Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1)


Air Operations in the China-Burma-India Theater, by Maj Edward M. Hudak, FA, Command and General Staff College. May 31 1949. (This Document is a holding of the Archives Section Library Service, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Subject Air Operations in the China-Burma-India Theater. To Director, Department of Operations and Training, Command & General Staff College.
Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base[1] Problem : To determine the need for, extent and results of air operations in the China-Burma-India Theater.

[2] Facts bearing on the problem : (A) The critical condition of the Chinese prior to World War II. (B) Strategic importance of China to the United States after hostilities with Japan opened. (C) The inadequacy of the Chinese Air Force to support her ground forces or provide adequate protection to the supply lines against Japanese air attacks. (D) Seriousness of the supply situation in China after the Japanese blocked the Burma Road and tightened her blockade on the East and South of China. (E) India and China were in danger of being overrun by the Japanese after conquest of Burma. (F) Importance of strategic locations of Burma and India to the United States. (G) The employment of air transport to overcome terrain obstacles in movement of supplies. (H) The only American units committed to combat in the China Theater were air force organizations. (I) Air operations were conducted in the China-Burma­-India Theater by the United States Army Air Force. (J) Important contribution of air power in the China-Burma-India Theater to the ultimate defeat of Japan.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base[3] Discussion : (A) China’s critical condition, as a result of Japanese aggression, motivated the extension of aid, to China. Credits first granted in 1933 and 1934 were renewed in 1938 for $25.000.000 and, with additional loans, reached a total of $170.000.000 by the end of 1940. Economic support with the United States withdrew from Japan was extended on a growing scale to China. (B) The attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent capture of islands in the Pacific, denied us the natural bases for an offensive against Japan from the mainland of China. It made India, at best, a difficult and possibly temporary way station.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(C) Overland transport into China rather than oceanic shipping to Burma and India proved to be the bottleneck of China-Burma-India supply. The Burma Road was China’s life line to the outside world, after Japan had occupied the coast and established a naval blockade in 1938. The distance by air from Lashio, the railhead in Burma fed by the port of Rangoon, to Kunming in Yunnan Province, is 260 miles. The Chinese began to build it late in 1937 to circumvent the Japanese blockade. The first traffic in 1939 brought supplies into China at the rate of 3500 tons a month, rising to 12000 tons monthly in 1941, with the introduction of American methods of maintenance; though a large proportion of the tonnage went for gasoline to fuel the trucks. From the middle of 1941 to the fall of Burma, which closed the Road, it was protected by the Flying Tigers, officially the American Volunteer Group under Brig Gen Claire L. Chennault. This small group shot down 286 Japanese planes with the loss of only eight pilots.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(D) Realizing the importance of the China, Burma and India area and the magnitude of the subsequent operations to be conducted therein, the China-Burma-India Theater was established early in 1942. Lt Gen Joseph Stilwell was placed in command of the United States troops. (E) Concurrent with the formation of the China-Burma-India Theater, plans were made for the expansion of air effort in the India-Burma and China Theaters. The Tenth Air Force was activated and became operational in the Theater, in the summer of 1942. (F) The 10-AAF flew from India bases with a three fold mission of guarding the ‘Hump Line’ of the Air Transport Command, into China, and attacking enemy supply in Burma and Thailand. It bombed 150 targets, including Rangoon, the Moulmein and Akyak docks, Lashio and Henzada storehouses, and the rail junctions of Rangoon, Mandalay and Sagaing, almost denying the enemy use of rail lines in Burma. In its career, the 10-AAF destroyed 622 enemy aircraft, losing only one plane to every two planes destroyed. It flew some 96000 sorties and dropped approximately 47600 tons of bombs on the enemy successfu1ly disrupting Japanese supply lines in Burma and preventing the enemy drive toward India.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(G) Prior to the activation of the 10-AAF, the Chinese were being supported by the American Volunteer Group, which became operational in December 1941. With the termination of their contracts with the Chinese Government on July 4 1942, they were replaced by the China Air Task Force. Although a part of the 10-AAF, excessive distance and lack of adequate communication precluded close supervision for the 10-AAF. Operating independently, with the same mission as their predecessors, they destroyed 182 enemy aircraft and probably destroyed 87. During their operations they dropped 350 tons of bombs and sunk 50000 tons of enemy shipping. (H) On March 10 1943, the China Air Task Force was re-designated the Fourteenth Air Force, operating directly under the Theater. Though numerically small, the responsibility of the 14-AAF was a man-sized job. It had to conduct effective fighter and bomber operations along a 2000 mile front, which extended from Chunking and Chengtu in the north, to Indo-China to the south; from the Tibetan Plateau and the Salween River (in Burma) in the west; to the China Sea and the Island of Formosa in the east. Taking full advantage of their interior position, the 14-AAF jabbed the enemy off balance and kept him guessing. Although extremely handicapped, due to lack of adequate supplies, the results of their operations indicate the degree of success attained.