While checking out as a captain, I had a flight to Calcutta 28 August 1946 with Austin "Ozzie" Young via Hankow, Kunming and Bhamo. Since Calcutta had been home base for CNAC during all the war years, it was much more familiar to all the pilots than Shanghai and crews were rotated to be allowed two weeks there. A crew finishing their two week stay flew our plane back to Shanghai while we enjoyed our two weeks. It was a very eventful time during the riots.
While going through Customs, we were intercepted by the infamous Mr. Smith, "Smitty" a thorn in the side of a lot of CNAC businessmen. He invited us (Ozzie, our radio operator, and me) to his office and gave us a lecture on the sins of smuggling and the futility of trying to evade his all seeing inspectors. He was familiar with all the potential hiding places on our planes and would surely find anything we tried to hide there. He knew most of the CNAC pilots from several years of dueling with them on their business enterprises. Maybe he saw that I was new and wanted to make the right initial impression. He was quite brief but very emphatic; he would catch us if we tried any funny business.
When we left the airport in the company command car, the streets were curb to curb in water as a result of the storm drains being blocked with hacked up bodies. The Moslems and the Hindus were doing their best ethnic cleansing. Some 50,000 had been killed in the few days before our arrival and the killing was expected to continue. In areas of the city where Hindus were the majority, they burst into their Moslem neighbors' houses and apartments and reduced the occupants' size convenient to fit into the sewers. Areas where the Moslems predominated, it was vice versa. Amazingly they had lived together peaceably during all the years they were ruled by the British. Our driver and a couple of guards that rode with us told us they had good luck on occasions where they might have been stopped by firing the aircraft signaling flare piston into the crowd. It looked a lot more impressive that a Tommy gun. The first two or three days after we arrived, there was an eerie feeling that all hell might break loose anytime. Then the British came.
The British only recently had given the Indians their freedom and the Indian government hadn't time to organize an effective army or police force. They asked the British to come back and restore order. The British troops were apple cheeked boys with fuzz for beards, too young to have engaged in the recent war, but apparently looking for something to shoot. They patrolled in dump trucks, which gave them a high advantage and protected the lower part of their bodies. They covered the bed with a sloping tent of chicken wire to s??? grenades and fitted some frames to grace the solders' bodies when they fired. A curfew was instituted and advertised, announced by speaker systems. Anyone caught out after 6 PM and before 6 AM would be shot, nor warning or questions asked. What with a few hundred soldiers trying to control a million people, it was the only way. Our CNAC people, being of a normal or above intelligence, scrupulously complied.
One day we were out too late to get back to our hotel before 6 PM so we holed up in the apartment belonging to "Indian Jim" Moore. Ozzie knew him and had a key and an invitation from Jim to use the place anytime he wanted, so we did. We stayed at the Great Eastern Hotel which had been a CNAC hostel and hang out when the airline headquarters were in Calcutta and it was quite nice. Ozzie called Robbie (George Robertson) and invited him over for a couple of drinks which he accepted. I'm sure that Robbie welcomed any contact with his former flying buddies, because there were very few Americans left in Calcutta.
Although the British no longer governed India, there was a large commercial presence built up over two hundred years of colonial rule. The British Swimming Club had invited the Americans to enjoy their facilities, so we did. It was located on the far side of the Midan, a central park and grazing ground for the sacred (or protected) cattle. Like New York has its Central Park, San Francisco its Golden Gate Park, and Los Angeles its Griffith Park, Calcutta has its Midan (sp?). We went over almost every day and sat around the pool, ate cheese toast, and drank whatever we fancied. I don't know who was tending the store while so many Englishmen were wasting their time around the pool.
Robbie came over to the Great Eastern and got together with Ozzie over a couple of drinks. Ozzie asked if he was still packing his 45 and he opened up his brief case to show us. Most of us carried pistols when we were flying, but he wasn't flying anymore. He was still fighting a trumped up charge of smuggling opium and said he could fight it better in Calcutta than if he went home. For that, there's an international agreement to extradite from any place in the world and he could be brought back from the U.S. if he was convicted, so he decided to stay until it was finished.
