World War II Air Operations: China--The Flying Tigers (1941-42)


Figure 1.--This Flying Tiger squadron is shown flying their Curtis P-40s with fanous shark tooth colors. Chennault's Flying Tigers downed 300 Japanese planes while losing only 14 pilots on combat missions. This was especiallyvnotale because was at a time when the Japanese wee savagiung American and British air units throughout the Pacific. Source: Imge courtesy of the Militry Hitory of the 20th Century.

President Roosevelt after hearing from Claire Chennault, who Madame Chiang Kai-Shek had hired him to train Chinese pilots, decided to help China build a modern air force. He signed an executive order 1940 which permitted U.S. military personnel to resign so that they could participate in a covert operation to support China (May 1940). This is significant because it was was the first direct American military action to impede Axis aggression. It was taken in the atmospshere of the fall of France and the president deciding to run for a third term. Subsequent Japanese actions beginning with the occupation of northern French Indo-China obly confirmed the President's decision to aid China. And the Magic intelligence from the cracking of the Japanese Diplomatic (Purple code) made it clear that the Japanese public protestratuins of a desire fir peace were a diplomate charade (September 1940). President Roosevelt approved the transfer of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters to China. They would be included in the Lend Lease Program (1941). The planes were originally slated for the British RAF which was just beginning to brace for the Battle of Britain. America woud eventually produce a phenomenal number of aircraft. At this time, howevr, production was still limited and the U.S. Army Air Corps struggling to obtain needed new aircraft. The President also secretly approved the formation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) to fly the P-40s. These were the first modern fighters ever deployed in China. The AVG's main task was to protect the Burma Road so that supplied could continue to reach China. The all-volunteer AVG became known as Chennault's Flying Tigers. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (December 1941) before the AVG could go into action. It thus no longer had to be a covert operation. Although very small, provide the Chinese a creditable air capability for the first time. Initially part of the AVG was deployed on both ends of the Burma Road. The Japanese invasion of Burma forced the Burma contingent to redeploy to China. It also cut off supplies over the Burma Road. The AVG continued to operate with supplies flown in from India over the Himilayas. The P-40s flown by the AVG were on paper no match for the fast, manueravble Japanese Zeros, but they were more robust and had armor protecting the pilots. Chennault developed battle tactics that enabled the Tigers to deal with the Zeros, but their major goal was to intercept the Japanese bombers hammering Chunking. ThecArmy Air Corps and U.S. Navy did not take the AVG seriously and did not adapt Chenault's tactics until losses in the Pacific forced them to adjust tactics. Eventually the AVG was formed into the U.S. 14th Air Force. Some of the Tigersjoined up, Others left China. Many of the new crews honored the AVG by also painting the shark's mouth image and referring to them selves as the Flying Tigers.

Chinese Air Force

China's small airforce was unprepared for war with Japan and its modern airforce. Chiang had hired foreign mercenary pilots which were organized into the 14th Squadron. The pilots were nostly from the United States and France. Some had flown for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. THe 14th Squadron was commanded by Vincent Schmidt, an American World War I pilot. The foreigners poloted the plabnes, the air gunners and ground crews were Chinese. The Squadron’s planes were quite a mix, including Vultee V-11 and Northrop 2E light bombers, two Martin 139 medium bombers, a Bellanca 28-90 racing plane, and two Dewoitine D-510 fighters. The 14th Squadron using its bombers attacked Japanese lines (August, 14, 1937). Chinese crews flew two Martin bombers on a leaflet raid over Nagasaki (May 19, 1938).

Claire Chennault (April 1937)

