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Liaison Planes at War

Looking Back / Army Aviation, March 2012; By Mark Albertson

 

For the 80th Anniversary of Army Aviation:
Liaison Planes at War


“Grasshopper vs. Goliath”
[1]
By Major Edward A. Raymond, Field Artillery

         Here’s one on air observation, reminiscent of one of my dad’s bear stories.

         It was in a mountainous coastal sector in Sicily. The sound of enormous explosions came from behind a high ridge held by the Axis. The American artillery commander was puzzled, and sent up an Air OP. The plane flew out to sea, beyond effective automatic weapons range, and looked up the terrain corridor behind the ridge. The observer saw some German 105-mm howitzers, adjusted fire, and a two-battalion concentration obliterated the Nazi battery, but the heavy sounds were still unexplained.

         The observer examined the corridor at length. He finally determined that a tunnel on the far side of the valley was protecting a huge railway gun, which the Germans ran a little way out on the tracks to fire and withdraw again to load. A leisurely precision adjustment was made on the tracks in front of the tunnel, using a gun from each of three battalions. The plane flew away. The Americans waited, pieces converged, lanyards in hand. Ten minutes went by—twenty—half an hour. The Germans finally concluded that our shoot was over, repaired the tracks, and fired another enormous round. For the Americans, that was the prearranged signal; that meant, “Fire!” Instantly a three-battalion concentration lit in there and Baby Bertha ceased to be.

         You should have seen the mess!

* * * * *

Words of Wisdom

         The American solider is mechanically minded. A good mechanic is a thrifty mechanic: he respects his machinery and tools, and makes them last. By such careful practices he actually helps shorten the war.

[1] Source: “Grasshopper vs. Goliath,” page 849, The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 33, No. 11, The United States Army Field Artillery Association, Washington, D.C., November 1943.

* * * * *

“Liaison Planes Bomb:
L-5s Turn Into Bombers”
[1]

LB L 5Sentinel

         The banner headline of the Myitkyina Bugle (if there was such an animal) could have announced the other day: “DEVASTATING ATTACK ON IRRAWADDY RIVER TRAFFIC.”

         The story is one of the most unique in the annals of Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell’s Northern Burma campaign, for the bombing was carried out by tiny flivver planes flown by Army liaison pilots. These Model T’s of the air fly over the battle area to direct artillery fire, circling at less than 55 miles an hour above Jap positions in order to give range and direction to Allied gun crews.

         It’s a dangerous job, for because of their slow speed, the saucy little craft offer easy targets to the enemy.

         Turn-about is fair play, so the liaison planes were recently given an opportunity of striking back—by bombing the Japs by hand.

         But let T/Sgt. Carl A. Corey, of Stamford, Texas, tell the story.

         “We landed at Myitkyina when the Japs were still at one end of the strip. Heavy fighting was still going on. A little later, we were ordered to bomb a ferryboat full of supplies in the Irrawaddy. I took off with an officer and an observation cockpit full of bombs.

         “We found the ferryboat without difficulty, and then the fun began. I flew low over the target while the officer threw the bombs out, aiming as best he could. We got one direct hit and several near misses.”

         Artillery observation—and an occasional bombing mission—is only one of the assignments of the Army liaison planes. They are also used for evacuating the wounded, for photo reconnaissance and for newsreel filming.

 

[1] Source: “Liaison Planes Bomb: L-5s Turn Into Bombers,” Ex-CBI Roundup, China, Burma & India, Vol. 48, No. 2, Whittier, California, February 1993.

* * * * *

“Them Days is Gone Forever!”[1]

         In the days immediately following World War II, aviation sections—often far removed from their parent artillery units—were pressed into a wide variety of missions: Some flew the Black Market Blockade aiding military police in their ground chase and capture of elusive contraband runners. Others flew mail, whole milk, ketchup, Kleenex, and other items in short supply to isolated units.

LB 3

         Always ready to improvise, Eleventh Airborne staff officers viewed the Cub as a vehicle to accelerate quarterly pay jumps. Faced with a 40-mile rail trip to the Troop Carrier base by Japanese rattler, the staff officer invariably phoned the Air Section. With the Division HQ strip within a mile of the main runway, the officer walked across the street to the strip, met the plane, slipped on his chute, yelled “Ah, so,” at 800 feet and bailed out. With a 360 overhead, the AA more often than not was on the pad before said Airborner landed H. A. and H. And if he was a fast ditty-bag packer, he could return with his chute in bag to the Division strip within fifteen minutes of takeoff.

         Although this frequent practice boosted staff work considerably, it proved hard on the aircraft. One staffer prevailed upon the Engineering Officer to signify the event by painting the airborne meatball on the cowling. A handy Japanese painter (never in short supply) did the honors and within a month all the Cubs had the pox. All colors, too--the Army has branches. But, as it must come to all men, word came quietly to the Air Officer from above. “Operation De-Polka” was completed in half a morning. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese railway had a mild surge in business. The Cubs? Back to ketchup and Kleenex. Them were the days!

[1] Source: “Them Days is Gone Forever!” page 35, Army Aviation, Vol. 6, No. 11, Army Aviation Publications, Westport, Ct., November 22, 1958.