Piardoba Outpost

Boeing maintenance specialists had finished their task. All B-29s were inspected and tuned to go.* Official announcement—grounding period over, deployment to resume. Pleasant music to our ears: movin’ on!

vet_service_map1Early in the morning we were off to Karachi, India. Passed through designated defense corridor over Suez Canal and climbed to cruising altitude—engines purring beautifully. Our route took us across Saudi Arabia—mostly obscured by a fierce sandstorm raging below. Skies cleared as we approached the Persian gulf and over Gulf of Oman. I was impressed by the desolate ruggedness of region along south coast of Iran—ridge after ridge of steep, barren mountains without valleys—appeared beyond possibility of human habitation—or even passage. On across northern Arabian Sea to the coastal city of Karachi.

We were provided sparse but adequate sleeping quarters on base—no opportunity to see the city. The next morning, we were off for Piardoba—our final destination. The flight seemed long across heartland of India—mostly flat terrain—passing cities with names reminiscent of Kipling: Hyderabad—Jodhpur—Jaipur—and Agra, where we circled low to take photos of the Taj Mahal.**

TajbackLeaving Agra, our route was southeast to our final destination—about 150 miles short of Calcutta. We circled over Piardoba for a look—a few scattered villages in mostly uncultivated, bushy countryside—a long runway with one large hanger—control tower—scattered clumps of low thatched buildings—a few ponds and trees. We put down to our new home.

The “Brass” had not yet arrived. Early crews had established an office where one pilot “volunteered” as operations officer—establishing some order. We reported in—were shown to our quarters.

Duffel bag and B-4 in hand, I was led by an English speaking Hindu to my “home away from home”—a room in one of several long, narrow thatched buildings—shade tree in front. Upon approaching, several Indians near the tree were in excited discussion. My guide spoke to them, then told me that a cobra had just dropped from tree and crawled around corner of my building. Had they killed cobra? Oh no—would never take an animal’s life—snake or any other.

That was in mind as I looked over the assigned room—about 8 by 10 feet—concrete floor—rough-hewn wooden doors front and back—small screened window in back wall (no glass)—thin timbers supporting roof of bare thatch—small rough-cut table and chair—narrow wood framed bed with cord laced across, hammock style—mosquito net. That was it. Cording on my bed was in tatters, hanging to the floor. My guide said it would be fixed by bedtime. Fortunately, our gear included an air mattress and two woolen army blankets. Noted the need to keep mosquito net snugly closed and to be wary about creatures—whatever unwanted variety—falling from thatch above—or entering open doors (the only means of ventilation).

Outside back door was a dormant (I thought) termite-hill—seven feet tall. Fifty feet farther back was 4-holer out-house which served several buildings. Flies everywhere. Each morning, fuel oil was poured into pit and set afire in attempt to control maggots—little success.

Nearby was an old-style rope and bucket well where we could draw water—kept in clay pots (self-cooled by evaporation). Indian women came to well morning and evening to fill large pots which they carried on their heads. Several small Indian communities were also on base—living quarters for workers—mostly native shacks located on small ponds of mud-colored water which served for bathing, washing clothes, and scrubbing babies, youngsters and cattle.

Officers’ housing area was about half mile, by dirt road, from the east end of the runway. Nearby was small PX, hospital and outdoor movie theater (screen, projector and rows of back-less benches). On the far side of the runway were hanger, control tower, group and squadron administration, officers’ mess, airmens’ quarters and mess, and various maintenance and storage facilities. Some were still under construction.

When darkness fell, the sound of distant drums could be heard from various directions all through night (every night). Room was too hot for sleeping until 11 pm. Pulled back the mosquito net—the bed had been repaired, as promised. Stretched out on folded woolen blankets—first night in my new home—doors ajar—would a cobra or jackal wander in?—poisonous spiders or scorpions drop from the thatch above?

So, here I am—other side of world—wide awake—those drums!

My mind reached back to earlier unusual sleeping places. Depression years—west coast—scratching for next year’s school expenses. Summer brought crop picking opportunities—different areas—different times. If it grew on trees or vines, I tried to get there—wherever harvest was ready. Hitch-hiked—rode the rails, slept in box cars. Bedded down along roadsides, under fallen leaves or dried grass—on makeshift bed of sawdust in a lumber mill where the tin roof gave shelter from a storm and a nearby pit of smoldering sawdust provided warmth—on freight train crossing desert (Nevada to Utah) in an open “gravel car” stacked with lumber—tight squeeze on metal floor—found how cold desert nights could be without a jacket or cover. Thought about the kindness of the sheriff in Napa Valley who found me sleeping on the Post Office floor—he opened movie theater so I could sleep safe from cold wind and be ready for first day of harvest—he only asked that I close the door when leaving. Diary of one year records 5,000 plus miles of such travel—such beds.

More remembrances—as a lumberjack in the north woods, had a sweaty mattress in a bunkhouse—as a cowhand, ditto. In Forest Service—lookout tower anchored by cables on high mountaintop—had a decent cot—night prowlers were bears, cougars, wolves—seldom saw another human. What the heck—these quarters just about par. Are beating drums worse than clackity clak of wheels on rails? And I do much prefer the job here. Fell into sound sleep—aroused by bugle call, 6 am.

The days were sunny—monsoon season was yet to come. Temperatures up to 120 degrees—no work between noon and 4 pm—aircraft were too hot to touch.

Soon, the last deployment B-29 had arrived—Col. Carmichael was in charge. Squadron COs rallied their troops—there was work to be done.

Building HQThe base at Pairdoba was a quickly assembled, bare bones but effective, community—its sole purpose to send B-29s into skies against the enemy. All elements played essential, interlocking roles—culminating in task of aircrews to deliver deadly payloads onto assigned targets.

We were now deployed—at this outpost of war—ready to enter battle—well, almost ready.

First task—carry fuel and munitions to forward base (A-5) at Kuinglai, China (across the Hump—20 miles west of Chengtu—1,000 west of Shanghai). From A-5, targets could be reached in southern Japan, Formosa and Manchuria. Many “Hump” flights were needed to accumulate sufficient fuel for the first mission to Japan. B-29s were converted to temporary “tankers”—three 640-gallon fuel tanks were installed in each of two bomb bays—interconnected by a manifold system allowing fuel transfer between all tanks—including wing tanks. Didn’t take long. Major Ben White, 770th Operations Officer, announced our crew would take one of the first B-29 flights across the Hump to A-5. A new and exciting adventure lay ahead.

*We knew basic problems of the B-29 could not be remedied in a few days. Maintenance specialists had adjusted engines for hot climate as best they could. More importantly, they had taken note of design defects, such as: uneven cooling of engine cylinders (requiring re-direction of airflow over cooling vanes and better distribution of lubricating oil)—long cowl flaps causing too much drag (12 degree open position caused doubling of footprint pressure on aircraft)—unreliable cowl flap controls (upon failure, could cause cowls to stick in full open position— resulting in such drag that, if on outboard engine, could throw the aircraft out of control). Modifications to fix these, and numerous other problems, began appearing on our aircraft over next three to six months.

**Later, I would have an opportunity to visit Agra and stroll around and through the magnificent Taj Mahal. We toured an old fortress nearby—a fabulous adventure of its own. Also, we visited a new temple being built—under construction for fifty years—thirty more to go. Watched three workmen sawing a stone building slab from a huge rock—two pulling a long, double handled, toothless steel blade—a third pouring sand into the cut, causing slow grinding of the blade though stone. These and many more fascinating sights—unexpected bonus of overseas experience.