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Churchill agreed and Chennault's plan was approved. When the conference concluded, Churchill asked Chennault to pay him a visit in Great Britain. But Chennault refused. Kunming had just been badly bombed twice, and he was anxious to get back to China.
The morning Chennault was to leave he was called to the White House. Roosevelt asked if he had gotten everything he wanted at the conference. Yes, said Chennault, and if he got the supplies, he would keep his promise to sink a million tons a year.
After Chennault had explained the tactical plans for the offensive, the President leaned back in his chair. "Now I want you to write me from time to time," he said, "and let me know how things are getting along."
"Do you mean you want me to write to you personally?"
"Yes, I do."
More planes started coming into Kunming. Big B-24 Liberators began landing with crews ready for action. Chennault's guerrilla air force was rapidly turning into a powerful striking force.
Casey Vincent and Chennault.
But the supplies promised at Trident failed to arrive on schedule, and Chennault was forced to cut down his operations. By the end of summer supplies still lagged. Chennault sent his chief of staff, Clinton ("Casey") Vincent, to Washington with a personal letter to Roosevelt: We have not been given the tools to do the job....
We have succeeded in defeating the Japanese repeatedly only because of the courage, aggressiveness, and determination of our air and ground crews. At this time in the war, American combat units should not be forced to fight against such superior odds as the Japanese possess in China....
At this time Chennault also asked that Tex Hill be sent back to China. Hill was now teaching pilots at Eglin Field, Florida, telling them what he had learned as a Flying Tiger. When he heard that the "Old Man" wanted him, Hill discussed the proposed transfer with his recent bride. Chennault needed him in China because of his experience. He felt he should go. His wife agreed.
Hill was given two jobs. He was made deputy to Vincent and commander of the fighter group. Together Vincent and Hill planned the first bombing of the island of Formosa. Their target was Shinchiku, a large bomber base and combat-training center.
The operation was so secret that only Vincent and Hill knew what the destination would be when the bomber and fighter pilots gathered for the final briefing.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1943, twelve B-25s took off from a base two hundred and fifty miles east of Kweilin. It was so close to Formosa that long-range fighters-P-38s and P-51 As-could escort the bombers. Hill led the fighters toward the Formosa Straits. Upon reaching the sea, he descended and headed for Formosa, just skimming the waves.
The low-flying planes caught the Japanese completely by surprise. As Hill's planes swept over Shinchiku, a long string of Japanese bombers were just approaching the field with wheels down. In a minute they all were smoking wrecks. Only seven or so fighters got off the field, and these were knocked down rapidly.
The American fighters strafed rows of parked planes, then climbed to cover the Mitchell bombers which were coming in. The B-25s scattered their fragmentation bombs and strafed planes and fleeing men. At least forty Japanese bombers were destroyed.
Soon Chennault's advanced air bases were proving their worth. Two of Japan's most vital waterways-the Yangtze and the South China Sea-were under constant attack. Raw materials flowing back to Japan from the conquered territories were being choked off. In the first month of 1944, some 56,900 tons of shipping were sunk. In February this was raised to 65,000 tons.
Tex Hill gets into his plane on a Chinese airfield.
Chennault was so enthused by these successes that he wrote another personal letter to President Roosevelt guaranteeing to sink even more than he had promised-if the promised supplies were sent.
I agree with the importance of the plan against shipping as part of the effective flank attack on Japan from China. Your figures on results of operations against Japanese shipping are excellent. You are the doctor and I approve your treatment.
But the supplies to Chennault still lagged far behind promises. In March his spies warned that the Japanese were mounting a powerful assault on east China. Chennault promptly warned Roosevelt, Stilwell and Arnold that China was in mortal danger. He could not counter the attacks unless more tonnage were quickly delivered.
He wrote Roosevelt:.
I wish I could tell you I have no fear of the outcome.... But owing to the concentration of our resources on fighting in Burma little has been done to strengthen the Chinese armies and for the same reason the 14th Air Force is still operating on a shoestring.
The Japanese began their offensive the middle of April, 1944, and soon stabbed deeply into east China. Hengyang and other air bases were captured. In spite of this, Chennault kept hammering at Japanese shipping as he had promised. During the bitter battle for Kweilin his B-25s and fighters suddenly attacked a flotilla of merchant ships that had scurried to Hong Kong for refuge. Eight freighters were sunk and eleven damaged. Approximately 80,000 tons of shipping were destroyed in a single day.
Not long after this Kweilin fell. All China, apparently, was doomed. Stilwell was recalled to Washington.
The Japanese were now confident that Chennault had been thrown out of east China for good. But he was secretly building other airfields far from the enemy lines. Under the supervision of Henry Byroade, almost a million Chinese were constructing bomber and fighter strips. They broke rocks by hand and pulled five-ton rollers by sheer man power. In an incredibly short time, Chennault was again striking at the Japanese. He bombed Nanking, Hong Kong and then completely knocked out the great city of Hankow as a major base for the Japanese drive on central China.
Billowing clouds of smoke rise from the Hengyang Airfield base as General Chennault prepares to abandon it to the advancing Japanese.
The 14th Air Force was far from dead. December, 1944, was the greatest month in its history. Two hundred and forty-one planes were destroyed, and forty thousand tons of shipping were sunk. In addition, railroads were battered, thirty-seven locomotives being knocked out in a single day. The pilots also spotted 159 Japanese ships for United States submarines.
The spirit of the 14th Air Force, which had dropped understandably during the relentless Japanese advance into east China, had rebounded. Chennault's men now faced the enemy with the same confidence as the original Flying Tigers. Ed Rector was back and commanded the 23rd Fighter Group. Other AVG men had returned-Charles Older, Bill Reed, and George McMillan. Jack Chennault, the General's oldest son, was one of the fighter pilots.
