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JR Hafer, is an aviation writer and a widely respected book reviewer
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Help Came Over the Himalayas
A Review By Michael J. Ybarra
this exciting story is told by Gregory Crouch in “China’s Wings.”
In 1931, William Langhorne Bond stepped ashore in Shanghai to take on a new job as operations manager of the China National Aviation Corp., or CNAC. The fledgling airline was a joint venture between the Chinese government, such as it was in the 1930s, and the U.S. Curtiss-Wright Corp. Bond was 37, a refugee from the construction industry. He was new to aviation and looking for a bit of adventure. He found it.
For the better part of the next two decades, Bond’s life would be intertwined with the airline—and with China, which was soon attacked by Japan and plunged into World War II, followed by civil war and communist victory. Bond’s adventures and China’s ordeal are at the heart of the exciting story told by Gregory Crouch in “China’s Wings.”
In the 1930s, China was a country in name only. The Nationalist government nominally ruled the Middle Kingdom to the east, while warlords and communists held sway in the interior. Aviation promised to help unite the land. A DC-2, for example, could fly from Chengtu to Chungking, at the center of the country, in two hours instead of two weeks.
In March 1933, Curtiss-Wright’s stake in CNAC was taken over by Pan American World Airways, an aviation powerhouse eager to own a part of what seemed like a promising business. The relationship got off to a rocky start—largely because of pilot error. “In six months,” Mr. Crouch writes, “Pan Am had wrecked two airplanes, killed four, injured nine, and its vaunted air service was at a complete standstill.”
It fell largely to Bond to whip operations into shape, which he did—just in time for Japan’s aggression. In 1937, Pan Am recalled Bond from China and offered him a plum job elsewhere. He declined and, at no little personal peril, returned to flying for the China National Aviation Corp. Dealings with Chinese officialdom were often tense, in part because the Middle Kingdom’s bureaucrats were suspicious of the Americans and often treated them as lackeys rather than partners. On one occasion Bond went to a meeting with a Colt .45 hidden in a shoulder holster, just in case.
Wartime flying was dangerous. In 1938 the Japanese forced down a CNAC plane (not flown by Bond) and strafed the survivors—one of many spine-chilling scenes vividly recounted by Mr. Crouch. After the Japanese overran coastal China, Bond and CNAC retreated to the country’s rugged hinterland, though Japanese bombing raids could sometimes still reach them. When the Japanese occupied Burma in 1942, the Nationalist government’s last overland supply line was cut off.
Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a quasi-private air force called the American Volunteer Group, or Flying Tigers, had been helping China with its air defense against Japan. The unit was disbanded when the U.S. officially entered the war. Five of its pilots were recruited into the U.S. Army Air Corps. CNAC got 16. Both entities flew supplies to Chungking by traveling over the dangerous Himalayas, the so-called Hump. Despite “the hardest flying in the world,” Mr. Crouch says, “CNAC’s freight kept making it to China in per-plane quantities that dwarfed Army deliveries.”
CNAC lost a number of planes in the Himalayas. Two pilots thought to have died in a crash in early April 1943 turned up, weeks later, in a remote village in India. A British survey unit stumbled upon them smoking opium with the locals. An epic trek during monsoon season took the pilots, one of whom had a broken ankle and had to be carried by villagers, to an American military unit—47 days after ditching their plane.
CNAC’s supply efforts across the mountains were “one of the greatest aviation accomplishments of all time,” Mr. Crouch writes. “The Hump was the world’s first strategic airlift.” Yet the airlift’s rationale was to keep the Chinese government afloat so it could fight the Japanese—something that Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government was loath to do. It calculated that ending the war with Japan would just mean a new one with Mao’s forces. Washington sent missions to cajole the Nationalist to fight; the Chinese promised to do so but rarely did.
Stirring though the airlift was for the bravery it involved, ultimately the effort diverted resources from the Allied effort in Europe while doing little to contribute to the battle against Japan. Mr. Crouch acknowledges the futility even as he memorializes CNAC’s daring pilots, such as Pete Goutiere, who flew over the Hump 650 times.
By 1947, CNAC was flying from Shanghai to San Francisco in a mere 40 hours. Two years later the communists were running the country. Pan Am sold its stake in the company to the government, and CNAC was dissolved. For his part, William Langhorne Bond retired from Pan Am not long afterward and eventually became a farmer in Virginia. “Bond always felt,” Mr. Crouch writes, “that he’d held the most interesting, exciting, and challenging job in the entire history of commercial aviation.”
Mr. Ybarra is writing a book about the 1968 Fun Hog Expedition to Patagonia.
Air Commando One
Heinie Aderholt and America’s Secret Wars
Author Warren A. Trest
I had the opportunity to befriend Heinie Aderholt in the fall of 2009 and he promised to give me his book when we came up to Pamama city to share dinner with he and his wife, (we were going to by some furniture in his furniture store as well). I could not wait, I bought the book and consumed it quickly. Afterward we had a lot of time on the phone talking, about “stuff” that happened in Laos and all. I wanted to do a book about Bill Lair, but after reading his book and learning so much about him (Heinie) and his world, I just wanted to share Heinie’s memories. Reading “Air Commando One” was like hearing it straight from “the man” himself. He was quite a story teller, he could really “spin a yarn”… Warren A. Trest has brought back this time I had with Heini Aderholt. (as I re-read Trest’s book) Mr. Trest brings back to the dinner table the discussions of the adventures of Heinie’s life and the account of a professional military man who stayed under the radar due to his clandestine work of a great man. The story should be told now that Heini is gone, it should be yelled from the roof tops. But just like so many great men who fought in secret wars doing the dirty work “Under the radar” so to speak, they will never get the recognition they deserve. This book; “Air Commando One” by Warren A. Trest is one of the best biographies I have read. I highly recommend this book, for it is very instructive and historically correct, interesting, amusing and will leave you smiling, sad, and scratching your head wondering what the heck does our government think they are doing? No matter where you stood on the Vietnam war politically speaking, in retrospect, we can now see perhaps, that just maybe the wars should be fought by those men who know what the heck they are doing, like Heini Aderholt. God bless all those guys who lived, died and fought by General Heinie Aderholt’s side in World War II, Korea, Tibet, Thailand, The Golden Triangle, and Laos especially. Great job Mr. Trest, Great Book, Get the book and read it, you will be glad you did. I give it ten stars… (JRH)
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