Flying Tigers

The Vultee P-66 in Chinese service

Richard L. Dunn © 2005

Test flying the Vultee model 48
Test flying the model 48

Vultee Aircraft, Inc., Downey, California, having succeeded in the export market with its V-11 attack bomber, began the private development of a single-engine fighter in 1939. In its initial configuration the new fighter, designated model 48 (sometimes referred to as P-48 as in "prototype" 48), incorporated some innovative features including steel tube semi-monococque fuselage structures and some wood structural members (retained in later versions) and a long narrow cowling and pointed nose enclosing its radial engine (abandoned).

A second prototype (model 48X) equipped with a conventional radial engine cowling flew for the first time on February 11th, 1940. Days earlier Vultee received orders for 144 of the fighters from Sweden. The Swedish version received the company designation model 48C and the Swedish designation J10.

The model 48C flew for the first time on September 6th, 1940, powered by the export version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-33 engine rated at 1,200 h.p. for take off and 1,050 h.p. at 13,100 feet. Armament was two .50 caliber machine guns synchronized and firing through the propeller arc and four .30 caliber machine guns in the wings. Weights were 5237 pounds empty, 7100 normal gross, and 7384 maximum. Maximum speed was rated as 340 m.p.h. at 15,100 feet. Initial climb rate was 2,520 feet per minute and it took more than 9 minutes to reach 19,680 feet. Service ceiling was 28,200 feet. Span was 36 feet and length 28 feet, 4 inches.

By the time the first model 48C flew in late summer 1940, the Germans had overrun Denmark and Norway. The Royal Air Force was engaged in the Battle of Britain. Fearing that Germany might take over Sweden and gain control of the Vultee fighters the State Department rescinded the Swedish export license.

The Vultee fighter did not meet British requirements as a fighter but they agreed to accept 100 of them. They received the designation "Vanguard" and were assigned the serial numbers BW208 to BW307. The British planned to use them as operational or advanced trainers in Canada. The July 1941 edition of the magazine Aeronautics contained a photograph of Canadian World War One ace Air Marshall William Bishop, V.C., in front of a Vanguard in R.A.F. livery at Downey. The caption stated the fighter was powered by a 1,600 h.p. engine and credited it with an unconfirmed maximum speed of 400 m.p.h. This same information had been published in earlier articles in the magazine.

The November 1940 request of the Chinese purchasing commission [in Washington to procure warplanes for three American Volunteer Groups under Claire Chennault] expressly mentioned the Vultee fighter as one of the fighters that would meet Chinese requirements. After obtaining 100 P-40s the Chinese sought radial engine fighters to complete the balance of their 350 fighters. By mid-1941 Lend-Lease financing of $238 million had been made available to the Chinese including $50 million for aircraft.

In May 1941 the British agreed to give up their claim on the Vanguards in favor of the Chinese. With initial deliveries scheduled for the autumn of 1941 and final shipments in the spring of 1942 the Chinese were more than willing to take the Vanguards. In keeping with Lend-Lease requirements the Vanguards were first assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps where they were given the designation P-66 and serial numbers 42-6832 to 42-6975.

The initial production schedule was not met. The Chinese added requirements for special radio equipment that delayed production. There were additional Chinese requirements for wing bomb racks and provision for external fuel and these may have added to the delay. During the autumn of 1941 no P-66s were shipped to China.

In December 1941 the Pacific War exploded in Hawaii a mere 2,500 miles west of Vultee Field at Downey, California. By the end of the year thirty-nine P-66s had been delivered at Downey. Many of these aircraft were assigned to the 14th Pursuit Group and sent to March Field outside Riverside, California. During December 1941 and January 1942 pilots of the 14th Pursuit Group trained on the new aircraft preparing to fly air defense missions along the U.S. west coast.

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

One source describes the Group's experience with the P-66 as follows:

"The pilots of the 14th Pursuit Group actually liked their P-66s, and they described the P-66 as being a very good aerobatic aircraft. Test pilot Gil Clark thought it was the best aircraft he had ever flown, being much better than the Curtiss P-36. However, the cockpit layout was rather poor, and the aircraft was not sufficiently robust for a fighter. In addition the P-66 had a disconcerting tendency to ground loop, soon 15 examples being lost to this sort of accident." ("Vultee P-66" at Joe Baugher's website.)

