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5 octobre 2010 2 05 /10 /octobre /2010 22:54










The “Flying Tigers” (Traditional Chinese: 飛虎隊; Simplified Chinese: 飞虎队; Pinyin: Fēi Hǔ Duì; Japanese: フライング・タイガース) was the nickname of the American Volunteer Group (AVG), a group of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), United States Navy (USN), and United States Marine Corps (USMC) pilots recruited under a secret Presidential sanction by Claire Chennault, that formed a fighter group with three squadrons that trained in China and defended the Burma supply line to China prior to the American entry into World War II to fight against Japanese forces.


The AVG did not see combat until December 20, 1941, thirteen days after Pearl Harbor. The Flying Tigers achieved notable success against the forces of Japan during the lowest period of the war for American forces, and gave hope to Americans that they would eventually succeed against the Japanese. The Flying Tigers were credited for destroying almost 300 aircraft with a loss of only twelve of their own in combat. After the dissolution of the AVG in mid-1942 and absorption into the USAAF, the name was applied to its successor military unit, the 23rd Fighter Group, and more broadly to the China Air Task Force and the U.S. 14th Air Force. The shark-faced fighters remain among the most recognizable of any individual combat unit of WWII, and they demonstrated innovative tactical victories when the news in the USA were filled with little more than stories of defeat after defeat at the hands of the Japanese forces at the start of WWII.


The AVG was largely the creation of Claire Chennault, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps captain who had become military aviation advisor to Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in the Sino-Japanese War. (On occasion Chennault may have piloted a plane himself, though stories that he was a combat ace are probably apocryphal.) Due to poor fighter aircraft supplied by Russia, results were not impressive, and when Russian air units were withdrawn from China in 1940, Chiang asked for American squadrons to replace them as well as permission to recruit US pilots to fly them. Since the US was not at war, this could not happen openly, but it received favorable assistance and approval from President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself.


The resultant clandestine operation was organized in large part by Lauchlin Currie, a young economist in the White House, and by Roosevelt intimate Thomas G. Corcoran. (Currie's assistant was John King Fairbank, who later became America's preeminent Asian scholar.) The AVG financing was handled by China Defense Supplies, which was primarily Tommy Corcoran's creation, with funding provided by the U.S. government; purchases were then made by the Chinese under the "Cash and Carry" provision of the Neutrality Act of 1939.


A “blood chit” issued to the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) pilots.
The Chinese characters read: “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him medical care.”

AVG Recruiting

Chennault spent the winter of 1940–1941 in Washington, helping to negotiate the purchase of 100 Curtiss P-40 fighters. He also supervised the recruiting of 100 pilots—40 from the Army Air Corps and 60 from the Navy and Marine Corps—and about 200 ground crewmen. (Ten more army flight instructors were hired as check pilots for Chinese cadets, and a few of these would ultimately join the AVG’s combat squadrons.)

Although sometimes referred to as a mercenary unit, the AVG is unique in that it had government funding and approval to recruit from active duty units in the United States. The pilots were either currently serving in American armed services or reserve officers; contrary to legend, none were recruited from the ranks of civilian transport pilots or barnstormers. Most histories of the Flying Tigers say that on April 15, 1941 President Roosevelt signed a secret executive order authorising Army Reservists on active duty to resign from the Army Air Corps in order to sign up for the AVG,however Flying Tigers historian Daniel Ford could not find evidence that such an order was ever published. Ford states that the State Department in fact blocked the issuing of a passport to a pilot who had a history of volunteering for such service,something that would go against the spirit of such an order.

The pilots who volunteered were discharged from the American armed services, to fly and fight as mercenaries for the Republic of China Air Force.They were officially employees of a private military contractor, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, which employed them for "training and instruction", and which paid them $600 a month for pilot officer (USAAF monthly pay in 1942, including flight and overseas pay, was $247), $675 a month for flight leader (such as Gregory “Pappy” Boyington) (USAAF $347), and $750 for Squadron leader (USAAF $445), though no pilot was recruited at this level. They were orally promised an additional $500 for each enemy aircraft shot down, a promise that was later confirmed by Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who also extended it to aircraft destroyed on the ground, but which obviously the U.S. services did not extend to their pilots.



