|1st American Volunteer Group|
|Active||April 1941 – 4 July 1942|
|Type||Fighter pilot group|
60 aircraft average
|Nickname(s)||"The Flying Tigers"|
The First American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USMC), recruited under President Franklin Roosevelt's authority before Pearl Harbor and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. The warplanes would fly with Chinese colors but be under American control. The mission was to bomb Japan and defend China, but many delays meant they flew in combat after the US and Japan declared war.
The Republic of China Air Force is the military aviation branch of the Republic of China Armed Forces. The ROCAF's primary mission is the defense of the airspace over and around Taiwan. Priorities of the ROCAF include the development of long range reconnaissance and surveillance networks, integrating C4ISTAR systems to increase battle effectiveness, procuring counterstrike weapons, next generation fighters, and hardening airfields and other facilities to survive a surprise attack.
The United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) was the aerial warfare service of the United States of America between 1926 and 1941. After World War I, as early aviation became an increasingly important part of modern warfare, a philosophical rift developed between more traditional ground-based army personnel and those who felt that aircraft were being underutilized and that air operations were being stifled for political reasons unrelated to their effectiveness. The USAAC was renamed from the earlier United States Army Air Service on 2 July 1926, and was part of the larger United States Army. The Air Corps became the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, giving it greater autonomy from the Army's middle-level command structure. During World War II, although not an administrative echelon, the Air Corps (AC) remained as one of the combat arms of the Army until 1947, when it was legally abolished by legislation establishing the Department of the Air Force.
The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world, with the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the Navy is the third largest of the service branches. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the second largest and second most powerful air force in the world.
The group consisted of three fighter squadrons of around 30 aircraft each. It trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II with the mission of defending China against Japanese forces. The group of volunteers were officially members of the Chinese Air Force. The members of the group had contracts with salaries ranging from $250 a month for a mechanic to $750 for a squadron commander, roughly three times what they had been making in the U.S. forces. While it accepted some civilian volunteers for its headquarters and ground crew, the AVG recruited most of its staff from the U.S. military.
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat against other aircraft, as opposed to bombers and attack aircraft, whose main mission is to attack ground targets. The hallmarks of a fighter are its speed, maneuverability, and small size relative to other combat aircraft.
A squadron in air force, army aviation, or naval aviation is a unit comprising a number of military aircraft and their aircrews, usually of the same type, typically with 12 to 24 aircraft, sometimes divided into three or four flights, depending on aircraft type and air force. Land based squadrons equipped with heavier type aircraft such as long-range bombers, or cargo aircraft, or air refueling tankers have around 12 aircraft as a typical authorization, while most land-based fighter equipped units have an authorized number of 18 to 24 aircraft.
The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.
The group first saw combat on 20 December 1941, 12 days after Pearl Harbor (local time). It demonstrated innovative tactical victories when the news in the U.S. was filled with little more than stories of defeat at the hands of the Japanese forces, and achieved such notable success during the lowest period of the war for both the U.S. and the Allied Forces as to give hope to America that it might eventually defeat the Japanese. AVG pilots earned official credit, and received combat bonuses, for destroying 296 enemy aircraft, while losing only 14 pilots in combat.The combat records of the AVG still exist and researchers have found them credible. On 4 July 1942 the AVG was disbanded. It was replaced by the 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces, which was later absorbed into the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force with General Chennault as commander. The 23rd FG went on to achieve similar combat success, while retaining the nose art on the left-over P-40s.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, on the morning of December 7, 1941. The attack, also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, led to the United States' formal entry into World War II. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.
The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.
The 23d Fighter Group is a United States Air Force unit. It is assigned to the 23d Wing and stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
The American Volunteer Group was largely the creation of Claire L. Chennault, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps officer who had worked in China since August 1937, first as military aviation advisor to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in the early months of the Sino-Japanese War, then as director of a Chinese Air Force flight school centered in Kunming. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union supplied fighter and bomber squadrons to China, but these units were mostly withdrawn by the summer of 1940. Chiang then asked for American combat aircraft and pilots, sending Chennault to Washington as an adviser to China's ambassador and Chiang's brother-in-law, T. V. Soong.
The American Volunteer Groups were volunteer air units organized by the United States government to aid the Nationalist government of China against Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. The only unit to actually see combat was the 1st AVG, popularly known as the Flying Tigers.
