Flying Tigers

Veteran: Captain Claire Chennault
Artist / WriterMike Koulermos


In April, 1937, Claire L. Chennault, a captain in the United States Army Air Corps accepted an offer from Madame Chiang Kai-shek for a three month mission to China to make a confidential survey of the Chinese Air Force. China and Japan were on the verge of war and the fledgling Chinese Air Force was beset by internal problems.

Chennault went to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Western China, to forge a new Chinese Air Force from an American mold with the knowledge he attained of combat tactics of the Japanese Air Force over China.

In the fall of 1940 the Generalissimo instructed Chennault to go to the United States for the purpose of obtainingAmerican planes and pilots. This laid the ground work for the organization of the American Volunteer Group in 1941. Volunteers were told simply that the Chinese government would pay a $500 bonus for each confirmed Jap plane. 

The assortment of American volunteers turned into the word-famous “Flying Tigers,” whose aerial combat record has never been equaled by any group of comparable size.

In their first combat, the Tigers shot down nine out of ten Japanese bombers with a loss of only one A.V.G. aircraft.

On Christmas Day, two waves totaling 80 Jap bombers and 48 fighters hit Rangoon. The Flying Tigers knocked down 23 of them, the biggest victory of the war, the Flying Tigers did not lose a single plane.

In 11 days of fighting, the A.V.G. had officially knocked 75 enemy aircraft out of the skies with an undetermined number of probable kills over the Gulf of Martaban. The Flying Tiger losses, two pilots and six aircraft.

The Flying Tigers, a tiny force, varying between 20 and 25 P-40's met a thousand Japanese aircraft. In 31 encounters they destroyed 217 planes and probably destroyed 43 unconfirmed. Tiger losses were four pilots killed in the air.

“The outstanding gallantry and conspicuous daring that the American Volunteer Group combined with their unbelievable efficiency is a source of tremendous pride throughout the whole of America.” - President Franklin D. Roosevelt