1940 - 1945

Prepared by
USAF Historical Division
Research Studies Institute
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama
September 1956


The troop carrier pilot in World War II led an unenviable existence. His hours were long and arduous. He frequently had to fly in the most wretched weather imaginable. The necessity for getting through to the destination with his precious load, whether passengers or high-priority cargo, was a burdensome responsibility. Then, too, the pilot could never long forget how extremely vulnerable his ship was to attack either from the ground or by enemy fighters; and could not forget, either, how helpless his unarmed ship was to defend itself. Troop carrier pilots were not expected to shoot down enemy fighters; they were expected to stay away, or get away, from Messerschmidts and Zeros. And yet one pilot of the 64th Troop Carrier Squadron was credited with the destruction of a Japanese plane and pilot, and won an Oak Leaf Cluster for his Distinguished Flying Cross by the feat. (NWB (Note: The pilot was Hal Scrugham of the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron). Another of the Group's pilots was credited with a "probable." These incidents are a part on the saga of the 64th.



The 64th Troop Carrier Group had its origin in the 64th Transport Group, constituted on 20 November 1940 and activated at Duncan Field, Texas, on 4 December of the same year. The 3rd Transport Squadron provided the first personnel for the new group. The original components of the Group, in addition to the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, were the 16th, 17th, and 18th Transport Squadrons, all three of which were activated at McClellan Field, California, on 11 December 1940. The Group was to have its permanent station at March Field, California; but it did not move there until 11 July 1941. The 18th Squadron moved from McClellan March on the same day, and the 17th moved to Hamilton Field, California. Two days earlier, on the 9th, the 16th Squadron had moved to Portland Army Air Base, Oregon. The four components of the Group did not get together until June 1942; at that time they moved to Westover Field, Massachusetts. They were joined by what became the Group's fifth component, the 35th Transport Squadron, which had been activated on 14 February 1942, and assigned to the 315th Transport Group. The 35th arrived at Westover on 7 June and was assigned to the 64th Group. The 54th Squadron was also assigned to the Group, but very briefly-from 1 June 1942, the date of its activation, to 6 June; on the latter date the Squadron was transferred to the 315th Transport Group at Bowman Field, Kentucky.

During the first months of the Group's existence, personnel of the 64th were engaged in the ferrying operations-transporting military passengers and freight from one Air Corps station to another-that constituted at the time the mission of air transport groups. A redesignation-64th Troop Carrier Group-in July 1942, signified a change in that mission; from that time on, the primary function of the Group would be to cooperate with paratroop and glider units in airborne operations by providing airlift for paratroopers and other airborne forces.

Not long after its arrival at Westover the Group was adjudged ready for combat duty; on 20 July 1942, the ground echelon left Westover for Fort Dix, New Jersey, and the air echelons went to Presque Isle, Maine, on 31 July. The ground echelons, having left Fort Dix on 5 August, arrived at Ramsbury, England, on 18 August; the air echelons joined them three days later.

The Group's stay in England was not a long one. Instead of serving with the Eighth Air Force, to which the Group had been assigned on arrival in the European Theater, the 64th was assigned, on 14 September 1942, to the Twelfth Air Force. This assignment meant, of course, that the powers-that-were intended to use the Group in the execution of Operation TORCH, the invasion of North Africa. On 10 November the air echelons of the Group flew to Africa from England via Gibraltar. Itchy-fingered Allied antiaircraft gunners fired at the thirty-four planes as they passed over the Algiers waterfront, but the troop carriers landed their passengers-personnel of the British 3rd Parachute Battalion-at Maison Blanche, the Algiers airfield, about dawn on 11 November. A crew chief and a paratrooper were wounded.


At 0600 on 12 November, twenty-six of the Group's planes took off with more than three hundred British paratroopers and dropped them, some two and a half hours later, at Bone; the Britishers were received by the French garrison, if not with enthusiasm, at least without opposition. The troop carrier planes and their escort-twelve Spitfires---all returned safely.

