A Chronological Summary of Some CAT Historical Milestones
August, 1945 – WWII ends.
September 1945 – Whiting Willauer represents Corcoran brothers’ interest in establishing an airline in China, Rio Cathay-S.A. He merges the interest with Chennault who was working with Governor Kung Yun to establish a commercial airline to rebuild war torn China.
October 25, 1946 – Chennault and Willauer sign agreement to form Civil Air Transport (CAT). United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration would allocate 2 million dollars to purchase aircraft and equipment. CAT would operate primarily to carry rehabilitation supplies for hospitals, agriculture and public services from coastal ports to the interior of China. CAT could sell unused space to general public at current competitive rates.
January 1947 – General George C. Marshall mission ends. He reports failure to reconcile Nationalists and Communists and recommends limited aid to Chiang Kai-Shek. The Truman Administration was divided as to whom to support in China.
January 27, 1947 – First C-47 lands in Shanghai from Clark Field, Manila, piloted by Lew Burridge and Var Green, followed by three more C-47s piloted by Stu Dew, Paul Holden, Weldon Bigony, Bill Hobbs, Harry Cockrell and Frank Hughes.
March 1947 – First C-46’s arrive in Shanghai with Dick Rossi, Joe Rosbert and Bob Conrath as Captains.
March 22, 1947 – CAT begins Operation “Bo Peep”. Cotton flown by CAT from the interior to Tsingtao, North China’s largest port, and Tientsin to keep factories open in isolated interior cities.
April 1947 – CAT contract amended to allow airlifts of other Chinese government and relief agency cargoes beyond United Nations contract. This amendment probably saved CAT financially and drew CAT more directly into the Chinese Civil War.
May and June 1947 – With contracts with Chinese Post Office and other governmental agencies, only 40% of CAT’s cargo are now UNNRA.
July 1947 – CIA established under the National Security Act.
July 1947 – CAT air operations credited with saving millions of flood refugees in Kwangtung Province.
July to December 1947 – CAT grows as a commercial cargo airline hauling raw materials from the interior of China to the coast and needed medical supplies in the opposite direction under increasing hostile conditions in the communist held countryside.
1948 – marks the change from a relief cargo airline into a contract airline with the Chinese Nationalist government. Still flying medical supplies, cows, sheep, silkworm eggs and other exotic cargo, CAT begins transporting soldiers and refugees out of besieged Nationalist controlled cities.
January 1948 – CAT carries supplies into Communist surrounded city of Mukden. Over a period of five months flies out 4,500 wounded soldiers and 22,000 refugees.
March 1948 – CAT flies to the rescue of CAT employees out of Communist surrounded Linfen. Communist reports describe a CAT bomber flew low level runs scattering their troops.
April 1948 – Weishien surrounded by Communist forces trapping CAT employees. CAT aircraft, with no military weaponry dropped flares and whistling empty beer bottles scattering the Communist forces and allowing the rescue of besieged employees.
1948 – As each Nationalist city falls to the Communists, debate rages in the United States as to what to do in China.
July 29, 1948 – CAT suffered its first fatalities in the Chinese Civil War.
November 1948 – Manchuria, the industrial heart of China falls to the Communists. Chiang Kai Shek chooses Hsuchow near Nanking, to fight a set piece battle to defeat Mao’s forces. CAT flies in supplies and ammunition and evacuates wounded soldiers.
January 11, 1949 – Hsuchow falls to Communists.
January 21, 1949 – Chiang Kai Shek relinquished office of Presidency and moves key personnel and treasury to Taiwan by CAT transport, signaling the end of Nationalist rule of Mainland China.
April 1949 – As the Berlin Airlift is at its height, CAT wages an equally heroic defense of Taiyuan, but is unable to save the city.
May 1949 – Chennault testifies before Senate Committee that the U.S. should help save China from Communist takeover. Chennault has first meetings with CIA officials about utilizing CAT to help save China.
August 5, 1949 –U.S. Government issues White Paper on China stirring up controversy between those who want to abandon China and those who want to aid China.
September 20, 1949 – State Department gives tentative approval to CIA for covert aid to finance CAT.
September 28, 1949 – $75 million approved for “general area” of China. At the same time Al Cox is sent by CIA to run covert operations in China. His cover is Special Assistant to the President, Chennault.
October 1, 1949 – Mao proclaims the Peoples Republic of China.
October 10, 1949 – CAT begins contract work to fly for CIA.
November 10, 1949 – CAT prevents possible Communist takeover of Taiwan by Red Paratroopers. Chennault and Willauer sign a promissory note to purchase 71 aircraft belonging to CNAC and CATC, whose Board of Directors had defected to Beijing.
November 30, 1949 – Communists invade Yunan. Scattered remnants of the KMT army fled across the border into Burma and Thailand.
January 1950 – After extensive losses in the Chinese Civil War and the loss of the mainland, CAT faces bankruptcy.
January 16, 1950 – CAT pilot Bob Buol captured by Communists in Yunnan Province and held prisoner until 1955.
March 13, 1950 – Department of State, Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff give CIA approval to buy an interest in CAT with an option to buy full control.
April 20, 1950 – CAT inaugurates weekly round trip service to Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong,Taipei and Tokyo.