Some pilots of the 14th Pursuit Group may have liked the P-66 but the comments "very good aerobatic aircraft" and "best aircraft ... ever flown" are not consistent with the unsatisfactory report submitted by the 14th Pursuit Group to the 4th Air Service Command at the end of January 1942.

The report on the P-66 included a long list of faults, most of a minor nature, not atypical of such reports on new aircraft. However, among the deficiencies noted were: "correct slow maneuverability" and "correct high wing loading". Such comments implied a substantial redesign or reconfiguration of the aircraft was needed and not just minor engineering adjustments.

In light of the experience with the P-66, Wright Field (Chief of the Experimental Engineering Section) recommended that no modifications to the P-66 be undertaken, that they be removed from tactical operations and their future disposition be investigated. Less than a month later (March 6th, 1942) the first P-66s left Los Angeles aboard ship bound for China.

Equipping the C.A.F. - 1942

All the Curtiss P-40s shipped to China in 1941 went to the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G.). By the spring of 1942 the A.V.G. was being reinforced with additional P-40Es. The A.V.G. and its commander Col. Claire Chennault were only nominally part of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault reported directly to Chiang Kai-Shek and was not subordinate to the C.A.F. chain of command.

American aid for the C.A.F. was arriving at a disappointing pace. The only aircraft that actually arrived in China as of April 1st, 1942, were two C-53s, a C-39 and forty PT-22s (Ryan ST-3 trainers). Eight P-40Es for the A.V.G. were then en route to China flying across India. At Karachi awaiting movement to China were 12 P-40s, 30 P-43s, a C-39 [military variant of the DC-2 transport], and 30 additional PT-22s [Ryan primary trainers]. Thirty-four P-66s were at sea in the Atlantic (first shipment from California via the Panama Canal; others from East Coast ports) and nine others were aboard ship and about to sail. Thirty-three Lockheed Hudson bombers were still allocated to China but had yet to leave the United States.

Despite this discouraging record the Chinese had not been deterred from requesting additional Lend-Lease aircraft. China Defense Supplies on behalf of the Chinese government made a series of both long and short-term requests for aircraft by the first half of 1942. Their requests totaled 2,586 aircraft including 1,489 pursuit planes, 462 bombers, 478 training planes and 157 transports.

By the end of May 1942 twenty P-66s had arrived at Karachi. Eventually 128 P-66s would be shipped from the U.S. and 104 would arrive at Karachi. The others were lost when the ship carrying them was torpedoed.

Hopes for the P-66s to get into the hands of the C.A.F. at an early date faded due to events thousands of miles away. At the end of May 1942 German General Erwin Rommel began an offensive in the Libyan Desert. Within weeks Axis forces were in Egypt mounting a threat to the Suez Canal. U.S. bombers in India were diverted to the Middle East. The limited maintenance facilities at Karachi were devoted to placing bombers in commission for that theater. During June work on uncrating and assembling P-66s came to a standstill even as additional P-66s arrived at the port of Karachi and were transported to Malir airfield.

By July 1942 the crisis in the Middle East had eased and work on assembling the P-66s resumed. By early August the first twenty had been assembled, tested and accepted by the Chinese. Fifty-one others were in India half of which were then being assembled or awaiting testing.

In August the first A-29s [Lockheed Hudson light bombers] destined for China finally arrived in India. Some of the American crews that flew these aircraft would aid the C.A.F. in transition training on the new bombers. To add to the good news twenty-seven P-40s were allocated to the C.A.F. with delivery scheduled before the end of the year (these were P-40E-1s, serial numbers 41-36804 to 36831). These Kittykawks, as up to date as any flown by the U.S. in India or China, had been reallocated from the British at the end of June and the first batch shipped in August.

The C.A.F. 3rd Fighter Group began to send pilots to Karachi in July 1942 in order to ferry P-66s to China. Unlike the C.A.F. transition to the P-43 there were no A.V.G. pilots available to help the Chinese master the new P-66. The unit history of the [US] 51st Fighter Group (then at Karachi) contains no indication that their pilots were involved in test flying the P-66s or checking out Chinese pilots. There are indications that some U.S.A.A.F. pilots flew the P-66s at Karachi but their exact role is unclear. Perhaps the U.S. pilots were used to test the newly assembled P-66s after Vultee test pilot [Elwyn Gibbon, formerly a mercenary pilot in China] died when the P-66 he was flying crashed and burned.

