Copyright (C) 1998 Fei Hu Films
Every once in a while one comes upon a film that leaves the viewer breathless. Fei Hu is that kind of film. Frank Christopher has presented the very best work on the AVG ever to appear on film.
Wonderfully put together with interviews, first rate writing and nearly an hour of home movie film shot by the Flying Tigers themselves, you will be enthralled by this film. I would urge anyone with an interest in the American Volunteer Group to purchase a copy on videotape. There is a link provided at the end of each page for that purpose. Fei Hu has become a centerpiece of my Flying Tiger collection, and no serious student of the AVG can afford to be without this film.
Fei Hu: The Script
Film footage of departure of the Jaegersfontein. Scenes on board.
On July 10th 1941, the Jaegersfontein set sail from San Francisco. Among the passengers on board the Dutch ship were one hundred and twenty young American men and women bound for China.
They traveled as missionaries, salesmen, poets, even circus performers, disguises barely masking their true identity. They were part of a secret air force, recruited from the ranks of the military to fight the Japanese, even though the United States was not yet at war with Japan. They were called the American Volunteer Group; AVG for short.
Many of the AVG were itching to get into combat. Some were attracted by the high salaries they were offered. Others were just bored with military life during peace time. Whatever their individual reasons for going to China, their lives would never be the same.
Film footage Robert "Moose" Moss on board ship.
ROBERT "MOOSE" MOSS
I'd never been outside the United States, I decided that it would be an adventure for me, at least a peep beyond the horizon for a country boy.
Film footage of P-40s in flight and in combat.
During the darkest days of the Second World War, the daring exploits of the AVG would lift the spirits of both the American and Chinese people. The Chinese would call them Fei Hu, after the shark's teeth painted on their planes. The world knew them as the legendary Flying Tigers.
THE STORY OF THE FLYING TIGERS
Film footage of Erik Shilling
What I knew about China at that time was only what I'd seen in the newsreels and it was showing what was commonly called the Rape of Nanking.
Film footage of Dick Rossi
But, you know, it's kind of long range at that time. You're sitting in a comfortable theatre seeing it.
Film footage of Ken Jernstedt
There was a deep-seated feeling, as far as I was concerned anyway, that there was something wrong going on there and maybe I could do a little thing to maybe right that wrong.
Hearst Newsreel from 1937 (UCLA) "China's Joan of Arc Arraigns Japan for War Horrors".
Amid the rain of death, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his American-educated wife, China's "Joan of Arc", direct the struggle against the invaders. Through News of the Day, Madame Chiang speaks a word for her people.
Death comes from the clear blue skies, just as it has come to thousands of our innocent people throughout the length and breath of our land. You have seen in the pictures, and you have read of the destruction of homes and the terrible slaughters being carried out by the Japanese throughout our country wherever their bombers could fly.
Film footage from "Battle of China" of the bombing of Shanghai.
Beginning in July 1937, at the start of the war between China and Japan, newsreel images of the first massive aerial bombardment of a civilian population would shock a world, not yet hardened to the horrors of modern warfare.
CHINESE AIR FORCE PILOT
The Japanese bombers came and they indiscriminately bombed the housing. And Shanghai is a very densely populated area and one bomb claimed hundreds of lives. The terror created in the population is vast.
CHINESE AIR FORCE PILOT
We suffer from the Japanese for the last maybe more than 100 years, my family lost everything. This all the more give us more courage to fight against them. No, we never surrender to the Japanese.
Film footage of Chinese agitators and marchers at anti-Japanese rallies.
The Japanese invasion produced a temporary halt to the internal strife that had made China an easy target for foreign aggression. The Chinese people were now determined to defeat the Japanese. But the will to fight, by itself, would not stop the Japanese bombers. To accomplish that, China needed a modern air force.
Film footage of early days of Chinese Air Force, including footage of Tiger Wang.
CHINESE AIR FORCE COMMANDER
It was difficult to establish the Chinese Air Force. We needed an aviation industry, which we did not have at that time. We needed aviators; there were not so many of them at that moment either. It was not that simple to develop aviation. We cannot train our own aviators by ourselves.
Footage of foreign pilots alongside Chinese pilots. Footage of Chennault with foreign pilots and Chinese.
The Chinese depended upon a small band of foreign pilots to help create an air force in the midst of the war with Japan. Among the foreign airmen who flocked to China to serve as combat pilots and flight instructors was a man from the backwoods of Louisiana who would later become known to the Chinese and American people as the commander of the Flying Tigers, Claire Lee Chennault.
Film footage of Chennault flying biplanes with "The Flying Trapeze".
Chennault was a throw back to the dashing pilots of the First World War. During the 1930s, he had been the leader of a popular flying team in the United States Army Air Corps, who called themselves, "The Three Men on a Flying Trapeze".
