CNAC CAPTAIN JOHN KENEHAN
Both CNAC and the U. S. Army Air Corps flew over mountains into unoccupied Nationalist China. CNAC's flights were of civil nature, and in addition were, under a contract to the Army to make some of its flights or missions. The Army's flights were naturally all military. We both flew over a western part of the Himalayan Range commonly referred to as "the Hump". In addition CNAC often flew an even more rugged route not flown by the AAC, to Suifu (Ipin) at the headwaters of the Yangtze River up stream from Chung King.
Hump flights qualified military pilots as "combat" since hazards of flight was not only due to rough terrain and sever weather, but over enemy territory, and a Japanese fighter base. Slow unarmed transports were vulnerable to Japanese Zeros.
Although I realize that I am not qualified to judge CNAC's importance to the war effort, I am convinced that Nationalist China would not have survived without our activity. CNAC was the Chinese Nationalist Government's only physical connection with the outside world. All Chinese Government, United States and foreign Officials, as example Ambassadors, government officials and their staffs, were our passengers. Therefore our services not only met the Chinese Government's, the U.S. Government's and China's allies civilian needs, but also some for the U.S. Military.
Before and during the WW II I was able to keep my physical disability from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and later the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Pan American Airways and China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) until I had gained substantial flight experience as Captain.
After the war and I had returned home, the draft was still being on, I was about to be drafted, I then revealed my disability and so was rejected by my local draft board and reclassified 4F (physically unfit for military service). Correction of my disability would require an expensive, semi-experimental operation for which the military was hesitant to assume responsibility. Besides, by this time I felt I had more than done my part in the war effort. Also, I was weary having served the military equivalent to nearly eleven TOURS of duty.
These memoirs are now being written more than 50 years after the facts. Day to day experiences have already faded. Memories of experiences which were in some way exceptional have been burned into my memory will only be lost when I am planted six feet under. Some flights were simply amusing, some were near catastrophic, others may have created such anxiety during flight that I will remember them forever. Although experiences related herein were unique to me, they are similar to those of all CNAC pilots.
CNAC Pilots had several advantages over the Army Air Transport Command Pilots who also flew the India to Kunming routes. Because we had no military ties or background, CNAC Pilot's flying was totally different from that of military pilots. Much of our background was either "bush league", commercial airline, or for foreign entities necessitating individuals to rely on themselves for flight decisions unlike the Army's structured procedures. CNAC Captains were under no supervision, similar to Pan American Captains whose flights were outside US borders (jurisdiction) over international water.
To check out as Captain, we flew the hump with experienced hump pilots long enough to become familiar with the terrain, weather and other hazards, usually some 30 trips. I am not familiar with the Army's hump familiarization, but it must have been much less than ours. Their flights were considered "combat" and therefore they were subject to rotation in little more than that which CNAC pilots were only ready for check out as command pilot.
Not like today as the Air Force has time to fully train pilots. In 1943 and 1944 military pilots were so badly needed that many came over soon out of flight school. Therefore, they never had a real chance to receive adequate hump experience before rotation. Most of us started with CNAC with over 1000 command time and in addition we rode with experienced Hump pilots for 30 or 35 trips (missions). On checkout, we often had nearly enough "missions", that had we been Army, to be sent back to the U. S., rotated.
Secondly, we flew a months flying time constantly for two weeks, at least 100 to sometimes over 140 hours of flight. Then we had two weeks of each month off, two weeks of R & R. All of us maintained a residence in Calcutta. Army pilots remained at their Chaboa base, flying only every few days. The first flight, after any lay-off was always hard, stressful. You just did not know what to expect until you made the first trip. After that you understood the conditions, following trips were always easier. We only had one hard trip, the first one, for each 35 or so trips each month. I expect that after several days layover, that all of their trips were stressful.
We flew a route direct to Chung King or to Suifu. Although beyond the Japanese patrols this route was more hazardous than the regular India (Dinjan or Chaboa) to Kunming even though it was still within their fighter patrol area over Burma's northern jungle area.
