history of the Chinese Air Force during the war with Japan reminds us most of
all of the legendary bird, the Phoenix, which repeatedly rose from its own
ashes. Until 1942 the Japanese
aircraft practically every year annihilated
the aviation which the Guomindang had raised again, but time after time the
Chinese rebuilt the combat units of their air forces.
1937 to 1940 the main supplier of soon-to-be scrap metal was the Soviet Union,
sending on credits to the sum of 200 million dollars 563 fighters (I-15,
I-15bis, I-16 & I-153), and 322 bombers (292 SB, 24 DB-3, & 6 TB-3). However, of the 250-300 annually sent combat aircraft, by the
end of the year, by the end of the year there would remain only a few dozens.
view of the complete inability of the Chinese Air Force to stand against the
Japanese, the Aviation Committee (AC) of China repeatedly ordered all its
military units to cease military action in order to preserve the remaining
machines. Some of them they tried
to save and conceal, even in a disassembled form.
best illustration of this idea is the history of the Soviet “Chaikas”.
After the departure form China of all the Soviet volunteers (there
remained only a small number of advisors taking no part in combat), the very
first sortie of the “Zero” over Chongqing on 13 September 1940 began a
systematic pogrom of the Chinese Air Force.
The fast Japanese fighters without loss shot down 18 I-16s and 9 I-15bis.
The next day the Aviation Committee ordered the cessation of aerial
the end of the year the Chinese had received from the USSR three squadrons of
“new” I-153s (93 machines).
The Chinese pilots familiarized themselves with them during January and
February 1941, but the very first battle over Chengdu on 14 march demonstrated
that Chinese in the Chaika were helpless before he Japanese in the Zero.
In that battle, named by the Chinese, “Battle 314” (3rd
month, 14th day) 24
I-153s perished, and another three were damaged.
Only four Zeros received light damage.
There followed a new order about refraining from combat operations.
After two months, 22 and 26 May became black days for Chinese aviation.
During a dispersal (on the principle of “save yourself as you wish) and
flight to a “safe” airfield, the Japanese intercepted two groups of Chaikas
(17 & 18 machines) and destroyed them completely.
Fifteen machines were shot down and the rest were strafed on the ground
while refueling. Adding insult, the
Japanese again did not lose a single aircraft.
the background of such catastrophic developments, the Chinese government decided
again to ask for help from trans-oceanic Uncle Sam.
At the end of the 1930s the USSR eclipsed
the American company Curtiss, particularly in provision of military
aircraft to Chang Kaishi. But
previous connections with this firm dating back to its beginnings, even to the
beginning of he century, in fact had not been severed.
After the Hawk II and Hawk III biplanes, comprising the base of Chinese
fighter aviation in 1937 came the monoplane Hawk 75.
The demonstration example, Model Hawk 75N, with non-retractable landing
gear was purchased in 1938 and became the personal aircraft of the American
advisor to the Aviation Committee, Claire Chennault, occupied in China teaching
the Chinese - and at the same time lobbying for the delivery of American
modified Hawk 75M, with retractable landing gear, created specially for China
was not widely used in the war against the Japanese, in spite of the fact that
in the summer and fall of 1938, they were sent 30 aircraft, and 82 kits for
assembly. It was planned to
assemble the Hawk in the aviation factory which had been evacuated from Hanzhou
to Leiyun. The location, not far
from the Burmese border on the eastern bank of the Ruiluqiang River in Yongnan
Province at that time seemed protected from Japanese attacks.
But they were unable to cope with actual assembly of the Hawk 75 there,
although according to various sources by October 1940 (while the Japanese had
not bombed the factory), they managed to assemble eight machines.
The fate of the rest of the kits is unknown.
that the aviation factory planned to
organize assembly of the export version of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon, light
fighter. From the USA three
aircraft and 32 sets of components were ordered.
The factory at Leiyun worked until April 1942, when on account of
Japanese attacks it had to be evacuated to Kunming.
From 1943 to 1946 the aircraft factory, which was dispersed in the
ravines neighboring Kunming, assembled an experimental series of nine fighter
monoplanes, probably from components of the Hawk 75M and 75A-5, and CW-21. To a degree they were similar to the American prototypes and
their further fate is unknown. In
western sources the first example figures under the strange designation XP-0.
in China, the Hawk-75 took an active part in combat but did not achieve any
special success. The 16th
Squadron of the 6th Bomber Air Group, having earlier flown the V-92
Corsair light bomber, on 1 October 1938 changed to a fighter squadron and was
directly sent to Zhiqiang (Hunan
Province) to take possession of nine Hawks.
The pilots retrained under the leadership of Claire Chennault.
At the end of the year they redeployed to Yibin (Sichuan Province) for
air defense of the Chinese temporary capitol at Chongqing.
In January 1939 the squadron flew to Kunming (Yongnan Province), but was
disbanded in August.
1 November 1938 the 18th Squadron was also included in the 6 Air
Group, flying the Douglas O-2MC light bomber.
After changing to fighters, it received 9 Hawk 75, and independently
began retraining at Yibin. The
pilots of the 18th Squadron first met the Japanese in their new Hawks
on 18 August 1939. And in the first
battle the squadron commander, Tang Boshen was killed.