Clauire Chennault a a young man joined the U.S. Army during World Wr I. He erned a reserve commissin and completed pilot trijing after thecWar (1919). He was then awarded a regular commision (1920). Cpt. Claire Chennault became an aggresive champion of fighter aircraft. He managed to irritate his superiors in the U.S, Army Air Corps. He was as a result forced to retire from the Air Tactical School, obstendibly because of bronchitis. The United State protested the Japanese invasion of China, but did nothing to aid the Chinese. Madame Chiang Kai-shek had assumed control of the Chinese Aeronautical Commission and set out to reorganize the chaotic Chinese Air Force. Madame Chiang hired Chenault to train Chinese pilots (April 1937). Chennault then out of thge Army Air Corps immediately accepted the job. It was to be a 3-month mission and include a confidential survey of the Chinese Air Force. At that time China and Japan were on the verge of war. The Marco Polo Bridge incident occurred a month before (March 1937), but the Jpanese had not yet invaded in force. The small Chinese Air Force had a range of problems and was divided between various foreign influences. The Chinese Nationalists attracted support from the Italian Fascits, Gernman NAZIs, and Soviet Communist. The Fascist spport came from the fact that Chiang combatted the Communists. Stalin was willing to support him because the Chinese Communist Party was one of the few Communist parties he did not control. Chennault attempted to set up a needed training program. He wanted to bring about major change in tactical doctrine, The foreign mercinary pilots he tried to work with were uninterested and wanted nothing to do with Chennault. They were also poorly disciplined and did not understand how ill-prepared they were prepared to meet the well-trained and equipped Japanese. They resisted practice missions thinking they did not need such training. They wanted to attack the Japanese. Chennault was thus frustrated in his first effort tonwirk in China.

Japanese Invasion (1937)

When the Japanese invaded, thge Japanese Air Force outclassed the poorly trained Chinese Air Force and virtually destroyed it. The Japanese not only had large numbers of modern air craft, but theie pilots were thoroughly trained and dusciplined. The Nationalists put up a string defense of Shanghai, but got no support from the descimated Chinese Air Force. TheJa[anese heavikly bombed Shanghai. After the fall of Shanghai, the Japanese oroceeded to occupy other major cities. Their seizure of Nanking was one of the most brutalof World War II. They proceeded to occupy large areas of China, esoecually cities on or near the coast. Chang Kai-check had committed his best divisions to defend Sgabghai and Nanking. The Japanese were surprised with the Chinesec resisistance, but Chang relalized that he could not fight set-piece battkles with the better-equipped and commabded Japanese. To preserve whatvwas keft of his Army, he withdraw into the interiuor, estabkish bhis government in remote Kumming (Chunking). Here the Japanese could not get at the Nationalists, but they could receive supplies through French Indo-China and British Burma.

Chennault Mission to America (1937)

After the Japanese invasion, the Chinese Air Force no longer existed in any meaningful sense. There were no longer pilots to train or aircraft on which they could be trained. Madame Chiang thus sent Chennault back to the United States to obtain new planes, trained pilots, and assistance in building a new Chinese Air Force. Not fully understood by American Air Corps leaders was the knowledge Chennault was gaining of Japanese combat tactics and capabiities. American commabders did not believe that the Japanese were advanced enough to pose a anger to American air forces.

Return to China (1938-41)

Chennault returned to Kunming empty handed and without guidance from the U.S. Government or Army Air Corops. Kunming was the remote capital the Nationslist established in Yunnan Province (Summer 1938). Madame Chiang wanted him to createca a brand new Chinese Air Force, this time based on American standards. Chennault's status during the next few years is ambiguous. Chennault claimmed to be a civilian advisor as he had resigned his commision in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He reportd to the Secretary of the Commission for Aeronautical Affairs. The Commission was headed firsr by Madame Chiang and subsequently by T.V. Soong. He had no legal status as a belligerent and held no rank in the Chinese Air Foorce. Chennault did not have much with which to oppose Japanese air strikes. The Chinese Air Force had been destroyed in 1937. Chennault during this period, however, accomplished a great deal. He got know Jaopanese aur caoabilities ahd tactics intimently. He developed sound relations with the Chinese, both officials and civilians of all walks of life. And on his own initiative he developed an air plan for China. He set up custers of strategically located air fields, albeit there were few planes with which to opeate. The Nationalists made an enormous efforts to build these air strips even though they did not have planes. "All over Free China these human ant heaps rose to turn mud, rocks, lime and sweat into 5,000 foot runways to nest planes not yet built in Los Angels and Buffalo factories*" [Chennault] He also set up an all-important an air-raid warning system. This was vitlly important before radar warning systems were developed. "The Chinese air-raid warning system was a vast spidernet of people, radios, telephones, and telegraph lines that covered all of Free China accessible to enemy aircraft. In addition to continuous intelligence of enemy attacks, the net served to locate and guide lost friendly planes, direct aid to friendly pilots who had crashed or bailed out, and helped guide our technical intelligence experts to wrecks of crashed enemy aircraft. .... Most efficient sector of the net was developed in Yunnan as a dire necessity. It was the Yunnan net that was a key to the early A.V.G. successes and the defense of Chinese terminals on this side of the Hump against fantastic numerical odds." [Chennault] Both developments would prive vital to the later success of the AVG.