Toward the end of WW II as the Hump traffic became more intense the Army exercised a measure of traffic control spacing of aircraft during Monsoon instrument conditions. At times weather became so critical, usually due to extreme icing from freezing rain or nighttime thunderstorms that the Army would "declare the Hump closed" which meant they discontinued flying and therefore traffic control spacing of flights. As this referred to their operations only we would usually continue wide open without their traffic interference.
One night in January 1944 when icing was particularly severe, some superior Army General, stationed in New Deli a long way away from Army operations at Chaboa, learned that we were flying and the Army was not because of weather. He ordered them to fly. I heard that eleven Army C-47's were dispatched from Chaboa for Kunming. Three returned the rest crashed on the hills. Severe icing was the probable cause. I do not recall that we lost any planes that night. We never heard much of Army Causalities, only enough to know they were significant. On a visit to Army Operations at Chaboa, one of our pilots, Roy Farrell, noted a map on the wall with over 2800 pins. When he inquired, he was told each pin represented a "lost" aircraft.
I recall the morning of the day of Japanese surrender that I had 20,000 lbs. of gold on board (part of the treasury of China being returned to the capitol at Chung King); the Army had declared the "Hump Closed" on account of weather. Since only solid instrument weather and ice lay ahead, I advised the plane that taxied out ahead of me by radio, also with 20,000 lbs. of gold for Chung King, that I would wait 15 minutes behind him before I would take off. While waiting I tuned my radio compass to a G.I. station at AAFB base at Chaboa that played some stateside records. While listening, the D. J. interrupted the music to excitedly announce that he just heard by short wave broadcast from the states that the Japanese had accepted the Pottsdam surrender terms (total surrender). The war was over. After take-off, I had my radio operator break contact with CNAC operations and try to pick up a short wave news broadcast from the States. He was not successful. I was never criticized for breaking radio contact even though I had part of the treasury of China on board and the weather was marginal. I never heard of a pilot being criticized for any of his actions.
All through the war years the United States Army was grateful for our efforts, and they showed it. Now after the war, civilian war efforts have largely been forgotten. History seems to have passed us by. The most notable example is that of the patriotic Merchant Marine sailors, many who drowned in the frigid North Atlantic or was shot in their lifeboats by German submarines after their slow merchant ship was torpedoed. Survivors often watched their convoy continue on course without stopping to pick up survivors leaving them to the mercy of the German submarine deck guns or the sever elements. Though this seemed cruel, there was no other way. Roosevelt was so grateful to the Merchant Marine sailors that he gave them full veteran status.
But later an envious Navy lobbied Congress and was able to void it. It took nearly half a century for the country to realize that many of us as civilians faced the same real dangers of the enemy as the military. Many patriotic civilians died serving the war effort.
Thankfully, I was one of the lucky survivors.
China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) was a commercial airline, a Pan American affiliate, owned 45% by Pan American World Airways and 55% by the Nationalist Chinese Government. I joined CNAC in Miami in October of 1943 at the ripe old age of 23, transferring directly from PAA to CNAC. I departed on a new airplane ferry flight on last day of November from West Palm Beach with Captain Lester Hall who had been in the U.S. on leave along with one other new pilot whose name escapes me, delivering a new C-47.
It was the world's first major airlift and by far the greatest of all time. After CNAC proved that such an airlift was feasible, the Army Air Corp toward the end of the war literally saturated the air with transport. There were substantial losses of both CNAC and Army Air Corps planes and crews.
Since the Burma Road was completely inaccessible after the loss of Rangoon, CNAC by air was the only physical communication China had with the outside world. It was composed of lend-lease aircraft to the Chinese Nationalist Government. Operations were by Americans, mostly from the old pre-war Pan American Airways; the business department was comprised of Chinese of the Nationalist Government. Co-Pilots and radio operators were Chinese. Maintenance was composed of Americans as chief mechanics and many old time Chinese as line mechanics some from AVG days. I always felt both to be superior.
