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The Vultee P-66 in Chinese service (part 6)

continued from part 5

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

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.

Flying Tigers: 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.

Sources

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 (http://www.ijaafpics.com/). Profiles are thanks to Nick Millman.