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The Curtiss P-40 Flying Tigers - fighting the Japanese in China.

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Introduction

Curtiss P-40 Flying Tigers Eliminating 299 aircraft while only losing 15 men for the cause; these are the statistics of one of the most successful fighter groups of the United States during WWII. Before American involvement in WWII, the Japanese dominated the Asian battlegrounds and were rapidly expanding in China and Southeast Asia in the late 1930s. As China's defenses were gradually losing ground, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of China sent Claire Chennault, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps officer, as an advisor to Washington to ask for American aid.(Wikipedia Origin of the Flying Tigers. Roosevelt most likely preferred a "wink and a nod" on creating the AVG.(Ford 85) Using three times the average pay of an aviation officer at $600, with a bounty of $500 more for every Japanese aircraft shot down (History Channel, vol.1/5), Chennault was able to form a group of ninety-nine untried pilots.(Wikipedia 1st American Volunteer Group) He then supervised the ordering of 100 Curtiss P-40 fighters, and the 1st American Volunteer Group was formed.(Ford 43) The P40B Tomahawks were painted with the emblem of the air force of the Republic of China and the iconic shark head, but were seen as tigers by Chinese citizens, thus the name of the "Flying Tigers." After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a mercenary air force for the Chinese was no longer necessary, and the American Volunteer Group was subsequently replaced by the 14th Air Force and the 23rd Fighter group, carrying on the name and legacy of this phenomenal group of fighters (Wikipedia Transition to the USAAF). ...read more.

Middle

The main fighters of the Japanese Air Force that the Flying Tigers faced were the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate and the Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar. The Japanese had a tremendous weight and maneuvering advantage, with the Nate at 4000lbs and Oscar at 5000lbs, compared to the 8000lbs of the P40. But as the Japanese aircraft were lightly built, they also had a lower top speed and firing range. The P-40s on the other hand had a higher diving speed, stronger body framework, and more mechanical power. Therefore, General Chennault developed a tactic-Attack the Japanese aircraft by first letting the P40s climb to high altitude and attack them on the way down. (Scott 61-65).He also forbid his pilots to engage in a turning and close combat fighting, since the airplanes would lose to the light and nimble Japanese planes. This "dive-and-zoon" tactic required a network of ground crew to catch Japanese planes early on, so that the P-40s would have sufficient time to climb up to higher altitudes.(Wikipedia Chennault fighter doctrine) Also by enforcing this tactic, Chennault was able to put the less trained pilots as ground crew and make the most out of the men he had. The ability of General Chennault to adapt to these tactics shows that skill and determination can outweigh the trained pilots and nimble Japanese fighters and that even if one is the underdog, determination and wit can make up for the disadvantages one might have. ...read more.

Conclusion

The official Japanese count is 115(Ford 333-334), while others estimate that there were more planes destroyed on the ground and inflated the number, adding to the mythical status of the Flying Tigers. Whichever number it may be, the Flying Tigers were indeed a successful combat force in even the most conservative on numbers. The legend of the Flying Tiger lives on as "the handful of American pilots who met and bloodied the 'Imperial Wild Eagles' of Japan".(Ford Back Cover) The Flying Tigers were known for their legendary fight record and the first Americans to stand up and fight against the Japanese. By the extraordinary number of Japanese planes destroyed and the unique tactics of General Chennault for fighting the Japanese, the original Tigers have secured their place in history as one of the most well known fighter groups in American History. They have shown the American Dream; that anyone can achieve his or her goals by diligence and determination. They have shown that intellect can override the Achilles Heel. They have shown that we should fight, despite the arrangement of the board. They were the first to stand up against Japanese aggression, and although they weren't official US pilots during the war, they secured a record in our nation's history. Even as warfare today is relied on technology more than ever, Americans before us demonstrated that morale and perseverance can have a much greater impact than it seems. ...read more.

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