Japanese Bombing Campaign (1939-40)

The Japanese became increasingly frustrayed as the 'China Incident' turned into a proitracted and very expensive war. The Japanese decided to force thge Natuialists to come to terms by bombing Chunking. They believe that a sustained bombing of Chunking and othger cities still in Nationlist Habd would enhd the will of the Chinese people to resist Japanese domination. The Chinese had no air fiorce or anti-aircraft guns with which to oppose the Jaonese bombing campaign. Generalissimo Ching Kao-check ordered Chennault to return tio the United states and obtaining American planes and American pilots to oppose the Japanese bombing campaign. Chennault envisioned a rebuilt Chinese Air Force supported by American volunteers withbwhich not only to protect Chinese cities, but to launch an aur cmoaign against Japan itself. "My plan proposed to throw a small but well-equipped air force into China. Japan, Like England, floated her life blood on the sea and could be defeated more easily by slashing her salty arties than by stabbing for her heart. Air bases in Free China could put all of the vital Japanese supply lines and advanced staging areas under attack. .... This strategic concept of China as a platform of air attack on Japan offered little attraction of the military planners of 1941. It was not until the Trident Conference of 1943 that I found any appreciation of my strategy or any support for the plans to implement it. This support came from two civilians, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and was offered against the strong advise of their military advisers." [Chennault]

American Sympathies toward China

American public opinion was stefastly opposed to participarion in another war in Europe. Isolatinist attitudes were primarily focused on Europe. There was great fear of the Germans. Isolationist like Charles Linburg did not believe the United States could defeat the vauntd Luftwaffe. The public was much less concerned about a war in the Pacific with China. And there was considerable sympathy with theChinese people. Large numbers of Americans had served as missionaries in China. They were supported by churches all over America, including the isolstionist bastion of the Mid-West. These missionaries regularly wrote about the Chinese people. Some came home and engaged in speaking tours. Pearl Buck had publihed her book The Good Earth (1931) and it was turned into popular movie. Mussionaries reported on Japanese attrocities after the invasion. Newspapers, magazines, and newsreels also depicted Japsnese outrages. including the bombing campaign. Americans did not want war with Japan, but by the time Chennaukt returned from China, the public was favorably disposed toward aid to China. Chennault was surprised at the level of support for China. "Methods of implementing the fighter-group plan developed faster than I expected. It became evident during the winter that China had a small but powerful circle of friends in the White House and Cabinet. Dr. Lauchlin Currie was sent to China as President Roosevelt's special adviser and returned a strong backer of increased aid to China in general and my air plans in particular. Another trusted adviser of the President--Thomas Corcoran--did yeoman service in pushing the American Volunteer Group project when the pressure against it was strongest." [Chennault]

Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact (April 1941)

Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka was pressing the Soviets to stop providing military aid to China, At the same time, the United States was promising aid under the Lend Lease program. Chiang's brother-in-law T.V. Soong in Washington pressed for American aid. Chiang asked for $0.5 billion in aid and more than a thousand aircraft. After meetings in Berlin with Hitler and others, Foreign Minister Matsuoka went on to Moscow to discuss a neutrality treaty. At the tine, Stalin was still hoping to join the Axis and the Japanese were supporting him on this. They wanted the Soviet Union in the Axis as it would strengthen their pososition vis-ŕ-vis the Americans. The Soviets wanted no distraction in the Far East as they expanded their territory in Europe. The Japanese wanted a quiet morthern frontier as they planned war with America and Britain. There he negotiated the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact, only 2 years after the border conflict between the Soviets and Japan along the poorly defined on the Manchurian-Mongolian frontirt. border. It was signed April 13, 1941. The treaty required both narions to remain neutral if one of the two signing nations was invaded by a third nation. Both countries pledged to respect the sovereignty of Manchukuo (Japanese occupied Chinese Manchuria) and the Soviet controlled Mongolian People's Republic. The Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact shocked Chiang and the Nationalists. The Soviets surprised Chiang by secretly informing him that aid would continue. The Pact also spurred the United States to action. The United States pledged both money and supplies.