The daredevil stunts of the "Flying Trapeze" were proof to Chennault that fighter planes could engage in combat in close formation through the most violent of maneuvers. But the High Command of the Army Air Corps believed that a new generation of bombers had made fighter planes obsolete, a novelty to amuse the public but useless in modern warfare.
Film Footage of Flying Trapeze landing
After years of ridicule at the hands of his superiors, Chennault resigned from the Army Air Corps in frustration and accepted an offer to try out his tactical theories with the newly created Chinese Air Force.
Film Footage of Chennault in China.
Chennault had come to China at the invitation of Madame Chaing Kai-shek in June, 1937, one month before the start of the war with Japan. Once hostilities broke out, Chennault volunteered to help plan the first air battles of the war. The Chinese government ordered Chennault not to engage in combat. He was considered more valuable as a tactician and instructor than as a combat pilot. But the Chinese could not prevent him from making observation flights during aerial combat to study the strengths and weaknesses of the Japanese Air Force.
Film footage of Chennault with Chinese cadets in China.
Throughout the first years of the war, Chennault was assigned to the advance flight school of the Chinese Air Force. He was put in charge of selecting and training the best students for combat.
Film footage of Chinese pilots and Chennault.
CHINESE AIR FORCE INTERPRETER
Chennault, he always tells the Chinese pilots how to fight, how to dog fight and I was interpreter.
Film footage of P.Y. Shu and Chennault.
CHINESE AIR FORCE INTERPRETER
He told me they are not fighters. They cannot fight. They've never had experienced. They are students just from cadet school. No experience of fighting. He said Chinese Air Force is not ready yet.
Film footage of combat between the Chinese and Japanese Air Force.
CHINESE AIR FORCE
The Japanese, they had their zeros. They are much faster, much more maneuverable you see. And we had bunch of American old biplanes. They even shoot the machine guns through the propellers you see. There's no match.
CHINESE AIR FORCE PILOT
It's a lot of sacrifice. It is certain death to join the air force.
Paramount Newsreel of bombing of Chungking.
First pictures of Japan's heaviest air blitzkrieg on Chungking, Chiang Kai-shek's capital. Normally a city of 600,000, an additional half million refugees are packed in the city. Now, amazing scenes.
Footage of Japanese bombers bombing Chungking.
By the summer of 1940, the Chinese Air Force could do little to stop the daily raids by Japanese bombers against Chunking. Japan's three year old war with China seemed to be drawing to a final deadly conclusion.
Footage of Chiang Kai-shek meeting with military advisors. Film footage of Chennault, P.Y. Shu, Tiger Wang and an American at Chinese American gathering..
With Chungking under siege, and two thirds of Chinese territory now controlled by the Japanese military, Chiang Kai-shek needed a bold plan to save China from certain defeat. He proposed asking the United States to provide China with an air force, complete with American planes, pilots and ground personnel. With modern fighters and bombers, the Chinese could not only strike at targets inside Japanese-occupied China, but they could carry the war to Japan itself.
In the Fall of 1940, Chiang Kai-shek ordered Claire Chennault to join China’s delegation to the United States. Because of his close observation of the air war over China, Chennault could help the Chinese government convince President Franklin Roosevelt to provide China with a modern air force.
Chennault's mission to Washington offered him the opportunity of a lifetime. For if the Roosevelt administration agreed to China's request, Chennault would be appointed the commander of what would be known as the American Volunteer Group.
Film footage of FDR cabinet meeting, General Marshall meeting with Secretary of War Stimson.
At a special cabinet meeting on December 19th 1940, China's request was submitted to President Roosevelt. Strong opposition was voiced by the Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall and some members of the cabinet They were convinced that it was a dangerous idea to use American servicemen flying American planes to bomb a country with which the United States was not at war.
Film footage of FDR signing papers and the Curtis-Wright P-40 flying.
On December 23rd 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a secret order, approving a revised version of China's request. No bombers would be included. Instead, 100 Curtis-Wright P-40 fighter planes would be diverted from a shipment bound for England and sent to China.
Film footage of pilots and instructors after a training flight. Footage of the CAMCO offices in New York. Footage of a smiling FDR.
Since the Untied States was officially neutral in the war in China, the recruitment of American military personnel would have to be carried out in secret with no links to the Roosevelt Administration.
In April 1941, the Chinese government contracted with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, CAMCO, to assemble and maintain the P-40s, hire the necessary personnel and arrange for their transportation to and from China.
With CAMCO acting as an agent for the Chinese government, FDR could disclaim any involvement in what would appear to be a mercenary operation.
Film footage of Army Air Corps training.
