Delivery by Air
Extracted from Combat Support in Korea, Part VII, Quartermaster Corps,
Facsimile Reprint, 1987, 1990, CMH Publication 22-1, Center of Military History, United
States Army, Washington, D.C.
Capt. William J. Dawson, Jr., 8081st Quartermaster Airborne Air Supply and Packaging
The 8081st Quartermaster Airborne Air Supply and Packaging Company is the most-decorated
quartermaster company in the U.S. Army, and the only Army unit in Japan to earn combat
credit. But if you ever saw these men at work, with their tails hanging out of the rear of
a C-119 while they got their cargo ready to drop, you'd know they earn their points,
decorations, renown, and jump pay. We drilled into our men this motto: "Lives of
individuals in combat depend on the supplies we deliver. Risk yours, if necessary, to get
I reported to Ashiya Air Base, on Kyushu, on 14 February 1951. At that time the company
had 4 officers and approximately 88 men. Capt. Cecil W. Hospelhorn, who organized the
company, was in the United States presenting his packaging and airdrop experiences in
lectures and demonstrations. The operational procedures I mention are sometimes
modifications of the methods he initiated.
At this time the company was commanded by Lt. Claude A. Jones, and I became his executive
officer. We had a company headquarters, a parachute maintenance section, an air-supply
section, a manifest section, and two air-delivery platoons.
The air-delivery platoons were responsible for loading the planes and dropping the cargo.
The 1st Air Delivery Platoon (Lt. Paul E. Smith), in addition to its general duties, was
responsible for all heavy drops. These men were all old-timers and persons Captain
Hospelhorn had known for a long time.
The 2d Platoon (Lt. Billy G. Bishop) repacked all parachutes as its secondary job. Ashiya
Air Base is on the beaches of the Sea of Japan, and the humidity there is high. For this
reason personnel chutes had to be repacked every thirty days and cargo chutes every sixty
days. We used Japanese employees to repack the cargo chutes, but the personnel chutes were
never turned over to anyone outside the company.
When I arrived at Ashiya the company was working full-time. The men were loading and
dropping an average of 3S planes every day. That is beyond the normal expected capability
of an air-delivery company, but this rate continued for six weeks. In February 1951, X
Corps turned to airdrop to build a stockpile of gasoline and rations, since land
transportation was inadequate. We were pushed to operate at this level and could not have
maintained it had we not been assisted by several hundred Japanese civilians. Later our
load leveled off at five to ten planes a day, four or five days a week.
The air-delivery platoons worked in shifts. One platoon would do all the loading for a
week while the other platoon had its men ride the planes and discharge the cargo.
Assignments changed every Sunday. During the time our work was so heavy it was normal for
our officers to spend their evenings in the orderly room, where they could play cards
while waiting for the loading orders to arrive. We rarely bothered to go to the movies
since we expected to be pulled out before the first show was over.
Orders for an operation normally came to us between 2000 and 2400. Requests came through
G4 of Eighth Army, to 8247th Army Headquarters, Troop Movement Section, and then to us.
Our first alert would tell us the number of planes to be loaded and the type of cargo. Our
manifest section, which operated on a 24-hour basis, would receive the serial number of
each plane, its capacity, the amount and type of cargo it would carry, and the on-station
time (an hour before take-off). The capacity of planes varied greatly-largely because of
fuel loads. The manifest section worked with these data, broke down the loads, and make a
working manifest for each plane. They followed a few simple rules. For example, gasoline
and rations were not to be loaded in the same plane, but gasoline and ammunition could go
While the manifest section was working, the commander of the loading platoon would send
out his alert squad to the planes to check the tie-down bolts and put in the rollers.
Either the company commander or the executive officer called the motor pool and ordered
the vehicles for hauling the cargo from the ready line to the planes. We had available, on
thirty-minute call, ten semitrailers and ninety 2- l/2 -ton trucks. The drivers were
Japanese who worked on an around-the-clock schedule. We always preferred the semis because
they would carry more cargo, and their higher beds made it possible to slide the cargo
straight into the rear of the plane. With the trucks we had about an 18-inch lift. It took
four 2- 1/2 -ton trucks to carry the cargo to one plane, while it took one and a half
semis to do the same job. We never placed cargos for more than one plane on a truck for
fear of confusion. At the ready line the trucks were loaded by Japanese laborers according
to the working manifests.
While the trucks were being loaded and the alerted squad was placing the rollers in the
planes, the loading platoon was assembling. The loaders reported to the hangars at the
same time that the cargos arrived. From a central point the loading officer (platoon
leader) ordered two American soldiers and four Japanese laborers to each plane, with the
trucks and cargo. As each truck was unloaded it was released. Before the loaders left the
plane they made up a white loading card giving all pertinent facts. They then returned to
the hangar with the last vehicle and reported to the loading officer to be assigned other
trucks and cargo for another plane. The loading officer sent his platoon sergeant to
inspect each loading job, and before leaving the field he personally checked each plane.