Formation of the AVG
and the Chennault fighter doctrine

Chennault preached a radically different approach to air combat based on his study of Japanese tactics and equipment and comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of his aircraft and pilots. Chennault's fighter doctrine dictated that pilots take on enemy aircraft in teams rather than alone from an altitude advantage, since their aircraft were neither as maneuverable nor as numerous as the Japanese fighters they would encounter. He prohibited his pilots from entering into a turning fight with the nimble Japanese fighters telling them to execute a diving or slashing attack and continue to dive away with superior speed to set up for another attack.


This was contrary to what most of the students had learned in the states as well as the local Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in Burma thought, but Chennault convinced his pilots that his ideas were sound. He had left the Army Air Corps as a brilliant captain and aviator due to his outspoken ideas on potential of the pursuit fighter, which ran against the powerful bomber advocates. When Chennault was recruited by the Chinese, he continued to be a leading advocate and theorist of fighter doctrine.


He worked hard to create an ingenious early warning network of spotters that would give his fighters enough time to take off and climb to a superior altitude where this tactic could be executed. Many AVG pilots were inexperienced, and a few quit at the first opportunity. In addition, fighter planes were slow in coming. Real average strength of the AVG was never more than 62 combat-ready pilots and fighters. However, Chennault made a virtue out of these disadvantages, shifting inept pilots to staff jobs and always ensuring that he had a squadron or two in reserve.




The Curtis P-40 Warhawk


Chennault managed to obtain the Curtis P-40 Warhawk that was in production for the British and Americans. The AVG fighters were taken off a Curtiss assembly line building Tomahawk-IIB models for the Royal Air Force in North Africa. However, there is evidence that Curtiss-Wright used older assemblies in the aircraft sold to China, making them essentially the same as the U.S. Army's earlier P-40B model.

(The major difference was that the P-40B had an exterior fuel-tank membrane, while the Tomahawk-IIB had an interior membrane, believed by the RAF to be more effective at sealing fuel-tank leaks.) The planes were purchased without "government-furnished equipment" such as reflector gunsights, radios, and wing guns; the lack of these items caused continual difficulties for the AVG in Burma and China. It was actually an upgraded version of the popular P-36 Hawk with an in-line engine.


The P-40's good qualities included pilot armor, self-sealing fuel tanks, sturdy construction, heavy armament (two 50-cal. and four 30-cal. machine guns), and a faster diving speed than most Japanese planes; used to advantage in accordance with Chennault's tactics as they would reach a higher altitude and then pounce upon Japanese planes. General Chennault was a masterful combat teacher and he taught his men unorthodox tactics which took advantage of the P-40's good qualities. Spare parts were almost impossible to obtain, though the AVG did receive 50 replacement P-40E fighters directly from USAAF stocks toward the end of its combat tour.



The 100 P-40 aircraft were sent to Burma on third-country freighters packed in crates during the spring of 1941. At Rangoon, they were unloaded and then assembled and test-flown by personnel of Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) before being delivered to the AVG training unit at Toungoo. One crate was dropped into the water and a wing assembly was ruined by salt-water immersion, so CAMCO was able to deliver only 99 Tomahawks before war broke out. (Many of those were destroyed in training accidents.) The 100th fuselage was trucked to a CAMCO plant in Loiwing, China, and later made whole with parts from damaged airplanes.

AVG fighter planes were painted with a large shark face on the front of the plane. This was done after pilots saw a photograph of RAF 112 Squadron in North Africa sporting a fierce shark mouth, which in turn had adopted the shark motif from German pilots flying Messerschmitt Bf-110 fighters in Crete. About the same time, the AVG was dubbed "The Flying Tigers" by their Washington support group, called China Defense Supplies.




