Air Operations – CBI – WW-2 (P-2)


AVG-3rd Pursuit Sq

Air Operations in India and Burma – 1945

It was obvious that the main Japanese air strength had been withdrawn to Siam. On March 15, 40 P-51s of the American Second Commando Group, flew a 1600 mile (2500 Kms) round trip from Cox’s Bazaar and attacked Don Mouang Airfield, 12 miles north of Bangkok. They achieved complete surprise and destroyed 26 enemy aircraft, probably destroyed 6 and damaged 51, for a loss of one P-51. Allied bombers continued to bomb Rangoon and the Don Mouang area with little or no opposition.

By the last of April 1945, there were only 12 enemy aircraft fighters in Burma and they were based in the Moulmein area. These, plus a few that could be brought in from Siam, occasionally showed themselves over the fighting front, but were ineffective as a defensive or offensive force. The Eastern Air Command, which included the Tenth Air Force for a period, destroyed probably destroyed or damaged 1114 enemy aircraft between December 15 1943 and June 1 1945, in India-Burma.

Tenth Air Force Operations in China

In addition to operating with its major forces in the India-Burma area as discussed in the preceding paragraphs, the Tenth Air Force was responsible for certain operations in China. Air

Operations on the Salween River; during the period September 1944 to January 1945, the Tenth Air Force fighter-bombers, flew approximately 1800 sorties from Burma bases against Japanese positions on the Salween front.

China Offensive; in April, Headquarters Tenth Air Force was ordered to China. The advanced detachment was located in Luliang when a change of decision was made May 2 1945, removing the Tenth from China and standing it down from combat operations at Piardoba, India. In the last week of June the decision was changed and the Tenth Air Force was again ordered to China, closing at Piardoba and opening at Kunming on July 26 1945. The basic conception of the reorganization in China, established the Fourteenth Air Force as the strategic air force to operate generally north of the twenty-seventh parallel on Japanese lines of communications and strategic targets, and the Tenth Air Force as the tactical air force to cooperate with the Chinese ground armies operating south of the twenty-seventh parallel.

Postwar Occupation, Evacuation and Supply

With the end of the war, the Tenth Air Force was selected by the commanding general, Army Air Forces, China Theater, as the operating agency for all intra-China air transportation. Headquarters Tenth Air Force, moved back to Kunming on August 25 1945. A partial indication of air power’s contribution to the victorious results attained in the China-Burma-India Theater is provided in a tabulation of statistical data based on claims submitted by the operating air forces. 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 objectives.

Air Power in India-Burma

Air power not only played the major role in 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. 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. By direct attack on enemy troops, installations, equipment and lines of communication, air power aided in the destruction of the Japanese forces in Burma. From India-Burma, air power supplied the military effort in China in the greatest air transport effort of its time.

Air Power in China

Air power was instrumental in preventing the occupation and control of all of China by the Japanese armies. 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 disruption of the entire Japanese war economy and war making potential. 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. China based air power contributed heavily to the attrition of the Japanese military power.


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. 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. 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 supplied, new airfields constructed and personnel made available, the intensity of the ground and air operation increased. The ability of air transport to adequately provide for combat forces isolated from land and sea lanes of communication was amply demonstrated. 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.
[2] 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.
[3] Force may be massed, supplied and sustained anywhere in the world.
[4] 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

Air Organisation India-Burma

During the period December 7 1941 to October 30 1942, the Tenth Air Force was as follows :
– India Air Task Force
– China Air Task Force
– Karachi American Base Command
– Tenth Air Service Command
– India-China Ferry Command

During the period October 3 1942 to December 15,1943, the British Royal Air Force and the American Army Air Force air units operated under separate command. Coordination was by mutual agreement.

December 1 1942
The India-China Wing of Air Transport Command was activated at Chabua, Assam and took over the Hump operations.

March 10 1942
the Fourteenth Air Force was activated from the China Air Task Force and became an independent air command.

July 29 1943
Headquarters Army Air Force, India-Burma Sector was activated.

