us, or try to stop us, I felt that with the kind of authority that had been granted us, we were going to go ahead and get this thing done.

We were beginning to solidify our ideas of how we were going to do it. I remember it became clearer and clearer to me of how to get the job done and how to improve on the ideas, and listening to his plans and realizing what we were going to have to do, brought forth whole new ideas. We did not, for instance, go over there knowing that we were really going to plan and perform an aerial invasion 150 miles behind Japanese lines. We knew we were going to transport troops behind the lines, and that's why we asked for the gliders. That's why we had prepared ourselves with airplanes that would snatch gliders off the ground, that would, in fact, tow two loaded gliders – the C-47s that we had. That's why we brought troop carrier people, and that's why we brought glider pilots, and did have, I think, 100 gliders. I forget now what the first complement was.

When I got over there and realized that it was feasible to invade with the troops and place them in there and save them a month's travel through the jungle, and do the original landing in an eight-hour period, and then build strips that C-47s and other aircraft could land on inside there, we began to ask Wingate if he could protect such a landing strip after we got the first people in there. After we built the strip, could he protect it and hold off the Japanese until we could get the remainder of the troops in?

He said, certainly he could, that the jungle would be our friend, and he knew enough about jungle warfare to know that he could protect that thing until we could solidify what he called a stronghold.

We started to invent a whole new kind of invasion, and I realized that this was to be our big role, and this would be a great, great advancement of that kind of warfare.

You see, his plan was to start the people out from these back bases and start them walking into the jungle. That was his long-range penetration, and they would be whole brigades of people. A brigade probably having 6, 7, or 8,000 people as he had it built, they with their mules, and the largest gun they could carry, a cannon broke down, and packed on a mule. They had to take most of their food with them and everything they were going to live on in the jungle. Then they would start through the jungle, and it would take them a month to go the distance to get into position to start harassing the enemy from inside his own territory, cutting his lines of communication, commanding the river, commanding the rails, commanding every road, and being able to fight off the Japanese right in there. When things got too hot, they would move and use the jungle again as their protection.

Now, it was his plan to walk them in there. We brought the gliders, thinking we would take small parties in to do certain jobs, guerrilla-type affairs, landing maybe 50 people, or even 10, to blow a bridge or to take a road or that sort of thing. Then leave them in there and supply these parties – in other words, foraying parties. Then when we realized, really, what we ought to do is not have them walk in there, and wear themselves out, but plant them in there, put them in there, and let them move from the strongholds that they would build, and the strongholds would include an aerial strip in which we could fly in and out of every night. Then, if we owned the air and we had air superiority over the Japanese, we could come in there at will in the daytime, which is finally what we did.

But that expansion of our plans, and the perfecting of it, happened after I got over there and started my association with Wingate, the character, and working that closely together and convincing him, yes, we could do this. We weren't just talking, and we were going to get this kind of equipment.

His attitude was, “All right, I’ll believe you.''

I had explained to him the authority I had, and he realized that it was just too good to be true for most of his men. As I got to know them better, they began to realize that I wasn't just a swashbuckling, braggadocio American Yank, that sort of thing, that we truly had it. As he saw the equipment start in and we showed him the list of what we had, he became a believer.

Then when he really was convinced that he was going to get all this, he started to take over. I know he had ideas, and he suddenly found that he was going to have all this marvelous equipment and this capability. His mind just took off.

I know that he planned to just start running the whole thing. It was planned that it was going to be his, and he was going to manage it, and he was going to run it. I think he was going to kind of usurp the authority of this Yank who was a fine fellow and had a lot of nice stuff that he was going to use. But of course I was aware of that, too. We were aware, so I think there were a couple of egos here that got along pretty well.

I knew I had a job to do, so I did it. Every once in a while he would get out of line, and we would have to get him back. We used all manner of things from just plain out-and-out confrontation, and telling him he was getting out of line, or that he was overstepping his authority, as far as we could see it, to just being a little cuter than he was, and all of those things.

You can guess at the associations that went on between a British egomaniac and a rather opinionated young American. But we formed a good working team, and in it was a great deal of mutual respect, or you could see that it couldn't be done. One of the things that helped us was that it was us against all those members.

We were not well accepted, as I told you, over there. Our ideas sounded a little scatter brain-ish. The conventional armies, especially the British conventional army, didn't think very highly of our plans. They were not terribly cooperative, and although his own officers in his command loved him, the British conventional army did not like General Wingate. Period. He was not a popular fellow at all, and he had trouble getting cooperation therefore. Some folks even went as far as to hate him. That was understandable, because he was so terribly forthright, and so terribly domineering, that folks just didn't like him. Period. That got in his way. Many ranking British officers didn't like him, and therefore his project was unpopular. Yet, there it was, and he did have the Prime Minister's authority. Nobody was going to stop that, but they didn't have to cheer for him. And they didn't. So we suffered from that.

Now that was not true of our Air Force attitude toward us. General Stratemeyer and his whole staff, knowing our job and understanding what I was ordered to do, were most cooperative and helped us a great deal. Now the American Army, the ground forces, General Stilwell's forces, not so. They didn't much care for us. They tried to take us over. They tried to take over our supplies.

They said, “After all, they were there first, and they were pretty poor. They were destitute, and who the hell are you Johnny-come-latelies to come over here and bring into the theater stuff and then say that's ours? The hell with that. It goes into the pot, and we all separate it.”

Of course, I had General Marshall's orders and General Arnold's orders that that would not happen, and so did General Stilwell have those same orders, but he ignored them. Vinegar Joe ran his area, and he didn't think much of the Pentagon anyhow, I don't think. I think he was senior enough and long-time enough in this Army that nobody is going to tell him how to run his place. I think, there again, we had another character [laughter]on our hands.

He, again, was an opinionated, old-timey guy, and he was going to do things his way, and that was the way it was going to be done. That's all there was to it. He was, at best, difficult. He was difficult for us. He never really hampered us, but he didn't go out of his way to help, and his people took up some of the same attitude. He wasn't about to impede us in any way, but we could tell he didn't think much of our project, and he didn't think much of Wingate either. He countermanded some of the plans, for instance, and he wasn't terribly popular with the whole project because, at the time, there were to be three brigades of British soldiers. There were all kinds of soldiers: Southwest African, Queen's Own, Irish troops, Scotch troops. There were Black Watch people. We just ran the gamut of British units that were represented in these brigades. There were all kinds of fellows – black, yellow. We had Gurkhas, the little fellows from Nepal. We had some Indians. We had black South Africans, the Senegalese-type fellow; the big fellow with the moon face and the laughing attitude. They were a lot of fun. Their full American vocabulary was, “Hey Joe,” and that was about the extent of it. We used to yell that at them, and they would yell it back. But really, a conglomerate of the British forces.

But to get back to Stilwell’s people, they didn't think a great deal of us. We had some run-ins; not so with the Air Force. The Air Force were our friends, our backers, and our promoters, and they helped us in every way. The best thing they did was let us do our job. They let us go ahead and do it on our own. They didn't interfere. They didn't attempt to impose ideas on us. They listened. General Stratemeyer was informed fully of what we were doing.

He had the great quality of saying, “All right, you guys have been sent here to do something, and you know what you are going to do. I'm not going to tell you what to do. I'm going to watch you, and if I see you making a terrible blunder, it will be up to me to try to stop it or correct it. But as long as you keep going, that's your job, and I'm going to help you get it done.”

He did just that. He stood off and let us do it. He was our patron, and he was a joy to work for and with. Of course, down the ranks, some of the folks thought we were out of hand sometimes, and perhaps we were. In order to try to get a special thing done sometimes, you go overboard with your enthusiasm, and I'm certain that we did it. I am certain that some of our guys were a little bit arrogant with their power and maybe showed a little bit too much urgency and stepped on some toes, but things like that happen. They didn't deter us, and I don't think anybody was terribly hurt.

Sometime, we had some nasty things said about us. We were capable of saying them back; so, all in all, in our haste, as I say, maybe we were a little bit cantankerous, but we got it done. We did feel special. Let's face it, we were special and we built ourselves to be special. We were going to do a rather audacious thing, so that kind of got in the spirit of our unit, and we became rather audacious. You can't be audacious and not look like it and not sound like it, so I think that maybe sometime we were a little bit boring or overbearing.

But be that as it may, we knew what we were about to do, and maybe it helped us do it. Maybe you have to psyche yourself that way to get these crazy things done, and we were probably unconsciously a bit apprehensive about this new kind of thing we were going to do, and maybe we overcame the apprehension by being a little bit outwardly, sometime ''braggadocious.” That didn't sit very well. I pity us if we had failed. [laughter]

If our project hadn't gone over and hadn't been as successful as it was, I imagine that we would have a great large egg on our face. So luckily, we were successful and success of that kind usually covers up a lot of that sort of thing. But woe be to us had we not been as successful as we were. So now we were planning with Wingate and forming a closer union, and we're getting along in our ideas. We're beginning to spark ideas in each other, recounting and explaining our air capability and what our airplanes would be able to do, and what we would want to do. Would spark ideas of how, therefore, the ground forces could be deployed and employed, and with this kind of capability.

For instance, “You mean to say you will have rockets that you can fire from the air that would blow up a ship, or that would seriously impair a locomotive, or that would burn buildings and burn supplies, that would pin down artillery?”

“Yes, we have such articles.”

They were exceptionally accurate, and they were exceptionally powerful when they hit.

“Yes, they are a new weapon, and yes, they are relatively simple. Yes, we, lo and behold, are going to have such a weapon.”

As I say, our association became one where we began to realize the capability of the other. The air began to realize the capability of the ground, and what their project was, and what their aims were, and what they were about, and what they were going to do. We saw that more clearly; therefore, knowing what their plans were and what their capabilities were, and how they could inflict trauma on the enemy, we began to match what they could do with our air capability, and see how we could improve their effectiveness by the use of air. Conversely, they began to learn what we could do, and what we were capable of doing, then they could see how that would enhance their capabilities on the ground and even expand their power and their effectiveness. So I guess what I'm saying is, we began to form a good working team.

As we worked, these things became apparent to us, and, naturally, it sparked our imagination, and we got enthusiastically into the game and started to plan things that we were actually able to effect later. They were orderly, they were well-thought out, and we were in no sense people who just put ourselves in place and then looked for opportunities to inflict wounds on the enemy. We actually did a lot of planning ahead of time, and I think that's why we were more successful. We planned thoroughly about what we were capable of doing, and what we were going to do. We didn't overmatch ourselves. We didn't overextend our capabilities. We kept ourselves within bounds, even though many of the things were new and were a bit audacious. They might have looked audacious, but like many things that are well planned, they might look audacious, but they are pretty doggone well-thought out.

