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The Pacific Theatre
General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold created a unique organization to support operations against the Japanese in Burma. Major General Orde C. Wingate, a British commander, was conducting guerilla warfare with great results but with high causalities. Long term behind the lines operations needed a source of resupply and reinforcement adapted to the mission. Rugged terrain and long distances further complicated the undertaking. General Arnold envisioned an "Air Commando Force" that would transport large numbers of troops deep into enemy territory and wholly supply them by air. Colonel Philip G. Cochran, a veteran fighter pilot from the
North Africa campaign, was designated the reluctant commander of the 1st Air Commando Group. He wanted to go "where there was some fighting." General Arnold informed him he would get all the combat he wanted and outlined the mission and left him with the freedom to execute it remarking, "to hell with the paperwork,
go out and fight."
With tremendous autonomy the Air Commandos carefully selected equipment and personnel to match the mission. Transports, gliders, light liaison aircraft supported the logistics puzzle while fighters and medium bombers completed the fire support problem. An exhaustive training and rehearsal program honed the unit and confounded outsiders. "Visitors to our installations were confounded by the lack of "rank"…officers and men…sweated shoulder to shoulder…" At first Allied troops were not sure the Air Commandos could do what they promised.
The fighter-bombers began preparing the battlefield in February 1944 while updating intelligence on possible landing sites. On 5 March 1944 the airlift portion of Operation Thursday began in earnest. Pathfinder aircraft carried teams that marked the landing zone for follow-on forces. Long-haul communications reported that initial resistance was light and heavy reinforcements were recalled. Rapid runway construction allowed follow-on forces a much safer landing area.
Over the course of the next three months the Air Commandos delivered over 9000 troops, 1,300 pack animals and 245 tons of supplies. The Air Commandos delivered the fight to the enemy. Ground force coordinated air strikes via radio, wounded were evacuated by air and aerial resupply techniques were honed. When the
Burma Road was reopened in January 1945 the Air Commandos were deactivated. The men and equipment were absorbed into conventional units in preparation for the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. The first use of atomic weapons overshadowed many of the Air Commandos accomplishments.
Almost everything the Air Commandos did was an important first:
• First air unit designed to support a ground unit
• First composite air unit
• First air unit employed with total autonomy
• First invasion into enemy territory solely by air
• First nighttime heavy glider assault landing
• First night combat glider recovery
• First glider airlift of large animals
• First major employment of light airplanes in combat
• First air unit to employ helicopters
• First rescue by combat helicopter
• First firing of rockets from aircraft in combat
The legacy of these heroes providing specialized airpower Anytime, Anyplace can be seen today in
AFSOC units deployed around the world.
As World War Two ground to a close the Armed Forces demobilized and reorganized. The United States Air Force was created on 18th of September 1947 with the National Security Act. Major reorganization issues
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