December 15 1943
the Southeast Asia Command was created for the joint British and American prosecution of the war in Asia. Following major commands resulted :
– Eastern Air Command
– 222nd (Coastal) Group, RAF
– 225th (Coastal) Group, RAF
– Air Transport Command
– Twentieth Bomber Command
– Fourteenth Air Force
– Hq Army Air Force India-Burma Sector, CBI Theater

14th AIR FORCE HQ – MARCH 10 1943
234th Fighter Group
11th Bomb Squadron
308th Bomber Group

14th AIR FORCE HQ – JANUARY 1 1944
68th Composite Wing
230th Fighter Group
69th Composite Wing
51st Fighter Group
308th Bomb Group
21st Photo Recon
11th Bomb Group
3rd Fighter Group
1st Bomb Group

14th AIR FORCE HQ – JANUARY 1 1945
68th Composite Wing
230th Fighter Group
308th Bomb Group
Miscellaneous Units
34th Fighter Group
(P-40 & P-51)
5th Fighter Group
1st Bomb Group
69th Composite Wing
312th Fighter Wing
51st Fighter
Group (P-40 & P-51)
341st Bomb
Group (B-25)
311th Fighter
Group (P-51)
81st Fighter
Group (P-47)

The India-China Ferry

As part of its mission, the Tenth Air Force contributed heavily to the early Allied effort in the China-Burma-India Theater by its ferrying operations. Though confronted with shortages of personnel and equipment, lack of suitable fields and adequate protective facilities, the 1st Ferrying Group, continued operations, transporting supplies into Burma and China. While the Japanese were closing in on important bases along the route, they evacuated wounded soldiers and civilian refugees to the limit of their capacity. Due to operational difficulties, the original plan of establishing two commands, the Trans-India, to operate from Karachi to Dinjan in Assam, and the Assam Burma China, to operate from Dinjan to Kunming, China, was discarded in favor of one command, the India-China Ferry. The Assam Burma China Ferry, under the command of Col Caleb V. Haynes retained its identity, however, for several months. Immediate attention was given this route due to the necessity of transporting supplies to China, whose morale had suffered a serious setback with the fall of Rangoon. The carrying capacity of the Ferry Command was increased by an addition of ten Pan-American DC-3s from Africa.

Early in April, these planes were utilized in transporting 30.000 gallons of gasoline and 500 gallons of oil to airfields in China. This fuel will be used by sixteen B-25s which were moving across the Pacific aboard an aircraft carrier, preparatory to executing a daring attack on the Japanese homeland, (Doolittle Tokyo Raid). Later these transports were employed in accomplishing greater tasks. When the Japanese major advance through Burma threatened to overrun the British and Chinese defenders, the DC-3s carried ammunition and supplies into the battlefield area, and evacuated the refugees and wounded personnel. After the fall of Mandalay on May 1, the planes were loaded to capacity evacuating as many passengers as possible before the Japanese could close on points along the ferry route to China. Though the planes were unarmed and subject to enemy attack, not one transport was lost in these operations.

The susceptibility of Dinjan to Japanese attack, forced the pilots and crews to get the planes off the field at dawn. Planes and pilots were working to a maximum, even after the fall of Myitkyina, on May 8, in dropping food and supplies to the retreating defenders of Burma. The fall of Burma dictated a change in the air and ground plans of operations. Heretofore, the Ferry service was considered merely as a supplement to the regular supply lines. It was now necessary to build an air cargo service with capacity enough to replace the Burma Road. From this standpoint, the ferry operations during April, May and June provided an experience which later assisted in developing aerial cargo service over the Hump on a much larger scale. The loss of bases in Burma and the heavy rains of the monsoon season reduced the amount of supplies carried over the Himalayas to about 800 tons a month. The Japanese would be ready for the big push into India when the heavy rains ceased to fall.

