US officials in Tripura to trace World War II remains

Agartala, Sep 5 (IANS) A team of US officials along with officials of the Indian government will conduct an on-the-spot study in Tripura to trace remains of soldiers and a US military aircraft that crashed during World War II, an official said Thursday.

"Six officials of the American government arrived here yesterday (Wednesday) as an advance party to locate the remains of soldiers and US military aircraft at Dhumachara tribal village in mountainous Longtharai Valley under Dhalai district," a home department official told IANS.

"After holding a meeting with the officials of Tripura government in Agartala, the US officials have gone to the area (120 km north of Agartala) to locate the spot and the remains, if any. They would also talk to villagers to see if they could help them find the remains," he added.

The US officials are accompanied by external affairs ministry Under Secretary Amit Kumar Mishra and Sector Officer P.K. Rout of the union home ministry.

"Before moving to the remote village (Dhumachara), the US and Indian officials held meetings at Ambassa with the district magistrate of Dhalai district, Abhishek Singh, and Deputy Inspector General of Police Sourav Tripathi. During the next two-three days, they would collect detailed information about the remains of US soldiers and aircraft," the official said, adding that a team of experts would arrive later to excavate the remains, if any are found.

Some fragments of a US military aircraft used during World War II had been recovered in northern Tripura's Longtharai Valley last January, 66 years after it crashed.

An officer of the paramilitary Assam Rifles told reporters earlier that some remnants of an American C-47B aircraft that crashed during World War II were recovered by troopers of the 34th Battalion.

"A series of search operations had been launched since September last year to find out the crash site in the thick and dense forests of all three hill ridges of northern Tripura - Baramura, Atharamura and Longtharai. Finally, our troopers achieved success in the first week of January," the officer said.

He said that during World War II, the Allied forces lost hundreds of aircraft and a large number of soldiers in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of operations.

"The majority of allied crashes were caused by inhospitable weather, mechanical failure or navigational errors. The American Joint Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) had identified 16 known crash sites in northeast India where allied forces aircraft crashed during World War II," the officer said.

"On May 17, 1946, the ill-fated C-47B aircraft crashed in Tripura along with 11 crew members due to stormy conditions while transporting the remains of Allied POWs (prisoners of war) from Yangon (erstwhile capital of Burma, now Myanmar) to Calcutta," the officer had said.

According to the officer, the 34th Battalionwas tasked to find out the details of the aircraft and accordingly launched a hunt.

He said that the mission was very difficult due to the inconvenient terrain of the area and since the aircraft had crashed 66 years ago. Besides, the ecology had changed over time.

"Dense forests and inhospitable topography made search operations even more cumbersome. The propeller of the aircraft was recovered," the official said, adding that elderly locals faintly remember the crash and aided Assam Rifles troopers to find out the crash site as also the graves where the crew and soldiers had been laid to rest.

Meanwhile, several myths about the crash of the aircraft are still popular among local tribesmen in the mountainous northern Tripura.

"Late novelist Bimal Sinha, also the former Tripura health minister, in his novel 'Karachi theke Longtharai' (Karachi to Longtharai) had recalled tales of the crash of allied forces' aircraft in Tripura," writer Tapas Debnath told IANS.

"During World War II, the Agartala airport was used by the United States Air Force. In 1942-43, the 10th Air Force and the 4th Combat Cargo Group (CCG) flew C-46 Commando transport aircraft over Burma, now Myanmar," an official document of the Tripura government says.

It added: "The Agartala airport was also used as a supply point from which the US Air Force units air-dropped packets of supplies and ammunition to the advancing Allied forces on the ground."

"The 4th CCG operated from the airport during December 1944 and January 1945 when the unit moved to Chittagong, now in southeast Bangladesh."

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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