Army Quartermaster Museum -
Fort Lee, Virginia
operations in the first sustained Chinese offensive against the Japanese in
In the wake of the slow-flying green transport the parachutes billowed
out, their bundles swaying pendulum-like from the shroud lines. Four, five, six
of them mushroomed whitely against the brilliant blue sky before the plane had
passed completely over the air-dropping target.
On the ground the tiny figures of Chinese soldiers and coolies dashed to
and fro, collecting the bundles and dragging them to one side in order to clear
the target before the plane could complete a lazy circle, to drop again.
Air supply has been a vital factor in the Salween Campaign - the first
sustained Chinese offensive against the Japanese in seven long years of war.
Fought in the Kaoli Kung Mountain Range (a spur of the mighty Himalayas), this
battlefield above the clouds could be reached, on the ground, by only a few
steep, narrow trails, in the initial phase of the offensive. Heavy monsoon rains
turned the trails to glassy slickness, where a mis-step on the part of coolie or
pack animal meant almost certain death at the bottom of a gorge thousands of
feet below. Other paths became roaring mountain streams, or were churned into a
mire of knee-deep, clinging mud. It was, obviously, utterly impossible to
supply, by ground means, the forces required to drive the Japs from their
strongly fortified bastions among the 12,000-foot peaks.
The idea of air supply was not new. Troops in the jungles of Burma had
been supplied by plane. But whereas a dropping-space cut into the jungle was
easily apparent from the air, a flat area in the rugged Kaoli Kung was a rarity,
and difficult to locate among the jagged peaks.
The monsoon rains were about to begin, and a heavy fog lay over the
Salween River almost every morning.
Some of the areas in which the battles were fought were never completely
cloudless, and it was necessary for the pilot to find a gap in the clouds before
he could locate his dropping target.
Only the planning stage for the air-dropping operation had been reached
by the end of April, and the campaign was scheduled to start on the eleventh of
Two weeks was enough. By the time the Chinese Expeditionary Force and its
Y-Force advisors and technicians crossed the Salween in their rubber assault
boats, the Y-Force Air Dropping Detachment was prepared.
As the campaign progressed, the efficiency of the Y-Force Air Dropping
Detachment improved. Ten thousand American raincoats, dropped to troops
suffering terribly from a combination of monsoon rains and the high altitudes of
the Kaoli Kung, saved thousands of Chinese troops from death by exposure and
permitted them to continue the offensive.
Bullets and rice were the two principal items dropped. However, requests
came in for all sorts of odd items, and each request was fulfilled, if at all
The most difficult single items to deliver were the hydrogen cylinders
for flamethrowers. Their odd shape,
great weight, and slipperiness caused considerable difficulty in packing, until
a system of wrapping in rope nets was devised. Because the cylinders are heavier
than the average load, two parachutes were attached instead of the usual one.
Gasoline for various purposes was at first dropped in 5-gallon cans, with
four cans in a three-foot-high wicker basket, packed with grass. However,
experiment proved that a 55-gallon drum, about half-full and wrapped in a rope
net, delivered more gas and saved equipment.
On one occasion toilet paper held first priority. Radio and other
technical equipment has been dropped, as well as half-pound blocks of TNT
wrapped in burlap, to be used for demolition purposes.
In one sector of the Y-Force area, ballots for the election were dropped
in small parachutes to Americans a monthís pack-trip from the nearest post
Rice, salt, and beans for the horses are free-dropped. The rice and beans
are wrapped loosely in three burlap bags. Even contact with a sharp rock is not
likely to pierce all of the wrappings and allow the contents to escape.
Seventy-five pounds of salt, with two 12 Ĺ -pound cylinders to a bag,
are dropped for each 5,000 pounds of rice. Experiments have demonstrated that
the rice bags survive the shock of contact best if limited to 35 pounds in
Three sizes of parachutes are used. The large 22-foot 'chute,
American-made, can carry up to 300 pounds, and is therefore used occasionally
for heavy loads. The parachute used for most of the dropping is an 18-foot
Indian-made cotton 'chute, which carries from 120 to 150 pounds. The small
pigeon-parachute, developed to drop pigeon cages, is only six feet in diameter
and carries about 35 pounds. It is used principally to drop small items to
All American equipment or supplies of any size or weight are dropped by
'chutes daubed with blue dye, the smears of color being easily apparent as soon
as the 'chute opens. These loads are marked "U. S. Army Personnel"
and, in Chinese characters, "Turn over to American Army." Technical
equipment for the Chinese troops which should be brought to the attention of
Y-Force personnel is also dropped by spotted parachute. Originally the Air
Dropping Detachment requested colored parachutes for this purpose, but upon
discovering that they would have to be flown from the States they cancelled the
request and began to dye the white 'chutes.
Failure of a certain percentage of the parachutes to open is inevitable,
but careful repair, packing, and inspection by the Y-Force air-dropping
personnel has reduced the number of failures resulting from poor materials,
entanglements, or tears, from an original ten per cent to a remarkable low of
three per cent.
The Y-Force Air Dropping Detachment personnel was recruited principally
from inexperienced men in various Y-Force units. The men who do the actual kicking of the bundles from the
planes were brought over from India, where many of them had had experience
dropping supplies over Burma.
