Dan Ford's books


Fly Boys of the Generalissimo

By Samuel Hui (photos from Ray Wagner)

Although the air battles between the Chinese and Japanese pilots above the sky of China from 1937 to 1941 was considered by Westerners a forgotten war, it was still too important for the people to deny. For the Japanese pilots, those were their first chance to earn experiences about fighting other pilots in the air. As for the Chinese pilots, those were absolutely deadly struggles for them to protect their motherland from the invaders.

Even for the Americans, it was their only chance to observe and learn about the planes and tactics used by their future enemy in the Pacific Theater. In order to understand how the war began, we should all look back on August 14, 1937 when everything started in Shanghai.

Creation of the Chinese Air Force

American adviser with 
Chinese cadets
Chinese flying cadets with E. D. Shannon, probably at Hangchou

Officially, the Republic of China Air Force under the Chinese National Government was formed in April 1931 when the Chinese Aviation School was founded in Chienchiu near the city of Hangchou. For China, it was a chaotic period when the Central Government was facing both internal and external challenges. The Japanese had occupied Manchuria on September 18, 1931, and then soon was in conflict with the Chinese Army in Shanghai on January 28, 1932. Flying early aircraft such as Junkers K-47 built by Germany, Blackburn Lincock built by Great Britain and Waco 240A built by the United States of America, the Chinese Air Force took off and began their first limited air war with the Japanese. Unfortunately, this war ended too fast before the Chinese pilots had any chance to shoot down Japanese planes. Notice that alone American pilot named Robert Short flying a Boeing 218 biplane, attacked a Japanese bomber formation from aircraft carrier Kaga on February 22, and killed their officer. Then Short was shot down and killed by the Japanese, but he was still considered the very first pilot who took action against the Japanese invaders in the sky of China.

After the First Shanghai incident ended, the Chinese Nationalist government realized it was time for them to reform its air force to prepare for future conflict with the Japanese. The first step Chiang Kai-Shek took was to hire a group of American advisors consisting of 17 men led by retired Major John H. Jouett of the United States Army Air Corps. Their mission was to create a modern Chinese Air Force with the American system.

On September 1, 1932, the Chinese Aviation School was renamed Central Aviation School, which is considered the first time for China to have a national aviation school against those formed in different provinces by various warlords. In 1933, the Chinese also hired Roberto Lordi to lead a group of Italian advisors to train Chinese pilots at the Luoyang Campus of the Central Aviation School. By this time, there were both American and Italian training systems inside the Chinese Air Force, which later brought many problems in the early phase of the war.

Flying Tigers

Beside the external challenge brought to China by the Imperial Japanese Army, the Chinese Central Government faced various internal problems. For China's top leaders during that period, the threat of Japan was really like a "problem of the skin" compared to the challenges from different local warlords and Communists, who were considered the "problem of the heart" by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. In some points, this kind of concern was true for China because it obstructed the Central Government effort to form a united national military force to defend China from any outside invaders.

Chinese Air Force Fleet
American-built Fleet trainer of the Chinese Air Force

China never had a united air force until 1936 when the pilots from Canton and Kwangsi Provinces defected to Nanking, the Nationalist capital. After that, the Chinese finally had a chance to establish the Central Aviation Committee to organize and command all Chinese air force units. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek became Secretary of the Aviation Committee, while General Chou Chih-Jou was appointed the Chief Advisor. With this process, the Chinese Air Force became totally under the Generalissimo control.

Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese Communist Party temporarily agreed to unite against the Japanese. Full-scale war between China and Japan began even though both sides refused to declare war officially against each other, on July 7, 1937, in Peiping (Beijing).

After the war outbreak, the Chinese Air Force consisted of 9 Groups and 4 independent squadrons (each squadron with 9 aircraft). When the Chinese 29th Army began to resist the Japanese Army in North China, the Chinese Nationalist soon ordered all flight units to get ready to fly ground support missions for the army in the North. The 2nd Bomb Group with Northrop Gamma light bombers and the 4th Pursuit Group with Curtis Hawk-III biplanes soon moved to Chou Chia-Kou Air Base in Honan Province. By this time, all the Chinese pilots were waiting for their first chance to show the Japanese what they had prepared for those years.

Japanese war plans

While the Japanese Army advanced in the North, Japanese marines in Shanghai were also in conflict with the Chinese Nationalist Army. But this time, they were facing Chiang Kai-Shek's best forces, three divisions of Chinese Central Government Army trained by the German advisors. On August 13, 1937, the leaders of both nations realized that they were in a war of no return that was far different from any limited clashes they had before in Manchuria, North China and Shanghai.