May 29, 1950 – Dean Rusk memorandum and testimony to House Foreign Affairs Committee on Taiwan reveals that covert action in support of resistance on Formosa is justified.
June 25, 1950 – North Korea invades South Korea. This was to have major consequences for the KMT Army in Burma, U.S. foreign policy in SE Asia and CAT’s eventual involvement.
Truman orders the Seventh Fleet into the Straits of Formosa, protecting Taiwan from PRC invasion.
Winter of 1950/51 – Chinese military victories in Korea cause the Truman Administration to become obsessed over where China might strike next – Hong Kong, Taiwan or French Indochina. The CIA turns Taiwan into a base for launching clandestine anti-Communist operations throughout Asia. CAT planes air drop men and supplies to guerrilla teams inside China, which forces Mao Tse-tung to keep combat troops in China that would otherwise have been fighting Americans in Korea.
Korean War establishes CIA’s jurisdiction in the Far East and creates the basic paramilitary capability that the Agency employs for twenty years. CAT was an essential component of this paramilitary capability.
July 1950 – Al Cox arranges a contract through intelligence sources for CAT aircraft to operate between Japan and Korea.
August 25, 1950 – CIA buys CAT. Al Cox and Lew Burridge successfully negotiate with Far East Air Command to use CAT aircraft to carry critical parts and supplies to USAF units in Korea. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of U.S. forces in Korea, approves the major airlift contract for CAT.
December 25, 1950 – CAT’s first breakthrough into Indochina. CAT establishes a small but lasting presence by flying the first STEM (Special Technical and Economic Mission) from Tokyo to Hanoi.
January 1951 – CAT role in Korea diminishes as U.S. Air Force takes over.
February 1951 – CAT pilots fly missions to support the invasion of China by Nationalist Army units from their sanctuary in Burma. CAT pilots secretly airlift weapons, supplies, and American advisers to the Nationalist troops. The invading Nationalist Army is easily defeated and quickly retreats to Burma, creating unforeseen problems for U.S. foreign policy for the next twenty years.
June 4, 1951 – CAT changes from commercial airline to “almost purely a government operation” per Willauer to CIA in prearranged memorandum.
June 30, 1952 – CIA asks Willauer to resign.
November 29, 1952 – CAT airplane piloted by Snoddy and Schwartz is shot down over Communist China. Cover story by CAT that the plane was lost over Sea of Japan is blown in November of 1954 when Communists reveal prisoners sentenced to prison for espionage are CIA operatives Downey and Fectau, the passengers on this ill-fated CAT secret flight in 1952.
January 19, 1953 – CIA Officer Al Cox becomes President, Managing Director of CAT.
February 26, 1953 – Allen Dulles becomes CIA Director.
May 6, 1953 – Operation SQUAW implemented for CAT to drop supplies to the besieged French forces in Na Sam, Laos. This operation marks the first U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
June 1953 – Korean War ends.
November 1953 – Operation Repeat begins, CAT evacuates Nationalist Army from Burma to great public fanfare. Receive hero’s welcome upon arrival in Taiwan. “Soldiers” turned out to be local tribesmen with antiquated weapons, old men, women and children. The bulk of the Army remained in Burma to lay the foundation for the infamous “Golden Triangle” drug cartel.
March 3, 1954 – Contract signed between CAT and France to support the French Foreign Legion at Dien Bien Phu. CAT flies supplies in the face of Viet Minh anti-aircraft even after the French Air Force refuses to do so.
May 6, 1954 – CAT pilots, James McGovern “Earthquake McGoon” and Wallace Buford are shot down and killed after making a drop on Dien Bien Phu.
May 7, 1954 – French surrender Dien Bien Phu, ending French Colonial rule and marking U.S. entry into the Vietnam War.
June 18, 1954 – CIA-backed rebel army invades Guatemala to instigate an uprising against the popular government. Whiting Willauer, newly appointed Ambassador to Honduras organizes CAT-based air support and successfully overthrows the government. The CIA and State Department believe the Guatemalan coup to be a success and use it as a model for future actions.
July 1, 1954 – CIA Career Officer George Doole becomes Chief Operating Officer of CAT.
September 1955 – CAT pilot Bob Buol released by Communists after Geneva Conference on IndoChina.
1956-1958 – CAT conducts air drops in support of the Tibetan resistance against the Communist Chinese conquest of Tibet. The Tibetan resistance reaches its height when CAT successfully airlifts the Dalai Lama to safety in India in March of 1959.
May 18, 1958 – CIA-instigated attempt to overthrow the government of Indonesia results in one of the rebel bombers being hit. The crew bails out and was captured by the Indonesian Army. The pilot was an American, Allen Pope, a CAT employee and a veteran of 57 missions to Dien Bien Phu. The overthrow attempt is unsuccessful and causes embarrassment to the U.S. Government.
1959 – Air America becomes an “arm” of CAT. CIA relegates CAT to a cover role during the 1960’s serving as an international flag carrier for the Republic of China.
1961 – Pilots from CAT / Air America help train the ill-fated pilots in the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba.
1968 – Mandarin Jet has fatal accident ending CAT as an airline and the era of Air America continues until the fateful evacuation of the Saigon embassy in 1975.