Heavy summer monsoon rains flooded the Brahmaputra and Ganges River valleys in northeastern India and East Pakistan. Floodwaters inundated 36,000 square miles of land inhabited by nearly 10 million people. The flood caused a food shortage by cutting roads and railways and created a cholera threat by polluting water supplies. After the governments of Pakistan and India requested U.S. assistance to deliver relief supplies to the flood victims, the Air Force organized an airlift called Operation Mercy.
Between early August and early September, at least 27 Air Force cargo planes delivered more than 125 tons of relief cargo and 80 medical personnel to India and Pakistan. The aircraft included 18 C–119 Flying Boxcars, at least 8 C–124 Globemaster IIs, and 1 C–54. Cargo included medical supplies, blankets, sheets, food, clothing, and helicopters. Six wings representing three commands lent aircraft for the operation.
Most of the C–119s belonged to three wings of USAFE. The 60th Troop Carrier Group, assigned to the 60th Troop Carrier Wing, flew four C–119 Flying Boxcars to airlift more than 8.5 tons of medical supplies, sheets, blankets, and food from International Red Cross stockpiles in Geneva, Switzerland, to Dacca, East Pakistan. The planes originated from Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, and flew via Greece, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and India. From Neubiberg AB in West Germany came six more C–119s of the 317th Troop Carrier Wing. They delivered Red Cross supplies from Geneva to Karachi, West Pakistan; Dacca; and New Delhi, India. Among the aircraft commanders were Maj. Philip N. Currier, Capt. Thomas D. C. McCready, and 1st Lt. Richard D. Noe. The 465th Troop Carrier Wing at ToulRosiere AB in France used four C–119s to carry 21 tons of Red Cross supplies from Geneva to Karachi and New Delhi. These planes flew via Italy, Cyprus, and Saudi Arabia in flights spanning 6,000 miles.
Wings of the Far East Air Forces’ 315th Air Division also participated in Operation Mercy. The 374th Troop Carrier Wing, based at Tachikawa AB in Japan, flew eight C–124 Globemaster IIs and one C–54 to airlift two H–19 helicopters; 95 tons of medical supplies, blankets, and clothing; and 80 Army medics from the 37th Medical Preventive Medicine Company in South Korea to Dacca. The planes flew via Clark AB in the Philippines and Calcutta, India. Four C–119s from the 483d Troop Carrier Wing airlifted medical supplies and food from Ashiya AB, Japan, to Dacca in early September.
The Military Air Transport Service also lent support to Operation Mercy. Two C–124s, probably from the 1600th Air Transport Group, airlifted 27 tons of medical supplies to Dacca from Westover AFB, Massachusetts. Double crews facilitated the long mission, which routed through North Africa.
Operation Mercy ended about September 20. By providing extensive humanitarian aid to flood victims in India and East Pakistan, the United States expressed goodwill. Airlift made this expression practical and prompt.