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(I) From the birth of the China Air Task Force in July 1942 to the end of May 1945, the United States forces in China destroyed 2348 Japanese aircraft, with another 778 probably damaged. Japanese shipping losses amounted to 2.267.389 tons. They destroyed or damaged 3918 locomotives and a larger number of railroad cars. (J) During the operations, the Air Transport Command protected by the 10 and 14-AAF, transported troops, supplies and equipment to all parts of the CBI Theater. (K) The 20th Bomber Command, based in India an China, operated their B-29s to strike at targets out of reach of the other air forces.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base[4] Results : (A) Contribution of Air Power. A partial indication of air power’s contribution to the victorious result attained in the China-Burma-India Theater is listed above. In spite of their impressiveness, the listed data does not present the overall objectives gained as a result of the victories indicated. The following presentation covers these objective. (B) Air Power in India-Burma. [1] Air power not only played the major role preventing Japanese occupation of India but completely isolated the Burma battle fields. This action proved demoralizing to the enemy and had an adverse effect on his war making capability. [2] The Air transport operations on which survival of the ground depended, and the forces operating on the ground, were rendered free from air attack by the enemy with the attainment of air superiority in the India-Burma area. [3] By direct attack on enemy troops, installations, equipment end lines of communication, air power aided to destroy the Japanese force in Burma. [4] From India-Burma, air power supplied the military effort in China in the greatest air transport effort of its time.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(C) Air Power in China. [1] Air power was instrumental in preventing the occupation and control of all of China by the Japanese armies. [2] Strikes on shipping and interdiction of North China’s railways and highways, and very heavy bombardment attacks on Japanese home islands by China based aircraft, materially assisted in the disrupting of the entire Japanese war economy and war making potential. [3] Operations of China based air power forced the Japanese to dissipate logistical potential to campaigns in China, which otherwise might have been more effectively employed in the Pacific. By attaining air superiority, China based air power assured the allied forces and operations protection from enemy air attack. [4] China based air power contributed heavily to the attrition of Japanese military power.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base[5] Conclusions : (A) Air operations in the China-Burma-India Theater have given rise to the formulation of new doctrine and provided strategic planners with a wider range of thought in determining operations for the future. (B) The Potentiality of Air Transport Conclusively Demonstrated, prior to 1942, air transport was confined in the main, to carrying passengers, limited supplies, usually of an emergency nature, mail, aid for cargo transport on a limited scale. The situation in China demanded that some form of aerial transport be initiated since the terrain and the enemy prevented use of the conventional land and sea lanes of communication. (C) Initial successes soon proved that only the numbers of available aircraft and airfields limited the amount of cargo that could be air lifted. As these planes were supplies, new airfields constructed and personnel made available, the intensity of the ground and air operation increased. (D) The ability of air transport to adequately provide for combat forces isolated from land and sea lanes of communication was amply demonstrated.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(E) The acceptance of this new doctrine, new because it was not accepted by strategic planners prior to 1942, gives rise to three ideas : [1] Land or sea lines of communication to battle areas are not essential, though the size force supported will be governed by limitations discussed previously. The aerial line of communication is particularly adaptable to operations in areas where : (a) difficult terrain forms a barrier to land lines; (b) sea lines or waterways are not available or enemy controlled; (c) a combination aforementioned conditions; (d) the use of an aerial line of communication may be required where speed rather than economy is the governing factor. [2] Force may be masses, supplied and sustained anywhere in the world. [3] Air transport will provide flexibility in the defense of an extensive area, where the resources of a nation precludes the establishment of a defense of the entire area, and the exact location of the enemy strike is unknown.

