Now Comes Theodora

Curtiss-Wright CW-21 "Demon"

Richard L. Dunn ©2005

1. Genesis of the CW-21

William Douglas Pawley—any story of the CW-21 that does not start with his name misses the man who claimed to inspire its creation, was involved in financing its initial development, and obtained the first production order for it. By 1939 Pawley was the most successful salesman of American aircraft and aircraft equipment to the Chinese [footnote 1]. Pawley was both an entrepreneur and a visionary whose claims to fame include establishing the first aircraft manufacturing plant in China [2] as well as the first in India [3].

William Pawley as a U.S. government official As President of Intercontinent Corporation and its affiliate the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) he was the executive responsible for recruiting and employing the pilots and ground personnel of the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G.) or Flying Tigers as recounted in Dan Ford's Flying Tigers. His aircraft plant in India was converted to the primary overhaul and repair depot for the U.S.A.A.F. 10th Air Force as well as other Allied air units in eastern India from 1942 to 1945 [4]. Post-war Pawley was appointed Ambassador to two South American nations and his staunch anti-communist views saw him involved in the successful over throw of the left leaning regime in Guatemala in 1954 and less successful attempts to oust Castro's regime in Cuba in the 1960s [5]. [Photo: William Pawley as a U.S. government official postwar]

Pawley represented the Curtiss-Wright Corp. in China and was instrumental in selling Curtiss Hawk fighters and establishing an aircraft manufacturing plant at Hangchow prior to the start of war in 1937. Pawley was in the United States when the war started but went to China and observed the first months of air operations. According to Pawley his observations "led me to conclude that China needed a fast interceptor with a high rate of climb and excellent maneuverability. I therefore returned to the United States and at great engineering and manufacturing expense to my companies we produced the Curtiss Model 21 Interceptor Fighter" [6].

The Model 21 or CW-21 had its first flight on 22 September 1938 [7]. In March 1939 Pawley sponsored demonstrations of both the CW-21 and a P-36 in Chungking and Chengtu. Before the summer was over he had obtained a contract for the sale of one completed CW-21 and components for 33 more in addition to one completed P-36 and components for another 55 [8]. The unassembled fighters were to be produced at Pawley's CAMCO plant, which after Japanese incursions was, in late 1939, relocated to Loiwing in the western province of Yunnan near the Burmese border and Burma Road.


Curtiss-Wright was a premier aircraft manufacturer in Depression era America. It also produced aircraft engines. Its main aircraft production facility was in Buffalo, New York, and engines were produced in New Jersey. A separate facility with its own heritage (and today a site of Boeing F-15 and F/A-18 production) was located in St. Louis (St. Louis Aeroplane Division of Curtiss-Wright Corp., Robertson, Mo.).

Curtiss-Wright in Buffalo designed the P-36 that was a contemporary of the Hawker Hurricane and Messerschmitt Bf-109. A low-wing monoplane of all metal construction, it was a leading example of what was then the forefront of modern aviation and far advanced over the P-12 and P-26 in American pursuit squadrons. St. Louis was also designing advanced aircraft in the late 1930s. The CW-19R a two-seat trainer and general-purpose military aircraft had been designed and built there. This was also a low wing monoplane of all metal construction and advanced design. Also on the drawing boards was the CW-20 an advanced transport aircraft that eventually performed its most notable service in the China-Burma-India (C.B.I.) Theater as the C-46.

Model 19
Model 19 precursor of the CW-21

The CW-19 was a sleek looking aircraft to whose design the CW-21 obviously owed much. The earlier aircraft had fixed landing gear housed in streamlined spats. The new interceptor (CW-21) was designed with retractable landing gear. The landing gear retracted into a bulged fairing under the wing. The Buffalo designed P-36 also used a bulged fairing but had a complicated mechanism involving a 90-degree rotation of the wheel before placement flush into the wing.

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

With the CW-21 designed and built, and a contract in hand, other designs related to the CW-19 and CW-21 soon sprang from the drawing boards at St. Louis. The CW-22 was essentially a CW-19 that incorporated the retractable landing gear of the CW-21. With less power and performance than the CW-21 it was suitable as a combat trainer, reconnaissance or general-purpose aircraft.

The CW-23 was a two-place fighter trainer with an advertised maximum speed of 325 m.p.h. It was clearly based on the CW-21 but featured a revised landing gear scheme in which the gear folded inward flush with the wing under surface.

The photograph and story of the CW-22 were featured in American Aviation of January 15, 1940. The CW-23 appeared in the March 1st edition of the same publication. The April 15th edition highlighted the completion of flight tests of the first production CW-21 (first flight was on March 20th). The text contained the claim of a climb rate "well over 5,000 feet in 60 seconds" a claim that was to be repeatedly made in Curtiss advertisements for the interceptor.

First production CW-21
First production CW-21 March/April 1940

The CW-21B appeared in the January 1st, 1941 edition of American Aviation where the claim of "greatest climbing plane in the world" and vertical mile in a minute performance were repeated. There seems to be little doubt the CW-21 had excellent climb performance but the claim for an initial climb rate over 5,000 feet per minute is not supported by the data in this article. The author has found no details to substantiate the claim though the prototype CW-21 may have attained a climb rate of 4,800 feet per minute.[9]

Profile study of CW-21
Profile study of the CW-21

The CW-21B was a development of the original aircraft incorporating the flush fitting, inward retracting landing gear used on the CW-23, and other refinements. Curtiss sold twenty-four CW-21Bs to the Netherlands East Indies (N.E.I.) Air Force and also made sales of the CW-22 to the N.E.I. and other customers.


