Flying Tigers
Overview
 
This article concerns the 1st American Volunteer Group
American Volunteer Group
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...

, a World War II unit known as “The Flying Tigers.” For follow-on units, see the AVG main heading
American Volunteer Group
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...

; for other uses of the name, see Flying Tigers (disambiguation)
Flying Tigers (disambiguation)
The Flying Tigers was the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942.Flying Tigers may also refer to:* U.S...

.
; for the aerial supply route over the Himalayas, see The Hump
The Hump
The Hump was the name given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort of Chiang Kai-shek and the units of the United States Army Air Forces based in...

.

The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force
Republic of China Air Force
The Republic of China Air Force is the aviation branch of the Republic of China Armed Forces. The ROCAF's primary mission is the defense of the airspace over and around Taiwan...

 in 1941–1942, famously nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 (USAAF), Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 (USN), and Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 (USMC), recruited under presidential
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 sanction and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault
Claire Lee Chennault
Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault , was an American military aviator. A contentious officer, he was a fierce advocate of "pursuit" or fight-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the U.S. Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment...

.
Encyclopedia
This article concerns the 1st American Volunteer Group
American Volunteer Group
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...

, a World War II unit known as “The Flying Tigers.” For follow-on units, see the AVG main heading
American Volunteer Group
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...

; for other uses of the name, see Flying Tigers (disambiguation)
Flying Tigers (disambiguation)
The Flying Tigers was the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942.Flying Tigers may also refer to:* U.S...

.
; for the aerial supply route over the Himalayas, see The Hump
The Hump
The Hump was the name given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort of Chiang Kai-shek and the units of the United States Army Air Forces based in...

.

The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force
Republic of China Air Force
The Republic of China Air Force is the aviation branch of the Republic of China Armed Forces. The ROCAF's primary mission is the defense of the airspace over and around Taiwan...

 in 1941–1942, famously nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 (USAAF), Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 (USN), and Marine Corps
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

 (USMC), recruited under presidential
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 sanction and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault
Claire Lee Chennault
Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault , was an American military aviator. A contentious officer, he was a fierce advocate of "pursuit" or fight-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the U.S. Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment...

. The ground crew and headquarters staff were likewise mostly recruited from the U.S. military, along with some civilians.

The group consisted of three fighter
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

 squadrons
Squadron (aviation)
A squadron in air force, army aviation or naval aviation is mainly a unit comprising a number of military aircraft, 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...

 with about 20 aircraft each. It trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 with the mission of defending China against Japanese
Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

 forces. Arguably, the group was a private military contractor, and for that reason the volunteers have sometimes been called mercenaries
Mercenary
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

. The members of the group had lucrative 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
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

.

The Tigers' shark-faced
Nose art
Nose art is a decorative painting or design on the fuselage of a military aircraft, usually located near the nose, and is a form of aircraft graffiti....

 fighters remain among the most recognizable of any individual combat aircraft of World War II, and they 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.

The group first saw combat on 20 December 1941, 12 days after Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

 (local time). It achieved notable success during the lowest period of the war for U.S. and Allied Forces
Allies
In everyday English usage, allies are people, groups, or nations that have joined together in an association for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out between them...

, giving hope to Americans that they would eventually succeed against the Japanese. While cross-referencing records after the war revealed their actual kill numbers were substantially less, the Tigers were paid combat bonuses for destroying nearly 300 enemy aircraft, while losing only 14 pilots on combat missions. In July 1942, the AVG was replaced by the U.S. Army 23rd Fighter Group, which was later absorbed into the U.S. 14th Air Force
Fourteenth Air Force
The Fourteenth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Space Command . It is headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California....

 with General Chennault as commander. The 23rd FG went on to achieve similar combat success, while retaining the nose art
Nose art
Nose art is a decorative painting or design on the fuselage of a military aircraft, usually located near the nose, and is a form of aircraft graffiti....

 and fighting name of the volunteer unit.