Edward M. Hudak
Major, Field Artillery

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Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

[3] Discussion
Part 1 – Period 1937-1938
Critical Condition of China Prior to World War II

Beginning with the Marco Polo Bridge outbreak on July 7 1937 (#), China steadily lost her fight with the Japanese. Ill-equipped, and having lost her best armies and meager air force in the initial engagements, she offered little effective or sustained resistance to the Japanese advances. By the end of 1938, superior Japanese forces overran Shanghai, Nanking, Hankow, Canton and the strategic Pearl River Delta. Japan now controlled China’s northern railroads; had sealed off the Yangtze River and the Yellow River; controlled ninety-five percent of China’s modern industry; had possession of the major seaports and held key areas in eleven Chinese provinces.

Secure in the belief that they now held strategic and economical control of China, the Japanese settled down to a gradual attrition of China’s resources as the most convenient means of achieving their objectives in China. Knowing that China did not possess sufficient armed strength to counter attack, the Japanese expected an early capitulation by the Chinese Government due to the strangulation effect imposed by the blockade. The Chinese were able to hold out, however, on the meager supplies coming in on the Burma Road, through northern Indo-China, the Trans-Siberian Railway and via their lone airway from the coast to the interior from Hong Kong.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base
Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base(#) Tensions between the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China had been heightened since the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and their subsequent creation of a puppet state, Manchukuo, with Puyi, the deposed Qing Dynasty Emperor, as its head. Following the invasion, Japanese forces extended their control further into northern China, seeking to obtain raw materials and industrial capacity. A commission of enquirer from the League of Nations made a critical report into their actions, leading to Japan pulling out of the League.

The Kuomintang (KMT) government of China refused to recognize Manchukuo, but did agree to a truce with Japan in 1933. Subsequently there were various ‘incidents’, or armed clashes of a limited nature, followed by a return to the uneasy peace. The significance of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident is that following it, tensions did not subside again, instead there was escalation, with larger forces committed by both sides and fighting spreading to other parts of China. With hindsight this small incident can therefore be regarded as the starting point of the major conflict.

Under the terms of the Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901, China had granted nations with legations in Beijing the right to station guards at twelve specific points along railways connecting Beijing with Tianjin. This was to ensure open communications between the capital and the port. By a supplementary agreement on July 15 1902, these forces were allowed to conduct maneuvers without informing the authorities of other nations in China.

By July 1937, Japan had expanded its forces in China to an estimated 7000 to 15000 men, mostly along the railways. This number of men, and the amount of concomitant matériel, was several times the size of the detachments deployed by the European powers, and greatly in excess of the limits set by the Boxer Protocol. By this time, the Imperial Japanese Army had already surrounded Beijing and Tianjin.

On the night of July 7, the Japanese units stationed at Fengtai crossed the border to conduct military exercises. Japanese and Chinese forces outside the town of Wanpin – a walled town about 10 miles southwest of Beijing – exchanged fire at approximately 23.00. The exact cause of this incident remains unknown. When a Japanese soldier, Pvt Shimura Kikujiro, failed to return to his post, Chinese regimental commander Ji Xingwen (219th Regiment, 37th Division, 29th Route Army) received a message from the Japanese demanding permission to enter Wanping to search for the missing soldier. The Chinese refused. And, although Pvt Shimura returned to his unit, by this point both sides were mobilizing, with the Japanese deploying reinforcements and surrounding Wanping.

Later in the night, a unit of Japanese infantry attempted to breach Wanping’s walled defenses and were repulsed. An ultimatum by the Japanese was issued two hours later. As a precautionary measure, Qin Dechun, the acting commander of the Chinese 29th Route Army, contacted the commander of the Chinese 37th Division, General Feng Zhian, ordering him to place his troops on heightened alert. At 02.00, in the morning of July 8, Qin Dechun, executive officer and acting commander of the Chinese 29th Route Army, sent Wang Lengzhai, mayor of Wanping, alone to the Japanese camp to conduct negotiations. However, this proved to be fruitless, and the Japanese insisted that they be admitted into the town to investigate the cause of the incident. At around 04.00, reinforcements of both sides began to arrive. The Chinese also rushed an extra division of troops to the area. About an hour or so later the Chinese Army opened fire on the Japanese Army and attacked them at Marco Polo Bridge (690 feet west-southwest of Wanping), along with a modern railway bridge (1095 feet north of the Marco Polo Bridge).

