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World War II

World War II

Chronology of World War II

  • 1937 War breaks out in Asia

  • 1939 War breaks out in Europe

  • 1940 War spreads

  • 1941 War becomes global

  • 1942 Deadlock

  • 1943 War turns

  • 1944 Beginning of end

  • 1945 End of war.

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
“A day that will live in infamy.”

World War II, also known as the Second World War or WWII, was a global military conflict that took place between 1939 and 1945.  It was the largest and deadliest war in history, culminating with the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The Allied Powers, led by Britain, the Soviet Union (1941) and the United States (1941), defeated the Axis Powers, led by Germany, Italy, and Japan.

The war was fought in response to the expansionist and racist aggression of Nazi Germany under the dictator Adolf Hitler and the imperial ambitions of Japan in Asia.

It is possible that around 62 million people, or 2% of the world population, died in the war; estimates vary greatly. About 60% of all casualties were civilians, who died as a result of disease, starvation, genocide (in particular, the Holocaust), massacres, and aerial bombing.

After World War II, Europe was informally split into Western and Soviet spheres of influence. There was a shift in power from Western Europe and the British Empire to the two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

In Asia, the defeat of Japan led to its democratization. China's civil war continued through and after the war, resulting eventually in the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The former colonies of the European powers began their road to independence.

The Travis Heritage Center’s World War II exhibits lets you walk in the footsteps of an incredible time in history.  You can:

  • Tread though the early years of the War in Asia with General Claire Chennault and the “Flying Tigers.”

  • Or drone with the immortal “Gooney Bird” (DC-3/C-47) as it wings its way over “the Roof of the World” during “The Hump.”

  • Or lift-off with the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders and the crew of the USS Hornet as they awakened the American people from the depths of despair to an avenging tiger.

  • Or spot enemy artillery in our Piper L-4 “Grasshopper.”

  • Or deploy in a CG-4 Combat glider.

  • Or imagine being an incredible aviation pioneers like the Tuskegee Airmen or the WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots). 

  • And then, touch a replica of the “Fat Man Bomb” . . . the bomb, which ended the war.

1944 Travis Control Tower

1944 Travis Control Tower

General Claire Chennault and the “Flying Tigers”

As in WWI, numerous Americans took advantage of the opportunity to fly and fight without waiting upon their country to enter the war.  In Burma, Claire L. Chennault, a retired Air Corps major who had served as special advisor to the Chinese Air Force since 1937, formed the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G) nicknamed the “Flying Tigers.”  The unit consisted of approximately 100 pilots and 200 ground crew personnel (most of whom had been released from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines to volunteer for the A.V.G.) and was equipped with obsolescent P-40B airplanes. It began training at Rangoon in Sep. 1941.

Flying Tigers

Two of the three squadrons moved to Kunming, China to protect the Burma Road, the only ground route into China, and on Dec. 20, 1941, the Flying Tigers received their "baptism under fire" when they inflicted heavy losses on Japanese bombers attempting to attack Kunming.

Months of combat followed and the A.V.G., greatly outnumbered in the air and operating under adverse conditions (such as no replacement pilots and practically no spare parts for repairing aircraft), scored a very impressive record against the enemy, 286 Japanese planes shot down at a cost of 12 A.V.G. pilots killed or missing in action.  In May 1942, pilots of the 23rd Fighter Group, selected to replace the Flying Tigers, began to arrive in China and the A.V.G. was dissolved on Jul. 4, 1942 when the 23rd Group was officially activated.

"Flying Tigers"

“The Hump,” China Burma India Theatre Exhibit

During World War II the U. S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) established history’s first sustained, long distance, 24-hour around-the-clock, all-weather, military aerial supply route.  The route extended from the Assam Valley in far northeastern India to the Yunnan province in far southwestern China, a distance of approximately 525 miles.  It was made necessary by a United States pledge that it would provide ongoing Lend-Lease war supplies to China to keep it in the war against Japan as an essential part of the overall Allies war effort.  This route came to be known as the “Hump Operation”.  It was located in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of operations. 

In early 1942 the Imperial Japanese armed forces completed final isolation of China by land and sea when they invaded Burma.  This cut off supplies to China moving over the Burma Road, the last remaining land route capable of handling large loads of military supplies in support of China’s war against Japan.  The only remaining access to China was by air.  The only air route available was over far northern Burma.

This aerial route crossed over a generally north-south spur of the Himalaya Mountains, the “Hump”.  Highest elevations along the route extended from approximately 16,000 feet MSL to the north to approximately 12,000 feet MSL to the far south.  The mountain valleys of northern Burma contained dense jungles, occupied by uncivilized native tribes and wild animals.  The eastern end of the route fell over the mountainous and plateau area of western China enroute to the main Yunnan province airbase at Kunming.  Other satellite airports in the general area of Kunming were also used.

