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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

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.

continued in part 4