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Combat zone, May-June 1943

There was a lull in air operations for a few days while supplies of aviation gasoline were flown in to replenish stocks in China. When the pause ended the P-43s were back in action along with other U.S. aircraft. On January 9th two P-43s strafed Japanese trucks at Wanling and left two destroyed.

P-43s in the C.A.T.F. fighter squadrons continued to fly a variety of combat missions but because of their small numbers were often relegated to single-plane mundane functions such as weather reconnaissance and communications flights. Occasionally they flew as high-speed cargo or transport planes. A passenger could be crowded into the P-43's baggage compartment.

From January to March 1943 air combat was rare over China. February 1943 was the first month in which C.A.T.F. fighter planes made no claims for air victories. In March the C.A.T.F. was upgraded (largely for political reasons) and became the 14th Air Force.

Reconnaissance missions from Kunming to Hanoi seem to have been something of a P-43 specialty. Two 76th FS P-43s flew there on March 5th. During this mission photographs were taken. Two P-43s from the same squadron flew a similar mission on the 26th.

In the middle of March a series of raids was mounted against the phosphate mines at Lao Kay, Indo-China and supporting industrial and transportation facilities. The third and final attack in the series was a strafing mission mounted by one P-43 and one P-40K on March 21st that started many fires, burned out the cable station, and, killed ten and wounded many other personnel in the area. These raids were credited with causing an exodus of coolie labor and a demand for higher wages by those that remained.

On March 31st the 23rd Fighter Group sent part of its strength eastward to forward bases. The 16th FS, reinforced by flights of the 76th FS and 75th FS, went to Kweilin and Lingling. The same day six Type 1 fighters of the 33rd FR intruded into the region. Three P-40s and two P-43s of the 16th FS scrambled. The two formations sighted one another but no contact was made.

The following day fourteen P-40K-1s of the 75th FS were joined by one P-43 (Capt. Groseclose) in intercepting twelve Japanese fighters of the 1st FB. The Americans held an altitude advantage as well as a numerical advantage and four Japanese fighters went down. One P-40K was shot down and another damaged. Two of the Japanese fighters were new Type 2 (Ki 44) fighters flying with the 33rd FR.

On April 8th P-43s and P-40Ks were involved in two joint missions. The 74th FS sent one aircraft of each type on a reconnaissance from Yunnan-yi to Schwebo in Burma. The 16th FS scrambled one of each in an attempted interception over Kweilin. These as well as many other examples show that combining these aircraft with differing characteristics could prove more symbiotic than disruptive.

A P-43 was lost when two were sent on a reconnaissance mission in marginal weather on April 15th. For unknown reasons Capt. William Miller bailed out of his aircraft about 50 miles south of Kunming. After a spell of bad weather over the eastern bases additional combat occurred during the last week in April. P-43s, though based in the area and flying patrol missions, failed to come to grips with the enemy.

The Japanese planned a ground offensive beginning in May. Advancing into the Tungting Lake area and along the Yangtze their intention seemed to be to secure their line of communication and capture China's "rice bowl" just at harvest season [69]. As the ground fighting intensified it became clear that Chinese land forces needed air support. Both the 14th Air Force and C.A.F. were called into action. This included the 4th Group flying P-40s and P-43s.

On May 14th Japanese reconnaissance covered Kweilin and Lingling and estimated the U.S. order of battle as twenty-four P-40s, eight B-24s, three B-25s, one P-38 and one P-43. At the same time it was noted that the Chinese had again advanced to Liangshan [70]. The 4th Group was at Liangshan [71].

After preliminary moves in early May ground clashes intensified in mid-May. The 4th Group went into action on May 19th. Eight P-40Es and four P-43s escorted A-29s over the battle area. The group's deputy commander Xu Baoyun, flying a P-40E, was shot down and crashed in flames, hit by anti-aircraft fire according to Chinese reports [72].

Early the following morning the Japanese bombed Liangshan. The surprise attack encountered no aerial opposition [73].