By July 1942 General P.T. Mow had pronounced the P-43s then arriving in China as "not suitable for combat." As described in the author's article on the P-43 this pronouncement did not stand and the P-43 was used in combat both by the C.A.F. and the U.S.A.A.F. The P-43 flew combat missions with the U.S. 23rd Fighter Group as early as August 1942 and by October 1942 had claimed its first air victory with the C.A.F. However, in July 1942 it must have seemed urgent to get the P-66s to China so as to have a fighter force available to escort the A-29s that were about to arrive.

By mid-August the first six P-66s were ready to start the long journey across India. Fourteen other P-66s departed Karachi probably on the 26th or 27th of August. A message dated August 27th states the P-66 No. 42-6836 crashed at Bikaner killing the pilot.

Tales of the Flying Tigers

The transition of the C.A.F. pilots to the P-66 and their transfer across India did not go smoothly. By the end of September Col. Loo, the C.A.F. representative at Karachi, requested the U.S. furnish pilots to lead each group of five P-66s to China. He also requested that the U.S. take charge of transition training at Karachi. The U.S. response to Loo's request is unclear.

A message dated November 8th, 1942, summarized the P-66 situation at Karachi. One hundred four P-66s arrived. One was too corroded to assemble, one was lost before acceptance by the Chinese (presumably in the Gibbons crash), and two were used for parts. Eighty-one had been accepted by the Chinese and sixty-one flown away. Ten others were ready to fly. The remaining nineteen had been completed and delivered to the flight section.

Of the eighty-one P-66s accepted by the Chinese as of early November 1942, ten had crashed at Karachi. Complete details of losses on the ferry route are not known but three P-66s crashed at Jodhpur (first leg of the ferry route) and were shipped back to Karachi by rail. On October 26th four P-66s proceeded to Dinjan contrary to American advice. They arrived after dark and despite recent Japanese attacks the field's lights were turned on for a night landing. One P-66 landed safely. Three others were washed out in crashes with one Chinese pilot killed and one injured.

As of December 11th there were still fifteen P-66s at Karachi that had been ready to fly away for a considerable period. Col. Loo made repeated requests for C.A.F. pilots to fly these aircraft out but as of that date no pilots had been sent. In addition to the fifteen P-66s at Karachi, eighteen P-40s awaited C.A.F. pilots to fly them to China. They were part of the consignment of 27 P-40Es allocated to China only nine of which had been delivered to China. The seeming indifference of the Chinese to these readily available combat aircraft is difficult to understand. It reinforces the impression that some Americans had that the Chinese had no real interest in using their aircraft against the Japanese.

P-66 in CAF warpaint
P-66 in Chinese markings - a publicity shot at Downey

As previously mentioned the Chinese had requested large numbers of Lend-Lease aircraft amounting to 2,500 planes. Their 1943 request alone amounted to over 1,000 aircraft. In Washington the Munitions Assignment Board was beginning to review Chinese requests in an ever more critical manner.

In an action taken on August 31st, the Munitions Board cancelled the tentative assignment of 50 A-20Bs [Douglas twin-engine attack planes] to the Chinese. The Board recognized that the Chinese attached great importance to the order and that it had originally been made at the behest of Lauchlin Currie (a confidant of President Roosevelt). Nonetheless, due to production slippages A-20 deliveries were not expected to meet U.S., U.K. and U.S.S.R. requirements. Another factor in the Board's decision: "No information is available from General [Joseph] Stillwell as to the requirements of the Chinese for A-20 type airplanes."

[Thirty-three twin-engine Douglas A-20 attack planes and the same number of Lockheed A-29 light bombers had been allocated to the 2nd American Volunteer Group, recruited in the fall of 1941 but aborted after the Japanese attacks of December 7/8. The pilots, the air and ground crews, and the bombers were taken back into US service over the next several months. -- DF]

Two months later General Stillwell did weigh in on a munitions case. The Chinese requested an additional fifty P-40s at the rate of ten per month beginning in October 1942. The Board requested Stillwell's views: "General Stillwell replied on October 12, recommending that no additional combat aircraft be assigned to the Chinese until the Chinese Air Force has demonstrated that it can make use of the aircraft now in their possession." Stillwell pointed out that the Chinese had not used any of the aircraft purchased with Lend-Lease funds in combat. He suggested that if additional fighters were available they should go to the Tenth Air Force.