An attempt on 15 November to carry out a drop on Souk-el-Arba was thwarted by weather; but at 1100 on the following day thirty-two planes belonging to the Group, protected by a dozen fighters, set out again for Souk-el-Arba, about sixty miles southeast of Bone, and dropped almost four hundred British paratroopers on or near the airfield. All planes returned safely to Maison Blanche about 1600.

A little after noon on 29 November eighteen planes of the 64th Group, along with twenty-six from the 62nd Troop Carrier Group, set out with more than five hundred men on the British 2nd Parachute Battalion. The original escort of four Hurricanes and eight P-38s was augmented at Le Kef by fourteen Spitfires. By the time the drop zone at Depienne was reached, the formation was ragged and loose; consequently there was much dispersion in the drop. Having determined that the Germans had withdrawn from Depeinne, the battalion set out for Oudna. At Oudna-about fifteen miles northeast of Depienne-there was a brief skirmish, but the field was not defended in strength. Almost immediately, however, Messerschmidts and heavy tanks appeared and pinned the paratroopers down until nightfall. Next day about the dawn the battalion learned by radio that the Allied force with which the paratroopers were supposed to make junction after taking Oudna, had been defeated and driven back to Medjez-el-Bab, forty miles west of Oudna. Faced with the alternatives of resistance or surrender, the battalion commander chose to make an attempt to reach the Allied line. After fighting off Germans in four pitched battles and marching some sixty miles over mule trails and hill paths, about 180 of the paratroopers reached Medjez-el-Bab. Paratroopers continued to straggle in for several days; but of the 530 who had dropped at Depienne, more than half had been killed or captured.


No more airborne missions were flown in North Africa. The weather was bad in Tunisia during much of the winter, and the decisive air superiority requisite for successful airborne operations was not achieved until March. Moreover, the Allies were on the defensive and had little or no opportunity to make profitable use of airborne troops. Instead, the paratroopers, both British and American, were used as infantry and gave an excellent account of themselves. And the troop carrier units' C-47s and C-53s were kept busy with ferrying missions of all kinds. Throughout the winter and spring the 64th Group operated from its base at Blida, Algeria. In June, however, the Group moved to Zena II, Kairouan, Tunisia, to train for its next troop carrying mission: participation in Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily.

The first HUSKY mission called for the 64th to join with four other troop carrier groups in dropping 3,405 men on the high ground northeast of the Sicilian port of Gela between 2340 on D minus one-9 July-and 0030 on D-day. The airborne force was to block the roads and prevent German reserves from reaching Gela in time to oppose the landing of the U.S. 1st Division, scheduled for 0245 on D-day. The troop carriers began taking off at 2015. At some fields the clouds of dust created by the planes as they left the ground could be seen from a distance of five miles; many of the pilots had to take off on instruments.

The 64th group-which had committed two planes more than its scheduled forty-nine-was the only one of the five groups involved that succeeded in keeping its formation. At 0025 the 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment 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. During the course of the day they defeated strong enemy forces, captured the town of St. Croce, Camerina, and took two hundred prisoners. The troop planes all returned safely, although some planes, for one reason or another, landed at fields other than the intended landing place.

The 64th contributed three C-47s, with crews to FUSTIAN; this was a paradrop, carried out on 13-14 July, for the purpose of capturing a very important bridge. Although this mission was, in many respects, badly executed, the prime objective was achieved.

