The Flying Tigers: 1st American Volunteer Group
This was a group of American fighter pilots that flew for the Chinese during 1941-1942. Known as the Flying Tigers, they were led by the controversial yet legendary Major General Claire Lee Chennault.
Also known as the 74th Fighter Squadron, the 1st AVG provided air defense for the Chinese in the early days of WW2. During seven months of combat operations, the 1st AVG caused massive losses to the Japanese Air Force – almost 300 fighter aircraft. The Flying Tigers lost 69 aircraft.
One of four squadrons to take part in combat in the Far East, the 74th Fighter Squadron used P-40 fighter aircraft in combat. The operational area of the Flying Tigers extended beyond China into French Indochina (present-day Vietnam), Formosa (Taiwan) and Burma.
The ‘Flying Tigers’ nickname
The 74th Fighter squadron was nicknamed ‘Flying Tigers’ by the Chinese after the unit attacked and destroyed Japanese fighter aircraft over Kunming on December 20, 1941.
Claire Lee Chennault
Credit for the loss suffered by the Japanese goes to Claire Lee Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers. A controversial yet brilliant commander, Chennault led his AVG pilots to victory against the Japanese even though odds were stacked heavily against them.
Because of this unlikely victory, Chennault was regarded as a hero in both the United States and China. By using a combination of his tactical knowledge and unique charm, Chennault inspired and brought out the best in his men.
Compared to the P40 fighters of the Flying tigers, the aircraft used by the Japanese over China were far superior offering better maneuverability, better ability to absorb battle damage and superior firepower. By creating and carefully documenting the tactics that helped American fighters to neutralize and counter the superiority of the Japanese aircraft, Chennault played a role that has left its mark in history.
Main image credit: http://wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Flying_tigers