Claire Lee Chennault

Before he arrived in China, Claire Lee Chennault was considered a maverick by the United States Army Air Corps. While the Army Air Corp focused on high-altitude bombing tactics, Chennault advocated for the use of pursuit fighter aircraft. His ideas often put him at odds with his superiors, leading to his resignation from the military in May 1937 (Yu 24). Shortly afterward, Chennault travelled to China, where he accepted an offer to survey the Chinese air force.

When hostilities broke out between China and Japan, Chennault offered his services in fighting the Japanese. Chiang Kai-shek immediately placed him in charge of training China’s fighter groups (Yu 30). For Chennault, this was an opportunity to put his theories of fighter tactics into practice. In October of 1940, Chennault traveled back to the United States to seek military aid for China (Yu 34). This mission culminated in the formation of the American Volunteer Group, the legendary outfit known later as the Flying Tigers. Under his command, the Flying Tigers were successful in defending China from the enemy, despite being outnumbered. The United States’ entrance into the war removed the need for a volunteer air force. The American Volunteer Group disbanded in 1942, its duties replaced first by the China Air Task Force and then the 14th Air Force. Chennault continued to serve in China as commander of the 14th Air Force, replicating his early successes.

On August 1, 1945, Chennault left the country for which he had spent the last eight years fighting. On the way to the airport, many thousands of well-wishers lined the streets of Chongqing. Inspired, Chennault’s driver turned off the ignition and allowed the crowd to push the car to the airport (Scott 273).