Somewhere in the India jungle a B-29 crew was down. A little Kaydet trainer flew through the monsoon to find and save them.
Northern India during the monsoon season is rough country for a little Kaydet to be flying over. But the Wichita-built Boeing trainer was braving heavy winds and drenching rains as it flew low over the river-jungle country.
That was no training flight. The Kaydet belonged to the Air Service Command, and was on war front duty. Somewhere in the wilds below a cargo plane had been reported down. If its crew had survived, they had to be found and rescued.
Col. William S. Pocock, Jr., commander of the “Burma Peacocks” Air Service group, and his intelligence officer, Maj. Henry S. Bray, wiped the rain from their goggles and peered down, looking for wreckage.
“Look—–look at the river bank!” Bray shouted as he tapped Pocock’s shoulder and pointed down.
Pocock banked the plane and swung down for the river. Scattered small fires glowed along the bank below. As the Kaydet came in lower, the men saw the fires were the charred remains of a large plane.
“We’ll shoot a landing. There may be survivors,” Pocock shouted.
THROUGH THE TREES
It was tricky business, landing in a jungle. But Pocock was taking the Kaydet down. He saw a glade and wedged the plane in, coming down through the overhanging trees.
They were within walking distance of the fires, so the men forged through the dense undergrowth. As they burst into the opening along the river bank, they saw there was no sign of life. They looked about for bodies, and found none.
Pocock and Bray searched through the widely dispersed wreckage until they found a flying form sheet. It told the story. The wreckage was no cargo plane; it was a Boeing B-29, from the same Wichita factory that had built the colonel’s Kaydet.
Suddenly the roar of a plane burst over the treetops. It was a B-25, buzzing the scene. The newcomer was from Pocock’s base. Quickly, the men on the ground laid out signals in the sand, informing the pilot of their discovery.
The B-25 pilot, swooping in again, dropped a note saying that he’d spotted a parachute a mile southeast in the jungle. But crashing through the jungle, searching for the crew would be too much for two men. Pocock and Bray decided to wait for a rescue party to come from the base.
When the searching party arrived, Pocock gave them instructions. Then they started off to the southeast by dugout canoe. After paddling up the sluggish, muddy river for a few minutes, the rescuers saw a man lying on the bank of the river. It was a B-29 man, Lieut. John W Sims.
SCATTERED IN JUNGLE
Though shaken and dazed, Sims managed to explain to Pocock and Bray that the fourteen- man crew of the Superfort had bailed out and should be within a twenty-five mile area. The men had to ‘chute when their bomber became disabled in the fury of the monsoon.
Pocock saw the flyer needed hospital care immediately. He put the injured man in the rear cockpit of the Kaydet and braved a take-off over the soft ground and past the overhanging branches. The rugged little trainer pulled its way into the clear without trouble.
Back at base in the tea gardens of Assam, Pocock learned natives had spotted other ‘chutes in the jungle. Sims said the B-29 crewmen were hiding in the undergrowth, suspecting that they were behind enemy lines or in headhunter country.
Natives and soldiers, on elephants and in canoes, continued the search through the jungle that night. In the blackness they found another officer, Lieut. Richard Smith.
Smith confirmed the supposition that the men were afraid to show themselves. He’d heard strange shots ring out through the night. This added to the confusion and fears of the searchers, as well as the flyers.
After hearing Smith’s story, Pocock hit upon an idea. He set the men at the base to work, painting the lower wing of the Kaydet. He was going to signal the lost men. His message, in large block-letters, read: “SIMS AND SMITH SAFE. GO WITH FRIENDLY NATIVES.”
Early the next morning the Kaydet was out, flying over the jungle at treetop level. On recurring sweeps parachute canopies began to dot the area. The men below were crawling out of hiding after reading the message and were signaling back.
ROUNDING UP STRAYS
Pocock directed them to get together with others for easier rescue. Soon a cargo plane was over the men, dropping supplies. Then darkness closed in, and the Kaydet’s work was done for the day.
Next day the full fury of the monsoon had set in, but the gallant little Kaydet was out circling the jungle, giving messages, guiding flyers and rescuers together. Singly and in groups the lost men were taken from the jungle—all but one, who had drowned while attempting to cross a rain-swollen river.
Thus thirteen men were returned to base, to fly and fight again. The little Boeing trainers have saved a good many lives in their time, but never more dramatically than in this rescue of the men who survived the wreck of the Kaydet’s larger brother.