Perhaps it is mere coincidence that the day after Stillwell's radiogram to the Munitions Board, C.A.F. fighters put on an aerial demonstration over Chungking (where Stillwell had his headquarters) and two weeks later began a brief spurt of combat operations. The P-66s played a part in both events.

P-66s flew sixteen sorties from 25-27 October and four more sorties on November 10th. Their mission was to intercept Japanese reconnaissance aircraft but no interceptions were made. Unlike the P-43 with its turbo-supercharger and good high altitude performance the P-66 was not particularly well suited to intercept high altitude reconnaissance planes. In fact one is left with the impression that the P-66 had no single outstanding performance characteristic.

In November 1942 C.A.F. units contained 97 Lend-Lease aircraft: nine P-40s, 36 P-43s, 37 P-66s and 15 A-29s. These were supplemented by a small number of obsolescent Russian fighters and SB-2bis bombers. [The Tupelov SB or ANT-40 was a fast light bomber dating back to 1934.] The only available reinforcements were P-40s and P-66s then at Karachi.

As 1942 came to a close the P-66 was numerically the most important aircraft in the Chinese Air Force. The C.A.F. flew no combat missions in December 1942. How active the Chinese Air Force would be in 1943 and what role the P-66 would play remained to be seen.

the Glen Edwards diaries

P-66 Operations 1943

At the beginning of 1943 the C.A.F. fighters were all stationed at bases near Chungking and Chengtu with the mission of providing air defense to those cities and nearby airfields and military establishments. The P-66s had been distributed among three fighter groups some of which retained a few I-153s in addition to the Vanguards.

A Chinese fighter group had a nominal strength of forty aircraft (nine in each of four squadrons and four additional aircraft). Chinese information provided to Chennault's China Air Task Force in January and February 1943 gives a snap shot of P-66 status at that time.

The 3rd Fighter Group (7th, 8th, 32nd, and 38th squadrons) based at Peishiyi (near Chungking) had 15 P-66s and 94 pilots. Two squadrons were operational and two were in a training status due to lack of aircraft.

The 5th Fighter Group (17th, 26th, 27th, and 29th squadrons) had headquarters at Shangliu and an operational base at Lanchow. It had nine P-66s and 69 qualified pilots. Two squadrons were rated operationally ready.

The 11th Fighter Group (41st to 44th squadrons) was equipped with 15 P-66s and had 73 qualified pilots. It was based at Chunglai and two squadrons were operational. Pilots were non-commissioned officers (because of their lesser status some American observers thought selection of NCO pilots was less affected by graft and political influence than officer pilots and that they were less arrogant and more likely to accept constructive criticism during training).

More detailed insight into the operations of the C.A.F. is contained in a report by Kenneth M. Warder, a Vultee Aviation service representative, who spent three months with the C.A.F. (November 1942 to January 1943) and observed its operating and maintenance practices. Warder toured all the airfields and factories where the P-66 was operated and maintained.

When Warder first arrived he found all the aircraft on each airfield were actively engaged in flying - some in formation flying, some in gunnery and others practicing landings. He soon concluded this was a show for his benefit for as his stay lengthened he found the aircraft sitting inactive on the ground day after day. He had a difficult time checking flying time on aircraft. "However, I obtained one flight time record for 45 days on 10 airplanes which averaged 12 minutes per plane per day. At another airfield I obtained the time on 15 airplanes for two weeks. One airplane had flown for eight hours; the other airplanes had no time at all for two weeks."

Warder recounted a morale flight by three P-40s to a town a couple hundred miles from Chengtu (the citizens had raised money for C.A.F. aircraft and were receiving a demonstration of gratitude). Only one P-40 returned to Chengtu. The other two ran out of fuel on the return flight and crash-landed. One was a complete loss.

Warder also observed and heard reports of Chinese combat missions during November 1942. In one disastrous mission by twelve SB and Hudson bombers four failed to return despite the fact that no enemy opposition was encountered. On other missions bombers returned to base singly often strung out at intervals of an hour.

From conversations with C.A.F. pilots Warder concluded that most of them had very limited flying hours. He flew with one pilot who told him he had been a pilot for ten years - all during the early China war. When asked, the pilot said he had 1,000 flying hours. In flying Warder from one airport to another, a distance of about 50 miles, the pilot became lost for an hour.

