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The Japanese invaded parts of China before they attacked the US at Pearl Harbor. The Chinese tried to fight to hold back the advance of the Japanese. The Chinese did not have sufficient air force to send up against the Japanese. The US could not send troops or military equipment as they were not at war.

A group of volunteers were gathered from the US and sent over to fly American-made P-40 Tomahawks in support of the Chinese. Their aircraft were painted with a shark's teeth on the nose and the national insignia was the 12-pointed white star on a blue circle--not US marking. Their squadron marking was a V with a flying-tiger jumping through it.

Typically, the American was an experienced pilot in the Army or Navy and the government allowed him to be discharged. He signed a contract with someone representing the Chinese government to fly and fight for them. They were sent over on a commericial ship and registered as a "missionary" or "businessman". (I've seen a contract and ship roster from a collection of one of these airmen.)

This group of volunteers were called the American Volunteer Group. The fought for the Chinese until Japan attack US and war was declared. Most of these volunteers re-joined the US Military at that time and they adopted the same shark teeth for their aircraft markings.

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The Flying Tigers (or AVG) were created by US General Chennault to fight a war in which the US was not able to participate officially. 100 Curtiss P-40s were ordered by Great Britain, but they were not delivered because the British lacked pilots to fly them. Chennault acquired them and recruited US pilots who joined for adventure, money, or idealism. Not all of these pilots were fighter pilots, and several of the P-40's were crashed before the Flying Tigers entered combat. Documents declassified in 1991 reveal that Chennault urged the formation of a second fighter group, and a bomber group (equipped with a bomber version of the Lockheed Electra to bomb Japan from Chinese bases), but Pearl Harbor ended these plans. After the US went on the offensive, the Flying Tigers were betrayed by the US. The shark face appeared on other P-40s in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater, but with USAAC insignia instead of the Nationalist Chinese star insignia. General Stilwell was part of this conspiracy, and thereafter any USAAC fighter pilot in the CBI had the right to call himself a Flying Tiger. Robert L. Scott (author of God is my Co-pilot) was one of these Flying Tiger latecomers, and he was an ace, but he was not part of the original AVG.

  • As to the shark face on the P-40, Chennault saw a photo in Life Magazine of a British P-40 in North Africa painted in such a way, and he ordered the AVG planes to be painted in the same way to terrify the Japanese.
  • The three squadrons of the Flying Tigers racked up an incredible number of kills, and provided the Allies with their only victory in late '41 and early '42. [Everywhere else, the Allies were clearly losing the war.]
  • Original AVG pilot Gregory Boyington apparently took a tip from General Chennault and formed his own US Marine fighter squadron called the Black Sheep which racked up an incredible number of kills in the South Pacific in 1943, and he finished the war with 28 kills (six with the Flying Tigers and twenty-two with the Black Sheep).
  • If not for The US entry in World War 2, the Flying Tigers would certainly have achieved more than they did. Even still, their achievements are amazing, and they can be compared with those of RAF Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Yet, the Flying Tigers had fewer airplanes of lesser quality, primitive communications, no radar, and a much larger airspace to defend.
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Q: What was the purpose of the Flying Tigers in World War 2?
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