Changing  from “Donkeys” to “Mustangs”
Chinese Aviation In The War With Japan, 1940-1945
by Anatolii Demin
Aviamaster .6/2000
translated & submitted by George M. Mellinger, Twin Cities Aero Historians

The 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.

During 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.

In 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.

The 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 combat activity.

By the end of the year the Chinese had received from the USSR three squadrons of “new” I-153s (93 machines).[1]  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.

Against 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 aircraft.

The 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.

After 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.

Fighting 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.

Till 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.

In 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.

On 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 exist.

On 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.

Meanwhile, 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 1941!

During the summer ten each Chizhi (I-16)[2] 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 were destroyed.

At 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.

In 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.

In 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.

Somewhat 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.

Deliveries 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.

During 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 Chinese-Indian border.

By 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.

In 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.[3]

Although 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.

Individual 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.

According 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..

Soon 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.

When 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.

The 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 their airfields.

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.

The 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.

The 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 central plain.

Retraining 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.

In 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.

Aviation 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”.

In 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.

Between 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”.[4]  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.

In 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Very 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 War.

The 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..)

Concluding their conversion to the P-43A in early August 1942, the group returned to Chengdu.

From 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.

At the beginning of 1943 the group began to reequip with new aircraft.  It received 41 P-43A and 27 P-40E.

On 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.

On 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.

During 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.

After 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.

Almost 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

For 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.

In 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.

As 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.

On 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.

In 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.

But 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.”

By 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.

The 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.

Commanding 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 Force.

In 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.

In 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).

At 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.

On 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.

Very 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 India.

But 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 survived.

On 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.

In 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.

During 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.

The 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.

A 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.

On 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 Squadron.

By 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 mechanical failure.

By 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.

In 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.

The 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.

As 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.

The 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.

Meanwhile, 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 as missing.

In 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.

On 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.

At 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 ground.

At 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.

During 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.)

At 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 Hankou.

It 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.

It 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.

On 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 war.

Starting 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.[5]

The 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 Force”

In 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.

In 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.

[1]Actually, 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

[2]This 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 more likely.-GMM.

[3]The Chinese version differs from the western which announces that the Tomahawks were given to the American volunteers by the English.

[4]The 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

[5]The author says eight aces, but gives the names of only seven.-GMM.