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HOME > TIGERS > P-43 > PART 2

REPUBLIC P-43 AND CHINA'S AIR WAR (2)

Republic P-43 Three-view

III. FROM FARMINGDALE TO KUNMING

Chinese interest in the AP-4/P-43 came as early as May 1939 when Dr. H.H. Kung, president of China's Executive Yuan ("head of cabinet", or, "premier", a position often held by Chiang Kai-Shek), queried John H. Jouett (former head of the unofficial U.S. air mission to China, then serving as President of the U.S. Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce) whether the "Seversky guarantee [of] 320 mph [is] correct" [17]. A few weeks later Kung apparently brought up the issue of the new Seversky fighter with U.S. diplomats in Chungking. The primary subject of that meeting was the "Patterson contract" and difficulties arising from its cancellation. In the aftermath of that meeting Kung received a letter providing additional information.

The letter started with normal diplomatic niceties but went on seemingly to tweak the Chinese for canceling the P-35 deal while denying any prospect of obtaining new P-43s. In part, the letter read:

"On what seems to be the best authority I learn that in 1936 the American War Department purchased a number of Seversky planes of the type P-35A - EP1, that they are still in service, and that they have been entirely satisfactory. Just recently the War Department has contracted with the Seversky Company for some pursuit planes of the type YP-43 - AP-4A, similar to the ones mentioned but with later developments that make them unavailable for export, because these developments are regarded as military secrets [18]."

This letter seemed to end the possibility of P-43s going to China.

Even as U.S. diplomats and export control officials were chiding China for its handling of the Patterson contract, U.S. foreign policy, including export control policy, was changing. In 1938 the State Department approved more export sales of "arms, ammunition or implements of war" for Japan than for China. In 1939 licenses valued at about $5 million were approved for China while export approvals for Japan, at under $800,000, were one tenth of the previous year's approvals [19].

With the outbreak of the war in Europe the U.S. reaffirmed its policy of neutrality (at least formally), though President Roosevelt's sympathies were hardly hidden, and almost immediately the policy began to shift. President Roosevelt's public statements reveal the evolution.

On September 3, 1939, F.D.R. said: "This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well. Even as a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience."

Only weeks later (September 21st) the President appealed to Congress to amend the Neutrality Act: "I regret that Congress passed that Act. I regret equally that I signed that Act.. I seek a greater consistency through the repeal of the embargo provisions, and a return to International Law."

The negotiation of a bases for destroyers deal with Britain in 1940 showed U.S. "neutrality" had become more rhetorical than real. In September 1940 Japan associated itself with Germany and Italy in the Tripartite (Axis) Pact. After winning a third term in November 1940 F.D.R. declared in a Fireside Chat on December 29, 1940: "We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would were we at war."

That same December Brigadier General Mow Pang-Tsu and other representatives of the Chinese Purchasing Mission met with Joseph Green of the State Department's Division of Controls and presented a list of fighter planes desired by China including the Republic P-43. Green recorded his response to General Mow: I assured General Mow that it was this Government's desire to enable the Chinese Government to purchase as many arms as possible for delivery as rapidly as possible, and that I felt certain that all the interested agencies of the Government would exert themselves to that end [20]."

Britain was the primary beneficiary of F.D.R.'s "arsenal of democracy" non-neutrality policy. The reaction to General Mow's mission shows China also became a beneficiary (later so did the Soviet Union, both cases considerably stretching the concept of democracy).

The Lend-Lease Act was introduced in Congress in January 1941 and enacted in March. Britain's reserves of hard currency were depleted and "lend-lease," allowed the continued provision of war materials absent immediate payment. In April 1941 President Roosevelt authorized China for lend-lease and by June 1941 the War Department was administering $125,000,000 in aid for China [21]. The P-43 was one of the first contracts for China funded by lend-lease.

During 1941 U.S. neutrality became outright belligerency against German submarines in the Atlantic, and economic embargoes of key goods aimed against Japan were stiffened [22]. War clouds darkened fast during the course of 1941.

The U.S. and Britain retained top priority for advanced weapons including fighter planes. There was considerable interest in seeing "Allies" including China contribute effectively to what was becoming a common cause. Another shift in policy encouraged foreign defense contracts that would lead to the enlargement of U.S. munitions plants [23]. The approval of the P-43 lend-lease contract took place in this context.

In June 1941 the contract for 125 P-43A-1s funded under lend-lease was executed. Farmingdale was still busy with U.S.A.A.F. P-43 contracts, and production for the Chinese contract began late in 1941. The last P-43A-1 was delivered in March 1942. In the meanwhile events on December 7, 1941 assured the U.S.-China alliance.

Early in 1942 the first P-43A-1s were shipped to China via Karachi, India. Thirty arrived at Karachi on March 20, 1942. As of April 1, 1942 in addition to the thirty at Karachi, 57 P-43A-1s were at sea but still in the Atlantic, and twenty-one others were at various stages in the pipeline, some at ports ready to sail [24].

Once at Karachi the fighters had to be transported to an airfield (Malir), taken out of their crates, assembled and test flown. This process did not proceed rapidly. Karachi was a beehive of activity in March 1942 as Burma was being invaded and about to fall to the Japanese. It was April before the first P-43s were flight-tested and turned over to Chinese pilots for ferrying to China [25].

The C.A.F. 4th Group was selected to receive the P-43 and most, if not all, the Chinese pilots assigned to ferry duty were from that group. A.V.G. pilots also helped in checking out Chinese pilots and ferrying P-43s. Full details of what happened in the ferry effort are obscure but clearly it did not go well. We know that on April 24th Wu Zhenhua, deputy commander of the 4th Group's 24th Squadron was killed en route between Karachi and Kunming [26]. The Americans kept no records of these C.A.F. flights and if the C.A.F. kept detailed records this author has not discovered them. According to one source 50% of the P-43s flown by Chinese pilots were lost en route [27].

As of April 29th sixty-nine P-43s had been received at Karachi and eleven of these had been delivered to the Chinese and flown east. About this time two Chinese ferry pilots landed their P-43s at an air transport base in Assam (Dinjan), the last stop in India before crossing Burma and arriving in China.

According to Col. Robert L. Scott, the P-43s had developed fuel tank leaks that combined with the turbo-supercharger beneath the fuselage made them great fire hazards. "So the Chinese left the P-43As with us and went back to China [28]." The Americans made temporary repairs to the aircraft. Scott flew the fighters on familiarization flights, scouting missions and escorted transport planes over Burma during April and May. Scott even found time to fly over the Himalayas and take motion pictures of Mt. Everest. The leaks recurred and the P-43s were grounded. These and other P-43s probably retained American national markings prior to arriving in China.

continued in part 3