Compared to Shanghai, Calcutta seemed spacious without the taller buildings of Shanghai and poverty and begging seemed about equal. Coming from America, either city would be a shock, but compared to the devastated cities of Japan and Germany or London it would seem quite ordinary.
During the riots between the Hindu's and the Moslems, there didn't seem to be an animosity toward white people. There might have been a little property damage in the areas where one group was flushing out the other for purposes of extermination, but there was no wholesale burning and looting of commercial establishments that I saw or heard about. Each group apparently realized that when they got rid of their hated opponents, an area would be theirs and they didn't want a bunch of destroyed stores or apartments reduced to ashes. Pretty smart rioting. It seems a little odd that peace could be restored by stopping the fighting during the 6 PM to 6 AM hours. Maybe the people had to work and didn't have time to fight during daylight. It was only evening entertainment. During the day we could ride around anyplace in the city in a taxi, and the driver had to be one sect or the other. None seemed to worry. I think most were Moslem as they had turbans like Osama bin Laden.. That Wonk! Wonk! Of those horns on the taxis was different from any other city I can remember and they were wonking all day.
Coming out to China on a Pan American Constellation, we had passed over Nagasaki. It was so flat you could have played a soccer game across any block. The street grid was all that remained, but most of the debris had been cleared away to make a new city. The atomic bomb was pretty impressive.
One evening I had come into Kunming from Hong Kong, and would stay overnight before going back the next day. Bill Ewing came in with a C-46 from Shanghai rigged up with one passenger seat for the sole occupant, "Genial Jim" Farley, close friend and mentor of President Franklin Roosevelt. He was CEO of Coco Cola company and was on a round-the-world survey of Coco Cola operations. He was on his way to Calcutta and rather than going down to Hong Kong and catching BOAC to Calcutta, he chose the scenic way by chartering a CNAC C-46 to come out of Shanghai to Kunming to Bhamo and Calcutta. Bill and I had a whole evening to talk with this great man with nothing but crickets to interrupt us. Mr. Farley directed the conversation and it was apparent where he got the nickname "Genial Jim". He hardly touched on politics and didn't do any name dropping. I was and I'm sure Ewing was also eager to hear of some of the White House stories, but he asked all about us and what we were doing and hoped to be doing out there. He made us feel important. I was sorry when the evening ended with nothing stronger than hot tea and no memorable stories. We really couldn't impose on him and ask juicy questions about Eleanor or the Roosevelt boys. I think he split with Roosevelt when Roosevelt insisted on running for a third term; he was Postmaster General and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
After "Black Christmas" the government moved amazingly, quickly to make a new runway and get the proper high intensity lights. They let out the bidding giving points to the proposal that would employ more workers, but also to finish the job quickly. Unemployment was high because of dislocation caused by the war against the communists so they tried to get some of those coolies off the streets. They moved quickly to get things started and built the new strip parallel to our existing N-S runway but far enough away to avoid interference with our operations. Because Lunghwa was so close to the Whangpoo River, the ground was too soft to build a conventional strip with good foundations under the whole length so they built a "floating runway". That is they tied the whole thing together with reinforcing steel so that every area was supported by adjacent areas. It was expensive but, boy was it pretty and smooth. We used it for two years (May 47 to May 49) and it was just as smooth when we left as when it was new. It was quite imposing for the Orient being 6000 feet long and 200 ft wife. That was very respectable even for the US in those days. And being 20 inches thick tapering to 12 at the edges was more than sufficient for planes far heavier than we were flying. Being an engineering graduate I was quite interested in following the construction of that runway. The Bartow lights which lined the runway had Feesnel lens focused on the approach path and could penetrate an awful lot of fog a rain. With the new runway and our radio beacon perfectly aligned two miles to the south (plus a lot of practice) we could split that runway four out of five times under the hood. At an approach speed of 120 mph, we could hit that runway just as well as the ILS (instrument landing system) with their localizer glide slope and inner and outer markers though it took a little more skill. We did have plenty of occasions to use it. Per my log book Feb. 1, '48 Shanghai weather was bad and twelve of us were stacked over the beacon waiting our turn to land. At 500 foot separation, that puts the top plane at 6000 feet, but I didn't note any ice.
On 12 May 1947, I took Peter Mao, a photographer from the North China Daily News up in an SNJ/AT-6 to get pictures of the new runway just 5 months too late to have avoided Black Christmas. That was mighty fast construction.