Origin of the Flying Tigers

The AVG 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
Military aviation
Military aviation is the use of aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling warfare, including national airlift capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Air power includes the national means of conducting such...

 advisor to Generalissimo
Generalissimo
Generalissimo and Generalissimus are military ranks of the highest degree, superior to Field Marshal and other five-star ranks.-Usage:...

 Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek was a political and military leader of 20th century China. He is known as Jiǎng Jièshí or Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng in Mandarin....

 in the early months of the Sino-Japanese War, then as director of a Chinese Air Force
Chinese Air Force
The phrase Chinese Air Force may refer to one of two modern bodies; a third historical unit can also be referred to as a part:*Republic of China Air Force: The air force of China from 1920 to 1949, operating from Taiwan only post-1949....

 flight school centered in Kunming
Kunming
' is the capital and largest city of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. It was known as Yunnan-Fou until the 1920s. A prefecture-level city, it is the political, economic, communications and cultural centre of Yunnan, and is the seat of the provincial government...

. 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 advisor to China's ambassador and Chiang's brother-in-law, T. V. Soong
T. V. Soong
Soong Tse-ven or Soong Tzu-wen , was a prominent businessman and politician in the early 20th century Republic of China. His father was Charlie Soong and his siblings were the Soong sisters. His Christian name was Paul, but he is generally known in English as T. V. Soong. As brother to the three...

.

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
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 himself. The resulting clandestine operation was organized in large part by Lauchlin Currie
Lauchlin Currie
Lauchlin Bernard Currie was a Canadian-born U.S.economist from New Dublin, Nova Scotia, Canada, and allegedly an agent of espionage for the Soviet Union....

, a young economist in the White House, and by Roosevelt intimate Thomas G. Corcoran
Thomas Gardiner Corcoran
Thomas Gardiner Corcoran was one of several Irish American 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....

. (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
Frank Glasgow Tinker
Frank Glasgow Tinker was an American mercenary fighter pilot for the Spanish Republican Air Force, during the Spanish Civil War. He was the top American ace during the Spanish Civil War.-Early years:...

 had flown combat during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, engaging Nazis and fascist Italians. Members were organized into the Yankee Squadron
Yankee Squadron
The Yankee Squadron was a group of mercenary American military aviators who flew for the Spanish Republican Air Force, during the Spanish Civil War.-History:...

.

Chennault spent the winter of 1940–1941 in Washington, supervising the purchase of 100 Curtiss P-40
Curtiss P-40
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was an American single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational...

 fighters (diverted from a Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 order) 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
American Volunteer Group
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...

, though these would be aborted after the Pearl Harbor attack.

1st American Volunteer Group

Of the pilots, 60 came from the Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 and Marine Corps and 40 from the Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Corps
The United States Army Air Corps was a forerunner of the United States Air Force. Renamed from the Air Service on 2 July 1926, it was part of the United States Army and the predecessor of the United States Army Air Forces , established in 1941...

. (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
Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company
The Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company was the creation of American entrepreneur William D. Pawley, the Curtiss-Wright sales representative in China during the 1930s.-History:...

 (CAMCO), which paid them $600 a month for pilot officer, $675 a month for flight leader, $750 for squadron leader (no pilot was recruited at this level), and about $250 for a skilled ground crewman, far more than they had been earning. ($675 translates $ in dollars, and at the time sufficed to buy a new Ford automobile.) The pilots were also orally promised a bounty of $500 for each enemy aircraft shot down.

Although sometimes considered a mercenary
Mercenary
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

 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
Daniel Ford
Daniel Ford is an American journalist, novelist, and historian. The son of Patrick and Anne Ford, he attended public schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, graduating in 1950 from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He was educated at the University of New Hampshire 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 airplanes." 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.

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 May-ling Soong
Soong May-ling
Soong May-ling or Soong Mei-ling, also known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek or Madame Chiang was a First Lady of the Republic of China , the wife of Generalissimo and President Chiang Kai-shek. She was a politician and painter...

, or "Madame Chiang" as she was known to Americans, and she was designated the group's "honorary commander."

Chennault fighter doctrine

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":
When Japanese planes 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
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) pilots in Burma had been taught; it had been used successfully, however, by Russian units serving with the Chinese Air Force.