Military aviation is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling aerial warfare, including national airlift capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Airpower includes the national means of conducting such warfare, including the intersection of transport and war craft. Military aircraft include bombers, fighters, transports, trainer aircraft, and reconnaissance aircraft.
Generalissimo is a military rank of the highest degree, superior to field marshal and other five-star ranks in the countries where they are used.
Since the U.S. was not at war, the "Special Air Unit" could not be organized overtly, but the request was approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. The resulting clandestine operation was organized in large part by Lauchlin Currie, a young economist in the White House, and by Roosevelt intimate Thomas G. Corcoran. (Currie's assistant was John King Fairbank, who later became America's preeminent Asian scholar.) Financing was handled by China Defense Supplies – primarily Tommy Corcoran's creation – with money loaned by the U.S. government. Purchases were then made by the Chinese under the "Cash and Carry" provision of the Neutrality Act of 1939.Previously in the 1930s, a number of American pilots including Annapolis graduate Frank Tinker had flown combat during the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Members were organized into the Yankee Squadron.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A Democrat, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. He is often rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Lauchlin Bernard Currie worked as White House economic adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II (1939–45). From 1949-53, he directed a major World Bank mission to Colombia and related studies. Information from the Venona project, a counter-intelligence program undertaken by agencies of the United State government, references him in nine partially decrypted cables sent by agents of the Soviet Union. He became a Colombian citizen after the United States refused to renew his passport in 1954 due to doubts of his loyalty to the United States engendered by testimony of former Communist agents and information in the Venona decrypts.
Thomas Gardiner Corcoran was one of several advisors in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's brain trust during the New Deal, and later, a close friend and advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Chennault spent the winter of 1940–1941 in Washington, supervising the purchase of 100 Curtiss P-40 fighters and the recruiting of 100 pilots and some 200 ground crew and administrative personnel that would constitute the 1st AVG. He also laid the groundwork for a follow-on bomber group and a second fighter group, though these would be aborted after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Of the pilots, 60 came from the Navy and Marine Corps and 40 from the Army Air Corps. (One army pilot was refused a passport because he had earlier flown as a mercenary in Spain, so only 99 actually sailed for Asia. Ten more army flight instructors were hired as check pilots for Chinese cadets, and several of these would ultimately join the AVG's combat squadrons.) The volunteers were discharged from the armed services, to be employed for "training and instruction" by a private military contractor, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), which paid them $600 a month for pilot officers, $675 a month for flight leaders, $750 for squadron leaders (no pilot was recruited at this level), and about $250 for skilled ground crewmen.
Some of the pilots were also orally promised a bounty of $500 for each enemy aircraft shot down, but no one knew if that would actually happen until they returned home and found the funds deposited in their bank.[ citation needed ]
Although sometimes considered a mercenary unit, the AVG was closely associated with the U.S. military. Most histories of the Flying Tigers say that on 15 April 1941, President Roosevelt signed a "secret executive order" authorizing servicemen on active duty to resign in order to join the AVG. However, Flying Tigers historian Daniel Ford could find no evidence that such an order ever existed, and he argued that "a wink and a nod" was more the president's style.In any event, the AVG was organized and in part directed out of the White House, and by the spring of 1942 had effectively been brought into the U.S. Army chain of command.
During the summer and fall 1941, some 300 men carrying civilian passports boarded ships destined for Burma. They were initially based at a British airfield in Toungoo for training while their aircraft were assembled and test flown by CAMCO personnel at Mingaladon Airport outside Rangoon. Chennault set up a schoolhouse that was made necessary because many pilots had "lied about their flying experience, claiming pursuit experience when they had flown only bombers and sometimes much less powerful aeroplanes."They called Chennault "the Old Man" due to his much older age and leathery exterior obtained from years flying open cockpit pursuit aircraft in the Army Air Corps. Most believed that he had flown as a fighter pilot in China, although stories that he was a combat ace are probably apocryphal.
Of the 300 original members of the CAMCO personnel, 9 were Chinese-Americans recruited from America's Chinatowns. All 9 were trained at Allison Engineworks in Indianapolis, Indiana: all were P-40 mechanics. Upon arrival in Kunming, 2 other Chinese-Americans were hired, a Ford Motor truck specialist and a doctor. Total original Chinese-Americans were 11. Prior to July 4, 1942, 3 of the P-40 mechanics resigned. The official AVG roster lists the original 8.[ citation needed ]
The AVG was created by an executive order of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. He did not speak English, however, and Chennault never learned to speak Chinese. As a result, all communications between the two men were routed through Soong Mei-ling, "Madame Chiang" as she was known to Americans, and she was designated the group's "honorary commander."
