Paraphrased from the story “Air Cargo Took Off Above The Himalayas” in Air Cargo News:
In early 1942, Burma fell to the Japanese. The overland truck route known as the Burma Road was closed, and so the only way to move oil, av-gas, troops and supplies from India to China was over the Himalaya Mountains. The American Volunteer Group pilots in China (better known as The Flying Tigers) created an aerial lifeline between the Assam Valley and Kunming. The journey over the Himalaya “Hump” was a relatively short but truly hellish 500 mile flight: The run quickly gained the ominous moniker “aluminum alley”…
Images from Air Cargo News.
You’re probably familiar with the Flying Tigers, but the story adds some detail (especially about cargo planes, if that’s your thing). I wasn’t aware, for example, that it was the first large-scale air cargo movement in history (I guess aircraft hadn’t been around that long). Also from the article:
- During the three plus years of Hump operations, more than 167,285 trips were completed, delivering 760,000 tons of air cargo.
- But the price was paid by 792 lives lost aboard 460 aircraft and in 701 major accidents…
- Air Cargo moved: July 1942 = 85 tons, July 1943 = 2,916 tons, 1944 = 18,975, 1945 (the last year of operations) = 71,042
- The first cargo flights (1942) used Chinese passenger planes from China National Airlines (a partner of Pan Am) and the American pilots were civilians who had been flying domestic passenger routes in the US just weeks before
The actual Flying Tigers (run by Claire Chennault) were volunteers flying Tomahawk fighter planes in support of Chiang Kaishek – their job was to protect the Burma Road while it was still in use. They were disbanded in 1942, but the name is often broadly applied to the American air force in China during World War 2 (that’s why the cargo planes in the above article are also referred to as Flying Tigers).
There is a 1942 Hollywood war film about the (Chennault) Flying Tigers that stars John Wayne. It seems a little bizarre to me that John Wayne and Yunnan should have any connection, and it is as far as I know the last time that Hollywood looked this way.
Nominated for three Oscars, the film looks dated now and the dialogue is painful. Outdoor shots were filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico (because of the clouds and exotic landscape). Tagline: STRONG Brave Men Flying In The Face Of Death That We May LIVE