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THE TAKORADI ROUTE - THE JOURNEY TO EGYPT C.B.I.

5)LIFE IN INDIA


By Bob Dethlefsen.


As the weeks went by, the tempo increased until at least part of the squadron was somewhere over Burma every day.. With the Jap's being able to rebuild the bridges at an astonishing rate, we were seemingly hitting the same targets , over and over again.. At the same time, there was a marked increase in the opposition , both from ground fire and from fighter planes. I really don't know what type of aircraft they were but, as far as we were concerned, if it was shooting at us it was a "Zero". As a flight commander, I was also responsible for checking the proficiency of newer pilots, and doing test flights after major repairs on any of the flights aircraft.


We also took turns doing the "weather check". This consisted of one airplane , alone and minus bomb load, heading out over Burma in the direction of the target for the day, to get some idea of what type of weather could be expected.. It was not the type of mission that I looked forward to! Although it was not necessary to go all the way to the target, there was deep penetration at times . 10 or 12 B-25s in formation is one thing but , all alone, one B-25 does not have a very formidable defense.


More than one aircraft did not return from a weather mission. Meanwhile, on some of my "days off", I made another trip to Bangalore to pick up a refurbished B-25, spent a few days acting as a taxi for a base inspecting Colonel , and managed to sneak in a couple of five day passes to Calcutta. Calcutta had everything that any metropolis has, and maybe more than most.. There were grand hotels, grand government buildings, grand theaters and a grand train station.. The movie houses had reserved seats and it was in a grand box that I saw "Gone With The Wind " for the first time. But, it was the signs of abject poverty and filth that left the greatest impression.


The train station was a monstrous building seemingly filled to capacity with people and garbage. Much of that mass of humanity never left the building., begging by day and sleeping on the floor by night.- It was very much the same in the center of the city . The sidewalks were filled with beggars , many of whom would not move more than a few feet for days at a time, for fear of losing their claim on that tiny bit of territory. At night though, it became a different world. As the sun went down and the lights came on, it was time to leave the sights and move into the splendor of the Imperial Hotel. Only in the movies had we ever seen anything like this.    


High ceilings with dozens of fans, ornate furniture , immense dining room with monogrammed china and silverware and a whole platoon in uniform to wait on us.. To top it all of f there was the dinner music that , as the evening wore on , blended into the unforgettable Big Band sound of the `40s. It was here that I experienced "As Time Goes By" for the first time. War or peace, it was all the same to the British Colonials, life went on!. During the month of August, 1943, I flew only five combat missions, three of them as squadron leader., and on September 1st led the squadron on my 61st, and what turned out to be my last, mission.


There was one more trip to pick up an airplane at Bangalore, one more trip to Agra to pick up an AT-6, and one more pilot to be checked out as 1st pilot.. My last assignment as a member of the 490th , one of the most enjoyable, began on September 18th. A shipload of P-40s had arrived at Karachi en-route to northeast India where they were to add to the ever growing force protecting the airlift to China , over "the Hump". For a number of reasons, primarily the distance involved , the need for frequent fuel stops, and pilots with limited navigational skills it was deemed desirable to give them an escort -- someone to follow..


It took a whole week to move 14 P-40s from one end of India to the other , but that included a three day stop at the Agra Supply Depot for final aircraft modification and outfitting the pilots with winter equipment.. To give them a longer range, each P-40 had been fitted with an additional "bathtub" fuel tank that was slung beneath the fuselage, which slowed them down considerably.  


The problem this created was that they could not keep up without overheating their engines and I felt that I could not fly slowly enough without falling out of the sky. In this case , I believe I was the one lacking in experience, and felt it necessary to make a circle from time to time so that the troops would not fall too far behind.. It was at Agra that I received word that my "go home" orders had arrived, and I was sorely tempted to turn around and do just that..


But instead, we all got drunk at the Officers Club , piled 14 fighter pilots into our B-25 and gave them the hair-raising ride of their life, just as the sun came up! Somehow we all survived,, found our way to the proper airfield nestled amongst the tea plantations of northern India, and headed home to Kurmitola. For the moment my war had come to an end.


 

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