Chennault preached a radically different approach to air combat based on his study of Japanese tactics and equipment, his observation of the tactics used by Soviet pilots in China, and his judgment of the strengths and weaknesses of his own aircraft and pilots. The actual average strength of the AVG was never more than 62 combat-ready pilots and fighters. Chennault faced serious obstacles since many AVG pilots were inexperienced and a few quit at the first opportunity. However, he made a virtue out of these disadvantages, shifting unsuitable pilots to staff jobs and always ensuring that he had a squadron or two in reserve. (The AVG had no ranks, so no division between officers and enlisted soldiers existed.)
Chennault and the Flying Tigers benefited from the country's warning network, called "the best air-raid warning system in existence":
Starting from areas in Free China, in hundreds of small villages, in lonely outposts, in hills and caves, stretching from near Canton through all Free China to the capital in Chungking and to Lanchow, far northwest, are a maze of alarm stations equipped with radios and telephones that give instant warning of the approach of Japanese planes.
When Japanese aircraft attacked, Chennault's doctrine called for pilots to take on enemy aircraft in teams from an altitude advantage, since their aircraft were not as maneuverable or as numerous as the Japanese fighters they would encounter. He prohibited his pilots from entering into a turning fight with the nimble Japanese fighters, telling them to execute a diving or slashing attack and to dive away to set up for another attack. This "dive-and-zoom" technique was contrary to what the men had learned in U.S. service as well as what the Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in Burma had been taught; it had been used successfully, however, by Soviet units serving with the Chinese Air Force.
AVG fighter aircraft came from a Curtiss assembly line producing Tomahawk IIB models for the Royal Air Force in North Africa. The Tomahawk IIB was similar to the U.S. Army's earlier P-40B model, and there is some evidence that Curtiss actually used leftover components from that model in building the fighters intended for China.The fighters were purchased without "government-furnished equipment" such as reflector gunsights, radios and wing guns; the lack of these items caused continual difficulties for the AVG in Burma and China.
The 100 P-40 aircraft were crated and sent to Burma on third country freighters during spring 1941. At Rangoon, they were unloaded, assembled and test flown by personnel of Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) before being delivered to the AVG training unit at Toungoo.One crate was dropped into the water and a wing assembly was ruined by salt water immersion, so CAMCO was able to deliver only 99 Tomahawks before war broke out. (Many of those were destroyed in training accidents.) The 100th fuselage was trucked to a CAMCO plant in Loiwing, China, and later made whole with parts from damaged aircraft. Shortages in equipment with spare parts almost impossible to obtain in Burma along with the slow introduction of replacement fighter aircraft were continual impediments although the AVG did receive 50 replacement P-40E fighters from USAAF stocks toward the end of its combat tour.
AVG fighter aircraft were painted with a large shark face on the front of the aircraft. This was done after pilots saw a photograph of a P-40 of No. 112 Squadron RAF in North Africa,which in turn had adopted the shark face from German pilots of the Luftwaffe's ZG 76 heavy fighter wing, flying Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters in Crete. (The AVG nose-art is variously credited to Charles Bond and Erik Shilling.) About the same time, the AVG was dubbed "The Flying Tigers" by its Washington support group, called China Defense Supplies. The P-40's good qualities included pilot armor, self-sealing fuel tanks, sturdy construction, heavy armament, and a higher diving speed than most Japanese aircraft – qualities that could be used to advantage in accordance with Chennault's combat tactics. Chennault created an early warning network of spotters that would give his fighters time to take off and climb to a superior altitude where this tactic could be executed.
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The port of Rangoon in Burma and the Burma Road leading from there to China were of crucial importance. Eastern China was under Japanese occupation, so all military supplies for China arrived via the Burma route. By November 1941, when the pilots were trained and most of the P-40s had arrived in Asia, the Flying Tigers were divided into three squadrons: 1st Squadron ("Adam & Eves"); 2nd Squadron ("Panda Bears") and 3rd Squadron ("Hell's Angels").They were assigned to opposite ends of the Burma Road to protect this vital line of communications. Two squadrons were based at Kunming in China, and a third at Mingaladon Airport near Rangoon. When the United States officially entered the war, the AVG had 82 pilots and 79 aircraft, although not all were combat-ready. Tiger Erik Shilling, part of the third squadron commented:. "This was the beginning of the greatest adventure I would ever hope to experience. It wasn't until years later that I fully realized the magnitude and significance of this first step, to be a lifelong adventure in the mystic Far East."
