A Few Planes for China: The Birth of the Flying Tigers

A Few Planes for China: The Birth of the Flying Tigers

by Eugenie Buchan


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On December 7, 1941, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into armed conflict with Japan. In the following months, the Japanese seemed unbeatable as they seized American, British, and European territory across the Pacific: the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies. Nonetheless, in those dark days, the US press began to pick up reports about a group of American mercenaries who were bringing down enemy planes over Burma and western China. The pilots quickly became known as Flying Tigers, and a legend was born. But who were these flyers for hire and how did they wind up in the British colony of Burma? The standard version of events is that in 1940 Colonel Claire Chennault went to Washington and convinced the Roosevelt administration to establish, fund, and equip covert air squadrons that could attack the Japanese in China and possibly bomb Tokyo even before a declaration of war existed between the United States and Japan. That was hardly the case: although present at its creation, Chennault did not create the American Volunteer Group. In A Few Planes for China, Eugenie Buchan draws on wide-ranging new sources to overturn seventy years of received wisdom about the genesis of the Flying Tigers. This strange experiment in airpower was accidental rather than intentional; haphazard decisions and changing threat perceptions shaped its organization and deprived it of resources. In the end it was the British—more than any American in or out of government—who got the Tigers off the ground. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the most important man behind the Flying Tigers was not Claire Chennault but Winston Churchill.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611688665
Publisher: University Press of New England
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

EUGENIE BUCHAN is an American independent historian living in London and the granddaughter of Bruce Leighton, a World War I naval aviator and international aircraft broker who played an early and crucial role in the birth of the Flying Tigers. She holds a PhD from Exeter University.

Table of Contents

Introduction • Chiang’s Rotten Air Force • Burma Roads • Plane Aid • Bruce Leighton’s Guerrilla Air Corps • Business, the Chinese Way • T. V. Soong’s Mission to Washington • A Few Planes for China • Roosevelt’s Dilemma • Bombing Japan • Tomahawks for China • Robbing Churchill to Pay Chiang • The Private Military Contractor • Diplomatic Skirmishes • Reinforcing the Philippines • Favoring Currie • The Mercenary’s Contract • Recruiters and Recruited • The International Air Force • Staying on in Burma • Squabbling over Bullets • AVG Summer Camp • The Short-Term Air Program for China • Currie Gets in a Jam • Magruder’s Mission • Countdown to War • Epilogue • Acknowledgments • Notes

What People are Saying About This

Daniel Ford

“Eugenie Buchan has done admirable research in the British archives. Her conclusions are certain to spark a lively debate, and her book will be a great help to future historians of the American Volunteer Group.”

Richard Overy

“Careful and convincing. . . A scrupulously informed and elegantly crafted deconstruction of the standard accounts. Above all, Buchan restores to wartime China a proper historical place in a narrative that has for too long been dominated by Western versions of events. . . . Historians of the war will be in her debt for finally putting the record straight after more than seventy-five years.”

Rana Mitter

“A splendid piece ofmyth-busting history.The story of how American assistance built up China’s air force has been surrounded by many myths from both sides. . . . Eugenie Buchan shows in rigorous detail how commercial motivations and political maneuvering in the wartime era affected the growth of Chiang Kai-shek’s air force. This is a forceful and deeply researched account of an important episode in wartime history.”

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