January 1939 the 18th Squadron relocated to Kunming for defense of
the city from air attacks. In fact
it was led by Claire Chennault, although there is no information about his
personal participation in air battles. On
1 August the squadron rebased to Chongqing, and in December it took part in
battles in the south of Guangxi. At
the beginning of 1940 it again rebased to Yongnan Province for defense of the
Kunming-Mingzi railroad, which was subjected to massive attacks.
At the end of May the squadron returned to Chonqing. Since they did not have enough Hawk 75s, they received 9 old
Hawk III biplanes from the 22nd Squadron.
4 October 1940 during a massive attack by the Japanese on Chengdu the Air Force
Staff of the 3rd Army ordered the pilots to disperse.
Six Hawk 75s of the 18th Squadron flew to Guanxian, but they
were overtaken by the omnipresent Zeros. The
result was that only a single Aircraft reached its destination. One Hawk was shot down, two more made forced landings, and
two were set afire on the ground by the Japanese while refueling.
By 1 December the 18th Squadron, in reality had ceased to
16 December 1940 the 11th Air Group was established at the Taipingsi
air base at Chengdu. Assigned to it
were the newly constituted 41st, 42nd, 43rd,
and 44th Squadrons. From
the maintenance and repair shops their received 20 I-15, 15 I-16, 4 I-153 and 5
Hawk 75s. It is significant that even at this time so critical for the
Chinese Air Force, young, inexperienced pilot, only recently graduated from
flight school, were not thrown immediately into the fray, but were sent to
Jionglai (Sichuan Province) for advanced training. On 21 May 1942 during an attack on Jionglai, the Japanese set
fire to 6 I-15s. by November 1942
the pilots had not yet taken part in combat.
the more experienced Chinese pilots continued as far as possible to struggle
with the Japanese. The 26th
Squadron, equipped with the I-16, from the spring of 1941 defended against air
attacks Lanzhou, the main terminal of the ferry route from the USSR. On 21 May eight Chaikas of the 21st Squadron, led
by Zhen Sheng gave battle against 27 Japanese bombers and shot down one of them.
This was the only victory by Chinese fighters during the first half of
the summer ten each Chizhi (I-16)
and Chaikas attempted to provide air defense for Chengdu, and to intercept
Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, but without success.
During July and August the Japanese continued to mount massive attacks
against the Chinese city. On 28
July, to intercept 108 Japanese aircraft, only seven I-153s were able to take
off, of which four returned, and in the air battle of 11 August the last Chaikas
the beginning of 1942 the 17th Squadron with eleven I-153s, together
with the American volunteers took part in the battles over Burma, but soon were
sent “away from further sin” to the rear, to the airbase at Laxu where they
were used for communications.
the summer the squadron returned to Chengdu.
At that time seven I-16s of the 29th Squadron defended the
city. At the same time, another
seven I-16s, led by the commander of the 29th Squadron, Wang Yinhua
flew off to Lanzhou to defend the city and airbase.
1943 the only Chinese squadron flying Soviet fighters remained the 41st
Squadron of the 11th Air Group.
In June, when the combat activity moved on to Chuanhu Province they flew
together with the 42nd Squadron.
In a number of sources there is mention of a lone I-16 shooting down a
Japanese Ki-43 over the Burma Road in 1943.
Most likely sitting in its cabin was the commander of the 41st
Squadron Chen Zhaoji, who opened his squadron’s score on 6 June 1943.
more successful wee the Chinese operating our bombers.
In spite of the numerous non-combat losses resulting from poor crew
training, the Chinese units with the SB and DB-3 continued from time to time to
deliver attacks on the Japanese. Thus,
on 9 March 1942 six DB-3s bombed Yichang at the extreme of their range.
Their loss was one aircraft. By
the end of the year there remained only three operational DB-3s in China.
Due to shortage of replacement parts they ceased even training flights.
In January1943 the squadrons flying the DB-3 were disbanded.
to China of the SB with M-103 motors (The Chinese designated them SB-III)
continued almost to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War.
At the end of 1940, at the same time as the 11 Fighter Air Group, also
formed was the 12 Bomber air Group equipped with the SB.
But for some reason, it never went to the front before its disbandment in
1944. At the same time, squadrons
from the 1st, 2nd and 6th Air Groups in the
fall of 1941 took part in the battles for Changsha.
On 8 January 1942 in an air battle over Hunan Province, the overwhelming
strength of the Japanese fairly well shredded our Katyushas.
Two SBs were shot down and three more had to make forced landings.
After that, on 22 and 24 January while bombing the aerodrome at Anqing,
the bombers were covered by the American volunteers - the Flying Tigers.
Still, on 22 January yet one more SB was shot down.
the middle of 1942 the largest share of the remaining SBs were concentrated on
the Burmese border for battle with the local Opium Kings.
The American and Chinese command were trying to do something about the
spread of narcotics addiction in the armed forces, which was sapping the
strength of the army. In June-July
1942 the 12th Squadron completed nine reconnaissance and bombing
missions against the poppy plantations. They
flew in mixed groups of SBs, Corsairs and Douglases.
The bombers also supported the ground forces defending positions on the
the beginning of 1943 the only truly combat capable unit with the SB was the 1st
Air Group, where there remained 19 machines on the rolls.
In May they completed their last flights on the Hubei front.
the words of a Chinese historian, “1941 was the the most difficult year for
the Chinese Air Force of the eight year war.. In order to show resistance to the
Japanese forces, the Chinese actively sought new international assistance.”