Curtiss P-40

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
Reflector sight
A reflector or reflex sight is a generally non-magnifying optical device that allows the user to look through a partially reflecting glass element and see an illuminated projection of an aiming point or some other image superimposed on the field of view...

, 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
Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company
The Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company was the creation of American entrepreneur William D. Pawley, the Curtiss-Wright sales representative in China during the 1930s.-History:...

 (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
No. 112 Squadron RAF
No. 112 Squadron was a squadron of the Royal Air Force. It served in both the First World War and Second World War and was active for three periods during the Cold War. It is nicknamed "The Shark Squadron", an allusion to the fact that it was the first unit from any air force to use the famous...

 in North Africa, which in turn had adopted the shark face from German pilots of the Luftwaffe's ZG 76
Zerstörergeschwader 76
Zerstörergeschwader 76 or ZG 76 was a Luftwaffe heavy/destroyer Fighter Aircraft-wing of World War II.-History:...

 heavy fighter wing, flying Messerschmitt Bf 110
Messerschmitt Bf 110
The Messerschmitt Bf 110, often called Me 110, was a twin-engine heavy fighter in the service of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Hermann Göring was a proponent of the Bf 110, and nicknamed it his Eisenseiten...

 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 tank
Self-sealing fuel tank
In aviation, self-sealing fuel tank is a fuel tank technology in wide use since World War II that prevents fuel tanks primarily on aircraft from leaking fuel and igniting after being damaged by enemy fire....

s, 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.

Combat history

The port of Rangoon in Burma and the Burma Road
Burma Road
The Burma Road is a road linking Burma with the southwest of China. Its terminals are Kunming, Yunnan, and Lashio, Burma. When it was built, Burma was a British colony.The road is long and runs through rough mountain country...

 leading from there to China were of crucial importance for the Republic of China, as the eastern regions of China were under Japanese occupation so virtually all of the foreign matériel
Materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 destined for the armed forces of the Republic arrived via that port. 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
Kunming
' is the capital and largest city of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. It was known as Yunnan-Fou until the 1920s. A prefecture-level city, it is the political, economic, communications and cultural centre of Yunnan, and is the seat of the provincial government...

 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.

The AVG had its first combat on 20 December 1941, when aircraft of the 1st and 2nd squadrons intercepted 10 unescorted Kawasaki Ki-48
Kawasaki Ki-48
The Kawasaki Ki-48, 九九式双発軽爆撃機 'Sokei', Army Type 99 Twin-engined Light Bomber, was a Japanese twin-engine light bomber that was used during World War II. Its Allied reporting name was "Lily".-Development:...

 "Lily" bombers of the 21st Hikotai raiding Kunming
Kunming
' is the capital and largest city of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. It was known as Yunnan-Fou until the 1920s. A prefecture-level city, it is the political, economic, communications and cultural centre of Yunnan, and is the seat of the provincial government...

. 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
Hanoi
Hanoi , is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city. Its population in 2009 was estimated at 2.6 million for urban districts, 6.5 million for the metropolitan jurisdiction. From 1010 until 1802, it was the most important political centre of Vietnam...

. No P-40s were lost through enemy action, and the bombers jettisoned their loads before reaching their target. Furthermore, the Japanese discontinued their raids on Kunming while the AVG was based there.

Defense of Rangoon

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
Mitsubishi Ki-21
The was a Japanese bomber during World War II. It began operations during the Second Sino-Japanese War participating in the Nomonhan Incident, and in the first stages of the Pacific War, including the Malayan, Burmese, Dutch East Indies and New Guinea Campaigns...

 "Sally" heavy bombers of the 60th, 62nd and 98th Sentais, along with single-engined Mitsubishi Ki-30
Mitsubishi Ki-30
|-See also:-External links:* *...

 "Ann" attack bombers of the 31st Sentai, sortied against Rangoon. They were escorted by Nakajima Ki-27
Nakajima Ki-27
The was the main fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force up until 1940. Its Allied nickname was "Nate", although it was called "Abdul" in the "China Burma India" theater by many post war sources; Allied Intelligence had reserved that name for the nonexistent Mitsubishi Navy...