We used to say, “If you know your way in, and you especially know your way out, you're far ahead of the game. If you don't know your way out, don't go in.''

I feel that way about almost everything. I used to preach it in strafing. If you're going to shoot up somebody on the ground and strafe on the ground, you'd better, by golly, know or plan against the ground fire that's down in there, and know how to get in, but especially know how to get out without getting hit. If you don't plan that, you're going to be the going-away shot in skeet if you pull up and just make a target there, a sitting duck target, for some ground fire. Well, that's the way a lot of guys got it, because they didn't plan their way out. If you can't plan the way out, then don't go in. If you can't plan your way out and you don't see it, don't go in. So, this was the same with us. We were going to do a very audacious set of things, inventing things, in jungle warfare. Yes, it was audacious; but yes, also, it was well-planned, and we knew how to get in and out. We went over it and over it and practiced it; and then when we did it, it didn't surprise us that it came off so well. We had troubles. We had problems that I'll speak of later that we didn't plan on. We made errors, some of them rather serious errors, but we were planned well enough that despite the errors, we were successful, because we were able to keep going and keep going. Any military engagement, or any military plan, is always fraught with unexpected difficulty, and your errors stand out like a sore thumb. But if your plan is good enough and it has the momentum, it will keep going. You will get it done with some adjustment and with some quick thinking, some adaptability, that you have read into your plan. It will work, and the aerial invasion was the biggest plan we had. All the others were tactical plans. They were general in nature; they worked within a framework of capability, and general planning, and then they were specific things. But the aerial invasion was quite an undertaking, and it was a big project. It was well-planned and was the one big thing of that campaign. Then the rest was just the fulfillment of that one big project. The plan, of course, was to get those men in there behind the lines. We ended up putting in some 17,000 British soldiers with all their supplies, including their small guns, their cannon, small artillery, their mules to carry their things, their radio equipment, and their ammunition. We put them in there, and then they ran their long penetration columns from a base right in the enemy's heartland.

This certainly was a very, very formidable force for the Japanese to the north to reckon with, because there we were down between them and their supplies, and there was Wingate sitting on their supply lines in the jungle. They would have to march the many, many weeks to even get to them, and that is the time we saved Wingate from marching by flying him in.

The general plan was to land gliders first with the advanced party with the invasion groups, .and they would go in at night. They landed with gliders, and the gliders contained small bulldozers and engineering equipment.

We had, by the way, acquired an airborne engineer unit when we got over there. We had all their equipment. They had scrapers, dozers, and the tools. We put them in the gliders and landed that force. This was the attack force that would go in and land on the strip, spread out, and protect the perimeters; and then the engineers would start scraping off the land and making us a landing strip. They'd do that all day, and then the next night we’d land a C-47 on that strip. That's what we did. That is what Broadway was, and that's what Piccadilly was, and Chowringhee. The British named these places after famous streets. After a while, after the Japanese realized that we were there and had implanted an airbase and had a stronghold right in their territory. They had to come in and try to get it out.

Naturally, there was hand-to-hand fighting to protect those bases, to protect those strongholds. They knew how to fight; they knew how to jungle fight – both sides did. Many a time, we would land airplanes in there and the Japs would be right on the end of the strips. There would be a gun or two or so, a party of Japanese, down at the end that the British hadn't been able to get out of there. You would be taking an airplane off, and a man would come up to you and say, “Hey, Colonel, when you go out, don't turn left,” because you usually do, “turn right, because if you turn left, they'll get you. They're over in there, so make a right turn and be sure to get off as quickly as you can.”
It was that close. It was that kind of warfare that we planned, and it didn't surprise them at all. It surprised our guys, but we got so used to it that it became a way of life.

At night, you didn't sleep too well, because you knew that there were crawly things running around, and that there were Japs who could crawl right into your place and throw grenades and start shooting up the place – and that happened. They would come right in on our bases.

As an example. One night we had a DC-3 run a little too long on the strip, and in trying to turn around, he got stuck. He was down at the end of the strip. I forget what he had a load of, but he and his crew got out. They started to walk back to get help, to get a dozer or something, to help give him a yank and get him out of there. They hadn't walked very far until their whole airplane blew up. So, the enemy was that close. When they left it, the enemy sneaked in and planted a few explosives in the airplane and just let her blow.

As I say, oddly enough, we got used to that. It didn't seem to be anything terribly exceptional. We knew they were there, and so what? We knew there was a shot that they weren't going to get us, and that the British troops could hold them off, and we could still keep bringing our people in, and bringing supplies in, airplane after airplane after airplane. At night, we would land on those things, in and out, in and out, in and out – busiest airport in the world, probably, at that time, really. I forget how many sorties we would bring in there at night, but it was phenomenal. Maybe a couple of hundred. We worked it all with lights and radio, and we just had a marvelous control tower that brought everybody in by number. Everybody got on line and came in, and then we would come back and load up again and go on back in. We were just like a bunch of little ants flying in and out of there. That air corridor was a very, very busy lane at that time.

As I say, we got 17,000 men and their mules, even some oxen – they had oxen that did heavy work and pulled heavy loads – we brought them in. We had a capability of even flying the mules; we flew mules in gliders that we had to test all that ahead of time.

I remember, we didn't know whether a British mule would go into a glider or not, and whether he would ride or not. We had all manner of schemes dreamed up of how we were going to have to do it. So we had all kinds of bamboo cages built to put them in. We loaded them that way so they couldn't kick the C-47 apart. How were these animals going to ride? We had no experience at such things.

The British mule is a typical army mule. He's a big fellow. He was quite a handy animal to have around. He sure could carry his weight. He was rather reluctant, as most mules are, but he was a fine animal, and they depended a great deal on him. He was their mobility in the jungle. The poor fellows had to be “de-brayed” – the mules. Going along in the jungle, and you'd be within a hundred yards of the enemy, and the enemy wouldn't quite know exactly where you were, he might guess you were in the area. He would have a column, and you would have a column, and you had mules. If the mule brayed or hee-hawed, he would give you away. These soldiers were trained to even strap all their military utensils and everything so they didn't clank. Those columns, 700 of them, maybe 500 of them; could sneak through the jungle undetected, because they were so quiet, and they were trained. They didn't speak; they didn't make noises.

So here, if you had a mule that would give you away, you had to do something about it. So they performed, as we called it, a “brayectomy” on the poor fellow, and he couldn't speak. So here we had these brutes, these mute mules, and we had to transport them in there. We had to put them in gliders and in aircraft, and we didn't know how they were going to take to that sort of thing.

We knew something of the nature of the mule, and [laughter] we were a little apprehensive. So, we had all manner of wild schemes of how we were going to do this. To make a long story short, we drew these up and we started to test them. Actually, we did search the outfit to find any farm boy that had any experience, or knew anything, about mules. We found a couple of our guys that had mules on the farm, and one of these kids, not from his experience, but just from his plain, practical mind, set us all on our ear. We attacked the problem as though it were something that you would have to sit down and start from square one and design something. Boy, we attacked it as though it were just one of these terrible, insurmountable things.

This kid just cut that all out and said, “Why don't we just try walking them in and see what they do?” Lo and behold, that's what we did, and the mule took to it just like they take to everything else. It didn't concern them one bit.

It amazed us, this wisdom of this youngster, after all our planning, that the simplest thing was, “Well, why don't you ask the mule, really?'' So we asked the mule and we asked him to go in the glider. He walked in the glider and he stood in there. So then we said, “What are you going to do?” Then we did take some precautions. We had a mule tender to go along that knew mules. He had a ready revolver to clunk the guy between the eyes if he started tearing the glider apart. He wasn't necessary at all. He wasn't required. The mules took off and enjoyed the ride, landed, and did nothing. As the guys in the glider said, “Why, they even banked on the turn.” When they banked the glider, the old mule would lean, and heck, he knew what he was doing. He knew all about flying. So we had no trouble with that.

But, as I say, we got 17,000 men in there – their ammunition; their guns; and their transportation, the mules. Then we kept them in there.

H: I understand that your initial landing at Broadway was met with quite a few accidents, landing in the dark, and a number of gliders were cracked up, and some of the equipment was ruined.

C: Yes. That was one of the mistakes. What had happened is that we had two clearings in the jungle that were natural clearings that we had picked – I had picked them and had pictures of them, and had topographical studies made of them, and had them mapped and pretty well-planned.

We were to go into Piccadilly and Broadway; these were the names. The way our timing was set, we were going to take a C-47 with two gliders off every minute and a half. We had our lines strung, and we had rehearsed our performance. At the word “go,” the first airplane was to roll. We had them all lined up, and we had an excellent system where the airplane would come into its take off position and stop, and its gliders would be rolled in behind it, the tow lines hooked up, the signals given, and off he went. We were getting one of those off every minute and a half.

We had them spaced so that the first one would go to Piccadilly, the next one would go to Broadway; the next one would go to Piccadilly, the next one would go to Broadway. They were to keep their speed constant, and they were to arrive somewhat in the same order. They were to go around and get in the pattern, and land down with a system of lights that we had, coupled with the rate of descent in the airplane at 100 miles an hour, so that when the glider pilot saw his cutoff light, which was a vertical light from the ground over which the airplane flew him, he cut his ropes, his tow lines. He then held his glider at 80 miles an hour. If he held the glider at 80 miles an hour with his spoilers down and his flaps down, and he held it at 80 miles an hour, he would land in the landing area and then he was to roll and pull to the right, roll and pull to the left, and pull to the right and get out of the landing area. We had to supply this kind of a landing system for the glider pilots, because we found that we could not just have them come over the airport and cut and then make their own way in, gliding in at night. That wouldn't have worked. They would have been all over the place, and we had to have some order.

So we devised a landing approach channel set as to altitude and speed so that by distance, altitude, and speed we'd know just about where he was going to land. Now, as it turned out, the one landing area was taken away from us.

We had stayed away from those areas meticulously, because the British insisted upon it. The British sense of secrecy, we always felt, was a little overdone, but we did vow that we would not keep going over those landing zones, because they were afraid that the enemy would catch on, and that when we landed, in fact, the worst that we planned for would happen—that would be that the original landing party, going in to take the landing strips, would be ambushed, and that the Japs, having guessed our plan, would then, in fact, just wipe us out, because the landing party, as you could guess, would be at quite a disadvantage. They would be outnumbered. They didn't have the guns. They didn't have the ability to overcome that kind of an ambush, although we planned, and we had quite a force that was going to land and spread out, and they knew their business. They even were planning to battle for that, if, in fact, there was an ambush. But if you could avoid the ambush, it was wise, of course, to do it.