Thus it appears all the more amazing that at the beginning of June 1941,
when the command staff of the 3rd
Fighter Group was ordered to Rangoon to take delivery of the new Tomahawk
fighters ((export designation Hawk 81A-3) purchased in America, the Chinese
pilots rejected them. Taiwanese
sources maintain that “after testing the combat capabilities of these
fighters, they maintained that they would be unable to operate against the Zero.
Ultimately the aircraft were allocated to the American Volunteer Group.
the Second World War had already gone on for a year and a half, by the spring of
1941 the USA continued to maintain formal diplomatic relations. The Lend-Lease law signed by President Roosevelt in March
1941 did not authorize direct military assistance to China.
Nonetheless, on April 15, 1941 Roosevelt officially authorized military
service personnel of the US Army to participate in the war in China as
volunteers. By this time Colonel
Claire Chennault had already long ceased to be an officer of the American army.
Having become the advisor to the Aviation Committee in China, formally he
represented the “Central Aircraft Production Company.
From precisely this company he began to formulate the volunteer fighter
group, and recruited a unit of more than 200 pilots and mechanics.
contracts with the Americans were signed at the beginning of July. Officially the volunteer unit, included in the organization
of the Chinese Air Force, was established on 1 August 1941.
Naturally, Claire Chennault became the commander.
Under his authority were three fighter squadrons.
The Guomindang government presented them with 100 P-40Cs purchased in the
USA for 2.3 million dollars. (Actually 99, as one crate with a disassembled
aircraft fell into the sea during transport.)
The aircraft were assembled at Dungua Airbase at Rangoon.
to the Chinese version, the name “Flying Tigers” occured from the fact that
on the wings of the P-40 were painted small emblems resembling. a tiger.
To the point, this was far from the first unit with a similar name.
In the Chinese Air Force during the 1920s in addition to “Tigers”
were Flying Panthers”, Flying Dragons”, etc..
the Tigers rebased to the aerodrome at Rangoon, covering the combat operations
of English ground forces operating against the Japanese.
Their main assignment became the defense of the highway between Burma and
Yongnan (the Burma Road), which for the course of the whole war remained the
only ground route for supply of military supplies to China.
it became clear, in the middle of December 1941 that the Japanese were preparing
to organize attacks on Yongnan Province where the Chinese portion of the Burma
Road ended, Chennault the 1st and 2nd Squadrons to Kunming,
while the 3rd Squadron remained at Rangoon.
On 20 December during a Japanese attack on Kunming the Americans shot
down four aircraft. After this, all
three squadrons of volunteers found themselves rotated through both Kunming and
Rangoon. At the beginning of March
1942, in connection with the Japanese offensive, the Americans abandoned Burmese
territory and concentrated at Kunming. In
addition to the defense of Kunming and cover for the Burma Road, they were
assigned area antiaircraft defense
of the ground forces.
volunteers fought in China until the middle of September 1942.
the Chinese write that “the Flying Tigers, thanks to the outstanding
flying qualities of the P-40 (contrast with the evaluation of Chinese pilots -
A.D.) and their high level of training, achieved superior results.”
According to their count, from 20 December 1941 to the end of May 1942,
the Tigers participated in more than 100 air battles and shot down or damaged
297 Japanese aircraft, while themselves losing 51 fighters. Analysis of actual
data about Japanese losses gives a not quite so optimistic picture.
In fact, the Flying Tigers shot down 31 aircraft (17 fighters, of which
14 were Ki-43 & 3 Ki-27, and 14 bombers).
Their own losses in air combat consisted of 6 aircraft (5 Tomahawks and a
Kittyhawk). All the other
written-off machines were smashed in accidents or destroyed through attacks on
4 June 1942 the American government withdrew the Flying Tigers from the Chinese
Air Force and included them on the rolls of the regular units of the US Army.
They were re-designated as the 23rd Fighter Group (Air Wing)
of the 10th Air Force, of the US Army.
In China they were called the “Special Purpose Group of the American
Air Forces”, or the Unit of Allied Countries Fighting in China”.
Claire Chennault continued to command the group.
entry of the USA into the war with Japan at the end of 1941 was for the Chinese
truly a gift of Fate. They
automatically were entered on the list of countries receiving from the United
States Lend-Lease equipment, including aircraft.
American Lend-Lease aviation equipment had already begun to arrive in
China as early as the middle of 1941, though that includes the first shipments
before January 1942 which arrived under the guise of purchases.
9th Bomber Squadron of the Chinese Air Force in August 1941
reequipped with the Lockheed A-29 attack bomber.
In October they again took part in battle completing attacks on Yuncheng
(Shanxi Province), Hankou, and other cities and regions.
The 30th Squadron began to reequip with the A-29 in August,and the 11th from October
1942. At taht point,the entire 2nd
Air Group flew the Lockheed. From
May 1943 they bombed targets in Hubei Province.
The same year the 10th Squadron mastered the A-29.
In all, during the years 1941-1943 29 (according to other sources 28)
Lockheed A-29 light attack bombers were sent to China.
they participated in combat until the middle of 1944.
Inthe spring the crews of the 2nd Air Group bombed the
railroad bridge over the river Huanghe. then
they rebased to Nanzhen (Shanxi Province) to participate in combat on the
on American aircraft occurred for the most part in India.(Karachi and other
cities), where they were sent both as groups and as entire units.
As early as the end of 1941 Chinese pilots, mainly recently graduated
from flight schools, began to be sent to the USA for longer training and mastery of American aircraft.
