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P-43 in Chinese markings


Despite the death of Wu and the abandonment of some fighters along the ferry route in late April, other fighters arrived in Kunming by early May. Evidence of this unfortunately comes from the report of the death of Chen Lokun, a flight commander in the 24th Squadron, who crashed into a tree during a landing attempt after a training flight at Kunming on May 12th. About the same time three A.V.G. pilots and seven Chinese pilots arrived in Kunming delivering ten P-43s from a flight that originally numbered sixteen [29].

A June 4th U.S. status report advised the Chinese that eighty-seven P-43s had been received, fifty-eight assembled, fifty-four tested, and the same number delivered to the Chinese at Karachi [30]. Two P-43s had been lost during test flights. The same report stated that twenty P-66s had been received but none yet delivered to the C.A.F.

In July 1942 the P-43A flown by 4th Group commander and renowned fighter pilot Cheng Hsiao-Yu caught fire and he was killed. Accidental deaths during transition to new type aircraft were, however, not uncommon in the C.A.F. and they were not unique to the P-43 [31].

The troubles on the ferry route and in training at Kunming apparently caused General Mow (then serving as commander, C.A.F.) to declare the P-43s "unsuitable for combat use [32]." On July 2nd the senior U.S. aviation officer in the China, Burma, India (C.B.I.) Theater (Brigadier General Clayton Bissell) wrote to Chiang Kai-Shek about the P-43. His letter recounted General Mow's opinion about the P-43 as well as the willingness of the U.S. to have China relinquish the P-43s and have them replaced by more suitable aircraft. According to Bissell China received 125 P-43s from the U.S. as requested. Some were in Karachi and some in Kunming. Others were on the ferry route "some crashed, some damaged, some flyable." Bissell professed not to know the details because "movement of the P-43 aircraft from Karachi was under the control of the Chinese Air Force." Bissell asserted to Chiang that sending "unsuitable" aircraft to China would not further the war effort. Bissell went on to point out that the P-43's R-1830 engines could be used to "put in commission both C-47 and C-53 type transports urgently needed to move supplies to China." Bissell recommended all P-43s and spares in India be turned over to the U.S. to re-engine transports. He sought removal of the P-43s from Kunming to reduce congestion and free up revetments for P-40s and finally recommended the P-43s be grounded to conserve aviation gasoline.

An undated reply memorandum advised Bissell that the Generalissimo approved his recommendation regarding the P-43s still in India. Bissell was also advised that an order to move the P-43s from Kunming would be forthcoming. The Chinese reserved to themselves the decision on how to best use the P-43s already in China [33].

Additional light is cast on the situation at Kunming in early July by a report to the State Department from the U.S. Ambassador in China:

"Summary of the P-43 situation on July 5th: Colonel Wang commander of the 5th Air Force reports 35 arrived Kunming of which 4 crashed with a total loss, 17 damaged in landings, need repairs, 14 in flying condition. Drummond Republic Aviation Corporation representative has just completed repairs to gas tank leaks on the 14 now serviceable planes using Fairprene cement of which supply wasting and reordered from the United States. Damages ascribed to rough landings, jarring rivets and seams of tanks and by reflection on wings, also to over filled tanks in sun. I saw 12 P-43s flying in formation and practicing ground strafing at the field on the 6th [34]."

Apparently a few additional P-43s reached Kunming after this report and before the order requested by Bissell went into effect. Chinese sources indicate they received a total of forty-one P-43s during 1942 [35].

On August 3rd the 4th Group's deputy commander, Chen Sheng, was killed when he crashed in P-43 No. 1222. Despite this tragedy the group's transition to the P-43 was soon completed and the group transferred to Chengtu to continue training and prepare for combat operations [36].

Not all the serviceable P-43s remaining in India were salvaged for their engines. Ten were turned over to Chennault for use in China and two (possibly the same two used by Scott during April-May) were destroyed on the ground at Dinjan during a Japanese raid in October 1942 [37].


After being battered by the Japanese in 1941 ("the most difficult year for the Chinese Air Force" [38]), the C.A.F. was used sparingly in 1942. Some events, such as the Changsha offensive in early 1942, however, demanded an attempt be made to support Chinese ground forces.