Executive Order (April 1941)

President Roosevelt respomding to the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact and after hearing from Claire Chennault, who Madame Chiang Kai-Shek had hired him to train Chinese pilots, decided to help China build a modern air force. The President signed, but did not publish an Executive Order permitting U.S. military personnel to resign so that they could participate in a covert operation to support China (mid-April 1941). [Burns, p. 83.] This action was significant because it was was the first direct American military action to impede Axis aggression. Japanese actions beginning with the occupation of northern French Indo-China (July only confirmed the President's decision to aid China. And the Magic intelligence from the cracking of the Japanese Purple Diplomatic code (September 1940) made it clear that the Japanese public protestratuins of a desire for peace were a diplomate charade (September 1940).

P-40s for China

First Chennault had to obtain planes. Hecweites, "Planes were a tough problem. China had been a long-time, profitable customer for Curtiss-Wright, so my old friend, Burdette Wright, Curtiss Vice-President, came up with a proposition. They had six assembly lines turning out P-40's for the British, who had taken over a French order after the fall of France. If the British would waive their priority on 100 P-40B's then rolling off one line, Curtiss would add a seventh assembly line and make 100 later-model P-40's for the British. The British were glad to exchange the P-40B for a model more suitable for combat." Chennault] President Roosevelt approved the transfer of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters to China. They would be included in the Lend Lease Program (1941). The planes were originally slated for the British RAF which was just beginning to brace for the Battle of Britain. America woud eventually produce a phenomenal number of aircraft. At this time, howevr, production was still limited and the U.S. Army Air Corps struggling to obtain needed new aircraft. These were the first modern fighters ever deployed in China.

Pilots (April 1941)

Obtaining pilots prived even more difficult than getting the P-40s. The President also secretly approved the formation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) to fly the P-40s. "Personnel proved a tougher nut to crack. The military were violently opposed to the whole idea of American volunteers in China. Lauchlin Currie and I went to see General Arnold in April of 1941. He was 100% opposed to the project. In the Navy, Rear Admiral Jack Towers, then Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics and later Commander of the Navy's Pacific Air Forces also viewed the A.V.G. as a threat to his expansion program. .... It took direct personal intervention from President Roosevelt to pry the pilots and ground crews from the Army and Navy. On April 15, 1941, an unpublished executive order went out under his signature, authorizing reserve officer and enlisted men to resign from the Army Air Corps, Naval and Marine air services for the purpose of joining the American Volunteer Group in China. Orders went out to all military air fields, signed by Secretary Knox and General Arnold, authorizing bearers of certain letters freedom of the post, including permission to talk with all personnel ...." [Chennault] Chennault thus suceeded in recruiting the needed pilots. As a result of his two decades in the Army, he knew many pilot personally and the cotracts offered by the Chinese werecttractive.

American Volunteer Group (July-Decembr 1941)

The all-volunteer AVG became known as Chennault's Flying Tigers. The first group of AVG pilots departed San Francisco aboard the Dutch ship Jaegersfontaine (July 10, 1941). The Nethgerlands atvtge time was occupied by the Germans. The Durch Government-in-Exile was increasiungly concerned abiut the Dutch East Indies (DEI) which the Japabese civeted for its oil and other natural resources. Thus any increasing American commited to the Asia/Pacific areas was seen as a posituve step. Just before departure, Chennault was informed that President Roosevelt had approved a second American Volunteer Group, this one to man bombers. A planned 100 pilots and 181 gunners and radio men were to reach China by November 1941 and an equal number were to arrive January 1942. Chennault while commanding AVG held non-official rank. His official job was adviser to the Central Bank of China. His passport listed his occupation as a farmer.