February 1943, preparing for transition to the new American air equipment, the
Chinese transferred to India the primary training groups from their flight
schools. In China remained only the
courses for reconnaissance and photography.
In March 1945 the cadets completing primary training in India were sent
to America to train further.
By that time the number of cadets dispatched had reached 1224, of whom
384 managed to return to China and participate in combat.
In all, from 1942 to 1945 420 training aircraft were sent from the USA to
China through India, including 20 AT-6, 8 At-7, 15 AT-17, 150 PT-17, 127 PT-19,
70 PT-22, and 30 BT-13, and also 10 Beechcraft D-17 medical aircraft.
equipment was ferried to China across the Himalayas, along the air bridge which
received the name the “Camel’s Hump” (from the resemblance of the relief
of the route to the silhouette of the “ship of the desert”.
early May the Japanese seized three key settled points in Burma which cut across
the Burma Road. To maintain
uninterrupted supply to China of strategic materials requested by the Guomindang
government, the US leaders agreed to organize an air bridge.
It was built by transport aviation units of the American army and the air
transport section of the Chinese Air Company.
During 1942 1945 the Chinese received from the USA exactly 100 transport
aircraft -77 C-47 Dakotas, and 23 C-46 Commandos.
India, Burma,and China there began to operate an airlift of unimaginable scale.
In the west the Camel’s Hump began in India and passed over the
mountains of Yongnan and a series of spines to Sichuan Province.
After the opening of the air route, it became for the Chinese a true
“road of life”.
The quantity of cargo transported reached 7000 tons every month.
According to the reckoning of the Chinese, from May 1942 to September
1945, a total of 650,000 tons were transported, of which Chinese pilots
accomplished 75,000 tons (about 12%). Also,
along the air bridge 33,400 people were transported in both directions.
The summary reached 1.5 million flight hours.
spite of poor weather conditions, with inadequate navigational resources (there
were not enough navigators for all the groups) the American and Chinese pilots
day by day transported cargo to Chengdu, Kunming, and other cities.
The air bridge worked until victory.
flights were accompanied by large losses from bad weather, failures of
equipment, and the attacks of Japanese fighters.
It all, 468 American and 46 Chinese crews perished, over one and a half
thousand aviators. Monthly losses
reached 50 % of aircraft flying at the same time along the route.
Camel’s Hump was the very largest and extended strategic air bridge in the
world. Only in 1948-49 was it
exceeded in volume of cargo by the West Berlin air bridge.
likely, after the refusal of the P-40C by the Chinese, the USA began to deliver
aircraft to Chin a according to the principle “To You, God, what’s worthless
to us.” During 1942-1943 the
Chinese received 129 of the unsuccessful P-66 and 108 examples of the P-43A
Lancer, which practically never appeared on other fronts of the Second World
first American P-43A fighters were
received by the 4th Air Group (21st - 24th
Squadrons) in March 1942. They
retrained in Kunming, but for the new aircraft the pilots sequentially flew in
small groups to India. On 24 April
the deputy commander of the 24th Squadron, Wu Zhenhua crashed on the
flight to Kunming. On 12 May, Chen
Lokun, the flight commander of the 24th Squadron was killed during a training
flight, crashing into a tree during landing.
In July for unclear reasons the P-43 of the 4th Air Group
commander, Zheng Shaoyu caught fire in the air, and the pilot was killed.
On 3 August 1942 during a training flight the deputy group commander Chen
Sheng crashed. A similar series of
crashes accompanied the mastery by the Chinese of almost every new machine.
(It is notable that in Chinese sources the family names are given only of
the perished commanders of various ranks, while the losses amongst the line
pilots are hardly even noted..)
their conversion to the P-43A in early August 1942, the group returned to
27 October all the squadrons on the Lancer began to escort the A-29 bombers of
the 2nd Air Group. On
that same day in an air battle with
a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft a fighter of the 21st Squadron was
shot down. The pilot He Dexiang was killed.
The air group’s main base became Taipingsi, but on 12 February 1943 it
returned to Baishi Aerodrome (Chongqing) for air defense of Baidu.
In May 1943 it was sent to Liangshan (Sichaun) to support the ground
forces in Hubei Province.
the beginning of 1943 the group began to reequip with new aircraft.
It received 41 P-43A and 27 P-40E.
10 January 1943 the P40E began its combat career in China with an attack on
Jingmen in Hubei Province. As with
the majority of other machines on which the Chinese pilots fought, there was not
any particular success. On one day
when four P-43As of the 21st Squadron
were covering Kittyhawks attacking the Japanese forces there occurred an
air battle. Right away four Chinese
were shot down, and yet another Lancer vanished without a trace.
24 February 1943 18 Japanese aircraft conducted an attack on Qiangjin, where the
22nd Squadron had redeployed at the end of 1942. Four Lancers led by
squadron commander Wang Tejian rose to intercept.
It would have been better if they had not done this.
Three of four aircraft were quickly shot down and their pilots killed.
The fourth made a forced landing. The
Japanese as usual departed without loss.
an attack on Yangxizhen (Hubei Province) on May 19 Xu Baoyun, the deputy
commander of the 4th Air Group was killed.
On that day he led a group of eight P-40Es and 4 P-43As covering A-29
bombers. An antiaircraft round hit
the fuel tank in the right wing of his aircraft.
