FLYING TIGERS. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. government was deeply involved in developing and managing Nationalist China's aviation. The most ambitious and famous undertaking to promote China's air effort against Japan entailed furnishing China with American military pilots, American-made fighter planes, and aircraft support personnel. This expedition, first called the American Volunteer Group (AVG), but later popularly known as the Flying Tigers, was surreptitiously launched by agents of China with the sanction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other key officials. The scheme represented the culmination of America's policy of gradual entanglement with China's cause.
The plan was conceived in large measure by Claire L. Chennault, an American military aviator, who in 1937 retired to accept employment as an adviser to the Chinese. After strenuous training under Chennault's tutelage, AVG forces divided between Rangoon and the skies over K'un-ming, which was the terminus of the Burma Road. The Flying Tigers first engaged the Japanese on 20 December 1941, over K'un-ming, and on succeeding days over Rangoon. Chennault's AVG attracted propagandists who aimed to present favorable accounts about the Pacific war. Although the Chinese technically owned and controlled the group, they allowed the AVG to operate under American auspices as the China Air Task Force. During seven months of fighting over Burma, China, Thailand, and French Indochina, the AVG destroyed approximately 300 Japanese aircraft and recorded a like number of probable
kills, while itself never having more than fifty planes in flying condition at any given time.
Chennault, Anna. Chennault and the Flying Tigers. New York: Eriksson, 1963.
Ford, Daniel. Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.
Schultz, Duane P. The Maverick of War: Chennault and the Flying Tigers. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.