The initial work on the establishment of ground services essential to air combat was accomplished during the Burma operations, utilizing the few reinforcements arriving at Karachi for the Tenth Air Force. On May 1 the Tenth Air Service Command was activated under Brig Gen Elmer E. Adler. Necessary cadres were taken from other units of the Tenth Air Force. The main depot was located at Agra, approximately 700 miles east of Karachi. Later in the month the 3rd Air Depot Group arrived at Karachi. The 3rd Air Depot was established at Agra on May 28. The immediate task was the construction of barracks and an airdrome in which native workers assisted. To provide front line service to the combat units, the 59th Materiel Squadron was divided into small base units and located at Allahabad, Xunming, Agra, Dinjan-Chabua, Chakulia and at Bangalore, where an aircraft manufacturing plant was being converted into a repair and overhaul depot.

Early Operations of the Tenth Air Force

While elements of the Tenth were involved the preparation of supply depot facilities and transporting supplies and evacuating refugees, the bombardment groups were preparing for air strikes against the enemy. The night of April 2/3 1942 marked the beginning of bombing missions. A flight of two B-17s and one LB-30, led by Gen Brereton, attacked shipping at Port Blair, Adaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Another attack was scheduled for targets in the Rangoon, but wasn’t completed due to difficulties occurring during the take-off. These operations entailed the use of an advanced base near Calcutta, a distance of 1200 air miles (1900 Kms) from Karachi. Subsequent operations were characterized by the same difficulties of distance and shortage of aircraft, as well as by unfavorable weather conditions. Consequently these missions were little more than harassing missions. Bombers operating from the advance bases at Asanol and Dum Dum, Burma bombed Rangoon shipping and air facilities. Due to lack of spare parts and major repairs required the bombing missions were restricted to the limited operational aircraft available. During this period operations were suspended for a two week period while necessary repairs were being made. Operations were further hampered during the summer of 1942 due to the adverse weather at times grounding all bombers for weeks.

Taking advantage of this respite the Tenth improved early warning and antiaircraft facilities in the Assam and Calcutta areas. Improvement of the Allied situation in the Indian Ocean permitted movement of airbases eastward. The 436th Bombardment Squadron moved on June 1 to Allahabad, joining the 9th Bombardment Squadron, Headquarters of the 7th Bombardment Group moved to Barrackpore, near Calcutta. The 51st Fighter Group was moving units into Kunming and Dinjan, while the 23rd Fighter Group and the 11th Bombardment Squadron were assembling in China. This latter move was partially in anticipation of replacing the American Volunteer Group in China whose contracts would expire on July 4 1942, but mainly to provide increased air support for the British and Chinese forces operating in China. The situation for the Tenth was taking on a brighter hue by June. Definite policies had been established in defining the mission of the air force. Relations between the theater commander and the air force and disposition of forces in China had been decided upon. As stated before, ferry and service organizations were operating and the badly needed combat units with personnel and equipment were due in.

(Above) Gen Clayton Bissell, 10th Air Force, Burma, 1943. (Bellow) C-47, #-118554, 10th Air Force, Burma

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. Late, in June 1942, the British suffered a major defeat in the Battle of Knights-bridge, in Cyrenaica. Gen Brereton, with all available bombers, was ordered to the Middle East. He left India on June 26 with key officers to establish operations in the Middle East. This left a seriously crippled Tenth in India under the command of Brig Gen Earl L. Narden.

China Air Task Force

Initially, the China Air Task Force was composed of the 23rd Fighter Group, the 16th Squadron of the 51st Fighter Group, one flight of the 9th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, and several flights of the 11th Squadron (M) of the 7th Bombardement Group. Operational aircraft numbered approximately seven B-25s and thirty P-40s. This force faced the problem of conducting a 5000 mile (8000 Kms) front extending from Chungking and Chengtu to the Indo-China Red River in the south, the Tibetan Plateau and the Salween River in the west and the China sea in the east. In order to bring the important enemy targets in southern China within range of the B-25s and the P-40s, operations were conducted from a string of bases running in a northeast southeast line starting at Hengyang, followed bu Lingling, Kweilin, Leuchow and Nanning. In order to guard the ferry operating over the Hump, aircraft operated from Yunnanyi, in western China and Dinjan in Assam. Although operating against numerically superior forces, the American flyers continued to inflict losses to the enemy with minimum loss to themselves. Bomber strikes included attacks on important Japanese airfields at Nanchang, southwest of Hankow, and Tien Ho airdrome at Canton, in an effort to reduce the Japanese numerical superiority. Fighter aircraft challenged every Japanese bomber raid over free China, accounting for a number of enemy aircraft during every engagement.

