Operation Flood-Lift

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Operation Flood-Lift
Kansas and Missouri
July 11–22, 1951
Emergency: The Kansas, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers between eastern Kansas and western Illinois flooded.
Organizations: Second, Tenth, and Eighteenth Air Forces; Central Air Defense Force; 21st Air Division; 314th, 433d, 434th, and 516th Troop Carrier Wings; 7th and 44th Bombardment Wings; 439th Tactical Training Wing; 62d Troop Carrier Group; 301st, 3310th, 3902d, and 4610th Air Base Groups; 4th and 5th Air Rescue Squadrons; 32d, 36th, and 67th Troop Carrier Squadrons; 108th and 3528th Maintenance Squadrons; 1080th Bombardment Squadron; 3075th Ferrying Squadron; and 2472d Air Force Reserve Training Center
Airlifted: 300 tons of food, medicine, bedding, life rafts, boats, canteens, gasoline, rope, helicopters, and sandbags.
Aircraft Used: C–119 (19), C–47 (14), C–46 (12), SA–16 (7), C–124 (4), SB–29 (4), T–11 (4), H–5 (3), C–82 (2), C–54 (1), C–45 (1), B–25 (1), and T–7 (1)

Torrential rains over central and eastern Kansas during June and the first half of July flooded the tributaries of the Kansas River, inundating Abilene, Manhattan, Junction City, and Fort Riley. Governor Edward Arn appealed for military assistance, and the Fifth Army assumed command of disaster relief operations on July 11. The Fifth Army immediately asked the Tenth Air Force at Selfridge AFB, Michigan, for airlift support. Col. Donald L. Wilhelm assumed command of the Tenth Air Force domestic emergency team to coordinate Operation Flood-Lift and prepared to launch a relief airlift.

The Tenth Air Force supervised all Air Force flood relief missions in Kansas regardless of the commands and units involved. The 4th Rescue Squadron at Lowry AFB, Colorado, inaugurated Air Force flood relief by sending an SA–16 aircraft with three rafts and a boat to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, on July 11 to rescue flood victims marooned on roofs.

The 21st Air Division at Forbes AFB near Topeka, Kansas, began coordinating further rescue operations on July 12. That day the Tenth Air Force airlifted 30,000 sandbags aboard three C–47 aircraft from Scott AFB, Illinois, to Fort Riley and Junction City, Kansas. On July 12, the Kansas River spilled over its banks, flooding North Topeka and North Lawrence under as much as 12 feet of water. As hundreds of Forbes AFB personnel reinforced levees around Topeka, the Tenth Air Force sent Lt. Col. F. B. Gallagher as liaison officer to work with the Kansas state government. Meanwhile, Air Force troop carrier wings flew thousands of sandbags and hundreds of cots, blankets, and other relief supplies to Forbes from bases around the country.

On July 13, as cargo planes delivered huge quantities of sandbags, boats, and rations to Topeka, the flooding Kansas River poured into the Missouri River at the Kansas-Missouri border, inundating 1,300 blocks of Kansas City and drowning 10,000 animals in its stockyards. Governor Forrest Smith of Missouri declared a state of emergency, and President Truman designated both Kansas and Missouri disaster areas on July 14.

Between July 11 and 17, 73 Air Force planes participated in humanitarian airlift operations from at least 12 Air Force bases across the United States. The Tactical Air Command sent 32 planes, Strategic Air Command sent 22, and 14 came from the Military Air Transport Service’s Air Rescue Service. Air Force pilots flew 300 tons of emergency supplies into Forbes and Wichita AFBs, including more than 130,000 sandbags from Scott AFB, Illinois; more than 1,500 cots and 4,300 blankets from Bowman AFB, Kentucky; 20 boats from St. Louis, Missouri; 200 cases of rations from Columbus, Ohio; and 1,285 parachutes and containers from Ogden, Utah. They even brought Coast Guard helicopters from as far away as Salem, Massachusetts.

In 556 flights involving almost 1,400 flying hours over seven days, Air Force personnel delivered 66 life rafts; 523 cases of rations; 1,250 mosquito nets; 305 gallons of gasoline; 12,600 feet of rope; 10,500 bottles of typhoid serum; 4,643 bottles of water purification tablets; and many other relief supplies, including canned food, bread, milk, mattresses, and canteens. Fifty tons were airdropped to victims in at least 30 eastern Kansas communities. Helicopters rescued victims stranded on roofs and islands of higher ground. As the Tenth Air Force concluded operations from its liaison office at Topeka on July 17, President Truman flew over the flooded areas.

On July 18, the Missouri River spilled into the streets of Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City, flooding 20 blocks. The Missouri River, which empties into the Mississippi River 15 miles north of St. Louis, had inundated lowlands around the confluence of the two rivers by July 19. The swollen Mississippi threatened to submerge communities and farms for 150 miles between Alton, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. More than 800 Air Force personnel from Scott AFB helped to contain the rising water by reinforcing, repairing, and enlarging levees around St. Charles and St. Louis, Missouri, and at Chester and Alton, Illinois.

The 62d Troop Carrier Group flew thousands of sandbags from McClellan AFB, California, to Scott AFB to supply the workers. On July 22, the Mississippi River crested at St. Louis, and the waters began to recede. Scott AFB personnel returned home by the end of the month. The floods killed 41 people, drove 165,000 from their homes, inundated two million acres, and cost more than $1 billion in property damage.

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