Now the Chinese decided to fight a major battle to defend this international city of Shanghai in order to attract the attention from the international community in the hope that other nations would eventually pressure the Japanese to give up their ambition. As for the Japanese, they planned to punish the Chinese resisting the Japanese Empire. They claimed that they would capture Shanghai and force China to submission in three months. While the Japanese Army was fighting in the North, the Japanese Navy was in charge of the fighting in Central China.

The Japanese Navy Air Force realized that the Japanese troops in Shanghai were outnumbered by the Chinese regular troops in that area. With the air support provided by the Chinese Air Force from Nanking and other air bases located in the coastal areas, the attempt by the Japanese marines to hold up the Nationalist Chinese troops would eventually fail. In order to prevent the Chinese army from wiping the Japanese out, the primary goal for the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force was to totally destroy the resistant morale by the air supremacy.

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.

A Vision So Noble

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.

Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

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.

Mitsubishi G3M
Japanese navy Mitsubishi G3M land-based bombers on a bombing run

The Fast Bombers

        While the Chinese Air Force began to attack the Japanese troops and ships around Shanghai, the Kanoya Kokutai stationed at Matsuyama Airfield in Taihoku, Formosa was also ready to launch its “transoceanic bombing”.  Having been strongly influenced by Italian airpower theorist Giulio Douhet, the Japanese believed that they could force Chiang Kai-Shek and his government to submit using only strategic bombing.  The raid on Guernica during the Spanish Civil War was certainly a good example of this theory in practice.  In order to achieve a total victory over the Chinese Nationalists, the Japanese planes planned to penetrate Chinese airspace and use superior speed to avoid fighter interception and drop their bombs in safety.  The invention of the schnellbomber (fast bomber) was just what the Japanese needed.

        The Mitsubishi G3M bomber was manufactured in 1934. By equipping two Mitsubishi Kinsei 41 (or 42?) radial engines, the speed of the G3M2 Model 21 bombers could reach a maximum speed of 232 mph and a cruising speed of 173 mph. Compared to the Curtis Hawk-III biplanes flown by the Chinese Air Force with a maximum speed of 225 mph and a cruising speed of 157 mph, the G3M was definitely faster. In any case, when the Chinese tried to intercept the Japanese bombers with their fighters, the G3Ms in group formation could also provide defense for each other with three 7.7mm machine guns mounted on each plane. The maximum bomb load of the G3M was about 8000kg (1765Ib) which made this bomber a decisive weapon for the IJNAF. The Hawk-III, by comparison, had only two .3 inch Browning machine guns and could carry only one 500Ib bomb.

        As Major General Chang Kuang-Ming, who back then was a young pilot with the 22nd Squadron, 4th Pursuit Group of the Republic of Chinese Air Force (ROCAF), pointed out, the Hawk-III was never really a fighter interceptor, but more of an attack plane.  The Chinese, ironically, were also heavily influenced by Douhet’s theories since the Chinese Air Force employed many Italians as flight instructors and advisors. The Hawk-III had originally been used in the same way as the G3M against warlord and Communist insurgents and had performed well in that role.  However, for General Chang and the rest of Chinese pilots, the war with Japan was a war unlike anything that they had encountered before and they suffered dearly from their lack of an adequate fighter plane.  As General Chang noted, the 4th PG would not have a real fighter plane until the Soviet built Polikarpov I-15bis arrived in late 1937 (The Chinese did receive some Boeing 281 (P-26), which was the only pure fighter used by China at 1937, but only 11 were received, and originally ordered by the warlord of Canton Province).

        Although it was not fully up to the task, the Hawk-III was the only option available in the early days of the war.  The Chinese Nationalists bought a total of 102 Curtis Hawk-III fighters from the United States.  Most of those biplanes were sent to China in crates and were assembled in Hangchow by the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO).  The first Hawk-III arrived in China on March 19th, 1936, and the ROCAF had 72 of them in operation when war with Japan broke out.  The 7th Squadron from the 3rd Pursuit Group, 21st, 22nd, 23rd Squadrons from the 4th Pursuit Group, and the 24th and 25th Pursuit Squadrons from the 5th Pursuit Group were the main CAF units receiving “New Hawks” to replace the Hawk-IIs they used to fly before.

