“Air Power’s capacity to act as a diplomatic lever grew in prominence in ways that suggested its later-day strategic utility in non-kinetic operations.”  Air power’s effect can be measure in different ways and today air power usage may have strategic potentioal non-kinetically. (Syllabus)

The Hump

Author:  Col John D. Plating – History professor at USAFA, Masters and PhD in history for OSU.  Transport pilot with combat experience.


“This monograph argues that the Hump airlift was initially undertaken to serve as a display of U.S. support for its Chinese ally, which had been at war with Japan since 1937.  However, by the start of 1944, with the airlift’s capability gaining momentum, US strategists set aside concerns for the ephemeral goal of bolstering Chinese national will and instead used the airlift as the chief means of supplying US forces in China in preparation for their final assault on Japan.” (1)

“In the European theater the primary expression of airpower came in the form of strategic bombing, as the Anglo-US Combined Bomber Offensive sought to constitue an aerial front in Western Europe until such a time as a land invasion could take place.  IN the Pacific the primary use of airpower came first in the form of carrier aviation, then later in the form of strategic bombardment culminating with the first-ever use of atomic weapons.  But in the CBI airpower was expressed in a wide array of forms to include strategic bombardment (seen in Operation Matterhorn, the first B-29 attacks on Japan, launched from China), fighter aviation (with Claire Chennault’s 14th AF maintaining air superiority over Japanese forces in China), and, most important, in the form of air transport-transport to companies of troops trapped behind Japanese lines, transport of special forces-type “long-range penetration groups” that worked to wreak havoc deep in enemy territory, or transport on the grand scale, like the Hump…It had a powerful political component as well.” (2)

“Five themes weave their way through my discussions of the interaction of airpower, logistics, and strategy in the context of the Hump airlift.  These include:  airlift as an expression of airpower; the Hump as a dramatic feat of aerial logistics; the impact of the Hump in both theater and global war strategy; airlift as an expression of the “national-ness” of airpower; and airlift as facilitating a paradigm shift in global logistics.” (6-7)

“The Hump serves as an example of strategically vital airlift campaign that will allow the “airpower-ness” of airlift to be explored in fuller detail, allowing us to see airlift as airpower, not something that merely supports airpower.” (7)

The history of the Hump airlift naturally divides into three phases…The first phase is called the “barnstorming” period from the airlift’s conception in early 1942 to what I refer to as FDR’s “institutionalization” of the Hump in My 1943. …The Humps second phase covers the 13 months from May 1943 to May 1944, the most important period in the Hump’s history….The Hump’s third phase covered the period from May 1944 until the airlift’s end in November 1945.  This was the so called heyday of the airlift campaign, with monthly tonnage increases taking on an exponential dimension.” (12)

Major Arguments:

“The cornerstone of US strategy toward China was twofold:  its geographic proximity to Japan made it useful as a potential staging base for both strategic bombing attacks and a land invasion of the Japanese home islands, and it was in the best interest of the US to keep the occupational force of nearly 1M Japanese soldiers tied up in China and not fighting to defend Japanese holdings elsewhere in the Pacific.” (5)

“Immediately following the US entry in the war, the air transport fleet of the US Army Air Corps numbered only 254 airplanes, a mere 2% of its total inventory of 12,297 airplanes.” (9)

“Air transport involves much more than pilots and planes; it includes an equally important emphasis on flight scheduling, route organization, aircraft maintenance, the on-loading and off-loading of cargo, and mission planning.  CR Smith (American Airlines) and his civilian colleagues would be just the cohort of expertise Arnold needed to build what became—by the end of the war—the world’s largest airline.” (10)


“The Hump sheds some light on the manner in which diplomatic alliances are nourished and maintained, seen in the way the China Theater was sustained as much by the materiel delivered by Hump aircraft as it was by the way the airlift displayed the US’ moral commitment to its Chinese ally.” (13)