Pictorial History of the Flying Tigers
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It opens with a good capsule history of China starting with it’s first unhappy encounters with the west to the unbelievable horrors inflicted on the Chinese civilian population by the Japanese bombing of it’s cities. Many of the AVG saw the results of these bombings first hand. There are a number of very sad photos of the suffering of the Chinese people. A background is also supplied on the AVG’s charismatic leader, Claire Lee Chennault, who was also one of the greatest aviators and air tacticians who ever lived. He personally shot down over forty Japanese planes while flying a Curtiss Hawk 76. It explores the fascinating story of how the AVG came to be in the context of those very turbulent times. It also details the close involvement of Generlissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, the beautiful and well educated former Mai-ling Soong, bettter known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, with the Fying Tigers or Fei Hu, as the Chinese called them. For more on the convoluted history of China read Stering Seagrave’s “The Soong Dynasty”. Much about the China that the AVG existed in will then become clear.
The book has many wonderful photos of AVG members at the time of their recruitment as mercenaries for the Chinese as well as many photos of their voyages on ships bound for China and Burma.
It also delves into the reasons that many had for going to Asia. For most it seems, it was for the adventure, and an adventure it most certainly was.
Aside from photos of the pilots the book also has many pictures of the ground support personnel, including the medical staff, that were so essential to the successful air operations of the AVG. The author’s father was an armorer for the second pursuit squadron and one of only three such men to be decorated. The time the that the AVG spent at Toungoo in Burma training is well represented here. The conditions in Burma were very bad as the heat and humidity were almost unbearable to westerners. Many members quit early on because of the harsh conditions and the reality that the Japanese were very tough opponents indeed. The ones that remained were determined to succeed.
There is also an interesting section on the amazing and dangerous Burma road, a major engineering feat in itself, and the trevails that the AVG suffered in their retreat from Burma to bases in China.
Separate sections of the book deal with each of the three pursuit squadrons and their incredible air exploits. There are many photographs of the AVG members personal items, uniforms, souvenirs, and personal weapons. One very very poignant photograph shows the telegram sent By Pilot John Donovan to his family telling them a grim farewell as he knew he was going to die on his next mission. He was shot down and killed over Hanoi, Vietnam.
The color section also contains some excellent photos by Claire Booth Luce, a Time correspondent and later a member of Congress. This outstanding book will leave the reader with an great sense of what it must have been like to be there for that amazing year of history.
It also shows very clearly that in the military it dosen’t pay to succeed using unconventional methods. I do believe that the same holds true today.
Absolutely essential for the bookshelf of every Flying Tiger or China Burma India Theater buff.