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Book Review: Flying the Hump

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 2001 
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Flying the Hump, by Jeff Ethell and Don Downie, Motorbooks International, Osceola, Wis., 1995, $29.95.

Get ready for a you-are-there experience–maybe not an especially fun experience, because you are going to be in a noisy, cold, overloaded airplane flying over jagged mountains. And keep in mind you may be the target for Japanese fighter pilots.

Don Downie and Jeff Ethell are among the most prolific and respected aviation writers of the past several decades–Downie for probably more decades than most living aviation keyboarders have been alive. It is they who bring the vivid reality to this book. It is they who cajoled several other "Humpsters" to add to Downie's engrossing tales their original stories and photographs taken during their days flying the supply line not-so-lovingly called the Hump.

The Hump was the Himalayas, the forbidding mountain range separating India and China, and the pilots flew the Hump to maintain the Allies' fragile foothold in Asia during the bad times of World War II. When the Japanese captured the single land supply line between the two countries, the only supply route left was by air. The cargo of fuel, munitions, medicines and other high-priority items supplied soldiers with the essentials to do battle with–and tie down–11ž2 million Japanese soldiers who otherwise would have been available elsewhere to help expand the empire. If it sounds a familiar exercise, the lessons learned flying this supply route were used to advantage later, in the Berlin Airlift and other air bridges since then.

What did it cost? Think about 1,300 pilots and more than 500 airplanes. What did it gain? A tenuous but vital link in a chain that would eventually strangle an aggressor. And once you start reading–you are there. Just try to match this true story with fiction.

Arthur H. Sanfelici

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