Chennault, Claire

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Chennault, Claire (1893–1958), aviator.Chennault grew up in Louisiana, joined the army in April 1917, earned a reserve commission, and completed pilot training in 1919. After a taste of civilian life, he obtained a regular commission in 1920. Until his retirement as a captain in 1937 because of physical disability, he specialized in tactical pursuit aviation at a time when the army air arm emphasized strategic bombardment instead.

Chennault became aviation adviser to the Chinese government in 1937, and in 1941 organized the American Volunteer Group, the “Flying Tigers,” to fight for China against the Japanese invaders. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Chennault rejoined the U.S. Army Air Forces, became a major general in February 1943, and took command of the new Fourteenth Air Force in China. Communicating with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he undercut his superior, Lieut. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, with whom he disagreed about strategy and the apportionment of scarce supplies. An inspirational leader as well as a difficult subordinate, Chennault won aerial victories but could not achieve his ambition of defeating the Japanese in China exclusively through airpower.

Having retired again in 1945, he helped launch Civil Air Transport, China's national airline. The airline moved to Taiwan when the Communists conquered the mainland, and by the time of Chennault's death had undertaken numerous missions for the Central Intelligence Agency.
[See also China, U.S. Military Involvement in.]


Claire L. Chennault , Way of a Fighter, ed. Robert W. Hotz, 1949.
Martha Byrd , Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger, 1987.
Daniel Ford , Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group, 1991.

Bernard C. Nalty