No one left the area until all inspections were finished. Normally a platoon could load
five or six
planes an hour.
It was informally understood that if the loading crews finished their work before 2400
they would not be called for training until 1300 the next day. If they finished after 2400
they were off all day. Actually, however, it meant very little to give them the day
off, for most of their loading was done at night. Finally, under the pressure of work the
training schedule broke down anyway.
Shortly after we received an operations order we notified the consolidated Air Force-Army
mess of the number of in-flight lunches our men would need. The hour of assembly for the
platoon assigned to fly depended on the length of the flight. The normal time from Japan
to drop zone in Korea varied between two and three hours. An hour before take-off all
crews and quartermaster flight personnel were due at the planes. An hour before on-station
time the flight platoon began drawing their parachutes, pistols, in-flight lunches,
emergency rations, and equipment. For example, if the drop were scheduled for 0800 and the
flying time consumed two hours, then take-off was at 0700, on-stations at 0500, and
assembly at 0400.
On arrival at their plane the quartermaster crew obtained the white loading card, checked
the cargo to be sure it was safe, and then notified the crew chief they were ready. A copy
of the manifest was turned over to the pilot, who had the final responsibility for proper
loading. By the time I arrived at Ashiya the pilots had so much confidence in our men they
rarely checked our work. I would say the best pilots still checked and never took our word
for it, but usually the check was omitted. Our pilots were first-rate.
After take-off the dropmaster and his assistant continued to check the cargo. While the
plane was climbing they checked the front cables. When the plane leveled off they checked
the rear cables. Periodic checks were made if there was any unusual motion while in
Usually the flight was monotonous and often uncomfortable. The turnaround time was four to
six hours. The cabin of a C-119 contains only four seats, and those are occupied by the
crew. If the Army men moved forward, they had to sit on the floor with their legs out
straight and that is uncomfortable over a period of time. Lots of times there wasn't
room up front because of cameramen, passengers, or flyers riding to get in their flight
time. In the winter, or when the planes flew at high altitude, it was cold in the back of
the plane. And looking out the open end of the plane always made me nervous in spite of my
being called "Ace" Dawson.
Twenty minutes before we came over the drop zone the crew chief gave us a signal and our
men moved to the rear of the plane to remove cables. The ties between bundles were
removed; then the forward cable safeties were severed but remained taut against the
bundles. When everything was ready the dropmaster and his assistant moved to the front of
the cargo compartment and waited for the two-minute warning. At two minutes the
bomb-shackle-release safety (a little red disc) was removed, and the men returned forward
to await the signal to drop.
Over the drop zone the plane came in at an altitude of about 800 feet and at a speed of
only 110 miles an hour. This is dangerous flying because of the low altitude and
near-stalling speed. When dropping right on the front lines the plane makes an excellent
target for small-arms fire. The planes approaching the drop zone came in trail at about
1,000 feet apart. This increased their accuracy but it also added to the danger of
collision or other accident.
At the instant the bell rings the pilot pulls up the nose of the plane and jams the
throttle open. This lurch causes the load to move down the rollers in the floor and out
the open end of the plane. The dropmaster and his assistant run to the rear of the plane
and count the bundles as they open, so they can figure the number of malfunctions. The
rate normally ran
to about 3 per cent. After the count it was necessary to reach out of the open end of the
plane and pull in the static lines. If any of the cargo failed to clear from the plane the
dropmaster informed the crew chief, who told the pilot to make another run. Then it was
just a matter of flying home, checking in the equipment, and waiting for the next
day-unless there was a second flight.
These are the broad outlines of the air-delivery system, but of course there were many
ramifications and problems. To speed up operations we normally kept all classes of
supplies packaged and ready to drop on our ready line. The ready line was actually a small
dump with the supplies on skids and the ropes tied. We ran out of containers and used rope
to hold the items together. In fact, we used nine million feet of rope-some 1,700 miles of
it-in one year. Most of the packaging was done by Japanese, and they were good at it.
Without their help we could have never packaged the loads we did.
Parachutes are expensive, the large G-11 costing $1,300. Some idea of the cost of our
operation can be obtained from these figures: we dropped 73,000 G-1 chutes (24 feet) which
cost $43 each, and 70,000 G-9 chutes (18 feet), each costing $25. Dealing in those numbers
and costs, it was essential to get the chutes returned from the drop zone whenever
possible. Each division receiving a drop was supposed to get the parachutes to the nearest
air base, and from there it was up to the Air Force to return them to Ashlya. No one
really knows how good our recovery rate was, but I'd guess perhaps 40 per cent.
