By Lieutenant Gordon C. Bennett
Quartermaster Review January-February 1953
“When there is no book, write the book!” Members of the 8081st Army Unit (full designation: Quartermaster Airborne Air Supply & Packaging Company) were faced with this alternative a few weeks after their arrival in Japan in September 1950. Before them lay the Korean airlift and the prospect of supporting the Eighth Army in Korea through sustained airdrop operations. Behind them lay school, theory, and knowledge of how to do it-without anyone shooting at you.
The first problem was airdrop equipment. A quick inventory revealed that aerial delivery containers were in very short supply. These containers come in various shapes and sizes-A-4 and A-6 containers are rectangular shaped bags open at one end and used to deliver 200 to 300 pounds of such miscellaneous items as rations, clothing, medical supplies and radio and signal equipment; an A-7A sling is designed for ammunition airdrop; an A-5 container, a canvas duck roll with end caps made of the same material, may be used to deliver weapons, mortar rounds machine gun barrels, and a number of other items.
Confronted with a shortage of these essential containers the 808lsters came up with a simple and obvious solution-rope. Rope could be used to improvise slings for any shape of bundle, thus taking the pressure off the container supply, which could be conserved for specific items requiring delivery in a container.
In order to facilitate operations and rope-rig the resupply bundles as fast as possible an assembly line system was initiated. As the rope came from the piles it was cut into lengths (predetermined by the type of bundle being rigged) by a team of Japanese boysans armed with an assortment of axes, hatchets, and knives. On the rigging line more Japanese rigged the resupply bundles.
On October 20, 1950, the 8081st directly supported the 187th Regimental Combat Team in its airborne assault on Sukchon, North Korea, and rope carried down the bulk of the resupply bundles of ammunition, rations, and fuel.
After the Sukchon operation rope was utilized for delivery of the majority of parachuted supplies to the UN forces in Korea. On November 29, 1950, elements of the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry Divisions became encircled by Communist troops at Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Rope had proven itself in the Sukchon operation, and in the eleven-day period between November 30 and December 10 over a million feet were used in “getting the goods” to the beleaguered soldiers and Marines at Chosin.
Clearly rope was a good substitute for airdrop containers and as time went on two facts became evident. First, by using rope a considerable materials saving was realized. Many of the 8081st drops were to units cut off by enemy action and the parachutes and aerial delivery equipment used were seldom recovered. If aerial delivery containers, many times more expensive than rope, had been used, most of them could never have been reused.
Second, identification of resupply bundles was made easier for the receiving troops inasmuch as they did not have to undo containers to discover their contents. A parachute color code, whereby different types of supplies are carried to earth by distinctively colored parachutes, was not feasible as the 8081st did not always have on hand a wide enough variety of colored parachutes.
Another use for rope, though not the final answer in overcoming a major problem, served the purpose pending the development of a more satisfactory procedure. When the 8081st began its airdrop operations in Korea it utilized a method for the ejection of the supplies from the plane known as the ”floor level roller conveyor system.” This system consisted of 10-foot lengths of roller conveyors attached to the floor of the cargo compartment of the C-119 type aircraft (“Flying Boxcar”) after the rear “clamshell” doors had been removed. Supply bundles were loaded onto these roller conveyors and secured by means of high tensile strength cotton webbing wound around the entire load. At a designated time the aerial delivery technicians would manually cut the webbing with jackknives and the bundles would move along the roller conveyors and exit from the rear of the aircraft by means of gravity.
Unfortunately, the release method of this system (i.e. the use of knives to cut the bundles loose) was not only unsatisfactory but contributed to materials and time losses as the cut webbing utilized to hold the bundles in the aircraft had to be repaired before re-use in another mission. Inevitably, with the stepping-up of airdrop operations the 8081st maintenance section, which was responsible for the repair of the webbing, could not keep the webbing supply consistent with the demand. The situation was aggravated by the fact that fresh stocks of webbing were not being received to replace the webbing worn out and lost on airdrops.