The AVG's first combat mission was on 20 December 1941, when aircraft of the 1st and 2nd squadrons intercepted 10 unescorted Kawasaki Ki-48 "Lily" bombers of the 21st Hikōtai attacking Kunming. The bombers jettisoned their loads before reaching Kunming. Three of the Japanese bombers were shot down near Kunming and a fourth was damaged so severely that it crashed before returning to its airfield at Hanoi. Later, Chinese intelligence intercepted Japanese communications indicating that only 1 out of the 10 bombers ultimately returned to base. Furthermore, the Japanese discontinued their raids on Kunming while the AVG was based there. One P-40 crash-landed; it was salvaged for parts. This mission was one of the earliest American aerial victories in the Pacific War.
The first squadron had flown up to Kunming to defend the terminus of the Burma Road and saw some combat action on 20 December 1941 while defending Rangoon from Japanese bombers, taking down four of them and disrupting their attack on Burma Road.
At this time, the focus of Japan's offensive efforts in the AVG's coverage area was southern Burma. The 3rd Squadron – 18 aircraft strong – defended Rangoon from 23–25 December. On 23 December, Mitsubishi Ki-21 "Sally" heavy bombers of the 60th, 62nd and 98th Sentai, along with single-engined Mitsubishi Ki-30 "Ann" attack bombers of the 31st Sentai, sortied against Rangoon. They were escorted by Nakajima Ki-27 "Nate" fighters of 77th Sentai. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) formation was intercepted by the AVG and RAF Brewster Buffalos of 67 Squadron. Eight Ki-21s were shot down for the loss of three AVG P-40s. The 60th Sentai was particularly hard hit – it lost five out of the 15 bombers it had dispatched. Nevertheless, Rangoon and Mingaladon airfield were successfully bombed, with the city suffering more than 1,000 dead. Two Buffalos and two P-40s were destroyed on the ground, and one P-40 crashed when it attempted to land on a bomb-damaged runway.
On 25 December, the JAAF returned, reinforced by Ki-21s of 12th Sentai and Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusas (Oscars) of the 64th Sentai (Colonel Tateo Katō's Flying Squadron). A total of 63 bombers escorted by 25 fighters were committed. These were intercepted by 14 P-40s of the AVG's 3rd Squadron and 15 Buffalos of 67 Squadron. In the two encounters, 35 Japanese bombers and fighters were shot down. The Allies lost two pilots and five P-40s.Mingaladon airfield was once again damaged, and eight Buffalos were destroyed on the ground.
After its losses in the 23–25 December battles, the 3rd Squadron was relieved by the 2nd Squadron "Panda Bears", which carried out a series of raids on JAAF airbases in Thailand. The Japanese had moved aircraft to Malaya to finish off Singapore, and its remaining aircraft in the area (the 77th, 31st and 62nd Sentai) launched fighter sweeps and counter raids on the Allied airfield at Mingaladon.
On 12 January, the Japanese launched their Burma Campaign. Significantly outnumbered, the AVG was gradually reduced through attrition, but often exacted a disproportionate toll of their attackers. On 24 January, six Ki-21s of the 14th Sentai escorted by Ki-27s attacked Mingaladon. All the Ki-21s were shot down by the AVG and RAF defenders. On 28 January, a fighter sweep of 37 Ki-27s was engaged by 16 AVG P-40s and two RAF fighters. Three "Nates" were shot down for the loss of two P-40s. The next day, another sweep of 20 Ki-27s of the 70th Sentai was met by 10 Allied fighters (eight P-40s and two Hawker Hurricanes). Four were shot down for the loss of no Allied aircraft.
Despite these minor victories and Chennault's reinforcement of the "Panda Bears" with pilots from the "Adam and Eves", by mid-February, only 10 P-40s were still operational at Mingaladon. Commonwealth troops retreated before the Japanese onslaught, and the AVG was pressed into the ground attack role to support them. One unfortunate result of these missions was a prolonged air attack on a suspected Japanese column on 21 February that turned out to consist of Commonwealth troops. More than 100 Allied lives were lost in this friendly fire incident. On 27 February, after hearing that the RAF was retreating and pulling out its radar equipment, the AVG withdrew to bases in northern Burma.