Most sources state that the CW-21 mounted one .50 caliber and one .30 caliber machine gun [10]. In contrast, the American Aviation article of April 1940 described the initial production version of the CW-21 as mounting four synchronized machine guns. The article stated maximum speed was "over 300 mph." This jibes with later sources that generally place the CW-21's maximum speed at 304 mph at 12,000 feet [11]. The CW-21B's speed is cited as 312 mph at 12,000 feet and 315 mph at 17,000 feet. Both the American Aviation article and a more extensive description of the CW-21B published in Aeronautics in August 1941 mention a "guaranteed maximum level speed" of 333 mph. This was attained at 18,000 feet. It seems possible Curtiss obtained faster speeds with an aircraft flown without a radio and other gear referred to as "optional equipment" in the Aeronautics article. If a speed of 333 mph was obtained, the engine may have been operated above its normal maximum rating of 2,100 rpm.

In describing how the CW-21B was equipped Aeronautics said normal equipment included provision for two Colt .50 caliber machine guns and two Colt .30 caliber machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller disc. Optional armament was said to include two pairs of the same weapons mounted in the wings. Additional fuel tanks could be fitted. Radio and oxygen equipment was also described as optional.

CW-21 three-view

100 Hawks for China

The design incorporated a "tell-tale" warning system to advise the pilot of improper operating conditions. This was illustrated in American Aviation in March 1940. It was simply a series of eight panel lights that indicated "fuel press low", "oil press low", "mixture lean", or "high blower" and so forth. At the time this was considered an advanced feature.

Curtiss engineers took pains to keep the aircraft's weight low by carefully selecting each piece of equipment to be incorporated. All major structural components other than landing gear and engine were constructed of stressed aluminum alloy sheet generally 24ST Alclad. Where aerodynamics were involved flat head rivets were used.

The wing was of internally braced cantilever construction made in three sections. The center section incorporated the landing gear and was integral with the fuselage. This allowed the aircraft to be rolled around with the outer wing panels removed. The wing incorporated a split trailing edge flap and ailerons that were both of all metal construction.

The fuselage was of semi-monocoque construction covered with aluminum alloy. The fuselage was riveted to both the wing center section and fixed parts of the empennage to form a single integral unit. The engine mount was made of chrome molybdenum tubular steel with a steel tube engine-mounting ring. This was attached to the fuselage by four "quick detachment" fittings.

The main landing gear were 27 in. smooth contour tires with wheels mounted on cantilever shock absorber struts. Toe pedals mounted on the rudder pedals could individually control hydraulically operated brakes. In contrast with the original CW-21 design the CW-21B featured a retractable, steerable tail-wheel.

The Wright Cyclone R-1820-G5 direct drive engine was fitted with a two-speed supercharger and non-icing carburetor. The propeller was the three bladed automatic constant speed type.

A stainless steel exhaust collector directed exhaust gases out of the bottom of the engine cowling. The cowling, made of alloy sheet reinforced with channel and hat section stiffeners, was constructed in three 120-degree sections and fixed to the upper section of the fuselage so that no exhaust gases entered the cockpit. A sealed fireproof and heatproof bulkhead of aluminum alloy with an asbestos core separated the power plant from the fuselage.

The pilot's seat was adjustable and fitted with a safety belt. Complete engine controls including propeller and supercharger speed control were within easy reach. The cockpit was lighted and equipped with standard instrumentation. There was an internal battery and starter switch, flap and wobble pump controls. The cockpit was enclosed with an acrylic windscreen and sliding canopy. Immediately behind the pilot was a 1/4 in. steel bulkhead made both to protect him from enemy fire and for head protection in case of a turnover.

With a wing span of 35 feet and length of 27 feet 2 inches the CW-21B was not particularly small for its era but its empty weight of 3,382 pounds and loaded weight of 4,500 pounds testified to the weight saving measures taken by Curtiss engineers. Even so the CW-21B's loaded weight was 250 pounds heavier than the CW-21.

The CW-21B

The R-1820-G5 was rated at 1,000 hp at 2,200 rpm for take off and its normal sea level maximum rating at 2,100 rpm was 850 hp [12]. Normal maximum rating in first supercharger gear was 850 hp at 2,100 rpm and 6,000 feet and 750 hp at 15,200 feet in high supercharger gear. Curtiss credited the fighter with a maximum speed of 333 mph at 18,000 feet and 314 mph at 5,600 feet. Cruising speed was 282 mph at 12,200 feet. Cruising range was 630 miles. Climbing time to 13,120 feet (4,000m) was 4 minutes and to 16,400 (5,000m) was 5 minutes.