Hump Airlift Operation

U. S. Army Air force Hump Airlift Operation April 1942 thru September 1945

CG-4 Combat Glider
CG-4 Combat Glider


  • Wing Span  83.6'

  • Length  48'

  • Height  7.2'

  • Maximum Towing Speed  120 M.P.H.

  • Stall Speed  50 M.P.H

  • Loading  One ¼ ton truck with radio (Jeep), driver, radio operator, and one other soldier; or one M3Al 75mm Howitzer or 13 combat ready troops.

CG-4 Combat Glider

During World War II the need to move large numbers of troops and equipment necessitated the requirement for the glider forces.  As helicopters were still expensive to build, a glider than a powered airplane, over 12000 combasc CG4 gliders were built. Far more than any other aircraft type!

The CG4 was used in Normandy, Arnhem, Wessel and a jungle strip in Burma. The CG-4 was designated a secret weapon, and it's crews were given only a thirty percent chance of surviving their first mission.  However, the skill of the tough glider pilots and crews made it possible to have an eighty percent survival rate.

Through the year, the fighter and bomber crews have enjoyed most of the limelight, and only a few places have set aside to record and present glider operations of the war to the public. Travis Heritage Center houses the premier exhibit on the west coast.

WACO CG-4 Combat Glider Cockpit
Tuskegee Airmen

Lt. Col. James C. Warren, USAF (Ret.) who began his career as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen created this comprehensive exhibit.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in November 1942 and retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel in 1978.  He served in WWII in the 477th Bombardment Group (medium) and flew more than 173 combat missions, including the Korean and Vietnam wars.


Awards include the DFC with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters, 3 Meritorious Service Medals and Air Force Commendation Medal. He is the author of Tuskegee Mutiny at Freeman Field. James Warren passed away on May 17, 2014 at the age of 90.

Lt. Col. James C. Warren (Ret.)

Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit Salutes the "Redtail Angels"
By Lt. Col. James C. Warren (Ret.)
Read the 1995 article...

The “Tuskegee Airmen” was the popular name of a group of African American pilots who flew with distinction for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Before and during World War II, the armed forces of the United States, like much of American society, were segregated by race.  Historically, most African American soldiers and sailors were relegated to support functions rather than combat roles, with few opportunities to advance to command positions.

In 1940, in response to pressure from prominent African American leaders such as A. Philip Randolph and Walter White, President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the United States Army Air Corps (after 1941, the United States Army Air Forces) to black men who volunteered to train as fighter pilots. The first of the black units, the 99th Fighter Squadron, trained at an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, which gave rise to the name "Tuskegee Airmen" as a blanket term for the Army's black aviators. Under the command of Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the first African-American to fly solo as an officer, the 99th saw action in North Africa and Italy in 1943. In 1944, the 99th was merged with three other black squadrons to form the 332nd Fighter Group.

Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.

Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the first African-American to fly solo as an officer


In September 1942, the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), composed of women flyers with commercial licenses, was activated under Mrs. Nancy Harkness Love to ferry aircraft. Almost simultaneously, the Women's Flying Training Detachment was created under the leadership of the famed aviatrix Jaqueline Cochran to recruit and train women pilots for ferrying duties. On August 5, 1943, the two organizations merged into a single unit, the WASP, with Miss Cochran as Director of Women Pilots.

“Off we go into the wild blue yonder . . .”

Members of the WASPs were civil service employees.


By Dec. 1944, the critical shortage of male pilots had ended and the WASP program was terminated. A total of 25,000 women had applied for WASP training. 1,830 had been accepted, and 1,074 had graduated and been assigned to flight duty.


General H.H. Arnold once stated that it became common for commanding officers to prefer WASPs over male ferry pilots since the women pilots did not carry 'address books' and often reached their destination sooner than the male pilots.

Women in World War II Exhibit

Women in World War II Exhibit

“Fat Man” Nuclear Bomb
“Fat Man” Nuclear Bomb

“Fat Man” Nuclear Bomb

A "Fat Man" bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945 near the end of WWII.  Released by the B-29 "Bockscar" on display in the USAF Museum's Air Power Gallery, the 10,000-pound weapon was detonated at an altitude of about 1,800 feet over the city. The bomb had an explosive force (yield) of about 20,000 tons of TNT, about the same as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  However because of Nagasaki's hilly terrain, the damage was somewhat less extensive than at relatively flat Hiroshima.  "Fat Man" was an implosion type weapon using plutonium.  A sub-critical sphere of plutonium was placed in the center of a hollow sphere of high explosive (HE).  Numerous detonators located on the surface of the HE were fired simultaneously to produce a powerful inward pressure on the capsule, squeezing it and increasing its density.  This resulted in a supercritical condition and a nuclear explosion.

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