Flying Tigers

A Chinese view of Claire Lee Chennault

[A few years ago, I translated a new Japanese history of the air war in Burma with the help of a Chinese graduate student, Difei Zhang. She became interested in the Flying Tigers, as did her family in Shanghai, with the result that they produced this biography of Claire Chennault. It's not an exact translation: Difei read aloud from a faxed account, and I took notes from her narration. However, it gives the flavor of what can be regarded as the official Chinese view of the AVG and its founder--the equivalent, say, of an entry in a Chinese encyclopedia. I haven't corrected the account in any way, except to explain some references with a phrase in brackets. -- Daniel Ford]

On May 29, 1937, Claire Lee Chennault met Soong Mei-Ling [Madam Chiang Kai-shek], who had studied in Georgia. She wanted Chennault to be her professional consultant, and gave him two T-13 airplanes so he could reconnoiter Chinese airspace. He determined that the Chinese Air Force had a nominal strength of 500 aircraft.

When the Anti-Japanese War began, Chennault volunteered to serve. Chiang Kai-shek accepted the offer and asked him to go to Nanchang to lead the training of Chinese Air Force fighter pilots.

On August 14, 1937, CAF bombers took off and attacked the Japanese fleet at Shanghai. Though the bombers missed their aim, they got a great victory that day. By October, however, most of the Chinese fighting planes had been destroyed, with only 10 or so remaining. Many Chinese pilots had sacrificed their lives in the war.

Chennault managed to hire four French, three American, one Dutch, one German, and six Chinese fighter pilots for the International Fighter Plane Troop [also called the 14th Volunteer Squadron or the International Squadron]. They successfully attacked many Japanese positions and frightened them. In one afternoon, however, the Japanese counter-attacked and destroyed all of the squadron's planes.

On August 1, 1941, Chiang Kai-shek ordered a reformulation of the Chinese Air Force and the ways it could fight. He invited Chennault to participate by creating an American Volunteer Group to help the CAF. He gave Chennault the rank of general [in Chinese service].

Chennault began a professional training program, and after several months the AVG was ready to fight. In November 1941 it was reorganized into three combat squadrons: 1st Squadron Adam & Eves ("Summer Baby"), 2nd Squadron Panda Bears (no panda, but cartoon figures instead), and 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels (with a naked angel's picture on each plane).

On December 7, 1941, Chennault led the 1st and 2nd squadrons to Kunming. On December 20, a group of Japanese planes attacked Yunnan province, and in the Kunming airspace the Chinese Air Force came out to fight and win.

The Japanese had 10 planes, of which 6 were destroyed and 3 were damaged. The AVG was totally saved, and no aircraft was damaged. The victory gave much encouragement to the people of Kunming, who had a big celebration for the AVG. From then on, the local newspapers called them "Flying Tigers."

On December 23, 1941, Chennault took the 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels to Rangoon to help the British fight the Japanese. Over the next several months, the Americans and British fought 31 battles and shot down 217 Japanese planes.

On February 3, 1942, Soong Mei-ling telegraphed Chennault and appointed him vice-general [major general?] of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault before this time was an unknown U.S. Army captain, but now became internationally famous. This was a very dark period in the Pacific War, and Chennault's victories made the American people very happy.

In May 1942 the Japanese invaded Yunnan Province [from Burma]. To prevent a Japanese occupation, Chennault led the AVG to fight the Japanese transportation at Baoshan Tengchong, and Lionlang, preventing the Japanese from going into these cities. The Japanese transportation was bombed by the AVG.

On June 12, Chennault led two squadrons to Guilin. In combat, the AVG shot down 8 Japanese planes while losing only one of its own.

On July 3, Chennault according to U.S. Army order discharged the AVG and formed the 10th U.S. Air Force Group [USAAF 10th Air Force] 23rd Branch [23rd Fighter Squadron].

The American Volunteer Group had fought in China, India, and Burma for more than seven months. Its losses came to 12 planes shot down and 67 destroyed on the ground, meanwhile destroying 297 Japanese aircraft plus 150 planes damaged. In total, the members of the AVG sacrificed 26 of their lives.

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Rising Sun Over Burma

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