Army Quartermaster Museum -
Fort Lee, Virginia
Quartermaster Support of Airborne Operations
The following extracts are from a report of the proceedings of a committee which met on March 27th to study the problem of Quartermaster support of Airborne operations. Most of the testimony reprinted below is that of Maj. Gen. James A. Gavin, U.S.A., who is a recognized authority in the armed forces of the United States on Airborne operations, and is now serving as a member of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, Office of the Secretary of Defense. Also quoted are Maj. Gen. William H. Middleswart, Chairman, Department of the Army Ad Hoc Committee on Quartermaster Aspects of Airborne Operations, and Colonel Charles G. Calloway, member of the Committee representing the Personnel & Training Division, Office of The Quartermaster General.-EDITOR.
GENERAL GAVIN: We have to differentiate between what may happen in the future and what did happen in the last war. In the last war everybody was working under a common staff-the Air Force and the Army. We were able to achieve a measure of results without too much conflict. It may have worked in the last war. In fact, in a lot of cases it worked pretty well. But, looking to the future, I think the Army must take over full and complete responsibility for providing all of the means necessary to do its job-parachute-packing organizations and everything that goes with that.
I would take the thing over, lock, stock, and barrel. Due to no fault of its own, the Air Force, since the war, has acquired a tremendous number of tasks of great magnitude and cannot give equal priority to all of them. For reasons entirely beyond their control, I do not think they are capable of giving the Army the support it needs. I think it would be without precedent in military history for the Army to attempt to perform its mission while depending, for its logistical support, upon another agency in large measure disinterested in accomplishing this mission. The Army should take care of its own.
GENERAL MIDDLESWART: As you may know, the Quartermaster Corps has taken over the parachute maintenance company.
GENERAL GAVIN: I understand so.
GENERAL MIDDLESWART: Colonel Calloway had a question about some of the schools for personnel training which he wanted to ask you, General.
COLONEL CALLOWAY: Yes, sir, I have. Would you recommend that the Quartermaster Corps establish courses of instruction in the Quartermaster School system to provide these technically trained personnel?
GENERAL GAVIN: By all means, as far as it has to.
COLONEL CALLOWAY: There has been some indication here that the current course at the Airborne Center at Fort Benning on packing, storage, and supply-the purpose of which is to supply technical training for personnel for the organic parachute maintenance companies-has been inadequate in scope and capacity to meet that need. Would you recommend integrating the training that is required for this type of supply and maintenance work in the course of instruction at the Airborne Center which deals with packing and maintenance of parachutes and related items?
GENERAL GAVIN: I am not sure about that. The school at Benning teaches merely basic techniques for the individual parachutist. It does not enter the realm of packaging, delivery containers, and particular-type chutes for particular-type loads. You are entering a field of tremendous magnitude. I do not think the Infantry Center begins to meet your requirements. You must have other schools that perhaps could take on this burden as part of their curriculum.
GENERAL MIDDLESWART: We were giving consideration to establishing a packers and riggers course as a Quartermaster course - moving it possibly from Benning to our Training Center.
GENERAL GAVIN: I suppose perhaps that could work all right. Originally our packers and riggers came from Chanute Field, from the Air Force School. We were all doing our own packing. Every parachutist packed his own chute for his own jump, and we needed a few maintenance people to do minor repairs. major repairs were sent to the depot. However, when we found, with continued abuse and field use, that the chute was a pretty rugged device, we were able to do our own work on a rather reasonable scale. Then, as a postgraduate course at the Parachute School, we picked out the most promising prospects and sent them to a parachute-packing course, and they provided our riggers.
Then we got away from individual packing and it was all done by the riggers. That was a touchy period for a while, but it all worked out fine. That school is not necessarily tied to the Center down at Benning at all. If you could do your work better some place else, perhaps it might not be a bad idea to do so. But the facilities for dropping and training are quite adequate out there, and you would have to provide such facilities elsewhere.
The implications go far beyond the little parachute T-7, and a few men jumping and throwing out bundles of cargo. The field is enormous, and I hope you will go into it with all the imagination you have. It actually involves the delivery of thousands and thousands of tons of cargo from flight, through any device you can figure out. The parachute may, in the final analysis not be the most satisfactory delivery vehicle. You will probably go way beyond that little course at Benning. However, whether that stays there or goes somewhere else is for you to decide.