Warder brought with him several dozen specialized tools of various kinds and turned them over to the Chinese Aeronautical Commission with the intention that they would be distributed to the tactical squadrons. He found that the tools were never distributed but retained as samples. Why so many "samples" were needed was never explained. Warder managed to personally deliver a few screwdrivers and cowling wrenches to two squadrons.

Warder found all the mechanics on each field shared a single small tool kit basically limiting maintenance to one aircraft at a time. If more than one aircraft had to be serviced at the same time, work had to be done with inefficient borrowing of tools among the mechanics involved.

Warder's report gives several specific examples of shoddy maintenance practices. He also discovered large quantities of tools, spares and materials kept in storage. In asking why the tools and materials could not be issued: "I was informed that they had to be kept in stock. That was my answer."

Warder's report concluded by saying concerning the Chinese war effort and flight operations, "a person can hardly see any." In three months in China he was aware of only three missions being flown. Warder estimated that when he left China in early February 1943 the Chinese had forty-five serviceable P-66s.

During January 1943 the P-40s and P-43s flew a few combat missions from Liangshan and Kweilin. This unaccustomed activity caused the Japanese to report that the Chungking air force had become "very active" at Kweilin. During this brief spate of activity two P-40s were lost to ground fire and P-43s claimed one victory in air combat. During February the 4th Fighter Group P-43s were in action again losing a fighter without claiming any victories. The P-66s remained at their bases near Chungking and Chengtu and saw no combat.

After a relative lull during the winter months, April brought intensified air operations. Fighters of the newly formed U.S.A.A.F. 14th Air Force clashed with Japanese aircraft several times during the month despite spotty weather. The fighters of the C.A.F. saw no action.

100 Hawks for China

A Japanese ground offensive south of the Yangtze River and westward from Tungting Lake spurred the C.A.F. into action during May. Chinese A-29s and SB-2s flew some 80 sorties between May 19th and June 6th. Chinese fighters flew over 300 sorties during the same period. Most of the fighter missions were flown by P-40Es and P-43s of the 4th Fighter Group. The P-66s maintained their defensive posture until June when the P-66s of the 11th Fighter Group joined in escort missions flying from Peishiyi with Enshih as an operational airfield.

June 6th proved to be the high water mark of the P-66's combat career. First, here are the events of that day as recorded by the Japanese:

"A huge bomber-fighter formation of Nippon Army planes heavily raided Liangshan, Szechuan province, on June 6, setting ablaze over 20 enemy P-40 fighters.

"Arriving above Liangshan at about 3 p.m. the Nippon Wild Eagles detecting over 20 enemy P-40 fighters on the ground, set all of them ablaze despite fierce anti-aircraft fire by the enemy. The Nippon raiders further smashed over 10 trucks and the runway as well as scoring hits on 10 fuel depots to set them afire.

"In this raid, three Nippon planes crashed into enemy soil.

"Another bomber formation carried out a surprise raid on Enshih, the advance enemy base in Hupei province, on the same day, wrecking havoc on the airfield with sure hits. Moreover, the Nippon bombers met seven enemy P-43 fighters which came up to challenge, and shot down one of them.

"One of the Nippon planes crashed against the enemy. All the other planes returned safely to base." ("Liangshan and Enshih Heavily Raided," Domei report, dateline June 8, Mainichi, June 9, 1943).

The action began with a C.A.F. mission against Niehkiako by three A-29s escorted by 13 P-40s and eight P-66s. Ground targets were bombed and strafed. One P-40 went down to ground fire. After the mission the P-40s returned to their base at Liangshan while the P-66s returned to Peishiyi by way of Enshih.

The Japanese sent formations against both Liangshan and Enshih. At Liangshan eight Type 99 light bombers of the 90th Flying Regiment were escorted by fourteen Type 1 Model II fighters of the 33rd Flying Regiment. The formation of eight light bombers sent against Enshih was unescorted.

At Liangshang the twelve Chinese P-40s landed. Also on the field were at least two American P-40s as well as a stray P-66 that had apparently landed with a wounded pilot. When aircraft were reported approaching there was no immediate concern as these were taken to be the formation of P-66s.