The excellent warning system developed in China was an invaluable aid to this air war in China. Fighter planes were given ample time to become airborne and gain an advantageous position for interception thereby depriving the Japanese of their chief weapon of surprise. As with the American Volunteer Group who preceded them, the China Task Force was forced, into periods of inactivity due to unfavorable weather, combat fatigue, exhausted supplies of bombs and fuel and need for aircraft repairs. These periods were used to improve their weapons, developing operating technique and planning future operations. On August 9, five B-25s and three P-40s attacked an important Indo-China Port of Haiphong, marking the first time the task force had reached outside of China or Burma to hit the enemy. A 4000 freighter was sunk in the harbor, large fires which burned for three days were started in the dock and warehouse area, while direct bomb hits on Japanese headquarters caused a number of casualties variously estimated at from 100 to 400. The task force was successfully employing guerrilla, hit and run, tactics against the Jap and keeping him guessing. Time after time the enemy would bomb a strip and later discover that the planes had previously moved to another field. In one of these moves, late in August, the bombers were transferred to Yunnanyi in Southeast China to bolster the Burma Campaign. During the last week of the month, the B-25s twice bombed Lashio, important rail center and air base. They crossed the border of Indo-China to attack enemy supply dumps at Hoang Su Phi and Phu Lo; and on the last two days of August they bombed Myitkyina, a northernmost depot of the enemy in Burma.

B-25-(H) Dolly (Air Commando) ending a bomb run over a Japanese airfield in Burma

Following this series of tasks, the bombers returned to Hepyang and Kweilan, leaving the Burmese operations during September and October to the two B-25s and a few fighters which had been stationed at Dinjan. The main part of the task force, in the meantime, carried out raids over occupied China, harassing shipping on the inland waterways, disrupting rail communications and destroying enemy aircraft on the ground and in the air. Early in October the bombers turned their attention southward in order to aid the Chinese who were opposing renewed enemy attempts to cross the Salween River. Eleven missions were flown against enemy targets in Northeast Burma, including supply depots at Tengchung, Mangshih, Wanling, Chefang and Lichiapo. With the end of the monsoon season, the enemy was expected to increase his air operation to the ferry service particularly along the western end of the route which terminated at Dinjan. The Tenth Air Force, charged with both operation and protection of the ferry service, was barely in a position to carry out either task. Some improvement had been brought about in the cargo service by leasing transport planes from the China National Airways Company. In order to provide more effective defense of the ferry and to aid Chinese resistance along the Salween, all the American combat units in India were organized as the India Air Task Force.

India Air Task Force

The India Air Task force was organized on October 30 under Brig Gen Calib V. Haynes as commander. With the major units of the Tenth operating in China, or with Gen Brereton in the Middle East, the initial strength of the India Air Task Force was almost negligible. To provide a measure of protection, the 26th Squadron and Headquarters 51st Fighter Group were moved to Dinjan. Difficulties were encountered in establishing an early warning system due to a lack of adequate equipment. Late in October, word came that the Tenth Air Force would be relieved of the responsibility of operating the Ferry, effective December 1. The First Ferrying Group was to be taken over by the Air Transport Command. Ferry operations were to be taken over by the India-China wing of the Air Transport Command with Col E.H. Alexander as head. The Tenth Air Force was still to have the responsibility of providing protection for the aerial life line to China. Before any of the force could be deployed the enemy attacked Dinjan on October 25. Approximately 100 enemy planes, equipped with belly tanks for the long flight from the distant air base at Lashio, bombed and strafed Dinjan as well as the newer airfields at Chabua, Mohanbari, and Sookerating. The Americans received little warning, consequently suffered heavy losses. Five transports, five P-40s and two P-43s were destroyed, while four transport and thirteen fighters were badly damaged. On the next day and on October 28, when the enemy came over again the India Air Task Force Squadrons were able to destroy fifteen Japanese raiders with little damage to themselves. These assaults had a telling effect on the dire need for the return of the heavy bombers which had accompanied Gen Brereton to the Middle East, and added emphasis to his requests that their be returned to Assam.