Here it might be worth commenting on the claims of an initial climb rate of over 5,000 feet per minute (Curtiss advertising) or even the slightly lower figure (4,500 feet per minute) mentioned in some sources [13]. The figures above show an average climb rate to both 4,000m and 5,000m as well as between those heights of 3,280 feet per minute. If the CW-21 actually climbed at initial rate approaching or exceeding 5,000 feet per minute but averaged 3,280 feet per minute to both 4,000 and 5,000 meters, its climb performance curve would look very strange when graphed out. In order to average 3,280 feet per minute to 4,000 meters after a start of nearly 5,000 feet in one minute its climb rate between 5,000 feet and 13,200 feet would average barely 2,700 feet per minute. The rate would then increase again to 3,280 feet per minute between 4,000 and 5,000 meters. This unlikely scenario appears even stranger when considering that at 5,600 feet the supercharger would bring the engine rating (850 hp at 2,100 rpm) up to exactly the same figures for sea level. In all likelihood claims for an initial climb rate much in excess of 4,000 feet per minute are probably vastly overstated and fail to represent the aircraft's performance under normal operating conditions. On the other hand an average climb rate of 3,280 feet per minute to 16,400 feet would certainly constitute outstanding performance.

The 1940 edition of Jane's All the World's Aircraft published climb figures of 4,800 feet per minute for the CW-21 and 4,500 feet per minute for the CW-21B. Maximum speed for the CW-21B was given as 333 mph consistent with the Curtiss "guarantee." In the 1941 edition of Jane's the speed for the CW-21B was revised to 314 mph at 12,200 feet. The 1941 Jane's made no mention of climb performance!

Flying Tigers

3. Interceptors to the Indies and China

Regarding the CW-21's armament the author has verified that the CW-21 demonstrated in China in 1939 carried only two machine guns, one each of .30 and .50 caliber [14]. However, Jane's reported the CW-21 could carry various armament combinations including two of each caliber gun, two .50 caliber above the engine and two .30 caliber below the engine. Both the Jane's report and the American Aviation report mentioning four machine guns relate to the 1940 production version of the CW-21 not the demonstrator flown in China in 1939. This difference in armament probably accounts for the difference in loaded weight for the CW-21 as given in The Aircraft Yearbook For 1939 (4092 pounds) and the loaded weight (4250 pounds) given in most sources.

The difference in performance between the CW-21 built for China and the CW-21B built for the N.E.I. was minimal. The added drag of the CW-21's landing gear fairings made it slightly slower. Drag plus a somewhat smaller fuel capacity gave the CW-21 a cruising range 100 miles less than the CW-21B. The lighter CW-21 climbed somewhat faster than the CW-21B (initially by 300 feet per minute according to Curtiss data).

CW-21 in Chinese markings
A rendition of the CW-21 in Chinese markings


The production of CW-21Bs began in early 1940 with an order for twenty-four aircraft from the N.E.I. government signed on April 17th. Completed aircraft were shipped to Java between October and mid-December 1940 with the entire lot assembled at Andir air base by February 1941.[15] The N.E.I. also ordered twenty CW-22s.

The CW-21Bs were assigned to the newly formed 2nd squadron of IV Flying Group (2-VlG-IV). A N.E.I. fighter squadron had a nominal strength of eleven aircraft (three flights of three aircraft each and two in immediate reserve) but 2-VLG-IV was organized with four flights.16 This increased the number of aircraft in tactical operation and immediate reserve while also maintaining additional aircraft in storage and depot reserve.

CW-21 before shipment
First production CW-21 before shipment

The tale of CW-21s bound for China is more complicated than the CW-21Bs that went to Java. At some point Pawley's contract was modified. The revised contract apparently called for shipment of three completed aircraft for assembly in China and thirty-two sets of components for production in China (completed engines and miscellaneous equipment plus sheet aluminum and other raw materials). In addition Pawley obtained a second contract for production of Vultee V-12 bombers. The exact sequence of events is not entirely clear. A memorandum from the U.S. Consulate in Rangoon states some components under the contracts arrived in Rangoon by February 1940 (suggesting they were shipped in late 1939). In any event it seems certain that the bulk of CW-21 components arrived in China by the summer of 1940.

The three crated CW-21s, produced in early 1940, had a different fate dictated by world events. In the summer of 1940 France had fallen to Germany and the Vichy Government ruled unoccupied France and its colonies. The British felt weak and exposed. War with Japan was the last thing they needed and under Japanese pressure, in mid-July 1940 they agreed to temporarily close the Burma Road. Shortly thereafter the Japanese induced the Vichy French colonial authorities in Indo-China to stop shipments to western China from the port of Hanoi via rail[17]. The only two important traffic routes to Nationalist China (discounting smugglers' mule trails and tenuous connections through the Soviet Union) were closed. The Curtiss fighters were caught in a logjam at Rangoon.

CW-21 in Chinese markings
CW-21 in Chinese markings

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

The supply line through Hanoi was permanently closed but by mid-October 1940 the British felt confident enough to let the temporary closure of the Burma Road lapse [18]. In the meanwhile the backlog of supplies for China at the port of Rangoon had become huge (56,000 tons according to one source). Inefficiency and bureaucracy at Rangoon and along the supply line was rampant. During late 1940 and early 1941 the Burma Road was bringing 4,000 tons of supplies per month to China [19]. This was a small fraction of the previous amount brought in by rail from Hanoi and only slowly reduced the backlog at Rangoon.