The Only War We've Got

Early Encounter

       Originally, Vice Admiral Kiyoshi Hasegawa, Commander of the Japanese 3rd Fleet, planned to attack the Chinese airfields around Shanghai on August 14th following a Chinese Central Army offensive launched the day before. Because of bad weather in the area caused by a typhoon, the Japanese planned to delay their attack until the skies cleared. This plan was suddenly changed after Chinese fighters and bombers began to raid Japanese positions and ships in Shanghai during the morning.  Although the Chinese Air Force did not cause significant damage to the Japanese, Admiral Hasegawa ordered his aircraft to launch their counterattack against the Chinese airfields around 11:40.  With Japanese carrier aircraft unable to participate due to the typhoon, it fell to the G3Ms of the Kanoya Kokutai in Formosa to strike the Chinese airfields.

        The Kanoya Kokutai had eighteen G3M2 bombers and fourteen Nakajima A4N1 fighters.  Under Lieutenant Commander Shinichi Nitta, nine G3M2s were sent to bomb Chienchiu, where the Chinese Aviation School was located.  Another nine led by Lieutenant Commander Nantaro Asano were to bomb Kwangteh Airfield. With two 500lb bombs aboard each plane, both Nitta and Asano flights took off about 13:05 (Formosa Time) without fighter escort.  With the top speed of G3M2, the flight to both targets took about three hours. The bombers did not fly in group formation due to the danger of collision caused by poor visibility while flying through the typhoon. The Japanese also had to maintain their altitude below 500m (about 1641 feet) because of the poor visibility. Those actions eventually gave the Chinese pilots a good opportunity to taste their first air to air victories against Japan.

        Meanwhile, the air warning system set up by the Chinese detected the Japanese bombers when both formations reached Mainland China near Yungchia and Wenchou. Although this information was soon reported to General Chiang Chien-Jen, the Commander of Chienchiu Special Area Air Defense Zone, it was still very hard for the Chinese to distinguish whether those planes were Chinese or Japanese due to the bad weather. At the same time, the 4th Pursuit Group was ordered to enhance the air defense of the Hanchow-Shanghai Area, therefore all Hawk-IIIs were leaving Chou Chia-Kou Air Base in Northern China and moving back to Chienchiu under the Order No.2.

        At this point, the Headquarters Squadron had six Hawk-III which included the personal planes of both commander and vice commander, and four planes in reserve. Each of the three squadrons comprising the 4th Pursuit Group had nine Hawk-IIIs.  While all the planes flew directly from Chou Chia-Kou to Hanchow, Commander Kao Chi-Hang was still in Nanking for conference. The communication between planes was in bad shape as well, the pilots could not speak to each other in the air and the only thing they could was to do whatever ground control told them to do. Since the Hawk-IIIs had an open cockpit, it was also very difficult for the Chinese to fly them during rainy days.

        By 15:50, the sound of air raid sirens could be heard throughout the Hangchow area. The various flights of the 4th Pursuit Group began to land in Chienchiu Airfield after two hours in the air. Each of the Squadrons came in three smaller flight elements (consisting of 3 Hawk-IIIs).  The first squadron to reach its destination was the 21st led by Captain Lee Kuei-Tan.  Soon the 23rd Squadron led by Mao Ying-Chu began to touch down as well. However, the 22nd seemed to have disappeared. As the pilots climbed out of their planes, the ground crews warned them that the Japanese bombers were directly overhead. As Pilot Liu Chi-Sheng recalled, they had no time to worry about how much fuel still remained in their tanks or whether they were tired from their long, wet flight, all they could think of was to scramble as quickly as possible and try to gain as much altitude as possible. They only had about 40 minutes of flying time on average before their fuel ran out, but most of the Chinese pilots rose to the challenge eagerly.

        While the No.1 and No.2 flights of 21st Sq began to take off, the No.3 Flight remained on the ground to refuel.  Since most of the 4th Pursuit Group’s ground crews had remained behind in Chou Chia-Kou, the entire situation in Chienchiu was chaos. During this crucial moment, a DC-2 landed on the runway, and everyone realized that Col. Kao Chi-Hang was returning to Chienchiu from Nanking.  The first thing Col. Kao did was run into the combat control room for a mission briefing and then he rushed out to find his personal plane, numbered “IV-I” on the fuselage (it had been flown to Chienchiu by pilot Chao Shi-Rhong of the 23rd Squadron).  As soon as he found his Hawk-III, he ordered every pilot on the ground to take off with him. Pilot Wang Yin-Hua remembered that he told Col. Kao they had ran out of fuel, but their commander replied that they must take off even if there was no fuel at all in their tanks.

Hawk III fighter bomber
Colonel Kao's Hawk III fighter bomber of the CAF 4th Pursuit Group

Tales of the Flying Tigers

Aerial Engagement over Chienchiu

        As Col. Kao ordered, the Hawk-IIIs from the 21st and 23rd Squadrons began to take off. Because the number of pilots in Chuienchiu exceeded the number of available Hawk-IIIs, those pilots with lesser experience had to give up their places to those with more experience. As soon as those Chinese flyboys were in the air, they began searching for the Japanese bombers.  At this moment, the Nitta flight was flying into Chienchiu from the northeast at an altitude of 500m.  Soon the No.1 Shotai (each Shotai consisted of three bombers) led by Nitta himself was spotted by Lieutenant Tan Won of the 21st Squadron, and the attack began. The No.1 and No.2 G3Ms reacted by climbing into higher altitude in order to avoid attack by the Chinese without dropping their bombs, and this left the No. 3 G3M flown by Petty Officer 3rd Class Momosaki Iyoshio as the only target for the Chinese pilots.

        This No. 3 G3M dropped its two bombs causing minimum damage to the airfield. Tan Won fired several bursts at the tail of the G3M before Col. Kao Chi-Hang followed up and joined the attack. Kao quickly noticed that Tan was shooting at his target from out of effective range.  Kao had more experience, however, and flew closer to the G3M and killed two gunners aboard the planes with short bursts.  He then flew as close as 20m and attacked the left engine of the G3M, which eventually sent the bomber plummeting to the ground in flames. This is considered the first air to air victory for the Republic of China Air Force.  After shooting down the first Japanese bomber, Col. Kao spotted the No.2 G3M piloted by Yamashita Fujio from the No.3 Shotai, and he increased speed as he set up his second attack.  He crippled the left engine of that G3M as well with 73 hits, but was forced to abandon his attack since he was out of fuel.

        Meanwhile, Captain Lee Kuei-Tan was leading his wingmen, Lieutenant Wang Wen-Hua and Lieutenant Liu Chi-Sheng to attack the No. 3 G3M from the No.3 Shotai piloted by Petty Officer 1st Class Mitsui Yanase. All three of them made passes at the Japanese bomber and finally brought it down near Chiaosi.  Since the Japanese bombers flew into the Chienchiu area separately, it was hard for them to form a coordinated defense against the Hawk-IIIs, which were more maneuverable. As General Chang Kuang-Ming noted, the reason why the Chinese were able to earn such a victory was because of many lucky breaks, and the decision of Vice Admiral Kiyoshi Hasegawa to carry out the bombing mission in bad weather was among the most significant. During the first day the Japanese began their “transoceanic bombing” strategy, the Chinese had proven that even the fast bombers could be defeated.  Since it was impossible for any Japanese fighters at that point to fly from Taiwan to Hanchow area directly, it was impossible to send their Nakajima A4N1s to protect the G3Ms (The Japanese had arrogantly believed that their bombers would not need any escorts against the Chinese).  Due to those reasons, the 4th Pursuit Group brought Chinese Air Force its first victory.

The Kwangteh Air Combat

        While the 21st and 23rd Squadrons landed at Chienchiu right before the Japanese G3Ms came in, the 22nd Squadron led by Captain Huang Kuang-Han lost contact with the other two squadrons.  They landed at Kwangteh on 15:10 to refuel and by 16:20, all the Hawk-IIIs of the 22nd were ready to leave and began to take off for Chienchiu. At 18:00, the Asano flight arrived at Kwangteh.  According to the Chinese source, nine Japanese G3Ms flew into the target area in “V” formation. The first Chinese pilot who encountered the intruders was Captain Chow Ting-Fang from the 34th Provisional Squadron, who was testing his Hawk-III.  Even without any ammunition in his guns, Chow still dived into the Japanese formation bravely.  Chow’s actions caused the Japanese formation to panic and disperse into three smaller flights. During the confusion, only one Japanese bomb was dropped on Kwangteh airfield.

        As the scattered Asano flight rushed out from Kwangteh, some of the aircraft flew over to Chienchiu.  Back in Chienchiu, the Chinese Hawks from the 4th Pursuit Group had just landed and the pilots began to run back to their planes as soon as they spotted the Japanese bombers approaching.  Two Chinese pilots, Chin An-Yi and Liu Shu-Fan suddenly found out that they were out of fuel and the only chance for them to survive was to make a forced landing. Unfortunately, Liu Shu-Pan was killed when his plane crashed into a tree and he became the first pilot of 4th Pursuit Group to die in the War of Resistance.  While the G3Ms began to fly over Chienchiu, they ran right into the 22nd Squadron flying towards them.

