With Chennault in China: A Flying Tiger’s Diary, by Robert M. Smith, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pa., 1997, $29.95.
The Flying Tigers’ success against the Japanese in China during World War II is still a prime example of how determination and organization can sometimes make up for a deficiency in resources. While China was just one part of the so-called China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations, it was still a very large area, and it is difficult to see, even with the advantage of hindsight, how the leaders of that time thought that 100 pursuit aircraft and 252 American volunteers, the American Volunteer Group (AVG), could have any kind of significant impact on the Imperial Japanese Army in China. Yet this group, which included support personnel of all types as well as pilots, is credited with destroying a total of 650 Japanese aircraft in the air and on the ground during its brief existence from December 1941 to July 1942. It also significantly slowed down the Japanese advance on the ground in China.
In this remarkable David-vs.-Goliath contest, the Flying Tigers gained their advantage from the aircraft spotter detection and warning system set up by Colonel Claire Chennault. Through that system, the progress of a Japanese air attack force could be accurately tracked across China, and the Tigers could be vectored to pounce where they knew the enemy bombers would be. With Chennault in China is Robert M. Smith’s diary of a communications specialist, an AVG volunteer who helped set up and make that pre-radar early warning system work. Smith describes the specialist’s journey to China–quite a trek in itself in the days before intercontinental air travel–the Chinese he worked with, the unspoiled countryside and his day-to-day efforts to keep the Japanese at bay. As a bonus, the book is filled with photos of AVG personnel and their surroundings in wartime China.
John I. Witmer