By 24 January, the Flying Tigers had destroyed 73 Japanese aircraft while losing only five themselves — a notable performance, considering the AVG was outnumbered and faced experienced and fully trained Japanese pilots. The main disadvantage of JAAF fighter pilots of this period was the near-obsolescence of their predominant fighter type in the theater, the Ki-27. Though more maneuverable than the P-40, its armament and performance was inferior. Lightly constructed and armed, it could not withstand frontal attacks nor could it out-dive Allied fighters such as the P-40; if it attempted to, it often came apart in the air. In fact, its cruising speed was less than that of the Ki-21 bombers it was intended to escort.
After Rangoon was lost to the Japanese at the end of February, the AVG relocated to Magwe, a small British airfield more than 300 miles north of Rangoon. Chennault started moving elements of the now reconstituted 3rd Squadron to Magwe as reinforcement to his worn down 1st and 2nd squadrons. Aircraft attrition became so high that at this point, individual squadron distinctions became meaningless, and all three squadrons had elements based there, along with a number of RAF aircraft. In total, the Allies had 38 aircraft, including eight P-40s and 15 Hawker Hurricanes. Opposing them were 271 Japanese aircraft, including 115 fighters. Although the AVG and the RAF scored some successes against the JAAF, Magwe was continuously bombed, including a very heavy raid on 21 March by 151 bombers and fighters. On 23 March with only four aircraft left, the AVG was forced to relocate to Loiwing, just across the Chinese border. The Tigers crossed into China on a rickety suspension bridge over a deep gorge. A few months later, they came back to destroy the bridge so no Japanese soldiers could come across that way into China.
Reinforced by new P-40E "Kittyhawks" and by repaired aircraft from the AVG's excellent maintenance group, 12 P-40s were based at Loiwing on 8 April. Despite the long retreats, their losses and incessant air combat, the AVG still retained their abilities. That day, 12 Oscars from the 64th Sentai raided the base. In the ensuing series of dogfights, four Ki-43s were downed in exchange for one P-40E destroyed on the ground. During this period, Chinese and American commanders pressured Chennault to order his pilots to undertake so-called "morale missions". These were overflights and ground attacks intended to raise the morale of hard-pressed Chinese soldiers by showing they were getting air support. The AVG's pilots seethed with resentment at these dangerous missions (which some considered useless), a feeling which culminated in the so-called "Pilot's Revolt" of mid-April. Chennault suppressed the "revolt" and ordered the ground attack missions to continue. But despite their efforts, the Allied situation in Burma continued to deteriorate. On 29 April the AVG was ordered to evacuate Loiwing and relocate to Baoshan in China.
Like the AVG's other bases, Baoshan was repeatedly bombed by the Japanese Army Air Force. Still, the AVG scored against their JAAF tormentors, bringing down four "Nates" of the 11th Sentai on 5 May and two "Anns". By 4 May, the successful Japanese Burma offensive was winding down, except for mopping up actions. One of these was an attempt by a regiment of the Japanese 56th Division to drive for Kunming, an effort that was stopped by the Chinese army operating with strong air support from the AVG. On 7 May the Japanese Army began building a pontoon bridge across the upper Salween River, which would allow them to move troops and supplies into China and drive towards Kunming. To stem this tide, 2nd Squadron Leader David Lee "Tex" Hill led a flight of four new P-40Es bombing and strafing into the mile deep Salween River Gorge. During the next four days, the AVG pilots flew continuous missions into the gorge, effectively neutralizing the Japanese forces. This prevented a Japanese advance on Kunming and Chungking; the Japanese never advanced farther than the west bank of the upper Salween. Claire Chennault later wrote of these critical missions, "The American Volunteer Group had staved off China's collapse on the Salween." Despite being on the defensive thereafter, the AVG continued to harass the JAAF with raids on their Vietnamese bases.
With the Burma campaign over, Chennault redeployed his squadrons to provide air protection for China. The Doolittle Raid had prompted the Japanese to launch an offensive to seize AVG air bases that could be used for attacks on the Japanese homeland. By 1 June, personnel that would form the nucleus of the new USAAF 23rd Fighter Group (the AVG's replacement) were beginning to trickle into the theater. Some of the last missions the AVG flew were defending Guilin against raids by JAAF Nates, Lilys, and new Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu ("Nick") heavy fighters. The AVG's last combat was over Hengyang on the day it was disbanded, 4 July 1942. In this final action, the AVG shot down four Ki-27s with no AVG losses.