The port of Rangoon in Burma and the Burma Road leading from there to China were of crucial importance for the Republic of China, as the eastern regions of China were under Japanese occupation so virtually all of the foreign matériel destined for the armed forces of the Republic arrived via that port. By November 1941, when the pilots were trained and most of the P-40s had arrived in Asia, the Flying Tigers were divided into three squadrons: 1st Squadron (“Adam & Eves”); 2nd Squadron (“Panda Bears”) and 3rd Squadron (“Hell’s Angels”). They were assigned to opposite ends of the Burma Road to protect this vital line of communications. Two squadrons were based at Kunming in China and a third at Mingaladon near Rangoon. When the United States officially entered the war, the AVG had 82 pilots and 79 planes, though not all were combat-ready.

They had their first combat on December 20, 1941, when they shot down three Japanese bombers near Kunming and damaged a fourth sufficiently that it crashed before returning to its airfield in northern Vietnam. The 3rd Squadron — 18 planes strong — defended Rangoon in December 23-25 and claimed approximately 90 planes, most of them heavy bombers. Other squadrons were rotated through Rangoon in January and February 1942. After the fall of Rangoon to the Japanese in March, the AVG was redeployed to bases in northern Burma and finally in China.

AVG success

The AVG was officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed, including 229 in the air (some popular accounts inflate the total to 500 or even 1,000 planes), but not surprisingly, later research has shown Japanese losses to have been less than claimed at the time. Author Daniel Ford calculated that the AVG actually destroyed about 115 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground based on his research of actual Japanese loss reports from the units that were engaged with the AVG.


















American Volunteer Group

First Pursuit Squadron

Adam and Eve

Second Pursuit Squadron

Panda Bear

Third Pursuit Squadron

Hells Angels


Thirteen pilots were killed in action, captured, or disappeared on combat missions; two were killed in ground accidents; and eight were killed in flying accidents during the Flying Tigers' existence. One of the more famous pilots was Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who was discharged from the AVG in April 1942 and returned to active duty with the US Marine Corps. He went on to command the successful “Black Sheep” Squadron in the Solomon Islands, an outfit with many similarities to the Flying Tigers, and was one of two AVG veterans (the other being James Howard of the USAAF) to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Other notable AVG veterans were David Lee "Tex" Hill, later commander of the USAAF 23rd Fighter Group; Charles Older, who postwar earned a law degree, became a California Superior Court judge, and presided at the murder trial of Charles Manson; and Kenneth Jernstedt, long-time Oregon legislator and mayor of his home town of Hood River.

1nd AVG

The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) was formed with plans for a follow-on bomber group and second fighter group that were aborted after the Pearl Harbor attack. During the summer and fall of 1941, 300 men posing as tourists and carrying passports that identified them as teachers boarded boats for Burma. They were initially based at a British airfield in Toungoo for their training while their aircraft were assembled and test flown. Chennault set up a schoolhouse type situation which was made all the more necessary because many pilots had "lied about their flying experience, claiming pursuit experience when they had flown only bombers and sometimes much less powerful airplanes". They called Chennault "the Old Man" due to his much older age and leathery exterior obtained from years flying open cockpit pursuit planes in the Army Air Corps.


2nd AVG


In November of 1941, CAMCO hired 82 pilots and 359 technicians for the 2nd AVG. They were to have been equipped with Lockheed Hudson and Douglas DB-7 Boston light bombers waiting for them in Burbank, California. The plan had been for the Hudsons to fly to their destination, while the Bostons were to be sent on ships. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the pilots and their planes were re-inducted into the U.S. Army. Earlier, however, on November 21, a number of technicians and pilots had already left for Burma aboard the ships Noordam and Bloemfontein. By the time of the attack, they were already out to sea in the Pacific. Rather than being called back to Pearl Harbor the ships were diverted to Australia, where they arrived sometime toward the end of December. In Australia, they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Some went on to serve in the 14th Air Force, and some went home.

