The Flying Tigers
When Captain Claire L. Chennault retired from active duty in April 1937, he would go on to have an impact on the shaping of the Second World War. After his retirement, he accepted the mission of confidentially surveying the Chinese Air Force for China. At this time in the world, Japan had just made a military pact with Germany, and was seeking to expand its borders. China’s Air Force was fairly inexperienced and needed guidance from a veteran like Capt. Chennault. With the outbreak of The Second Sino-Japanese War between Japan and China in August of 1937, Chennault’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the summer of 1938, Chennault had established a Chinese Air Force Base in Kunming modeled after American bases. The Chinese pilots were learning but were still inexperienced and crashed the planes when taking off and landing. The Chinese Air Force eventually failed in 1940 due to lack of equipment and experienced pilots. Chennault was then sent to America to get as many fighter planes, bombers, and transports as possible, plus all of the supplies needed to maintain them and the pilots to fly them. Chennault returned to America, where negotiations began with the Chinese Ambassador for the United States. In the end, it would result in the creation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG).
The American Volunteer Group was organized by the United States government to aid China during their time of need. The Chinese Air Force received a number of P-40 Tomahawks from the United States. Chennault was then able to recruit 300 American pilots and ground crew members who, posing as tourists made a safe transfer into China.
The AVG consisted of three units; however, the first one was the only one to actually see combat. This unit, the 1st AVG, would become known as the Flying Tigers. They did not see combat until after Pearl Harbor, 7 December, 1941, but they quickly became well-known for their defense of Burma and China.
Would it be safe to assume the Flying Tigers were a success? In short, the answer is yes. Severely lacking necessary medical and mechanical services, they still managed to be credited with a total of 296 enemy aircrafts destroyed, including 229 in the air. These statistics compared to their losses of only 14 AVG pilots proves that our forces served well in their time in China. Another important thing to consider is the morale they provided for our nation after the attack on Pearl Harbor. With an inability to pose a counter-strike on Japan immediately following the attacks and all of the aggression towards Japan from the American public, the Flying Tigers represented a symbol of our nation’s presence in the Pacific. During the Flying Tigers time with the Nationalist Chinese Air Force, 33 AVG pilots and three ground crew members received the Order of the Cloud and Banner. This prestigious award is given by the Republic of China to this day. Many AVG pilots also received the Chinese Medal of Honor. They were the men that China needed to help fight their war.