After the pilots' strike during March and early April 1947, the company hired a few ex-Chinese Air Force pilots on of whom was Y.H. Yu, son of the Minister of Communications who was over the top of CNAC (the Nationalist government owned more than 50% of CNAC). I note four flights with him in our SNJ/AT-6's. He was very good. I believe they had training from the US Air Force. The little AT-6's were fun to fly and we had five of them that sat for months without ever turning a prop. Of course flying as much as we did (120-130 hrs per month), who needed to fly for the fun of it? Maybe it was because I had been a Navy flight instructor I got the job, but it was fun to kick a little airplane around a bit. You don't do loops or snap rolls in C-46's. It was rather brief tryout before they were sent out on the line as co-pilots.
We had to always be in contact with the Schedule Clerk when we were in Shanghai, but we seldom knew more than a day in advance when or where we were going. If you hadn't been on a shuttle for a couple of weeks, you sure as hell had a week or more coming u to spend in Peking going to Taiyuan and Mukden or in Hankow going to Sian.
A company war surplus command car would come to pick you up 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to take you out to the airfield. Captain's privilege was to be last and enjoy 20 more winks of sleep. We lived in French Town, 95 Rue Massenet, about two blocks off Avenue Joffre, a rather respectable neighborhood. When the communist Foreign Secretary, Chou EnLai was in town to negotiate with the nationalists, he stayed about four or five doors down our street. Out boys rode their tricycles down past the military guards posted in front of his residence to admire all the keen guns the guards had. Amah wasn't far behind, watching over them. In the winter riding out to the field, we'd see dump trucks going down the street picking up the bodies of the homeless who had frozen to death during the night. Most of them had very few clothes unless some of their brothers had stripped them after they died. It was quite pathetic but hardly anything we could do about it. The weather in Shanghai was similar to perhaps Washington D.C. except I don't remember in three winters having any snow that covered the ground. It made you want to cry seeing the cleaners picking up little four or five year old bodies one in each hand and throwing them into the truck. People who got out later didn't see this. Although we were dressed for it, those winter rides out to the field were quite nippy in an open command car.
When we were in town, we'd frequently pickup a test flight or two. When an engine had been changed, a flight control replaced, work had been done on the landing gear, or deicer boots had been installed or removed a test flight was required before the plane was ready to go on schedule. An engine change always required a couple of hours of "slow turn". I'm not sure why it was called "slow turn" because we were required to go charging around the landscape at climbing power with brief periods of METO (maximum except take off) to break in the new engine. There's a little boy in each one of us and a carte blanc to go anyplace is license to do a bit of mischief. 200 miles per hour at several thousand feet provides no feeling of speed, but at 25 to 50 feet over the countryside it's a thrill. We probably converted a few farmers to communism when we blew over their windmills with our prop wash. Around Shanghai, there were a myriad of little canals for transportation and to water the crops with lots and lots of little windmills with cloth covered blades, only about the size of a bed sheet. They were flimsy little affairs and blew over quite easily underneath a C-46 or C-47 at METO power. I'm sorry now, but at the time it was fun, sort of like blowing over native outrigger canoes in the Central Pacific during the war. I think they could be put back together quite readily after our depredation.
CNAC had one of the earliest hijackings. Don Hassig has written up his experience elsewhere, so we'll only touch on it. We had evacuated our radio station and radio beacon 11/18/48 at Tsinan so it occurred shortly after that. On a passenger flight to Peking via Tsingtao in a C-47 some commies came up to the cockpit and ordered Don and his copilot back to the cabin, they were taking over. They went to Tsinan, one of our stations we evacuated shortly before, and the communist pilot tried several times to land. After just about creaming himself and the load of passengers on several passes at the runway the leader of the group let the CNAC copilot up to the pilot's seat to land the plane. Fortunately, he was one of the copilots with some flying experience. Probably not more than a third of our copilots could have done it. Hassig and his passengers were held a month or six weeks and released. They were properly treated but the wait seemed interminable. Tsinan is about 140 miles almost due south of Peking and about 100 miles west of Tsingtao. They covered that 100 miles to Tsingtao first by truck, then those big single wheel wheelbarrows, then on foot passing through contested territory, then on Nationalist trucks into the city. Don wrote up a nice description of the event, which I won't try to cover, but this was an early hijacking before they became so popular. We didn't have any others. Most recently, as I write this, hijackers blew up the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon so it's still a problem.
