Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Flying the Hump - 1944

Flying the Hump, originally uploaded by mutikonka.

This is a Kodakchrome picture of a C46 transport plane of the US Air Force, taken in 1945 at the airfield at Kunming. At that time literally hundreds of these aircraft were flying daily over "the Hump" between Yunnan and India. Most had their bases near Calcutta in Bengal and flew regular trips into Kunming via places like Lijiang and Dali.

What is the connection with Joseph Rock? Well, the pilots all used charts based on his hand drawn maps of the Hump area - the divide formed by the canyons and mountains of the great river trenches of Asia: the Mekong, Yangtze and Salween rivers.

Rock himself was flown out of Kunming to India on a plane like this in 1944, and taken to Washington to help the mapmakers. He took his Naxi manuscripts with him, but lost them all when the ship they were consiged to was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

This amazing colour picture shows both the aircraft and the Chinese Kuomintang [KMT] soldiers. It is a very rare record of a turbulent period in Yunnan and China's history. We are used to seeing pictures of pre-1949 China in black and white. Here we can see it was just like our own world - full of colour and movement.

The soldiers of the KMT were notoriously corrupt and Rock described them as "bandits in uniform."

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