The machine was immediately engulfed in flames and the pilot was unable
to escape from the cabin.
a week, on 25 May, fifteen Kittyhawks of the 23rd Squadron flew to
provide cover for the ground forces on the border of Hubei Province.
Over the front lines the deputy squadron commander, Du Zhaohua broke from
formation and on his own began to strafe the Japanese positions.
But this heroism did not last long.
Suddenly his aircraft exploded in the air, evidently from a direct hit by
an antiaircraft round. Once again, after two days four P-40Es of the 22nd
Squadron attacked the Japanese positions in the Shanyu region.
Two Kittyhawks were shot down by antiaircraft.
every combat flight was accompanied by losses for the Chinese, but a
particularly gloomy day was 6 July, when the Japanese conducted an attack on the
aerodrome at liangshan. In the air
battle perished 15 Kittyhawks which had taken off to intercept and one more was
burned on the ground. Partially
avenging the deaths of his comrades, the commander of the 23rd
Squadron, the future ace Zhou Zhikai managed toe
shoot down two Japanese fighters. He
was awarded a medal for this battle.
43rd Squadron, armed with the P40E, first took part in combat in the
July battles over Xian (west of Shanxi Province).
They suffered their first losses on July 23 during a Japanese attack on
their base. A Chinese pilot taking
off on the alarm, flew into a dam.
3rd Air Group began to send pilots to India for P-66 fighter from the
middle of July 1942. During half a
year they flew off 60 machines, but retained only 15 for themselves, passing
along the remainder to the 5th and 11th Air Groups.
7th Squadron receive the Vanguard in September 1942 and began combat
duty at Chongqing that same month. After
a month the 8th Squadron was attached to them to strengthen the air
defenses of the city.
combat successes of the P-66 (granted, very relative), we can note only the air
battle of 23 August 1943 over Chongqing. Aircraft
of the 11th and 4th Air Groups took off to intercept
Japanese bombers, amongst them several P-66s.
The Chinese shot down two aircraft, while losing two pilots.
the fall of 1943 battle broke out For the city of Changde (Hunan Province).
On 21 November during a Japanese air attack, the squadron commander Ren
Zao took off to intercept leading 4 P-66s.
The outcome is totally typical: not one of the Chinese pilots returned to
the aerodrome. The commander
managed to make a forced landing, while the others all perished.
a whole, during 1942 and early 1943 the main weight of air battle in China lay
upon the American 23rd Fighter Group (formerly the Flying Tigers).
From July 1942 to March 1943
they shot down (according to Chinese accounts, most likely highly inflated) 149
Japanese aircraft and dropped on Japanese positions more than 300 tons of bombs,
while losing 16 P-40s.
10 March 1943 the 23rd FG was reassigned to the 14 Army Air Force,
which soon after his began to receive B-24 and B-25 bombers, and P-38, P-47, and
P-51 fighters. Soon it included 60 B-25s and more than a hundred fighters.
They were assigned to support the ground forces on all fronts.
Together with the naval air fleet of the USA they completed attacks on
the Japanese air bases at Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
China 1943 was a turning point in the anti-Japanese war, just as on the other
fronts during the Second World War. From
19 May to 6 June 1943 active combat operations developed in the western regions
of Hubei Province. In the air
skirmishes the quantities of both Chinese and Japanese aircraft often reached
forty on each side. The Chinese 1st,
2nd, 4th, and 11th Air Groups and the American
14th Air Force (with a total of 165 aircraft) fought shoulder to
shoulder. In the battles for Hubei
groups of Chinese aircraft 53 times flew on combat assignments (Fighters
completed 336 sorties, and bomber 88 sorties).
In total, according to Chinese sources they shot down 31 aircraft and
destroyed six on the ground, and also sank 23 Japanese vessels.
a far more important result of the battle in Hubei Province was that for he
first time in the long years of the war, the Chinese attempted to seize the
initiative in the air war. In the
words of one of the Chinese historians: “...our air force began to
transition from the strategic defense to counterattack...They displayed a high
level of activity in air attacks. They
determined the direction of the main blows of the Japanese air forces and
actively opposed them. They conducted large scale bombing of enemy aerodromes and
the positions of the enemy ground forces. They
accomplished long distance attacks and interdicted the rear transport and
communications lines of he enemy.”
the middle of September 1943 there had already appeared in the Chinese Air Force
a sufficient quantity of American aircraft and the pilots trained to fly them. Also, having observed during the war years the minimal
effectiveness, in fact the complete hopelessness of the Guomindang air units,
Claire Chennault came to the conclusion about the expediency of unifying all the
aviation units fighting in China.
government of Chang Kaishi received this idea positively, and on 5 November 1943
“For the better organization of cooperation of Chinese and American air
forces” the Chinese-American Composite 16th Air Unit was organized
at Guilin. Initially it included
the 1st, 3rd, and 5th
Chinese Air Groups, and also part of the 14th US Air Force.
this “Air International
Brigade” was Chennault himself, who had been successful in attaining the rank
of General in the American air force. All
command was combined on the principle of parity.
At each level of command there were two commanders, one from each side.
Chinese comprised two thirds of the flight and ground personnel.
The air units were assigned to the operational command of the Chinese Air
mid-1943 the Chinese government sent the 1st, 3rd, and 5th
Air Groups to the Indian training center to master American aviation equipment
and air combat tactics. At about
this same time there began to appear in China a new modification of the
Kittyhawk with a more powerful motor, designated the P-40N.