COLONEL CALLOWAY: You spoke about the former Air Force School at Chanute. They have asked us to train sewing-machine operators for them.
GENERAL GAVIN: That is symptomatic of the conditions that have developed. The Army does better work of that kind than the Air Force could possibly do. While the Air Force does some repairs, the Airborne units are busy doing them all the time.
This has been a serious problem for a long time. In 1943 the late General Lee organized the Airborne Command. We got beyond the Parachute Battalion to form our first Parachute Regiments. We realized that, to put a regiment into combat with the equipment it was learning to take by parachute we would have to have logistical support beyond that which the company could provide for itself. It would take all sorts of people to look out for it from the rear base.
We drew up a T/O for a Quartermaster Resupply Company. We thought fondly of it and kicked it around headquarters. Later I left and got a regiment, and I do not know what happened to it.
It has been necessary from the beginning to provide an organization to continue the interest of supply right to the fighting man. As we got into combat, frequently that was lacking, and to make the system work we had to leave people of our own behind. You cannot divorce your supply from combat, and when you fight you have to have people who know you and are responsible to you to get the stuff to you. We left people behind in the depots to do this sort of thing. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not.
In Holland we were isolated for three days. To make the thing up there work I took the Division Chemical Warfare Officer, since we were not doing any chemical warfare fighting, and gave him a dozen men He got all the civilians and horses he could get and started bringing supplies in, which were dropped all over the countryside.
The system of supply is inefficient. We improvised our organization there; we had a few of our own junior officers back in the rear base in England to give a push to it, and we got the stuff up there in sufficient quantities to live.
Fortunately we had enough in the forward area to keep us going. Ammunition was a critical thing, finally. We need organization and we need a complete system built up. It is a tremendous problem. You must have organizations that go forward, too.
There is another aspect to this thing that was brought out in the Holland, operation. There are only rare situations where the Airborne Force will go forward without finding vast tonnages of supplies. It is not likely that they will push into ground where they have to destroy these supplies. They go in and take over complete warehouses and stocks, and rolling stocks. There are a few places where they might go where the situation would be otherwise, but the chances are that they would not go where supplies were not present. They need a Quartermaster organization to take over and run the system of supply which they find where they are going, and another to back them up.
GENERAL MIDDLESWART: Were you making this supply company responsible for ammunition, ordnance, etc., as well as for rations, clothing, and parachutes?
GENERAL GAVIN: We had to do that. During the war our supply company packaged and delivered all supplies which were delivered to it. We figured out our resupply requirements and included everything, from complete replacements for weapons down to rations. These were packaged by these units and delivered to us by them, regardless of the item of supply involved. So this unit, I would say, based upon our past experience, should handle the delivery of all types of supplies, as a functioning unit in the supply system.
There may be exceptions. I can conceive of a major vehicle or major weapon which might require a different method of delivery. But the bulk of the stuff comes through the supply unit.
The present parachute situation arises from the fact that the parachute is the only mechanical contrivance that we could get to deliver supplies from an airplane in flight to combat soldiers in the last war. It may be possible to figure out another way to do it, or to improve on the present equipment. It seems to me imperative that this should be done. This business of delivering airborne supplies in containers of three hundred pounds means that you will use one third of your fighting men to get the stuff together after it is dropped, for the planes will come in at around 3,000 feet and the parachutes will cover an area of one hundred square miles when they settle on the ground. To get all that stuff opened up creates a serious situation.
Obviously you call do better than that. We ought to look to a redesign of our packaging system so that you will have, in Chicago, let us say (and I have been through your very fine establishment there), a complete capsule of food of five tons, identified by marking, that can be delivered like one big egg right to the unit. Everything is together, and a minimum amount of time and money would be necessary for handling it.
That packaging should not take place in a takeoff depot in North Africa; it ought to take place in the zone of the interior. We spend more time backing trucks up to airplanes and carrying those little boxes in and out small doors than we should. We waste millions of man-hours and truck-hours, and airplane-hours in handling supplies because we are thinking in terms of the past war. We ought to repackage and completely work up a system of delivery so that we could get the most out of the airplane. This also implies a redesign of the airplane.