 "Nate" fighters of 77th Sentai. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) formation was intercepted by the AVG and RAF Brewster Buffalo
Brewster Buffalo
The Brewster F2A Buffalo was an American fighter aircraft which saw limited service early in World War II. Though the Buffalo won a competition against the Grumman F4F Wildcat in 1939 to become the US Navy's first monoplane fighter aircraft, it turned out to be a big disappointment...

s of 67 Squadron
No. 67 Squadron RAF
The name No. 67 Squadron has been used by the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force for two quite different units.-World War I:During the First World War, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps — formed at Point Cook in January 1916, — was referred to by British authorities from...

. 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
Nakajima Ki-43
The Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa was a single-engine land-based tactical fighter used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force in World War II...

 Hayabusa (Oscars) of the 64th Sentai (Colonel Tateo Katō
Tateo Kato
was a Japanese ace army aviator, credited with at least 18 aerial victories and who was honored posthumously by an award of the Order of the Golden Kite.-Biography:...

's Flying Squadron). A total of 63 bombers escorted by 25 fighters were committed. These were intercepted by 12 P-40s of the AVG's 3rd Squadron and 15 Buffalos of 67 Squadron. Ten Japanese aircraft were lost in the resulting battle: two Ki-43s, four Ki-27s, and four Ki-21s. The Allies lost five Buffalos and three 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 Siam (today's Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

). The Japanese had moved aircraft to Malaya
British Malaya
British Malaya loosely described a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the Island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries...

 to finish off Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, and its remaining aircraft in the area (the 77th, 31st and 62nd Sentais) launched fighter sweeps and counter raids on the Allied airfields at Mingaladon.

On 12 January, the Japanese launched their Burma Campaign
Burma Campaign
The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II was fought primarily between British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces against the forces of the Empire of Japan, Thailand, and the Indian National Army. British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from...

. 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 Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

s). 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
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered 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.

It is estimated while defending Rangoon, the AVG destroyed 50 Japanese aircraft while losing 20 P-40s. Ten AVG pilots were either killed or listed as missing—a very creditable 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.

Retreat into China

After Rangoon was lost to the Japanese at the end of February, the AVG relocated to Magwe
Magwe, Burma
Magwe is the capital city of Magway Region of Burma , and home to Magway Airport.Magway is situated on the bank of AyeYarWaddy River...

, 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.

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" on 5 May of the 11th Sentai 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. Despite being on the defensive, 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
Doolittle Raid
The Doolittle Raid, on 18 April 1942, was the first air raid by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the...

 had prompted the Japanese to launch an offensive to seize AVG air bases that could be used as launching points 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. In this final action, four Ki-27s were shot down for no loss.

Assessment of the AVG

The AVG lacked many resources. Despite its location in areas with malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 and cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

, it only had "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. However, a researcher who surveyed Japanese accounts concluded that the number was much lower: 115. The same sources also revealed Japanese claims of over 500 AVG aircraft destroyed. 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.

Even using the lower figure of Japanese aircraft downed, the AVG's kill ratio was superior to that of contemporary Allied air groups in Malaya, the Philippines, and elsewhere. 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 arguably 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. 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
Order of the Cloud and Banner
The Order of the Cloud and Banner is a military award of the Republic of China. It was instituted on June 15, 1935 and is awarded in nine grades for contributions to national security. It is also sometimes referred to as the Order of the Resplendent 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.