Ultimately it became the most numerous of Chinese aircraft during the
Second World War. The 14th
Air force was first to reequip with the new Hawks, and then followed in turn the
“pure Chinese” units.
August 1943 the 28th and 32nd Squadrons of the 3rd
Air Group were sent to India For the P-40N.
And the traditional non-combat losses quickly followed.
During training flights on 14 and 30 September the commander of the 28th
Squadron, Ceng Peifu and Dai Dejin, one of the flight commanders were killed.
During the transfer flight one of the C-47s flew into a mountain. buried
under the wreckage were five pilots of the 28th Squadron.
But in spite of the difficulties and sacrifices, on 15 October both
squadrons returned to China with their new aircraft and received assignment to
strengthen the defense of Guilin (Guangxi).
the end of the year the pilots of the 7th and 8th
Squadrons completed retraining. They
were assigned to the Chinese-American unit, but continued to fight as
“Chinese”. Thus on 23 December
five P-40Ns flew from Giulin to attack the aerodrome at Tianhe.
Somewhere near the target there was an air battle and most of these
Kittyhawks we never again seen.
11 February 1944 a group of fighters of the 32nd Squadron escorted
B-25s flying to bomb Hong Kong. In
a battle with Japanese interceptors likely shot down two aircraft, but the cost
was excessively high: not a single Kittyhawk returned from battle.
serious losses were inflicted on the 3rd Air Group in June 1944.
On 2 June 1944 at the height of the battle For the central plain, seven
P-40Ns of the 7th Squadron made an attack on an aerodrome where a
Japanese transport air unit was based. Over
Zhengzhou occurred an air battle in which a flight commander perished.
After two days, while attacking a tank column at Daine (Shanxi) a P-40N
of the 32nd Squadron was shot down.
On 10 July still another pilot of the same squadron was shot down by
antiaircraft and killed.. Finally,
on 28 June, Liu Mengqin was killed during take-off while flying a new P-40N from
at this very time the air group achieved a great success.
On 9 June 1944 eight P-40Ns of the 28th Squadron led by
squadron commander Zheng Sungting shot down in an air battle six Japanese.
Their own losses were two Kittyhawks and one pilot.
Zhang Yongzhang baled out of his burning fighter but the parachute failed
to open and the pilot was killed. The
other pilot Zhao Yuankong made a forced landing in his badly damaged fighter and
29 August fighters of the 28th Squadron repeated their record.
Six P-40Ns flew to bomb a Japanese supply dump at Shaoyang.
On the approach to the target there again occurred an air battle in which
the Chinese shot down six aircraft.. during
the battle the group leader Meng Zhoayi was killed and two pilots were wounded.
The lucky Zhao Yuankong again received over 60 bullets in his cabin, but
managed to return to base. We note
that all the results of battle given are from Chinese sources.
March 1944 the 26th and 29th Squadrons returned to China
having received 24 Kittyhawks in India. After
a month the 17th and 27th Squadrons were attached to them. All these units were united into the 5th Air Group
fighting in the Changsha, Henyang, and Guilin regions.
the course of 1944 pilots of the group completed 2194 sorties and took part in
336 air battles. They shot down 18
Japanese aircraft and destroyed another 160 on the ground. their own losses were
20 P-40N and 9 pilots killed. Most
successful was the 17th Squadron.
From 8 August to the end of 1944 it completed 467 sorties and shot down 7
aircraft for the loss of six Kittyhawks.
4th Air Group began to rearm with the P-40N at the juncture of 1943
and 1944. First sent to India at
the end of 1943 were the 22nd and 24th Squadrons, in
January the 21st Squadron joined them, and the shortly after that the
23rd. Probably the
Chinese aces received the new aircraft “out of turn”, since the commander of
the 23rd Squadron Zhou Zhikai had already flown a reconnaissance
mission on the new P-40N on 14 December. On
the return flight he was killed in an air battle.
On 20 January the deputy commander of the 23rd Squadron Cheng
Yishun crashed while taking off in an newly overhauled aircraft.
sharp battle on the ground and in the air began at the end of spring.
On 12 May five P-40Ns led by the commander of the 23rd
Squadron, Chen Lokong attacked a Japanese motor column on the Transcontinental
Highway at Loyang. Near the target
the Kittyhawks came under heavy antiaircraft fire.
One pilot was seriously wounded and made a forced landing, but the other
four vanished without a trace. Nobody
returned to base. That same day
seven aircraft completed an attack on Loyang and Yichuan, attacking a Japanese
armored column. According to
Chinese sources, they managed to burn more than thirty armored vehicles.
The flight commander was shot down over the target and two more damaged
aircraft made forced landings.
21 May Japanese antiaircraft shot down a P-40N of the 22nd Squadron
conducting reconnaissance on the outskirts of Hancheng.
On 23 May the 22nd Squadron’s deputy commander, Ji Chengtao
went missing in action. A pilot of
the 21st Squadron was killed on 6 June while attacking a Japanese
auto column. On July 28 Japanese
antiaircraft in the Henyang region shot down and killed Yi Minghui of the 22nd
the end of June when the entire 4th Air Group rebased to Zhiqiang,
there remained only 21 fighters. Nonetheless,
the battle continued. On 29 June
Tao Yuhuai, a flight commander of the 21st Squadron crashed on
take-off. On 5 July the five P-40ns
remaining in the 21st Squadron flew to the Yongfeng region to bomb
Japanese positions. On the return
trip one of the pilots for unknown reasons attempted a forced landing, but lost
control and crashed into the ground. The
following day during an attack on the bridge at Fuqiao, He Guoduan of the 22nd
Squadron was killed. And again it
is unclear whether he was hit over the target or encountered some other
the end of the summer the air group lost three more pilots.