Therefore, the rule was, that once the places were picked, photographed, studied, and decided upon, we would not keep flying over there. Now, I did fly by them several times on other missions. We worked it so that if we were over there on a fighter mission, we'd kind of come by close and glance. But we did not draw attention to them. We stayed away from them. That began to eat on me and my people, knowing we were going in there. We were the ones going in with the gliders. It was just not prudent to go and take another good look at those places. So we held off, and held off, and we held off.

Then, I finally said, “All right, I've got to break this secrecy bit, and we do have to take a look at that thing. So what we will do is send a couple of bombers over, and we'll bomb near there as though we are on a bombing mission. Then we'll happen to come over the two spots, coming back with our aerial cameras and aerial photographers, and we'll take good pictures of those things in the morning of the night we are going to invade.”

So, we did that, and here we were staging that morning, getting everything in place, and all the commanders were there. The British area commander, General Slim, was there. General Stratemeyer was there. The head of the British air forces, whose name I can't remember – he was an air marshal – Sir John Baldwin was there, and their staffs. We were set to go. The word was go, and we were getting ready. As soon as the dusk came, we were to start. Any last-minute decisions to be made, the officers involved were there.

They just stood back, and let us go ahead with our work. Well, our aerial reconnaissance photo-taking mission came back, went up, and blew up their pictures immediately, fixed them, developed them, and then blew them up so we could see them. While they were still in the wet bath, or whatever they're in, Charles Russhon, who had taken the pictures, began to see something on the one landing area. He looked closer, and they were obstructions. So he rushed down to where we were on Lalaghat and called me over and said, ''Hey boss, you've got to look! They've caught on to us.” He opened up this large thing that was probably about a three-by-three; it was a blown-up picture.
There on our landing strip were huge logs that had been drug across it that looked to us like obstructions that you would put down so that gliders, or nothing else, could land there, and, they, in fact, had guessed our purpose, that there was one place we weren't going to make it. So then you had to deduce that here, lo and behold, was the other one, Broadway, which was clean and had no obstructions at all. Now you had to surmise, at least, and judge the probability, that since they had blocked the one and not the other, they might want you coming into that one to ambush you. This was a probability that had to be decided. Also, it had to be decided, was this a coincidence or was it purposeful?

We had to judge that it was purposeful, that they were on to our plan, and that they had taken the necessary steps. You put yourself in the enemy commander's position, and he says, “Well, that place is capable of accepting a glider force landing in it, so why don't I be smart and just fix it so that nothing can land in there. I'll get that done, and then I'll do the other one.”

All of these things had to be quickly assessed, and naturally it was a time of excruciating concentration and decision-making. I don't remember feeling it was a burden. I remember feeling it was a responsibility that had to be discharged, and there we were. Okay now, here you are, and you planned this whole thing. Now what do you do?

My decision, and I had to make it, although I realized that had my superiors felt that I was way wrong, I was sure enough going to be vetoed. I mean General Stratemeyer wasn't going to stand there and let me make the blunder of all times. I appreciated that. However, he also wasn't going to make my decision for me. I was going to make the original decision, and then I would suspect that he would have used veto power. Certainly, he had a right; he was the commanding general of all Air Forces in the area. Then his duty would have come to the fore: “Do I allow this?” Naturally, he had a burden, but the immediate burden was supposedly my decision. I say supposedly because, actually, the decision was taken away from me.

It became Wingate's decision; it became a British decision because they were the guys that were going to go in and get chewed up, if there was any chewing up to be done. They were the ones that were putting themselves in dire jeopardy if, in fact, the enemy was planning an ambush. Although some of the glider pilots and the leaders of our air part of this action would be there and would be in jeopardy, really, the people that were going to take it, and had to make the decision whether they were going in or not, were those ground people. They were Wingate's people. If they decided they were going in, and they were going to battle for that landing strip, there was just no doubt.

We couldn't say, “No, we won't take you in.” You see, the play was taken away from me in reality. My decision had to be – and there really wasn't even any thought of this – my decision would have had to be, “All right, we planned this whole thing, and we've told you that we would transport you in there and put you in place to get your job done. Now you say, 'Okay, let's go,' even in adversity,”
I wasn't going to say, “No, we are not going to take you.”

It wasn't my place to make that decision.

If the invading forces say, “Let's go on ahead,” the transporters of the invading force don't say, “No, I won't take you.”

So, really, I've been credited in some writings and in some minds of making that tough decision. Actually, as I say, the play was taken away from me. It was kind of a conclusion, a foregone conclusion, when the British said, “No, we're going in.”

I actually got our glider men together, and got our force together after that, explained what had happen, and what we were going to do about it, and, in fact, we weren't going into two places. We weren't going to have that luxury. We were going to have to adapt ourselves a little bit; we were adaptable enough to change our plans. We were going into one place. We were all going into there, and we were going to keep pouring them in, and pouring them in, and pouring them in, until the British said, “Stop.”

We were going to put our force on the ground, and we were going to build that air strip. We were going to go forward, and we were going to accommodate the situation by just going into one place rather than have the luxury of going into two. We were going to have to time ourselves so that we didn't jam up on each other, and the fellows who had been briefed to go into Piccadilly were now going to be rebriefed, and “You are going into the same kind of landing situation, and all you have got to do is follow what you have been trained to do. Follow the landing system, get in the pattern, trust your tow pilot, and trust the tow plane. He's going to put you, glider pilot, in the position, and when you hit the light, you cut and you're set, and you go on in.”

Well, I remember now, and I have read. it since, there was a reporter there that recorded the words, but I actually did say to our people that our decision was easy; really, there was none, that if those British soldiers had that kind of guts, and that kind of heart, that they were going forward and going in there, it was up to us to take them in. It was that simple. That's the way that was resolved, and we took them in.

Now, in the actual landing, not everything went well. There were two errors made. One was that we went in without lights, and our glider pilots were focusing on the exhaust flares of the DC-3. The DC-3s were night protected, but the blue flare of their exhaust underneath the nacelle of the engine was discernible to a glider pilot, to someone that close. We had trained ourselves to fly on those lights. So we flew low-tow in order to look up and have the orientation of those lights for our glider pilots. It's kind of a weird thing to be towed in a glider out there in the night and not have all the perspectives that you would like to have. Now, running lights give it to you. We turned our running lights off because of the seeming logic to us that we didn't want the Japs picking us off as we flew this corridor in behind their lines into their territory. So we went in lights out. We had practiced that, and it had worked. It had seemed to be a proper procedure.

Now, low-tow, understand, not high-two; that would be the gliders are being towed below the tow aircraft, not above it, which is normal. The gliders got overloaded, which we knew was going to happen, but we didn't realize the degree.

We limited them, and said, “Limit yourself to X number of pounds'' – I think it was something like 4,000 pounds – “and no more. That's the limit that we can tow.” After that, the glider becomes not a good flying machine; it wasn't a good one to begin with, and if you overload it, it won't work. It will be dragged through the air rather than glided through the air. So, we practiced this, and we knew every piece of equipment, and every person, and everything that was going into each glider.

Each glider was assigned its load and its personnel. They were brought up to the zone, and right up to the loading area, in excellent, meticulous order. The British are superb at this sort of thing, and we had practiced it over, and over, and over again. We actually practiced every one of those complements that were going in with their equipment, and they would stand back, and then on signal, they would trot forward and learn how to get into that airplane and strap themselves in and go. We had that down to a science.

I was satisfied that they knew what they were doing, and we took for granted that they would be very, very strict about their loading. We knew they would tend to overload, just as the way we would tend to overload.

You tell a soldier he's going into possible combat, and he isn't going to take his ration of bullets around his waist, or slung as a bandolier around his shoulders, the way they wear it, he is going to take two if he can get ahold of them, or three, and he unconsciously is building up his own weight. You get eight or nine guys in there with their equipment, and they say, “Oh, I'll just take this one more thing.”

We found that in their fear that they weren't going to get enough in, the British troops, with the knowledge, I'm sure, of their commanders, overloaded those gliders saying, “Well, these Air Force guys want everything the best, and they have limited us. We have seen overloaded gliders, and we've overloaded them ourselves before, and we'll do that.''

So, that wasn't a critical mistake, but it was a mistake. It was a coincidence. You know how coincidences have a habit of getting together on you and causing not the coincidence but sometimes catastrophe? You can't outguess a coincidence. You can plan on every doggone one you can think of and, lo and behold, they will pop upon you, and they'll start getting together and making not isolated coincidences, but a string of them will now get you and cause you difficulty. This was one of them. We could have gotten away with the overloading, but that came up, and we had planned that this was the full moon. We actually timed this for the full moon. We had hoped for no cloud cover because at this time of the year in India-Burma, the skies are clear, very clear, and the moon is very, very bright. So, we had a bright moon. We had had one the night before, and we said, “Oh boy, it's going to hold.”

I had flown the pattern the.' Night before in the dark in the DC-3. I wanted to test, I wanted to try, and then we were maneuvering, and we sent a couple of us in different airplanes to see if we could discern anything we hadn't planned on. I noticed that the moon was very bright. I noticed also that a haze came up and that it was kind of silver in the night. But it was most bright. It didn't occur to me that this was going to cause a bad visibility situation for the glider pilot. So there it was, and I didn't see it. The other pilot didn't see it. We just knew there was a very bright night and thought we were lucky.

So the next night, we were helped. Now, we started out at dusk. We started out from our end, the safe end, in light. Our first trips, the first tows, went off early, and they were well into enemy territory as darkness overtook them, because we realized that they were the surprise, and nobody was going to see this later. But as this train of airplanes were corning over, and over, and over enemy territory, somebody was going to guess that something was occurring. We were hoping that they would think we were bombardment. As a matter of fact, we ran some bombardment missions in various places, just dropped bombs on targets that we knew to distract them, take their attention away, and they'd say, “Well, those are those bombers,” and they'd go on home.

We wanted the night to cover us, but we wanted the moon to guide us, and it did us a trick. The haze came up and it was a very, very silvery atmosphere, and it was hard for the glider pilot to see the tow plane in, and it was hard for him to see the exhaust flares. Now, had it been dead dark, he would have seen the exhaust flares plainly in pitch black, but in this lighted situation with that peculiar visibility, it became difficult for him to pick those things up.