RAF Toungoo Air Base

Chennault arranged for the use of the Royal Air Force Keydaw airdrome at Toungoo, Burma. Arrangements were were worked out by the Chinese with the British for the assembly and test flying by the AVG P-40's. They were assembled at Rangoon, and all radios, oxygen equipment, and armament were finally installed by the AVG group mechanics at Toungoo. Chennault put together an intensive training origram at Toungoo.. "Our Toungoo routine began at 6:00 a.m. with a lecture in a teakwood classroom near the field, where I held forth with black-board, maps, and mimeographed textbooks. All my life I have been a teacher, ranging from the one-room schools of rural Louisiana to director of one of the largest Air Corps flying schools, but I believe that the best teaching of my career was done in that teakwood shack at Toungoo, where the assortment of American volunteers turned into the word-famous Flying Tigers, whose aerial combat record has never been equaled by a group of comparable size. .... "Every pilot who arrived before September 15 got seventy-two hours of lectures in addition to sixty hours of specialized flying. I gave the pilots a lesson in the geography of Asia that they all needed badly, told them something of the war in China, and how the Chinese air-raid warning net worked. I taught them all I knew about the Japanese. Day after day there were lectures from my notebooks, filled during the previous four years of combat. All of the bitter experience from Nanking to Chunking was poured out in those lectures. Captured Japanese flying and staff manuals, translated into English by the Chinese, served as textbooks. From these manuals the American pilots learned more about Japanese tactics than any single Japanese pilot ever knew." [Chennault]

Assignment

The AVG's main task was to protect the Burma Road so that supplied could continue to reach China. Japanese seizure of Indo-China meant thatvthe Burma Road was the last land route over which supplies could reach China.

Pearl Harbor (December 1941)

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (December 1941) before the AVG could go into action or the full complement envisioned could be deoloyed. The AVG thus no longer had to be a covert operation. The Japanese militarists having successfully taken on China (1894-95) and Russia (1904-05) and participating in World War I believed that in possession of a powerful fleet they could now enter World War II to solidify their position in China andexpand their empire with the Southern Resource Zone. They thought that the rich, comfort loving Americans, dustracted by the Germans in Europe would not have the will or capability of fighting a war in Asia. It was thus the stunning surprise Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that finally brought America into World War II. On a bright Sunday morning, sleek Japanese csrrier aircraft with a destinctive red circle thindered out of the sky abnd chsnged not only Anmerica, but the world for ever. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategic blunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. It was a stunningly successful military success, brilliantly executed by the Japanese. Eight battle ships, the heart of the American Pacific fleet were sunk. But the three carriers were not at Pearl. Despite the success of the attack, it was perhaps the greatest strtegic blunder in the history of warfare. The Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor changed everything. A diverse and quareling nation, strongly pacifistic was instantly changed into a single united people with a burning desire to wage war. The isolationism that President Roosevelt had struggled against for over 7 years instantly disappeared. Even Lindburg asked for a commision to fight for the United States.

Preparations

A great deal of work was needed even after the AVG reached Burma. Unlike his first experience in China. The AVG volunteers admired Stilwell and were amenable to working with him. Chenault worked with both the pilot and on needed effort to prepare their P-40s for combat. Chennault writes, "The P-40B was not equipped with a gun sight, bomb rack or provisions for attaching auxiliary fuel tanks to the wing or belly. Much of our effort during training and combat was devoted to makeshift attempts to remedy these deficiencies. The combat record of the First American Volunteer Group in China is even more remarkable because its pilots were aiming their guns through a crude, homemade, ring-and-post gun sight instead of the more accurate optical sights used by the Air Corps and the Royal Air Force." [Chennault]

Stilwell and Chennault

It was in Burma that Chennault and General Joseph (Vunegar Joe) Stilwell first met. They did not get on well and developed different concepts of the War and opinions of Generalisimo Chiang Kai-chek. They had basic differences about how to defeat Japan. Chennault thought it could be done with airpower and had unrealistic opinions about the force necessary to bring this about. Atilwell had more conventioal opinions about how thiscneeded to be done. This affected their asessements toward Chiang. Stilwell's concept of the War necesitted major reforms and reoganization of the Ntionalist Army. Chiangvwas unwillig for a variety of reasins to do this. Chennault required much less of Chiang except ubstantial labor tonbuild airfields. Stilwell also wanted regular U.S. Army troops commited to the CBI and opening the Burma Road. General Marshall was adamently opposed to this. Chennault would find himself fighting administrative battles with Stilwell fir mnuch of the rest of the War. At stake were the meager resources theAllies were able to get through to the CBI and then on to china over the hump.