The AVG lacked many resources. Despite its location in areas with malaria and cholera, it had only "four doctors, three nurses and a bottle of iodine." Pilots found the food disgusting, and the slow mail from home and lack of women hurt morale. A squadron had 45 maintenance personnel compared to the normal more than 100, and only one base could perform major repairs.Nonetheless, the AVG was officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed, including 229 in the air. Fourteen AVG pilots were killed in action, captured, or disappeared on combat missions. Two died of wounds sustained in bombing raids, and six were killed in accidents during the Flying Tigers' existence as a combat force.
The AVG's kill ratio was superior to that of contemporary Allied air groups in Malaya, the Philippines, and elsewhere in the Pacific theater. The AVG's success is all the more remarkable since they were outnumbered by Japanese fighters in almost all their engagements. The AVG's P-40s were superior to the JAAF's Ki-27s, but the group's kill ratio against modern Ki-43s was still in its favor. In Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941–1942, Daniel Ford attributes the AVG's success to morale and group esprit de corps. He notes that its pilots were "triple volunteers" who had volunteered for service with the U.S. military, the AVG, and brutal fighting in Burma. The result was a corps of experienced and skilled volunteer pilots who wanted to fight.
During their service with the Nationalist Chinese air force, 33 AVG pilots and three ground crew received the Order of the Cloud and Banner, and many AVG pilots received the Chinese Air Force Medal. Each AVG ace and double ace was awarded the Five Star or Ten Star Wing Medal.
Nineteen pilots were credited by the AVG with five or more air-to-air victories:
The success of the AVG led to negotiations in spring 1942 to induct it into the USAAF. Chennault was reinstated as a colonel and immediately promoted to brigadier general commanding U.S. Army air units in China (initially designated China Air Task Force and later the 14th Air Force), while continuing to command the AVG by virtue of his position in the Chinese Air Force. On 4 July 1942, the AVG was replaced by the 23rd Fighter Group. Most AVG pilots refused to remain with the unit as a result of the strong arm tactics by the USAAF general sent to negotiate with them. However, five pilots accepted commissions in China including "Tex" Hill, one of Chennault's most loyal devotees, with others remaining for a two-week transition period. (U.S. airmen and the press continued to use the "Flying Tiger" name to refer to USAAF units in China to the end of the war, and the name continues to be applied to certain air force and army aviation squadrons.) Most AVG pilots became transport pilots in China, went back to America into civilian jobs, or rejoined the military services and fought elsewhere in the war.
One of the pilots drawn to the success of the AVG was Robert Lee Scott, Jr. who was flying supplies into Kunming over the Hump from India. He convinced Chennault to loan him a P-40 which he flew to protect the supply route; his aggressiveness led to Chennault's recruiting him as commander of the 23rd Fighter Group. Scott brought recognition to his exploits and those of the Flying Tigers with his 1943 best-selling autobiography God is My Co-Pilot that was then made by Warner Bros. into a popular film in 1945.
There are several museum displays in the United States honoring the Flying Tigers. The National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, has an extensive display dedicated to the AVG, including an A-2 jacket worn by an AVG pilot in China, a banner presented to the AAF by the Chinese government, and a P-40E. The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida also has a Flying Tiger display. The Chennault Aviation Museum in Monroe, Louisiana has an extensive collection of Flying Tigers and AVG memorabilia. The AVG monument in the National Museum of the United States Air Force Memorial Garden features a marble sculpture of a pagoda crowned with a brass model of a P-40; the monument stands nearly 14 feet tall. The Palm Springs Air Museum has a display of memorabilia inside a mockup of AVG ground facilities, with a P-40N painted in AVG markings. Finally, a memorial to the AVG and 14th AF is located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, depicting a P-40 in AVG markings with a bronze plaque describing the unit's history and Vandenberg's role as headquarters for the 14th AF.
There are also several memorials to the AVG in Asia. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a marble obelisk was dedicated on 11 November 2003, inscribed to Chennault; to Jack Newkirk, who was killed in North Thailand on 24 March 1942; and to Charles Mott and William McGarry, who were shot down and captured in Thailand. In Taiwan, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek requested a statue of Chennault in the New Park of Taipei to commemorate this wartime friend after his death (the statue has since been relocated to Hualian AFB). A Flying Tigers Memorial is located in the village of Zhijiang, Hunan Province, China and there is a museum dedicated exclusively to the Flying Tigers. The building is a steel and marble structure, with wide sweeping steps leading up to a platform with columns holding up the memorial's sweeping roof; on its back wall, etched in black marble, are the names of all members of the AVG, 75th Fighter Squadron, and 14th Air Force who died in China. In 2005, the city of Kunming held a ceremony memorializing the history of the Flying Tigers in China, and on 20 December 2012, the Flying Tigers Museum opened in Kunming. The date is the 71st anniversary of the first combat from Kunming of the Flying Tigers. The Memorial Cemetery to Anti-Japanese Aviator Martyrs in Nanjing, China features a wall listing the names of Flying Tiger pilots and other pilots who defended China in World War II, and has several unmarked graves for such American pilots.
