The Invasion of Sicily

In June 1943, the 64th Group moved to a desert airstrip called Zena II, which was near Kairouan, Tunisia, to train for its next airborne mission--operation Husky-- the invasion of Sicily. The move was made via Nouvion, where Squadron and Group formations were practiced. The 64th was to join four other troop carrier groups in dropping 3,400 paratroopers outside of the south coastal town of Gela to keep the Germans from that port until the US 1st Division had landed. On July 9th and 10th, 1943, the invasion of Sicily began. With very high winds and limited night visibility and now I quote from official history "the 64th was the only one of the five groups that succeeded in keeping its formation. At 0025 (just after mid-night) the 2nd Battalion was dropped en masse. The paratroopers were under fire during and after the drop, but they succeeded in clearing out the enemy forces and completed their assembly before noon" unquote. All of the 64th planes returned safely. The other troop carrier groups dropping paratroopers and towing gliders encountered heavy losses due to high winds, friendly forces naval fire, and enemy anti-aircraft fire.

During the month of August 1943, the Group did extensive training at another desert airstrip at El Djem, Tunisia. This included the normal glider training and also exchanging tow pilots and glider pilots, with each flying the others equipment so that a better appreciation would be had of mutual problems and limitations. This exchange-flying program provided some welcome relief from the tedium of routine training, as well as some amusing incidents. Also, it took our minds off of the terrible heat. The daytime temperatures were often in the high (or higher) 120s and the only relief from life in our tent city was in flying or an infrequent swim in the Mediterranean sea. Late in August 1943, the Group moved to Comiso, Sicily, and began preparation for the next airborne mission.

On the night of September 14th and 15th, 1943, we dropped the US 2nd Battalion of the 509th Parachute Combat Team at Avelino, Italy, which was in support of the Salerno beach head --our first toehold on the continent. It was later that year, I believe, that we flew an airborne mission to Greece but landed instead of dropping due to German withdrawal. In January 1944, we had another maximum effort to support the Anzio beachhead with supplies and patient evacuation. In the meantime, glider training continued as we tried double glider tows and snatches of downed gliders from C-47s flying overhead. By this time we had learned how to improve our comfort level with homemade showers, air mattresses, improved food and various beverages that were available in the Mediterranean area.



Then suddenly, during the evening of April 1, 1944, the air echelon of the 64th Troop Carrier Group (and the 4th squadron of the 62nd group) were ordered to depart the following morning for the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater of operations. Since it was April Fools Day, our Group Operations Duty Officer did double verify the order, but it was true. Quoting from the official Air Force History "The 35th squadron, first to take off left the airdrome (Comiso, Sicily) at 0600 hours on April 2, 1944--other squadrons followed and the planes made the trip to India via Bengasi (Libya), Cairo (Egypt), Abadan (Iran), Karachi (Pakistan), and Gaya (India)." (Beginning operations in India on April 7, 1944)

* Note from Homer Patty: We also stopped by Agra (India) and the Taj Mahal.
*Note from Roger Coleson: The assertion that we stopped by Agra and the Taj Mahal is incorrect--at least for the majority of the aircraft. This gives the impression that the 64th TCG was in no hurry to arrive in India. On the way back to Sicily, it is likely that some crews did stop by the Taj Mahal (Agra) and Cairo, Egypt (the pyramids).

The Group through April, May, and the first part of June was instrumental in supplying Merrill's Marauders, General Stillwell's American and Chinese Armies in the Naingkwan section of Northern Burma, and the 170,000 British troops besieged in the Imphal Valley, Burma. Quote continues "According to one authority the war in Burma was shortened by two years by reason of the troop carriers heroic contributions--this was an entirely different kind of warfare-always maximum loads--parachutes and pararacks removed--crews often consisted of only one pilot and a radio operator and engineer--every sortie was flown over Japanese lines--one of the Groups C-47s was jumped by two Zero's one of which crashed into the tail of the transport and sheared off all but a foot of the vertical stabilizer, the Zero crashed and the pilot (Hal Scrugham) received credit for downing one airplane."

* Note from Homer Patty: Hal Scrugham was a Captain and Command Pilot in the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron. See Hal Scrugham's account of the incident in the History section, entitled "17th TCS Downs Zero."

Other Group airplanes were damaged by fighters and ground fire and one C-47 was shot down with crew, all wounded, making their way back to Allied lines within several days. Our C-47's frequently flew as many as three round trips a day into the Imphal Valley. Every sortie meant two payloads with replacement, food, ammunition and other supplies flown in and casualties and other administrative personnel not needed for the battle, flown out. Fighting was very heavy and we evacuated 4,400 casualties in the month of May alone. In the two months in this theater, the Group flew more than 6,000 sorties and carried 26,000,000 pounds of cargo including 390 large mules which were used by the British as ground transportation in the area. Another innovation was the airlifting of thousands of live chickens in bamboo baskets, which were used as a live food supply for the British and Gurkha soldiers. Our own food supplies were very limited as we were again on Emergency British rations and enjoyed memorable breakfast menus such as tea, fried tomatoes, and duck eggs. There were cheeses from our competitors in the Air Transport Command. Some of the Group operated out of Dinjan, India, in support of northern Burma operations and other elements of the Group participated in the invasion and capture of Myitkyina [myit'chinä] on May 17, 1944. Myitkyina was a key transportation center in ground combat operations. By June 15, 1944, the Air Echelon had returned to Sicily and to our personal mail, which had accumulated since early April.






Roger Coleson, 35th TCS pilot, with British correspondent in India. (Photo by Del Smith, 35th TCS pilot)

* Note from Roger Coleson: About 60 to 70 percent of our flying was from India into the Imphal Valley of India. And, about 15 to 20% of flights were from the Assam Valley of India, with bases at Dinjan and Soukertain, into Burma. There were a small percentage of flights into other areas.



*One of the 390 "large" mules being unloaded in the Imphal Valley, India, to support the British Troops. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. William A. "Genevieve" Hitchcock.)


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