This paragraph is garbage to someone not familiar with the old propeller driven transports, but in case no one else writes it some one should tell how we flew. We tried to get the most out of our war-surplus planes, loading them up to maximum weight (or more) on every flight. When flying from Hankow to Sian or from Peking to Taiyuan or Mukden, we always carried enough gas for the round trip to avoid having to take expensive gas from those places. We tried to fly at the most efficient altitude, about 8000 ft in coastal regions, high enough to give us some gliding distance if we lost an engine and above communist pot shots but below some of the winds at higher altitude. Hankow to Sian required 10,000 feet with no clouds and 11-12,000 in clouds. Our C-46's and a few C-47's had two speed blowers, which we were required to exercise hourly in order to keep the clutch and gears from sludging. At 12,000 ft or above we needed high blower, but at lower altitude, it took more power from the engine and wasn't needed. In icing, we could combine the blower exercise with propeller de icing. When we shifted to low pitch, the ice came off the propeller at terrific speed and hit the fuselage with a tremendous bang. I'm sure that shook up the passengers when we were carrying them. Between Sian and Hankow we flew so many flights that two thirds of them were pure cargo so we didn't scare passengers. If there weren't communists close to the airfield, we departed and arrived with long sloping climbs and let downs to get the most speed for the gas. Later, when the communists closed in, we'd have to arrive over the field at a safe altitude, maybe 6000 ft, and drop everything to come down like a rock (gear and flaps). It played hell with our sinuses and made most of us sick, that 1000 ft/minute descent. The human body isn't designed for such rapid pressure changes and a little cold or throat irritation or infection is driven right up the old Eustachian tubes into the ear making a very sick pilot. We did find that the average American plot flying at his maximum, 140-160 hours per month, could outlast a Chinese copilot or radio operator about two to one. In spite of their reputation of being able to live on a spoonful of rice a day, they couldn't stand as much as we could. To get the most flying hours for a given amount of engine maintenance, we were required to maintain a quite elaborate log of engine readings; oil pressure and temperature, power settings, hi-lo blower, outside air temperature, cylinder head temps, you name it and if there was a gauge, we logged it. This way, we didn't spend a lot of time on unjustified maintenance. If the engine was running great (and they almost always did) the 50 hour check and inspection of the piggy-back oil screens was all that was required. We had excellent reliability of our engines and propellers. Before going out to China, I heard tales of horror about the Curtiss electric propellers. After flying them, their reliability was just as good as the Hamilton-Standard which was saying a lot because Ham Std props are known the world over for reliability.
All the way around, the C-46 was a more profitable plane than the beloved C-47. It carried almost twice the payload as our C-47's 9000-10,000 vs about 5000 pounds. It was about 25 mph faster, 160IAS /vs 135IAS and longer range. The C-47 had 800 gal of fuel and used about 80 gal/hr for about 10 hours. The C-46's carried 1200 gallons and burned approx 100 gal /hr, 10 hours but was going faster so had a longer range. The R-1830's on the C-47 were rated at 1200 HP for T.O. while the R-2800's on the C-46 were 2000 HP at T.O.. We flew the C-47's at 26,500 pounds and the C-46's nominally at 48,000 pounds. I say nominally because our loads were very seldom weighed. Both the C-46 and C-47 were built like the Brooklyn Bridge, way stronger than needed, but I don't remember ever hearing of wing cracks or any stress fractures. They'd last forever. The C-47 was a delight to fly, quite sensitive on the controls and so stable longitudinally people could run up and down the fuselage and never disturb an 80 mph climb out or let down. When the de-icer boots were installed or removed, we always checked the effect on stalling speed. I picked up quite a number of test flights and frequently let the stall progress to about a quarter turn spin. You're not supposed to spin C-46's and C-47's, but a little quarter turn was interesting and in a climbing turn the bottom inside wing on the C-47 stalled quite violently and whipped over so fast it'd make your head spin. I understand this characteristic would prevent the C-47 from ever being certified if it were new today and had to pass the FAA certification tests. Like the Bumble Bee, it doesn't know this and flies anyway. The C-46 was completely benign. In a stall, you could sit there all afternoon with the wheel pulled back in your chest and the rate of Climb unwinding at 2000 feet per minute and have complete aileron control. On the other hand, the C-46 was heavy on the controls and flew like a truck. The C-46 had a beautiful smooth Plexiglas windshield that so distorted vision that it was best to look out the side window when landing. After lining up on the runway and killing your drift, descend the last 15 or 20 feet looking out the side. The area of the vertical fin was much larger than the rudder; so, much more rudder control was required than when flying the C-47 in a crosswind landing. Enough about our C-46's and 47's, but we had six DC-4's for flights to the U.S. and plush flights to Peking and Hong Kong. That was a different group of pilots, different scheduling, and almost a different airline.
