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HOME > CAF > HAWK 75 - 2

Curtiss Hawk 75 three-view Hawk 75 showing the large landing gear fairings with which it was originally equipped, and which aree also seen on the H-75Ns purchased by Thailand

Uncertain Wings (continued)

Once the reports from China indicating deficient performance were received, Curtiss carried out a detailed test program (June 7 August 8, 1938) using Hawk 75M No. 9 and No. 30. The production aircraft obtained a maximum speed of 247 m.p.h. in these tests. Curtiss then fitted cut off exhaust stacks and employed a new design of landing gear. Subsequently equipment to modify the aircraft to the new configuration was shipped to China.

In its final form as tested in Buffalo, New York, the Hawk 75M obtained a maximum speed of 233 m.p.h. at sea level, 265 m.p.h. at 10,700 feet, and, 266 m.p.h. at 16,400 feet. Rate of climb at sea level was 2,370 feet per minute. Climbing time to 16,400 feet was 7 min. 41 secs. Service ceiling was 31,860 feet.

After arriving in China the Hawk 75M equipped the 16th, 18th and 25th Pursuit Squadrons of the Chinese Air Force. The 25th was a veteran pursuit squadron but pilots of the 16th and 18th squadrons had been flying single engine bombers and the squadrons had to be reorganized and retrained as pursuit units. Chennault aided in the retraining. All these squadrons received Hawk 75Ms by autumn 1938. However, as of mid-December only two Hawks had received the modifications that made them combat worthy. All the fighters were at bases in the interior of China while the modification kits had been shipped to a coastal port (presumably Hong Kong) and the exact means and timing of getting the required equipment to the fighters was uncertain.

On 2 January 1939 tragedy befall the 25th Squadron. While on a cross country flight from Chungking to Sichuan crashes killed five pilots. Apparently a sixth aircraft was washed out on the same occasion. The squadron then transferred to Lanzhou to reform. Later it received old Hawk III biplanes to supplement its few remaining Hawk 75s. Also during January the 16th and 18th Squadrons transferred to Kunming where they continued training under Chennaults tutelage. Apparently either training or modifying the fighters failed to progress satisfactorily. On April 8th, 1939 when twenty-three Japanese bombers raided Kunming no Chinese fighters rose to oppose them. Given the efficiency of the Chinese warning net around Kunming the failure to launch intercepting fighters could only have been a premeditated decision. Nine Chinese aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Some of these might have been Curtiss fighters but this is not certain.

In August 1939 the 25th Squadron at Lanzhou was disbanded with its pilots going to other units. In the same month the 16th Squadron was also disbanded. The 18th Squadron transferred to Chungking. There is no record of these units being in combat with their Hawks. The majority of their Hawk 75s had apparently been lost or rendered unserviceable in routine operations.

The 18th Squadron continued to fly Hawk 75s for the next year. In the spring of 1940 Hawk III biplanes supplemented the Hawk 75s. Later in the summer the 18th was brought back up to strength on Hawk 75s. In December 1940 the newly formed 11th Pursuit Group at Chengtu also had five Hawk 75s among its forty-three fighters. The others were various versions of Soviet supplied I-15 and I-16 types. The Curtiss fighters had been refurbished in maintenance facilities before being issued to the 11th.

The summer of 1940 saw the introduction of the Japanese Type Zero Carrier Fighter to China. The Zero was a superior fighter and the Chinese adopted a policy of avoiding combat with the Zero. On October 4, 1940 six Hawk 75s of the 18th Squadron were following that policy by clearing out of the Chengtu area as twenty-seven navy Type 96 medium bombers approached with an escort of eight Zero fighters. After finding no aerial opposition the Zeros led by Lt. Tamotsu Yokoyama left the bombers to seek prey. Among the Chinese aircraft they encountered were the Hawks of the 18th. They shot down one Hawk (No. 5044) with the pilot killed when his parachute failed to open and sent two other disabled Hawks to crash landings with wounded pilots. Two others possibly suffering battle damage returned to the airfield. These were among the five I-16s claimed by the Japanese. They also shot down a DB-3 bomber (claimed as an SB-2). Later the Japanese strafed Taipingsi airfield and claimed several Chinese aircraft destroyed on the ground. Two of these were the Hawk 75s recently returned from combat. This was the famous attack in which four Zero pilots actually landed on the enemy airfield in order to burn Chinese aircraft that their strafing attacks failed to destroy.

By December 1940 the 18th Squadron was down to its last serviceable Hawk 75 and was hors de combat leaving the 11th Pursuit Group and its five Hawk 75s as the only operational unit still flying the Curtiss fighter. The Chinese continued to avoid confrontations with the Japanese Zero fighters so the Chinese Air Force saw little combat during 1941. Its operational strength declined through normal wear and tear, insufficient maintenance and lack of spares. By 1942 the Hawk 75s were not among the American supplied aircraft listed as operational with the Chinese Air Force.

Hawk 75A. By early 1939 Chennault had prevailed in his squabble with Bill Pawley over who was to blame for the poor performance of the Hawk 75Ms delivered to China. Pawley was in the dog house. This presented an opening to Pawleys competitor A.L. Patterson. Patterson represented the interests of Seversky, Chance-Vought, and other American aviation companies. On March 25, 1939 Patterson signed a contract with the Chinese Government worth over $8 million to supply 54 Seversky fighters, 25 Vought dive bombers, and 120 Ryan and North American training planes.

Rather than a straight cash deal the contract required only 25% of the purchase price in cash with the remainder financed over a period of thirty months backed only by bearer bonds of the Chinese finance minister. The deal was complicated by a number of factors including the financial troubles of the Seversky Company which was in receivership having lost money on its P-35 contract with the U.S. Army. Moreover, Seversky was in disfavor with U.S. authorities for having sold fighters to Japan in 1938. Pawley made sure actual and potential difficulties with the Patterson deal were well known to important Chinese officials.

continued in part 3