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At 04.45, Wang Lengzhai had returned to Wanping, and on his way back he witnessed Japanese troops massing around the town. Within five minutes of Wang’s return, the Chinese Army fired shots, thus marking the commencement of the Battle of Beiping-Tianjin, and, by extension, the full scale commencement of the Second Sino-Japanese War at 04.50 on July 8 1937. Colonel Ji Xingwen led the Chinese defenses with about 100 men, with orders to hold the bridge at all costs. The Chinese were able to hold the bridge with the help of reinforcements, but suffered tremendous losses. At this point, the Japanese military and members of the Japanese Foreign Service began negotiations in Beijing with the Chinese Nationalist government. A verbal agreement with Chinese General Qin was reached, whereby an apology would be given by the Chinese to the Japanese; punishment would be dealt to those responsible; control of Wanping would be turned over to the Hopei Chinese civilian constabulary and not to the Chinese 219th Regiment; and the Chinese would attempt to better control “communists” in the area. This was agreed upon, though Japanese Garrison Infantry Brigade commander General Masakazu Kawabe initially rejected the truce and, against his superiors’ orders, continued to shell Wanping for the next three hours, until prevailed upon to cease and to move his forces to the northeast. (Source

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(Above) Chinese Army logistics soldiers assist wounded Chinese troops from the battlefield during the Third Battle of Changsha. The Third Battle of Changsha was fought from December 24 1941 to January 15 1942 and was the first major offensive in China by Imperial Japanese forces following the Japanese attack on the Western Allies. The offensive was originally intended to prevent Chinese forces from reinforcing the British Commonwealth forces engaged in battle with the Japanese in Hong Kong. However, with the successful capture of Hong Kong on by Imperial Japanese forces on December 25 1942, it was decided to continue the offensive in Changsha in order to maximize the blow against the Chinese government. The offensive resulted in failure for the Japanese, as Chinese forces were able to lure them into a trap and encircle them. After suffering heavy casualties, Japanese forces were forced to carry out a general retreat. (Changsha, Hunan, Republic of China. January 1942.)

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Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseLittle ground was given up by the Chinese during 1939, 1940 and 1941, but she still suffered losses. Her economic difficulties increased in scope as Japanese pressure tightened the blockade which limited China’s contact with the outside world. This limited contact was further curtailed when the Japanese gained control of northern French Indo-China and the British, acting under Japanese pressure, closed the Burma Road.

War between Russia and Germany in 1941, cut off the trickle of supplies coming in on the Trans-Siberian railway and the northwest Russian highway. The fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, eliminated the only air route between the Chinese Coast and the interior. Though the Burma Road was reopened in October of 1941, the Lend-Lease supplies that dribbled in, about 15.000 tons a month, were inadequate to materially effect the scale of China’s war effort.

At the end of 1941, the Chinese Army was stalemated along a broken 2000 miles (3200 Kms) front, and forced to operate on very meager rations and extremely limited amounts of all type supplies and equipment. Morale was at a low ebb. The Nationalist Government, established at Chungking, was rapidly losing prestige as her people were subjected to mounting economic hardships. Her air force was reduced to practically a paper air organization. The American Volunteer Group in China provided the only air defense available, but this small force was not adequate to drive the Japanese out of China.

American Interest in and Aid China Prior to WW-2

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseThe attitude of the United States towards the Japan’s aggression had been one of moral disapproval rather than overt opposition. As China’s position became more critical, however, there was a growing tendency to stiffen those measures which implied a warning of more concrete action if Japan persisted in her course. Japan’s blockade of China in 1938, crystallized the thinking of the United States and prompted the extension of aid to China. Credits first granted to China in 1933 and 1934 were renewed in 1938 for $25.000.000 and with additional loans, reached a total of $170.000.000 by the end of 1940. The economic support which the United States withdrew from Japan was extended on a growing scale to China. Small as this aid was it helped China to sustain its resistance to Japan. In August 1941, the United States sent a military mission to the aid of China. The mission included technicians to assist to improve the Burma Road and a staff of military advisers. Lend-lease was extended to China in April 1941. Small initial shipments of Lend-Lease items arrived in China in the summer of that year. China’s appeal for American engineers and pilots was answered by a number of United States citizens who volunteered their services in various categories. Among the latter was a retired Army Air Force Officer named Claire Lee Chennault. Under his able leadership, the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, was formed in 1941, and provided China’s first air defense against the Japanese since the loss of her own air force early in 1938.