On January 8, 1942 Col. Chin Wen led nine unescorted SB-3 bombers of the 2nd Group over northern Hunan. Here they encountered eight Type 97 fighters of the Japanese 54th Flying Regiment (FR) led by Capt. Hayashi Yachiro. The Japanese claimed five bombers destroyed. Five Chinese bombers went down, two shot down outright and three others listed as "force landed" [39].

Despite this setback, the 1st and 2nd Groups under Lt. Col. Yang Chung-an mounted eighteen SB-3s to bomb targets in Indo-China on January 22, 1942. On this mission they had a fighter escort provided by the A.V.G. A similar mission was flown on the 24th [40]. Chinese fighters were hardly to be seen. According to one account, eleven I-153s from the 17th Squadron were used in the Burma campaign. Their stay was apparently brief and their activities unclear [41]. In the closing stages of the Burma campaign SB bombers flew several missions as the Japanese threatened to cross the Salween River and enter western China. Later in the year they were used in operations against opium lords in Suichuan Province [42].

C.A.F. operations during the first half of 1942 had been few. Generally, regular C.A.F. units demonstrated a lack of "combat efficiency" and overall proved a "washout", while the A.V.G. covered itself with glory [43]. June and July brought great changes. Chennault, now a U.S.A.A.F. Brigadier General, transitioned A.V.G. operations to the newly formed 23rd Fighter Group, which in turn became the core of Chennault's new command the China Air Task Force (C.A.T.F.). Meanwhile P-43s were arriving in Kunming for the Chinese Air Force and P-66s and A-29s seemed sure to follow. Was the C.A.F. about ready to take on the Japanese on equal terms?

On July 26th, 1942 Brigadier General Bissell (now Commander of the 10th Air Force as well as senior aviation officer in the C.B.I.) wrote General Stillwell, the theater commander, giving him an assessment of the aviation situation in the theater. The C.A.F., reported Bissell, "consists of something less than 50 pursuit and 50 bombardment aircraft - antiquated, worn-out, totally without spare parts.and can be considered of negligible combat value [44]." Bissell went on to point out that the C.A.F. was anxious to obtain A-29s and also desired to operate a "group of fighters to consist of 80 P-66 airplanes." No mention was made of the P-43s then in Kunming. It seems likely that Bissell thought that General Mow's pronouncement that the P-43 was not combat worthy was the final word on the subject as far as the C.A.F. was concerned. Possibly Bissell was not aware that successful repairs had already been carried out on the fuel tanks of a number of P-43s.

On August 6th Chennault provided Stillwell with his assessment of the air units needed in the theater in which he made some comments about the C.A.F. [45]. According to Chennault the A.V.G. and C.A.F. had agreed to divide responsibility for air operations along the Yangtze River. The A.V.G. was responsible for operations south of the river as well as the defense of Chungking. The C.A.F. was responsible for operations north of the river. Chennault considered this general division of responsibility continued to be sound. He also commented that the C.A.F. "operating north of the Yangtze will be available for joint operations with American units as well as for maintaining strong defensive operations in its area." Chennault recommended the C.A.F. be built up to 150 pursuit and 50 medium bombardment aircraft.

Japanese air power in China was strong but hardly overwhelming and was heavily weighted with reconnaissance and army cooperation aircraft [46]. Its combat power vested in a regiment of Type 97 heavy bombers (62nd FR at Hsingyang and Wuchang); one regiment of Type 99 twin-engine light bombers (90th FR at Licheng and Peiping); and, one regiment of single-engine light bombers (65th FR at Shanghai and Hangchou). Fighter strength consisted of a regiment of Type 97 fighters (54th FR at Hankou and Nanchang); an independent Squadron of Type 1 model 1 fighters (10th at Hankou); and, a similarly equipped regiment (24th FR at Canton). This force was spread from far north (Peiping) to the south (Canton) but a substantial fraction was concentrated along the central Yangtze River.

At this time (beginning of August 1942) the C.A.T.F. consisted of fifty-six operational fighters (P-40Bs, P-40Es and a few P-43A-1s) in four squadrons (16th, 74th, 75th and 76th) and eight B-25Cs (11th Bomb Squadron) at Kunming, Kweilin, Hengyang and Yunnan-yi [47].

In the C.A.F. the only new aircraft that were operational were the P-43s of the 4th Group. They were joined in the defense of Chengtu by the I-153s of the 17th Squadron and the I-16s of the 29th Squadron [48].

continued in part 4