05 March 2008

Let 'em Roar: Flying Tigers, Disney, Air America and the CIA.


The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) is better known by their more popular title, The Flying Tigers. Organized in the early years of World War II, this group of volunteers fought with the Chinese against the Japanese invasion with a considerable amount of success. Although their fighter, the Curtiss P-40, was outclassed in dogfighting with the very agile Mitsubishi Zero, a change in tactics and approach to air combat somewhat evened the odds.


What you might not know about this unit, however, is the hidden history of the squadron insignia...the fact that it was designed by the Disney studios. Says Toons at War:

"...One interesting item of note is the fact a squadron of P-40 Flying Tigers fighters, (piloted by a group of American volunteer pilots who fought alongside Chinese Nationalist forces), is shown coming to the aid of Chesty and his friends. In real life, the insignia for the Flying Tigers was created by Disney artist Hank Porter..."

Source: (Toons At War)


FDR also played a primary role in the formation of the unit, personally stepping in and "borrowing" some P-40's that were bound for England, changing their destination to China under the lend-lease act. This unit also contained some famous volunteers. Included in this is Gregory "Pappy" Boyington of the famed VMF-214 fighter squadron, the "Black Sheep". In the later part of the war, the unit was gradually rolled into the regular United States forces and became part of the 14th Air Force.

Postwar, two interesting developments happened. The leader of the Flying Tigers, Chennault stayed in China and formed the Civil Air Transport, supporting the Chinese Nationalists in their struggle. Also known as the CAT, they became involved with the Central Intelligence Agency through the fifties and sixties, eventually becoming the unit known as Air America.

Another flying outfit organized from some of the pilots was the Flying Tigers Line, organized in 1946. Famous for flying the first commerical cargo route postwar, this airline flew into the 1980's before being taken over by Federal Express.

What a post...some great history today! Please take a few moments to check the links out as there is some really great information.

Have a great day, see you tomorrow!


Flying Tigers (Wikipedia)


Dan Ford said...

Thanks for the memory of the AVG Flying Tigers! But note that they never met the Mitsubishi Zero in combat. Instead, they were fighting the Japanese Army Air Force, which flew two versions of Nakajima fighters, one rather similar to the Zero but perhaps not as formidable. More about all this at Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942, published last year by HarperCollins. Also see the Annals of the Flying Tigers. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Tony Bandy said...

Hi Dan! Good point! I just found this update in addition to the data you provided:

"... (Many stories about the AVG tell of fights with the Japanese Zero. In actuality, the Flying Tigers never faced the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. By December 1941, it had been withdrawn from China for employment elsewhere in the Pacific. The AVG’s opponents were the Japanese Army’s Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar, which strongly resembled the Navy’s Zero, and the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate. According to Flying Tiger communications tech Robert M. Smith, “The AVG called all Japanese fighter planes Zeros.”)..."

Source: http://www.afa.org/magazine/dec2006/1206tigers.asp

Your book looks great!