Operations

Although very small, provide the Chinese a creditable air capability for the first time. Initially part of the AVG was deployed on both ends of the Burma Road. An agreement was after the Pearl Harbor attack quicklky worked out between the Chinese and the British. Both countries were now at war with Jaoan. One squadron of the AVG would assist the RAF to defend Rangoon. The other two squadrons were to be stationed at Kunming, the Nationalist capital and terminus of the Burma Road. There as a result of Cgennaukt's earlier work, an effectuve warning net and dispersal fields had already been established. Chennault's experiences in China and training program for the AVG pilots paid immediate dividends. "Later there was ample opportunity for comparison. The A.V.G. and R.A.F. fought side by side over Rangoon with comparable numbers, equipment, and courage against the same odds. The R.A.F. barely broke even against the Japanese, while the Americans rolled up a 15 to 1 score. In February, 1942, the Japanese threw heavy raids against Rangoon and Port Darwin, Australia, in the same week. Over Rangoon five A.V.G. pilots in P-40's shot down 17 out of 70 enemy raiders without loss. Over Darwin, 11 out of 12 U.S. Army Forces P-40's were shot down by a similar Japanese force. A few weeks later a crack R.A.F. Spitfire squadron was rushed to Australia from Europe and lost 17 out of 27 pilots over Darwin in two raids. The Spitfire was far superior to the P-40 as a combat plane. It was simply a matter of tactics. The R.A.F. pilots were trained in methods that were excellent against German and Italian equipment but suicide against the acrobatic Japs. The only American squadron in China that the Japanese ever liked to fight was a P-38 squadron that had fought in North Africa and refused to change its tactics against the Japanese." [Chennault] The Japanese invasion of Burma forced the Burma contingent to redeploy to China. It also cut off supplies over the Burma Road. The AVG continued to operate with supplies flown in from India over the Himilayas.

Burma Road

The Imperial Japanese Army swept across China, closing all of China's seaports. Thus cut the Chinese off from foreign supplies, except for a rail commection through French Indo-China. At the time there was no rail or improved road connection between Burma and China. Chang Kazi-Shek ordered some 0.2 million Chinese laborers to build a road connection with Burma. It was an ibcredible engineering feat. They cut a 700-hundred-mile overland route. The work was done by hand with virtually no road-building equipment. [Webster] The road came to be called the Burma Road as much of it lay within the British colony of Burma. It ran from the southwest Chinese city of Kunming which was beyond the reach of the Japanese, except by air attack. The road wound south over mountaneous terraine and jungle to Lashio where it conncted to the existing Burmese rail system leding to the seaport of Rangoon further south. After the Japaneseseized French Indo-China (1940), the Burma Road was the only Chinese connection to the outside world. The Japanese not only succeeded in occupying Burma, but in doing so cut the Burma Road, the last remaining route to supplying the Chinese Nationalists. One historian writes, "Not only was Burma not a primry target in the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, it might have been left univaded but for the war in China. Closding the Burma Riad, which ean from Rangoon to the Chinese border and was thus a primary artery fior supplying Ching in Chunking, soon bcame a strategic impertive. Thus the Japanese were inveigled into an unnecesary invasion of Burma simplky because the hotleads in Tokyo could not leave China well alone." [McLynn]

Japanese Invasion of Burma (January-May 1942)

