Operation Thursday continued.
The Air Commandos’ versatility – particularly in the role of medical evacuation – was underscored when it made history on April 25, 1944, near the conclusion of the campaign. An Air Commando L-1 carrying three wounded Chindits had crash landed on April 21 as a result of enemy ground fire. The only suitable location for a rescue was a clearing too small for an airplane, but not too small for one of the Air Commandos’ Sikorsky YR-4 helicopters. Second Lt. Carter Harmon was ordered to pilot his “eggbeater” 500 miles from his base in Lalahat, India, to “Aberdeen,” one of a number of additional advance bases established during the campaign, which was about 60 miles away from the rescue site. At Aberdeen he would receive final instructions regarding the rescue. Harmon faced numerous challenges. His helicopter was small (it could only carry one passenger at a time), it was underpowered (its engine produced only 175 horsepower), and its range was limited (he would have to refuel about every 100 miles). The plan developed was for Harmon to shuttle the evacuees from the pick-up location to a British-held sand bar that doubled as a landing strip about 10 miles from the rescue site. From there an L-5 would carry the wounded to Aberdeen. On the afternoon of April 25, Harmon carried off the first, most seriously wounded Chindit. But an overheated engine and an approaching tropical storm prevented him from returning to extract the rest that day. The following morning, Harmon completed the rescue, becoming as a result the first pilot in history to perform a helicopter combat rescue.
At the end of April, the Chindits, exhausted but in high spirits, returned to India having successfully completed their mission. The three Japanese divisions assigned to invade India as part of Operation U-Go had been prevented from doing so. When interviewed after the war, Japanese Imperial Army generals testified that, “The penetration of the airborne force into Northern Burma caused the failure of the Army plan to complete the Imphal Operations. . . . The airborne raiding force . . . eventually became one of the reasons for the total abandonment of Northern Burma.” An even blunter assessment of the Air Commandos and Chindits’ success came from the commander of the Japanese 31st Division, Lt. Gen. Sato, who, in a message to Japanese 15th Army headquarters, complained, “Since leaving the Chindwin [River valley], we have not received one bullet from you nor a grain of rice.” And in response to a reprimand from 15th Army headquarters that threatened him with a court martial for insubordination, he stated in part, “The 15th Army has failed to send me supplies and ammunition since the operation began. This failure releases me from any obligation to obey the order – and in any case it would be impossible to comply.” Gen. Arnold noted the Air Commandos’ success in Operation Thursday and the subsequent campaign. New Air Commando units were authorized, and Cochran would find himself reassigned and responsible for a new, larger Air Commando campaign in Europe. This article was copied from the “DefenseMediaNetwork” article on 1st Air Commando and Operation Thursday, by Dwight Joe Zimmerman, 10 May 2015; Zimmerman obtained this article from its first publication in The Year in Special Operations: 2004 Edition.
Operation Thursday Glider Crashes & Jungle Burials