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(Above) The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USMC), recruited under presidential authority and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. The shark-faced nose art of the Flying Tigers remains among the most recognizable image of any individual combat aircraft or combat unit of World War II. The group consisted of three fighter squadrons of around 30 aircraft each. It trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II with the mission of defending China against Japanese forces. The group of volunteers were officially members of the Chinese Air Force. The members of the group had contracts with salaries ranging from $250 a month for a mechanic to $750 for a squadron commander, roughly three times what they had been making in the U.S. forces. While it accepted some civilian volunteers for its headquarters and ground crew, the AVG recruited most of its staff from the US military.

Strategic Importance of China after Hostilities with Japan Opened

The importance of China in the conflict with Japan resolves itself into the following considerations : (1) If China were to capitulate, her resources of men, materiel and food as well as her geographical location would be of material assistance to Japan; (2) If she remained free, her strategic location on the flank of Japan’s extended line of communication would provide a base for air operations against the life lines of the Japanese Empire: (3) Similarly, if China remained in the war against Japan, a base was available for attrition operations against a considerable portion of the Japanese war machine; (4) loss of bases in the Pacific, early in the war, placed the United States in a position remote from Japan’s home bases, thus creating a requirement for an operating base from which to strike at and cripple Japan’s industrial potential. In brief, the United States was committed to keep China fighting, to deprive Japan of her assistance and to provide a base on the enemy’s flank from which to attack his war machine.

Allied Plan for Air Operations in Support of China

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseTo strike at the Japanese homeland, on the ground or from the air, the United States required bases within aircraft operating ranges and additional bases from which to launch ground operations, concentrate supplies and in general provide extensive logistic support for size-able operations. It appeared quite evident that a corridor into China from India and Burma must be kept open so that supply to bases in China would be insured. With the tempo of Japanese air attacks on the Burma Road increasing, firm steps were taken to increase the air defense of the Burma Road and increase the air operations in support of China. With the ports of China under Japanese control, supplies would have to be brought in at the available ports on the Burma and India coasts. There is little about, either Burma or India to recommend them as theaters of operation. Their chief disadvantage is their great distance from the United States. No available sea route is less than 13.000 statute miles (20.000 Kms). Available port facilities are limited. Transportation and communications facilities are inadequate. The railroad system, lacking sufficient rolling stock and complicated by the existence of various gauges, would prove of little usefulness. The climate subtracts from their desirability, running into excesses of temperature and humidity. Burma is the gateway to China’s roads. Conquest of all of Burma would be most dangerous because of the threat to the land routes from India to China.

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The following considerations are of added significance in determining the importance of India and Burma to the overall operations in the theater : (1) If India and Burma were overrun; their combined resources and potential would be made available to the Japanese and similarly denied to the allied war effort; the value of China as a base for air operations against Japan would be lessened to a great degree if not completely nullified; the ability of China to maintain sustained resistance against Japan’s advances would be jeopardized; (2) If one or both remained free, allied operations could be conducted according to plan. It is therefore apparent that their geographical proximity to China and allied considerations, coupled with the tactical situation, declared India and Burma to be of vital importance to the Allied Nations.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseThe Jap advance in the early months of 1942 towards the southern approaches of China, penetrating into Burma, threatened the life line of China. The loss of this road would not only be disastrous for China but would seriously hamper the entire allied effort against Japan. Plans were therefore made for creating the China – Burma – India theater of operations, with Chinese, British and American officials occupying commands positions.

In February, Lt Gen Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell was appointed Commander of United States Forces in the new theater. At the same time, Japanese penetration into the Netherlands East Indies foretold the dissolution of the ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) Command operating in that area. Faced with these expected losses and the growing seriousness in the CBI, plans were made to establish an air force in the India – Burma region and Australia. The India – Burma force would supplement the assistance China was now receiving from the American Volunteer Group and the Royal Air Force operating in China. With the decision now made to establish an air force in the India – Burma region, Headquarters United States Army Air Forces, India – Burma was established at Delhi in March 1942. This location was selected to effect better coordination with the British.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseA planning group, headed by Gen Lewis H. Brereton, started making plans for increased, air operations in the theater. Their material assets consisted of $250.000 in American currency, one LB-30 and five war weary B-17s. Their gigantic task was made more bleak by Japanese advances throughout southeast Asia, toward the subcontinent of India, where they could deliver a severe blow to the Allied cause in the Orient. Demands from other theaters and the policy of concentrating first on the elimination of Germany gave the CBI a low priority. This situation formed an obstacle in the obtaining desired personnel and equipment for the Tenth Army Air Force (10-AAF).