Burma was an scene of vicious fighting between Japan and the Allies. At the time of World War II, it was a British colony. The British hard-pressed in North Africa could not afford either the men or equipment to properly garison eiher Burma or Singapore. Japan after the fall of France (June 1940) demanded that French officials in Indochina permit them to occupy the colony. The French delayed the Japanese, but in the end were forced to acede to Japanese demands. The Japanese occupation took place in two stages, first north and then south Indochina. The Japanese had a number of goals in Indochina. The first was close the port of Haiphong which had been a major conduit of supplies to the Chinese Nationalists. Indochina also provided staging areas for planned invasions of of the Southern Resource Area (Burma, Malaya, Singaporte, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines). For this reason this brought the Japanese into increasing conflict with the United States whose Pacific Fleet was the only force capable of effectively resisting Japan. From Indochina, Japan pressured Thialand to grant them free passage for an invasion of Burma. This was accomplished through both threats and offering a slice of Indochina. The Japanese invaded Burma through Thailand. The Japanese Atmy rapidly advanced against the poorly prepared British. The American Flying Tigers arrived just before the War, but was too small a force to blunt the Japanese offensive. The British surrender at Singapore (February 1942) and the American surrender in the Philippines (April 1942) allowed the Japanese to strengthen their drive through Burma. The major problem for the Japanese as they moved west was keeping their army supplied. The Japanese defeated both the British Army which included Indian units and the Chinese Army in India (CAI) commanded by an American general, Vinegar Joe Stilwell. The British position was also undermined by the organization of Burmese nationalist forces. The Allied forces had to make a forced retreat into India under terrible conditions. The Japanese not only succeeded in occupying Burma, but in doing so cut the Burma Road, the last remaining route to supplying the Chinese Nationalists. The Japanese then begn to plan an invasion of India. For this they needed a way of transporting supplied through Thailand and Burma. The American carrier victory at Midway mean that supplying troops in Burma could not be done by sea. The result was a decession to build a railway through Thailand and Burma using local labor and Allied POWs.

Tactics

The P-40s flown by the AVG were on paper no match for the fast, manuerable Japanese Zeros, but they were more robust and had armor protecting the pilots. Chennault developed battle tactics that enabled the Tigers to deal with the Zeros, but after the closure of the Burma Road ,their major goal was to intercept the Japanese bombers hammering Chunking.

U.S. 14th Air Force

The performance of tge AVG was widely reported in the press at a time when teJapanese weee coring victory after victory. President Roosevelt homored the AVG. ""The outstanding gallantry and conspicuous daring that the American Volunteer Group combined with their unbelievable efficiency is a source of tremendous pride throughout the whole of America. The fact that they have labored under the shortages and difficulties is keenly appreciated ..." (April 1940). [Roosevelt] The AVG was officually disbanded (July 4, 1942). It was replaced by the China Air Task Force (CATF) of the United States Army Air Forces which General Chennault was appointed to command. Some of the Tigers joined up, Others left China. The CATF formally took over air operations in China. Many of the new crews honored the AVG by also painting the shark's mouth image and referring to them selves as the Flying Tigers.The 14th Air Force was activated (March 1943). General Chennault commanded it as well. Chennault remained in command of the 14th Air Force until the final months of the War (July 1945).

Pacific Air War

Beginnig at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Zero cut a wide swaith over the skies of thecSouthband Central Pacific. Britih and Naval commanders were hicked. They had no idea the Japanese had such dvanced aircraft. Until advanced American could be developed and deployed, Allied airmn would have to rely on innovative tactics to hold back the Japanese., The Army Air Corps and U.S. Navy did not take the AVG seriously and did not adapt Chenault's tactics until losses in the Pacific forced them to adjust tactics. Chennault's tactics were informally spread in the Pacific as a result of Tiger pilots being assigned to Army Air Corps and Navy units. "During the first year of the war the A.V.G. tactics were spread throughout the Army and Navy by intelligence repots and returned A.V.G. veterans. At least one Navy Commander in the Pacific and an Air Force colonel with the Fifth Air Force in Australia were later decorated for 'inventing' what were originally the AVG tactics." [Chennault] One of those pilots, Greg Boyington, joined the Marine Corps and was ssigned to the Cactus Air Force on Gudalcanal, employing Chennault's tactics to good effect..

Sources

Burns, James MacGregor. Roosvelt: The Soldier of Freedom, 1940-1945 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Imc: New York, 1970), 722p.

Chennault, Claire L. Way of a Fighter.

McLynn, Frank. The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45 (2011).

Webster, Donovan. The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II.






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Created: 7:51 AM 5/19/2012
Last updated: 711:37 PM 9/12/2012