Although the Air Force was given the drop-zone location, the exact spot was marked on the
ground with a T panel. Soon the Chinese got wise to this system, and-they placed panels
and received several of our drops. Then it became customary to have an Air Force Mosquito
plane meet the C-119s ten minutes away from the drop zone and escort them in. On rear-area
flights we sometimes dropped cargo along the sides of airfields.
Our men tried to see how close the drop came to the T and sometimes they could see that it
went wide. When the unit being supplied was on the line this sometimes meant they could
not gather the supplies. They immediately notified army G4, who passed the message to the
8247th, and then we got it. The notification of a bad drop normally reached the company
before the planes returned. If it appeared to have resulted from a pilot failure, the Air
Force usually made the same crew fly the second mission and hit the drop zone. Usually we
sent our same men along. But when a plane developed engine trouble and had to jettison its
cargo and limp home, we had someone else go on the replacement flight.
Sometimes the first effort to drop the cargo would be ineffective and the plane would have
to make several passes over the DZ. One officer normally flew each day for morale
purposes, and when an officer flew he took the place of an enlisted man and carried out
the same duties. In November 1951, CWO Byron Kirkman and I were flying a mission together.
We carried concertina wire for use along the Imjin River. The coils were wide and the
bundles overlapped in the center of the plane. Just as the plane started to dump its load
we hit an air pocket and the wire jammed. Nothing went out on that pass, so we notified
the crew chief, then went to the rear to loosen the wire. The best we could do was to drop
one bundle from each side of the plane on each pass. It took five more passes
to complete the job.
On my last flight there were six planes in the flight and the drop was on the front line.
To hit the DZ we had to cross into enemy territory after the drop. The lead pilot did not
give the signal to drop. Maybe the DZ wasn't marked, because the other pilots followed his
lead. We moved over enemy territory going 110 miles per hour at 800 feet. Enemy small arms
cut up to thirty holes in each plane. In my plane, the Plexiglas windshield was shattered
and both pilots were seriously cut in the face. The sergeant with mewas wounded, and only
the chute he wore saved his life. One other dropmaster was injured. In spite of the fire
and their wounds, the pilots turned, made another sweep over the DZ, dropped their cargos,
went again over the enemy, and flew back to Japan. When we reached Ashiya Air Base all the
emergency crews and ambulances were waiting and I felt as though
we had returned from a bombing mission.
While no one was killed on this flight, we did have two dropmasters killed in May 1951,
when a failure to stop our artillery fire allowed one C-119 to be hit. A second plane
crashed right behind the first. On this day, fortunately, we had only one soldier in each
plane. We had five other emergency free-fall drops when our men bailed out of falling
planes. We had three or four more men wounded on flights, and of course we had the famous
case of Sgt. Robert Hale and Corporal Page who "just happened" to fall out of
their plane right after they had dropped a cargo to the 187th Airborne RCT. Page was back
in two days, but Hale was wounded by a sniper and did not return to duty for weeks. We
took no disciplinary action, but we never believed their story of their "fall."
Jumping wasn't much to these men, for all were rated. We did a lot of jumpingeven on
Saturdays and Sundays if business wasn't too heavy. We landed on the beach along the
ocean, and sometimes we alerted the air-sea rescue people and jumped into the ocean for
practice. We never had any casualties in our unit, but one lieutenant colonel who got
permission to jump with us was killed on a water jump when he became confused and inflated
his Mae West before he got out of his harness.
We tested a lot of Japanese parachutes for G4, and some of them were pretty good. We also
ran a lot of tests to determine what items could be given a free drop. Concertina wire was
dropped free but broke its securing wires and unraveled. What a mess! To counteract this
we placed small chutes on the wire-just enough to slow it down. Canned rations smashed
badly when dropped free. The new rubber containers for water landed in good shape, but
they were small and frequently were lost. Blankets and all types of clothing came through
the free-drop process very well.
One of our men (Sergeant Gordon) devised a bomb-shackle release that worked well in
loosening cargo. The load was emptied by nosing the plane up. This was simpler than the
standard practice of having the pilot operate the glider-tow device and sending out a
pilot chute to pull out the cargo. We showed the Gordon device to one observer who came
over from The Quartermaster School, and we even gave him one, but it hasn't been adopted.
One thing our men were proud of was the magazine drops. Knowing that men on the front
appreciate any kind of reading, we used to tie bundles of magazines into the cargoes we
dropped. We heard from those men at times, and their appreciation made us feel good. In
spite of continuous hazards and combat rating, we lived the Air Force life and came home
to clean sheets, hot meals, and movies. Helping the infantry out there made us feel more a
part of it.