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Fly Boys of the Generalissimo (cont'd)

Since the Japanese had not developed any airfields in Shanghai yet, there were only two options they could use to fulfill their mission. When the Japanese realized the Chinese Army's 87th and 88th Divisions were moving into Shanghai on August 11, they ordered two light aircraft carriers, Hosho and Ryujo, to form up the 1st Carrier Division under the command of the 3rd Fleet (with the cruiser Izumo as its flagship). They left the port of Sasebo next day for the Ma-An-Shan Islands area, 132 kilometers east from Shanghai, to prepare for their mission.

At the same time, the heavy aircraft carrier Kaga was also escorting transports carrying army units to reinforce the Japanese Marines. Aboard Kaga, there were 16 Mitsubishi B2M2 attack aircrafts, 13 Yokosuka B3Y attack aircrafts, 14 Aichi D1A1 dive bombers and 16 Nakajima A2N carrier fighters. The missions for the carrier-based aircraft were to destroy the Chinese air bases in the coastal areas, while providing air support for the Japanese ground force.

Beside the aircraft carriers, the Japanese also used their colonies such as Formosa and Korea to conduct "transoceanic bombing" against the inland Chinese air bases. The Kanoya Kokutai's bomber daitai (Group), with 18 Mitsubishi G3M Model 21 long-range bombers under Lieutenant Nitta's command, was integrated into the 1st Rengo Konutai and advanced to Matsuyama airfield located in Taihoku (now Taipei), Formosa. With the lesson learned from the Spanish Civil War, the target for their strategic bombing missions would also include Chinese cities and traffic facilities. It was certainly the way how the Japanese believed that they could end the war sooner by scaring the Chinese soldiers and civilians to surrender themselves to the "benevolent" Japanese Empire, instead of being used unwisely by the "brutal" Chinese Nationalist Government.

Chinese Air Force response

CAF Northrop 2-E
CAF Northrop 2-E with the Chinese Nationalist roundels

Realizing full-scale war with Japan was inevitable, the Aviation Committee of the Chinese Nationalist Government issued Order No. 1 to modify their original battle plans on August 13. With this order, Shanghai areas now replaced North China to become the major battlefield for the Chinese Air Force. The 2nd Bomb Group, 4th Pursuit Group, and 5th Pursuit Group were ordered to move to Tsining, Chienchiu and Yangchow before noon on August 14. In the Central Aviation School of Chienchiu, the instructors and cadets were also ordered to establish three provisional squadrons: 32nd (bomb), 34th (Pursuit) and 35th (bomb). These became the first Chinese air units to confront the Japanese in the Shanghai areas. Instead of fighting a defensive war, the Chinese Air Force immediately issued Order No. 2 on Saturday, August 14, and it directed all the air units in the Eastern China bases to launch attacks on the Japanese positions in Shanghai. Besides fighting the Japanese, the Chinese pilots would also have to face a huge typhoon that was striking the city on the same day.

The first air raid took place around 8:40 in the morning, when 21 Northrop Gamma 2E bombers led by Commander Sun Tong-Gang attacked the Japanese ships at Wusong. After that, the Kuang-Ta Cotton Factory, where the Japanese command post located, was under heavy attacks as well by both Chinese planes and Chinese soldiers. The Chinese certainly wanted to drive the Japanese out from the city by occupying this building.

Using Hawk III biplanes as both bombers and fighters, 8 planes (each with one 250 kg bomb) of the 5th Pursuit Group under the command of Ting Chi-Hsu took off from Yangchow to launch the second wave of attack against the Japanese ships near Nantong. During this attack, Lt. Liang Hong-Wen in Hawk III # 2401 was credited with a hit on the stern of a "Japanese" ship. The Chinese was actually attacking the British cruiser Cumberland, and instead of hitting it, the Chinese pilots near missed it. Visibility was terribly bad that day. Two bombs also exploded near USS Augusta (CA-31), an American cruiser from the Asiatic Fleet, but fortunately no one was killed.

In the afternoon, the Chinese Air Force attacked again. This time under Commander Liu Chui-Kang, three Hawk IIIs from the 24th Squadron of 5th Group again attacked the Ta-Kuang Cotton Factory. This time, a bigger accident occurred when the Chinese pilot accidentally dropped a bomb on Nanking Road of the International Settlement. Eventually Shanghai suffered over 1700 civilians dead and 1800 others wounded.

According to the American advisor, Claire Lee Chennault, the Chinese pilots were trained to bomb from 7500 feet, but with the thick clouds blocking their vision in the sky, they were forced to drop the bombs from a lower altitude. Without adjusting their bombsights, the Chinese dropped their bombs at 1500 feet. The young Chinese pilots were too simply inexperienced to make the kind of adjustment for accurate bombing under the difficult circumstance. The result was a terrible disaster.

To compound their trouble, the Japanese Navy launched two Type 95 floatplanes to intercept the Chinese. Using the thick cloud as cover, one floatplane from the light cruiser Sendai attacked the 24th Squadron. The Hawk III flown by Lt. Liang Hong-Wen was damaged and made a forced landing. He later died of his injuries. Later in the afternoon, another floatplane from Izumo attacked Northrop 2E bombers from the 2nd Bomb Group. Lt. Chu Hong-Hsin was wounded in the arm while his gunner Lt. Ren Yun-Ge was hit in the chest and killed. The damaged Northrop managed to limp back to Hong-Chiao Airfield for forced landing.

CAF Chance-Vought Corsair
CAF Chance-Vought V-92C Corsair

With all those accidents, the young Chinese pilots continued to carry out their missions. By 14:40, three Chance Vought V-92C Corsairs of the 35th Squadron (provisional) appeared in the sky of Shanghai. Led by Squadron Commander Hsu Si-Lian, they provided the air support for the Chinese 87th Division to attack the Kuang-Ta Factory. Following that, five Hawk IIs and one Hawk III led by Captain Chow Ting-Fang attacked the same target. The Japanese floatplane which had damaged the Northrop as described earlier was attacked in turn by the 34th Provisional Squadron led by Chow Ting-Fang. The Japanese plane was hit 15 times and damaged before it was able to escape into cloud cover.

The Battle of Shanghai marked the first time Chinese Central Army enjoyed close air support from the air force. Unfortunately, due to difficult with ground-air communication and the general lack of experience coordinating close air support missions, the result left much to be desired. The Kuang-Ta Cotton Factory was never taken back by the Chinese soldiers. Although the Chinese had failed to drive the Japanese out before the Japanese reinforcement arrived, the Chinese Air Force was able to receive its first victory against the Japanese Navy Air Force bombers began attacking the Chinese bases.

continued in part 3