AVG members

  • Gregory “Pappy” Boyington
    Pappy Boyington
    Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was a United States Marine Corps officer who was an American fighter ace during World War II. For his heroic actions, he was awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Boyington flew initially with the American Volunteer Group in the Republic of China Air Force...

     broke his contract with the AVG in the spring of 1942 and returned to active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. He went on to command the “Black Sheep” Squadron
    VMA-214
    Marine Attack Squadron 214 is a United States Marine Corps fighter squadron consisting of AV-8B Harrier jets. The squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona and is under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13 and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing .The squadron is best known as the...

     and was one of two AVG veterans (the other being James H. Howard
    James H. Howard
    James Howell Howard was a general in the United States Air Force and the only fighter pilot in the European Theater of Operations in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor — the United States military's highest decoration...

     of the USAAF) to be awarded the Medal of Honor
    Medal of Honor
    The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

    .
  • David Lee "Tex" Hill, later commander of the USAAF 23rd Fighter Group.
  • Charles Older
    Charles Older
    Charles Herman "Chuck" Older was a member of the American Volunteer Group "The Flying Tigers" and one of its Aces. In his distinguished military career, he served in both World War II and the Korean War...

     postwar earned a law degree, became a California Superior Court judge, and presided at the murder trial of Charles Manson
    Charles Manson
    Charles Milles Manson is an American criminal who led what became known as the Manson Family, a quasi-commune that arose in California in the late 1960s. He was found guilty of conspiracy to commit the Tate/LaBianca murders carried out by members of the group at his instruction...

    .
  • Kenneth Jernstedt was a long-time Oregon legislator and mayor of his home town of Hood River.
  • Robert William Prescott founded Flying Tiger Line
    Flying Tiger Line
    Flying Tiger Line, also known as Flying Tigers, was the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States and a major military charter operator during the Cold War era for both cargo and personnel .- History :...

     as a cargo carrier, along with other AVG pilots.
  • Allen "Bert" Christman, bailed out at Rangoon, strafed and killed while parachuting, in January 1942, had earlier scripted and drawn the Scorchy Smith
    Scorchy Smith
    Scorchy Smith was an American adventure comic strip created by artist John Terry that ran from 1930 to 1961.Scorchy Smith was a pilot-for-hire whose initial adventures took him across America, fighting criminals and aiding damsels in distress...

     and Sandman
    Sandman (Wesley Dodds)
    Sandman , is a fictional superhero appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. The first of several DC characters to bear the name, he was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Bert Christman....

     comic strips.
  • Journalist Joseph Alsop
    Joseph Alsop
    Joseph Wright Alsop V was an American journalist and syndicated newspaper columnist from the 1930s through the 1970s.-Early years:...

     served as Chennault's "staff secretary" while the AVG trained at Rangoon; he was interned at Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941.
  • Emma Foster RN became Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Health Council.

AVG Aces

The AVG overclaimed its kills. For example, in the big Christmas Day battle over Rangoon, AVG and RAF pilots claimed 28 Japanese aircraft while 10 were actually lost. In the same combat, Japanese Army Air Force pilots and gunners claimed 36 Allied aircraft while eight were actually shot down. It would only be after the war that true combat losses could be determined by comparing the after action and loss reports of the combatants.

Nineteen pilots were credited by the AVG with five or more air-to-air victories:
  • Robert Neale
    Robert Neale (pilot)
    A Seattle resident, Robert Neale was a United States Navy dive-bomber pilot on the aircraft carrier when he joined the American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in the summer of 1941....

    : 13 victories
  • Ed Rector: 10.5 victories
  • David Lee "Tex" Hill: 10.25 victories
  • George Burgard: 10 victories
  • Robert Little: 10 victories
  • Charles Older
    Charles Older
    Charles Herman "Chuck" Older was a member of the American Volunteer Group "The Flying Tigers" and one of its Aces. In his distinguished military career, he served in both World War II and the Korean War...

    : 10 victories
  • Robert T. Smith
    Robert T. Smith
    Robert Tharp Smith was born in York, Nebraska. His family moved to Red Cloud from Hooper, Nebraska in 1927 when his father, Earl W. Smith, was hired as Superintendent of Schools. He graduated Red Cloud High School in 1935. Smith attended the University of Nebraska before joining the U.S...