On 26 July the Group moved from Zena II to El Djem and at the end of August to Comiso, Sicily. On the night of 14-15 September the Group flew its first combat mission to Italy. Forty of the Group's planes carried the 2nd Battalion of the 509th Parachute Combat Team to Avellino. The paratroopers were to destroy bridges and in any other way possible to disrupt the German lines of communication, thus adding to the logistical difficulties of supplying the enemy troops around Salerno. Although pilots thought the mission successful, it actually was not. Fifteen planes managed to drop their passengers within four or five miles of the drop zone. Eleven planes dropped their sticks ten miles from their destination, at a place that resembled the drop zone. A dozen more dropped their paratroopers from ten to twenty-five miles from the drop zone. And two plane loads were still unaccounted for a full month after the event. "The parts in the failure played by inadequate training, a difficult route, an obscure drop zone, inadequate pathfinder facilities, and loss of equipment are hard to estimate, but it seems clear that the mission was a failure."

For the following several months the Group was kept busy ferrying freight and passengers over much of Africa, all of Sicily, and parts of Italy. In the spring came opportunity to make amends for the comparative failure of the Avellino mission. On 1 April the four squadrons of the 64th Group were notified that they, along with the 4th Squadron of the 62nd Group, were to leave forthwith for detached service in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations.

The 35th Squadron, first to take off, left the airdrome at 0600 on 2 April 1944. The other squadrons followed, and the last plane got away on 5 April. The trip was made via Bengasi, Cairo, Abadan, Karachi, and Geya. After reaching their destination, the 16th and 17th Squadrons began operations from Lalmai, Lower Bengal, and then from Dinjan, Upper Assam-and RAF 216 Squadron working out of Chandina, the Group through April, May, and the first half of June was instrumental in supplying Merril's Marauders in the Ft. Hetz Valley and 170,000 troops besieged at Imphal. According to one authority, the war in Burma was shortened two years by reason of the troop carrier units' heroic contribution. And a truly heroic contribution it was.

"This was an entirely different type of warfare than ever encountered by this group. The cooperation of the 10th AF was splendid. Weather conditions were awful. Loads varied from 5500 lbs. Minimum to 7000 lbs. maximum with a full load of gas. All parachutes and pararacks were discarded. Crews at times flew days and nights. One radio operator flew 240 hours in 30 days with no relief. Crews often consisted of pilot, radio operator, and either a crew chief or navigator. C-47s assigned to operate in CBI Theater are equipped with two 50 Cal. Machine guns. (The 64th's planes were unarmed and unarmored)...Every sortie flown was over Jap lines and our aircraft were constantly being alerted for Zeros."

The alerts were not idle ones. One of the Group's C-47s was jumped by two Zeros, 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 of the C-47 received credit for downing one Jap. Skillful pilotage landed the C-47 at a friendly base without injury to crew members. Another of the Group's aircraft was jumped by three Zeros; the pilot, through evasive action, made his escape from them. After the plane was safely landed, it was found to have more than a hundred bullet holes in it; the radio operator and fifteen passengers were wounded in the one-sided fight. Another C-47, jumped by three Zeros, was shot down, landing in a swamp. All crew members were wounded but made their way to Allied lines. Still another of the Group's planes had its aileron controls shot away, but was landed safely at a friendly base. The attacking Zero crashed; since the claim could not be substantiated, the pilot received credit only for a probable.

The 64th's C-47s frequently flew as many as three round trips a day into the Imphal Valley. Every sortie meant two pay loads. Replacements, food, ammunition, and other supplies were flown in; casualties and "useless mouths" were flown out.

"During April only 744 sick and wounded men were evacuated but in May the fighting was much heavier, and the number flown out rose to 4,400. The characteristic determination of the Japanese to fight on even though defeat was inevitable made June the bloodiest month of all, and 5,295 casualties were evacuated, making a total for the whole battle of 10,439...."

The "useless mouths" were "the administrative and logistic personnel, military and civilian, who had been needed when Imphal was a supply base but who had so little combat capability that they were a burden when the Plain became a battlefield."

"From a tactical point of view, the evacuation of useless mouths from Imphal was more important than the evacuation of casualties. Almost half the approximately 50,000 service troops in the Plain walked out over the Bishenpur-Silchar Track before that route was cut by the Japanese, but the remainder were flown out by transports which had unloaded supplies on the Plain. The number flown out during April was only 550, but in May almost 27,000 departed by air. The largest number carried out on any one day was 2,600 on 14 May, but more than 2,000 were lifted on two days, and more than 1,000 on twelve days. The movement of useless mouths was almost completed during May, leaving 2,190 to be evacuated during June."

