The Zero Incident

 On April 25, 1944, the 64th Troop Carrier Group was engaged in resupplying elements of the British Army that were under siege by the Japanese in the Indian state of Imphal on the Indo‑Burmese border. On this date, 17th Troop Carrier Squadron planes were loading cargo at Sylhet, Assam State, and flying it to the various dirt strips in the Imphal City area.

On return trips the squadron’s C-47’s were carrying the wounded, a group of Sikh troops being relieved from combat, were returning empty; or, carrying the most dangerous cargo’s of all  – empty 55 gal. gasoline drums.

An unidentified  17th Troop Carrier Squadron crew loading empty 55 gallon gasoline drums into a C-47 in the CBI Theatre.  (Photo courtesy of John T. Thompson’s daughter.)




At about 10:00 A.M. on the above date, twenty‑five Sikh soldiers were loaded onto C‑47 224‑170 piloted by Capt. H. M. “Hal”  Scrugham and Lt. Al Jost, the co‑pilot. The weather was clear and the take‑off normal. The crew climbed to 5,000 feet to clear the mountain pass west of Imphal. Some ten minutes after take‑off, Imphal radio began broadcasting in the blind “Bandits - Bandits‑ Bandits.”  Without trying to locate the enemy aircraft, Scrugham shoved the wheel forward and put the aircraft into a steep dive.  In a matter of seconds, a Zero approaching from astern, flew into the C-47 and chopped off approximately seven feet of the rudder and vertical stabilizer of the aircraft.

The crew of C-47 224-170 (L to R):  T/Sgt. Dean Durst, crew chief; Captain Hal M. Scrugham, pilot; First Lieutanant Al Jost, copilot; S/Sgt. Clyde Ginder, radio operator.  (Photo courtesy of Hal Scrugham)




The aircraft already in a dive, immediately went into a steep, diving left turn. By both pilots putting both feet on the right rudder pedal and twisting the wheel to full right, they were able to pull out of the dive and almost straighten the plane. A right turn was im­possible.


T/Sgt. Dean Durst, the crew chief, looked aft through the navigation dome and reported that little remained of the rudder and vertical stabilizer. Durst also reported that a second Zero was attacking from the rear firing both machine guns and a cannon.




Photo courtesy of Hal Scrugham


Tracers were observed by both pilots as the Zero overshot its target. Durst reported that the Zero made several more passes but except for several .30 caliber holes in the tail area, no further damage was sustained. After some minutes, Durst reported that the Zero had apparently broken off the attack.

Both pilots had lost all sense of location during the encounter. When the remaining Zero broke off the attacks, they steered the C-47 West toward India. Left turns were easy, either pilot could slack off on either rudder or aileron and the turn was immediate. Right turns were made by making 270° turns.  After about an hour, they spotted the RAF aerodrome at Shamshernagar, about 30 miles South of Sylhet. As the aircraft slowed to about 110 MPH, they found that one man could control the flight controls. With the other controlling the engines, a “wheels‑down” landing was made.

Upon landing, an RAF officer interrogated the crew and passengers.  The senior NCO of the Sikh troops aboard reported that he had seen the first Zero crash into the nearby mountain and explode following the collision. A C‑47 crew from the 17th Squadron returned the crew to their base.


Photo courtesy of Hal Scrugham



Scrugham was later told that there were seven C‑47's in the area when they were intercepted by an estimated twenty Zero's return­ing from an attack in India. Two were from 17th Troop Carrier Squadron, two from a British Dakota Squadron, and three Air Transport Command C‑47's.   Two [Zeroes] attacked 224‑170, three attacked the other 17th plane piloted by Lt. Brandt McIntyre and Lt. [--- ] Brantley.  McIntyre's plane received heavy damage including loss of five feet of the right wing tip when he pulled out of a dive and struck a palm tree. There were three dead and 17 wounded among his Sikh passengers. One crew member was wounded slightly. The remaining C‑47's with their crews and passengers were destroyed by the Japanese.


Hal M. Scrugham

Lt. Col. USAF Res (Ret.)

3583 Mobile Road

Greenville, AL  36037





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