CNAC maintained the corporate office in Calcutta where all the pilots maintained a residence. During WWII, if a person was a "resident" of a foreign country, he was not subject for U. S. Income tax. Criteria for "foreign residence was the type of house he lived in, i.e. a "tent" or a "stone" structure. By this standard CNAC pilots were not subject to U. S. Income taxes, but military pilots were.
Lester Hall, a CNAC Captain and formerly a Flying Tiger had been back to the US on leave. As was the custom returning pilots brought back an airplane along with any new personnel and whatever else the Company needed. Les Hall knew the ropes and so we had a great sight seeing, fun trip of 15 days enroute to Calcutta.
We departed from West Palm Beach on November 29, 1943 for Havana for a "lost weekend" as earlier pilots had done before. However, after a very long run for take-off run, one of us discovered West Palm Operations had filled our cabin tank with 500 gallons of gas, a tank only to be used to cross the south Atlantic. This gave us an extra 3000 lbs. gross weight in addition to all the "loot" aboard that you could imagine. We had barrels of Cocoa-cola syrup, cases of whiskey, and all kinds of household and personal goods not available in India. Before the cabin tank was filled, I estimated we were way overloaded for landing on the landing gear. Now add another ton and half.
Therefor, since we needed to burn excess fuel weight and since Havana was only about 100 miles and we could not burn off much weight, so Less decided to fly on to Puerto Rico, some 1000 miles, where we landed about 4500 lbs. lighter. After a day in San Juan, we proceeded on to George Town. Then on to Belem where everyone, military and civilian ferry pilots alike had to overnight in Belem. And there to visit Queenie, probably the most famous prostitute in the world at the time, and maybe to this date. She rated halve a page write-up in Time Magazine.
Next on to Natal where we jumped off on a cool mid-night for British Ascension Island, a God-Forsaken volcano in the middle of the south Atlantic midway between South America and Africa. We planned to reach Ascension about daylight, refuel and proceed on to Accra, in Africa before dark. However on departing Ascension, we noticed a flicker in the oil pressure gage and so we returned and spent the night on God-forsaken Ascension while an engine was checked. Because of the considerable amount of whiskey on board, and the depraved G. I.'s on the island, Less Hall really was thinking and told Army Operations that because we had U.S. mail on board and were required to have an armed guard on the plane. Army planes carrying nurses, Red Cross girls or WAACS always had armed guards because of the sex-starved, liquor-starved Ascension G.I.'s.
Then on to Accra, Maidugri and to Khartoum where we deviated from the normal ferry route. Instead of heading east toward Karachi where ferry pilots go for the best route, we headed north up the Nile. We stopped at Luxor where we visited newly discovered King Tut's tomb. (His body and artifacts by this time had been removed, and so the tomb was empty). I always like to say, "when we got there he was already gone".
We continued north up the Nile where we got a good view of the pyramids and sphinx and on to Cairo. While Faruk was still king of Egypt, this was a fun place to visit, so we made the bars and nightclubs for a day or so. We stayed in a beautiful hotel (Shepherd Hotel I believe) in the middle of the beautiful Blue Nile.
Continuing our side trip, we flew farther north up to new Jewish City of Tel Aviv in what was then still Palestine. The very modern bustling city was the new homeland of the Jews who had survived Hitler. Girls were plentiful and they liked Americans. This is the only place I ever saw where two G.I. M.P.'s cruising around with two girls in their jeep as in a double date. Paradise. The toilets in the hotel were most modern complete with bidet. Our other newly hired pilot was, like myself, also a "country" boy, so we had fun washing his bottom when he used the toilet and wasn't watching. Modern Israel is totally different from the Palestine that the Jews first started settling.