At the beginning of 1945 Chennault increased his attacks. Canton and even Shanghai were blasted. Three hundred and thirty-four planes, a new record, were shot down in January. The number soon dropped but only because the enemy was becoming so weak. During April Chennault's fliers encountered only three enemy planes in the air. The Japanese had been knocked out of the China skies.
In spite of this new succession of victories, Chennault's detractors in Washington were demanding that Lieutenant General G. E. Stratemeyer be placed in command of the Army Air Forces in China.
Chennault felt this cut his force to the size of a wing and that he would just be replacing one of his own wing commanders. Final victory was in sight; his job was done. He could do no more for the United States and China. He requested relief from active duty-and retirement from the Army.
General G. E. Stratemeyer pins the Distinguished Flying Cross on Major General Claire Chennault in recognition of his services as commander of the former Flying Tigers and as commander of the 14th U.S. Air Force in China.
He was proud of his 14th Air Force. In three years it had lost only 468 planes while destroying almost 3,000. It had sunk and damaged 2,230,000 tons of enemy merchant shipping. Later Lieutenant General Takahashi, the Japanese commander in central China, would say, "... I judge the operations of the 14th Air Force to have constituted between sixty and seventy-five per cent of our effective opposition in China. Without the air force we could have gone anywhere we wished."
The man who had not possessed the "necessary qualifications for a successful aviator" and who was termed "prima donna" by his superiors had concluded one of the greatest careers in American military history. Despite repeated discouragements and the efforts of many important people to restrain him, he had never given up his dreams. Under the worst conditions, his unorthodox air combat tactics had set the highest air victory records in World War II.
He flew to Chungking to begin a farewell tour of his beloved China. The city was jammed with twice its normal population as he drove through the streets in Chiang Kai-shek's car. The crowds grew so great that the motor was switched off and the car was pushed by the people.
He got the same tumultuous reception in Peishiyi, Sian, Chengtu, Luliang and Kunming. Every Chinese-rich and poor, merchant and laborer-wanted to see Old Leatherface. No other foreigner had so touched their hearts as "Chen-au-duh," the Flying Tiger.
But the men he left behind-the 14th Air Force-continued the battle against the Japanese, fighting as well as if he had still been their leader. These men, the last of the Flying Tigers, also won a place in the hearts of the Chinese. They would never be forgotten.
The fighting after Chennault's departure was brief. Less than two months after his resignation from the 14th Air Force, Japan surrendered. The Flying Tigers could well be proud of the part they had played in bringing about that surrender.
Ayling, Keith: Old Leatherface of the Flying Tigers. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1945.
Boyington, Gregory: Baa Baa Black Sheep. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1958.
Craven, W. F., and Cate, J. L. (Editors): The Army Air Forces in World War II. Volume 1. Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.
Greenlaw, Olga S.: The Lady and the Tigers. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, Inc., 1943.
Gurney, Gene: Five Down and Glory. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1958. Paperback edition: Ballantine Books, Inc.
Hager, Alice Rogers: Wings for the Dragon. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1945.
Haugland, Vern: The AAF Against Japan. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1948.
Hotz, Robert B. (Editor): Way of a Fighter; The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1949.
Hotz, Robert B., with the assistance of George L. Paxton and others: With General Chennault; The Story of the Flying Tigers. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1943.
Loomis, Robert D.: Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II. A Landmark Book. New York: Random House, 1961.
Loomis, Robert D.: The Story of the U.S. Air Force. A Landmark Book. New York: Random House, 1959.
Romanus, Charles F., and Sunderland, Riley: Stilwell's Command Problems. Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1956.
Romanus, Charles F., and Sunderland, Riley: Stilwell's Mission to China. Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1953.
Scott, Robert L., Jr.: Boring a Hole in the Sky. New York: Random House, 1961.
Scott, Robert L., Jr.: Damned to Glory. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944.
Scott, Robert L., Jr.: Flying Tiger: Chennault of China. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1959.
Scott, Robert L., Jr.: God Is My Co-pilot. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1944. Paperback edition: Ballantine Books, Inc.
Scott, Robert L., Jr.: Tiger in the Sky. New York: Ballantine Books, Inc., 1959.
Sims, Edward H.: American Aces in Great Fighter Battles of World War II. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1958.
Toland, John: But Not in Shame. New York: Random House, 1961. Paperback edition: New American Library of World Literature, Inc.
Whelan, Russell: The Flying Tigers. New York: The Viking Press, 1943.
White, Theodore H. (Editor): The Stilwell Papers. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1948. Paperback edition: Macfadden-Bartell Corporation.
First American Volunteer Group Diary CBI, 19411942. The official AVG diary.
Gambay: The Story of the Fourteenth Air Force. An unpublished history compiled by a number of well-known authors for the Fourteenth Air Force.
History of Air Operations on the Continent of Asia, 19411946. Official U.S. Air Force History.
Also numerous after-action reports and other official documents.
ALSO AVAILABLE IN THE LAUREL-LEAF LIBRARY:.
TRANSPORT 7-41-R, by T. Degans.
CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE, by James Forman CODE NAME VALKYRIE, by James Forman.
RING THE JUDAS BELL, by James Forman THE CRYSTAL NIGHTS, by Michele Murray THE HOURS OF THE MOON, by Gene Smith.
SOCIALISM, by James Forman.
COMMUNISM, by James Forman FASCISM, by James Forman.
CAPITALISM, by James Forman.