Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the long time efforts of Claire L. Chennault, a captain in the United States Army Air Corps which had begun in 1937, bore first fruits. He had formed the A.V.G. (American Volunteer Group) – a group of American pilots and a number of Curtis P-40B Tomahawk aircraft – had left San Francisco for China on July 10, 1941 to help defend Rangoon and China from the onslaught of Japan’s attempt to take over China.
The Third A.V.G. squadron arrived in Rangoon on December 12, 1941 joining the Royal Air Force pilots and planes in the defense of Rangoon. The First and Second squadrons flew from Toungoo to Kunming on the afternoon of December 18th, 1941. and the first combat for the A.V.G. occurred over southern Yunnan Province on December 20, 1941.
During their first combat the A.V.G. pilots shot down nine of ten Japanese bombers while losing only one A.V.G. aircraft. The next battle involved the Third Squadron which fought over Rangoon on December 23,1941 flying beside the R.A.F. crews. That day saw 6 Japaneses bombers and 4 Japanese fighters fall while the R.A.F. lost 5 airplanes and the A.V.G. lost 4 airplanes and 2 pilots.
The A.V.G. pilots and planes in Burma and Chine were one ray of hope for the Americans immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and American efforts to slow or stop the advance of Japanese forces throughout Asia and the South Pacific.
Life Magazine wrote an interesting piece on the Flying Tigers which you can read here: “Flying Tigers In Burma”.
In addition, you can see some of the action of the A.V.G. in “Flying Tiger Newsreels”:
The aircraft flown by the Flying Tigers was the Curtiss P40B, and here is a photograph of a restored P40E “Warhawk” (a later version of the P40B flown by the Flying Tigers) in Flying Tiger colors displayed at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio:
Daniel Ford wrote a book titled “Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942” about the experiences of the Flying Tigers during the early part of World War II.
John Wayne also starred in a movie titled “Flying Tigers”.
For more information about this fascinating time check out the official Flying Tiger website.
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