Now, we've got an overloaded glider that tends to go down and overrun the tow plane underneath it. The glider would have the tendency to overrun. Now, if he's got his two fixed flares, and he's got good visibility, and he can see the airplane in front, and he's oriented, he can see that he is coming too close and getting too low, and he can bring himself back up and hold his position. But some of the fellows overran, and finding themselves in an overrun position, their line would become slack. Then when they took up the slack to make it taut again, they would snap it, and we had several occasions of that.

Pilots were radioing back that they had lost their tow, and we were getting information from other glider pilots that this was occurring to them. Before we decided exactly what it was, several tows had broken and the gliders were going down in enemy territory in the dark.

I forget how many, but I think about eight of them broke their tow. We suddenly realized what was happening, and we sent the word to everybody, “Turn on your landing lights and fly high-tow.” That overcame it, because in high-tow the glider pilot would not have the tendency to overrun his towship because he is above it, you see, and all he had to do is pull his nose up a little bit and he will come back down. It's easier to manage and hold his position and not overrun, and keep his tow line taut in the high-tow position with the lights on, that he can see, and he's well oriented. That cured it. We had no more breaking of tows. But until we learned that, we lost some. To be expected? Well, no. I can't say that. I can say that these things happen to you, but you can't say, “Well, that happens in the best of families,” and toss it off. I say, and said at the time, it was an error; it was an error on my part. I felt it deeply, we all felt it. We overcame it, we were well trained enough, and we knew our business well: enough to overcome it quickly. But that was the first error.

Now remember, there were coincidences there, the overloading of the glider, and now you could get away with that as long as everything else was equal and as long as everything else worked all right, you could get away with the overloading. But then given the visibility difficulty, and the tendency to overrun the tow plane, you've got another element, and they get together and do you in. That happened. Many of those people who landed in the gliders, by the way, in enemy territory made it. They were skillful enough to get down, and skillful enough, many of them, to march out. As much as a month later, they were able to be hidden by the natives and able to hide themselves, and were jungle-wise enough to get themselves out. Many of them were killed, of course.

I think this is the point, we will say, in this invasion of that night. We'll have to go back somewhere else and get the numbers because they escape me, but they are astounding, but we put in, I believe, upward of 500 people that night, and we lost 28 known dead. Some were captured and some walked out. But in the glider accidents, I'm pretty sure I'm correct, we had 28 fatalities. We had a lot of casualties but none that you couldn't handle.

Now the next difficulty and the next error was that now we were going to put the whole effort that had been split – the plans had been split between two airdromes-we were going to put them into one and make it go. We felt that we would need the double force if, in fact, the enemy was on to us and was going to ambush us, so we felt we had better go in with the whole thing, the stronger force.

We had designed a system for landing the gliders made up of an arrangement of lights. It was the first team that would land, and the first glider landed free; they landed on their own. Then there were jeeps in those gliders, and there were trained people who ran out, got the jeeps, and took off to the ends of the strips, that we were going to use for landing, to define them, and to place the lights where the gliders were to touch down, and also beat it back and set up the cut-off light back of the landing strip, and the light was placed a number of feet behind; it would define the point at which the glider pilot would cut himself free of his tow plane. Then proceed straight ahead, to glide, and if he did it as I have described before, at 80 miles an hour, and just held that 80 miles an hour, he would land right smack on a predefined spot, and he was to roll forward and pull to the right and get out of the way.

Johnny Alison was the first glider in. He knew the area, and he landed properly and rolled over to his stop. The next glider that came in, I believe, was Bill Taylor. He was the head of the glider contingent, and he rolled on in. Those two gliders had the teams in them to set up the landing light system.

Here is another mistake. I'm pretty sure Taylor had briefed himself on Piccadilly, but he knew both because he trained the people going into both places. But now he's on Broadway. He is on a different air field. He is not going into the one he had planned to go into. He is on the other one, and he is the commander, and he is the leader. The system is part his design. He sent his team off, and they got disoriented in the dark in the jeeps. They drove back and they set the lights in an area that they had every right to believe would be a good area, but lo and behold, it was an area where large ruts in the surface of the ground had been gouged by elephants dragging large teak logs across that area.

There had been some logging of teak in that area at some time or another, and elephants had drug large teak logs across that terrain. The grass had grown up and covered that. Our aerial photography that we studied didn't pick that up. What I had seen from the air was land on which we could land. I was satisfied, and we were all satisfied, that it was rough, but it was good terrain on which to land gliders.

The area that we had designed to put the lights on was clear. The area that Johnny Alison and our first gliders landed on was good ground. But the lights were set up to point – the system landed the glider in another direction a bit off. A clearing, yes, and probably the largest part of the clearing to accept this number of gliders coming in and get out of the way for the next guy coming in would have been fine. But the ruts were there, and the ruts started to damage the landing gears of the gliders and stopped them and they didn't roll. Then the next glider coming in into the same area would land and start rolling and see a glider in front of him. Some of the pilots actually hopped gliders in front of them. They still had enough speed to pull back on their sticks and get over. But they started to collide on the ground. Seeing that, the men on the ground started to run to change the lights. Many of them got missed by gliders that were coming in, because here they came.

Our plan was working, and it was hard to stop the flow of the gliders. It was just impossible to stop them. They were in line, and they were coming in, and they were coming in properly. They were coming over the lights. Everybody was doing their job, but when they got on the ground, there wasn't a place for them to roll away from because the ruts were stopping our roll-away capability. We couldn't clear the landing strip. So they frantically started to move the lights over and changed the landing strip.

Now there was another adaptability, wonderful guys on the ground just killing themselves, running into physical exhaustion, changing those lights, because they knew if we could change the lights we could change the direction of landing. That's what they did, and that did make it possible to get them in, but many of them cracked up. Finally, it just got too much. It got so that they couldn't handle it on the ground, and a flare was fired to stop the incoming. We were listening to pilots on the air, and we did bring a few of the last tows back. But we got the main force in, with difficulty, yes; with some accidents, yes.

I don't remember that anybody was killed because of the glider accidents, but we certainly messed up a lot of gliders, which was to be expected. The deaths, a couple of them, were glider pilots who, getting in a tough position on their landing procedure, doubted their tow plane and didn't follow the procedure and cut free, and tried to come in free and landed up short in the trees. That was one accident.

That was one of those things where a pilot gets himself into a situation and feels that he'd better go on his own and not follow the procedure, and not understanding what is happening to him exactly, and not trusting the procedure, or something. You can't guess what the pilot was confronted with. He chose to go on his own, and fell short.

That was one of the worst accidents.

A couple of the others, yes, were glider accidents where they ran off, or they didn't land properly. But although you just feel terrible about the accidents that do happen, all in all, you can't say it was minor, and yet, statistically, it was a minor part of the action, because we did get 90 percent, or 87 percent, I think. We were judged at 85 percent to 87 percent effective in the glider operation in a glider-invasion situation, and that had never happened.

If you remember, the only one that had ever been tried before was the invasion in Sicily, and that compared to our work was a debacle. They had many, many unforeseen things happen to them and that, I don't think, could be even classed as much of a success. They weren't effective, and they didn't have a good rating. Ours was good, and considering the errors in judgment I made, because after all, I was responsible. I was the guy that should have seen them, and I was the commander. It comes down to, those things got by me.

Some of our thoroughly practiced well-laid plans of mice and men did go aft agley, and some of them went slightly awry, but notice that it was not to the extent that we weren't able to grab it, adapt to it, and change it. I think that's the way that sort of thing should be judged. As a matter of fact, I'm satisfied now later in life that we met the adversity, and we had planned and trained ourselves well enough that we could accommodate to it, and overcome it, and get our job done. We did that very thing.

Now, they got in there, and right away before the dawn came up, they were hacking away at that place to make a proper landing strip for C-47s. Now when the flare went off, that was a signal that something dire had occurred. We had set signals, and the red flare, as the saying went, was buried very deeply in a British major's pocket. And as we would speak of this flare, the flare was to be shot, and everybody knew that a catastrophe was happening on the ground. We figured that, in fact, the Japanese were there, and that the whole thing was off, and that we were to send no more in. The mission was to be scrubbed right at that point.

I remember that British officer. He was a delightful young fellow, and I'm sure he was a Scotchman. We had a lot of fun with him because he said, “I'm the fellow with the flare, and it's in a very deep pocket.” So, lo and behold, when Johnny and the guys on the ground started to get more gliders and more accidents than they could possibly handle, and they couldn't move the lights anymore, they were just getting surfeited with equipment corning in, they felt they had to stop it.

They couldn't get their radios set up. The radio that they planned on – we had doubles – we had backups for everything in case one is damaged and lost, and, lo and behold, we lost one some way or other entirely, and we smashed the other one. So, even our backup was gone, and they couldn't get it working. Our radio people were in there, and we were anxiously awaiting their first communication which was to be almost immediate.

We were to know what was going on, on the ground, right away. They couldn't communicate. Their radios were out, another thing you don't foresee. You plan the contingency, and even the contingency blows. So, there you are! So, they thought it best to stop it, so they sent up the red flare. Now the red flare meant catastrophe. Then they did get a radio working, and we heard the words “Soya Link,'' and “Soya Link” meant catastrophe. “Pork sausage” meant everything is going smoothly and well. We got the word, finally, when they got a set up, we got the code word Soya Link.

The British used that because they thought the worst thing in the world was the American sausage that they had in their rations. It was made out of soy beans, and it was called Soya Link. The British, being connoisseurs of good pork sausage, thought that this was an atrocity. They thought to try to make sausage out of soy beans was just about the end, so the worst word they could think of was Soya Link. We got the word Soya Link, and that meant to us back at the base that all hell had broken loose, and that, in fact they were battling for their lives.

We read the worst into it.

So we went through a couple of bad, bad hours in the night. We brought back the tows. We were in contact with those pilots, turned them around when the red flare went off, and brought back some. But our main effort was in there. My guys and their guys were in there. Had to consider that they were lost.

Now, what do you do? I will admit that it was my tendency at the time to say to Wingate, “All right, let's go with the next wave. Let's get everything we've got. Do you think this would be possible? Get everything we've got, get them in there, and the gliders we got, get them down on that ground, and win that battle in there and try to get our people out.”

Naturally, that was one thing to do, but it wasn't the sensible thing to do. But it was something you had to consider.

