Tigers Over China! The Flying Tigers were a group of American fighter pilots that flew for China in the early part of 1942. Led by a controversial American, Colonel Claire Chennault, they were actually called the "American Volunteer Group" (AVG), and achieved good success in their aerial battles against the Japanese.
They were a relatively small group, and never had more than 100 Curtis Warhawk P-40's (decorated with the famous red shark mouth) available.
But at the time they were flying (early 1942), they were the only Americans doing ANYTHING against the Axis. With an American public reeling from Pearl Harbor and anxious to strike back "NOW!" the Flying Tigers were "the only game in town" at that point. Thus they received a lot of favorable press coverage, from reporters anxious to write about the only only Americans doing ANYTHING ANYWHERE against the Japanese.
The Flying Tigers were still training, they hadn't flown their first combat mission, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As the Japanese threatened one Allied city after another, the British asked for a squadron of Flying Tigers to help defend Rangoon. Oley Olson's Third Squadron, "Hell's Angels," headed south, while the bulk of the AVG flew up to Kunming, to protect the terminus of the Burma Road. On December 20, the AVG engaged Japanese bombers for the first time, downing four and disrupting their bombing raid on Kunming. Over Burma, the Third Squadron also met with success, claiming six on the 23rd and ten on the 25th; before Jack Newkirk's Second Squadron relieved them.
In January, eight pilots of the First Sqn. flew to Burma to reinforce Newkirk, among them Greg Boyington, whom Olga described as "a frequent caller ... popping in at odd times for coffee or whatever." He returned to the AVG in Kunming in time to participate in a bomber escort mission on January 22. Chinese pilots, flying Russian-made SB-2's, attacked Hanoi. Sandy Sandell reported that the bombers' poor formation flying rendered both the escort and the bombing ineffective. "If we'd met any Japs, we'd have been dead pigeons."
By January 24, the Flying Tigers had claimed 73 Japanese planes, while losing 5 of their own. Japanese records indicate they had lost about one-third that many, mostly bombers. Olga's "dear, silly Sandy" and Boyington were soon rotated to Burma, where Newkirk's handful of weary Warhawks continued to punish the Japanese bombers. On February 7, Sandell was testing a P-40 with a repaired tail; it stalled and spun in, killing him on impact. The plane was destroyed so completely that only the right wheel and tail wheel were salvageable.
Tags: Tigers Over China, Burma road, The Flying Tigers, P40, Claire Lee Chennault, Texan, Curtis Warhawk, P40, Japanese Empire, Axis, World War 2, Dogfight, Bombers, Indo-china
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