East of Enshih P-66s encountered the unescorted Type 99 light bombers that had just attacked the airfield. Although the Japanese identified their radial-engine opponents as P-43s, they were actually P-66s a type not previously encountered by the Japanese. The successful Chinese pilot was Chen Zhaoji of the 41st Squadron. The Ki 48 that went down took Lieut. Iwamura and the rest of his crew to their deaths.

At Liangshan the last Chinese pilot to land was Capt. Chow Chi-Kai (known as "Fatty") squadron leader of the 23rd Squadron who landed with his fuel tanks almost empty. Chow taxied his P-40 off the rain soaked runway. As he did he heard a radio warning of eight unidentified airplanes headed for the field. Chow had seen his first group commander killed trying to take off in the middle of a Japanese air raid in 1937 but he was determined to take to the air.

China Newsweek recorded what occurred. The aircraft referred to merely as "another plane" was identified in a 14th Air Force daily intelligence summary as a P-66. "Without hesitation he ordered his ground crew to push away his ship and climbed into another plane parked there. The pilot of that plane had been wounded and removed for medical care. Before he could check on the fuel or other equipment, however, Chow saw eight black planes approaching the field from the north on a bombing run...

"He started the engine...and taxied to take off without taking time to adjust his parachute, to buckle his safety belt or to close his cockpit cover."

Taildragger Tales

Chow was still in his take off run when bombs exploded on the runway just behind him and machine gun bullets hit nearby. "Before he was two hundred feet in the air he pulled for a 270 degree sharp, climbing turn, forgetting that such a maneuver might finish him in a stall. He followed the attacking Japanese bomber without even retracting his landing wheels and started to attack the leading flight which was coming back for another bombing run as soon as they came into range. He aimed at the flight leader and gave him a long burst. He turned away for another short attack on the starboard plane." This flight of bombers broke off the attack and headed eastward low over the Szechuan Mountains.

Five other bombers were strafing the field along with more than a dozen "Zeros." Chow debated briefly whether to take on these new opponents or follow the fleeing bombers. With his seat belt still unfastened and cockpit open, Chow decided a dogfight with fighters and bombers over the airfield made no sense. He decided to continue his attack on the first flight of bombers.

"Fatty" Chow attacked the port bomber, which was lagging slightly behind the other two. With his landing gear still extended he fired a long burst. The bomber burst into flames.

"Fatty" observed the rear gun of starboard bomber pointing idly in an upward direction. Suspecting the gunner might be killed he closed to thirty yards. The pilot immediately swung to the left to come under the protection of his leader's rear gun. "Fatty" fired a burst into the leader's right engine. The engine poured heavy black smoke and the bomber headed downward.

Flying Tigers: Ki-48 bomber
Type 99 light bomber with guns at the ready

The third bomber headed north. Chow followed, finally taking time to adjust his parachute and safety belt and retract his landing gear. When he was ready "Fatty" opened fire at the bomber's right engine. However, this bomber didn't catch fire. Instead it gyrated terrifically and became an erratic target for the Chinese pilot.

Chow fired a burst into the left engine. The Type 99 light bomber refused to catch fire. Chow pulled close to the bomber and flew parallel to it thirty yards off its wingtip and waggled his wings. The Japanese pilot had no intention of surrendering and turned sharply toward Chow. "Fatty" evaded and on his next pass aimed for the cockpit and fired a long burst. The bomber spun into the ground.

Back at Liangshan ten Chinese P-40s and a trainer had been destroyed, as had two U.S. P-40s. Three trucks and gas supplies also went up in flames. The wreckage of Chow's three victims was later found and his claims were verified.

Twenty-eight year old "Fatty" Chow received the Blue Sky - White Sun award from Chiang Kai-Shek as only the fourth recipient of China's highest award. He was soon promoted Major and appointed acting Group commander.

After the successful interception by the 11th Group P-66s and "Fatty" Chow's amazing feat in a borrowed P-66, all else was anti-climax. The Chinese fighters pulled back to Chungking and Chengtu. The P-40s and P-43s suffered losses and had many aircraft damaged during the combat in May and June. The P-66s had seen comparatively little action. The 4th Group was down to just 15 P-40s and P-43s of which only nine were serviceable. The P-66 squadrons remained strong with forty-six aircraft on hand of which thirty-nine were serviceable.

