By the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, China was already under siege. The Imperial military invaded and choked off every land and sea route for the young country’s resupply, and what remained of China was out of gas and withering away. So in April 1942 the United States decided to help out, by trying something entirely new and a little bit crazy.
The world’s first airlift. Over the Himalayas. Led by brilliant and stubborn American generals including Joseph Stilwell, Claire Chennault, and William Tunner, this improvised lifeline for Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists aimed to keep more than a million Japanese troops tied up in an unwinnable occupation, far away from the brutal combat then unfolding in the Pacific.
For 42 months the American ‘Hump pilots’ flew aviation gas, ammunition, food and other life-or-death cargo from Assam, India over Burma and the eastern Himalayas and into southern China. Frequent ice storms, unpredictable Japanese air attacks, impenetrable jungles, and the often-invisible presence of 15,000 feet of granite and ice were a formidable challenge for young American pilots in bare-bones cargo planes with primitive instruments and no margin for error. One out of every three airmen who flew the Hump would not make it home.
Aluminum Alley is the true story of an unheralded group of pilots in a cursed and forgotten theater of combat, over the world’s highest mountains and deepest jungles – all to help the Allies defeat Japan in World War II. Based on interviews with survivors of the Hump and the airmen’s letters, journals, flight logs and other resources, this is narrative nonfiction with the immediacy and intimacy of memoir and the big-picture analysis of the best military history.
Rory Laverty is a journalist who has written for The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Newsweek and The Oakland Tribune. He has investigated and written about sexual and criminal misconduct at the United Nations, in the U.S. Congress, and in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he has reported on police and law enforcement, the military, and the justice system for a variety of publications since 1998. He lives in Wilmington, NC, and teaches at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.