Wingate, said, “No.” I remember him lecturing me, and he was fond of quoting. He quoted the Bible constantly, and he quoted other great sayings, and the one of them was, the gist of it was, you never tried to snatch victory from obvious defeat. We were beside ourselves. I was sunk. I thought that all my plans had really, really gone awry, and now the whole thing comes down. I had lost it; I hadn't done my job. So we waited anxiously, and I could wait no longer. I got ahold of a pilot by the name of Radovich who was a gutsy guy, and I said, “Rad, we want a pilot to take an L-1 …”

Now, an L-1 was practically a free balloon. The L-1 was a liaison airplane, good-sized thing, and it would take off very slowly and landed very slowly – very rugged and very safe. They had good radios in them. We beefed up that radio, and I said, “Rad, go in on the tree tops, alone, as soon as it's light. You go in and find that place. You land on that thing, pick yourself a good landing. You know it, we briefed you. You land, and you will be the communication, that airplane. You try to get to our guys, and get them to get over to you and tell us what the hell is going on in there.”

So, in effect, the quickest available way to get a radio in there that could talk to us, we got in. Rad got in there, and then we were overjoyed to learn that not only were they in there, but they were already working on the strip, and the reason they had sent up the red flare was to say, “Hey. cut it out. Quit sending them in here. We've got too many. We can't handle any more gliders. They are cracking each other up, and we've got all we need in here. The advanced people have gotten in, and the engineers are in here,” because they were the first. “They are in here with their stuff. The combat teams have fanned out in the perimeter, and they've got the place secure, and everything is running great. This is all we needed was the word, and all we needed was the radio.” Then pretty soon they were able to patch up their radio that they had on the ground and got it working. We had a trailer that was a complete radio sending station. We had two of them, and between the two, they were able to get one going.

We were so overjoyed that we went ahead with the plan.

By that night, they said, “Send in three DC-3s, and here is what we want in those DC-3s.” What they wanted was stuff to make the airdrome better, the landing strip better. Some of the lights had been lost or something like that. They had the lights all set up, and they put the lights on, and over went our first C-47s loaded and landed.

Johnny always kidded me. He said, “We asked for three, and Cochran sent 12.” [laughter] So we sent the first 12, and we said, “How about that?”

They said, “Wait a little while, and then start them some more.”

Pretty soon we were in business.

Every night after that we started pouring them in, and pouring them in, and pouring them in. Then the next night, we decided to hurry up the plan for another landing to the south which was called Chowringhee. We were flexible enough to mount that invasion the following night rather than wait, and in we went with the force into Chowringhee. Then that was the one that I think the first glider in was Jack Coogan. Do you remember Jackie Coogan, the kid movie star? Jackie Coogan was the great, great movie star as a child, and here he is now a glider pilot, and he's an air commando. He was in the assault force of the landing at Chowringhee, which was a repeat of our action into Broadway.

Now as we went forth, of course, we kept pouring more, and more, and more people in there, and more firepower, more mules, more everything, and their column started to go out and get in place.

They started to cut the roads and build more air strips. They would build more of what they called the strongholds, and they placed themselves in a strategic position so the Japs couldn't get by them. Then the Japs would come in and try to root them out. We would have three and four different battles going at these different places, strategic situations, at various times, and they'd always build an air strip right alongside it.

We'd bring in replacements, and take out the wounded. We'd bring in supplies, we'd bring in ammunition, guns. We learned how to knock down pretty good-sized guns, then weld parts of them back together, and build them back together to give them a better firepower to answer the Japanese who had brought up pretty good-sized artillery.

The Japs even brought up tanks to try to root them out of their emplacements where they were cutting off their military supply lanes. Then we came with our fighters and B-25s. You see, we had a squadron and a half, or two squadrons almost, of B-25s that we had acquired after we got over there.

Because they had 75mm cannons in their nose. They were the B-25Hs, and they had a cannon in the nose, and we could use them. We actually put fighter pilots in them at first and then trained these other pilots, and they would strafe with those B-25 airplanes. They would use those guns just as though they were .50 calibers. They could get two, and sometimes three, shots in their diving run, and they were firing cannon that supplied Wingate's ground forces with another piece of artillery. We would go over them and stay over them hour after hour after hour, and the Japanese then didn't dare fire a gun because we would see the flare of their guns, and then we would go down and shoot them apart. We became very, very effective, really close support of those folks that were pinned down in there and fighting darn near on all sides of them. But it was amazing what those people could do.

The Britisher is a terrific soldier when he is defending. They did some deeds that were just astounding to watch, and the guts of those people. They'd get pounded all night with artillery corning in, and in, and in. Then in the morning we'd be over them, and that would give them time because the Japs wouldn't fire while we were up there looking for them. Then we'd go down and try to knock them out of there. We'd knock out their forward position of artillery guns when we would find them.

The British on the ground would spot them for us with smoke bombs, and they'd fire smoke bombs over and say, “Okay, now there is the bracket.” Then our guys would find the gun and come down, get in line, and just pound the hell out of the Japanese ground things. It was quite a war, and it was a tough one.

Then our L-5s who now would be stationed, you understand, in behind Japanese lines at these various air strips. We called them bush pilots, but these were our liaison guys, and they were all enlisted pilots. We had 150 of them. We had a whole group. We had four squadrons of them, and they were run, of course, I think by three or four officers. The rest were enlisted men and, boy, they were the best soldiers you ever wanted to see in your life. They were dedicated, and they were good. They lived behind Japanese lines in that tough situation, because you're liable to be hopped by Japanese anytime. Of course, they were protected. You tried to keep them away, but that threat was always there.

Here you are living behind Japanese lines and flying airplanes in and out of the strips, and they would collect the wounded at the immediate site, come into the big bases of Chowringhee or Broadway, off-load, and go back with a replacement and some ammunition, and bring out another wounded, and just keep on doing that. Then the wounded would be collected. Then when the DC-3s came in at night with supplies or personnel or equipment, the wounded would go into the DC-3s, and that very night they would be back and taken from our bases to hospitals back in the rear.

So, Wingate's first request was more than adequately supplied, because we had a wonderful system of evacuation of wounded. They not only didn't lie in the jungle anymore to die and have to be left to die, they were the best cared for guys in the business, and we got them out. They would get out the same day, and they'd be in hospitals. You know that we saved many, many – well, thousands of lives.

This was the work, the very necessary and very proud work, of those liaison guys, and they were very proud of themselves. By the way, they were the beloved of the British soldier. I remember when I would go in, and if I went in in a liaison airplane – if you were going in in an airplane, you had a load to take in, and you had a load to take out. I remember bringing one kid whose leg was all shot up. They loaded him in my airplane, and I got him out. I've never seen such appreciation from that boy. He just thought I was the grandest thing he ever saw in his life.

There were many instances where the kids on stretchers that were pretty well shot up would kiss the hands of the pilot after they brought them in, because they were so appreciative of what we were doing. We were mighty popular, by the way, with the British ground forces. We not only amazed them, but they were mighty proud to be associated with us, and a great camaraderie was set up between the forces. We admired each other. Our air guys admired the guts of those people on the ground, and didn't want any part of it. [laughter] You're aware, I'm sure, of an airman's idea of ground warfare. He thinks it's pretty stupid, albeit necessary, but we recognized the tough things that these people were doing and willing to do. We answered it in kind.

It was an inspiration to our men, I'm sure, because they were always conscious of how much tougher those men had it, and we were ready and willing to do almost anything to help them and to make their jobs better and easier, and I'm sure we did it. But the regular war went on then for months after we got those people in there. Then the job was to keep them in, to keep supplying them with firepower from the air, to become their air artillery, to become their supply link, to become their evacuation, their liaison, dreaming up new things. We began to spot targets that were in the jungle that they couldn't find, supply depots for instance, and we found that we had a capability that has since been used in recent wars of sending an L-5 spotter over with a knowledgeable ground person, one of their people, in the seat and search out in the jungle the target. Then fly right over it and spot it with smoke, and then have the fighters and the B-25s come in and just beat it up because some of their places were well camouflaged. But the area was known, but you couldn't find them from the air because the jungle cover was so complete. But getting down low, if you knew the general vicinity and you had a person there who knew the terrain and knew where it was, you could mark it. Then you could go down and do a real good job once it's marked.

We found that to be quite effective.

We even found our liaison guys wanting to put small bombs on L-5s. They started to do that. That didn't seem to be very effective, but they wanted to get right into the act. They could get right down low on the deck and find targets that we couldn't see higher up, and they dropped some small bombs on them.

Everybody got into that act. But now, having them in place, the ground warfare started. The Japanese came down and tried to get them out. We had such places, as I remember, one was called White City, and that was quite a sizeable stronghold. What it was, it was on high ground and it commanded the main road that was supplying the Japanese forces, you see, which were to the north facing Stilwell, up where Stilwell had built the Lido Road and was trying to come down from the north.

The Japanese were up there holding him off. We were down south of them actually behind that front. So then the supply routes to that front were to the south on down toward Mandalay, and we were planted right in between their supply and their frontlines. Naturally, in order to keep that thing going in the north, they had to get us out of there. They didn't get us out of there. They stayed – I say us – they didn't get Wingate's forces out of there, and they stayed until the rainy season. Then we pulled them out, or they started to march back.

The 'Confrontation'

Now long about here, we ought to say that, naturally, our association with Wingate flourished. We had some run-ins, one that has been written about rather often. Every book that's written about that campaign over there, and just about everyone that's been written about Wingate by British authors, talk about one of our altercations, or our confrontations.

I don't know if it's ever been clear, and I don't much care, but what had happened was Wingate, of course, among other things, you can guess, was extremely ambitious. Now his efforts have paid off, and I would liken him a little bit, in a fond way, in a friendly way, I would liken him into the situation that caused Churchill to say of Montgomery, that he was ''indomitable in defeat and insufferable in success,” or something of that sort. I'm paraphrasing.

Well, now we have the opinionated strong-willed Wingate who now can say to his detractors, “What the hell do you think of that?”

He was wearing his success typically, and he wanted more of it. Having proven a point, and having proven his genius, he wants to now expand it and use it as a stepping stone and say, “Now listen to me, and I'll take back this whole damn place for you. We have shown you how to do it now. Let's get going, really expand this, and run those Japanese out of here, and expand this on into China. I've shown you how to do it. Let's go.”

I know that was in his plans, because he used to talk to me about what we would do now that we had a good start. Now all we have to do is conclude it, and his plans were rather large. They made sense. But in his anxiety to prove his point, and to expand his authority and his capability, he wanted to bring in the RAF.

It rankled him; it just aggravated him no end that he did not have the RAF support. There was not one RAF airplane in our doing.