Transition into USAAF

The success of the AVG led to negotiations in the spring of 1942 to induct the unit into the USAAF with Chennault as the commander. Chennault was reinstated into the USAAF as a colonel and immediately promoted to brigadier general as commander of tactical U.S. Army Air Forces units in China, (initially designated the "China Air Task Force" and later redesignated the 14th Air Force), while continuing to command the AVG by virtue of his position in the Chinese Air Force.


On July 4, 1942, the AVG was replaced by the 23rd Fighter Group. Not all of the AVG pilots decided to remain with the unit as a result of the strong arm tactics by the USAAF general sent to negotiate with them. However, five pilots accepted commissions in China including "Tex" Hill, one of Chennault's most loyal devotees, with others remaining for a two-week transition period. (U.S. airmen and the press continued to use the “Flying Tiger” name to refer to USAAF units in China to the end of the war, and the name continues to be applied to certain air force and army aviation squadrons.) Most AVG pilots became transport pilots in China, went back to America into civilian jobs, or rejoined the military services and fought elsewhere in the war. 

Colonel Robert L Scott

One of the pilots drawn to the success of the AVG was Robert Lee Scott, Jr. who was flying supplies into Kunming over the Hump from India. He convinced Chennault to loan him a P-40 which he began flying as a one man air force to protect the supply route. His aggressiveness and success led to Chennault recruiting him as commander of the 23rd Fighter Group. Scott brought recognition to his exploits and the Flying Tigers with his best selling book God is My Co-pilot that was also made into a popular movie.








Many in China have not forgotten the Flying Tigers. Many model aircraft bear the slogan "Ding Hao", which means "very good" or "hot stuff" in Chinese, and there are pictures and movies of Chinese making a thumbs up gesture at American pilots. Some Chinese fathers who lived from the period told their sons that it was actually the American pilots who picked up the Chinese gesture for "you are number one", and people from China today can confirm the meaning of this gesture. This gesture appeared about the same time as the AVG deployment.


Thumbs up remains a common signal among U.S. and other combat pilots. The blood chit on the back of leather flying jacket complete with Chinese writing and flag is still a common fashion statement even to those who have never heard of the Flying Tigers. Toy and hobby stores still stock model and toys of shark-mouthed Tomahawks, some with the Chinese Nationalist insignia. One 1960s magazine even featured a Flying Tiger shooting peas in a food magazine.


The Beijing Police SWAT Team today has a helicopter aviation unit, named after the Flying Tigers.

After World War II, ten ex-Flying Tigers pilots formed a cargo airline named Flying Tiger Line, after the AVG. Flying Tiger Line operated for forty years, and was the largest cargo airline in the world for some time. It was eventually purchased by Federal Express.


In the Starlancer computer game, the protagonist's unit, the 45th Volunteers, is christened "The Flying Tigers" halfway through the single player campaign, in direct reference to the World War II unit.

The former barracks of the Flying Tigers in Yunnan is now home to the official state-run factory for Chinese Go equipment, and is the only factory in the world producing the centuries-old material Yunzi for export.


The Franco-Belgian comic strip Buck Danny revives the Flying Tigers twice in the spirit as the original FT were created, even with short history blurbs referencing to the original FT. {Les Tigres Volants (The Flying Tigers), Le Retour des Tigres Volants (The Return of the Flying Tigers), Les Tigres Volants à la rescousse (The Flying Tigers to the Rescue), Tigres Volants contre Pirates (Flying Tigers versus Pirates).




Flying Tiger Association President and AVG fighter ace John "Dick" Rossi greets a veteran of the "WWII" Chinese Air Force at the Flying Tiger Museum at Zhi Jiang.  The Chinese veteran was stationed at Zhi Jiang as radio operator .



The National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio has an extensive display dedicated to the AVG. The museum's wall and glass cases contain a description of the AVG's history as well as many rare and unique artifacts, including an A-2 jacket worn by an AVG pilot while flying in China, and the Flying Tigers banner presented to the AAF by the Chinese government during WWII. The museum's P-40E is displayed near the artifacts.


