Allied Front-Line Planes That Flew Unarmed

The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 225, Page 630, February 1, 1946.

Air-Sea Rescue services were busier during the Arnhem operation than on D-Day, and no fewer than 181 airborne troops were then rescued from wrecked Hamilcar and Horsa gliders. In the Mediterranean zone, A.S.R. Rescued 1,114 American airmen. The highlight of this service was the tale of Sergeant Cohen, who landed his Fairey Swordfish on Lampedusa during a heavy Allied air bombardment, ordering the Italian garrison to refuel his tanks, and then taking off to report the island's surrender.

These and other stories of the Air-Sea Rescue service are told in Volume 6 of the Fighting Powers (Harborough Publishing Co., Lt., 31s 6d. net) which continues the description, with many photographs and scale drawings, of the aircraft used by all nations who fought in the Second Great War. The complexity of this task is indicated by the announcement that this valuable air-war reference book cannot be completed until December 1946, when Volume 7 will appear with details of hitherto secret aircraft.

The current volume gives particulars of 26 British, 22 American, 15 Japanese, and nine German aircraft. Of special interest to the ordinary reader is the historical section accompanying the description of each aircraft.

Those who have seen that fine British war film, Burma Victory, will pause at pages 48-49, depicting the Sentinel light aeroplane which the film showed operation over and amid the Burmese jungle. This “Grasshopper” class of light liaison aircraft came into service with the U.S.A.A.F. In 1941. About a dozen types of high-wing monoplanes (all much like our own Auster) were produced. Eventually, two were selected for basic production. These were the Piper Cub and the Stinson Sentinel, known respectively as the L-4 or L-14, and the L-5, the letter “L” standing for “liaison”.

Nicknamed “Jungle Angels”, unarmed Sentinel ambulances (L-5Bs) of the Allied Eastern Air Command carried out food and blood plasma, mail, messages, ammunition and medical supplies, and brought back sick and wounded. They acted as artillery spotters, observed Japanese troop movements, became “flying jeeps” for staff officers and technicians between bases and fronts. They rescued aircraft crews and salvaged valuable equipment – guns, instruments, and radio – from jungle-wrecked aircraft. At night, headlamps of jeeps illuminated jungle airstrips for liaison pilots to fly in and off.

Such feats by light aeroplanes fitted with six-cylinder, air-cooled engines of 175 h.p. seem remarkable until we recall that most of the fighting and reconnaissance of the First Great War was carried out in aircraft of about equal or even lower power and lighter weight. This leads to the realization that the lordly monarchs of the skies, with 2,000-plus h.p. motors, and landing speeds of plus-100 m.p.h., also illustrated in Volume 6 of Aircraft of the Fighting Powers, cannot do everything in the air, either in war or peace, and that the light aeroplane, like the family car, will have its place in the flying world.

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