You see, that to a British commander who had to live in the British army and wanted to become a leader of British troops, naturally he would be aggravated that he didn't have the cooperation of his own air branch. They were there. They were to the north of us. It wasn't much. We never thought much of it, but there was a base of fighter airplanes to the north.

I think the kindest thing I could say was that they were lackadaisical. They weren't conscious of any great war going on. As a matter of fact, the whole Indian army was the same way. The Indian army was large, but it didn't involve itself in this war at all. Isn't that amazing? Here they were.

You know, the Japanese actually got into India. They got very close to our base at Hailakandi, and we were issued orders by the British Army of how to form a “Kitchener Box.” Can you imagine a modern airman being told that if his airdrome was overrun, to train your soldier to form Kitchener Boxes, and how to fight off the enemy? Why, we just laughed and said, “Kitchener Box, my eye. Why if those guys get that close, hey man, we got airplanes. We're mobile as well, and we're going to load our stuff in the airplanes and get the hell out of here. We're not going to expose ourselves to any invasion of Japanese. If they come closer, you better, by God, tell us; and if you can't defend our airdromes, we're getting the hell out of them, because we're not going to form any Kitchener Boxes.”

Naturally, we had a good laugh over these orders. It seemed as though they were fighting the Boer War over again, and they thought that we ought to stand and fight. That was not in our plan, I can tell you. Our plan was to get our valuable, valuable equipment the hell out of there and get back so we could fight from another position and get our job done.

Now, Wingate wanted to expand his success and build on it. In his anxiety to get the cooperation of the RAF – and I'm pretty certain this was his motivation. I can understand it, but I can't condone it. I never have.

He, unbeknownst to us, made a plan in which the RAF could bring in Spitfires and land them at Broadway and work out of there as a base, as a close up, more support for him. He wanted to bring the British air force into it. I didn't want airplanes on that base, because all you are going to do – now we had a good situation. We were being able to hold it, and we were able to hold off the Japanese air force. We were fighting them all the time. We were making excursions into their territory, and they staged some aircraft, brought them forward to root us out of there, and start an air war.

Our vigilance paid off, and one of our flights, in always keeping a good eye on their airdromes that were there that didn't have any equipment on them, was suddenly populated with a hell of a lot of aircraft that had been sent up to start battling us. We hit them the day they landed, and they weren't well emplaced, and we burned them out on the ground. We just had a field day, and we burned everything on the ground. I don't know how many of those airplanes we got, but it was well over 50, 60, 80. I don't know; I forget now. But we burned them out before they even got emplaced, and we were catching them before they could come in and get us.

So we were carrying on an aerial warfare and, really, we were supplying, or trying to effect, air superiority over our battle area. This we knew we must do. But we knew the Japs were coming in, and they had hit us in there. A couple of them got brave enough to get in our pattern at night and shoot down a couple of our C-47s that were coming in. They'd see the exhaust flares at night and sneak upon them and hit them.

We had been told that the Japs wouldn't fight at night. They were not capable. They didn't have that capability, but they had some brave ones that would attempt it and try to do it. They were sending raids in against us, and the worst thing to do would be plant fighters on that field in the daytime and have the Japs see them and come in there and try to get them on the ground. You're just waving a red flag at a bull. That's all there is to it. Another airman has got to come in and get them out of there.

Well, he did it, and lo and behold, there they were. And don't you know the Japs came in and got them and just about wiped them out. They got one guy who was just taking off. They got one on the ground. They had to come in and beat that place up, and those airplanes drew them. It was just like drawing flies, and this incensed me probably more so than anything ever had in my life.

I felt that Wingate had betrayed me, and it was a betrayal of trust. I just couldn't imagine that man doing that to us after all we had done for, and with, him. I thought about Wingate, “the mutual trust that we have had with each other, and the things we have been through together, and criticism that we've taken in your behalf, and in our behalf, now you come along and do a thing like that.”

So I said, “There's only one thing to do.”

I said, “Johnny, let's go. Let's get in an airplane,” and I took – I forget what member of my staff – but the appropriate members. I went to his headquarters and said, “I want a meeting. There is going to be a confrontation, and I would like whomever you wish on your staff to be there, because we're going to have this out.”

My temper got the best of me, I'm afraid, but I'm not sorry, because I think the situation required it. I had to be forceful with this forceful man, and I just let him have it.

I told him that Johnny Alison and I hadn't been sent over there to support him because we were shrinking violets or because we were babes in the woods. I said to him, and I remember the words very vividly, because I was reminded of them so often since then, I can't forget them. But I told him if he wanted to double deal and wanted to start that, he would find that we were masters at double-dealing. We would come in with the phoniest deck he ever saw in his life.

I said, “You do that anymore and we're off you. We're capable of doing it, and I'm capable of doing it.” I got all through my tirade, and I said, “You betrayed us. You did a thing you shouldn't have done, and you double dealt us. You undercut us.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I did, didn't I?”

That just about cut me off. Naturally, I was fuming, and I imagine my language wasn't good. I learned later that the office was not soundproof. It was in some kind of peculiar hangar as I remember it, a drying hangar of some sort, tea maybe, or something. The walls had ears, and I was told later that his whole staff and all the soldiers and everybody in the place heard my tirade. I'm afraid some of them copied it down, and I was accused later of having very bad manners.

By those who didn't know the seriousness of it, I can see that I did sound like an arrogant Yank. But whether here nor there, we had certainly a little bit of a different relationship after that, but a good one, still a solid one, because we had it out.

Wingate was man enough to sit right on the spot, and he sat down and brought in a man, and he used one of his peculiar archaic words. He said to the man who had a poised pad and pencil, “Take a screed to the Prime Minister of Great Britain.” Then he started out and said to the Prime Minister, to Lord Louis Mountbatten, to General Slim, to General Marshall, to General Arnold and he went all down the list. He said, “I want this to go to them,” and he read off a very concise signal of admission that he had done it, that he had been wrong, and that he wished he hadn't done it, and he apologized.

Now whether that ever got to the Prime Minister, or whether it ever got to Lord Louis, or whether it ever got to General Arnold, I don't know, but it sure was a good show. [laughter] He put on a good one, and it satisfied me, and I stormed out a little bit placated. I got those Spitfires the hell off that landing strip. Now I must make a confession. We had been planning to put our P-51s on that strip, but we were going to fly them in late in the evening so the Japs wouldn't see them during the night, load them with bombs, and then do close support in the early morning, and fly on back to the bases, and stay out in the daytime so they would not be seen.

Now my anger in this situation, I'll have to admit, was fired a bit by another, I'll call it a disappointment. We had planned to put our P-51s onto those strips, but to hide them. We would hide them by darkness. We would land them at dusk, and then they'd stay there and be fueled and loaded with bombs and ammunition which we had stashed in there for this purpose. We had built up a supply to service the fighter aircraft. We would bring, say, four or six in at a time, and they'd stay there at night. Then they'd take off in the early morning to be over these targets. With their full fuel tanks, they would be able to stay over the target maybe an hour longer. It would just extend the capability of our aircraft. It would be just like doubling our force over the point at which they could be effective, because they wouldn't have to fly the 150 miles in, and then do their job, and then fly the 150 miles back carrying their load. We would bring them in, top them off, fuel them up, load them, then they could stay over the target until the very last minute, and then go on home.

We had worked hard on this plan and built it properly. We had all the communication situation set up so that the penetration groups who would be within 20 or 30 miles of this air base in the jungle, we would be an effective weapon; we would be right at their hands. We learned to put our fighters right smack at the hands of the frontline guy, not the 150 or 200 miles away, so to speak; we had them right there. We thought this was quite a capability. It was a refinement of what we were doing. That was our plan. We wanted to be really the first ever in history where fighters are actually operating out of bases behind the enemy's lines. Now that had never been done that we knew of, and this was to be a first.

Well, Wingate robbed us of that first. He robbed us partially of the surprise of plan by just arbitrarily putting fighters in there. I know what motivated him and that was his anxiety to bring in the British air forces to this action of his so that he could woo them to his side and extend his capability and his authority. I can't blame him, but he should have talked it over. He did not. But we went on then with the plan, and it worked well. We put P-51s in there time and time again.

It got to be a routine thing. But we never left them there to be potted at or seen the next day by Japanese aircraft. We didn't want to attract the enemy on to these places. They were too hard to hold as it was, and we didn't need their fighters coming over and beating us up any more than they were doing.

They were doing it quite often. The folks in there were living under those conditions. They not only had the Jap soldiers on their perimeter, now they got them from the air.

We didn't need it, and it was another thing we had to defend against. But that was the kind of action that went on now for several months until the rainy season started to come upon us, and that was our withdrawal time. We were going to withdraw the troops out of there.

The rainy season ends the fighting over there. We had accomplished our mission, and most of those people were to get out during the monsoons and come back and refurbish and then go back, and take lower down in Burma later. Myitkyina to the north had now been taken. The Japanese did have to withdraw. Stilwell's forces did start to come on down from the north to occupy the land in the area that we had taken. So our mission was completed.

The death of Wingate

Now, along the way, I know we should talk about how Wingate was killed. I was on the air base one night in operations and a radio message ... No, let me start earlier. I was to meet General Wingate and a couple of members of his staff at my headquarters. I understood that he was over in Imphal.
Imphal was a plain down in a valley over the immediate ridge we were behind, and it was just over the ridge of mountains that were about 8,000 feet high, and then there was this plain, the Plain of Imphal. There was a British air base in there of sorts. There was a landing field; I don't believe there were any aircraft in there, but there was a British emplacement in there. We held the Imphal Plain. It was held because mountains surrounded it. You can see it on the map. It's that big. I understood that he had been into Burma at one of the emplacements, and he was coming back.

He was going to have a meeting in Imphal, and then he was going to take off in one of our aircraft that was transporting him. He was to meet me at my air base, and we were to have a meeting that evening.

I was down waiting for his arrival, and he didn't come on time. I thought, “Well, that's logical.” He didn't come, and he didn't come. Then I said, “Well, I don't know whether to wait. Maybe I got it wrong. I'm not going to wait around, Maybe he had engine trouble.”

So we had someone signal Imphal, and they said, “No.” In fact, he had left. They gave the number of the airplane and the pilot, so I knew that they were right and he had left.

Then I got a message from one of our transport airplanes that was in the corridor going into Broadway, or one of the places, a DC-3 at night. The guy's name was Dick Benjamin, and Dick reported that he had just seen an explosion in the hills.

He said, “Doggone if I don't think that was an airplane.”

