A Glimpse of Dinjan, Assam

A silent township today, Dinjan played a key role during World War II. However, contributions made by the airfields in Upper Assam—Chabua, Dinjan, Mohanbari, and Sookerating—during World War II have been long forgotten.

In 1942, tea estates were converted into air bases with landing strips. This became a necessity due to the invasion of Burma by Japanese troops whereby China lost its supply line. Uninterrupted supply to China was critical. The U.S. and other Allied leaders agreed to organize an aerial supply effort between Assam, India and Kunming, China.

Along with No. 5 Squadron RAF and No. 10 Group RAF, the following are some of the USAF Squadrons and Groups that were stationed in Dinjan between 1942 and 1945:

  • 11th Bomb Squadron
  • 20th Intelligence Squadron
  • 51st Operations Group
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing
  • 443d Operations Group
  • 513th Air Control Group
  • 427th Special Operations Squadron
  • 1362nd Army Air Force Base Units

The airfield in Dinjan was built with the help of tea estate laborers overseen by the UK’s Royal Air Force. My father, who grew up a few miles from Dinjan, mentioned that his older brother helped coordinate the labor efforts in 1942.

The following is a photo of the China Burma India Theater (CBI) airfield in Dinjan, circa 1945. [Source: United States Army Air Force via National Archives]

Dinjan Airfield ~1945

The following is a recent Google Map view of the airfield in Dinjan.

A visit today to Dinjan and its surrounding areas is a perfect way to honor history and experience Assamese traditions.

En route to Dinjan

Located in Assam, Dinjan is surrounded by rice paddies, tea estates, and Indian defense bases. Many of these estates are over 100 years old. Deciduous tress provide shade to the tea bushes on both sides of the National Highway 15.

The nearest airport is Dibrugarh, approximately 30 miles from Dinjan. [Read more about Dibrugarh as a gateway town.]

Rice paddies near Dibrugarh

Dibrugarh is situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, in Assam, India. Daily flights to Dibrugarh are available from major Indian cities.

During WW II, Dibrugarh was used as a transit camp for U.S. evacuees from Burma.

Sir John Berry White, a retired brigadier and civil surgeon of the British Army donated his life savings to start the Berry White Medical School, which later came to be known as the Assam Medical College and Hospitals. This college began operations from an abandoned military hospital that was established by the U.S. Army.

The Brahmaputra River

The mighty Brahmaputra flows north of Dinjan. In 1944, servicemen from the U.S. 330th Airdrome Squadron took a ferry on the Brahmaputra to reach Dinjan. This journey upstream would have taken several days to complete.

A major source for water to the region, the Brahmaputra has also contributed to devastating floods. A very high priority of the entire northeastern region of India is the harnessing of water as a resource.

Tea estate in Dinjan

On an overcast day, laborers pluck tea leaves. About 2-3 leaves and a terminal bud are nipped off during this process of producing high quality tea. The potential to promote and grow tourism in the region is tremendous.

In 1942, laborers from tea estates in and around Dinjan were responsible for building the Dinjan Airfield, which was used as a base for U.S. flights headed to Kunming, China via The Hump. The eastern end of the Himalayan mountain range was called The Hump by Allied pilots of World War II. The pilots flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war efforts.

Railway Track Along National Highway 15

A railway track runs along National Highway 15. The nearest railway station from Dinjan is in Tinsukia. In May 1882, the first steam train in the region rolled down the tracks from Dibrugarh to Dinjan. The last steam train ran on these tracks, from Dibrugarh to Tinsukia, in February 1997.

Allied lines of communications in India, Burma, China

The map depicts the Allied lines of communications in India, Burma, and into Kunming in southern China. [Source: United States Military Academy; The World War II Database]

Dinjan Airfield

A restricted area now, several C-47s took off and landed in Dinjan Airfield, which was a principal U.S. base during World War II. Abandoned after World War II, the area is now under protective custody of the Indian Air Force.

My father recalls that most of the U.S. servicemen in Dinjan were "fairly young soldiers... they walked around the villages with beer cans in their hand and shot monkeys that were destroying paddy fields." He added, "There were air raids by the Japanese in Chabua and Dinjan." In 1942, Japanese aircraft bombed Dinjan and Chabua airfields, and also scored hits at Mohanbari and Sookerating.

Dinjan Airfield

Incessant rainfall in the region delayed construction of the Dinjan airfield and tea estate laborers did not have the adequate skills. Moreover, Japanese air attacks scared away the laborers. Construction equipment and supplies took over two weeks to get from Calcutta to Dibrugarh.