Meanwhile Pawley's CAMCO factory at Loiwing suffered an air raid. Japanese army bombers hit the factory apparently causing some damage to buildings and aircraft components but doing little damage to machine tools and other production equipment [20]. This raid occurred on 26th October 1940 when supplies from Burma were just beginning to roll past the plant located very close to the China-Burma border. Despite relatively light damage production activities at the factory came to a virtual standstill. Most production equipment was stored in dispersed lots in the local area to protect it from air attacks.

Even if the three crated CW-21s had been moved over the Burma Road their destination and assembly point were out of action. In autumn 1940 the British were not allowing warplanes for China to be assembled and tested in Burma. Permission for this type activity was not granted until the late spring of 1941 when the A.V.G.'s P-40s were assembled at Rangoon [21]. The CW-21s remained in their crates in a warehouse in Rangoon.

According to Ford in Flying Tigers many partially assembled CW-21s as well as Vultee bombers and trainers were destroyed in the bombing. Ford also says that Pawley equipped his new enterprise, the Hindustan Aircraft, Ltd. factory at Bangalore, India, with machinery and aircraft assemblies from Loiwing. The latter point is partially confirmed by a conversation Pawley had with State Department official Alger Hiss in March 1941. Pawley stated he had acquired most of the machine tools needed for the Bangalore plant "in the Orient" and had export licenses for the remainder amounting to 15-20% of the total. A memorandum from the U.S. Consul in Rangoon the following month indicated that the Chinese had agreed to the diversion of plant equipment not yet unpacked. Pawley wanted all the plant equipment to go to India and apparently had packed up some of it but the Chinese had not, at that point at least, agreed to completely dismantle the plant.

Regarding the CW-21s Pawley stated, the "33 Curtiss interceptor fighters are still to be manufactured. The raw materials for these planes are now in the Orient and negotiations are being carried on as to where manufacture will take place" [22]. This suggests the CW-21s had not been destroyed and is confirmed in the Consul's memorandum that makes reference to material for "about 30 Curtiss-Wright interceptors" that was to be retained by the Chinese government. The manufacturing sites being considered in addition to Loiwing were Kunming and Chungking. Pawley said that the Chinese were primarily interested in the Loiwing plant so that it would be available after the war and that it would be kept in operation at least as a repair facility.

4. The Curtiss interceptors in action

Pawley informed Hiss that he intended to return to Bangalore in about May 1941. It is clear that Pawley's interests thereafter were primarily absorbed by his work in India [23]. He may have had little interest in pursuing completion of the CW-21 production contract. Pawley's final connection with the CW-21 was his sale of the three crated CW-21s at Rangoon to the Chinese for use by the A.V.G. in the autumn of 1941 [24].

From Chinese sources comes word that two CW-21s were built by the Chinese. This is partially confirmed by a photograph taken at Kunming in the summer of 1942 showing a P-40 of the U.S. 16th Fighter Squadron under maintenance. In the background can be seen P-66s of the Chinese Air Force and two aircraft identifiable as CW-21s [25].

A report of the U.S. Consul in Kunming concerning his visit to First Aircraft Factory of the Commission on Aeronautical Affairs in May of 1942 reveals something about work there on an otherwise unidentified "plane" [26]. The factory itself was originally a project of the government of Canton but was moved to Kunming in 1938. Though well equipped it had been little utilized and its skilled Cantonese work force had gradually been reduced.

Early in 1942 its chief work was "making the frame, fuselage, and wing and fin sections of the plane, although other smaller appendages are also manufactured. Engines (Wright Cyclone, 9-cylinder, 840-h.p.), propellers (Hamilton), instruments, landing wheels and tires, as well as other parts of intricacy or precision have been imported from the United States." Principal materials for production also came from the United States. "Tubing, sheet metal, and armor-plate are principal materials by bulk, and these have been imported."

The report indicated materials were available for the production of a few dozen aircraft. Aircraft engines were the limiting factor in production. Managers of the plant feared that engines already in China might not be made available to the First Factory in quantities the factory's production capability would require. Production at the plant was "limited by the issuance to it of engines." There seems little doubt that the report described work on the CW-21s.

What use the Chinese made of the two CW-21s photographed on the airfield at Kunming has not been discovered by the author. Another unanswered question is vexing. In 1942 the Chinese were in need of, and, seeking both fighters and training aircraft. The CW-21 was capable of performing in at least one, if not both, of those roles. The First Aircraft Factory apparently could have produced CW-21s in quantity but did not do so. Instead, Cyclone engines imported for CW-21 production were apparently hoarded.

Tales of the Flying Tigers


The first CW-21 to reach the Orient was the original prototype sent to China as a demonstrator. This reached Rangoon by ship on January 24th, 1939, was barged up the Irrawaddy River and trucked to Loiwing, arriving February 28th [27]. By March it was being demonstrated at Chungking. It flew in mock combats against the Dewoitine 510 and Russian I-15 and I-16 fighters. In its final official demonstration on March 16th with Chennault and other officials present, the CW-21 engaged in a dogfight with an I-15 and was able to get on the tail of the maneuverable Russian fighter repeatedly by a steep climb followed by a wing-over. Curtiss pilot Robert Fausel wrote to the company stating, "the demonstration was very definite proof of the superiority of the Interceptor for dog fighting over any other airplane in the world. It impressed everyone, including myself."