During the month of October, B-25s which had replaced some of the older B-17s, conducted bombing operations north of the Yangtze. The presence of the long range Liberator in the China-Burma-India Theater gave the Tenth Air Force a wider choice of targets and made it increasingly difficult for the enemy to predict where the next blows would fall. 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. This period marked the beginning of a six month campaign against the enemy which ended only with the arrival of the monsoon. The opening attack of this campaign occurred on November 20, when eight B-24s carrying 40.000 pounds of bombs attacked the marshalling yards at Mandalay and caused great damage there. 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. It may be said, that the American war effort in Burma was kept alive by the India Air Task Force. The port of Rangoon and the approaches to it were attacked by our heavy bombers, which also began a patrol of the Gulf of Martaban as far south as Tavoy Island and as far west as the Andaman Islands.

Air Operations in India and Burma – 1943

During 1943 the India Task Force concentrated on active defense of the Ferry Route between India and China and the airfields and equipment in the Assam area. This included the maintenance and operation of an adequate air warning system, continuous fighter protection for the area, offensive patrols in northern Burma with a concentrated effort to neutralize enemy airdromes, patrol of the Air Transport Command route through Burma, and escort of the Air Transport Command planes when necessary. American planes operating during the wet monsoon months in 1943 proved that operations could go on regardless of the weather. As a result, up to October, almost 65% of the rail facilities of Burma were destroyed, a great amount of shipping was sunk, whole areas of Japenese installations were devastated. By November 1943, the Tenth Air Force was making headway in gaining limited air superiority over Burma. That November, the Tenth joined Gen Stratemeyer’s Eastern Air Command, which in turn was a part of the Southeast Asia Command under Lord Louis Mountbatten. Its bomber forces were integrated with the Royal Air Force bombers to form the strategic Air Force, while its fighters united with the British fighters to form the 3rd Tactical Air Force. In June 1944, the Tenth Air Force re-assumed direct operational control of all its units.

During the interim period, the Japanese really began to feel the weight of American bombs. The strategic targets selected for the Tenth Air Force, whose headquarters had moved to Calcutta, were merchant shipping, docks, storage and repair facilities, including terminals, rail centers, important bridges, river shipping, rolling stock with particular emphasis on locomotives, and barracks. In seing, approximately 15 miles (20 Kms) north of Rangoon, one of the biggest railroad yards and the only one of its size in left to the Japs, was destroyed on November 27 1943. Heavy bomber sorties for the year 1943 mounted to 2751 with 4651 tons of bombs dropped. Light bombers flew 4003 sorties and dropped 4243 tons of bombs. Commencing in the fall of 1943, the Tenth Air Force offered aerial protection to Allied ground forces in north Burma. These forces, originally Gen Joseph Stilwell’s American-trained Chinese forces, were later joined by the famous American Jungle Fighters known as Merrill’s Marauders, the 5307th Composite Unit.

Merrill’s Marauders (named after Frank Merrill) or Unit Galahad, officially named the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional), was a United States long range penetration (LRPG) special operations unit in the South-East Asian Theater of World War II which fought in the Burma Campaign. The unit became famous for its deep-penetration missions behind Japanese lines, often engaging Japanese forces superior in number.

The high degree of mobility and secrecy which resulted from air supply as one of the chief reasons for the success of the Marauders. Casualties were evacuated by L-4s and L-5s based at Ledo. Landing and drop areas, rice paddies or gravel bars along the river, these light planes flew the wounded to rear echelon air strips or to collection and clearing companies along the Ledo River. 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. In pressing counter air action, Allied fighter cover soon dominated the Arakan battlefield, permitting hundreds of transports to fly in supplies to the besieged Seventh Division. A potential defeat was rapidly changing into a decisive victory. On March 27 1944, the Japanese Air Force made its last major effort against north Burma, the Assam air bases, and the Hump route to China. Eighteen enemy bombers and twenty fighters, in attempting to raid the Assam area were intercepted by P-40s and P-51s of the AAF 5320th Air Defense Wing. In the resulting air battle, eleven enemy bombers and thirteen enemy fighters were confirmed destroyed, at a loss of two American fighters.

