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Flying Tigers

Flying Tigers

Flying Tigers - American Volunteer Group

The Flying Tigers were a group of American fighter pilots that flew for China in the early part of 1942. Led by a controversial American, Colonel Claire Chennault, they were actually called the "American Volunteer Group" (AVG), and achieved good success in their aerial battles against the Japanese.

During the dark, early days of World War II, when the Imperial Japanese army, navy, and air force were running roughshod over Asia and the Pacific, it seemed that nothing could stop them. Only a small band of American mercenary fliers based in Burma and known as the Flying Tigers, led by a leather-faced fighter named Claire Chennault, seemed able to challenge and defeat the Japanese.

They were a relatively small group, and never had more than 100 Curtis Warhawk P-40's (decorated with the famous red shark mouth) available.

But at the time they were flying (early 1942), they were the only Americans doing ANYTHING against the Axis. With an American public reeling from Pearl Harbor and anxious to strike back "NOW!" the Flying Tigers were "the only game in town" at that point. Thus they received a lot of favorable press coverage, from reporters anxious to write about the only Americans doing ANYTHING ANYWHERE against the Japanese.

The Flying Tigers comprised three squadrons:

1st Squadron - "Adam and Eves"

2nd Squadron - "Panda Bears"

3rd Squadron - "Hell's Angels"

The top aces of the Flying Tigers were: David Lee "Tex" Hill, Robert Neale, and Chuck Older. James Howard flew with the AVG; he later earned the Congressional Medal of Honor while flying P-51s for the 354th Fighter Group (Ninth Air Force) in Europe. Pappy Boyington was another Tiger who went on to greater fame; he had a falling out with Chennault, who gave him a Dishonorable Discharge. The mercurial Boyington never forgave him.

Colonel Claire Lee Chennault - Founder of Flying Tigers

"Colonel" Claire Lee Chennault had been in China since the mid-Thirties; he called himself "Colonel," though his highest rank had been Major. An outspoken advocate of "pursuit" (as fighter planes were called then), in an Army Air Force dominated by strategic bomber theorists, he alienated many of his superiors. But in China, equipped with P-40's, he developed the basic fighter tactics that American pilots would use throughout the war. The Japanese planes used over China were much more maneuverable than his Warhawks, whose advantages were: speed in a dive, superior firepower, and better ability to absorb battle damage. Chennault worked out and documented the appropriate tactics that capitalized on the relative strengths of the American fighters: intercept, make a diving pass, avoid dogfighting, and dive away when in trouble. This remained the fundamental U.S. fighter doctrine throughout the Pacific War.

They fought with distinction, largely in the defense of Burma, and were absorbed into the United States Army Air Force's 23rd Fighter Group in July, 1942.