The largest private museum in China, Chengdu Jianchuan Museum, devotes a wing in its military section to the history of the Flying Tigers, including a tribute wall featuring a thousand porcelain photos of members of the Flying Tigers as well as many historical artifacts from the era.
In March 2015, the Flying Tiger Heritage Park was opened in Guilin in collaboration with the Flying Tiger Historical Organization. The park is built on the site of Yangtang Airfield and includes a museum, aircraft shelters, and relics of a command post located in a cave.
The wreckage of a P-40 with CAF serial number P-8115 is on display in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The aircraft is believed to be that flown by William "Mac" McGarry when he was hit by anti-aircraft fire while flying top cover over Chiang Mai on 24 March 1942. The aircraft crashed into the rain forest in northern Thailand. McGarry was captured and interrogated, and spent most of the war in a Thai prison. Toward the end of the war the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) arranged for the Free Thai Movement to spirit him out of the prison to a PBY Catalina in the Gulf of Thailand. The wreck of his P-40 was discovered in 1991, and consists of the P-40's Allison engine, Hamilton Standard propeller and parts of the airframe. Today the wreckage is displayed at the Tango Squadron Wing 41 Museum in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The wreck of another AVG P-40 is believed to be in Lake Dianchi (Lake Kunming). The fighter is believed to be a P-40E piloted by John Blackburn when it crashed into the lake on a gunnery training flight on 28 April 1942, killing the pilot. His body was recovered from the aircraft, which was submerged in 20 feet of water. In 1997 a U.S.-Chinese group called the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation was formed to locate the aircraft and possibly raise and restore it. In March 1998, they contacted the China Expedition Association about conducting the recovery operation. Over 300 aircraft are believed to have crashed into Lake Dianchi (including a second AVG P-40) so locating the aircraft proved difficult. In 2003, an aircraft believed to be Blackburn's was found embedded in nine feet of bottom silt. An effort was made in September 2005 to raise the aircraft, but the recovery was plagued with difficulties and it remains deep under the lake bottom. Since the aircraft was complete and relatively undamaged when John Blackburn's body was removed from it in 1942, it is hoped that the aircraft will be in good condition and capable of being restored, possibly to flying condition.
Just before their 50th reunion in 1992, the AVG veterans were retroactively recognized as members of the U.S. military services during the seven months the group was in combat against the Japanese. The AVG was then awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for "professionalism, dedication to duty, and extraordinary heroism." In 1996, the U.S. Air Force awarded the pilots the Distinguished Flying Cross and the ground crew were all awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
A number of feature films have referenced the AVG directly or indirectly, the most famous being Flying Tigers , a 1942 black-and-white film from Republic, starring John Wayne and John Carroll as fighter pilots. Other wartime films with an AVG angle included The Sky's the Limit (1943, starring Fred Astaire as a Flying Tiger ace on leave); Hers to Hold (1943, with Joseph Cotten); God is My Co-Pilot , (1945, with Dennis Morgan as Robert Lee Scott, Raymond Massey as Chennault, and John Ridgely as Tex Hill); and China's Little Devils (1945).
Similarly, the Flying Tigers have been the focus of several novels, including Tonya, by Pappy Boyington; Remains, by Daniel Ford; Spies in the Garden, by Bob Bergin and Tiger Ten by William D Blankenship. A novel for younger readers was Tiger, Lion, Hawk by Earle Rice Jr.
In the Star Wars guidebook The Essential Guide to Warfare, an X-wing Starfighter squadron named the "Lightspeed Panthers" was mentioned in the book. Warfare co-author Paul R. Urquhart confirmed in Warfare's endnotes that the squadron was intended to be a direct reference to the Flying Tigers.
The Air Force Falcons football team saluted the Chinese military and the United States Navy and Marine Corps by wearing special Flying Tigers uniforms, including sharktooth designs on the helmets, for two games during the 2016 college football season.The team first wore the uniform for its September 10 game against Georgia State, and again for the Arizona Bowl against South Alabama.