Leaving Tel-Aviv, we flew to Abadan in Iran, a U. S. Army stop in Iran where Army pilots delivered fighter planes to the Russians. Russians came across the river from Basra in Iraq to pick up the planes, Americans were not allowed in Iraq. After dinner as the sun was setting, I went out on the verandah and saw a big red glow in the sky from Basra across the river. Basra had one of the world's largest refineries. I knew the Germans were only a few miles away, someone said 27 miles, and I knew that their guns could reach that distance. I felt a bit uneasy since Abadan was not much farther. When I ask someone "aren't they going to shut it down for the night to dispel the glow," the reply was definitely "no". They explained the Germans did not want to damage or destroy it because they desperately needed the fuel and wanted it intact. The Germans never got any closer than the 27 miles they were that night.
From Abadan, we landed on a beach on the Persian Gulf in Southern Iran, possibly El Fasher, a small spot on a beach run by the British. They filled our tanks from 5-gallon tins. The empties stacked as high as the wing. We ask for directions to the Officers Mess. A Limey pointed a direction, which took us via their garbage dump. On the way we got a whiff. Stink wow!! Devastated our desire to eat, even though we were hungry. So we immediately got back in the plane and headed for the U.S. Army base at Karachi, in India.
On the flight from Karachi to Calcutta, we had a nice fly by the beautiful white marble Taj Mahall. The Taj and surrounding landscaping was spectacular. This ended our 15-day excursion to Calcutta.
(The dirtiest filthiest place on Earth)
Calcutta a city of three or more million people (some local estimates went as high as 6 million). It is 90 miles up the dirty polluted but seasonally navigable Hoogley River. Calcutta is sub-tropical very dense with people and with no underground sewer system, just open ditches along the streets. Cows are sacred and so roan the streets at will dropping as cows do. Their droppings are picked up by hand and plastered on any vertical surface like a convenient wall to dry, then used as fuel to cook my food. Calcutta has been called the dirtiest, filthiest place on earth, which no one disputes. Californians who complain about smog should visit Calcutta.
I arrived in Calcutta December 15 when India was in the midst of a famine. It was reported that over a thousand were dying on the streets each night on the streets of Calcutta from starvation. Every morning trucks would go down streets where people were sleeping on the walks. They would nudge them. If they did not move, they were loaded onto trucks and taken to the burning ghats down on the Hoogley River.
I never ate better or more food or lived more luxuriously in my life than I did in Calcutta. CNAC spared nothing for their pilots.
Calcutta had three definite societies each divided from the other with very little overlap, First the British. Since India was a British Colony, the British social structure started with the Governor. It naturally included the upper British military officers, wealthy traders, and top-level managers.
Then there was the Indian Society, some very wealthy. Many were highly educated in the most prestigious universities in England. Once I was in the home of an Indian family who were near black in skin color. As I recall the head of the household was educated at Oxford. Although they were very gracious, I was uncomfortable. I almost felt barbarous, an uncouth American.
A class shunned by both the British and the Indians were the "Anglos", literally half-breeds. They were always recognized by an accent all their own. British soldiers were only rotated after seven years and so some produced offspring with Indian women. These were the "Anglos" (Anglo/Indians). As with most Oriental-Anglo offspring, they tended to have such a smooth, fine skin ranging from near black to white. Many of the girls were beautiful; they always spoke of "home" as England though the military father may have departed for England years ago.
I lived several places in Calcutta during my two years. The last place was at 2 Rainy Park a 2-story house surrounded by a wall topped in broken glass overlooking the maidan (a large park). Three of us, Charles Sharkey, Steve Kusak and I and our 7 servants lived next door to U. S. Army General Nayland, whose claim to fame was as former football coach for the University of Tennessee.
Steve Kusak, from upper New York State, a person with an unusual personality from a strict but modest Polish family. After the war, he established two nightclubs in Tokyo tailored to the occupying American military. He told me later that when the U. S. turned the government back to the Japanese, he got one sold, and the Japanese Government just took the other.
