Episode 204: The Flying Tigers: Secret US Mercenaries of WWII

On today’s episode of the Sofa King Podcast, we look at unique group of U.S. World War Two mercenary pilots called the Flying Tigers. Formally known as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), this group of pilots were basically a black-ops mission. They were authorized directly by President Roosevelt but were a top secret organization. In fact, the pilots who joined the AVG had to travel out of country on false passports which were drawn up by the government.

The pilots and support staff of the Flying Tigers were all given a one year contract in 1941 to help serve in the Chinese Air Force to defend their country against Japanese aggressors. Generalissimo Chiang Kai Chek, the head of the Chinese military, learned of the amazing American pilots after one of his men saw Colonel Claire Chennault doing extremely difficulty air maneuvers as part of a show. Chennault was fired from the Air Force for his bold ideas that the higher ups didn’t appreciate, and the very same day, he was hired by China to help oversee their pilot training.

Giving himself the rank of colonel (he was a major), Chennault started to work in China in the late 1930s as an advisor. By the time the Flying Tigers officially formed in 1941, Chennault already knew the politics, the area, and Japanese tactics. Once he was given one hundred aircraft (Curtis P-40 Warhawk fighter planes), they started to strike.

A few days after the attack on Pearly Harbor, when America was reeling, and all of their resources were destroyed or being re-routed, The Flying Tigers were able to attack. They started to score victory after victory in the Japanese theater, and they were far more effective than the typical Chinese or even American fighter squad. Their kill ratio by the end of their one year contract was astounding (1500 Japanese pilots were killed and only 25 Fighting Tigers!!!). After Pearl Harbor, these flyboys went from America’s biggest secret to America’s biggest heroes and helped with the propaganda war machine.

One thing that was unique about them was a true lack of structure. Not quite part of the Chinese military nor the U.S., they sort of did what they wanted as long as they got the job done. They rode around on local animals, drank a lot, had a pet leopard, and apparently all made love to the same woman (one of the pilot’s wives). It is as cool a World War Two story as I’ve ever encountered.

How did they maintain their staggering win ratios? Where did they get transferred to once the war was officially in full swing? How were they blackmailed into staying in the Airforce once their contracts were up? Why was it so hard for them to make their way home? What’s their connection with the Hell’s Angels? Listen, laugh, learn.

Great Article: http://www.historynet.com/american-volunteer-group-claire-l-chennault-and-the-flying-tigers.htm

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