Flying Tigers (1942)



Director:  David Miller.

Cast:  John Wayne (Captain Jim Gordon), John Carroll (Woody Jason), Anna Lee (Brook Elliott), Paul Kelly (Hap Smith, pilot), Gordon Jones (Alabama Smith), Mae Clarke (Verna Bales),  Addison Richards (Col. R.T. Lindsay), Edmund MacDonald (Blackie Bales, pilot), Bill Shirley (Dale, pilot killed), Tom Neal (Reardon, pilot), Malcolm 'Bud' McTaggart (McCurdy, (pilot), David Bruce (Lt. Barton, pilot), Chester Gan (Mike, mechanic), Jimmie Dodd ('Mac' McIntosh, pilot), Gregg Barton (Tex Norton, pilot).

Black and white, 102 minutes.


This is just an o.k. film.  The film deals with Captain Jim Gordon (JohnWayne) dealing with the many problems faced by a leader of a group of volunteer pilots.  His worst problem is hot-rodder pilot Woody Jason (John Carroll) who is such an egotist that he is a threat to the close cooperation needed to bring down Japanese planes.  There is also a love story between Captain Gordon and nurse Brook Elliott (Anna Lee), but it's not much of a story.   

Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1931  --  Japan took over Manchuria, China. 

1937-1945  --  formal outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. Japan attacked China's coastal cities. The Chinese fighting forces went to the interior. Supplies came into Rangoon, then to Lashio in northern Burma, then over the Burma Road, and then to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Western China.

1937  --  Burma was politically separated from India and given full responsibility for its own military forces.

1937-38  --  Claire L. Chennault, a retired captain in the United States Army Air Corps, at the request of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, became involved in her reorganization of the Chinese Air Force.

1939  --  Burmese forces were placed under British Chiefs of Staff.

1940  --  the British provide direct military assistance to China through Burma. Chinese troops were trained in Burma and war material were sent to China via the Burma Road. 

1940-1941 (winter)  --  Chennault was in Washington helping to negotiate the purchase of 100 Curtiss P-40 fighter planes.  In addition, 100 pilots were recruited: 40 from the Army Air Corps and 60 from the US Navy and Marine Corps.  About 200 ground crew were also recruited. 

1941 (December 12)  --  as Japan threatened Burma, that country was handed back to India Command under the command of General Sir Archibald Wavell.

The Flying Tigers were stationed at a British airfield in Burma.  They attacked Japanese airplanes in groups because the American planes were not as maneuverable as those of the Japanese.  The AVG never had more than 62 combat-ready pilots and fighters.

The Flying Tigers was composed of three squadrons: 1st Squadron (Adam & Eves); 2nd Squadron (Panda Bears); and 3rd Squadron (Hell's Angels).   Two squadrons were based at Kunming in China and a third at Mingaladon near Rangoon, opposite ends of the Burma Road.

After Pearl Harbor, three squadrons of 250 volunteer airmen called the Flying Tigers commanded by Texas Col. Claire Chenault attempted to check the Japanese advance.  P-40Bs was the airplane used by the American Volunteer Group (AVG) in China.

1941 (December 12)   --  The third squadron moves to Rangoon to join the British Royal Air Force in the defense of Rangoon. In 10 weeks of  battle over Rangoon, they destroyed more than 200 enemy planes while losing only 16 of their own.  Winston Churchill cabled to the Governor of Burma: "The victories of these Americans over the rice paddies of Burma are comparable in character, if not in scope, with those won by the R.A.F. over the hop fields of Kent in the Battle of Britain."

1941 (December 20)  --  first combat for the Flying Tigers; shot down four Japanese bombers near Kunming.

1941 (December 23-25)  --  with 18 planes, the 3rd Squadron defended Rangoon, downing about 90 Japanese planes.

1942 (mid-January)  --  the Japanese attack Burma.

1942 (January 18)  --  the Japanese made their way over the steep and jungle-covered Tenasserim Range to attack Tavoy.  They overwhelmed the defenders, the 3rd and 6th Burma Rifles.

1942 (January 22)  --  the Japanese 55th Division began the main attack westward from Rahaeng, Thailand across the Kawkareik Pass. The Indian 17th Division was forced to retreat westward.

1942 (end of February)  --  the air battles over Rangoon end when the city falls to the Japanese. Japanese ground forces eventually drive the A.V.G. to bases at Magwe, Burma and into the Chinese interior. 

1942 (March 7)  --  the Allied military evacuated Rangoon.

1942 (May)  --  the retreat from Burma ended.

1942 (July 4)  --  The Flying Tigers disbanded.  The air operations in China were taken over by the China Air Task Force of the United States Army Air Forces, commanded by General Chennault.  The American unit was the 23rd Fighter Group. 

The AVG destroyed about 115 Japanese planes with the death, capture or disappearance of 13 of their pilots.  One of the more famous pilots was Gregory "Pappy" Boyington.  He was dishonorably discharged in April 1942, but went on to command the Black Sheep Squadron, a Flying Tiger type of air force operating from Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the nation of Vanuatu, part of the archipelago of the New Hebrides, Pacific region of Melanesia.    



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