Charles Sharkey, probably the youngest Airline Captain ever at age of 22 with substantial hump experience was a phenomenal party person and a very daring pilot who would hunt out thunderstorms to show pilot trainees their dangers. I never knew anything of his background, except that he was an American citizen who came to CNAC from the Royal Canadian Air Force. He finally crashed and killed himself. I never knew the circumstances since I was home at the time.
Not far from us were some other large 2 story homes on Cryer (Sp) Road, one, the infamous Whore House, where Margo entertained. Margo a beautiful young fresh girl who also rated a nice write-up in Time Magazine as "Margo of Calcutta". Several of our pilots were well acquainted with Margo. It was rumored after the war she offered to pay anyone $20,000. (a lot of money in 1944) who would marry her and bring her to the States. I always assumed it to be correct. George Robinson (Robbie) a real colorful character from Macon GA did married her and brought her back. I do not know if he collected the 20 grand. She went mad and died a few years later in an institution, rumored from a disease. Maybe syphilis, I don't know for sure.
Three, I can not remember for certain which three as I was never one, but it could have been Cliff Groh, ___, and Jimmy Scoff would visit the Cryar Road fun house. When these three arrived, the madam would close the doors, get rid of the other customers, usually U.S. Army and leave the House and girls to the three. Then two would give the Madam a thousand Rupee note (over $300, a lot of money in those days) and shame Scoff into following suit. Later the Madam gave the other two their money back, and Jimmy paid a good price for all three and the house made good money for the night.
One night Scoff went to the Cryar Road Whore house and the gate was locked. They were closed. He thought they should let him in regardless, so he pulled out his old Colt 44 and shot the lock to pieces and they allowed him in and took good care of him. But the British never liked guns and so Scoff was arrested and put on trial for the shooting a gun. The prosecution was unable find a single person, whore, servants, or anyone who even knew the incident happened. So the trial was dropped. Jimmy Scoff always had a laugh about this. Later on a flight to Chung King Scoff took off a few minutes ahead of me and crashed only a few miles from Dinjan in dense jungle, killing all aboard. Although it was only distance from Dinjan, CNAC people could only reach the wing but not the plane in the dense jungle. We never knew what happened, the wing seemed to have left the airplane. I took off a few minutes behind him and experienced no unusual turbulence.
To put our equipment in proper perspective to those who think only in terms of jets requires some understanding. Ours were not "ancient" aircraft, but the most modern of the day. The DC (Douglas Commercial) 3, (or Army C 53) was the backbone of all the major airlines and fairly new on the market.
The C 46 was largest twin-engine aircraft in the world with two modern, two thousand horsepower R-2800 cubic inch Pratt & Whitney engines. Trying to compare our activities in what today is considered antique equipment before the birth of jets just cannot be done. To us 16 to 20,000 feet altitude, though common today was high for WW II days. The world altitude record had just been set at 60,000 feet in a hot air balloon not an aircraft. In those days, I did not know the altitude record in a powered aircraft, but it could not have been much higher than the 42,500 feet to which I coached an empty C46. Later I learned that I was substantially higher than the reliable operation of our demand oxygen system. Had the oxygen system failed, I along with the whole crew would have been dead in short order.
Earlier CNAC primarily flew C-47's, as did the US Army Air Transport Command. Also we had some DC-3's for our international passenger service. Later we got some early model C-46's, that carried twice the load as the 47's. 4 engine C-54's or DC 4's, tried earlier carried a heavier load than the 47's but just would not go high enough for the Hump and so were discontinued. Later we tried some C-47's with a 2 stage geared blower that gave some additional manifold pressure at altitude but were not satisfactory in other respects, and so they also were discontinued.
Our pilots were a unique bunch, of several nationalities besides Chinese and Americans and varied backgrounds. They ranged from "Bush League" to former Army flight instructors, airplane and instrument (Sperry) manufacturer pilots and to former military (AVG) to "soldiers of fortune" as well as a few from a couple of airlines, notably PAA. And a couple were from Eastern Air Lines. Also one came from the British Royal Air Force and one from the Canadian Air Force (Sharkey). They were mostly a bunch of individualists, self-reliant pilots who did not take to regimentation well. Some were very colorful. Those of us who were U. S. Citizens had occupational exemption from the draft.
