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Operation Thursday (1944)

began on March 5, 1944, when the first C-47 launched
from India towing two overloaded gliders filled with Wingate’s troops,
equipment, and supplies.  A total of 26 transports towing gliders comprised
the first wave.  The gliders, carrying from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of
excess weight, strained the C-47 tow planes and ropes and caused significant
problems. With eight of the first wave of C-47s each losing a glider, Colonel
Cochran decided to limit one glider to each remaining transport. This decision
allowed the air commandos to successfully deliver Wingate’s initial and
succeeding forces to the jungle clearings over 200 miles behind Japanese lines
in Burma.

the first day the strip, designated “Broadway,” was improved so transport,
glider, and liaison aircraft could land safely. They brought supplies,
equipment and reinforcements, and evacuated the injured.  A second strip,
opened by glider assault, relieved congestion at Broadway.  Airlift inserted
almost 10,000 men, well over 1,000 mules, and approximately 250 tons of
supplies.  Casualties from the high-risk, untested concept, including
missing, were less than 150, and for the first time in military history
aircraft evacuated all killed, wounded, and sick from behind enemy lines.

air commandos also protected the British ground forces by harassing the
Japanese.  This harassment, conducted by P-51s and B-25s equipped with a
75mm cannon in the nose and 12 .50 caliber machine guns, included bombing
bridges, strafing and bombing parked aircraft, air-to-air combat, and
destroying the communications, transportation, and military infrastructure.

In a
unique technique, P-51 pilots cut Japanese telephone lines by attaching a
weighted cable to the aircraft. This hung down like a pendulum and cut the
lines as the aircraft flew over. In another, not-recommended instance, the
pilot flew through the wires and broke them with his airplane.

Cochran’s and Allison’s men were air commandos from the beginning, the 1 ACG
was officially constituted on March 25 and activated on March 29, 1944. The 1
ACG continued to support British forces in Burma through April in an impressive
manner. On April 4, P-51s armed with rockets attacked a concentration of
Japanese aircraft at a northern Burma base. Caught by surprise, 26 Japanese
aircraft were destroyed along with two probables and eight damaged in this
seven-minute attack; whereas a single P-51 took only a bullet in the wing.

April 21, four P-51s used 1,000-pound bombs in a dive-bombing tactic to destroy
a major bridge that had survived numerous attacks by other bomber forces. In
late April, when a light plane carrying three wounded was forced down on a road
behind enemy lines, an air commando helicopter was called on to recover them.
Due to engine overheating and the limited payload capacity of the R-4B, it
required four hazardous trips and two days to complete this mission. As
mentioned earlier, this was the first, but not the last, combat rescue by
helicopter. The passengers were only the first of thousands in subsequent years
who would bless helicopters and their courageous crews for often hair-raising


command gliders continued to play an important role in supporting British
forces with supplies and equipment for building additional airstrips in
Japanese-held Burma. Although glider losses had been high in the initial stages
of Operation THURSDAY with landings in rough and unimproved clearings,
casualties had been surprisingly light. Without gliders the invasion could not
have succeeded. In contrast, the C-47s had a remarkable accident-free record.
They flew almost 95% of their missions at night on instruments over hazardous
terrain, utilizing short, rough landing strips deep behind enemy lines. Yet
these pilots sustained no casualties and lost only one C-47. It struck a water
buffalo during a night landing. The UC-64 light transports conducted 510
missions, flew 1366 combat hours, and moved 510,780 pounds of cargo –
impressive statistics made more impressive considering the small number of
aircraft available. Most of the 40 L-1 and L-5 liaison force losses in March
and April occurred on landings and takeoffs from the primitive strips, but none
from enemy action. Light plane activities were perhaps the most impressive,
logging an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 sorties. Over 2,000 casualties were
evacuated from behind enemy lines, including non-battle casualties such as
malaria, fatigue, and general sickness. This capability contributed
significantly to morale. No longer did the sick and wounded have to be left
behind. Operation THURSDAY’s success resulted in the Distinguished Unit
Citation for the 1 ACG.

air commandos of World War II pushed American airpower into a new dimension,
and established a number of firsts in our military history, including:

– first air unit designed to support a
ground unit

– first composite air unit

– first air unit employed with total autonomy

– first aerial invasion into enemy territory

– first nighttime heavy glider assault landing

– first nighttime combat glider recovery

– first gliders airlift of large animals

– first major employment of light aircraft in combat

– first military unit to employ helicopters in combat

– first helicopter combat rescue

– first use of aircraft-fired rockets in combat

1st Air Commando Group inactivated after World War II, on November 3, 1945, and
was disestablished by the Air Force on October 8, 1948.

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