The last serious effort of the enemy to challenge Allied air power in central Burma came in May 1944, when he sent fighter sweeps of as many as 20 to 30 Oscars, into the Imphal area to assist the Japanese forces in the drive to Kohima and to destroy Allied transport aircraft supplying the besieged Imphal garrison. He was consistently intercepted and came off the loser in the ensuing battles. The combined AAF-RAF 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 losses he suffered in the preceding months, coupled with air superiority now enjoyed by the Allied forces caused the enemy to employ conservative tactics. Japanese air activity almost ceased during the monsoon season. Fewer and fewer aircraft were active offensively, until finally, during the closing days of the Burma Campaign, few enemy fighters rose to defend even the most important installations.

In the face of Allied air pressure and ground advances the Japanese air activity shifted south to Pyinmana during February 1945. By advancing their air bases the Allies were in better positions to strike at bases deeper into the Japanese rear areas. During March, Toangoo and the surrounding airfields became the most important Japanese bases north of Rangoon. On March 8, AAF P-51s again attacked the main airdrome at Rangoon, Mingladon but were unable to find and destroy more than three enemy aircraft. On March 9 1945, 70 B-24s and a P-47 escort, bombed Rangoon against very weak aerial defense. The next day, 24 B-24s again bombed Rangoon targets, this time without any fighter interception whatsoever. In preparation for the move on Rangoon by the Allied Forces, strikes were made against Moulmein and airfields in Siam. So effective was the reduction of the Japanese force in this area that not a single enemy aircraft attempted to interfere with the Allied occupation of Rangoon. At the time Rangoon fell, the Japanese Air Force strength in Burma was zero and an estimated maximum of 50 aircraft was based in Siam.

The role of the Tenth Air Force in China may be divided into three headings :

    Direct assistance to the China theater while based in Burma

      – Air movement of the Fourteenth and Twenty-second Divisions from Burma to China, December 5 1944 to January 6 1945
      – Air operations on the Salween River in support of China Expeditionary Force, August 1944 to January 1945

    The China offensive
    Postwar occupation, evacuation and supply

Air Operations on the Salween River

To augment the support of the Chinese Expeditionary Force by the Fourteenth Air Force, the Tenth Air Force established 8 radio link between their Headquarters in Burma and the Sixth-ninth Composite Wing of the Fourteenth. This enabled the Fourteenth to call for air strikes by the Tenth Air Force on targets holding up the advance of the Chinese Expeditionary Force. The additional air power proved necessary since the Fourteenth Air Force was insufficient supplies to provide all of the air effort required.

American Volunteer Group

The operations of the Fourteenth Air Force can conceivably, be considered as starting with the action of the American Volunteer Group, which went into action in December 1941. For six months thereafter, the Flying Tigers were almost, the sole hope of the Chinese forces, which for more than four years had been fighting desperate battles with little help from the Allies. In fact, the American Volunteer Group provided the first organized air resistance the Japanese faced since the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The second prologue to the story of the Fourteenth Air Force is provided by the operations of the China Air Task Force which was activated in battle on July 4 1942. Chennault, who headed the American Volunteer Group, was recalled to active duty as a Brig Gen and named as Commander of the China Air Task Force. Mission given to the China Air Task Force was (a) defend the southern and eastern approaches to the Hump air route and its China terminals; (b) attack and destroy hostile aircraft, shipping, personnel supplies and installations in other areas when munitions are available and when such operations do not jeopardize the primary objective; and (c) give air support to the Chinese ground forces.

Maj Gen Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers before Pearl Harbor and the 14th Air Force after 1941 and one of the icons of the Allied war effort in the Pacific, with his staff car in China in 1944.