On my first flight into Hong Kong in August 1946 with Rich Krupke while checking out as Captain, it seemed certain Krupke must know those people in those apartments, we came so close to them. All of you who went into old Kai Tak airport will remember that approach along the hills then a quick right turn and sliding down through the apartments with full flaps, gear down and digging in your heels to get slowed down enough to get on the first part of the runway. Later I found out that 70 MPH instead of 80 MPH made a steeper descent. Amazingly, with the runway extended the Boeing 747's made that same approach later. Hong Kong had really been stripped by the Japanese. Having been cut off from American scrap steel, they had to compensate for that by pillaging all the cities they took in the orient. CNAC stayed at the Peninsula Hotel. Now, it's a four star hotel, but at that time it was an almost empty shell. A year from the Jap surrender and things were very slow to recover with Europe and the orient in shambles. There was cold water and toilets in the rooms but not much that could pass for furniture or drapes. Ragged curtains left from prewar and zilch air conditioning left drinking an iced scotch and soda the best means of keeping cool. Not many British had returned and American tourist hadn't yet discovered the joys of traveling and the bargains in Hong Kong; so, any white person was considered a potential friend. In this milieu, a few of us pilots were sitting in the bar lobby of the Peninsula enjoying an evening drink, but a bad toothache was spoiling my participation. Seeing my evident lack of enthusiasm, one of the guys asked me what was wrong. When I mentioned my problem, one of our little group, a Scotsman, said he was a dentist and if I would come over to his office in the morning, he would take care of it. After the suitable administration of Novocain and a little wiggling with forceps, he got out a little chisel and held it under that wisdom tooth while his Chinese assistant beat on it with a hammer. That was about the roughest extraction I ever had and, when we were through, he handed me about half a tumbler of premier scotch. That being my favorite drink, I really appreciated it and the pain had just about gone away by the time I got on the Star Ferry. Victoria, the main city of Hong Kong, where all the tall buildings are located, is joined with Kowloon, on the mainland, where the Peninsula Hotel is located by the Star ferry's running about every ten minutes. If you don't have time for an ocean voyage, the Star ferries are an enjoyable substitute. It takes ten or fifteen minutes and you thread your way through anchored and departing cargo steamers.
Always enjoying mild and Shanghai having none, Hong Kong was an oasis in a milk free orient. With British inspection and control, the milk was considered safe and several milkshakes before bedtime was my routine every time I got into Hong Kong. There were several beaches, which were considered safe for swimming, again a favorite of mine. Tsingtao was the only beach in China, which was considered safe. When we say safe we're talking about diseases rife in the orient that are no worry in Europe or the U.S.; Bubonic Plague, typhus, typhoid, yellow fever, etc plus the ever present tetanus, small pox and measles. Doc. Richards kept a log on all of us pilots when we were due for our inoculations and posted our names and due dates to come in. It was pretty darn effective and I can remember only one tragedy. Len Parish's three year old daughter died of small pox even though she had had her vaccination. Apparently a strain of the disease peculiar to China had infected her. All Americans in Shanghai were notified and called in for re-inoculation with a Chinese small pox vaccine. Montezuma had a particularly large following and his revenge was visited on all pilots as a result of having to eat all over the country in questionable cleanliness. I even ended up in the hospital for four days as the re result of an attack. Recovering from that, my immunity became so great that I could eat anyplace without any effect. Late 1948 we picked up some new Army Air Force pilots that had been mustered out over in Japan and in the Philippines. They had been eating in military messes and hadn't picked up the immunity, yet. Several of them rode with me as copilots while checking out for captain. Even though we ate together in some outlying station, they got the dysentery and I did not. I always carried several does of sulfaguannadine powder in my flight case for myself in case of need or for whoever else needed it. It seemed to be pretty good and if we were on a shuttle and weren't going back to Shanghai for several days, that was the only medicine in five hundred miles to do any good. The supply was replenished as soon as we returned to Shanghai in case of further need. Our CNAC clinic at Lunghwa, where Doc Richards held forth, was pretty well equipped and had its own pharmacy. Doc had a good Chinese doctor as an assistant and two or three nurses plus a pharmacist. Besides our about eighty American pilots and a dozen American administrative personnel, there were two or three hundred CNAC Chinese mechanics and line personnel for whom Doc was responsible and the clerical staff.
