A Glimpse of Dinjan, Assam

Nestled within Assam's serene landscapes, in a secluded enclave, Dinjan preserves an extraordinary chapter of World War II. Here, amidst the lush tea estates, rice paddies, and pristine rivers, the echoes of wartime valor seldom linger. Come, join me on an expedition to unearth the hidden narratives of Dinjan's history—a seamless fusion of the past and the present, yearning to be explored and commemorated.

Unveiling World War II History

A silent township today, Dinjan played a key role during WWII. The region around Dinjan was strategically important due to its proximity to the front lines in Burma [now Myanmar] and served as a vital base for Allied forces during the war. 

The most notable development in Dinjan during WWII was the construction of airfields by the Allies.

The United States Army Air Forces, along with their Allied counterparts, embarked on the construction of multiple airfields in the region, necessitated by the Japanese invasion of Burma, which disrupted China's vital supply lines. This response established an aerial supply corridor connecting Assam, India, and Kunming, China. 

The Chabua, Dinjan, Mohanbari, and Sookerating airfields played a crucial role in enabling the transport of troops, equipment, and vital supplies. Regrettably, the significant contributions of the local community and the role of these airfields during WWII have largely fallen into obscurity.

It was a typical construction, bamboo slats and thatch roofs. The entire camp was located in the middle of a large shade grown tea patch and was very dark and gloomy in the rainy season. As I sat on my cot and surveyed the situation, I remember thinking to myself, "How did I ever get myself into such a mess?"
— Theodore L. Hendrick, Three Years and Three Days

China Burma India Theater (CBI) Airfield in Dinjan, circa 1945. [Source: United States Army Air Force via National Archives.]

Along with No. 5 Squadron RAF and No. 10 Group RAF, the following are some of the USAF Squadrons and Groups that were stationed in Dinjan during 1942 and 1945:

The airfield in Dinjan was built with the help of tea estate laborers overseen by the UK's Royal Air Force. My father, who grew up a few miles from Dinjan, mentioned that his older brother helped coordinate labor efforts in 1942.

Dinjan's role during WWII is an important chapter in the history of the region and serves as a testament to the global nature of the conflict, with different nations coming together to fight against the Axis powers in the challenging terrain of the Eastern Himalayas.

Road leading to Dinjan, Assam.

En route to Dinjan

Located in Assam, Dinjan is surrounded by rice paddies, tea estates, and Indian defense bases. Many of the tea estates are over 100 years old. Deciduous trees provide shade for the tea bushes on both sides of National Highway 15.

The nearest airport is Dibrugarh, approximately 30 miles from Dinjan. Daily flights to Dibrugarh are available from major Indian cities.

A visit today to Dinjan and its surrounding areas is a meaningful way to honor history and experience Assamese culture and traditions. [See related: How to Plan a Trip to India]

Rice paddies near Dibrugarh, Assam.

Rice paddies near Dibrugarh

Dibrugarh is situated on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. During WW II, Dibrugarh was used as a transit camp for US evacuees from Burma. 

Sir John Berry White, a retired brigadier and civil surgeon of the British Army donated his life savings to start the Berry White Medical School. This school later came to be known as the Assam Medical College and Hospitals. This college began operations in an abandoned military hospital that was established by the US Army.

Medical facilities in Dinjan were of great significance during the war. These facilities provided crucial medical care and treatment to injured soldiers returning from combat zones in Burma and China. Ensuring that wounded soldiers could receive medical attention played an essential part in maintaining the morale and effectiveness of the Allied forces.

An aerial view of the Brahmaputra River.

The Brahmaputra River

The Brahmaputra River served as a vital transportation route for the Allied forces. It allowed for the movement of troops, equipment, and supplies in the region. The river facilitated the movement of goods from the ports in India to the front lines in eastern India and Burma.

In 1944, servicemen from the US 330th Airdrome Squadron took a ferry on the Brahmaputra to reach Dinjan. This journey upstream would have taken several days to complete. 

Train beside a road.

Railway track along National Highway 15

A railway track runs along National Highway 15. The nearest railway station to Dinjan is Tinsukia. 