    : 8.9 victories
  • William McGarry: 8 victories
  • Charles Bond: 7 victories
  • Frank Lawlor: 7 victories
  • John Newkirk: 7 victories
  • Robert Hedman: 6 victories
  • C. Joseph Rosbert: 6 victories
  • J. Richard Rossi: 6 victories
  • Robert Prescott: 5.5 victories
  • Percy Bartelt: 5 victories
  • William Bartling: 5 victories
  • Edmund Overend: 5 victories
  • Robert Sandell: 5 victories
  • Robert H. Smith: 5 victories

Transition to the USAAF

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
China Air Task Force
The China Air Task Force was created in July 1942 under the command of Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault, whose Flying Tigers of the 1st American Volunteer Group were disbanded on 4 July of that month. It consisted of the 23rd Fighter Group with four squadrons, the 74th, 75th, 76th, and 16th Fighter...

 and later the 14th Air Force
Fourteenth Air Force
The Fourteenth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Space Command . It is headquartered at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California....

), while continuing to command the AVG by virtue of his position in the Chinese Air Force
Republic of China Air Force
The Republic of China Air Force is the aviation branch of the Republic of China Armed Forces. The ROCAF's primary mission is the defense of the airspace over and around Taiwan...

. 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.
Robert Lee Scott, Jr.
Robert Lee Scott Jr. was a Brigadier General in the United States Air Force. Scott is best known for his autobiography God is My Co-Pilot about his exploits in World War II with the Flying Tigers and the United States Army Air Forces in China and Burma...

 who was flying supplies into Kunming over the Hump
The Hump
The Hump was the name given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew military transport aircraft from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort of Chiang Kai-shek and the units of the United States Army Air Forces based in...

 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 the Flying Tigers with his best selling book God is My Co-pilot
God is My Co-Pilot (film)
God is My Co-Pilot is a 1945 American propaganda film based on the autobiography of the same name by Robert Lee Scott, Jr. The film tells the story of Scott's association with the Flying Tigers and the United States Army Air Forces in China and Burma during World War II.-Plot:God Is My Co-Pilot was...

that was also made into a popular movie.

Tributes and memorials

There are several museum displays in the United States honoring the Flying Tigers. The National Museum of the United States Air Force
National Museum of the United States Air Force
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The NMUSAF is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display...

 in Dayton
Dayton, Ohio
Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

, Ohio, has an extensive display dedicated to the AVG, including an A-2 jacket
A-2 jacket
The Type A-2 leather flight jacket is a military flight jacket closely associated with World War II U.S. Army Air Forces pilots, navigators and bombardiers, who often decorated their jackets with squadron patches and elaborate artwork painted on the back...

 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
National Museum of Naval Aviation
The National Museum of Naval Aviation is a military and aerospace museum located at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. The museum opened in 1962....

 in Pensacola
Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida, United States of America. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 56,255 and as of 2009, the estimated population was 53,752...

, Florida also has a Flying Tiger display. The AVG monument in the National Museum of the United States Air Force
National Museum of the United States Air Force
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The NMUSAF is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display...

 Memorial Garden features a marble sculpture of a pagoda
Pagoda
A pagoda is the general term in the English language for a tiered tower with multiple eaves common in Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. Some pagodas are used as Taoist houses of worship. Most pagodas were built to have a religious function, most commonly Buddhist,...

 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
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Vandenberg Air Force Base is a United States Air Force Base, located approximately northwest of Lompoc, California. It is under the jurisdiction of the 30th Space Wing, Air Force Space Command ....

 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
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

, a marble
Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite.Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone.Marble is commonly used for...

 obelisk
Obelisk
An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top, and is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon...

 was dedicated on 11 November 2003, inscribed to Chennault; to Jack Newkirk, who was killed in North Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 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
Zhijiang Dong Autonomous County
Zhijiang Dong Autonomous County is a county of Hunan, China. It is under the administration of Huaihua city.-References:*...

, Hunan Province
Hunan
' is a province of South-Central China, located to the south of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and south of Lake Dongting...

, China and is the only museum in the world 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. 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.

Flying Tigers wrecks

The wreckage of a P-40 with CAF serial number P-8115 is on display in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai sometimes written as "Chiengmai" or "Chiangmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is the capital of Chiang Mai Province , a former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna and was the tributary Kingdom of Chiang Mai from 1774 until 1939. It is...

