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The Flying Tigers

by John M. White |

Everyone knows something about the Flying Tigers and how they fought with Chennault in China before the United States entered the Second World War.  Madame Chiang Kai-shek had invited Chennault to come to China in 1937 to evaluate the state of the Chinese Air Force with the growing threat of Japan.

Chennault had to resign from the Army Air Corps to go to China, and after his evaluation concluded that the
"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."

Getting airplanes were a tough problem for Chennault.  China had been a long-time, profitable customer for Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company, so an old friend, Burdette Wright, a 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. P40

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 Chennault's efforts during training and combat was devoted to creating makeshift attempts to remedy these problems.  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 U.S. Army Air Corps and the Royal Air Force.

Getting pilots proved a tougher problem to solve.  The U.S. military were violently opposed to the whole idea of American volunteers in China that it took direct action by President Roosevelt to free up the pilots and mechanics needed to form an American Volunteer Group in China.  Unfortunately only one AVG Group was ever deployed to China.

Incredibly the "Flying Tigers" had engaged the Japanese in more than 50 aerial battles without losing a single battle.

You can learn more about the "Flying Tigers" at The Flying Tigers website.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


For once you have tasted flight
you will walk the earth
with your eyes turned skywards,
for there you have been
and there you will long to return. -- Leonardo da Vinci

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