In May 1882, the first steam train in the region rolled down the tracks from Dibrugarh to Dinjan. The Railway Times, dated December 2, 1882, reported on the construction and development of railway facilities in the region. The last steam train ran on these tracks, from Dibrugarh to Tinsukia, in February 1997.

The railway tracks in and around Dibrugarh were instrumental in transporting troops to various military bases, including Chabua and Dinjan. Troop movements were a significant part of the war effort, as soldiers were deployed to various theaters of operations in the Asian region. The railway system enabled the swift and efficient movement of military personnel to and from these bases.

In addition to troop transportation, the railways were vital for the transportation of supplies, equipment, and provisions. The military required a constant flow of goods to support the troops in the field.

Pocket Guide to India

Pocket Guide to India

American servicemen stationed in India received the "Pocket Guide to India," a succinct and enlightening booklet. Its purpose was to assist these troops in navigating and comprehending the unfamiliar culture, traditions, and terrain of the Indian subcontinent. This compact guide contained vital information covering a range of topics, including Indian history, religious observances, social norms, and even basic language phrases. Its primary goal was to cultivate cultural awareness and sensitivity, which played a pivotal role in fostering cooperation between American military personnel and the local population. In addition, it offered valuable insights on surviving in the diverse and often challenging wartime environment of India, including advice on coping with tropical diseases and encounters with wildlife.

Tea bushes in an estate in Dinjan, Assam.

Tea estate in Dinjan

On an overcast day, laborers pluck tea leaves. About 2-3 leaves and a terminal bud are nipped off during this process of producing high quality tea. The potential to promote and develop tourism in the region is tremendous. [See related: Let's Have a Cup of Black Tea]

In 1942, laborers from tea estates in and around Dinjan were responsible for building the Dinjan Airfield. Tea estates in the Dinjan and Chabua were converted into airfields and military installations to support the war effort in the China-Burma-India [CBI] Theater. These airfields played a critical role in facilitating air operations, including the famous "Hump" airlift, which involved flying supplies over the Himalayas into China.  

The utilization of these tea estate airfields highlights the adaptability and resourcefulness of the Allied forces in establishing the necessary facilities to combat the Axis powers in the challenging terrain of the CBI Theater during WWII.

Map of India-Burma Allied Lines of Communication.

[Source: United States Military Academy; The World War II Database]

Allied lines of communications in India, Burma, China

The map depicts the Allied lines of communications in India, Burma, and into Kunming in southern China. 

China was completely cut off from lend-lease equipment support provided by the Burma Road after the Japanese conquered Burma in 1942. The Allied forces engaged in ground campaigns to reestablish this land communication link with China over the next three years.

As a logistics hub, Dinjan was key for the movement of troops, equipment, and supplies to support Allied operations in Burma and China. Dinjan's geographical proximity to the Burma front lines made it an ideal base for assembling troops and equipment before deploying them to the battle zones.

The presence of American, British, Chinese, and Indian forces in the region demonstrated the international nature of the Allied effort during WWII. Cooperation extended beyond military operations and included joint planning, intelligence sharing, and logistical coordination among the different nations.

Dinjan Airfield

Dinjan Airfield

Incessant rainfall in the region delayed construction of the Dinjan airfield, and tea estate laborers did not possess adequate skills. Moreover, Japanese air attacks scared away the laborers. Construction equipment and supplies took over two weeks to arrive from Calcutta to Dibrugarh.

"The Assam Valley of India on the Burma border was one of the two worst areas of the world where U.S. servicemen were stationed, the other being the Aleutian Islands of Alaska."
— Comment by the War Department, 1943. Robert James Kadel, "Where I Came In-- " in China, Burma, India - Volume 2

My father recalled that most of the US servicemen in Dinjan were "fairly young soldiers... they walked around the villages with beer cans in their hands and shot monkeys that were destroying paddy fields." He added, "There were air raids by the Japanese in Chabua and Dinjan." In 1942, Japanese aircraft bombed Dinjan and Chabua airfields, and also scored hits at Mohanbari and Sookerating.

