I had said in my letter of a year ago that I had more to tell you but that letter was getting too long. Well, our beautiful So Calif. WX has turned lousy again, so I'll try to make good on my promise.
Reading over what I had said about "Black Christmas, 1946" I saw that it required a little further explanation for better understanding. Our airfield just south of Shanghai was named Lunghwa - and had only gravel runways with no provisions for night or bad weather operations. It was next to the Whangpoo River and even had a seaplane ramp. Before they quit seaplane operations, BOAC brought several of their Empire flying boats in there with passengers from Hong Kong. They brought them up on the airfield on a seaplane ramp and on their beaching gear. These were first cousins of the Sunderland flying boats with which the RAF chased German submarines around the Atlantic. Being next to the river was both good and bad. The good being that the river helped us find the airfield during reduced visibility; the bad being that fog hung around the river a little thicker than inland.
There was a second airfield just north of Shanghai called Kiang Wan. My Chinese may be wrong but doesn't that mean "River, south"? Anyway it was just south of the Yangtze River and next to the Whangpoo. It was controlled by the damn Chinese Air Force and was a pretty good airfield for 1946, having been built by the Japanese during their occupation of China, 1937-1945. I used to say almost all of the good things I saw in China were what the Japanese had left there. That's probably being unfair to the Chinese as the period I was there (May 46 to May 49) Chiang Kai Shek was devoting everything he had to fighting the communists, and the communists were doing everything, even on the civilian front, that they could to sabotage everything he tried to do.
The U.S. Navy and our military services used Kiang Wan but we (Chinese civilian airlines) were not permitted to use it. Since they were using it, the U.S. Navy had installed a GCA facility there but very few of us civilian pilots knew anything about it and had never shot a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach - by precision radar).
Come Dec 24th, 1946 early evening, the fog began rolling in and six or seven airplanes from CNAC and CATC (Moon Chin's, China Air Transport Corp.) were coming into Shanghai. There were a couple who made it before it got too thick, but there were about six who arrived too late to have enough visibility to get down safely. With our grassy gravel runways, rather indistinct at any time, and our homer beacon for our radio direction finders set up over in the corner of the field, it was never expected that we would be able to do more than just find the airfield. Bill McDonald was our Chief Pilot and was out at Lunghwa in the tower talking to the planes, but there was damn little he could do. He had all the flare pots we could find lined up and burning on our N-S runway. I didn't go out to the field that night (I couldn't have helped anyway) but I understood McD had several barrels of gasoline poured out on the ground and lit to serve as a beacon and heat up the fog to dissipate it a little. I guess using this and having no alternative, Green tried to make a landing at Lunghwa, but was unsuccessful, crashed and burned up himself and a full C-47 load of passengers. That was rather disquieting to the guys that were up there milling around in the fog. I never heard whether those guys were above the ground fog or whether it extended on up. The guys that were up there were doing their best to save fuel but it was getting to be pretty dicey. Toby Wing (I think that was his name) flying a CATC C-47 with passengers was told to go up to Kiang Wan and try a GCA. Well, he had probably never heard of a GCA and certainly had never practiced one. He shot the approach but must have been a little high and was told to "Take a Wave Off - Take a Wave Off", but he was Chinese and certainly didn't know that "Take a Wave Off" was aircraft carrier instructions to pull up and go around again. He continued letting down straight ahead and crashed at the end of the runway into the levee of the river, killing himself and his load of passengers.
Ralph Preus, CNAC, had a C-46 load of passengers and let down out in the country side south west of the city, slowing up his plane as much as possible with flaps, holding the nose high just above a stall. He crashed on some obstruction and bashed in the cockpit. He was a mess and horribly disfigured for life, but he was alive and most of his passengers made it.
I think maybe another CATC plane crashed and I'm not positive I've covered all the CNAC planes, but the next to try was Joe Michiels. He had a C-46 with a passenger load. (We hauled 38 passengers on our C-46's). He said he knew about GCA but had never practiced a GCA landing. Have you ever shot one, Christy? Later, when I was back in the states in the Navy Reserves, I shot a lot of them including one actual (1/4 nile.300 feet) but you have to have faith. I don't know how much faith Joe had, but he had no choice, long gone was any chance to go any place else, so he shot it like he had been doing it all his life. He came down and made his roll out strictly on his directional gyro. When he go stopped, the "FOLLOW ME" jeep couldn't find him on the runway; the visibility was less that 100 feet. While the jeep was looking for him, Joe probably swallowed his heart (I'm sure his heart was in his throat) and was able to taxi the plane when they got to him. Joe must have had the most gas that he had to wait till the last. He was a damned cool customer to be able to do that. Besides, he was the funniest guy I ever knew. When he was being treated for cancer he said he got so much radiation that his neighbors' garage doors opened when he drove down the street. I went to his funeral.
That's about all I can tell you about "Black Christmas". Carey Bowles was out there and can probably give you some more details. You might send him a copy of this letter and he can probably add to it. I have his address as Box 983, Sparta, N.J. 07871, (973)729-6221. That night I was driving around in my jeep, which the Army had allowed service veterans to purchase. I was doing last minute Christmas preparations, but I could hear those guys up there milling around. I felt sorry for them.