Flying the Hump

When the Japanese captured the Burmese town of Lashio in 1942, they effectively cut off the last major Allied supply route into China. Allied commanders devised a daring plan to supply China and the Allied forces via an air route from India. From April 1942 to August 1945, American transport planes from the 10th Air Force and later Air Transport Command made daily flights over the Eastern Himalayan Mountains from India to China, a perilous route that American pilots soon nicknamed “the Hump.” It was the first sustained, around-the-clock, all-weather, long-range military aerial supply line in history.

For the pilots, flying the Hump presented numerous challenges. The airfields in northeastern India from which the planes embarked were well within the range of enemy bombers. Once in the air, they faced the constant threat of attack by fighters. Additionally, Hump pilots faced threats from nature. In the middle of their path stood the Himalayas, which reached over 19,500 feet at the highest parts of the Hump route. On both sides of the mountains were dense, impenetrable jungles. Erratic weather patterns made flying especially dangerous, particularly when the monsoon season brought heavy rains and sudden thunderstorms. Another critical problem was finding aircraft capable of carrying heavy cargo at the high altitudes required. By the end of the war, 594 planes were lost or unaccounted for, and 1,314 air crewmen and passengers were killed.

Despite the tremendous toll, the airlift accomplished its mission of providing supplies to China. From its inception in April of 1942 to its last flight in August of 1945, the airlift delivered approximately 650,000 tons of material to China, ensuring that China had the supplies necessary to continue fighting.