Friday, June 17, 2011

Fullbore Friday

Last week we lost the last half of one of the great teams of WWII; a local boy and father of USAF Special Operations. If what they did took place in Europe, they would have had a movie made out of it. As it took place in the Burma theater - well - at least we can cover it here.
John R. Alison, a World War II fighter pilot who helped lead a daring and unprecedented Allied air invasion of Burma, has died, a son said Wednesday.

The retired Air Force major general and former Northrop Corp. executive died of natural causes Monday at his home in Washington, John R. Alison III said.

Alison's wartime achievements included seven victories, six in the air, qualifying him as an ace, according to the Air Force Association, an independent organization in Arlington, Va., that promotes public understanding of aerospace power.
What did he do?
Operation THURSDAY began on March 5, 1944, when the first C-47 launched from India towing two overloaded gliders filled with Wingate's troops, equipment, and supplies. A total of 26 transports towing gliders comprised the first wave. The gliders, carrying from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of excess weight, strained the C-47 tow planes and ropes and caused significant problems. With eight of the first wave of C-47s each losing a glider, Colonel Cochran decided to limit one glider to each remaining transport. This decision allowed the air commandos to successfully deliver Wingate's initial and succeeding forces to the jungle clearings over 200 miles behind Japanese lines in Burma.

During the first day the strip, designated "Broadway," was improved so transport, glider, and liaison aircraft could land safely. They brought supplies, equipment and reinforcements, and evacuated the injured. A second strip, opened by glider assault, relieved congestion at Broadway. Airlift inserted almost 10,000 men, well over 1,000 mules, and approximately 250 tons of supplies. Casualties from the high-risk, untested concept, including missing, were less than 150, and for the first time in military history aircraft evacuated all killed, wounded, and sick from behind enemy lines.

The air commandos also protected the British ground forces by harassing the Japanese. This harassment, conducted by P-51s and B-25s equipped with a 75mm cannon in the nose and 12 .50 caliber machine guns, included bombing bridges, strafing and bombing parked aircraft, air-to-air combat, and destroying the communications, transportation, and military infrastructure.
Wait, who is that Cochran character? Funny you should ask.

See that guy to the left - that was then Lt. Col. Philip Cochran, USAAC. He passed away in 1979. He was - wrap this around your head PCO pipeline guys and gals - 1st USAAF Air Commando Group Co-Commander with Alison. Co-Commander. I guess if Hap Arnold tells you, you work it out.

See him and his men in action below. Remember - he was only 34 in 1944. Alison was 32.

Remember that next time you dismiss the capabilities and opinion of your senior LTs and junior LCDR.

Ponder a lot.

One more bit about Cochran - talk about character.
Cochran was the inspiration behind characters in the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff.
Cochran dated actress Betty White in the early 1960s after being introduced by Jack Paar. White declined his marriage proposal; later dating Cochran and her future husband Allen Ludden simultaneously, until her romance with Ludden became serious.
Hat tip GOH.
UPDATE: Our friend LCDR B.J. Armstrong sent along a reminder that if you are interested in this, you need to read William Y'Blood's Air Commandos Against Japan by USNI Press. He reviewed it a few years ago at The Journal of Military History.


ewok40k said...

time to remake "Objective Burma"?

Grandpa Bluewater. said...

Maybe one of the reasons that the GWOT is dragging on is that higher higher is in love with orderly promotion zones and indifferent to clearing out dead wood and promoting talent on the fast track in pursuit of victory.

This business of fighting what amounts to WWIV without full mobilization makes it easy to not open up promotion. Which is less than smart, IMNSHO.

Ike went from Lt Col to General in 39 to 43 or so, and many Lt's went overseas in 42/3 and came back as Maj/Lt Col in 45. The flip side is old and inflexible went to stateside backwaters and were satisfactory in present grade for the duration.  Audie Murphie and Jackie Robinson went in buck privates and came out commissioned, if memory serves.
(Some highly proficient fella down blog will post the exact dates, I'm sure. And thank you for the help.)

Results mattered and damn little else. 

The imps and demons in the personnel HQs (not many on the side of the angels in that neck of the woods) love an orderly march of promotion zones and raising up the fair haired with big daddys and a big halo effect, but not meteoric promotion of the talented if non standard. Philip Cochran was mighty talented and mighty non standard.

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy at work. Again.

Now add in the damn zampolits, all overdue for tea with the Captain in a private room (Anybody able, please stick in a U-tube of the scene from "Hunt for Red October, I'm still trying to master the fundamentals, thanks). It's a sorry state we're in, shipmates.

And it all flows from not getting a proper Declaration of War and mobilizing the entire nation. All that and a great deal more.

(That ought to get 'em started)

Grandpa Bluewater. said...

Naw, just make the real history backdrop for "Terry and the Pirates".  Adapt the storyline from the comic strip in 44 and 45.  Lucy Liu as the Dragon Lady, that would be a crowd pleaser. Matt Damon as Flip Corkin'. 

Paging Mr Spielburg.... Hey Steven, did you ever hear about the CBI?

ewok40k said...

LL as Dragon Lady .... delicious...

Doc Holiday said...

