Due to the tampering of our historical records with politically correct narratives we Americans are in danger of having our heritage and the role played by America in the world demonized. To make the search for truth even more difficult so that future generations are aware of the sacrifices made by our patriots of the past so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of history again and again!
True air warrior
Unfortunately, the military plays a great role in where we stand today as a free society able to make personal choices. However, in order that our military minimizes unnecessary suffering and remain on par with the constant evil competition of our enemies those voices who possess vision and innovative strategies must be heard or carnage and the true threat to our very existence may be at stake! So is the case with one distinguished Claire Chennault, the famous commander of the American Volunteer Group better known as the “Flying Tigers”.
The year is 1937. China has been under the assault of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy since 1932 in the Manchurian Province. Thousands of Chinese soldiers have been butchered by a modern Japanese war machine that takes no prisoners and even slaughters women in children who are merely surviving throughout the Chinese countryside. Formerly an Army Air Corps Captain, Claire Chennault is a hard drinking tough guy, a marvelous aviator, and leader of men, but he also has a big mouth when it comes to voicing his opinions and that has gotten him in trouble with the “Brass”. Within being forced to resign his commission as officer of the United States armed services Chennault is immediately picked up by Chiang Kai Chek’s government and assigned as an intelligence observer and aviation advisor.
Lessons from death
The out dated and small Chinese Air Force composed of World War I era Bi-planes and poor capability monoplanes such as the Brewster Buffalo find the going rough, pilots up against the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero aircraft are being shot to pieces! The Japanese have the most maneuverable and deadly fighter plane of the Asian theater and are using it to maximum effect! Claire Chennault carefully observes the capability of the Japanese bombers, fighter planes, and the tactics they utilize in aerial dogfighting and makes not of their strengths and weaknesses. His reports are not only relayed to General Chiang Kai Chek, but are also forwarded to naval intelligence. However, it appears that little attention has been given to his assessments. Chennault’s work continues for 3 years until finally his pleas for assistance thanks to the diplomatic visits of Madame Chiang Kai Chek with FDR yield the export of supplies and warplanes!
Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack Claire Chennault is secretly readying mercenaries who are pilots from the US Navy, US Marine Corps, and US Army Air Corps. They have resigned their commissions as American officers in order to volunteer for duty defending the Chinese from the Japanese onslaught. Commander, Chennault is now training his pilots at a former British air field in anticipation of seeing action against the Japanese war machine very soon! It all comes to a climax after the fateful day of December 7, 1941 and a devastating sneak attack that makes the American Volunteer Group a legal entity in the war against Japanese aggression. At first with P-40 Warhawks painted with the insignias of the Chinese Air Force the first missions against their Japanese opponents are fought under the aegis of being part of the Chiang Kai Chek forces.
Up against the odds
Chennault cautions all of his aviators that he had trained extensively not to engage the Japanese Zero on its terms. He has seen what happens when pilots attempt to get into turning contests with the magnificent Japanese fighter and they are soon dispatched by the 20 millimeter nose cannon of the enemy aircraft. Claire has taught his men the strengths of their Curtis built P-40 Warhawks and its weaknesses just as they are aware of the flaws and superiority of the Zero. Commander Chennault’s fighter pilots will have little difficulty with the Japanese bombers though.
The P-40 Warhawk is well armored to protect the pilot, has self-sealing gas tanks, six wing to wing mounted 50 caliber machine guns, has superior speed at 378 mph. and can out dive the Japanese Zero. Therefore Chennault strongly emphasizes taking high altitude dives at the Japanese aviators from above firing at their opponents, diving away, and using the energy from their dive to climb back up into a higher diving altitude again for another high speed pass! This tactic neutralizes the turning capability of the Zero! Commander Chennault also encourages his pilots to take head on passes at their Japanese counterparts as the well armored six machine gun array of armament will chop the light and poorly reinforced Nippon warplane to bits!
Air to air combat
Although not as fast as the Flying Tiger’s P-40 or as well protected with armor the Mitsubishi Zero is still a formidable opponent and if an AVG pilot refuses to heed warnings he will find himself shot down in flames. Chennault has watched more than one P-40 trying to keep up with the lighter Zero shot out of the middle of a loop by the more maneuverable Zero and its experienced Japanese pilot! The fact that the Zero has no self-sealing gas tank and quickly bursts into flames when hit with a few 50 caliber machine gun shells has given it the nickname “Matchbox” as many a Flying Tiger pilot has watched his opponent drenched in flames raging within his cockpit after spraying the Japanese Zero down with a burst of heavy machine gun fire! It seems the Japanese planners weren’t as worried about the survivability of their aviators as they were the acrobatic capabilities of the aircraft.
Thanks to superior tactics of the Flying Tigers using an obsolete fighter, the P-40 designed for ground attack rather than air to air combat, Chennault’s unit gained an historic record number of kills in a short period (7 months) of time costing the enemy the loss of 400 bomber and fighter personnel and 115 aircraft not counting the planes destroyed on the ground from offensive actions taken by Chennault when ordering his squadrons to strafe and bomb enemy airfields. Due to his mercurial success Japanese command estimated that some 300 or 400 American planes must have been in operation when the Flying Tigers began with on 100 P-40’s and never had more than 25 in action at any given time!
Consequences of denial
So what is the significance of the ignored recommendations made by Commander Claire Chennault based upon his advisory role with the Chinese government and his fighter command of the AVG Group? For some very suspect reasoning the US Navy in the midst of air to air skirmishes with Japanese Imperial Army Air Force pilots over such battles as the Corral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal American carrier based and land based fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes suffered heavy losses unaware that the F-4 Wildcat could not climb and fight with the Zero, the US Navy Dauntless Torpedo planes would be knocked down before ever reaching their targets by the swift and nimble Japanese fighters without the air cover of the slower and less maneuverable US fighters of 1942. As a result there was much unnecessary bloodshed over the skies of the Pacific without the warnings Captain Claire Chennault had relayed to US Naval intelligence being heeded!
Failing to share essential data
Not only were American airmen trained with less hours of acrobatic combat exercises, but with less gunnery practice than their Japanese invader counterparts. By the time such ocean engagements as the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal were underway young American aviators with half the training of their opponents went up against the enemy with not only obsolete aircraft but without the value of Chennault’s warnings about the proper tactics that would not only increase air to air victories but save those unsuspecting flyers lives whose superiors should have integrated the winning tactics that had allowed the Flying Tigers to rein supreme over their enemies. For some reason those young men were denied that life-saving intelligence! Had Claire Chennault ruffled too many feathers of high command?
Bitter lessons ignored again
Unfortunately, the US military has a very bad habit of ignoring the valuable advice of experienced and heroic if not somewhat rebellious heroes whose advice could have saved lives. There were also other seasoned veterans who met with the same rejection of their valuable input such as Chuck Yeager, an Ace Fighter pilot, who flew the X-1 rocket plane and broke the sound barrier, and flight tested a captured Mig-15 during the Korean War! He would later command Tactical Wings flying out of Thailand air bases in the Vietnam conflict. There was Colonel Robin Olds whose experience in World War II led him to carry out missions against North Vietnam in decades to come. He too did not sit well with his superiors despite his heroics and combat advice that he handed off gained in the face of murderous antiaircraft defenses. Perhaps it is simply human nature to ignore even life-saving knowledge from veterans who know better.