Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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China, Air Force

In December 1941, at the beginning of the Pacific war, the Nationalist China Air Force (CAF) had already been at war with Japan for almost four years. Beginning in 1932, trainers, pilots, and aircraft from the United States, Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union had all played a part in building the Nationalist Chinese air element and the small air arms of several Chinese warlords. In July 1937, the CAF had three air groups, with a mix of U.S. and Italian fighters and bombers. Fewer than 100 of the more than 600 aircraft in the Chinese inventory were combat ready, however, and pilots had varying levels of competence and experience. Available forces immediately went into action to support the Nationalist army units in their defense of Shanghai, Jiangsu (Kiangsu) Province, in early August and to assist in the fighting withdrawal of Chinese forces into central China. From 1937 until the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, the Soviets were the major supplier of aircraft, pilots, and trainers to China. The CAF was decimated in the late 1930s by the well-trained and well-equipped Japanese forces.

In April 1937, retired U.S. Army Air Corps officer Claire Chennault arrived in China to serve as an aviation adviser to the Nationalist government of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek). Chennault organized and led the American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the CAF, known as the Flying Tigers. In September 1941, Washington dispatched the American Military Mission to China (AMMISCA) to "advise and assist" in rebuilding the Nationalist forces. Providing aircraft to the CAF and its AVG was a high priority, and the creation of a Chinese military capable of taking the war to the Japanese was the mission of Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell. Prior to the general's arrival in Asia in March 1942, Washington had decided to try to build up and maintain a CAF of 500 operational aircraft, including the Lockheed P-38 Lightning; the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk; the Republic P-43 Lancer; the Vultee P-66 Vanguard; and later, the North American P-51 Mustang fighters and the North American B-25 Mitchell and Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers. With the closing of the land line of communication through Burma, the United States also promised the Chinese Curtiss C-46 Commando and C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft. From 1941 to V-J Day, Washington allocated 1,568 U.S. aircraft for China.

When the line of communication with Burma closed, everything had to be flown over "the Hump" (the Himalayas) to bases in southwestern China. Chennault, who rose to major general commanding the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force in March 1943, wanted to concentrate air assets on the destruction of Japanese air forces in China and build a bomber force capable of hitting critical targets in eastern China and the Japanese home islands. The United States also continued training the CAF and supplying equipment and aircraft to it and to its logistic arm, the China National Aviation Corporation. However, the U.S. Tenth and Fourteenth Air Forces required most aircraft delivered to the China-Burma-India Theater simply to keep the air bridge open and to support Allied offensives in Burma.

At the end of the war, U.S. aircraft were transferred to the CAF. When the Chinese Civil War began, Jiang's Nationalist forces had a competent air arm of nearly 500 aircraft and more than 5,000 trained pilots, aircrew, and maintenance personnel.

J. G. D. Babb


Further Reading
Hotz, Robert, ed. Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1949.; Liu, F. F. A Military History of Modern China, 1924–1949. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.; Romanus, Charles F., and Riley Sunderland. Stilwell's Mission to China. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987.
 

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