The China Air Task Force was assigned to the Tenth Air Force, but due to control difficulties, it was permitted to operate independently in the formulation of air plans and in carrying out air operations. The China Air Task Force operations represented a modest expansion of the American Volunteer Group effort. As With the American Volunteer Group, a controlling factor which limited operations to a great extent was the shortages of aircraft, personnel, spare parts, gasoline and other supplies. During its eight months of operation the China Air Task Force accounted for 182 enemy aircraft destroyed, 87 probably damaged, 350 tons of bombs dropped on enemy installations and 50.000 tons of enemy shipping sunk. On March 10 1943, the Fourteenth Air Force was activated from the China Air Task Force and became an independent air command responsible directly to the China-Burma-India Theater Commander. The Fourteenth Air Force grew steadily from a small force to a relatively large force with a strong striking potential. It conducted effective fighter and bomber operations along a 5000 mile front which extended from Chanking and Chengtu in the north to Indo-China on 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. The basic over-all mission of the Fourteenth Air Force was to prevent Japanese occupation of all China and subsequent capitulation of the Chinese National Government. To accomplish this ambitious but imperative mission, the Fourteenth struck and harassed the enemy from strategically located airbases in China. Taking full advantage of its interior positions, which were spotted on the hub of a semi circle stretching from Ichang to Hankow and down around the coast to Canton and Hong Kong, the Fourteenth was in a position to effectively attack the Japanese concentrated around the ring of this huge tub.

The Fourteenth jabbed the enemy off balance and kept him guessing by jumping all over the huge map of China. If the weather was unfavorable in northeast China. Chennault’s fighters and bombers concentrated their efforts on the rich targets to the south, often for days in succession. Time and time again the Japanese rushed reinforcements ­to the target area, thinking the Americans were intent on a prolonged attack on that particular spot. Having thus forced the opponent’s hand, Chennault would then either send his planes to strike at a relatively undefended area, or concentrate on the target which the enemy had reinforced, whichever promised the better results.

Supply Limitarions

In studying the operations of the air forces in China it is evidenced that the extent of the operations was tempered to a large degree, especially in earlier operations, by the limitations imposed by lack of adequate supp1y, coupled with the extreme difficulty of transporting supplies from India, and the subsequent distribution within China. Starting with 872 tons received in April 1943, the amount steadily grew each month reaching 6234 tons delivered in May 1944; thereafter the tonnages delivered increased from 12.537 tons in June 1944 to a peak month in July 1945 of 34.164 tons. The increase in tonnage parralled the growth in strength of the Fourteenth Air Force which reached its peek operating strength in 1945. In conducting counter air force operations, the Fourteenth Air Force employed the same units that was charged with air defense of their own bases. Numerically inferior in aircraft to the Japanese until the early part of 1945, the United States Air Forces proved more than a match for enemy, as evidenced by the eventual gain of air superiority in January 1945 which later was projected to complete supremacy of the air over China later in the year. An example of the disastrous result experienced by the Japanese in their conflicts with the Fourteenth Air Force is expressed in an analysis of the five major attacks by the Japanese against the airfield on Kunming in 1943. The enemy employed between 21 and 30 bombers and 20 to 50 fighters in each attack. Losses sustained destroyed, probably destroyed and damaged, totaled 150 aircraft. Opposition to these raids averaged twenty-five P-40s, one of which was lost and four of which were damaged.