Operations, which took care of all the scheduling and the Business Dept., which sold the tickets and contracted for the cargo plus the Meteorology Office were all Chinese. This organization which had been built up over twenty years was very efficient and if nothing else was made up of the best businessmen in the world. To run an airline in that quagmire of bureaucracy that the Nationalist government hung around our neck, required a bunch of geniuses and they did it. Americans, as a subsidiary of PanAm, operated the planes while Chinese took care of all other details. UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) the oriental version of the Marshal Plan provided assistance in the finance of our company and our paychecks came from Chase Manhattan.
The pay was considerably more than the stateside airlines were paying at the time partly to compensate for more hazardous flying conditions and partly for living in a strange country, strange but damned interesting. With our pay scale there was considerable discretionary income. A few pilots went home wealth and others went home broke. Bad but impetuous gamblers lost and had out a lot of IOU's when they went home or some of them got killed. If there was any superstition among pilots it was that guys that got killed frequently had a bunch of IOU's out. Since I didn't ever find out the difference between a straight and a full house, I kept what the company paid me. One pilot, an expert poker player, picked up the guys in his Cadillac and set up poker games in his apartment. When his wife was to have a baby, he rented the hospital room a week or two before she was due and had it painted and redecorated. Hospital rooms weren't as expensive as they are now, but they were still plenty and that was pretty extravagant. Not all pilots engaged in these bank breaking poker games, but enough did to make it not worthy.
Although we made enough in a month to keep us for several months, we needed occasionally to cash one of those American checks. This required knowing a trustworthy native familiar with the black market, usually a Russian or in my case a Pole. George Donbrowo (sp?) was his name, about 27 or 28, proficient in four or five languages, of course including the Shanghai dialect of Chinese, English (with a Brooklyn accent), Polish, Russian, French and maybe others, a wheeler and dealer who lived by his wits. I don't even remember how I met him, but he sold my Buick and my Jeep and cashed my U.S. checks for most of three years. I needed US currency and many Chinese and foreign businessmen needed a means to get money out of the country. In their wartime economy fighting the communists, the Nationalist prohibited foreign exchange going out of the country except for arms to fight the commies. Thus if a businessman wanted to get money out of the country, a hard currency foreign check preferably English or American was the way to do it and they would pay 25-35% more than the check was worth. A fifteen hundred dollar check could bring $2100-2200 on the black market preferably in $20 bills. Since the US Treasury office was just the floor below Rosemary's office in the consulate, we could get the counterfeit expert to check the authenticity of the bills we got. I'm a little hazy on the particulars right now, but one of George's friends offered me a 3 or 4 carat diamond for a ridiculous price of only $2000 US. It looked great wrapped in black velvet in a nice case, so I took it and said I'd get back with him next day. The Army/Navy PX had a jewelry section with some diamond experts. I asked one of them to look at my zircon that someone had offered me for $100. He said it was pretty good, offer him $50. I took it back to the guy and told him it was nice but I didn't really want it. I'd rather get some jade. I didn't want to insult him, because I liked George and I didn't want to lose him. I met his mother and father and had some Polish/Russian Easter Cake at his house. He was a friend. I don't know how much he knew about it anyway. George and his family were like many stateless people who had come to China in 1920-21.