Though it was activated on February 12 1942, at Patterson Field, Ohio, it was not until May 17 1942 that the Hqs and Hqs Squadron arrived in India. In addition to defending India from the skies, the 10-AAF would also be required to provide an aerial supply line to China; assist Gen Stilwell’s forces in Burma; develop India, apart from its own defense, as a base for striking the Japanese wherever they may be within bomber range. With its force now consisting of six B-17s, two LB-30 and ten P-40s, limited patrol and transport operations were undertaken without any appreciable delay. Extensive operations had to await the arrival of more planes, procurement of suitable type of aircraft, training of personnel, and provision for facilities.

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(Above) 3rd Squadron – Hell’s Angels, Flying Tigers over China, photographed in 1942 by American Volunteer Group’s pilot Robert T. Smith. (Below) The infamous P-40 with the Shark’s nose war paint.

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Requests for badly needed P-38s equipped for photographic work were turned down. Lacking adequate fighter protection, bombing attacks had to be matte at night under very unfavorable conditions. During this early period organizational difficulties were corrected to the extent possible, with the major portion of the time spent in training, developing techniques and preparing plans for subsequent operations. Most of the aircraft arriving from the United States were in need of major repairs and, in some cases, complete overhaul before they could be put into combat. Many of the planes brought to Karachi in need of engine replacement had to wait for weeks before replacement spares arrived. The unsatisfactory climate, absence of recreational facilities, sporadic delivery of mail from the United States, all had an adverse effect on the morale of the personnel. The inactivity resulting from lack of proper equipment for operational and training activities did little to bolster their spirits. The prospect of being overrun by the advancing Japanese further aggravated an undesirable situation.

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A blood chit issued to the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers, letting civilians know the soldier in question is an armed downed pilot. The Chinese characters read : ‘This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue and protect him’.

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Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

The American Volunteer Group provided the first organized air resistance the Japanese had faced since the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Beginning operations on December 21 1941, the American Volunteer Group kept jabbing at the Japanese whenever and wherever they could. The combined effort of the AVG (American Volunteer Group) and the RAF (Royal Air Force) kept the important Port of Rangoon open for almost three months after the first enemy assaults began. During its six months of operation over Burma and China, the AVG destroyed 297 enemy aircraft in air combat, while losing 14 of their own P-40s.

The air supply route over the Hump was successfully defended, as well as the supply bases depots in Kunming. Air operations by the 10-USAAF were officially inaugurated on April 2/3 1942, in an attack by B-17s on shipping at Port Blair, Adaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. This and similar operations entailed the use of an advance base near Calcutta, a distance of 1200 air miles (1900 Kms) from the home base at Karachi. Subsequent operations were characterized by the same difficulties of distance and the shortage of aircraft as well as unfavorable weather conditions. Consequently these early missions were little more than harassing missions.

During this same period, the India – China Ferry, conducted operations transporting supplies from India to Burma and China. Service facilities, supply and maintenance installations were also in the process of being built. Operations, in the main, were still of a defensive nature due to the inadequacy of equipment, personnel and supplies, coupled with Japanese capabilities, which indicated still further advances in the China – Burma – India Theater.

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Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseImprovement of the Allied situation in the Indian Ocean permitted movement of air bases eastward. Late in June, the 23d Fighter Group and elements of the 11th Bombardment Squadron were assembling in China. This regrouping was partially in anticipation of replacing the American Volunteer Group whose contracts would expire on July 4 1942, but mainly to provide increased air support for British and Chinese forces operating in China. The China Air Task Force became operational on July 4 1942.

In order to bring important enemy targets in southern China within bomber and fighter range, operations were conducted from a string of bases running in a northeast-southwest line starting from Henyang, followed by Lingling, Kweilin, Liuchow and Nanning. To guard the ferry over the Hump, aircraft operated from Yunnanyi, in western China, and Dinjan in Assam. Bomber strikes included attacks on important Japanese airfields at Nanchang, southeast of Hankow and Tien Ho airdrome, at Canton, in a effort to reduce Japanese numerical superiority. Fighter aircraft challenged every Japanese bomber raid over Free China, accounting for a number of enemy aircraft during every engagement.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseDuring their eight months of operation, from July 4 1942 to March 10 1943, the claims of Headquarters China Air Task Force included 182 enemy aircraft destroyed and 87 probably destroyed. During the operations, 350 tons of bombs were dropped on Japanese installations and 50.000 tons of enemy Shipping sunk. During the same period 24 American aircraft were lost to enemy action.

