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Project 9

The Birth of the Air Commandos in World War II

Dennis R. Okerstrom

Publication Year: 2014

Project 9: The Birth of the Air Commandos in World War II is a thoroughly researched narrative of the Allied joint project to invade Burma by air. Beginning with its inception at the Quebec Conference of 1943 and continuing through Operation Thursday until the death of the brilliant British General Orde Wingate in March 1944, less than a month after the successful invasion of Burma, Project 9 details all aspects of this covert mission, including the selection of the American airmen, the procurement of the aircraft, the joint training with British troops, and the dangerous night-time assault behind Japanese lines by glider.

Based on review of hundreds of documents as well as interviews with surviving Air Commandos, this is the history of a colorful, autonomous, and highly effective military unit that included some of the most recognizable names of the era. Tasked by the General of the Army Air Forces, H. H. “Hap” Arnold, to provide air support for British troops under the eccentric Major General Wingate as they operated behind Japanese lines in Burma, the Air Commandos were breaking entirely new ground in operational theory, tactics, and inter-Allied cooperation. Okerstrom’s in-depth research and analysis in Project 9 shed light on the operations of America’s first foray into special military operations, when these heroes led the way for the formation of modern special operations teams such as Delta Force and Seal Team Six.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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R. V. Secord, Major General, USF (Ret)

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pp. vii-viii

This book, Project 9: The Birth of the Air Commandos in World War II is a very thoroughgoing and well-documented story of the famed 1st Air Commandos. It is important in that it not only fills in an interesting part of WWII, but also because this series of events explains the heritage...

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Dennis Okerstrom

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pp. ix-xii

I have had a lifelong fascination with World War II, and particularly the air war of that cataclysmic struggle. The origins of my interest are not hard to unearth: my father Carl was with the Mighty Eighth (he never referred to it as merely the 8th Army Air Force) stationed in England...

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pp. xiii-xviii

“We’re born alone and we die alone” is a popular phrase in some circles, and that sentiment is echoed in many a pop song. Perhaps it is true in a literal sense, but one thing is for certain: no one writes a book alone. An author owes debts of gratitude to a long list of people and in naming...

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pp. 1-6

A waxing, gibbous moon was just rising in the east, promising a measure of light in what otherwise would be near-total darkness. But a thickening haze was obscuring even that dim source, blurring the horizon and making the upcoming mission, already hazardous in the extreme...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 7-16

An axiom of World War II is that the campaign in Burma was largely “the forgotten war,” the stepchild of the China-Burma-India front, a backwater battle in the Asia-Pacifi c theater. It was recognized as such even while events were unfolding. The end of the supply line. The war...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 17-26

Eliahu Epstein, who would one day become the Israeli ambassador to the United States and then to the Court of St. James, was an idealistic young Jewish activist in early 1937. He later would change his name to Elath, but in the prewar days in what was then called Palestine, Epstein...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 27-34

To this point the experiences of Col. Orde Wingate—he was promoted as soon as he arrived in the Far East in late February or early March 1942—had been noteworthy, both for the detritus he left in his wake in the form of outraged or offended or perhaps jealous colleagues and for...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 35-50

The stately ship, 1,000 feet long and barely camoufl aged by a coat of gray paint, steamed past McNab’s Island, reducing speed at the north end as she entered the safety of the huge natural harbor at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in late summer 1943. The sheer grace of her main deck, the raked...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 51-60

While Roosevelt, Churchvill, and the Combined Chiefs met in Halifax to plan the war, Washington in late summer 1943 was a city focused on war. Nothing symbolized that focus more than the leviathan new addition to the skyline. In a city of monuments the Pentagon was both...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 61-68

Philip Cochran was still sitting in the outer office of Gen. Hap Arnold. He tapped his fingers on his knees and idly flipped his cap. He cleared his throat, and the secretary looked up expectantly, but he did not say anything. He checked his watch for perhaps the tenth time in...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 69-76

Phil Cochran and Johnny Alison had just greeted each other when the door to General Arnold’s office opened and the commander of the Army Air Forces himself walked out. He ushered them into his office, a large room well lighted by several windows. They found two more general...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 77-84