Once again rope was recruited, this time to substitute for webbing. and the steady flow of airdrop operations was maintained without interruption. Rope, however, was not as satisfactory as webbing because it was harder to cut and in the air a delay of two or three seconds in cutting the restraining rope could mean that the entire load might miss the drop zone and, if in an area surrounded by the enemy, might conceivably fall into the hands of Communist troops. To make matters worse, a shortage of knives used in the cutting operation was developing.
A new release system was sorely needed-one that would not require cutting any material, could be reused immediately, and would release the airdrop load instantaneously upon signal.
M/Sgt. Michael J. Gordon, maintenance chief of the 8081st, had designed ”on paper” such a device, to be made from several lengths of webbing and a portable bomb shackle. The actuation of the device was to be accomplished by pulling a lever on the bomb shackle which would release two ”D” rings attached to the lengths of webbing. The webbing would whip around the load and the bundles exit, as usual by gravity after the pilot had altered the ship’s attitude.
Sergeant Gordon sought and received authorization from 1st Lt. Claude A. Jones (now Captain), 8081st commanding officer, to manufacture and test his device, and on January 11, 1951, over Chongju, Korea, it was used to drop a load of small arms ammunition to UN combat troops.
As a result of this initial test Sergeant Gordon determined that certain improvements were needed. The lengths of webbing stretched from the rear of the ship to the forward area. They wound around the resupply load from either side of the ship and snaked up a center aisle between two rows of bundles to the forward part of the ship where the bomb shackle was located. This arrangement presented the maximum opportunity for the webbing to tangle with the existing load, causing a dangerous malfunction within the ship.
Sergeant Gordon solved the problem by moving the bomb shackle to the rear of the ship, shortening and modifying the webbing lengths to stretch around the rear of the load, and utilizing a lanyard of parachute suspension line to actuate the entire device. This lanyard stretched from the bomb shackle to the forward area of the ship, where an aerial delivery technician could pull it without going to the rear of the ship.
The immediate effect of the modified device was to cut down the amount of webbing necessary, thus minimizing the chance of malfunction. In addition, less time was required to tie down a load in the aircraft.
On January 25, 1951, and on a series of test flights made afterwards (all under combat conditions) the device was found to be eminently satisfactory and it was decided to manufacture enough of them for universal use on all 8081st airdrop operations.
(It is interesting to note that the time and material to conduct a controlled project on the device were not available. Ordinarily, in implementing a new development, it is customary to set men, time, and equipment aside in order to arrive at a conclusion concerning the item being developed. At the time of Sergeant Gordon’s experiments, however, every 8081st man was being utilized to either rig, load, or deliver supplies, every C-119 aircraft was involved in aerial delivery, and there was no time to conduct a controlled project. It was necessary to test the device under actual combat conditions. Sergeant Gordon and the other aerial delivery technicians present on these flights were ready at all times to cut the load loose should the new device “hang up.”)
For his meritorious service in designing and developing this ejection device (which in time came to be known as the “Gordon Quick-Release”) Sergeant Gordon was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
The Gordon Quick-Release had another effect on 8081st operations-it lent impetus to the latent creative potential of the 8081st Para-Quartermasters and was the first in a long series of ideas and innovations put forward by 8081st individuals and groups of individuals.
Noteworthy among these was the system introduced by Corporal Linwood E. Pate for airdropping 55-gallon drums of gasoline. Previous systems, while not unsuccessful, involved a high degree of breakage, sometimes as high as 25 per cent on normal terrain and 75 per cent on hard winter terrain.
Most of this breakage was due to the drums hitting the hard, uneven Korean ground flush on the thin metal bottoms. It was desirable to attach the parachute or parachutes to the drum in such a manner that it would land on the reinforced bottom rim. Attaching two 24-foot parachutes slowed the descent of the drum but it was difficult, due to the structure of this particular parachute when packed, to place two of them on the bundle in such a manner as to insure that the reinforced bottom rim of the drum would contact the ground first. Added to this was a shortage of 24-foot parachutes that would be aggravated by ”doubling up” on each drum of airdropped gasoline.
