COLD FRONT FROM TIBET
On the morning of July 30, 1944, Captain Edwin Glass and his veteran flight crew departed the 40th Bomb Group's home base at Chakulia Airfield, India, on a mission over the Hump to their forward base at Hsinching, China. Eddie Glass was considered to be the best Pilot in the Group, and he had flown with his crew for several years. They were flying a B-29 stripped of its combat equipment, then modified to carry fuel and cargo. On this mission, the plane was loaded with gasoline and bombs.
The Hump route for this flight was Chakulia, India; Imphal, India; Myitkyina, Burma; Lake Tali, China; Ipin, China; then to the destination at Hsinching, China. From Imphal to Ipin, the rugged Himalaya Mountains ranged from 12,000 feet to more than 19,000 feet high near Lake Tali. Flying weather over the Hump was uniformly bad this time of the year.
When the crew filed its flight plan, the forecast weather for the Hump route was not especially alarming. Near takeoff time, an unexpected, huge cold front surged out of southern Tibet and enveloped the Hump route near the China-Burma border. Capt. Glass was not made aware that he would be flying into towering thunderstorms, hail, clear ice, and severe turbulence.
The crew of the heavily-laden B-29 reported over Myitkyina, Burma, at 15,000 feet climbing to the minimum en route altitude of 21,000 feet. They gave an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) for Lake Tali. Shortly afterwards, the B-29 entered the backside of the severe front -- the ill-fated plane was never heard from again. Subsequent search efforts failed to find the missing plane and its precious crew.
My crew experienced the intensity of the weather over the Hump that day. After off-loading fuel and bombs at Hsinching, we departed for India flying west about the same time that Captain Glass and his crew were crossing Burma eastbound. Our B-29 was loaded with only enough fuel to get us back to our home base at Chakulia, so we climbed to 24,000 feet immediately after takeoff. Near Yunnan-Yi, some 100 miles east of Lake Tali, we could see great thunderheads along the leading edge of the front. This gave us a tremendous advantage over eastbound crews because the towering clouds in their paths were obscured by stratus clouds. We skirted large thunderheads to the south, but near the border of Thailand, we had to turn west and penetrate the front south of Lake Tali.
We soon encountered the most severe turbulence that any of us had ever experienced, and our plane was tossed up to 27,000 feet virtually out of control. Hail hammered the fuselage as we picked up an unbelievable amount of clear ice. One down draft dropped us to 18,000 feet while we applied maximum engine power and fought the controls to keep the wings level.
We flew through rough air and turbulence for the remainder of the Hump route until breaking into clear weather over northern Burma. Then we viewed incredible hail damage to our plane's wing and tail surfaces and leading edges. The plane handled normally during the flight to Chakulia, and for the landing. Inspection of the plane disclosed many sheared rivets, much wrinkled skin, and severe damage to the fuselage and center wing section. We considered ourselves very lucky to have survived that wild ride.
P.S. The Cold Front from Tibet claimed 39 cargo planes, three B-29s, and all their crew members that terrible day. These losses were stark evidence that: WAR CONSUMES THE CREAM OF A NATION'S MANHOOD.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *