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

Fly Boys of the Generalissimo (cont'd)

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.

        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.

Bibliography

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