There is a very interesting story in The St. Louis Lightweight written by Gerard Casius. According to Casius after the official demonstrations both Fausel with the CW-21 and pilot Arch McEwen and the Curtiss Hawk 75Q stood alert at Chungking with their aircraft fueled and armed. Casius relates that Fausel flew an uneventful patrol with I-15s on March 29th. Four days later, according to Casius, Chungking was bombed by the Japanese and Fausel took off to the sound of exploding bombs. Racing to 10,000 feet in two minutes he encountered a large formation of Japanese Fiat BR-20 bombers 75 miles east of Chungking. Fausel attacked and on his third burst his guns ran away exhausting his ammunition but not before he damaged a BR-20 that was later reported to have belly-landed and its crew captured in Chinese territory. This is a wonderful story that adds color to the history of the CW-21. The only problem is that no attack on or in the vicinity of Chungking took place during March or April 1939 [28]. If there is any substance to this report the incident probably occurred on May 3rd when Japanese navy bombers attacked Chungking. The demonstrator was turned over to the Chinese, reportedly suffered a crash in June 1939 and apparently was written off.

Brief comments on the CW-21 contained in a report of the U.S. Military Attaché in Chungking provide interesting insights into the performance of the demonstrator [29]. The report states that the aircraft mounted only two machine guns. Maximum speed was stated to be 310 mph. This was slightly faster than the later production version and suggests the demonstrator may have been flown more lightly loaded than the production aircraft. An altitude of 10,000 feet was reportedly attained in two minutes and ten seconds. This yields a climb rate of about 4,615 feet per minute. Based on the discussion of climb rate earlier in this article, the suspicion remains that this performance, if accurately reported, was obtained in a zoom climb rather than at a steady rate of climb under normal full power. This result, while lower than "vertical mile in a minute" claims, is still impressive.

Claire Chennault, aviation advisor to Chaing Kai-Shek, was in Chungking at the time the CW-21 was demonstrated and was undoubtedly aware of its capabilities. In the autumn of 1941 Pawley proposed to erect the three CW-21s at Rangoon and provide them to the A.V.G. at 1939 prices if someone would pay for them. Chennault, in his new role as commander of the A.V.G., had the perfect use for them [30]. High-flying reconnaissance planes were snooping over the A.V.G. training base at Kyedaw, Burma. The A.V.G.'s slow climbing P-40s could not catch them. Eventually Lend-lease funds were made available to pay for the interceptors and they were assembled and made available to the A.V.G.

The first CW-21 was flown up to Kyedaw by A.V.G. pilot Kenneth Merritt just about the time the Flying Tigers learned that the United States and Japan were at war. The CW-21s did not have the opportunity to intercept any reconnaissance planes at Kyedaw. On or shortly after December 12th they were attached as a three-plane flight to the A.V.G.'s 3rd Squadron and based at Mingaladon Airfield north of Rangoon. Erik Shilling (from Washington, D.C.) led the flight that also included Merritt (Arlington, Texas) and [Lacy] Mangleberg (Athens, Georgia) [31].

The CW-21s saw no combat while at Rangoon and on December 22nd, just before a series of heavy Japanese raids, Chennault ordered the CW-21s to join the main body of the A.V.G. then at Kunming, China. The three planes flew to Kyedaw that day and stayed overnight, proceeding to Lashio on the 23rd. Ford in Flying Tigers records what occurred basing his account on primary sources and Shilling's taped memoir. The Cyclone engine of Shilling's CW-21 had problems with misfires during the flight to Lashio. At Lashio the trio met an A.V.G. ground crew chief (Glen Blaylock) who was en route to Kunming by truck. He recommended a change from the 100-octane fuel supplied at Kyedaw to 87-octane fuel, stating this would keep the engine from running too hot.

Mangleberg's CW-21 was fueled first and he took off for a brief test flight. His CW-21 encountered no problems but apparently caused a false raid alarm. In any event the flight made a hasty departure from Lashio without a standard weather or route briefing. Late in the afternoon just inside China Shilling's fighter again encountered difficulties and the engine failed completely. Shilling made a successful belly landing despite the mountainous terrain. The other two pilots had no radios and only a vague idea where they were. They continued to fly in the general area where Shilling landed until their fuel supply was low. Merritt walked away slightly injured from his crash landing but Mangleberg's landing attempt ended in a fiery crash [32]. This ended [Lacy] Mangleberg's life and the brief career of the CW-21 with the Flying Tigers.

Russell Whelan in The Flying Tigers, a book written in 1942, dealt briefly with the incident and ascribed the crashes to "faulty fuel" taken on at Lashio. Casius in The St.Louis Lightweight repeats this version saying all three fighters had engine trouble "the cause of which was undoubtedly dirty fuel taken on at Lashio." Perhaps this was a version of the events circulated at the time. It is interesting to note that Shell Oil used the CW-21's "vertical mile in a minute" claims in its own advertising for its 100-octane gasoline suggesting that operating with 100-octane fuel should not have been a problem.

In the East Indies the CW-21B was simply known as the "Interceptor" (the author has found no evidence that the name "Demon" was associated with the CW-21/21B in actual operational use). The Interceptors carried serial numbers preceded by "CW" an obvious reference to their factory designation.

