The AVG never had more than 55 combat aircraft capable of flight and never had more than 70 trained pilots at any time in their 7 months of service. The AVG lost ONLY 8 pilots while being paid bonuses for 286 Japanese aircraft shot down and officially confirmed as "kills". Many other Japanese "probables" littered the jungle floor but lacked the needed confirmation. Twenty-nine Tigers became AVG aces, led by RH Neale with 16 kills. Thirty-three were awarded the Chinese Order of the Cloud Banner for bravery and combat achievement.
A few volunteers from the Army, Navy and the Marine Corps, they fought for justice, glory and money according to their own priorities. But they lived life right to the edge whether it was in the "Silver Grill Bar" in Rangoon or in the cockpits of their P-40 Tomahawk fighters.
The Flying Tigers
Of interest to all our Flying Tiger Friends
Although the phrase “Flying Tigers” in Chinese is used generously to refer to all the American and Chinese aviators who fought in China during the Second World War, the phrase is not used in English in the same way. When translating to and from English, care is needed to insure the use of proper terms.
The First "Flying Tigers"
The original “Flying Tigers” were the 100 American pilots and 250 American ground crew of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) who served in China from late 1941 through July 4, 1942. The members of the AVG had been recruited by Claire Chennault in his capacity as an aviation advisor to the government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Under the provisions of an executive order signed by President Roosevelt on April 15, 1941, the fliers resigned their U.S. military commissions in order to serve in China. There were no Chinese members of the AVG.
The American Volunteer Group was formally disbanded on July 4, 1942. Each member was offered a commission in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Some accepted the offer, once again put on their American uniforms, and remained in China. Others later returned to the ranks of the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps but fought in other areas of the world. Eighteen accepted offers to fly for the China National Aviation Corporation.
In any case, the 300+ members of the AVG are, in English, “Flying Tigers” or “original Flying Tigers.” About one dozen of the fliers and more than 30 of the ground crew are still living.
More "Flying Tigers"
The aircraft belonging to the American Volunteer Group and a small group of its members remained in China as part of the new China Air Task Force. The main fighting unit of the Task Force was the 23rd Fighter Group. Its dramatic insignia featured a tiger with wings and lightning bolts.
On March 5, 1943, the China Air Task Force became the Fourteenth Air Force. First equipped with fighters, the Fourteenth Air Force, by the war’s end, also included bomber and reconnaissance units.
The insignia of the Fourteenth Air Force featured a tiger with wings. Members of the China Air Task Force and the Fourteenth Air Force are, in English, often also referred to as “Flying Tigers.” There is some friendly rivalry between the original Flying Tigers and the Flying Tigers of the Fourteenth Air Force about who has “bragging rights” to the name. Generally, however, anyone assigned to China under the command of General Chennault (in the American Volunteer Group, the China Air Task Force, or the 14th Air Force) is called a “Flying Tiger” in English.
There were several thousand aviators assigned to China Air Task Force and Fourteenth Air Force units during the war, with many more ground and support personnel. Many are members of the Fourteenth Air Force Association, which has about 1800 living members.
There were a number of Chinese-Americans in the units of the China Air Task Force and the 14th Air Force. They are “Flying Tigers.” So too are the Chinese aviators who were assigned to the Chinese-American Composite Wing. These were Chinese Air Force personnel trained in the United States who flew in fighter and bomber groups under General Chennault’s command.
Heroes, but not called “Flying Tigers” in English
The Doolittle Raiders
On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 medium bombers with eighty American crew members led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet and bombed targets in Japan. They intended to land at Quzhou in Zhejiang province, but none did so. One aircraft diverted to Vladivostok; its crew was interned by the Russians. The other aircraft crash landed in China. Most of the aviators were brought to safety by Chinese rescuers.
At this time, 18 of the 80 original Doolittle Raiders are living. These “Doolittle Raiders” or “Tokyo Raiders” are among America’s and China’s most honored heroes, but they are not called “Flying Tigers” in English.
Another group of aviators played an important role during the war – air transport pilots who flew “over the Hump” from India to China. “Hump pilots” is the phrase used in English to refer to these aviators. The great majority were American. Of these, most served in the Air Transport Command, though a few came from troop carrier or combat cargo units of the Tenth Air Force (stationed in India). The pilots of the China National Aviation Corporation, Chinese and American, who flew the Hump are also “Hump Pilots.”
These men are now members of the CBI Hump Pilots Association or the CNAC Association. There are several hundred American and some dozen Chinese Hump pilots still living.
The units of the Air Transport Command were not under General Chennault’s command. In English, then, “Hump Pilots” are not “Flying Tigers,” except for a few rare cases of individuals who served in both the AVG or Fourteenth Air Force and flew the Hump.
The Men of Operation Matterhorn
From June of 1944 to January of 1945, American B-29 bombers launched attacks against Japan and other military targets in Japanese-controlled territory. These bombers were assigned to the XX Bomber Command of the Twentieth Air Force. They were commanded directly from Washington. They are not, then, called “Flying Tigers” in English.
Veterans of Operation Matterhorn are members of the 20th Air Force Association. A few hundred are still living.
Contributed by Philip