Claire Lee Chennault was an American military aviator best known for his leadership of the "Flying Tigers" and the Republic of China Air Force in World War II.
The Fourteenth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). It is headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), also known as the Loiwing Factory (雷允飛機製造廠), was a Chinese aircraft manufacturer established by American entrepreneur William D. Pawley in the 1930s.
David Lee "Tex" Hill was an American fighter pilot and triple flying ace. He is credited with 12 ¼ victories as a squadron leader with the Flying Tigers and another six as an officer in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II. He retired as a brigadier general.
The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) was formed by the Kuomintang after the establishment of the Aviation Ministry in 1920. As tensions mounted between China and Imperial Japan in the 1930s, a number of smaller Chinese warlord airforce men and equipment became integrated into the ROCAF in a centralized effort to counter Imperial Japanese military ambitions.
God is My Co-Pilot is a 1945 American black-and-white biographical war film from Warner Bros. Pictures, produced by Robert Buckner, directed by Robert Florey, that stars Dennis Morgan and co-stars Dane Clark and Raymond Massey. The screenplay by Abem Finkel and Peter Milne is based on the 1943 autobiography of the same name by Robert Lee Scott, Jr.. It recounts Scott's service with the Flying Tigers and the United States Army Air Forces in China and Burma during World War II.
The Second Sino-Japanese War began on 7 July 1937 with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in the Republic of China. The war, by some seen as the start of World War II, ended when the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies in August 1945. By the end of July 1937, fighting had escalated into a full-scale war and both countries deployed their air forces, ground troops, and warships into combat. Japanese heavy bombers also extensively bombed Chinese factories, airfields and conducted the first major air-raids against civilian targets in the war.
Edward Franklin Rector was a colonel in the United States Air Force, a fighter ace of World War II, and a member of the Flying Tigers.
Flying Tigers is a 1942 American black-and-white war film drama from Republic Pictures that was produced by Edmund Grainger, directed by David Miller, and stars John Wayne, John Carroll, and Anna Lee.
Gerhard Neumann was a German-American aviation engineer and executive for General Electric's aircraft engine division. Born and raised in Germany, he went to China shortly before World War II and ended up being an aircraft mechanic for the United States Army Air Forces there. He became an American citizen by an Act of Congress and went on to a career in the aerospace manufacturing industry.
The 75th Fighter Squadron(75 FS) is a United States Air Force unit. It is assigned to the 23d Fighter Group and stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
Robert Tharp (R.T.) Smith was a World War II fighter pilot and ace, credited with 8.7, 8.9 or 9 Japanese aircraft while fighting with the American Volunteer Group.
The China Air Task Force (CATF) was a combat organization of the United States Army Air Forces created in July 1942 under the command of Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault, after the Flying Tigers of the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force were disbanded on 4 July of that month. It consisted of the 23rd Fighter Group with four squadrons, the assigned 74th, 75th, 76th, and attached 16th Fighter Squadrons, plus the 11th Bombardment Squadron. It was a subordinate unit of the Tenth Air Force in India, commanded by Brig. Gen. Earl Naiden and by Maj. Gen. Clayton Bissell. "Chennault had no respect for Bissell as a combat airman," wrote his biographer Martha Byrd, and "Bissell had no respect for Chennault as an administrator." Their relationship, she wrote, was ugly.
John Van Kuren "Scarsdale Jack" Newkirk was a United States naval aviator and squadron leader with the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), also known as the Flying Tigers, who may have led the first American offensive mission of World War II. Most of his combat experience was during the defense of Rangoon, Burma, from Japanese air attacks. After the fall of Rangoon, his unit was operating from within China when he set off on his final mission, as part of an attack on Japanese airfields in Thailand.
The bombing of Rangoon was a series of air raids conducted by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service that took place between December 1941 to March 1942 during the Burma Campaign of World War II. The capital city of Rangoon was the first to be attacked after Japan executed air raids on Burma in preparation for its invasion of the country weeks following its declaration of war upon the United States and the United Kingdom on December 8, 1941.
Robert Laing "Bob" Little was an American fighter pilot and double ace with the Flying Tigers, credited with 10, 10.5 or 10.55 victories.
Lieutenant Colonel George Bray McMillan was a United States Army Air Forces fighter pilot, Squadron Commander, combat "ace" and member of the American Volunteer Group better known as the Flying Tigers.
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