, 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
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

. 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
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

 (OSS) arranged for the Free Thai Movement
Free Thai Movement
The Free Thai Movement was a Thai underground resistance movement against Imperial Japan during World War II. Seri Thai were an important source of military intelligence for the Allies in the region, and were notable for being the only World War II resistance movement to use fighter aircraft of its...

 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.

Recognition by the United States

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.

Popular culture

A number of feature films have referenced the AVG directly or indirectly, the most famous being Flying Tigers
Flying Tigers (film)
Flying Tigers is a 1942 black-and-white war film, starring John Wayne and John Carroll as mercenary fighter pilots fighting the Japanese in China prior to the U.S. entry into World War II....

, a 1942 black-and-white film from Republic, starring John Wayne
John Wayne
Marion Mitchell Morrison , better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film actor, director and producer. He epitomized rugged masculinity and became an enduring American icon. He is famous for his distinctive calm voice, walk, and height...

 and John Carroll
John Carroll (actor)
John Carroll was an American actor and singer. He was born Julian Lafaye in New Orleans, Louisiana....

 as fighter pilots. Other wartime films with an AVG angle included The Sky's the Limit (1942, starring Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire
Fred Astaire was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of 76 years, during which he made 31 musical films. He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute...

); God is My Co-pilot, (1943, with Dennis Morgan
Dennis Morgan
Dennis Morgan was an American actor-singer. Born as Earl Stanley Morner, he used the acting pseudonym Richard Stanley before adopting his professional name....

 as Robert Lee Scott, Raymond Massey
Raymond Massey
Raymond Hart Massey was a Canadian/American actor.-Early life:Massey was born in Toronto, Ontario, the son of Anna , who was born in Illinois, and Chester Daniel Massey, the wealthy owner of the Massey-Ferguson Tractor Company. Massey's family could trace their ancestry back to the American...

 as Chennault, and John Ridgely
John Ridgely
John Ridgely was an American film character actor with over 100 film credits. He appeared in the 1946 Humphrey Bogart film The Big Sleep as blackmailing gangster Eddie Mars and had a memorable role as a suffering heart patient in the film noir Nora Prentiss .The Chicago, Illinois-born actor...

 as Tex Hill); Hers to Hold (1943, with Joseph Cotten
Joseph Cotten
Joseph Cheshire Cotten was an American actor of stage and film. Cotten achieved prominence on Broadway, starring in the original productions of The Philadelphia Story and Sabrina Fair...

); and China's Little Devils (1945). Currently, producer John Woo
John Woo
John Woo Yu-Sen SBS is a Hong Kong-based film director and producer. Recognized for his stylised films of highly choreographed action sequences, Mexican standoffs, and use of slow-motion, Woo has directed several notable Hong Kong action films, among them, A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Hard...

 has a major film in the planning stage, apparently emphasizing the cooperation between American and Chinese pilots in fighting the Japanese.

Similarly, the Flying Tigers have been the focus of several novels, including Tonya, by Pappy Boyington
Pappy Boyington
Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was a United States Marine Corps officer who was an American fighter ace during World War II. For his heroic actions, he was awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Boyington flew initially with the American Volunteer Group in the Republic of China Air Force...

; Remains, by Daniel Ford
Daniel Ford
Daniel Ford is an American journalist, novelist, and historian. The son of Patrick and Anne Ford, he attended public schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, graduating in 1950 from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He was educated at the University of New Hampshire Daniel Ford...

; and Spies in the Garden, by Bob Bergin.

Seventeen years after the war, Robert Prescott, an AVG and 14th Air Force veteran, started a restaurant called the “Hungry Tiger” in Los Angeles, California. The venture grew into a 40-unit chain, which in 1985 was absorbed into the “Reuben's” restaurant chain. Another AVG-themed restaurant was "Flying Tiger Joe's" in North Carolina, managed by chef and former pilot C. Joseph Rospert.

See also

  • Arthur Chin
    Arthur Chin
    Major Arthur Chin was an American pilot and a Second Sino-Japanese War fighter ace.-Biography:Chin was born in Portland, Oregon to a Chinese father of Cantonese origin and a Caucasian mother of Peruvian background. Motivated by the Japanese invasion of China, Chin enrolled in flight school in 1932...