On 15 July antiaircraft shot down the P-40N of Du Zhaohya of the 23rd
Squadron. After two weeks Japanese
fighters shot down Zhao Qigang on a reconnaissance flight, and on 30 August
Lieutenant Chen Jiadou.
March 1944 the 11th Air Group began to convert to the P-40N.
At the beginning of May they were rushed to Xian to participate in the
battle for western Hunan and Hubei provinces.
They fought with the Kittyhawk till victory, completing 685 sorties, but
achieving no notable successes. Entirely
typical was the mission of 16 September 1944 when 12 Kittyhawks took off to
attack Japanese forces at Guilin. Four
aircraft did not continue to target and returned because of fog.
Three more pilots for some reason got separated from the formation, and
their fate is unknown to this day. And
to top it all off, the deputy squadron commander Li Jiwu crashed while landing.
Chinese bombers were hardly more effective.
The combined group of the most experienced aviators of the 1st
Bomber Group was assembled in August 1943 and sent in two parties to India for
retraining on the B-25 Mitchell. Training
flights began on 9 August. By the
end of they year the crews had mastered the new aircraft and were assigned to
the American-Chinese unit taking part in the battles in Changde.
the first to begin fighting with the Mitchell in the “Air International
Brigade” were the crews of the 2nd Squadron, who were deployed to
Giulin. On 4 November Squadron
Commander Tang De led two aircraft on a seep of the sea coast of Guangdung and
Fujian Provinces. According to Chinese sources they destroyed two Japanese
naval ships and four aircraft, but the commander’s bomber was damaged and was
destroyed during a forced landing. the
entire crew perished.
2nd and 4th Bomber Squadrons fought the most actively.
On 29 February two Mitchells of the 4th Squadron bombed
Japanese ships on the lower course of the Yangxi. One aircraft was shot down and the crew perished.
On 10 March two crews of the 2nd Squadron again completed an
attack on ships on the lower course of the Yangxi.
On the return path, the fuel ran out in one of the bombers.
The forced landing ended in a catastrophe with the pilot and navigator
killed. On 12 May a
Mitchell, while on a regular patrol of
the sea east of Hong Kong,
was shot down by Japanese shipboard antiaircraft. fire.
the Chinese bombers suffered very
heavy losses without any participation of the Japanese.
On 7 June four B-25s of the 2nd Squadron returning from
Chongqing to Liangshan flew into a mountain.
None of the crews survived. But
the Chinese still had many Mitchells and attacks continued. On 3 August three B-25s, for the first time at night at low
level, bombed the railroad bridge across the Huanghe. One aircraft did not return from the mission and was counted
August-September the entire Air Group, including the 3rd Squadron
returned from India, was concentrated at Baishi airbase.
From there the Chinese pilots began to fly support for the ground forces
in Zhiqiang. By the end of the
year, the air group completed a total of 194 sorties, losing 25 aircraft.
1 March 1945 the 8th Heavy Bomber Air Group was reestablished and the
staff quartered at Pengshang (Sichuan). It
was assigned the newly established 33rd, 34th, and 35th
Squadrons which planned to fight with Liberator four-motor bombers.
the skeleton staff consisted of specialists who had already been trained
in the USA to fly the B-24. Hung
Yangfu became the group commander. However
the group personnel completed training on the Liberator only in September 1945,
which was already after the end of combat activity.
the same time the air power of the American-Chinese Air Unit, nicknamed the
“Chennault Air Force” steadily increased.
By November 1944 they numbered 535 fighters and 156 bombers and the
personnel had grown to 17437 men. by
the end of 1944 the American-Chinese air forces had finally achieved mastery of
the air and forced the weakened Japanese aviation to go over to the defensive.
It is true, the Japanese themselves maintained that this was due not to
any remarkable successes of the American pilots ore even more the Chinese, but
to a severe deficit of fuel forcing the Japanese aircraft to remain on the
the beginning of 1945, thanks to the successful counteroffensive of the Allies
in Burma, there was a restoration of the ground transport highway, which had
been cut by the Japanese for almost three years.
From India to China moved in an unending stream huge columns of trucks
full of weapons and everything else necessary for the successful prosecution of
the war. The combat power of
aviation was significantly strengthened by the delivery of aircraft, spare
parts, ammunition and fuel. The
Chinese Air Force already numbered seven air groups, one separate squadron and a
transport group. Simultaneously
there was a notable increase in the TO&E of the American Air Forces in
China. The total numbers of the Guomindang and American air forces
exceeded 800 aircraft.
the concluding period of the war from January to June 1945, the Chinese pilots
actively participated in battle supporting the ground forces on all fronts in
central, southern and eastern China. By
May 1945 the pilots of the “International Air Brigade” according to Chinese
data had shot down or damaged 2054 Japanese aircraft, while losing about 500 of
their own machines. (The first figure is very difficult to believe, knowing that
the Japanese during the years 1942-1944 maintained in cental and southern China
only three fighter and three bomber regiments, of less than full strength, with
a total of no more than 300 aircraft.)
the beginning of 1945 It came the turn of the Chinese to receive from the USA
one of the finest fighters of the Second World War, the P-51D Mustang.
