Icarus in China : Western aviation and the Chinese Air Force, 1931-1941

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
John Alexander Lance (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
David Dorondo

Abstract: Between 1931 and 1941, General Jiang Jieshi (commonly referred to as “Chiang Kai-Shek” in the West) and the Chinese Nationalists—the Guomindang—battled internal rivals, as well as Japanese military forces, for control of China. Even though Jiang Jieshi was able to consolidate most of the aviation assets inside China under his command, the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy possessed large numbers of domestically produced aircraft and the well-trained aircrew needed to operate them. While the Chinese Nationalist armies could offset Japanese ground forces with superior numbers and strategic defense-in-depth, the Chinese Air Force was completely unprepared for extended operations against Japanese fighters and bombers. In an effort to close this aviation gap with the Japanese, the Chinese Nationalists employed a wide variety of European and American aviation advisors to improve the effectiveness of the Chinese Air Force. In the mid-1930s, Italian aviation advisors conducted basic flight training and assembled kit-built aircraft for the Chinese Air Force. Great Britain also sold a large number of civilian and military aircraft to various Chinese leaders during the early 1930s. However, the majority of aviation assistance came from two nations—the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union dispatched Red Army aviation advisory units to aid the Guomindang after the signing of the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1937 and the subsequent departure of German military advisors in 1938. American flyers, such as John Jouett and Claire Chennault, were hired by Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi to provide advanced flight training for the Chinese Air Force and to lobby the United States government for military aid during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Due to diplomatic developments, and with the exception of a small number of Soviet and American flight instructors, almost all foreign training and logistical support for the Chinese Air Force had ceased by the end of 1940. When the Soviet Union, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany signed a Non-Aggression Pact in 1939, the Soviet Union agreed to end all direct combat operations against Japanese forces in China, Mongolia and Manchuria by July 1939. In desperation, Chinese and American leaders agreed to fund, equip and deploy a small number of civilian “volunteers” that would fly fighter aircraft in direct support of Jiang Jieshi and his Nationalist forces. This group was officially called the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) but was later nicknamed “The Flying Tigers.” While small groups of Soviet and American advisors would remain in the employ of the Chinese Air Force throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Chinese Air Force would cease to present any kind of organized threat to Japanese military forces after the departure of Soviet combat squadrons and the arrival of the AVG.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2014
Chinese Air Force, Chinese Aviation, Foreign Military Advisors
China. -- Kong jun -- History
Aeronautics, Military -- China -- History
Air pilots, Military -- Training of -- China -- History
United States -- Military relations -- China -- History
China -- Military relations -- United States -- History
China -- Military relations -- Soviet Union -- History
Soviet Union -- Military relations -- China -- History

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