History of the Utilities & Firefighters Section of the 25th Air Service Group
As told by Clayton Ziegler
One section of the 25th ASG had its beginning with the formation of the 885th Airborne Engineering Battalion in early 1943 at Bradley Field, Connnecticut. The 885th reached its targeted T.O. in October of 1943, made up of four companies: Headquarters, A, B, & C companies. The Battalion's operational objective was described to us at the time as a unit that would be dropped in by glider, with necessary equipment included, capable of quickly creating an air base landing field close to combat areas that would provide immediate tactical air support for ground combat forces. Rumors circulated (as rumors do in wartime) that a previously formed Airborne Battalion had tried out this concept with disasterous results because the equipment necessary to accomplish this mission was too heavy and the gliders disintegrated on landing with non-acceptable manpower loss. Even landing only armed combatants using gliders has been described in some circles as a "controlled crash landing".
In late November of 1943 the battalion was transferred to Westover Field, Massachusetts and a month later transferred to Richmond Army Base in Virginia and immediately disbanded two days before Christmas 1943. The four companies of the 885th became four "Aviation Engineering, Utility and Firefighting Detachments", numbered 2070th, 2071st, 2072nd, & 2073rd AEU&FF. Each detachment was assigned two officers, most of whom were drawn from the 885th. The C.O. of each detachment was allowed to choose from his previous 885th company those enlisted personnel who he felt would fill an appropriate slot in the new T.O. of his "detachment".
Lt. Emory E. Harris, as C.O. of the 885th HDQ company, was assigned as C.O. of the 2070th AEU&FF detachment and chose a number of enlisted personnel from the now defunct HDQ company to form the core of his detachment. He chose me to fill the supply NCO position in the 2070th because of my previous experience in the battalion supply section of the old 885th. It soon became obvious that so far as we were concerned, the airborne engineering glider concept was now history and that the new detachment was geared to provide air base maintenance services including utilities, constructin maintenance, and crash crews. It was also make plain to us that the detachment was "hot" and by March 1944 we would be on our way overseas.
When we boarded the train at Richmond headed for the West Coast we at least knew which half of the war we were headed for. We shipped out of Los Angeles in early March 1944 in a southweterly direction on the USS Mariposa (Queen ship of the Matson Lines in the Pacific). Our sleeping quarters on the ship was a Ladies Lounge with welded pipe racks six high serving as bunks. We had a US Navy escort for a few days out of L. A. and then we saw no land, plane or ship for at least 2 weeks until we were picked up and escorted by an Australian Navy ship for a few days. After it disappeared, we continued West, then turned North and docked at the port for Perth, Australia for one day. At this point, no one in the 2070th ever heard of the 25th Air Service Group, the 58th Wing, the 20th Air Force or a B-29. I speculated at the time that we might be headed for Darwin on the North Coast of Australia to service additional B-17 operations aimed at the Philippines and Dutch East Indies.
Instead of heading North, we left Perth headed directly West into the Indian Ocean and finally turned North to Bombay where we debarked and boarded a train for Kharagpur and a truck ride from there to Salua Air Field, arriving early in April. There we were integrated into what became Headquarters and Base Services Squadron of the 25th Air Service Group. What had been the 2070th AEU&FF Detachment became listed as the "Utilities" and "Firefighters" with Lt. Harris designated as Base Engineer. The other three Detachments from the old 885th were similarly integrated into the 28th ASG in Chakulia, 86th ASG at Paridoba, and 87th ASG at Dudkhuadi.
The Base Utilities and Firefighters Units left India in February 1945 with the advanced detachment group (cited in the history of the 25th ASG) attached to the 578th Air Material Squadron. The "mighty ship" referred to in the history was actually the USN C.G. Morton, a US Navy troop transport ship. We remained attached to the 578th until the remainder of the 25th ASG followed to Tinian and all four service groups of the 58th Wing were merged into a "huge Service Center for all operational purposes".