Some of the pilots had mastered it in the USA, and others converted in
India, receiving machines from the
51st Air Wing of the American Army Air Force.
First to enter battle with the Mustang were the pilots of the 8th
and 32nd Squadrons of th 3rd Fighter Group.
On 5 January 1945 a combined group of 28 P-40N and P-51Daircraft flew
from Laohekou (Hubei) to attack the Japanese aerodrome at Wuhan.
An air battle took place over the target in which one Chinese pilot was
killed. There were no reports about
Japanese losses. On 4 February Li
Zongtang of the 7th Squadron crashed in a Mustang. He had scored three victories.
A week later another Chinese pilot crashed in the fog in a Mustang while
returning from a combat flight to
is interesting that in neither the Chinese nor Taiwanese sources almost nothing
is announced about the details of air battles, in return they readily write
about aircraft shot down by antiaircraft and pilots killed by inoperable
equipment. Thus in the chronicle of
combat activity of Guomindang Aviation for the year 1945 there are recorded only
two Mustangs shot down in air combat. At
the same time four fighters were shot down by ground fire, three were lost to
meteorological conditions (all flew into mountains), and another six crashed
through failure of equipment. Impressive
statistics, although far from complete.
remains to mention that on 1 March 1945 the Chinese established a specialized 12th
Reconnaissance Squadron equipped with 14 F-5E reconnaissance aircraft
(reconnaissance variant of the P-38 Lightning fighter) received from the
Americans. (The earlier 12th
Squadron flying the SB was disbanded at the end of 1943).
The squadron was sent to the front in June and by the end of the
anti-Japanese war had managed to complete only a few flights.
15 August Japan’s unconditional surrender was announced, but three days later,
on 18 August, when the deputy commander of the 24th Squadron Guo
Fengwu was flying over Guisui to
drop leaflets with the text of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender decree, Japanese
antiaircraft shot him down anyway. He
became the last casualty of Chinese aviation in the eight year anti-Japanese
from 1941 the Chinese Air Force received from the USA through Lend-Lease 679
fighters (377 P-40s of various modifications,129 P-66, 108 P-43, 50 P-51D-K,
& 15 P-38 in its reconnaissance variant F-5E), 159 bombers (131 B-25 &
28 A-29), 100 transport aircraft (77 C-47 & 23 C-46), and more than 400
trainers. On the American fighters
eight Chinese pilots became aces: Liu Cuigang -11 victories,
Liu Zhesheng - 11, Wang Guangfu, Yuan Baokang, and Gao Wuxin - 8 each, and Zhou
Zhikai and Zhou Tingfang - 6 each.
history of the air war in China would be incomplete without telling about the
aviation of the puppet “Manzhou Guo Empire”, set up on the territory in
Manchuria occupied by the Japanese in 1931.
On 30 August 1940 the Manzhou Guo government set up an “Aviation
Section” It was led by Chen Changzu, who opened the “Central Air
Force School” on Chengwuqiao Aerodrome, and also became its director.
Sixty Chinese pilots trained at this school.
During September-October 1942 the “aviation section” received more
than twenty training aircraft from the Japanese.
The School was reformed as the “Main Training Section of the Air
addition to the flight school, Manchurian aviation also received a transport
section of three Japanese Nakajima Ki-34 passenger aircraft.
These machines served the imperial court and provided government
transportation. For this purpose
there existed a company of ground technical personnel of 36 men including more
than 20 mechanics, and also a security battalion.
October 1943 the “Aviation Section” was reorganized at first as a
Department, and then a Sector. From
the pilots completing the course of instruction at the flight school, a fighter
and a bomber squadron were formed. But
this process moved very slowly, mainly due to a chronic shortage of fuel, on
which the Japanese military aviation had the first claim.
Still, by the middle of 1944 a Manchurian aviation corps was formed with staff headquarters in Mukden. It is necessary to say that its large units existed only on paper. The level of training and morale of the pilots was extremely low. This air corps never took any part in combat activity. Even in August 1945 when the Red Army moved into Manchurian territory, the Manzhou Guo pilots for the most part simply scattered. All the aircraft were seized on their aerodromes by Soviet forces.
since the 1938 reordering of otryad and eskadril’ya into Eskadril’ya and
Polk (regiment), a squadron now comprised 10 machines. Demin more properly
should have said that they received 3 regiments of I-153s.
However, the number of actual airplanes would have been identical
under either name, and the Chinese may not have been aware or interested in
the complexities of Soviet unit designation. - GMM
is clearly a mistake. The Chizh
was the I-15bis, and the I-16 was known as the Lastockha.
The original author had these names correctly associated in his
previous articles. Which
aircraft he really meant in this instance is unclear, since either was
possible, though the I-16 is
Chinese version differs from the western which announces that the Tomahawks
were given to the American volunteers by the English.
use by the Russian author of the phrase “road of life” is particularly
dramatic, since for his native readers this expression means the air and ice
bridge which provisioned Leningrad during the 900 day siege and saved it
from capitulation or starvation. It
is a remarkable gesture and admission for him to compare this effort to one
of the most dramatic and cherished episodes of his own country’s history.-GMM
author says eight aces, but gives the names of only seven.-GMM.