A system had to be devised which would (1) set the 55-gallon drum down easily on the reinforced bottom rim so that the drum would not split a seam or otherwise break, and (2) if more parachutes were to be utilized, they should be arranged so that too many would not open outside the aircraft at the same time. thereby increasing the danger of entanglement and malfunction.
Corporal Pate recommended a system involving the use of one 24-foot and one 18-foot parachute, the former to be affixed to the top of the rigged drum and the latter to be secured in the general area of the top reinforced rim so that the attitude of the drum during descent would insure its landing on the bottom reinforced rim. The structure of the 18-foot parachute, which was packed in a small, loose bag, permitted its easy placement anywhere on the rigged drum of gasoline.
To make certain that both parachutes would not open simultaneously Corporal Pate cut the static line of the 18-foot parachute, used to pull the parachute from its pack, and attached it to the static line of the larger parachute so that it opened approximately a second after the larger one had completely opened. One second was enough delay to prevent simultaneous opening and, at the same time, allow both parachutes to support the load during the greater part of the descent.
This system came at a time when the 8081st was resupplying tremendous amounts of 80-octane gasoline to the troops in Korea. C-119 Flying Boxcars, taking off at five and ten minute intervals, shuttled into the drop zone at Wonju and maintained an unceasing flow of airborne gasoline to the troops on the ground.
In order to view the effectiveness of his system, Corporal Pate went into the drop zone and reported a recovery figure of 95 per cent. Later reports from Korea substantiated his findings.
For his contribution to the maintenance and success of the Korean airlift Corporal Pate received the Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant (Army Commendation Medal).
The foregoing gives a small idea of the scope and the magnitude of the 8081st’s airdrop operations. The 8081st, at its Airlift Base headquarters, had to literally maintain a “rolling stock” rigged and ready on skate-wheel conveyors for anticipated commitments. Stock levels on common airdrop items such as fuel, rations, and ammunition were kept on a ready line which sometimes extended over an area upwards of 30,000 square feet.
Couple this with the fact that most of the 8081st’s commitments were received at night, requiring the Para-Quartermasters to work during the hours of darkness in order to package the requested supplies. and you begin to see a problem in communications and coordination developing.
This was overcome when Sfc. James E. Ruble. NCO in charge of aircraft loading, visited the company supply room and emerged with an armful of “SRC536″ Handy Talkie” radios. Putting one in the loading office, two at strategic points in the pre-rigged supplies area, and two with the loading crews on the aircraft parking strip, he and 1st Lt. Paul E. Smith, officer in charge of the loading operation, situated themselves in a central position and issued orders and instructions, having, at all times, a complete picture of the over-all situation.
It can readily be seen that in aerial delivery operations one of the primary considerations is the economical use of materials-small as well as large and expensive items. No matter how inexpensive, an item assumes a value out of proportion to its actual cost when it is needed and not available.
A certain cord used by the 8081st riggers in packing parachutes was in short supply because it would knot on the spool, causing considerable waste when the tangled parts were cut away. No conventional cord dispensers were available through normal supply channels.
Economy-conscious Corporal William H. Peele devised a simple gadget. with a pressure regulator of webbed elastic attached, that uniformly doled out the cord without knotting.
Many of the innovations put forward by 8081st individuals were concerned with the heavy drop of such items as trucks, trailers, and artillery pieces.
Heavy equipment is normally carried to earth by up to four 100-foot parachutes supporting a platform up-on which the drop item is mounted and rigged.
At the beginning of the 8081st’s activities it was realized that while the supply of these parachutes and platforms was adequate to meet the requirements of a limited number of heavy drop operations it might be wise to develop alternate methods in the event that field expedients had to be introduced into the aerial delivery of heavy items.
The quarter-ton jeep trailer lent itself to being airdropped by an alternate method due to the fact that it was light (550-600 pounds) and had no moving parts that would break on ground contact.