Flying Tigers

5. An undistinguished record in the Indies

The CW-21B squadron (2-VlG-IV) was newly formed effective 1 March 1941 at Andir (near Bandoeng) in western Java under 1/Lt. R.A.D. Anaemet [33]. It numbered eighteen CW-21Bs. Twelve were initial strength and six in immediate reserve. Five others were in depot storage and one was assigned to the Technical School at Andir. Soon after its formation the squadron relocated to Maospati in eastern Java. Its four flights were later increased in strength to four aircraft each.

The squadron engaged in operational training at Maospati. Individual and formation mock combats were flown. There were practice alerts. Navy Do-24 flying boats staged mock raids about once a week. The CW-21Bs alternated acting as escorts and intercepting the Dorniers. Less frequently there were exercises of the air warning system with Dorniers or Martin bombers playing the role of enemy attackers.

One pilot was lost when he ran into the ground flying low in an air show. The CW-21Bs themselves suffered some minor structural damage during training maneuvers. Sheet metal and angle stock were ordered from the United States to repair the faults. A few months before war broke out cracks were discovered in landing gear fittings. Late in November ten sets of fittings were ordered from the United States. When war commenced several of the aircraft were out of action awaiting repair of this defect. According to one source only nine CW-21Bs were operational on December 8th, 1941 [34].

The weakened 2-VlG-IV was dispersed in December 1941. Two flights went to Tjilitjan in western Java. Two others moved to Soerabaja/Perak in eastern Java. The CW-21Bs in western Java were periodically tasked to deploy to Palembang in Sumatra to stand alert to cover convoys passing through the Sunda Straights. On 15 January 1942 eight CW-21Bs joined ten Curtiss Hawks and 14 Brewster Buffaloes in a scramble to intercept Japanese bombers approaching Palembang. The Dutch fighters failed to make contact. The same day the CW-21Bs returned to Java. This was the end of CW-21B's service outside of Java.

CW-21B in East Indies
A CW-21B in the Netherlands East Indies

As Japanese advances forced the Dutch out of Singapore and Borneo, Brewster Buffaloes withdrew to their home bases in western Java. This allowed 2-VlG-IV to concentrate in eastern Java. On 20 January 1942 the squadron was reunited at Perak with a strength of 14 operational aircraft. There it flew several false alarm scrambles. As February began the CW-21Bs still had seen no combat.

Japanese navy Zeros made a fighter sweep over eastern Java on February 2nd but the CW-21Bs based at Soerabaja/Perak were not engaged. On the following day there was a large Japanese raid. Twelve CW-21Bs were among the 25 Allied fighters scrambled. Unfortunately the CW-21Bs were dispersed in three separate formations in different patrol areas incapable of mutual support.

On this day both Zeros of the Tainan Air Group and 3rd Air Group engaged the Allied fighters but the twenty-seven Zeros of the 3rd Air Group saw the bulk of the action and claimed 33 fighters shot down including 15 "Curtiss-Wrights" or "Curtiss" fighters as distinguished from P-36s, P-40s, Buffaloes and other types that they also claimed. In addition to the CW-21Bs the only other Allied fighters involved were U.S. P-40s and Dutch Hawk 75As (P-36 type).

One flight of four CW-21Bs found itself under attack from behind by an estimated sixteen Zeros. The formation leader, 2/Lt. J. Kingma, turned into the attackers but two members of the flight went down in flames in the initial assault. Kingma claimed two of the attackers before he was shot down and saved himself by bailing out. Sgt. H.M. Haye also claimed a Zero but returned to base in a badly damaged fighter.

A second flight consisted of only three CW-21Bs after the fourth member was delayed in take off. Zeros also jumped this flight. Without inflicting any loss on the enemy, one CW-21 went down to a crash landing and two others landed in a damaged condition one with a badly wounded pilot. The fourth member of the flight mistakenly joined up with Zeros instead of his flight companions. Ens. D. Dekker claimed to have scored hits on a Zero before others sent him down in a crash landing.

The third flight under Anemaet did not encounter enemy aircraft until it was surprised while landing at Perak. One CW-21 was shot down and two others landed safely. Anemaet landed but ran into a bomb crater being unaware the Japanese had bombed the airfield.

The leading Japanese pilot on this occasion was the 3rd Air Group's Warrant Officer Sada-aki Akamatsu, a top-scoring ace, whose flight claimed five Curtiss fighters as well as other kills during this action. The 3rd Air group lost three pilots and some or all of these may well have been victims of 2-VlG-IV.

Two days later the Interceptors were again taken by surprise and confronted overwhelming odds. Anemaet led just four CW-21Bs into the air. Their opposition was 27 Zeros of the Tainan Air Group. The Dutch pilots reported being attacked by 26 fighters. They had no opportunity to dogfight but in taking evasive action Anemaet claimed a Zero shot down. One CW-21B went down in a crash landing and one returned to base badly damaged.

With twelve aircraft destroyed or badly damaged 2-VlG-IV was temporarily hors de combat. Within a few days reinforcements and the repair of two aircraft brought the strength of the squadron to six aircraft. Hurricanes were arriving in Java to equip the Dutch squadrons and Anemaet was ordered to take 2-VlG-IV to Andir in western Java to reform on Hurricanes with the CW-21Bs operating as an attached flight. A few days later the squadron moved to Kalidjati not far from Andir. In western Java the CW-21Bs encountered the Japanese Army Air Force and suffered its first losses at their hands. Two CW-21Bs under repair at Andir were lost in a bombing raid probably on 19th February.