Several C-47s took off and landed at Dinjan Airfield. Dinjan, and particularly Chabua Airfield, played a crucial role in the operation of the "Hump Route."

"The Hump" was the nickname given to the dangerous airlift route over the Himalayas, which connected India to China. Aircraft based in Dinjan and nearby airfields transported supplies and personnel over the Himalayan Mountains to support Chinese and American forces fighting against Japanese occupation in China.

Abandoned after WWII, the area is now under the protective custody of the Indian Air Force. The airfields and infrastructure built in Dinjan remained significant for post-war civilian and military use. The military presence in the region continued to have an impact on the local economy and infrastructure development.

Insignia from WWII — Assam Draggins and CBI Theater.


The 25th Fighter Squadron undertook combat missions over "The Hump." Pilots navigating these treacherous routes frequently encountered severe weather conditions, high altitudes, and unpredictable terrain while transporting essential supplies and equipment. The moniker "Assam Draggins" cleverly alluded to the P-40 aircraft's tail-dragger configuration and the pilots' need to skillfully "drag in" during their passes because of the challenging terrain.

The CBI patch was a shoulder sleeve insignia worn by American military personnel. The insignia was a symbol of the unique and demanding nature of service in this theater and a mark of honor for those who served there during the war.

WWII censor cover

World War II censor cover

A WWII censor cover from 1944, which was sent from Dinjan [APO 487], India to Shrub Oak [New York], USA. The United States 443d Troop Carrier Group was deployed in Dinjan when this letter was sent.

During WWII, censor covers from Assam to the US were envelopes or pieces of mail that were subject to censorship by the military or postal authorities. These censor covers were an integral part of wartime communication, ensuring that sensitive information was not leaked to the enemy. They often had specific markings or labels indicating that the contents had been inspected and approved by the censor. Censor covers played a crucial role in maintaining operational security and were used to protect military information. They are now considered valuable historical artifacts and are collected by philatelists and historians interested in the wartime postal history of the era.

From the World War II Servicemen's Correspondence Collection, 1941-1945, San Diego State University, read Cpl. R.E. Bresnahan's correspondence from India [most likely from Dinjan] to the registrar at San Diego State University, inquiring about the possibility of continuing his education after quitting "to go to work."

WWII comic strip

World War II comic strip

A 1943 American newspaper comic strip depicting the US Army in Assam during WWII.

During WWII, various comic strips and cartoons played a significant role in propagating war-related messages, such as supporting the troops or raising awareness about various aspects of the war effort. These comic strips were often published in newspapers and magazines of the time.

Additionally, during WWII, the United States military published a weekly magazine called Yank. You can view a collection of Yank from The Online Books Page, a resource of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dinjan Airfield


It has been reported* that during an air raid around Dinjan, "Colonel Gerry Mason found the staff placidly watching an air raid. He barked affectionately: "Take cover, you dumb bastards." From then on the official title was Dumbastapur, and it was so marked on maps."

*The Hump: The Historic Airway to China was Created by U.S. Heroes" by Theodore White. LIFE, September 11, 1944.

Perforated/pierced steel planking - Marston Mat on a building wall.

Perforated/pierced steel planking - Marston Mat

My father said, "When the Americans were moving in, it used to be loud at night because their big trucks would get stuck in the mud and the engines would roar as the tires spun."

Steel planking was laid down on muddy roads to help vehicles pass through without getting stuck. Additionally, they were utilized in airfield construction. Some of the planking left behind by the US Army found its way into nearby homes, where it is used for ventilation. Some local business-minded individuals made their fortunes by selling the rations left behind.

My mother said, "We used to get candy packets thrown to us by white soldiers when they passed by in their vehicles. These packets were flat and slender, and each contained candies wrapped in shiny paper. I had never seen candy like that before." Wrigley's chewing gum may be the candy my mother was referring to.

Dinjan had 16 warehouses to store ration, supply reserve, ordnance and quartermaster supplies. Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services was headquartered in Nazira. 

Woman weaving on a loom.

In and around Dinjan

The villages around Dinjan provide an opportunity to experience Assamese culture and traditions.