In line with the encouragement lent new ideas from men in the company, Sergeant Thomas J. Boylan developed a reinforced sling capable of carrying the trailer to earth. The complete assembly, besides the sling, consisted of a rectangular piece of plywood cut to conform to the shape of the trailer, a 48-foot parachute, and various shock absorbing materials such as felt cushions and padding.
In rigging the trailer the plywood was centered on the sling; padding and cushions were applied at points on the plywood where the trailer would rest; the trailer was placed. upside-down, flush on the plywood; more padding was applied; the sling was adjusted over the trailer; and, finally. the parachute was secured to the load.
In experimental trials the sling proved successful and a pattern was cut from the original and filed against the time when its use would be required.
In addition to making available an alternate method of airdropping the jeep trailer Sergeant Boylan’s development provided an easing on the supply of 100-foot parachutes and heavy drop platforms.
Maintaining airdrop equipment is a constant responsibility of the 8081st Para-Quartermasters. Regular inspections make certain that the containers, platforms, parachutes, and other items are maintained in top condition. Besides careful inspection, parachutes require careful packing in order to insure maximum operating efficiency.
Generally, no difficulties were encountered in packing the different types of parachutes. The 100-foot cargo parachute. however, presented a problem-in order to stow its canopy in the pack two riggers were required to sit on each side of the pack and push the canopy into it with their feet. Understandably, this method oftentimes precluded neat and uniform stowage of the canopy with the result that maximum operating efficiency could not be realized.
In order to guarantee correct canopy stowage Sergeant Hannibal Lopez, an 8081st heavy drop supervisor, designed a shallow, three-sided rectangular box cut to the dimensions of the 100-foot canopy when folded for stowing. The parachute riggers (1) folded the canopy into the box; (2) slipped the box, open end first, into the pack; and (3) then withdrew the box, leaving the canopy neatly folded within the pack. Besides eliminating stowage error Sergeant Lopez’s box enabled the canopy to be stowed faster and with less effort than under the old method.
Most of the field expedients mentioned thus far have been the creations of individuals. Despite the excellence and far-reaching effects of these innovations, however, the 8081st will be remembered more for its coordinated group endeavors, achieved through the utilization of the experiences and know-how of the majority of its members working as a team.
An example of one of these “group endeavors” was mentioned at the beginning of this article. Where the idea or suggestion came from to use rope as a substitute for airdrop containers is not known, although a large part of the credit for its procurement and implementation is due to Captain Cecil W. Hospelhorn and CWO Byron J. Kirkman, respectively commanding officer and supply officer of the 8081st at the time. Another example, and probably the one that attracted the most attention, was the first airdrop of a bridge to troops engaged in combat.
On the morning of December 7, 1950, a rush call was received. An unusual item was to be airdropped to the beleaguered troops at Chosin Reservoir. Aerial delivery technicians were required at a forward airbase to prepare and help deliver the item. Immediately, a detachment from the 8081st, led by Captain Hospelhorn, was dispatched to the airbase. Once there the Para-Quartermasters were shown an eight-section treadway bridge and told to figure out a way to drop it.
It was decided that each section of the bridge should be delivered in a C-119 aircraft and carried to earth by two 48-foot parachutes.
The men worked through the night rigging the bridge sections. In the morning the sections were loaded aboard eight Flying Boxcars. Once in the air, the sections had to be moved again. It had been decided at an Army-Air Force briefing that at 1,000 feet the sections would be moved so that seven feet of the 16-foot length of each section would extend past the rear opening of the plane. This was necessary to facilitate a fast drop because the drop zone was only 300 yards long. However, with careful planning each section hit well within the limits of the prescribed area.
Captain Hospeihorn, for distinguishing himself in this action, received the Legion of Merit. Thus, the story of the 8081st is written; a story of the individual and combined efforts of all members of the unit.
Today, as in the past, the 8081st Army Unit is “delivering the goods” to the people who need them. If in their future assignments a situation arises which is not covered in “the book” the Para-Quartermasters will write their own chapter-and complete the mission!