An old favorite:
Not sure they were definitely planning that far ahead at this time; there would have been a number of plans for the Med under consideration, unless Churchill had started his Sumatran obsession early.Additionally, the upcoming invasion of Sicily (OPERATION HUSKY) planned for July of 1943
Good stuff and all very relevant. I also read in one book on the Hump that the cargo pilots suffered from very low morale because their missions were dangerous but unlike fighter and bomber pilots, they really didn't get to see the result of their work other than delivering a plane load of stuff. Apparently they also knew a lot of what they delivered was getting hoarded or sold on the black market instead of its intended purpose and that also led to low morale.The plans in OTL and in TTL to try to reopen the Burma Road were all doable but constrained by the low priority given to the CBI for troops, airplanes, supplies and equipment. The Hump airlift was intended to be an "aerial Burma Road" and in fact by late 1944 going into 1945 is was carrying a considerable amount of supplies into China.
However it was a costly and wasteful operation. Particularly when it first commenced in late 1942 and through 1943. This was, again partly due to the low priority given to the CBI. Which left aircrews having to cope with the utterly horrendous flying conditions with inadequate and poorly maintained aircraft. The C-47, as good a plane as it was, was not suited for operations in the high elevations of Northern Burma and Kunming,China. Even the C-87, lacking turbochargers and with the B-24s' Davis wing too vulnerable to icing was not adequate to the task.
But the aerial Burma Road could have been greatly improved in 1943 by providing the operation with the two things that made it successful more from mid-1944 onward. Better airplanes and sufficient radio navigation aids. The Hump airlift needed to be given a higher priority so as to receive more of the newly produced C-54 transport planes. An airplane better suited for the high elevations, adverse winds and terrible weather encountered while flying the Hump.
There was also the problem of the lack of adequate radio navigation aids along the route.
The LORAN radio navigation system was the best that could have been provided. But it didn't become available until about mid to late 1944. So that leaves the DF or ADF radio compass that received the signals from commercial AM radios stations and purpose built nondirectional LF aviation beacons. This was a system that had been in use since the early 1930s and had the advantage that every Allied transport plane in service in WW2 would have a radio compass receiver. As well as aircrew familiar with its operation.
The disadvantage with ADF is range. To provide sufficient and reliable coverage over the entire Hump route I think about 4 radio beacons would have been needed to be built in the Himalayan foothills. One at Fort Hertz and the rest spaced about every 100 miles. Naturally there be would beacons as well built at Kunming and at the main airfields in Assam. This did happen to some extent in OTL. But I think the extra resources and efforts required to position, supply and maintain the complete ADF system I've described would have benefited the Hump airlift. It would have been a very difficult task to build the nondirectional beacons in the remote locations needed. I think they would had to have carried in the equipment by mules and been re-supplied by air drop. But the advantages provided would have been worth the effort and expense.
Having reliable and complete radio navigation available for the entire route makes flying at night and in the commonly occurring bad weather much safer. No longer are transport planes getting pushed off course due to unpredicted high winds blowing them North into the high mountain peaks of the Himalayas and then crashing into a mountain peak. The winds will still occur but the aircrew will be able to detect the change in their flight path and correct course accordingly. So thereby reducing the number of planes and crews lost.
Also by being able to navigate more confidently in bad weather and at night pilots can fly what was known at the Low Hump route which took the planes just North of the Japanese air field at Myitkyina in Northern Burma. The IJAAF flew patrols to intercept the vulnerable and slow transport planes. To avoid being shot down the Allied pilots would take a dogleg to the Northeast out of the Assam air fields to fly a more Northerly route known as the high Hump. This extended the length and time of the flights and took them closer to the dangerous higher elevations of the Himalayan foot hills.
By being able to fly at night and in overcast conditions this largely eliminated the risk of Japanese interception as the IJAAF didn't fly patrols at night and did not have radar to provide a vector for their pilots. Thus by having an adequate radio navigation system for the Hump pilots it would greatly reduce the dangers of being shot down and it would eliminate the need to fly the longer and more dangerous Northern detour route.
In OTL roughly 600 planes and more then 1600 air crew were lost flying the Hump air route. These are remarkably high losses for a (mostly) non-combat operation. I think the losses could have been reduced and the airlift made more efficient by installing and operating a complete and effective radio navigation system beginning in late 1942 or as early as possible. This would be a difficult task but it is the most important single improvement that could feasibly be done in late 1942. Even the less then ideal for the Hump airlift the C-47 would benefit from this improvement to the operational capabilities.
Getting the C-54 earlier in larger numbers would be a help as well. It could carry a bigger payload with a faster cruising speed then the C-47 and C-87. It was also a stable and reliable airplane. With enough range that it could carry its cargo to Kunming and then fly back to Assam without needing refueling in Kunming.
I was considering the new options that your ATL have opened up. Being a more hopeful theatre in TTL maybe the CBIs' Hump airlift operation can be provided with more resources so that the airlift would produce much better results in 1943 along with reduced losses to the aircrews and planes. This could reduce some of the urgency felt to reopen the land route to China possibly freeing the Allied armies for other operations.Good stuff and all very relevant. I also read in one book on the Hump that the cargo pilots suffered from very low morale because their missions were dangerous but unlike fighter and bomber pilots, they really didn't get to see the result of their work other than delivering a plane load of stuff. Apparently they also knew a lot of what they delivered was getting hoarded or sold on the black market instead of its intended purpose and that also led to low morale.
Churchill wrote 'home' (on January 18th, 1943) to the rest of the War cabinet from the original timeline Casablanca conference that '...I am satisfied the President is strongly in favour of the Mediterranean being given prime place. He also seems increasingly inclined to Operation "Husky" [Sicily], which he suggested to me last night should be called "Belly", and I advised "Bellona". Although nothing definite has been settled between us pending results of the Staff conversations, I feel sure that we are in solid agreement on the essentials...' (The Second World War, Volume IV, 'The Casablanca Conference')Not sure they were definitely planning that far ahead at this time; there would have been a number of plans for the Med under consideration, unless Churchill had started his Sumatran obsession early.
Casablanca had a lot going on IIRC; US lack of preparedness for discussion of grand strategy, and feet-dragging on further Mediterranean adventures; King's 30% for the Pacific; Sardinia or Sicily (or even Crete) in the Med. In the background, concerns about the Battle of the Atlantic, Stalingrad, and the threat to the Caucasus. A stronger position in the Far East will have Churchill looking for offensive options there as well.So, original timeline, serious discussions were certainly going on at the Casablanca conference. I'm not sure at the moment how much other than an idea that Sicily was one option to go for 'next' was discussed earlier than that
TBH, OTL the battle was a complete failure for the Kreigsmarine, they lost a destroyer and had damage to a cruiser, and failed to sink the ally covoy. OTOH the RN only lost a minesweeper iirc and had some minor damage to their destroyers. So letting the convoy slip by this time probably does more good then harm.