I think everyone in the Air Force realizes that now. This is a tremendous field and I am delighted to see the Army get into it to the extent that it will do something for its own. So far the Army units have made the best of what they could get from the Air Force. This enabled us to live through the last war, but we could have done better.
GENERAL MIDDLESWART: What system did the British use when they were in that hot spot in Holland! Have you looked into that!
GENERAL GAVIN: I have looked into every part but the actual paper organization. I was with them while they were going through a great deal of training. Their containers were big wicker baskets and they put them on rollers in the bed of a C-47 and shot them right on out. But that again is crude. You can do better than that.
We tried all sorts of free-drops in the beginning. I remember that maple-leaf movement. Then I saw some work at Bragg, after the war, where they had a carton that the riggers call an A-4, about ten inches on the side and four feet high, with big ears at the top which gave it a slow spin and a reasonably slow rate of descent. It wasn't slow enough. It came in at thirty feet a second, enough to break it up a bit.
We need something like that. I would be skeptical of the small container in free-fall delivery. It again poses a problem of reassembly of the supplies. The dispersion from modern aircraft of cargo that is ejected in small containers is enormous.
We have design engineers who claim they can lick the problem. There is a man at Fairchild who thinks he can take any tonnage, certainly a 10-ton load-and drop it in free flight to eight or ten feet above the ground, then slow it down and bring it in for a reasonably good landing. I think. that is entirely possible.
That is the field you ought to get into in your delivery planning. Keep your stuff together so that it can be delivered accurately and with a minimum of handling.
Admittedly Wright Field has the laboratory facilities to do a great deal of original development on any system involving air dynamics and air dynamic equations and calculations. Nevertheless, when their gadgetry comes out, it is sent to the Field Forces at Fort Bragg for service tests. In the course of those tests the Field Forces develop new concepts. They say that this is interesting, but suggest that if they do it in such-and-such a way they can do it twice as well. They get into a great deal of development work down there.
I see nothing wrong with the Army's using the laboratory facilities and scientific know-how at Wright Field. I think it is used throughout the military establishment. But I do not think the Army can begin to develop upon the research and development of the Air Force for the accomplishment of its own mission. I feel strongly about that. If the Air Force can get twice as much money, the Quartermaster ought to go in and get the money. We should not split the responsibility. We need logistic support. We have fighting men who have proven their skills in the field of battle the world over, and to depend upon antiquated systems for getting the rations and stuff up to them is wrong.
If the Quartermaster goes into the business I think it should be with all the energy and enthusiasm and imagination it can summon, and with the money to do what is needed. We have been living on a shoestring by depending upon the Air Force too long.
Where Wright Field will spend half a million dollars on a new delivery container, they will spend twenty million on a flying wing, which they will have to put on the shelf when they are through. That is what they did. I am not being critical of the Air Force, but I want to point out the disparity of interests.
I do not see how the Chief of Staff of the Army can work out war plans without having full responsibility for the logistical support and development, and money for laboratory work. We should use Air Force facilities exactly as we used the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins and MIT and other places for scientific and theoretical studies; but the actual development of the hardware and equipment that goes into making our fighting men fight and live and fight again is the responsibility of the Army.
I do not see how this responsibility can be given to the Air Force, and we ought to state it as forcibly as we can. I would not want to live as a step-brother of the Air Force in these matters, as we have had to do in the past in some measure.
When you think of parachutes with an Airborne Division it is probably best to think of an Airborne Division and all its equipment. That parachute problem is an enormous thing. The tonnages that go with a unit are overwhelming to an Airborne commander when he first finds out what he has on his hands. We had seventeen box-cars-full for the parachute regiment which went into North Africa. That necessitates fast-drying storage areas, an electrical hook-up for sewing machines, heavy-duty and light sewing machines and gadgetry, and quite a power establishment.
If you gave the Airborne units complete maintenance responsibility-letting them build a parachute up from the ground if they had to-you would have more equipment - more sewing-machines and heavy-duty items-and a fighting unit would find itself tied down to the ground taking care of the equipment and worrying about it. Properly they should only have to take care of second-echelon maintenance, and let it go at that. Then there should be a unit backing them up in the ComZ or Army echelon, so the stuff would not have to go all the way back. An Airborne unit now is very much tied to certain type installations because of the tonnages and cargo and sewing-machines it takes along.