It was late September 1943, and the sweltering, enervating heat that had gripped Washington and much of the Northeast for weeks was beginning to ease. The steaming summer was slowly simmering into fall, but the passage of time was not the ally of the men planning the invasion...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 85-98

As Phil Cochran and Johnny Alison put together their fleet of small planes to support a British Army operation in Burma, they did so during a time of tight budgets—both the United States and Britain were still suffering the effects of the worldwide depression—and no small...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 99-110

As the training site for a secret group on a secret mission it was perfect. Seymour Johnson Army Air Force Base, fifty-three miles southeast of Raleigh, North Carolina (on today’s roads), was built in 1941 on the City of Goldsboro’s airport in the middle of the piney woods that had...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 111-152

In New Delhi, where he had gone ahead of the Project 9 team, Col. Philip Cochran looked around the table at the stern unsmiling faces of the high brass of the China-Burma-India theater of operations. He was thirty-three, a battle-tested fighter pilot, and his orders came directly...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 153-160

With the political questions largely settled, at least for the moment, it was time to get the British and Commonwealth troops of Special Force together with the American flyboys and convince everyone, including the two American colonels and Wingate himself, that this somewhat...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 161-170

Twenty-year-old Sgt. Harry McLean opened the brown cardboard package of bar chocolate from a D-rations box, removed the cellophane wrapper, and carefully shaved curls of the unsweetened survival staple into a heavy china mug. He sprinkled several spoonfuls...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 171-178

The time for the assault was growing closer, and the fighters, bombers, and light planes already were flying combat missions. On 3 February Cochran led a flight of five P-51s on a sweep into Burma. It was more a familiarization flight than a combat mission, but they were indeed...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 179-188

On Valentine’s Day 1944 the Japanese made the Air Commandos pay for their forays into Burma, strikes that until now had gone largely unanswered. The fighter and bomber missions begun on 3 February against the famed military might of the Rising Sun had proved something...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 189-202

The message from RAF Air Marshal Sir John Baldwin arrived at Lalaghat and Hailakandi early Sunday morning, 5 March 1944: “Weather is suitable. Carry out Operation Thursday.” Plans had been under way for days, but the cable confirmed that with...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 203-214

Johnny Alison peered through the gloom at the blurred image of his tug’s right engine exhaust. The trick was to keep the blue flame in the same position on the upper left of the Waco’s ample windscreen; it was the only visual clue that he was holding his proper position in the trinity...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 215-222

Back at Lalaghat, Cochran felt immense relief when radio reports from Broadway detailed what had occurred and why Alison had sent the original “soya link” message. Cochran had spent hours in an agony of suspense and self-doubt, imagining the worst had happened to his...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 223-232

After Lt. Robert Brackett and his nine men in the engineering unit scraped out a landing field at Broadway, Brigadier General Old, whose long habit was to lead from the cockpit, took off from Lalaghat at 1730 and flew the first C-47 in to the jungle clearing shortly after dark on 6...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 233-238

At Hailakandi on 7 March, two days after the first flights in to Broadway, American S.Sgt. Shojiro T. Taketa instinctively leaned closer to his radio set, slowly twisting the tuning dial that brought a steady stream of crackling static through his headset. A whirring hum, rising to a squeal...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 239-252

As it turned out, the buildup of Japanese air forces was part of a much bigger military operation. On 8 March, 1944, while Wingate’s troops were invading Burma, Japanese forces launched an invasion of India. They intended to surround Imphal and Kohima and block the Kohima...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 253-258

Nineteen days after the chaotic but successful glider landings at Broadway, disaster struck. In some ways it was the unofficial beginning of the end of the initial phase of the 1st Air Commando campaign in Burma. In other ways it was a time for reloading, reflection and reassessment. Debate still rages...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 259-266

Four days after Wingate’s death in late March 1944, Gen. Hap Arnold sent a wire calling John Alison back to the Pentagon. Alison, still ensconced at Broadway, got word from Cochran over the radio. Virtually all radio traffic was sent in the clear now, to ensure against loss of time...


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pp. 267-284


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pp. 285-290


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pp. 291-300

About the Author

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pp. 301

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273222
E-ISBN-10: 082627322X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220271
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220274

Page Count: 319
Illustrations: 25 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014