The Group lost a total of seven planes during its stay in Burma. A C-47 belonging to the 35th Squadron left Dinjan, India, and was never heard from after take-off; it was believed to have crashed into a mountain in Burma. The members of the crew, all of whom-except the radio operator-were from the 2nd Troop Carrier Squadron, were listed as Missing in Action; the radio operator was a member of the 35th Squadron. Several members of the Group were wounded.

The Tenth Air Force awarded to members of the five AAF Squadrons that participated in the Burmese operations 197 Distinguished Flying Crosses; including 3 Oak Leaf Clusters; 294 Air Medals, including 90 Clusters; and 5 Purple Hearts.

Although the 64th's Detached Services in the CBI was originally intended to end in May 1944, it was actually mid-June before the wanderers got back to the MTO and their base at Comiso. And in August, hard on the heels of OVERLORD, the invasion of Normandy, came Operation DRAGOON (originally ANVIL): the invasion of southern France. On 10 July the 64th moved from Comiso to Ciampino, Italy, not far from Rome. On the nights of 3-4 August, the Group flew a simulated night parachute mission, carrying troops of 2 Parachute Brigade and using Rebecca, MF (medium frequency) beacons, and lights as navigational aids. On 12 August came a practice glider mission. In the final rehearsal the lead planes, after the formations had made a long over-water flight, dropped dummy paratroops at dawn on 13 August.

The show began on 16 August. The 64th's first role in the show was participation in ALBATROSS. The Group committed to the mission a lead serial of thirty-six aircraft and a second serial of twenty-seven; the first of these planes took to the air at 0211. The Group made a good drop, although the concentration of troops and supplies was not all that might have been desired. The 64th did not participate in BLUEJAY or CANARY, glider and paratroop missions, respectively, flown later in the day; but it did play an important part in the fourth airborne operation of the day, a glider mission, coded DOVE. This involved the towing of more than three hundred Waco gliders the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion and other troops to the number of about 2,250. Great quantities of material were also transported. The first of the 64th's planes committed to this mission took off from Ciampino at 1510. The flight to the target was apparently uneventful; but the landing zone was found to be obscured by smoke, and the gliders were released on signal from the Eureka beacon that had been installed earlier in the day. The 64th was the only group that had to use aids other than visual on this mission. Because of obstructions placed in the landing fields by the Germans, all of the gliders released were damaged or destroyed on landing. Eleven glider pilots were killed, and more than thirty pilots and something like one hundred glider troops were injured. The material delivered suffered surprisingly little damage. All of the Group's planes returned safely; no enemy aircraft were sighted, but there was some damage from anti-aircraft fire.

DOVE was the 64th's last troop-carrying mission of the war. ("In operation HERRING on 20-21 April 1945, 20 planes of the 64th Troop Carrier Group did drop 220 Italian paratroops in the Po Valley to harass the German retreat. However, these were not dropped as a combat unit but in single sticks to act as guerrillas in bands of 8 to 10 men.") But the crews and the C-47s were kept busy with ferrying missions as long as they remained in Italy. In May 1945, the Group was relieved from assignment to the 51st Wing, Twelfth Air Force, and assigned to the Air Transport Command, with station at Waller Field, Trinidad, British West Indies. The unit sailed from the Naples Port of Embarkation on 23 May 1945 aboard the General Richardson and arrived in Trinidad on 4 June. The Group's career as part of the Air Transport Command was brief; on 31 July 1945, it was inactivated at Waller Field. At the same time the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 35th Squadrons were relieved from assignment to the Group and inactivated.

History courtesy of:
Forrest W. Gregg
17th Troop Carrier Squadron - WW II

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