     – America's first ace in World War II
  • Development of Chinese Nationalist air force (1937–1945)
  • Second Sino-Japanese War
    Second Sino-Japanese War
    The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. From 1937 to 1941, China fought Japan with some economic help from Germany , the Soviet Union and the United States...

  • Chiang Kai-shek
    Chiang Kai-shek
    Chiang Kai-shek was a political and military leader of 20th century China. He is known as Jiǎng Jièshí or Jiǎng Zhōngzhèng in Mandarin....

  • Madame Chiang Kai-shek
  • History of the Republic of China
    History of the Republic of China
    The History of the Republic of China begins after the Qing Dynasty in 1912, when the formation of the Republic of China put an end to over two thousand years of Imperial rule. The Qing Dynasty, also known as the Manchu Dynasty, ruled from 1644 to 1912...

  • James H. Howard
    James H. Howard
    James Howell Howard was a general in the United States Air Force and the only fighter pilot in the European Theater of Operations in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor — the United States military's highest decoration...

    —Flying Tigers pilot later awarded the Medal of Honor
  • Pappy Boyington
    Pappy Boyington
    Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was a United States Marine Corps officer who was an American fighter ace during World War II. For his heroic actions, he was awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Boyington flew initially with the American Volunteer Group in the Republic of China Air Force...

    —Flying Tigers pilot later awarded the Medal of Honor
  • Military of the Republic of China
    Military of the Republic of China
    The Republic of China Armed Forces encompass the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Military Police Force of the Republic of China . It is a military establishment, which accounted for 16.8% of the central budget in the fiscal year of 2003...

  • National Revolutionary Army
    National Revolutionary Army
    The National Revolutionary Army , pre-1928 sometimes shortened to 革命軍 or Revolutionary Army and between 1928-1947 as 國軍 or National Army was the Military Arm of the Kuomintang from 1925 until 1947, as well as the national army of the Republic of China during the KMT's period of party rule...

  • Soviet Volunteer Group
    Soviet Volunteer Group
    The Soviet Volunteer Group was the ostensibly volunteer Soviet Air Forces to support the Republic of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War between 1937 and 1941. After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was signed and large Soviet support was given to China by...

  • Whampoa Military Academy
    Whampoa Military Academy
    The Nationalist Party of China Army Officer Academy , commonly known as the Whampoa Military Academy , was a military academy in the Republic of China that produced many prestigious commanders who fought in many of China's conflicts in the 20th century, notably the Northern Expedition, the Second...

  • Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign
  • Lafayette Escadrille
    Lafayette Escadrille
    The Lafayette Escadrille , was an escadrille of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique militaire, during World War I composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters.-History:Dr. Edmund L...

    —American volunteers in the French Air Service during World War I
  • Kościuszko Squadron
    Polish 7th Air Escadrille
    Polish 7th Air Escadrille , better known as the Kościuszko Squadron, was one of the units of the Polish Air Force during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. Formed in late 1918, it was re-formed in late 1919 from US volunteers...

    —American volunteers fighting for Poland in the Polish-Soviet War
    Polish-Soviet War
    The Polish–Soviet War was an armed conflict between Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine and the Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian People's Republic—four states in post–World War I Europe...

     (1919–1921).
  • Yankee Squadron
    Yankee Squadron
    The Yankee Squadron was a group of mercenary American military aviators who flew for the Spanish Republican Air Force, during the Spanish Civil War.-History:...

     - American volunteers fighting in the Spanish Civil War
    Spanish Civil War
    The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

     (1936-1939) engaging Nazis and fascist Italian forces.
  • Eagle Squadron
    Eagle squadron
    The Eagle Squadrons were 3 fighter squadrons of the Royal Air Force formed during World War II with volunteer pilots from the United States...

    —American volunteers in the RAF during World War II
  • 23d Fighter Group
    23d Fighter Group
    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....

    —USAF group descended from Flying Tigers

External links

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