The Only War We've Got

February 24th proved another dark day for the CW-21Bs. Four of them scrambled along with Hurricanes of 2-VlG-IV. Twenty-seven Type 1 fighters of the 59th and 64th Flying Regiments reported encountering seven Hurricanes and two "P-43s." Both CW-21s were lost with Ens. D. Dekker killed and Sgt. H.M. Haye crash-landed. As if this were not bad enough Lt. W. Boxman, the Interceptor flight leader, was shot down apparently by friendly ground fire and a fourth CW-21B was destroyed on the ground in a subsequent bombing attack.

On Java the military situation for the Allies was going from bad to worse. On February 28th/March 1st Japanese troops came ashore in both east and west Java. On the 1st of March CW-22 Falcon general purpose/reconnaissance aircraft were pressed into service as light bombers. At Maospati airfield two CW-21Bs in storage were destroyed by Allied troops to prevent them from falling into Japanese hands.

In western Java the CW-21Bs were still operating and on March 2nd four of them scrambled with three Buffaloes of 3-VlG-V to confront about twenty Type 1 fighters of the 59th Flying Regiment. During this fight Lt. Boxman bailed out of his stricken Interceptor and was badly burned. His was the only Dutch loss. One Type 1 fighter also failed to return.

On March 3rd three CW-21Bs joined three Martin bombers in attacking Kalidjati their former base now occupied by the Japanese. The Japanese reported a Type 97 heavy bomber was burned during attacks there. Shores [note 34] who is the primary source for the narrative of combat operations of the CW-21B in this article provides no information on subsequent operations by CW-21Bs. Casius mentions other operations but, at a minimum, his dates appear inaccurate and the reports are probably confused. Official cable reports on N.E.I. operations provide no additional details and in one case (2nd March) apparently garble the number of CW-21Bs available for operations [35]. The attack on Kalidjati was probably the last combat mission of the CW-21B. If correct, this is not surprising since March 7th was the last recorded combat mission of any Dutch aircraft in Java and formal capitulation soon followed.

The last combat mission did not signify the last flight of the Interceptor. At least one CW-21B was captured by the Japanese in a condition capable of flight operations. One CW-21B was shipped to Japan. It was sent to the test center at Tachikawa, adorned with the tail markings of that organization, and flown there. The British found an intact CW-21B at Singapore in 1945. It bore the tail markings of the Tachikawa test center and may have been the same aircraft sent to Japan in 1942.

6. Conclusion and notes


The primary rap against the CW-21 in some critiques is that it was lightly built and provided no fuel tank protection or effective armor. This is true but the same can be said for the Mitsubishi Zero that proved highly successful in early 1942. Moreover, many other Allied fighters entered combat in the Far East in 1941-1942 without adequate armor or fuel tank protection. Some aircraft that were rugged and well protected (e.g., the Hawker Hurricane) did not fare particularly well in these combats.

According to Casius "the CW-21 was superior in performance to the Hawk and B-339D." He suggests the CW-21B should have avoided dogfights with the Japanese fighters and suspects the reason this was not done was that "the Japanese opponents were greatly underestimated." It is certainly true that hardly anyone expected that the Japanese bombers that attacked Java from Borneo in early February 1942 would have land based fighter escorts.

Shores quotes Anaemet as saying Dutch pilots believed the CW-21B could out-climb the Zero but not out-turn it. The Hurricane could neither out-climb nor out-turn the Zero. Shores says the CW-21B had "a good rate of climb and maneuverability." He compares the CW-21 with the Curtiss Hawk, which he says was by no means a bad aircraft but simply surpassed "to some extent" in nearly every important performance category by its opponents.

The CW-21B was involved in few combats and those were often conducted under tactically unfavorable circumstances. Had its pilots had more time to learn the relative merits of their and the enemy's aircraft they might well have been able to use their CW-21Bs with more effect. The Hawk 75A fared poorly in the East Indies fighting but had done well in the early fighting over Europe and later did relatively well over Burma against the Japanese army's Type 1 fighter. With its metal ailerons the CW-21B probably had a higher role rate than the Zero and Type 1 fighter at high speeds. Though unable to outturn the nimble Japanese fighters, it might have been able to reverse a turn more quickly. The technique of a steep climb followed by a wingover, used by Fausel against the I-15 over Chungking, might also have succeeded against the Japanese fighters. Anaemet used a somewhat similar maneuver, a "half-loop, half-roll into a formation and shot down the leader" on February 5th to claim his only victory. The CW-21B's combat career lasting a single month was undistinguished at best. The CW-21 might have proved a relatively effective fighting machine in early 1942 had there been additional time and opportunity to engage the enemy.

Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo


General notes and photo credits. The author acknowledges the help of James Broshot, Esq., D.Y. Louie, and James Sawruk in preparing this article.

Patrouille, Afdeeling, and Vliegtuiggroep have been rendered as flight, squadron and flying group in the text. Hiko Sentai and Kaigun Kokutai have been presented, respectively, as Flying Regiment and Air Group.

