An important first

  • Published
  • By W. Keith Alexander
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Historian Office
Today, Airmen from the 1st Special Operations Wing are conducting combat operations against America's enemies around the world. Normally, these operations start when higher headquarters issues an operation order or directive to the various units under its command. The order or directive identifies and assigns the subordinate unit's mission in the upcoming operation. This article recalls the first combat directive issued to the 5318 Provisional Air Unit, the 1st Special Operations Wing's antecedent.

Arriving in the China-Burma-India Theater in Nov. and Dec. 1943, the 5318 PAU commenced training for its upcoming operation. Col. Philip Cochran knew the unit's three basic missions: support Brig. Gen. Orde Wingate's Chindit force "by facilitating the forward movement of the columns, as well as supply and assist in evacuating them if needed. Additionally, they were to provide a small air cover and strike force."

Although Colonel Cochran understood his mission, he didn't know the specifics, such as when and where.

Shortly after Colonel Cochran reached the theater, he attended a meeting with Adm. Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas "Dicky" Mountbatten, supreme allied commander, South East Asia Command, Field Marshall Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, commander-in-chief, India, Lt. Gen. Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, commander of USA in the China-Burma-India theater, Major General Clare Lee Chennault, commanding officer of the 14th Air Force, and a representative from Maj. Gen. George Stratemeyer's command. At this meeting, Colonel Cochran was briefed on General Wingate's plan to march the Chindits into Burma using three columns. One Chindit column was to cross the Chindwin River from the west, while another was to march down from the north into Burma. General Wingate planned to airlift the third column into China. Once there, the third column was to cross the Salween River and lead the Chinese advance.

According to R. D. Van Wagner, General Stilwell was thinking about terminating the ground offensive since he thought moving and resupplying this force impossible. At this point, Colonel Cochran spoke up. He recommended moving the third column into Burma, where his force could support it. Furthermore, he expounded that his force would be ready to conduct combat operations in a week or less. Allegedly, Lord Mountbatten said, "Boy, you are the first ray of sunshine we have seen in this theater for some time."

Colonel Cochran's unit did not have to wait long for their orders. Lord Mountbatten provided a joint directive addressed to General Wingate and Colonel Cochran. In his directive, the British admiral stressed the importance of the ground and air units melding into one cohesive unit. February 4, 1944, Colonel Cochran received a more defined joint directive from General Stratemeyer relating to Operation Thursday. This directive outlined three objectives for Colonel Cochran's unit. First, they were to "assist...General Stilwell's forces to take Myitkyina by cutting the communication of the Japanese 18th Division, harassing its rear and preventing reinforcement." Second, Colonel Cochran's force was to help "create a favorable situation for Chinese forces crossing the Sobreen River into Burma." Finally, the Air Commandos were to "inflict damage and confusion of the enemy in northern Burma." Based on this order, Colonel Cochran's command prepared to commence Operation Thursday. February 2, 2009, the 1 SOW will honor this important event in our unit's history by wearing service blues uniforms.