From May 19th to June 6th, according to one source, the C.A.F. flew 336 fighter and 88 bomber sorties over the battle zone and claimed 31 aircraft shot down but few details are available [74]. The 4th Group missed a chance to confront the Japanese on May 29th when it flew from Liangshan to cover Chungking due to a false alarm. While they were absent ten Japanese fighters strafed the field followed an hour later by an attack by nine bombers with fighter escort [75].

On May 31st nine P-43s escorted five A-29s to attack the ferry crossing between Ichang and Itu. In doing so they missed out on some of the most intense action of the campaign. Lt. Col. John Alison and two U.S.A.A.F. wingmen led seven 4th Group P-40s escorting nine B-24s to Ichang. This was Alison's last mission in China and the ace hoped to add to his record of kills. Instead his P-40 was badly shot up by Capt. Ohtsubo Yasuto, leader of the 1st Chutai (squadron) of the 33rd FR. Alison's life was saved by Lt. Tsang Hsu-Lan of the 4th Group who shot down Ohtsubo. Alison was able to identify "Bulldog" Tsang by the number "2304" on his P-40. Tsang was awarded the American Silver Star as well as China's highest decoration [76].

On June 6th the 1st FB hit Liangshan with fourteen Type 1 fighters of the 33rd FR and eight light bombers of the 90th FR [77]. Thirteen C.A.F. P-40s led by Col. Li Hsiang-Yang returned to Liangshan from a mission as the Japanese force approached [78]. The P-40s had just landed when the alert sounded. Capt. Chow Chin-Kai, commander of the 23rd Squadron and veteran of many years combat, directed ground crews to take care of his P-40 and then ran to a stray fighter, apparently a P-66, parked nearby. Without time to adjust his parachute, buckle the safety belt or check the fuel supply he gunned the engine. While Japanese fighters strafed the field "Fatty" Chow attacked the bombers and claimed three destroyed. Chow received the Blue Sky-White Sun award personally from Chiang Kai-Shek [79]. Despite Chow's heroics twelve P-40s and a Fleet trainer were destroyed on the ground.

In a separate raid on Enshih by eight bombers the Japanese reported encountering "seven P-43 fighters.and shot down one of them [80]." Their actual opponents were eight P-66s, apparently from the 11th Group, which shot down one bomber [81].

Ironically these most famous episodes of the "rice bowl" air campaign from the Chinese perspective involved two 4th Group pilots flying a P-40 and a P-66 rather than P-43s and a case of P-43 mistaken identity as far as the enemy was concerned. The P-43 did what it was called upon to do but simply wasn't involved in the most stirring actions.

The "rice bowl' campaign took its toll on the C.A.F. In addition to heavy losses in combat and on the ground suffered by the P-40s, many other aircraft must have suffered combat or operational damage requiring depot repair. Immediately after the campaign the C.A.F. units numbered (operational aircraft in parentheses): 7 (6) A-29s, 10 (5) SB-3s, 5 (3) P-40Es, 9 (6) P-43s and 46 (39) P-66s [82].

Fourteenth Air Force P-43s played little role during the "rice bowl" campaign, five were in factory repair and of the three with squadrons only two were serviceable. P-43s did take part in an unsuccessful interception at Hengyang and flew several reconnaissance missions. A typical mission was flown on June 15th. A lone P-43 inventoried vessels at Hongkong, Swatow and Amoy and verified the absence of aircraft on airfields at Amoy, Swatow, Namtu, and Saited. Altitude over the target was 32,000 feet [83].

During May the 14th Air Force received about fifty new P-40s, models K and M. A phase out of the older P-40s soon started. With the arrival of the first high altitude P-38 fighters in July the days of the P-43s were clearly numbered. In the middle of July attempts by P-43s to fly reconnaissance missions to southern China were turned back by weather on three successive days. These are the last operational missions by the American P-43s mentioned in 14th Air Force intelligence summaries. A July 31st message detailing 14th Air Force fighter locations does not mention any P-43s and by August the P-43 had been dropped from the count of 14th Air Force combat aircraft [84].

continued in part 6