National Geographic : 1944 Aug
VoI. LXXXVI, No. 2 WASHINGTON AUGUST, 1944 The Aerial Invasion of Burma BY GENERAL H. H. ARNOLD Commanding General, U. S . Army Air Forces With Illustrations from . S. Armyl Air Forces Official Photographs IN 1943 the late Major General Orde C. Wingate led a daring campaign against the Japanese in Burma.* He proved that Allied ground troops could operate behind the enemy's lines, cutting off his supply system and upsetting his schedule. General Wingate marched fast and struck hard. The enemy, never knowing where he was going to strike next, was completely thrown off balance. Indeed, this British gen eral's behind-the-lines operations in Burma brought to mind the brilliant cavalry maneu vers of Nathan Bedford Forrest in our own Civil War (page 144). In 1944 General Wingate wished to lead another expedition into Burma on a larger scale. Previously he had had to leave some of his sick and wounded behind his swiftly moving columns, but in 1944 he wanted to fly all of them to safety. We promised we would do that-and more. We visualized an Air Commando Force, the first in military history. Large numbers of Allied ground troops would be conveyed by aircraft deep into Burma and, once there, they would be wholly supplied by air. General Wingate believed that, while the Japanese were excellent jungle fighters, well-trained Allied troops could defeat them at their own game, provided they were mobile, in sufficient force, and exploited the military value of surprise. We would not only evacuate all wounded by air; we would also replace them with fresh combat troops. Furthermore, none of the soldiers would have to make long marches through tough jungle to get inside Burma. They could start fighting in top physical con- dition. In the same project, the AAF would gain airbases from which we could fight the Japanese at closer quarters and relieve the threat to our aerial life line to China over the Hump. Obviously, the men to lead this unprece dented project had to be aggressive, imagina tive, and endowed with organizational talent of a high order. The Original of "Terry and the Pirates" To AAF headquarters in Washington came two young men who were strongly recom mended. One was a 34-year-old fighter pilot who had shown remarkable leadership in North Africa, Col. Philip G. Cochran, of Erie, Pennsylvania. In my office Cochran still wore his Natal leather boots with the trouser tops stuffed in. In North Africa he had originally headed a unit of replacement pilots, but before anyone was aware of it he had them up at the front fighting as a unit. Later he commanded a squadron of fighter pilots who were frequently so far ahead of our other forces that it was humorously remarked that they were fighting a war of their own (page 131). At the time, I did not know that Cochran was the original of the character Flip Corkin in the comic strip "Terry and the Pirates," but he sounded like a good man for the job. The other man was Col. John R. Alison, who had been an outstanding fighter pilot with the 14th Air Force in China and had also * See "Burma: Where India and China Meet," by John LeRoy Christian, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, October, 1943.