<span><span>'Remember - he was only 34 in 1944. Alison was 32.'</span></span>

I can honestly say that in some areas of naval warfare, more of my in-depth knowledge comes from the enthusiastic studies I did as a teenager (during the heyday of Tom Clancy's influence) than anything I ever learned in the service. Inlcuding JPME I (as invaluable as I think it is). And I still think I had more chances and opportunities to display leadership and command ability while being involved in some college clubs than anything I ever did on active duty. If, on the off-chance, I ever do anything brilliant in life, it will always be my contention I could have done it earlier just as easily.

In 1861, Sherman was 41, Grant was 39, Sheridan was 30. Nelson was 39 at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. And they quickly assumed flag level responsibilities. On a lower scale--John Paul Jones was 32 at Flambouragh Head, Decatur was 25 when he burned the Philadelphia and 33 when he beat Macedonian, Isaac Hull commanded privateers in his 20s, Enterprise and Argus in his early 30s, and was 39 when Constitution met Guerierre; and David Porter was 32 when the Essex set out on here 1812 cruise.

Basically, it is my view that if you got "it", "it" sets in internally sometime by your mid to later 20s. Everything else is just a question of if the environment going to facilitate that talent being honed, or is it going to kill it?

Thus, it is my contention that one reason we are getting rid of commanding officers so quickly is that for most people, you can't be a glorified staff officer, always looking over your shoulder, for the first fifteen to twenty years of your adult life and then assume the mantle of command and not have some burbles.  

Doc Holiday said...

To expand on my last para--this is a developing argument, so it is very very very rough, but it is my belief that one part of being successful in command is that you must have the internal expectation that you will be obeyed, asbsent extraordinary circumstances--that you are in fact, in command, and deserve to be so. It ideally should be something you should never have to think of, the subordinates something to never forget.

And it is equally my argument that the environment for senior LTs/junior LCDRs is in no way conducive to developing that feeling that they could step in command when needed without feeling like they have to ask someone else's permission to do anything/everything, so for someone to develop such a mindset at that rank so that it is ready later when needed they must either a.) work at it themselves via self-study and taking opportunities as they come, b.) wait till the system says "we believe in you now" and hope they can come up to speed quickly enough, or c.) be a narcissicist, naturally inclined to such behavior.   

Spade said...

30s? That's old compared to some:

24 and commanding a Fighter Group. Left the USAAF at 25 as a O-6.

The Old Shoe said...

We dismiss the comments and perspectives of our junior officers at our peril. Great post, CDR S - love these Fullbores!

Kristen said...

The comments that have already been posted to this thread are terrific.  This is why it's great to hang around on the porch.  Not only is the company enjoyable but I learn so much.

Which brings me to your point, CDR.  One of the things that I like best about being around military men is that they actually grow up on schedule.  They don't have that delayed adolescence all the way through their twenties - they are actually doing important and sometimes dangerous work as soon as they enlist or accept a commission.  They're like throwbacks to the Fifties when men started considering themselves to be men as soon as school was over.  I think that's a really attractive quality for a lot of women - it certainly is for me.

DeltaBravo said...

There's always that 5% that never grows up no matter what they do for a living.  But I agree completely with Kristen.

LC Aggie Sith said...

Thanks! I never knew about Alison and Cochran. Makes me want to read up on this some more :)

Squidly said...

Don't disagree with you, but wasn't the reason for accelerated promotions of Ike et al due to the Army's use of brevet promotions for Regular Army (as opposed to AUS) during the World Wars?  The difference post-WW2 was that he didn't revert in rank.  Pre WW1 Ike was a Capt, but then during WW2 he was instantly promoted to LTC.  Post-WW1 he reverted to Capt.

Grandpa Bluewater. said...

Inside every grumpy old man is the heart of a 5 year boy. Peck's bad boy perhaps, but a boy

Grandpa Bluewater. said...

Brevet promotions go to the highly capable. Arthur MacArther was a general officer before hhe was 21.  Custer was an old man of about 23.
Different times, different systems.

Point being, there is a war on. Brilliant performance rates meteoric promotion regardless of age. Detailers are just RPPO's with bodies for inventory, time in grade required for promotion is more about managing the inventory and filling the requisition with a spare that will work when it gets there. Spot promotions, brevet promotions, accelerated promotion all introduce an element of chaos and undermine the power of the body merchants. It also gets you brilliant performance like the Los Banos raid. On the other hand Marshall cleared out a lot of dead wood who couldn't cope with armored warfare but advocated for horse cavalry.

We keep Generals who can't recognize or cope with a growing insurgency. The yin for that yang is if a certain retired three star would have been kicked up to 4 stars and made procounsel like MacArthur was post defeat of Japan, the insurgency might have fizzled. So there is a place for reconsideration and redemption, or should be, and has been, just not lately and locally. Ramsey, who pulled off Dunkirk, was in a backwater billet, overage in grade.  Which as fate would have it, put the right man in the right place to save western civilization.

Then there is Mattis. But that is for another post. 

Andy said...

<span>"They don't have that delayed adolescence all the way through their twenties..." </span>
Uh, you don't hang out with a lot of Airdales, do you? ;)

ewok40k said...

erm, Custer would be a poor example...
Alexander the Great was 18 when he succeeded father and started conquering pretty much the whole known world...

Kristen said...

Grandpa B, very true.  :)

Kristen said...

My life is fairly full of fly boys, so I take your point.  But while they play pretty hard, they work pretty hard too.  The ones that I know are mostly married and starting families, and they take serious stuff seriously.  They don't dodge responsibility.  Usually.  :)

Kristen said...

Yup, there's always that 5%.