        As Chang Kuang-Ming remembered, he spotted the Japanese formation with another pilot named Le Yi-Chin.  They signaled their Commander Huang Kuang-Han about this by wagging their wings. Huang then inexplicably ordered Chang and Le to rejoin their formation.  Although Huang decided to ignore the Japanese bombers, Flight Leader Cheng Hsiao-Yu managed to intercept them and began to attack the No.2 plane of the No.2 Shotai over Chao-Er. Cheng shot up the right engine and wing tank of this G3M piloted by Ogawa Hitoshi. and it ran out of fuel before reaching its base in Formosa.  After ditching close to a lighthouse near Keelung Harbor all the crewmen aboard the plane were rescued, but this still gave the Chinese Air Force their third victory during the first day of the battle.  The Japanese scattered their bombs around Chienchiu and only two railroad oil tank cars were destroyed on the railroad next to the airfield.

Rising Sun Over Burma

        According to Raymond Cheung’s research, Chow Ting-Fang’s heroic act in Kwangteh by running into Japanese formation was actually myth made up by Chinese war correspondent such as Liu Yi-Fu. The truth might be that the G3M flown by Ogawa Hitoshi was actually attacked by Chow Ting-Fang instead of Cheng Shao-Yu. This is the reason why eventually this plane had to take force landing before reaching the main island of Formosa. 

        The No.2 G3M from No.3 Shotai of Nitta Flight, which was damaged by Col. Kao Chi-Hang, successfully reached Matsuyama Airfield, but the Yamashita plane itself was scrapped by the Japanese. While four G3Ms were lost in the air combat, only two Chinese Hawk-IIIs were damaged and only one pilot was killed. This was definitely the biggest victory in the history of the ROCAF.  However, for more than 50 years afterwards, the Chinese Nationalist Government declared that their pilots had shot down six Japanese bombers over Chienchiu. Although the ratio was actually only 4 to 0 when comparing the information from both Chinese and Japanese sources, it is still considered an important page in the history of Chinese military aviation. Because of that, August 14th is considered by the Republic of China as “Air Force Day”. Even today, Air Force Bases in Taiwan are open to the public in the middle of August to celebrate this important day.

The 814 Spirit

    August 14th is considered very important by the Chinese Air Force and this idea was strengthened later on during a smaller air combat between the ROCAF and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) near the China Coast in 1958. Again, it took place on August 14th, and this time F-86 Sabers from the 5th Fighter Group of the ROCAF claimed three PLAAF MiG-17s (Actually only one was downed). It was then considered the “Second 814” by the Chinese Air Force.  By looking at both “814s”, it is not too hard for us to imagine why this date was so important to Nationalist China because it was a symbol of Chinese pilots with weaker airplanes, defending their homeland from powerful enemies, first the Japanese and then the Communists.

        The 4th Pursuit Group followed the Nationalist Government to Taiwan in 1949, and now it is reorganized as the 455th Tactical Wing. Equipped with F-16A/B Block 20 jets, the pilots of the Republic of China Air Force continue to carry out their burden to defend the freedom and democracy of Taiwan. Last year, the Government of Taiwan celebrated the 70th Anniversary of Chinese Air Force Day.  The ROCAF was finally allowed to demonstrate its power in the sky of Taipei for the first time in seventeen years.  At the beginning of the Air Show, the leading flight was made up of the F-16s from the 455th FW in Chiayi Air Force Base.  Ironically, the first place for those younger generation pilots to demonstrate their power was above the Songshan Airport, which was back then named Matsuyama Airfield during the Japanese Colonial Era.


Mr. Fu Ching-Hui’s Review of the 814 Chienchiu Air Combat
Mr. Raymond Cheung’s analysis on the report from the Japanese Navy Air Force
Photos kindly provided by Ray Wagner and San Diego Aerospace Museum

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Get a signed copy

On this website: Front page | Flying Tigers | Chinese Air Force | Japan at War | Brewster Buffalo | Glen Edwards & the Flying Wing | Vietnam | War in the Modern World | The Spadguys Speak | Bluie West One | Poland 1939-1948 | Book Club | Book reviews | Question? | Google us | Website & webmaster | Site map

Other sites: Flying Tigers: the book | Daniel Ford's blog | Daniel Ford's books | Facebook | Piper Cub Forum | Raintree County | Reading Proust | Expedition Yacht Seal

Posted June 2019. Websites © 1997-2019 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.