Perforated/Pierced Steel Planking - Marston Mat

My father said, "When the Americans were moving in, it used to be loud at night because their big trucks would get stuck in the mud and the engines would roar as the tires spun."

Steel planking was laid down on muddy roads to help vehicles pass through without getting stuck. They were also used in airfield construction. Some of the planking left behind by the U.S. Army found it's way to the nearby homes and used for ventilation.

World War II Comic Strip

A 1943 American newspaper comic strip depicting the U.S. Army in Assam [India] during World War II.

World War II Censor Cover

A World War II censor cover from 1944, which was sent from Dinjan [APO 487], India to Shrub Oak [New York], USA. The United States 443d Troop Carrier Group was deployed in Dinjan when this letter was sent.

Traditional Loom

The villages around Dinjan provides an opportunity to experience Assamese culture and traditions.

Traditional Assamese textile designs are symbolic of its tribes and ethnic groups. The weave designs generally depict traditional Assamese musical instruments, flowers, birds, etc.

Hand weaving is an art form that is disappearing from the villages of Assam. Traditional looms are being replaced with power looms. Rising yarn prices and a proliferation of cheap imitation silk make it difficult for Assamese weavers to earn and sustain a livelihood.

Gamusa

There can’t be any more humble yet magnificent example of Assamese identity as the gamusa [pronounced ga-moo-SA]. A gamusa is rectangular in shape, woven on a traditional Assamese loom with white and red cotton thread.

It is customary to welcome guests with a gamusa, which is draped around her/his neck with love and respect. For guests, the gamusa becomes a souvenir of warmth, kindness, and simplicity for which the Assamese are known.

Community Fishing

When it comes to harvesting a body of water for fish, a village community brings itself together to work in unison. The catch is then shared among the families that took part in the event. Traditional tools such as a jakoi and khaloi are used to catch fish.

Traditional Assamese Household Items

These are miniature versions of traditional Assamese household items. The items are made out of bamboo.

A jakoi is used to trap fish in the shallow ponds or paddy fields of Assam. Once a fish is caught with the help of a jakoi, it is stored in the khaloi. A kula is a winnowing fan used to separate hull [or husk] from rice after a milling process. A saloni is a sieve that can be used to separate the chaff from the kernel. A dola is a tray that can be used to store items or to sort through rice and remove any foreign objects like fragments of stones. The khorahi is a storage basket also used on occasion to wash rice.

The Opportunity and Possibilities

Dinjan played a critical role during World War II. Few are aware of the challenges that existed then and how they were overcome—incessant monsoons, malaria, basic accommodations and rations, limited lines of communication, and more.

A visit to the region, coupled with an opportunity to view the China Burma India (CBI) Theater airfield, can offer an unparalleled perspective of how life was between 1942-1945 for the young men and women of the U.S. and other Allied leaders.

Dinjan should be recognized as an important historical marker that provides an opportunity to reflect upon the sacrifices made, which can help us build a world that future generations can be proud of. Additionally, the possibilities of sightseeing and educational travel programs to Dinjan, as well as tours by leading historians with local guides, can contribute to the growth of the region and help it gain national and international prominence.

Pxley Extra:

Interview with Capt. Abel Kessler, U.S. Army 441st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, who was posted in Chabua, a few miles from Dinjan. A fascinating account!

[Source: The Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center]

Related Dinjan resources:

Henry Byroade Oral History Interview
Source: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

U.S. Army in World War II
Source: The Public’s Library and Digital Archive

Roberts, David Neal (Oral history)
Source: Imperial War Museums

Severson, Bob (Oral history)
Source: Imperial War Museums

Private Papers of Mrs V Downing
Source: Imperial War Museums

The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume One [PDF] Source: Office of Air Force History Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Defense

Over the Hump to China, by John T. Correll
Source: Air Force Magazine

Elmer Halfmann’s WWII Experiences, as related to Mitchell H. Halfmann
Source: Angelo State University

Uncle Bill’s WWII, by Joy Neal Kidney
Source: joynealkidney.com

Merrill’s Marauders (February-May 1944)
Source: United States. War Department. General Staff · 1945 [Google Books]

Letter from Jacob S. Fassett (Hostel Manager, Dinjan; CNAC 1942 – 1945)
Source: cnac.org

CHINA – BURMA – INDIA: Remembering the Forgotten Theater of World War II
Source: cbi-theater.com

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