Flying Tigers
revised and updated

About those AVG victory credits

AVG pilots were paid $500 for each Japanese plane they destroyed--a substantial sum, equivalent to perhaps $10,000 in our much-depreciated greenbacks. Unlike the practice in most air forces, a plane burned on the ground was given the same weight as one shot down in aerial combat. The record was further muddled by that fact that pilots sometimes shared bonus payments among everyone taking part in a mission. (This was especially likely to happen when a pilot was lost.)

In 1986, aviation enthusiast Dr Frank Olynyk worked through the AVG records, tossing out claims against aircraft on the ground and restoring air-to-air credits to the pilots who actually scored the kills, as shown by their combat reports and other documents. His work looked good to me, and I used in my 2007 and 2016 revisions of Flying Tigers and in the table that appears below.

CAMCO credits vs. air-to-air kills

Here are the 67 Flying Tigers who received bonus payments from CAMCO, followed by each man's victories as customarily shown, then by his air-to-air victories as calculated by Dr Olynyk from the AVG files in the Chennault Papers at Stanford. (This doesn't necessarily mean that the claim was a valid one; see below.)

Pilot bonus account
air-to-air kills
Frank Adkins 1.00 1.00
Noel Bacon 3.50 3.00
Percy Bartelt 7.00 5.00
William Bartling 7.27 5.00
Lewis Bishop 5.20 2.20
John Blackburn 2.00 2.00
Harry Bolster 2.00 1.00
Charles Bond 8.77 7.00
Gregory Boyington 3.50 2.00
J. Gilpin Bright 6.00 3.00
Robert Brouk 3.50 3.50
Carl Brown 0.27 0.00
George Burgard 10.79 10.00
Thomas Cole 1.00 1.00
James Cross 0.27 0.00
John Dean 3.27 3.00
John Donovan 4.00 1.00
Parker Dupouy 3.50 3.50
John Farrell 1.00 1.00
Henry Geselbracht 1.50 0.00
Paul Greene 2.00 2.00
Clifford Groh 2.00 2.00
Ralph Gunvordahl 1.00 1.00
Raymond Hastey 1.00 1.00
Thomas Haywood 5.08 4.00
Robert Hedman 4.83 6.00
David Lee Hill 11.25 10.25
Fred Hodges 1.00 1.00
Louis Hoffman 0.27 0.00
James Howard 6.33 2.33
Kenneth Jernstedt 10.50 3.00
Thomas Jones 4.00 1.00
Robert Keeton 2.50 2.00
Matthew Kuykendall 1.00 1.00
C. H. Laughlin 5.20 2.20
Frank Lawlor 8.50 7.00
Robert Layher 0.83 0.33
Edward Leibolt 0.27 0.00
Robert Little 10.55 10.00
William McGarry 10.29 8.00
George McMillan 4.08 4.50
Kenneth Merritt 1.00 1.00
Einar Mickelson 0.27 1.00
Robert Moss 4.00 2.00
Charles Mott 2.00 0.00
Robert Neale 15.55 13.00
John Newkirk 10.50 7.00
Charles Older 10.08 10.00
Arvid Olson 1.00 1.00
Edmund Overend 5.83 5.00
John Petach 3.98 3.98
Robert Prescott 5.29 5.50
Robert Raine 3.20 3.20
Edward Rector 6.52 4.75
William Reed 10.50 3.00
Freeman Ricketts 1.20 1.20
C. Joseph Rosbert 4.55 6.00
J. Richard Rossi 6.29 6.00
Robert Sandell 5.27 5.00
Charles Sawyer 2.27 2.00
Frank Schiel 7.00 4.00
Van Shapard 1.00 1.00
Eriksen Shilling 0.75 0.00
Robert H. Smith 5.50 5.00
Robert T. Smith 8.73 8.90
Fritz Wolf 2.27 4.00
Peter Wright 3.65 2.65
AVG Total 296.00 230.00

Most pilots lost credits through this redistribution, but those shown in boldface were unofficially credited with more air-to-air kills than they were paid for. Most were members of the 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels, the first in combat at Rangoon, when pilots often agreed to share the bonus equally among everyone taking part in an encounter. Duke Hedman, for example, was famed for becoming an "ace in a day" on December 25, 1941, but ended his AVG tour with just 4.83 official victories as a result of such an agreement. Similarly, Joe Rosbert deserved to be called an ace but fell short on the CAMCO accounting.

Altogether, 67 Flying Tigers received bonus payments. Of this number, 19 were aces in the traditional sense: i.e., credited with five or more air-to-air kills. This is not to say that the "kills" actually took place: fighter pilots in all air forces routinely claimed many more planes than they actually shot down. The AVG verification system was occasionally excellent (especially in small combats over Chinese-occupied territory) and often sloppy (especially in furballs over Burma). The February 25-26 combats in Rangoon and the "Emperor's birthday" battle on April 28 resulted in especially generous claims.

In a few cases, I was able to confirm or refute a specific claim. More often, it was impossible to match Japanese losses with AVG claims. This doesn't mean the claim wasn't valid, only that several Flying Tigers (and possibly some British Commonwealth pilots or even ack-ack) were shooting at the same aircraft, or that those pilots may have been mistaken. For the reasons for over-claiming in the Second World War, see Christopher Shores's letter on this subject.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Flying Tigers

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