The images used in this article have been assessed as being in the public domain. However, some of them have been published on the Internet with copyright notices. Readers are advised that there may be claims of copyright to the images. A request to delete any of the images published here will be honored if a legally valid copyright can be verified.

Photos and profiles with Chinese language markings are from the Insignia of China website via D.Y. Louie [no longer available -- DF]. Photos with N.E.I. markings are from "Curtiss Wright CW-21B" at the IPMS Nederland website [no longer available]. Pawley's photograph is from the site given in note 5. The Java map is from the official history of the Army Air Forces.

Text notes:

1. "Sale and Manufacture of American Aircraft in China - Differences Between Colonel C.L.Chennault and Intercontinent Corporation," letter, American Consulate General in Hong Kong (A.E. Southard) to Secretary of State, Feb. 9, 1939.

2. Military Attaché, Chungking, Report No. 8919, Sept. 25, 1934 (hereafter M/A Report). Letter, Pawley to Chennault, Jan. 31, 1939

3. Roye, Janardhan. "On the Wings of a Dream." Deccan Herald, Feb. 6, 2005.

4. id.

5. "William Pawley" (biography). Visited at Spartacus Schoolnet website [no longer available]. (Mar. 2005)

6. Letter (note 2).

7. Casius, Gerard. "The St. Louis Lightweight." Air Enthusiast/Sixteen, 1983, p.33. Casius implies George Page, Vice President, Engineering, St. Louis Division, Curtiss-Wright Corp., was the moving force behind development of the CW-21. This may be true from an engineering perspective, while Pawley was the entrepreneurial father of the project. Actual development was headed by Willis Wells, chief engineer, St. Louis Division.

8. Memorandum, Dept. of State, Division of Controls (J.L.Green), Sep. 13, 1939.

9. Casius (note 7), p.34.

10. Examples: Green, Warplanes of the Second World War - Fighters, Vol. IV. Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1961, p.76, and Taylor, Combat Aircraft of the World, Putnam, New York, 1969, p. 480. Casius (note 7) erroneously states the CW-21 prototype mounted two .50 caliber machine guns.

11. Green and Taylor, ibid.

12. Jane's All the World's Aircraft, 1945/46. Sampson, Low & Marston Co., London, 1946, p.315.

13. Green, op. cit.

14. M/A Report No. 9772, June 16, 1939.

15. Casius (note 7), p.38.

16. id.

17. Whelan, Russell. The Flying Tigers. Viking Press, New York, 1942, pp. 26-27.

18. Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1949, p. 497.

19. Whelan (note 17) ibid.

20. Ford, Daniel. Flying Tigers. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1991, p.42.

21. Ford op. cit., pp. 37,52.

22. Dept. of State, Memorandum of conversation, no subject, Mr. Hiss and Mr. Pawley, March 11, 1941. Also Brady to Secretary of State, letter (no subject), April 12, 1941 (Consul's memorandum).

23. Note 3, op. cit.

24. Ford (note 20), p. 88. Casius (note 7), p.36, states the CW-21s were assembled and test flown at Rangoon in 1940. This is unlikely since the British did not permit assembly of military aircraft destined for China to take place at Rangoon at that time. Moreover, a telex from the U.S. Consul at Rangoon (sent on behalf of Chennault) to Lauchlin Currie, dated September 26, 1941 mentions "three CW-21 interceptors which are available in Rangoon from Inter-Continent Corporation being ready for immediate assembly."

25. E-mails from D.Y. Louie (12 & 13 March 2005) citing Zhong Guod Jun (C.A.F. magazine) Taipei, Taiwan. Photograph in Ward, Curtiss P-40D - N Warhawk In USAAF - French and Foreign Service (Aircam Aviation Series No. 7), Osprey, Canterbery, England, no date (18th unnumbered page).

26. "First Aircraft Factory of Commission on Aeronautical Affairs." Letter from Consul, Kunming (Troy L. Perkins) to Secretary of State, received May 26, 1942.

27. Casius (note 7), p.34.

28. Casius (note 7), p. 35; M/A Report No. 9755, Apr. 7, 1939. The Military Attaché (Stilwell) specifically mentions the prospects of Japanese raids on Chungking, stating none have occurred recently [the last previous was in Jan. 1939; when raids resumed in May they were carried out by Japanese navy bombers not Japanese army BR-20s]. Same report summarizes Chinese press reports on Japanese air raids, none of which is near Chungking.

29. M/A report (note 14).

30. Ford (note 24), ibid.

31. Ford (note 20), pp. 104, 138-9. The author follows Whelan and Casius in rendering Mangleberg's first name as Lacey rather than Lacy as in Ford.

32. Ford (note 20), pp. 138-9.

33. Casius (note 7), p. 38.

34. Shores, Cull & Izawa. Bloody Shambles Vol. I. Grub Street, London, 1992. p. 60.

35. A CINC American British Dutch Australian (ABDA) Area message of March 2nd mentions "ten Curtiss interceptors" available. The received version of this message (received 4 a.m. March 3rd) has a question mark behind the ten. Either the number was garbled in transmission or the reference is to both Hurricanes and CW-21Bs of 2-VlG-IV (Dutch Hurricanes are not separately mentioned in the message). The author does not accept this message at face value (contrary to Casius, note 7, p. 65).

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