Because these are jungle mountains, jungle hills, completely covered, and there isn't any light out there or anything. He saw this explosion on the ground. I remember looking at the officer that was with me and said, “Oh boy, now Wingate is in that area on his way in here. That's just about where he would be.”

So we told Benjamin to go and see if he could see anything more.

He said, “Yes, I see the fire.”

I said, “Mark the spot the best you can.” So he knew just about where he was, and he had it marked. He described it on the map. Then when he came back from his mission, he had it on his map.
Well, Wingate hadn't shown up. The airplane is overdue. It should have long been in, and we were pretty sure. The next morning in daylight we found that that was what had happened. The way we reconstructed it is that the B-25 had a pretty good load in it. The boy had taken on quite a few passengers out of Imphal, and although he wasn't overloaded, he had a good load. We established that he was not overloaded, but he had a good enough load that if he lost an engine at that point and made an error in keeping his good engine down, or something that happened to him that quickly, he lost it and slammed the hill. We just about think it was something like that.

We do not think that he just inadvertently flew into the hill in weather and wasn't high enough and that sort of thing. The weather was not a factor. He was not on instruments, I don't believe. I don't believe he was moon-blinded or anything and tipped the top of the hill, or got careless or what in the night. We believe that perhaps he lost an engine and didn't recover in time and spun in. But that was the demise of Wingate.

Naturally, it was a terrible blow to us. It was a terrible loss as a vibrant, valiant person,. but militarily it struck a blow.

So we got ahold of Mountbatten's headquarters and told them in secrecy what had happened, and our orders were to keep quiet. They had to stop and think: “Should we let the enemy and our own people, even his own troops who revered him, know that he was gone?”

They decided, “Would you keep his death quiet long enough that a replacement control could be effected for those troops who are now out on the end of authority? They are out on the end of supply in a very precarious position, and knowing that their leader is with them and knowing what he is doing is important, and it is tragic when you lose that inspirational person.” They had to try to figure whether that should be done, and it was done for a time.
Now, we kept our mouths shut with difficulty, because the crews and everybody knew that that airplane was gone. They began to get word that Wingate may have been on it from Imphal. They didn't know for a fact, and we tried to hush it. But it did give them and us breathing time to get General Lentaigne [Maj Gen W.D.A] in position to take over and to tell his immediate commanders and his staff and those brigadiers who were out there in the jungle facing the enemy that their leader had been lost, and that he was taking over … and plead with them to go ahead with their purpose and fulfill General Wingate's plan in his honor.

This is what they did, finally. Then they finally told it to the world that he had been lost. So now our work was cut out for us, and we just got behind General Lentaigne, and we knew him well anyhow. We knew him as the fine soldier that he was and just got behind him.

Although he was in no sense the flamboyant person, nowhere near the charismatic character that Wingate was, he was a solid, down-to-earth, well trained, experienced soldier, and he had character, too, of that kind. And that character pulled the thing through and fulfilled it. He had a couple months of war to go on with. He did it well, and the troops did it well. They went right on ahead doing their work, and we went on ahead doing our work, and kind of talked about making it a memory of that guy, and fulfilled our plan even though he was gone.

We realized that none of us were indispensable, and we would have to go on if any one of us was gone. If I were gone, somebody would have to step right in and take over. We had that capability. Again, this was a well-trained, well-planned thing. I keep saying it, but into it was planned enough adaptability that it could take blows like this and quickly take mistakes or adversity, or whatever, and quickly adapt to it and repair the wound and go on. That's exactly what happened, and it was a very, very satisfying feeling to know that your troops and your soldiers were of that ilk and went forward. It was very, very gratifying. Then as the time of the monsoons approached, we had to plan on bringing those folks out of there. Some of them were to march out for tactical and strategic reasons. The presence was to be in there, but they were to march on back and be picked up elsewhere by troop carrier people. That was not our job.

We were to be withdrawn because the rains would come and our landing strips would become mud; nature had intended to have rice planted in them, and they become quagmires. You could not operate on them.

We had to plan and watch then for those times and not get caught. We had one tough rain where actually there was a couple of feet of water on the landing strip, and I thought, “Oh, oh, I've gotten caught. I waited too long.” The British kept wanting more and more, and we kept wanting to protect those troops that were still in there, those columns that were still in and were withdrawing. They were coming out, and we wanted to make sure they had the protection of our air people, and to keep the enemy off, and all that sort of thing-and keep the supplies going. So we over-waited, and luckily that was just a forewarning.

As soon as that air strip dried, we were gone. I wasn't going to make that mistake. We got out, out, out, and out. Then we started to rearrange ourselves.

The plans were changed; we were to be a six-months outfit and disbanded. But now we were too much of a force; we were too much of an entity. We were an institution now, and the plans were to build three more along the same lines, a little bit streamlined, but a little bit different equipment, more personnel, and a more formal organization, and it was to become an air commando group.

We got a group designation after a while because we drove the lines of authority – or the lines of communications – bats, because we didn't have a number. We weren't a group. We weren't anything. We were a task force. So they made us a group, assigned us a number – the number of the group which I forget. We never alluded to ourselves or thought of ourselves as a group. But then as they began to plan four more, and this would be a wing – we were to have a wing of four groups – it looked like. In doing that, we changed our ideas a little bit, and they were to be formed slightly differently.

So those plans were to be done, so some folks had to stay. Many of the men, I remember, were disappointed that they weren't to be in and outers and back to the States. They didn't like India, which I think is understandable.

I can say I hated the area. It wasn't a place that would incite any affection. I was ordered home. As a matter of fact, I had been ordered home earlier. I’ll tell you an anecdote of that.

But what we did was, I did say – and Stilwell got into this a little bit because, again, he was the theater guy. Again, here we are operating as though we were a separate entity and autonomous, and I started to give rules, and Stilwell didn't let anybody go home. You would have to be dead to get out of Stilwell's area. He didn't believe in it. You were supposed to stay over there and die. You could have malaria until you were out of your mind, and he wouldn't let you go home, as I remember it.

So, I put forth my plan and got it approved that any one of the men in our outfit who had been – after all, you remember, we were volunteers and now had been through a rather difficult six months or so – anybody who had been overseas this second time, and that was a lot of the pilots and a lot of the men. Anybody who had had a second or third overseas term was to go home.

One of my motives in that was that I knew these folks were tired, and I knew some of them were on the verge of physical difficulties. So, I weeded those out and was allowed to do that, and I sent those fellows home. I left enough to rebuild, and they were taken back into India to a place called Asansol, and the rebuilding project started.

That was when Clint Gatey took over from me. I was brought back to the States and started through the briefing-debriefing process, and the assessment, and the writings, and the planning for the next batch of air commando groups.

Reported demise

There are two anecdotes that I wanted to put in here. One was, and you have asked me about this time that I was reported killed, and that the newspapers picked it up and it got in the newspapers in the United States, and got into my hometown paper. You can imagine the traumatic effect upon my family when the headlines announced that I had been killed.

The way that came about, there were about 16 of us fighters, and we were over Mandalay. We had gone over with a couple of 500-pound bombs on us, and we were after a very large supply depot that had been marked for us by intelligence. It was just north of Mandalay, just on the edge of the city on a bend in a river there, and it was a lot of steel-roofed buildings in which the Japanese were staging their movements to the north.

We were conscious of anything like this that we thought might be coming at us, and we thought we would nip it off in the bud. We felt this was part of our job.

So, I had 16 airplanes over that thing that day, and we made an error. We made a tactical error, an error of procedure. You would think that experienced airmen wouldn't do that, but we went about our business.

We were flying over it, and I said,” Alright, I've got the target spotted. I'm pretty sure, and I'm going to go down and get as close to it as I can. But if anybody doesn't agree and sees the target, other than what I think is the target, then we'll talk about it. We will talk it over, and then decide which is which.”

There were several targets down there, and we wanted to make sure we got the right one. I wanted some help from other eyes, and I said, “I'll mark what I think is the target if I can get near it with my load, and I’ll go on down with my flight. You guys watch that.” So I went on down. They said, yes, they thought that was it. So they started to peel off, and before I could get back up and form an air cover, which was definitely my purpose, and which was routine procedure of anybody doing any divebombing, the other guys, in our anxiety, we just forgot that we were liable to be jumped.

As I started back up and was collecting my four guys, we got jumped by a horde of Japanese. They were all over us, and they had us. They had us low in climbing, and they were above us, and they knew what to do. They weren't any kids. I don't know whether we bumped into them or whether they bumped into us, whether they had tracked us, or what in the world, but those two forces met, and we had quite a skirmish over dear old Mandalay.

We stood and fought, and it was my decision to make. I realized that we were in a tough position. We were low, we were climbing, we didn't have our speed, and we were not collected properly.

None of the flights now are intact, to form help for each other, and to properly attack this force that was after us. We had handed them all the advantages.

So my judgment was to everybody, “Don't try to snatch victory from defeat.”

You know, I'm quoting Wingate again. I was in a terrible position. So I said, “Down and out.” We weren't going to do any good by standing there and fighting. Fighter to fighter never does anything. We had valuable fighters and valuable pilots, and this wasn't our true mission. Our mission was to support Wingate, and here we were doing a strategic air war thing that, yes, was within our realm; and, yes, we ought to keep them back so that they can't come up when we knew we were going to invade. “Keep the forces back from your invasion spot as much as you can, and try to hit them.”

We had found this depot at Mandalay, and we thought that it probably was a threat to our invasion which was upcoming.

So I yelled, “Down and out.” I gave the order. “Every one of you!” I could hear the guys on the radio, and their fighting, and their saying, “Look out, there's a guy on your tail,” and all that sort of thing. Now, we did have a capability. We had P-51s. We had enough altitude to roll it over, dive, and run away from those guys and get the hell out of there because we were outnumbered, we were out maneuvered, we had handed them all the advantages, and we were fighting from a very, very bad position, with all the odds against us.

They had Zeroes, an airplane that could outmaneuver us, and, boy, I'm conscious of maneuverability.

I said, “Speed is maneuverability in this case, down and out. I order you, every guy, break it off, stop it, and get out of here.” Well, I didn't know what was happening to me, and I could still hear guys fighting, and fighting. I kept saying, “Get out of here,” but I thought they were still fighting and fighting, so I stayed over the target.

Boy, I was turning, diving, rolling, and giving orders and trying to regather some kind of order out of this thing that had happened to us.

So then I began to collect. I started calling my leaders and saying, “Where are you? How many you got? Are you on your way home?”


I was counting noses. I'd say, “Where are you?”