The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida also features a prominent Flying Tiger display as so many Navy and Marine Corps aviators were aprt of the AVG.

The AVG monument in the National Museum of the United States Air Force Memorial Garden is one of the largest and most recognizable monuments in the garden. It features a large marble sculpture of a pagoda crowned with a brass model of a P-40.


Below the airplane are three balls representing the three balls hoisted upon a pole used to alert the AVG of an incoming Japanese air attack. On the pagoda's sides are etched the emblems of the AVG and 14th AF. Below are eight etchings of the many aircraft operated by the AAF in the China. On the sides of the memorial's base are four etchings of rice paddys, the Himalayan Mountains, and scenes of daily life in China during the war.


The monument stands nearly 14 feet tall and was dedicated by the Flying Tigers of the 14th Air Force Association on July 10, 1992.

A memorial to the AVG and the 14th AF is located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It depicts a P-40 in AVG markings with a bronze plaque describing the history of the AVG, and Vandenberg's role as headquarters for the 14th AF.


A memorial to the AVG in Chiang Mai, Thailand was dedicated on November 11, 2003. The marble obelisk is inscribed on all four sides with dedications to Chennault and three AVG pilots, Squadron Leader Jack Van Kuren Newkirk, who was killed in North Thailand on March 24, 1942, as well as Flight Leader Charles Mott and wingman William McGarry, who were shot down and became Japanese POWs in Thailand.

The Flying Tigers Memorial is located in the village of Zhijiang, Hunan Province, China and is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the Flying Tigers. Zhijiang had formerly been one of Chennault's headquarters for the 14th AF.


The memorial originally opened in 2003 in the former headquarters building. In 2005 the memorial was completely rebuilt, with displays incorporating many of the artifacts obtained from the AVG veterans who had attended the first dedication. The memorial reopened in September, 2005, with several AVG pilots and their families again present at the dedication.


The new memorial building is a beautiful steel and marble structure, with wide sweeping steps leading up to a platform with columns holding up the memorial's sweeping roof. Inside is the replica G-1 jacket AVG pilot Richard "Dick" Rossi had donated at the first dedication. On the memorial's back wall, etched in black marble, are the names of all members of the Flying Tigers (AVG, 75th Fighter Squadron, 14th Air Force) who died in China. 8X10 photos of most AVG Flying Tigers pilots and administrators are displayed throughout the museum, as well as blown-up illuminated paintings of AVG scenes by artists John Shaw and Roy Grinnell. On one wall a 1/4 scale model of the nose of a P-40 protrudes with its propellers spinning and engine puffing smoke, while below a diorama depicts the village of Zhijiang being attacked by Japanese bombers.


As an important air-base of Flying Tigers in South China, City of Kunming and its people would never forget the facilitate of those American young pilots, 2005 in Kunming held a meeting about Memory the history of Flying-Tigers in China.

A lot of pilots at that time or their generation come to Kunming to commemorate that period history.



AVG veterans John “Dick” Rossi, Peter Wright and Robert Layher are pictured around a bust of Lt. General Claire Lee Chennault in one of the exhibit halls of the newly opened Flying Tiger’s Museum in Zhi Jiang.  The Zhi Jiang Foreign Exchange Association has just overseen the conversion of the three-story building that once served as the historic airfield’s operation’s center and control tower, into a museum that commemorates the service of Lt. General Claire Lee Chennault and the American and Chinese airmen he commanded in the defense of China.









Wing Span

37 feet, 4 inches


31 feet, 9 inches


12 feet, 4 inches


9,100 pounds loaded


Six .50-cal. machine guns and 700 pounds of bombs externally


Allison V-1710 of 1,150 horsepower



Maximum speed

362 mph

Cruising speed

235 mph


850 miles

Service Ceiling

30,000 feet




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