When the recruitment of the American Volunteer Group began, the Army and Navy Air Corps were in the midst of their biggest expansion program since World War One. Their most experienced airmen were needed to train the future bomber and fighter pilots of the coming war.
I think most of us wanted to get out of the rut that we may have been in. Having been instructors all this time and figuring that there was gonna be a war coming on very shortly and we didn't want to be stuck in the training command as instructors when the stuff hit the fan. We wanted to get into something that allowed us a little more adventure and flexibility and of course all of us that went in wanted to fly fighters.
C. JOSEPH ROSBERT
One night when I came home from one of those flights, my buddy - roommate actually - he had been celebrating and he said "there's a fellow who's going to come on the station tomorrow morning and talk about flying fighters in China". And I said "you're drunk, go to bed."
We got a notice on the bulletin board there was going to be a guy there talking to us about, we didn't know what, anyway, we went into the building, and they closed the doors and Skip Adair was there to meet us and he gave us this, which at that time was sort of a song and dance.
Photos of Skip Adair as an instructor with the Chinese Air Force.
Skip Adair had worked with Chennault in China as a flight instructor. In the Spring of 1941, Chennault hired him to persuade pilots and ground crew to join the American Volunteer Group.
STEVE "SKIP" ADAIR
I was given a letter identifying me, a very simple thing. "This will introduce Mr. C.B. Adair, who will explain the nature of his business." Now that doesn't say much does it, but that's exactly the way it was.
ROBERT M. SMITH
Well, they told us we were going to protect the Burma Road. But they may have told pilots more than they told us.
DAVID "TEX" HILL
Well, hell, we didn't even know where Burma was, you know. So he pulled a big map down and said "This is Burma, this is the Burma Road, and these are the way supplies are going into China."
Aerial of Burma Road. Supplies being unloaded in Rangoon and brought by truck up the Burma Road to Kunming. Footage of Kunming.
With China's seaports under Japanese control, the 700 mile Burma Road became the only way for the Chinese to receive military aid. China's desperately needed war materials arrived first at the port of Rangoon, in the British colony of Burma. Once off-loaded in the harbor, the supplies were transported by train, reloaded onto trucks and carried over a narrow, twisting ribbon of a road before reaching the Chinese terminus at Kunming.
Film footage of Japanese taking off from airbase, in flight and then dropping bombs.
Taking off from bases in Indo-China, Japanese bombers could easily attack targets along the Burma Road and in the city of Kunming. Unless the American Volunteer Group could halt the bombings, China's last link to the outside world would be cut off.
The proposal to go over and defend the Burma Road hit home with me. Since I was 17 years old, I had read everything that Kipling had ever written twice over and that fabled land, I knew that I would never see it, but it was a place that I wanted to see.
Film footage of military airmen of various professions at airbases.
Throughout the Spring and Summer of 1941, the recruitment of a three hundred-strong volunteer air force was carried out at Army, Navy and Marine Corps bases across the country. Not only were pilots needed, but mechanics, armorers, radiomen, medical personnel and administrative staff.
One of the most appealing things in the very beginning was the fact that the pay scale was going to be so high. We were going to get more than a Major a 2nd Lieutenant gonna immediately go on a pay scale of at least that of a Major and then a small bonus of $500 for each plane that we shot down.
Hoh! it was adventure. I would have gone for $100 dollars a month. It was $300 a month and it was a chance to see the world.
JANE "RED" FOSTER
I was still not sure I wanted to go because I was dating somebody and finally this gentleman I was dating, I said, "If you marry me, I won't go," and he said, "I won't do that because you will regret it all your life." and I knew he was right. I knew I would be sorry if I didn't go.
Film footage of Army Air Corps training.
The recruitment of trained pilots and ground personnel for what appeared to be a mercenary air force created resentment within the Armed Forces that would sour future relations with the AVG.
ROBERT "BURMA BOB" LOCKE
So, Monday morning at 8 o'clock, we went into the Skipper's office and he wanted to know what we wanted to see him for and we said we're supposed to get out of the Navy, we're going to China, and he threw us out of the office.
He said, "Oh Skip, I'm not gonna let this guy go." I said, "You have nothing to say about it." You pick up the telephone and call Personnel right now. If you want to." That was usually enough but some of them did call.
Our Skipper flew up to Washington to try to block it, his name was Bill Harris and he tried to block it but he came back he said "I don't know what this is all about fellows, but it's bigger than me" and so he gave us a party.
Film footage of AVG gathering in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Photos of different groups of AVG in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Film footage of AVG boarding ship and saying good bye to family and friends.
The new members of the American Volunteer Group were allowed to resign from the military with the understanding that once their contracts expired in a year, they could return to the service without any loss of rank or seniority.