If you want to get your job done, you must do all the maintenance on your own, insofar as possible. It may be that in the interest of the national economy, on the military establishment level, a certain amount of it would be pooled. But as far as possible, we should do the job ourselves. You are talking about the supply system of the Army of twenty years from now. You have to be patient about the money situation and get it into the budget. Any short-cut to meet a current situation would be regretted in the long run if the system is not working later on.
To return to the subject of concentrating supplies delivered by air, perhaps you can develop aircraft that will permit ejection in small packages, but in such density that you can make efficient recovery in the combat area. On the other hand, you may need a large container. All the people who have had operational experience will lean toward the large container. The small one is inefficient. The field is wide open for development of a realistic method of delivery of large containers.
There is no one system that call be conceived in a conference room that will provide the best and most efficient answer. It will take an advance on several fronts to find out what is the best thing.
We have tried free-fall of a number of things. You are all familiar with the Vittles operation. We tried to free-drop coal and stuff like that. The parachute is a pretty difficult thing when you have to work with it, and it costs a lot to procure. We can make fine peacetime plans; but if you think in terms of the supply requirements to implement current war plans, we will have units all over the world depending on air mobility and air isolation. And you will have guerrillas and dissidents in enemy areas who, also, will expect a certain quantity of supplies. You will find that there are extensive ramifications. If you must depend on parachutes alone, even a brief look at the procurement situation in the last war will show you that you will be in a hell of a fix. We could not get rubber during the war to provide elastics for the retaining bands inside the parachutes. We had to get away from nylon; we could not get enough silk. We went to cotton webbing. That was for just a few units.
When you begin to build up chutes and all the attendant things they needed for operations on a global scale, you are asking for a problem. I am sure it gets back to a simple packaging and delivery problem-as a matter of exact loads, with as much free delivery as you can develop, and further development of containers.
You will find considerable reluctance on the part of some individuals, in spite of their high qualifications, to hang around doors of airplanes going at high speed in order to throw out bundles, occasionally falling out with them, which happens. I know you have, in a unit, people with know-how based upon experience in exactly what happens mechanically to all the equipment they employ. Certainly you would have to have some percentage of qualified Airborne people. One thing that concerned me was our inability to get enough Airborne personnel in the last war. When we got overseas we were proselytizing, with the approval of the commanders, from the other organizations. We were barely able to keep our five divisions in existence. If the war had gone on much longer we would have been cannibalizing. Yet there was an increased demand for these units. That is why we have sought to get men out of the air and into combat, and to give them the support they need without sending them through a long parachute course.
If you could set up this type unit, I would like to get it done. You could do it, in large measure, but you would have to have some experienced Airborne personnel with that unit. Otherwise your work would be quite inefficient.
I would recommend that you create an organization-say the 12th Quartermaster Resupply Company-but I would designated it as an Airborne organization, so that you will have the flexibility within the unit to train as far as you have to, and put in the necessary personnel. Then, if the day comes that our type of delivery changes, you have a unit that can do what it needs to without legal limitations. That has been one of our problems in the past. Now you have the matter of hazardous duty pay and such limitations. That should not be. The unit should be flexible enough to meet any training and combat situation. By designating it an Airborne unit you would accomplish that.
What would you think of the Quartermaster procuring cargo delivery aircraft of its own type? We have certain airplanes under development now. I do not think it should be out of place here to consider, at least, thc problem of the Quartermaster's taking an interest in that type of vehicle.
It is getting to the point where it is going to be extremely difficult to disassociate various types of transportation and say ''this is Air and this is Ground." If you are going to have a cargo delivery container readily ejectable from aircraft, in the tonnages you are talking about, you must have a land vehicle to handle it. It will mean an interchange of components. Where you stop and where the Air Force stops may not be black and white; it may be gray.
This has become a serious problem in the past few years. If you think you ought to have certain types of aircraft to do your work and you do not think the development is going the way it should, say so. It is going to hurt like hell if someone does not say so. A great deal is being done, but not enough.
Return To:50th Anniversary Korean War Page Aerial Delivery/Rigger Page