Traditional Assamese textile designs are symbolic of its tribes and ethnic groups. The woven designs typically depict traditional Assamese musical instruments, flowers, birds, etc. 

Muga silk is native to Assam. This silk is derived from a worm that produces golden-colored yarn. A Geographical Indication tag is assigned to muga silk and its products.

Hand weaving is an art form that is disappearing from the villages of Assam. Traditional looms are being replaced by power looms. Rising yarn prices and a proliferation of cheap imitation silk make it difficult for Assamese weavers to earn and sustain a livelihood.



There can’t be any more humble yet magnificent example of Assamese identity than the gamusa [pronounced ga-moo-SA]. A gamusa is rectangular in shape, woven on a traditional Assamese loom with white and red cotton thread.

It is customary to welcome guests with a gamusa, which is draped around her/his neck with love and respect. For guests, the gamusa becomes a souvenir of warmth, kindness and simplicity for which the Assamese are identified.

There are nine types of gamusa, which have been included in the Geographical Indication tag. 

Community fishing in a village near Dinjan.

Community fishing

Community fishing is a traditional practice where local communities come together to collectively engage in fishing activities. This communal fishing is a cultural and social event that fosters a sense of unity and cooperation among villagers. 

Typically organized during the monsoon season when floodwaters inundate low-lying areas, community fishing involves setting up makeshift bamboo traps [or using jakoi and khaloi] and nets to catch fish as they migrate during the floods. The occasion serves to promote a strong sense of community bonding, where the catch is often distributed among participants or sold to generate income for the community. Community fishing not only sustains local traditions but also supports the economic well-being of the people in the region.

Traditional Assamese household items made out of bamboo.

Traditional Assamese household items

These are miniature versions of traditional Assamese household items. The items are made out of bamboo. 

A house near Dinjan, Assam.

The opportunity and possibilities

Dinjan performed a critical role during World War II. Few are aware of the challenges that existed then and how they were overcome—incessant monsoons, malaria, basic accommodations and rations, limited lines of communication, and more.

Dinjan's significance during World War II illustrates how a seemingly remote region could play a pivotal role in a global conflict, demonstrating the importance of strategic locations and international cooperation during times of war.

A visit to the region, coupled with an opportunity to view the CBI Theater airfield, can offer an unparalleled perspective of how life was between 1942-1945 for the young men and women of the US and other Allied leaders.

Dinjan should be recognized as a significant historical marker that provides an opportunity to reflect upon the sacrifices made. This can help us build a world that future generations can be proud of. Additionally, the possibilities of sightseeing and educational travel programs to Dinjan, as well as tours by leading historians with local guides, can contribute to the growth of the region. This will help it gain national and international prominence.

Related Dinjan Resources:

Henry Byroade Oral History Interview
Source: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

U.S. Army in World War II
Source: The Public’s Library and Digital Archive

Roberts, David Neal (Oral history)
Source: Imperial War Museums

Severson, Bob (Oral history)
Source: Imperial War Museums

Private Papers of Mrs V Downing
Source: Imperial War Museums

The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume One [PDF]
Source: Office of Air Force History Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Defense

Over the Hump to China, by John T. Correll
Source: Air Force Magazine

Elmer Halfmann’s WWII Experiences, as related to Mitchell H. Halfmann
Source: Angelo State University

Uncle Bill’s WWII, by Joy Neal Kidney
Source: joynealkidney.com

Merrill’s Marauders (February-May 1944)
Source: United States. War Department. General Staff · 1945 [Google Books]

Letter from Jacob S. Fassett (Hostel Manager, Dinjan; CNAC 1942 – 1945)
Source: cnac.org

CHINA – BURMA – INDIA: Remembering the Forgotten Theater of World War II
Source: cbi-theater.com

Among the Headhunters: An extraordinary World War II story of survival in the Burmese jungle, by Robert Lyman
Source: The Internet Archive

Dinjan in 2010 [PDF]
Source: cnac.org

Prelude to Assam
Source: From Lost to Found Travels

Golightly, E. & Gaum, C. H. (1941) Carl Henry Gaum Collection. [Personal Narrative]
Source: Retrieved from the Library of Congress

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