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'Flying Tigers' to be commemorated

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The United States 'Flying Tigers' are to be commemorated by a park, soon to be built in Kunming, according to Chinese media reports. The park will be a sizeable 167 hectares, and will feature a peace gate, a friendship monument, a memorial wall and memorials to wartime figures. It will be situated near to an abandoned military airport some 20 kilometres from downtown Kunming. A Chinese/Thai/Australian joint venture will oversee the development, which is estimated to cost four billion yuan (approximately US$540m).

The American Volunteer Group, known more often by their 'Flying Tigers' nickname, were formed under General Claire Lee Chennault during the Second World War, chiefly to provide assistance to the Chinese in repelling Japanese invaders. Among other tasks, the group ran supplies across the Himalayas in so-called 'Hump' flights before being disbanded in 1942.

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Is it possible the park to be built outside of Kunming is meant to commemorate and honor both the American Volunteer Group (formed prior to the United States entering World War II) and the 14th Air Force, which (unlike the AVG) did fly supplies over the Hump? Only the AVG was disbanded in 1942; the much larger 14th Air Force continued operations until the end of World War II.

"After the American Volunteer Group was disbanded on July 4, 1942, the China Air Task Force of the United States Army Air Forces, commanded by General Chennault, officially took over air operations in China. In early March, 1943, the 14th Air Force was activated under the command of Chennault and replaced the China Air Task Force. Chennault remained in command of the 14th Air Force until the end of July, 1945." - from www.flyingtigersavg.com/tiger1.htm

"After the Flying Tigers went home, they were replaced by the U.S. Army 23rd Fighter Group, which took over the AVG fighters and some AVG veterans who accepted induction in China. For reasons of morale and propaganda, Chennault retained the name Flying Tigers for the army pilots, and generally anyone who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in China in WWII can claim that title (much to the annoyance of the AVG)." - from www.warbirdforum.com/faq.htm

"Upon expiration of the AVG contract, Chennault was recalled to active duty in the rank of Brigadier General as the AAF moved into China. The China Air Task Force and 23rd Fighter Squadron carried on as the Flying Tigers under the command of Brig Gen Chennault. Subsequently, as AAF numbers grew in China and a visit to Kunming by AAF Chief "Hap" Arnold in March 1943, the 14th Air Force was established by special order of the President. Chennault continued as the commander and was promoted to Major General. The Flying Tigers conducted effective fighter and bomber operations along a 5,000 mile front from Chunking and Cheng Tu in the west to Indo China in the south; from the Tibetan Plateau in Burma to the China Sea and Formosa in the east." - from www.zianet.com/jpage/airforce/history/naf/14af.html

Although General Chennault commanded three successive groups of airmen in the region, and (as the quotes above show) there is some disagreement as to which of these groups can be referred to as 'Flying Tigers', i'm inclined to side with the commenter above (and another who chose to comment via GoKunming's contact form), and correct my original piece: the Hump supply flights were not flown by the AVG, but rather by the 14th Air Force. My lack of clarity stems from the laxity with which the term 'Flying Tigers' is applied.

The Chinese media report referenced above does not mention whether the park is intended to commemorate groups other than the AVG.


First, and the most basic point. The Hump operations had nothing to do with the 'Flying Tigers', other than the fact that the latter were recipients of the Allied military materiel ferried over from northeastern India by the Hump pilots.

The Hump was first flown by a private corporation called CNAC, soon joined by the US Air Corps Ferrying Command, which was redesignated the Air Transport Command (ATC) in June 1942.

The strictest definition fo the Flying Tigers would be the AVG, volunteer pilots employed by a private company called CAMCO, with the tacit approval of the US government, to fight for the Chinese. Their contract expired on July 4, '42. It was not renewed, the US military entered the war, and, towards the bittersweet ending of the AVG year, the organisation was to be turned into the 23rd Pursuit Squadron of the Tenth Air Force, which took over operations. Very few of the pilots chose the option to join this force.

When the AVG was disbanded, the US Army immediately organised the China Air Task Force, commanded by Chennault (now a brigadier in the US military) and part of the Tenth Air Force. The 23rd Fighter Squadron was a part of CATF. The Tenth AF was headed by Clayton Bissel, an old time rival of Chennault. A few AVGs joined up, many others had a while before joined CNAC, still others hitched rides home.

Subsequently, Chennault persuaded the authorities to separate the CATF from the Tenth Air Force, something in which he recieved support from Wendell Wilkie, special representative of FDR who visited China, which helped him, well, sort of put one over Gen. Stilwell (although Chennault's effort to get control of land forces remained a dream).

This became the 14th Air Force. It included some bombers that Chennault had been campaigning for right from the beginning.

The 14th Air Force did not fly supplies over the Hump, except the 308th Bomb Squadron which, joined the 14th AF in March '43. They flew some fuel over the Hump, but that was because of a desparate need for fuel, and in any case was just one short hair on the yak's back.

The 14th AF fighters also used the famous shark-face on their P-40 fighter aircraft, which might have led to the confusion about whether or not they were 'Flying Tigers'. But then where we draw the line at deciding who is or is not a Flying Tiger is a fairly difficult question.

It doesn't help that a there is a Flying Tigers squadron of the USAF (or the USAAF, I'm not sure) in Iraq now. This caused many old AVG members to bristle, but I hear they lost a court case on the matter.

The Memorial Park is in Chengong, and the abandoned airfield mentioned was one of those used during the War. So is the Kunming International Airport of today.

Just wanted to add to the comments above that the John Woo film project about the Flying Tigers is getting off the ground. If he can make a good movie it would be great for the Air Park.

The story, the real story, of the Flying Tigers far exceeds anything any fiction writer could dream up. The suffering of the Chinese people was enormous and the history here demands respect. The potential for a great film is most significant and I wish Mr. Woo every success in this important film. Great care needs to be taken with the casting as any mistakes here can ruin the film.


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