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The Hump

The Hump

“The hump” was a military aerial supply route from Northern India to China, over and through the Himalayan Mountains, that allied pilots flew during WWII.

It was, and is, widely considered to be one of the most harrowing and deadly flights in aviation history.

I recall reading one airman’s story of watching two planes explode right in front of him. Twenty of his friends died within minutes of each other. This was on takeoff.

The most notable plane that flew the hump, the Curtiss C46 Commando, had nicknames like the “flying coffin,” the “plumber’s nightmare,” and “Curtiss Calamity.”

On board, oxygen was scarce, and temps were freezing. The survival stats are staggering, and not in a good way.

Hump Pilot Shirt No 5861 - The J Peterman Company

In the end, because of the hump pilot, the allies held.

“Hump Pilot” Shirt (No. 5861). This wool gabardine shirt was standard uniform. Tough and warm. Unmistakable button-down point collar. Scalloped flaps on chest pockets. Epaulettes. Lined yoke and collar. Made in Portugal.

This Post Has 16 Comments
    1. Oh and don’t forget about the glorious B-17 bombers almost as bad as the C-46 & 47s
      I think when they built the B-17s…they forgot to factor in the bomb payload…it took a day and a half to get them to 5,000 ft 🙂

    2. My uncle flew the hump. His plane was shot down and he and his parachute spent the night in a tree before the Chinese cut him down. He later sent his parents a telegram in code to let them know he was alive and safe. He died at a young age in the 50’s , having never really recovered from the war. It is so interesting to read everyone’s stories! Thank you!

  1. Dad’s first C-46 was green with Nationalist Chinese stars. His replacement was a silver C-46 with Army stars.

  2. My dad was a belly gunner (ball turret gunner) who flew over the hump. He was a short man so he fit into the rotating glass bubble. He described how cold it was, but I didn’t realize what a vulnerable target those guys presented.
    “The first in/The last out
    The most exposed/The least protected
    . … The silent wing warriors.”
    There is an amazing photo on this blog

  3. I grew up listening to the stories told to me by my neighbor CPT Donald Bussart who flew the hump many times. To a child, his stories were absolutely amazing—and created a fascination that inspired me to explore the world. I always knew this man was bigger than life in my little corn field but to read about such courage here……THANKS!!!

  4. I was immediately drawn to this story as soon as I saw the headline The Hump. My father was based in New Delhi during WW II and flew a B-17 for 36 bombing missions over, around and into the Hump. At the height of the war his Squadron mainly concentrated on Burma, even crash landed near Rangoon and trekked 50 miles of jungle to a rally point of rescue. I still have all the letters written to my mother about his adventures flying that beer can bomber they called an airplane.
    Probably the most adventuresome was a mission he flew into the Burma jungle to launch an early morning rescue of 12 fellow flyers being held in a notorious POW camp. This camp was the basis for the book and film “Bridge over the river Kwai”, they just changed the location. the 4 officers and 8 crewmen had the most detailed account of conditions in a POW camp. My father’s one friend whom he rescued had hidden a small spy camera called a MINOX sewn into his flight jacket. This he used to chronicle their remote location as well as the conditions they endured. My father wrote that none of the survivors he flew in and rescued were over 75 pounds . I always wondered how in the hell he was able to land a B-17 in a greasy jungle clearing let alone take off again. I can just see him now….Running thru the jungle rag tag group they were, stretchers .45s drawn, the single top machine gun turret blazing away as the gunner provided cover for their jaunt to get in the plane.

    SORRY to be so long winded…but it brought back memories of the incredible generation my father was part of as a 20 year old kid from a Dairy Farm in Plymouth. CT.

    1. Not long-winded at all, Carl. Your father is a bona-fide hero. Your account is galvanizing. We owe him and his crew a debt of gratitude for their courage and service. Wow. Thanks for sharing a lil’ piece of your family history. Hats off to your Pops.

  5. For anyone who wants to know more about the Burma fight in WW II watch the Australian tv show (Available on dvd, ACORN TV, and Netflixx: “The Dr. Blake Mysteries”. From Wikipedia:
    “Dr. Blake, the main character was a POW in the BAN PONG Prisoner of War camp. “The Doctor Blake Mysteries (also The Blake Mysteries) is an Australian television series that premiered on ABC TV on 1 February 2013 at 8:30 pm.[1] The series stars Craig McLachlan in the lead role of Doctor Lucien Blake, who returns home to Ballarat, northwest of Melbourne, in the late 1950s to take over his late father’s general medical practice and role as police surgeon after an absence of 30 years.

  6. I always feel humbled and SO GRATEFUL for what these men did. Thank you for providing an outlet for these memories to be shared.

  7. That photo shown is of the Douglas c-47 Skytrain ( the Gooneybird), one of the most versatile, widely used, and enduring planes in the history of military and civilian aviation. That was my dads plane. Thanks.

  8. The best book about “the hump.” May be “

    “The Man Who Loved China” by SIMON Winchester (2008)
    It is about Dr Joseph Needham who flew over the hump and rescued most of the records of ancient China from Japanese destruction. Vivid depiction of the scene in early WW II


  9. Thank all of you for your personal stories about your fathers who flew the hump. They mean so much to me. My father also flew the hump as a young U.S. Army Air Corps pilot from Burnet, Texas. I never got to hear his stories, as I am what is now called an NPE…”not parent expected.” Through DNA testing and a long search, I found him after he had died, flying his private plane. Seems that he survived “the hump” but didn’t clear some trees near a small Colorado airport at the age of seventy-seven, according to the NTSB report I found on line. His existence is one secret that my mother took to the grave, leaving a big hole in my heart. So here I sit crying when all I meant to do was order another pair of Gurkha shorts for my husband.

    Warm regards to you all,
    Annie Sitton (my married name)
    @anniesitton on Instagram

    1. Another story from those who flew the Hump:
      In the 1990s, i had the pleasure of flying some special missions, and some Search and Rescue missions, with survivors of the Hump. One of my friends said, we didn’t fly over the mountains there. We flew through them. Their C-47 cargoes were mostly grain for mules, and petrol. In the wet season, they used metal grid mats to land and takeoff, which made a terrible racket.
      One dark night, as we flew, with no moon for light, in a darkened cockpit with only the light from a few red instrument panel bulbs, my friend noted that the night reminded him of one back then:
      They were a convoy of several C-47s, flying in the darkness. The planes ahead made a right turn, into a valley. The plane just ahead of theirs, did not turn. It continued straight on course, and impacted a hill, in a giant fireball, lighting the night. It was not an easy job. They were all heroes.

  10. My wife’s grandfather flew the hump and on a recent visit to California her grandmother gave us her grandfather’s photo album with some amazing pictures of him from his training in Texas to flying the hump and repairing the engines. It’s an awesome piece of history and me and my wife are looking to get these pics out for everyone to see as well as another way for him to be remembered. These pilots were so brave and the history should never be forgotten. If anyone knows of a way to share these pics on the internet we’d love to hear from you.

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