Many of the men are Chinese-American soldiers, and their knowledge of the
language has been invaluable in the handling of Chinese coolies who now do much
of the ground work. Interpreters furnished by the Chinese authorities are also
Major Robert N. Wolfe, who is the commander of the detachment, states
that the success of his unit is due to the considerable degree of cooperation
between the men, and between the Y-Force unit and an American Troop-Carrier
Squadron which flies the supplies to the dropping grounds. "We are willing
to try anyone's suggestion,'' says Major Wolfe, "whether it comes from a
buck private or one of the lieutenants. Kickers report directly to the packers
their observations on 'chute failures. On slack days we experiment with
suggestions. We learn something every day." So efficiently has this
cooperative system worked out that orders from the front line are delivered the
same day they are radioed to the detachment.
Orders generally arrive in the middle of the night by radio. Major Wolfe
and his two assistants, Lieutenants Edward Chinn and Francis H. Sherry, begin
work immediately, so that the supplies may be delivered as early in the morning
Their supplies come from various sources-ammunition from the tiny
arsenals of Chuugking, British grenades from India, rice from local
rice-paddies, and a variety of supplies from the United States. These supplies
are brought into the warehouses by plane, truck, pack horses, and even by
All supplies must be repacked and their weight adjusted to the capacity
of the parachutes. An example of the cooperation evinced by the detachment is
demonstrated by the rice-packing warehouses. Here the rice arrives in 70-pound
bags from the Chinese. It must be repacked into three 35-pound bags, and
suggestions made by various members of the command have resulted in a speedy,
efficient system. Chinese coolies, under the direction of Privates Wallace E.
Choy and William F. Shea, fill huge hoppers from the large bags. A chute runs
from the large hoppers to smaller ones, on the interior of which a black line
marks the correct capacity for a dropping-bag. The bags are fastened underneath
the small hopper, a sliding bottom is removed, and the rice pours rapidly into
the bag. The bag is then inserted into another bag, and both are placed in a
third, whereupon the rice is ready to be dropped. Similar techniques have been
adopted for other types of supplies.
A minimum of fifteen days' supply of rice is packed in advance, ready for
any emergency call from the field.
After the radio order is received the supplies are packed in trucks at
the warehouses, ready to move to the airfield the instant the planes are ready
to take on cargo. Sudden emergency changes in priorities or orders create a
flurry of activity, for the trucks must be unloaded quickly and repacked
according to the later specifications.
If the weather is good the trucks are rushed to the waiting planes of the
Troop Carrier Squadron. The planes are loaded, the Y-Force kickers swing aboard,
and the plane takes off.
As the plane circles the dropping ground one kicker lies on his back with
his feet toward the door, and two others station themselves on either side of
the door. The pilot signals, the man on the floor kicks, the other two kick or
push, and the bundles string out behind the plane, jerking as their parachutes
open. Dropping completed, the plane returns to the air base for another load.
The reloading operation has been so finely coordinated that a complete
turnaround operation can be accomplished in less than ten minutes.
About sixty per cent of the parachutes are returned from the combat
sector. Three-quarters of these can be reclaimed, twenty-five per cent needing
only drying, inspection, and repair. Those which cannot be reused are salvaged
Originally the task of packing the parachutes for use was altogether an
American function, but Sergeant Ernest D. Barnes, after only three weeks of
operation, trained Chinese to pack, and now Y-Force Americans are used only as
supervisors. Chinese workers under Privates Albert Baum and Frank A. Spenko also
repair the damaged 'chutes. Some of the necessary sewing is done by hand, with
each worker averaging two 'chutes repaired each day. Part of the repair job is
done by Chinese on their own aged sewing machines. The Americans have never been
able to judge how much they pay these men, for man and machine are hired
together and remain inseparable, despite frequent attempts, by Y-Force, to buy
Chinese repairmen and packers are highly paid by Chinese standards,
receiving from 180 to 250 Chinese dollars a day. The packers, who can pack as
high as 1,700 new parachutes a day, are usually high-school graduates, although
others with less education are hired if they show the necessary ability.
Ammunition and rice packers receive the lowest wages. After a week of
work, under close supervision, an apprentice is either discharged or his wages
Parachutes returned from the combat sector, especially during the monsoon
season, must be thoroughly dried to prevent rotting, and the Y-Force Air
Dropping Detachment has arranged a special rig with a capacity of 2,000 'chutes
a day. Parachutes are attached to a rope and pulleyed up about twenty feet from
the ground. Then the bottom is stretched in order to expose the maximum surface
to the wind and sun. This operation is also performed by Chinese, under the
supervision of Private David S. Soloway.
In addition to packing supplies for dropping, the Y-Force Air Dropping
Detachment prepares loads for air freight. The packing and loading procedures
are identical, except that no parachutes are used in the latter operation, and
the supplies are landed instead of being dropped.
At present the Chinese armies are operating in an area where food
supplies are inadequate, and in order to prevent diet deficiencies the Air
Dropping Detachment is planning to drop dried vegetables and cooking oils. These
foods are packed in heavy cardboard mortar cases, returned from the combat
sector, with the mouths of the containers sealed with adhesive tape, to prevent
leakage; then secured by a metal cover.
While the technique of dropping supplies from the air has been developing
for some time, there has never, according to Major Wolfe, been a manual of
instruction on the subject, and Lieutenant Sherry, with assistance from other
members of the Y-Force unit, is now engaged in writing a textbook for use in
Many of the men of the Y-Force Air Dropping Detachment have been awarded
medals, both for their services with Y-Force and for earlier service over Burma.
Most of these men are kickers, for the kickerís duties expose him most often
to danger. For flying over ninety combat missions over areas in which enemy fire
was expected and probable, and for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight,
nine men of the Y-Force Air Dropping Detachment have been awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross. Each of these men also holds the Air Medal, awarded
for fifty combat flying missions and for meritorious achievement in aerial
flight. Twelve other members of the unit have also received the Air Medal.
since 27 May 2001