After the heavy Chinese losses the recently reinforced U.S.A.A.F. was able to spare some aircraft to reinforce the C.A.F. in June. Fifteen P-40Ms were diverted to the C.A.F. in two increments during that month. These were five P-40M-1s (serial numbers 43-5434, 5446, 5450, 5451, and 5456) and ten P-40M-5s (serial numbers 43-5463, 5692, 5694, 5707, 5710, 5712, 5713, 5716, 5719, 5721). Some of these aircraft saw combat during the later months of 1943.

Ki-43 fighter
Type 1 fighter of the 25th Flying Regiment

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

The P-66s next saw action on August 23rd when the Japanese bombed Chungking for the first time in nearly two years. Thirty-one Type 1 fighters of the 25th and 33rd Flying Regiments escorted twenty-one Type 97 bombers of the 58th Flying Regiment. The Chinese scrambled ten P-40s, eight P-43s, and eleven P-66s. Several of the Chinese fighters, apparently P-43s, managed to attack the Japanese bombers before the escort intervened. One Japanese bomber was lost. The Japanese claimed a P-40, two P-43s and an unidentified fighter as well as three P-43s uncertain. The Chinese lost a P-40, a P-43 and at least two P-66s. The Japanese reported that the fuel tanks of the "P-43s" could be punctured and it was easier to set on fire than the P-40. It is clear, however, that these comments most likely relate to the P-66 or to both the P-66 and P-43.

Sally bombers
A formation of Type 97 model II bombers

The P-66s saw action only one more time. This was during November 1943 in response to another Japanese ground offensive. On November 21st four P-66s ran afoul of Japanese fighters and all were lost with three pilots killed without any positive result.

After this the P-66 was definitely removed from a combat status. Used only for training the number of P-66s in C.A.F. units actually began to grow, as aircraft were overhauled with more abundant supplies made available by increases in tonnage delivered to China by air transport. In December 1943 there were 53 P-66s in C.A.F. units. Six months later the number had grown to sixty-two. By May of 1945 the number had grown to seventy after which the type was retired from service.

V. Assessment

Given the limited use made of the P-66 and the few combats in which it was engaged it is difficult to give the fighter a definitive assessment as a combat aircraft. It is probably fair to say, however, given the limited data available, that the P-66 showed itself to be a mediocre aircraft at best. The aircraft seemed to have no outstanding qualities. It appears to have been more vulnerable than its stable mate the P-43, an aircraft once called "unsuitable for combat" by the head of the Chinese Air Force but which ultimately performed creditably for both the Chinese and Americans.

On the other hand, the P-66 operated under the handicap of inadequate maintenance (as documented in the Warder report) and other deficiencies of the Chinese Air Force system of which some have been touched upon in this article. Indeed, historical data seems to suggest that deficiencies in organization, doctrine, training and leadership more than the quantity or quality of its aircraft were the primary factors that undermined the effectiveness of the Chinese Air Force. The exploration of that thought will, however, have to wait another day.


Many of the primary sources upon which this article is based are the same as those noted in complete form in the endnotes of the author's Republic P-43 and China's Air War available on this website. As in that article, much of the original information in this work is found in diplomatic and military messages exchanged between China and Washington or between various organizations within the China, Burma, India Theater. Official communiques of the combatants, newspapers, magazine articles and other contemporary documents provided important information and insights. Translations of intercepted Japanese messages, captured documents, and post-war monographs provided information on Japanese operations. State Department documents and military intelligence reports were also important sources. A variety of published works and Internet websites were also reviewed. While not all the sources for this article are contained in the endnotes of the P-43 article, the reader will get a good sense of the type of material used as well as many useful citations by reviewing those notes.

This article not only provides more detail on the P-66's use by the Chinese Air Force than heretofore but also in some cases disagrees with factual material contained in previously published sources. This article, for example, uses the figure of 128 P-66s shipped to the Chinese in 1942 whereas several sources cite 129 as the number shipped. My source for 128 is the formerly secret Military Intelligence Division history of the Chinese Air Force (cited in note 24 of the P-43 article). The total number was indeed 129 but the 129th and last P-66 was not delivered until 1944. For purposes of this article 128 is the correct number. In certain other instances where there is a conflict, previously published material is simply wrong.

Original photo credits for U.S. aircraft are believed to be the U.S. Army even for those photos with other source notations or "copyright" notices embedded. Japanese aircraft photos are via Rod's WarBirds [web page no longer available]. Profiles are thanks to Nick Millman.

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