He said, “Well, I'm north, and I'm out of it, and I'm heading home.”

I said, “Are you all right?” He said, “No, I got some holes in me.”

“You're going to make it?”

“Yes, yes, I'm going to make it.”

I said, “All right, stay north. You know where the areas are that will be the safest.”

We knew where to go if you had to go down or had to jump. “Try to get back to Imphal. Try anything you can.”

“R. T. Smith, where are you?”

“I'm having a hell of a time. I'm all shot up, my engine is missing, and I'm overheating.”

I said, “Oh heavens, R. T., hang on to it. Hang in there and get it in there. Any enemy around you?”

“No, I'm free of it. I'm all right.”

“So-and-so, where are you?”

Well, then, somebody called me, and said, “Where are you?”

I said, “I'm over the target. I'm trying to get you guys to get the hell home. Get out of here.”

They said, “All right, we' re on our way.”

Then here I am, I'm over the target. What had happened is, as they started to the west home, naturally, the Japs followed, trying to pick them off. They were following and following, and it suddenly dawned on me that now I'm over the target, and now the enemy, having followed the main part of my flight, are there between me and home. I'm going to have to run the gauntlet. So I thought, “Well, I'll make that.”

So I started on the course toward home wide open and giving it all it had. I said, “Well, I'm just going to head straight for home, a beeline.”

There they were. They kept coming at me, and I went by the first one. He wasn't in a position to come down on me, but he made a turn onto me. But I knew I was going to outrun him.

Then one guy got ahold of me. He was above, and he had the speed. lie got down with me, and I kept using what altitude I had to gain more speed on him, because I was pretty sure I could outrun him. Supposedly, I could outrun any Jap airplane there was; they weren't supposed to be that fast. I thought, “Unless he has something new we didn't know about, I'm going to outrun him.”

I had decided that I wasn't going to stand and fight him. I was going to get out of there. So I just kept on going, and kept on going, getting lower, and lower, and lower, and he kept on coming. But I could tell I was gaining on him. He got close enough to fire at me, but he was not effective. I just had it to the firewall, and I just pressed it, and before we were through with this chase [laughter], I was running like a scared rabbit.

I admit, it isn't terribly brave. You don't do that in the storybooks. You turn around and start fighting this fellow. But that wasn't in my mind at the time. I had made enough errors that day, and had enough discouragement in what we had done, that I was going to use my speed and live to fight another day, supposedly, and I wasn't going to match airplanes with that guy down at that low altitude, because I figured he could outmaneuver me. I was going to get away from him. I was actually down on the deck and was using trees. I would hop trees and then go below them to keep out of that guy's gun range, and finally just outran him and kept on going home. [laughter] I got away from him because he didn't have the aircraft that I had. I had a P-51 which, at that time, was a pretty fast airplane. But I'll tell you, I was terribly disappointed in its speed that day. It wasn't anywhere near as fast as its book said it was, because I had it wide open. I was shoving with my feet getting out of there.

Now during that fracas, I heard a conversation between two of our pilots, and one of them was a kid named Forcey, and I forget who talked to him. I couldn't hear very well the other end of the conversation, but I heard Forcey say, “No, I think Cochran was in that airplane on fire that went down, and I didn't see anybody get out of it.”

Now piece that together. Someone had said, “Where is Cochran? Have you seen Cochran?” I was the leader, and here I was talking on the radio trying to gather them, and our radios weren't jiving. I didn't hear the question, but I heard the answer, “No, I believe Cochran was the guy that was going down. He was on fire, and I didn't see anybody get out of it.”

I said, “I'll be damned if that was me. I'm still here, and I'm not in a very good position. I'm over the target, and I got three of them on me. I'm running, but I am still at it. That wasn't me that went down.”

They said, “Oh.”

Now, a guy I knew very well by the name of Terry [David D., Jr.] who was a colonel from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I had known him when he was at Langley in my younger years. Terry was about 100 or 200 miles north of us. He had an outfit up there, and I think they were P-47s, if I'm not mistaken. He had an outfit up there in the northern part of India, and his radio on skipped distance, I suspect, picked up that conversation, and he heard Forcey say, “... No, that was Cochran in that burning airplane, and I don't think he got out.”

Terry picked this up – my friend – and knew that I was down in there, and heard that conversation. When he came back, he said, “I just heard on the radio that Cochran went in. He is lost.” Well, naturally, they had journalists up there, and this man had heard it on the radio. He had to report it, so he reported it in his debriefing, and this got into the channels.

It got back down to the newspapers in New Delhi, and it went out on the wire. Of course, I didn't know any part of this.

We came limping back, disgusted with ourselves. I have never seen a group of fighter pilots so disgusted with themselves. We berated ourselves and each other. I know that many of the pilots felt that I was wrong, that I should have stayed and fought and that sort of thing. I felt that they had not followed proper procedure in having a good half of your force as an aerial cover, and I criticized them and myself for that. I criticized their leader for not having trained that in to them. I wasn't the fighter leader. I criticized myself for taking over a mission of that size. I thought it was proper, I thought that I was capable of doing it, but I was a leader imposed upon fighter pilots that weren't used to following me. They were used to following their squadron commander. I had injected myself into that, that I thought that was proper.

We ran over all of our mistakes. We openly criticized each other. I allowed them to – not allowed them – [laughter] I'll say I may have permitted it, but I wanted them to criticize me, and not have any rancor, and to come out with it. We did.

We berated ourselves and said, “By God, this will never happen again.” We had been complacent, we hadn't been watchful, we had gotten careless, and we had gotten beat.

I explained to them that it was my judgment that it was a bad place to fight from,
we had everything against us, and the wisdom of the situation that was called for was to get the hell down and out, and that's the order I gave. I resented them not obeying it immediately, standing around and fighting. I couldn’t blame them, but in this instance they should have obeyed. Then they did obey the order, and they did get down and out. As I remember, I think we lost three men that day. I know one of them was killed right then. That was the burning airplane, and that was my No. 4 man.

He was not looking, and he was trying to form onto – my wingman was already on me. My second element leader was coming into position, and he was trailing, and they got him right then and there before I could break.

I broke as I saw him getting hit. I broke and turned and took a couple of shots at them, and we were all trying to wipe each other's tails. I remember going across the second element that was forming and trying to get rid of people that were converging on them, because we were sitting ducks.

When I saw the sitting-duck situation. I thought, “This is stupid. Get out of here.” I wasn’t about to defend my position.

I just told them that seemed to me to be the thing to do, and after all I was the guy that was there to make the command, and l did it.

As I say, we berated each other, we knew we had made an error, and we said we were not going to do that ever again. We collected ourselves and got over it. But we felt the loss. We had been defeated by the enemy, and we didn't like it. We were bound that we were going to get that back.

Now that little fracas ended up in my being grounded. Because I had been briefed and was aware of all the invasion plans and everything, and then part of the architect of these plans, it suddenly dawned on Lord Louie and Wingate that if I were to get in the hands of the Japanese it would certainly compromise the whole situation so that it would have to be called off.

Realizing that they were right, I ungraciously accepted the grounding. I was never to fly anymore in enemy territory, and realized that that was wise. So from then on in, I wasn't allowed in the territory, because it just wasn't prudent to have my mind running around back there with the plans in it.

Even if you were able to resist torture, which no one knows whether he will be able to do unless he's confronted with it. They would have to decide that, in fact, they had gotten the whole plan out of me. When the plan is compromised, you got to give it up.

So I was forbidden from then on in to fly combat. I respected that for quite a while, at least until it wouldn't be any longer so final if I were shot down and captured.

Now that word went out, of course, and I didn't realize it at all until I received a teletype from the Air Force headquarters to me, asking me if I were, in fact, dead. Now, this becomes one of those peculiar requirements. I was still the commanding officer and the message had to read: To Cochran, from Stratemeyer, for Cochran, something of that nature. Being the commanding officer, it still had to come to me, and they weren't sure. Then it said, “Verify or refute Cochran's death today. Signed Stratemeyer.”

Boy, I fired it back, “Hell no [laughter], I am not dead.”

Well, I realized they must have heard it some way, and that it was all over. Boy, I thought, holy mackerel, my folks, my family back in the state's. As remote as they were, it came into my mind, ''Good heavens, this is going to get around.”

So I jumped in a P-51 and beat it back to headquarters. I forget whether it was Calcutta or New Delhi. Calcutta, I guess. I went charging back there and jumped out of the airplane, because my plan was this: “All right, I can tell the military, and they can cable on ahead that I wasn't dead, but that isn't going to get to my family very quickly, and it will never really be published.”

I thought, My goodness, if that has gotten to the newspaper, then the newspaper guys are the guys to stop it. If they have already written the story to that effect, then they are the ones that better immediately. They could get through fast, faster than the Army or my cable.

Of course, I cabled General .Arnold right away directly, which I was supposed to do, that it was not true. Then I went right directly to headquarters and I said, “Let me get to the AP, and the UP, and all those guys quickly.” You can imagine people meeting me on the street or in the halls that knew me that had just heard the day before, or two days before, that I was dead and accepted it, and here I am walking along. There were some funny looks. I did reveal to the press that, in fact, “Look, here I am. That's a mistake. For heaven's sake, will you get through quickly? Please get to the Erie Daily Times, whichever one of you that's in that business and in that syndicate or press association. Get word, please, will you? Just in plain, clear English as fast as you can.”

They did that.

The Chief of the Air Force's office, upon getting the cable quickly, got ahold of my family and reassured them right in the middle of the night that, in fact, it was not true. But they had a pretty bad day, a pretty bad 12 hours, which says that I was killed.

I have seen that headline in later days. So as you've said, it's like Mark Twain. I think he had been reported dead, and didn't he say the news of my death has been extremely overrated or something like that? What was that? Well, anyway, it was terribly inaccurate and one of those peculiar things.


Colonel Cochran recollected later in the interview that returned to the United States in May. He suffered from hypoglycemia, and an IG inspector reported that Cochran had ‘stretched a little too far.’ General Arnold got Cochran out, and he did not return to India. After a month of rehabilitation in New York, Cochran ‘escaped’ and worked in Washington, D.C., assisting with the formation of the next two air commando units headed to India. Because of his medical situation, he resigned his commission.

In the interview, he said: “I wrote in my resignation, which I was required to do, why I was getting out, that I didn’t want to be a member of an organization in which I couldn't participate in its main goals and functions, that I didn't want to stay in the Air Force, taking the chance that I might not be on flying status. I didn't want to be taken off flying status, so I said I wanted to resign.”