As a result of these high losses, the Japanese abruptly terminated their daylight bombing program in China. Thereafter, during the balance of 1944, they attacked at night in smaller numbers but with greater frequency. Lacking antiaircraft artillery and night fighters, the Fourteenth Air Force employed day fighters in an attempt to break up these attacks. Only rarely were the day fighters successful when used at night. Japanese bombing was not accurate, however, and relatively little damage was done. During the period November 26 1943 and January 20 1945, major offensive strikes included attacks against the Shinchiku airdrome, Formosa; Pailochi, China; Tsinan airdrome, China; Tsingtao, China; Shanghai airdrome, China. In addition to inflicting substantial damage to the facilities in the areas, partial losses to enemy aircraft that rose in opposition amounted to 209 destroyed, 31 probably destroyed and 116 damaged. During 1943-1944 the United States Air Force encountered determined opposition from enemy fighters defending critical installations. During 1945, however, the enemy showed a marked and increasing unwillingness to commit aircraft, even in the defense of his most important installations. By January 1945, Allied ground and air installations in China were immune to enemy air attack, and United States Army Air Force aircraft were ranging at will over Japanese occupied areas without interception. Air superiority has been established.

During the period 1942 to 1945 the United States Air Forces in China destroyed, probably destroyed or damaged, on the ground or in the air, a total of 4412 Japanese aircraft with their own losses for the same period totaling 468 aircraft. In addition to defensive, and counter air offensive, the Fourteenth Air Force conducted extensive attacks on shipping, mining operations, railway and highway interdictions, attacks on troop concentrations, warehouse facilities, supply installations and close support of the Chinese ground forces. Attacks on shipping during the period 1942 to 1945, including small boats resulted in claims totaling 2.292.249 tons of enemy shipping sunk, probably sunk or damaged. Principal water area covered in these attacks embraced the sea lanes of traffic from the northern end of Formosa to Saigon. The area included Swatow, Kong Kong, Canton, Kainan Island, the Gulf of Tonkin and the Port of Saigon. Mine laying operations constituted another phase of air force strategic air programs. Coordinated with sea sweeps of the southeast and south China Coasts, mining of harbor areas at Haiphong, Canton – Hong Kong and at Shanghai were designed to reduce the availability of these ports to coastal shipping.

Mining of the approaches to Canton was probably the chief factor in stalling a Japanese drive, north from Canton in the summer of 1944. There can be no doubt that the mining operations took a substantial direct toll of Japanese shipping and had the indirect effect of markedly reducing the efficiency of shipping turn around time. More intensive than the mining of coastal areas at irregular intervals was the continuous mining undertaken against shipping in the Yangste River. In the seven months beginning with October 1944, B-24s laid nearly 200 tons of mines in the Hankow, Seymour, Ward and Blakenley reaches at and immediately down river from Hankow. The damage caused by these mines has not been definitely ascertained, however, it can be said that the additional difficu1ty caused had a reducing effect on his ability to move supplies and, troops on the Yangste River.

As easily as the American Volunteer Group, strafing and bombing of railways, locomotives, freight cars, rail yards and facilities have been lucrative and effective missions. These attacks continually disrupted the enemy movement of troops and supplies and were especially important as the Japanese advanced deeper into the interior. Tactical plans, in many instances, were altered when the supporting rail lines were rendered useless or incapacitated by American air action. The enemy tried for six years to build up the capacity of the railroads to a level commensurate with their needs. At least 75 percent of their failure can be attributed to the successive damage caused by the limited Allied air power in the China theater. It appears logical, therefore, to estimate that, had a relatively small increase in air power been available to permit attack of the Tsinpu railroad and its key installations, the whole system would have collapsed, with consequent earlier termination of the Japanese campaign in south China.

The Chinese Army sorely lacked air support in its earlier campaigns. They provided targets which the Japanese bombed and strafed at will, with virtually no opposition from the air or in the form of antiaircraft guns. Lacking this support they were repeatedly cut up and forced to withdraw to fight on terrain which afforded them the most natural protection. The little assistance provided by the American Volunteer Group and later the China Air Task Force immeasurably increased their morale and combat capability. As the support increased with the arrival of more aircraft operating with the Fourteenth Air Force, coupled with an increase in ground force strength provided by the United States and Britain, they were able to undertake offensive operations. The halt of some of the Japanese major drives can be traced directly to the close support provided by the Allied Air Forces. The best summation of the effect of Allied Air Force support of ground operations is indicated by the substance of statements made by high Japanese officers. They all agreed that their conquest of China Burma and India would have been successful, had not the Allied Air Forces interfered with their operations.

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

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(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)

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