The India Air Task Force organized in October 1942, had very little available combat power during its organization period. To add to their difficulties, the equipment required for an adequate early warning system was not available. Late in October, word was received that the 10-USAAF was to be relieved of responsibility of operating the Ferry, effective December 1. Before any of the forces could be deployed, the Japanese attacked Dinjan on October 25. Approximately 100 planes bombed and strafed the field at Dinjan, as well as the newer fields at Chabua, Mohanbari, and Sookerating. Due to the inadequacy of the early warning system, the Americans suffered heavy losses. Five transports, five P-40s and two P-43s were destroyed, while four transports and 13 fighters were badly damaged.

On the next day and the 28th, however, when the enemy came over again, the India Air Task Force squadrons were able to destroy fifteen Japanese raiders with little damage to themselves. For several weeks while the India Task Force was being built up, Gen Haynes employed his forces defensively with only occasional offensive missions by small flights of heavy bombers.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge BaseThe opening attack of this campaign occurred on November 20, when eight B-24s carrying 40.000 pounds of bombs attacked the marshaling yards at Mandalay. From Myitkyina in northern Burma, to Bangkok in Thailand, and Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, the India Task Force strafed at low level and bombed from high altitudes. In 17 heavy bombing raids between November 20 and December 31, they dropped 414.000 pounds of high explosives on enemy targets.

From April to December 1942, heavy bombers flew only 179 sorties and dropped 299 tons of bombs. Medium bombers from July to December flew 331 sorties and dropper 346 tons of bombs. Fighters from July, to December 1942 flew 791 sorties and dropped 24 tons of bombs. Total tonnage dropped was 669 tons. During 1943 the India Air Task Force, concentrated on active defense of the Ferry Route between India and China and the airfields and equipment in the Assam area. During 1943, bomb totals of the India Air Task Force had been stepped up to an unusual degree. In January, the total of bombs dropped was about 200 tons; by May, it reached 400 tons. From November 1942 through September 1943, heavy and medium bombers performed 714 missions, flew 4.792 sorties, dropped 6.158 tons of bombs and destroyed 44 enemy planes, with 39 probable destroyed. In all, the India Task Force lost only 12 planes.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

By November 1943, the 10-USAAF was making headway in gaining limited air superiority over Burma. That November, the 10-AAF joined Gen Stratemeyer’s Eastern Air Command, which in turn, was a part of the Southeast Asia Command under Lord Louis Mountbatten. Heavy bomber sorties for the year 1943 mounted to 2.751, with 4.651 tons of bombs dropped. Light bombers flew 4.003 sorties and dropped 4.243 tons of bombs. Local superiority, gained in the latter part of 1943, was maintained in 1944. During January and February counter air force operation were mainly defensive in nature. This was primarily due to the fact that the newly activated Eastern Air Command was in the process of planning its operations.

In February 1944, in attempting to attain local air superiority in support over the battle area of his Arakan Offensive, the enemy expended a major effort against the allied air forces. However, the newly acquired Spitfires of one group took such a heavy toll that he was forced to abandon the effort. Verified Allied claims for January and February were 40 enemy aircraft destroyed, 19 probably destroyed and 102 damaged. During March, April and May offensive fighter action by Army Air Force units over Japanese bases, substantially broke the Japanese dominance of the air over Burma, destroying 224 aircraft, probably destroying 29 and damaging 58. The combined Army Air Force and Royal Air Force score during March, April and May was 309 enemy aircraft destroyed, 56 probably destroyed and 193 damaged.

In June 1944, a marked change in operational policies by the Japanese was evidenced. The enemy seemed to have turned to a form of hit and run guerrilla warfare. As a result, the number of enemy aircraft destroyed by the Allied Air Force, in the last half of 1944 never reached the totals amassed during the period March, April and May. The enemy did, however, conduct nuisance raids during this period and continued to send out photo and visual reconnaissance missions. The latter very seldom were permitted to return to their bases. This lack of air reconnaissance intelligence eventually led to complete Japanese disorganization and utter ignorance of the penetration movement which captured Meiktila. By the end of 1944, as a result, air superiority in Burma had been supplanted by air supremacy.

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Francorchamps 4970
Email : gunter [at]

Air Operations CBI, Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-1), EUCMH Knowledge Base

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(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)


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