We had several old timers who were Chinese citizens, also amongst others several Canadians, a Briton, a German, and a Dane and possibly other nationalities. Their backgrounds were also as varied. Besides airline backgrounds, I understand we had an undertaker, a couple college professors a French Foreign Legionnaire, and some farmers and a professional baseball player.
A few Americans who came with CNAC and saw what we flew over and what we faced in weather and Japanese Zeros, immediately resigned and returned home to face the draft and the "walking" army, not a very desirable prospect in WWII. One pilot flew enough and was ready to check out, but all his flights were on instruments. The chief pilot said let's hold off until he has a chance to see what he is flying over. One day the monsoons partially cleared and he saw. He resigned and went home to the US. I cannot recall his name. Maybe Dick Rossi can.
We had 18 former AVG (Flying Tigers) who were U. S. military trained fighter pilots in the modern fighter of the day, the P40.
I recall one pilot, George Robertson, a true Georgia Cracker "Bush Leaguer" who slept with an old Colt 44 under his pillow. Now Robby was real nervous and had nightmares. The first thing he did when startled was to grab that old 44. And he could shoot that thing too as evidenced by "pock" marks on the Dinjan Hostel gate. When we were taking off at mid-night to avoid the Japanese Zeros, our servants would not wake Robbie; they would tell another pilot: "Captain Robertson, he fly too".
After the Japs shot down one of our planes in clear weather, we would take off at midnight from Dinjan fly over their fighter base in the dark and then return leaving Kunming in the evening in order to fly over the Japs again in the dark. So the servants at the Dinjan hostel would wake those to fly at mid-night for the mid-night take off. As several came down stairs half dressed, sleepy eyed, a bearer would tell one of us "Captain Robertson, he fly too". They had a lot of respect for Robby's old Colt, and his nervous response to awakening.
Another pilot, Al Mah, a Canadian Chinese played the saxophone. He had his co-pilot hold his mike and would play the thing over the radio while flying at 16,000 feet. I never could figure where he found the air to blow the thing.
Eddie Quinn, Chinese who spoke perfect English---(add more detail on Eddie)
Cliff Groh (one of a kind -- Doc Rich got Kusak to try to slow him down)(More on Cliff)
Charles Sharkey once evaded Japanese fighters by diving to the valley floor into the smoke of a forest fire. They did not follow. (Sharkey partying) It was rumored that Sharkey kicked a General, who planned to take-over our house, downstairs. When I ask Sharkey, he said no that he only pushed with his foot the general's aid a captain and the captain fell down the stairs. But the General was so mad that he took away our PX privileges and maybe something else like hospital privileges. (It didn't last long, as soon as the general left---a higher authority restored everything)
One night some CNAC former AVG pilots, after heavy drinking at the Army Officers Club, decided to "bomb the Japanese". They got some bombs from the Army dump, loaded them in a CNAC C-47 and took off. They found the Japanese and just rolled the bombs out the door. On the way back, no one paid any attention to the flying expecting someone else to navigate and they became sleepy and so became lost. Calling for a bearing, they got caught. They said General Chennault was fit to be tied, mad as hell. Military persons were confined to quarters. Next morning Chiang Kai-shek radioed intense praise "for the mission". They had blown the hell out of the Japanese General Head Quarters, which may have delayed their advance and the war. They said Chennault never mentioned the incident again. I was not personally involved in this, but enjoyed it as one of the few lighter moments. (Dick Rossi should be able to correctly supply all the details)
From that point on, I was an old experienced C-46 instructor pilot. "Hap hazard did I say?" But I did understand the aircraft systems. Arnold Weir, chief of maintenance at Dinjan, accepted on my diagnosis for some C-46 engine problems. I had earlier spent some time in Pan American's engine overhaul shop in Miami and also CNAC's in Calcutta.