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Fourteenth Air Force Operations
January 1943-June 1944
EACH time the desirability of expanding American air strength in China was discussed, Hump tonnage was recognized as the barrier. In January 1943, Arnold had felt that an additional squadron of medium bombers was the only aid to the Chinese effort which prospects for the Hump lift would permit, and Chennault agreed that the mediums would be the most effective instrument for increasing the striking power of his China Air Task Force. With the decision to activate the Fourteenth Air Force, however, came an upward revision of the projected strength of Chennault's command. But a significant increase in Hump traffic was yet to be achieved, and the 308th Bombardment Group (H), which arrived in March, plus the four fighter squadrons, one medium squadron, and a photo reconnaissance detachment already on hand were to represent the entire strength of the Fourteenth Air Force until late in the summer.
Meanwhile, the American air force in China fought a battle of survival. Since 1 December 1942, the few medium bombers available to Chennault had almost ceased operations because of a fuel shortage. Fighter squadrons had to be pulled out of such advanced eastward posts as Kweilin, Ling-ling, and Hengyang for aircraft maintenance and repair and to rest pilots, leaving those outlying bases practically without defense. At length it became impracticable even to continue the token assistance to the Chinese troops in western Yunnan.1
B-24's Join the Fight
The Fourteenth Air Force thus began its operations under conditions somewhat less than favorable. Because of bad weather, the fuel shortage,
and a long-standing need for complete overhauling of equipment, none of the squadrons could be immediately returned to the eastern bases but remained in the vicinity of Kunming and Yunnani. For a while, only minor operations against transportation in Burma and against Japanese ground forces along the Salween were undertaken. A series of unopposed missions to Indo-China, flown in the latter part of March, largely by bomb-carrying P-40's, damaged phosphate mines in the Lao Kay area and warehouses, rolling stock, and river transportation from Lao Kay to Haiphong and Hanoi.2
On 1 April an enemy attack on Ling-ling was turned back by the 75th Fighter Squadron, which had just established itself there. Bad weather restricted air activity for three weeks, although on 8 April the 16th Fighter Squadron, recently moved to Kweilin, ran a successful mission of ten planes to Fort Bayard. Meanwhile the 74th Fighter Squadron from Yunnani was running regular offensive reconnaissance along the Burma Road from Lung-ling to Lashio, and on 24 April mediums from Kunming hit the Namtu mines in Burma. On that day a light attack at Ling-ling was averted, but two days later the Japanese executed a surprise attack on Yunnani. For days the enemy planes had feinted at Yunnani without attacking, thereby forcing the Americans to use precious gasoline on abortive alerts. On this particular day the warning net reported that the enemy planes were turning back as usual and the defenders remained on the ground. Shortly, the Japanese caught twenty P-40's on the field, destroying five and damaging all the others.3
Two days later the enemy tricked Kunming with the same ruse. A high wind and interference from two defending fighters which chanced to be airborne perhaps saved the base from serious damage. Most of the bombs fell to one side of the main installations. Brig. Gen. Edgar E. Glenn, who had recently arrived to become Chennault's chief of staff,* was slightly wounded. The Japanese, having twenty bombers and a like number of fighters, did not escape without injury, however, as 75th Squadron aircraft, brought over from Ling-ling in anticipation of just such an attack, shot down ten of the fighters before they escaped to the southwest. Meantime, the Japanese hit Ling-ling in the absence of the 75th at Kunming, but their aim was poor. When they attempted to repeat the attack on 2 May the 75th had returned, and the P-40's drove the attackers away with serious losses.4
* See above, p. 441.
While Chennault was in Washington for the TRIDENT sessions, Col. Eugene H. Beebe prepared his 308th Bombardment Group for its debut in China. Gasoline and bombs having been stocked, on 4 May, eighteen B-24's and twelve B-25's accompanied by twenty-four fighters ran the heaviest bombing mission from China up to that time; the mission gained further significance from the fact that Chinese aviators acted as co-pilots in the Mitchells. Taking off from Cheng-kung, Yankai, and Kunming, they proceeded to Lao Kay, thence along the Red River to Hanoi where they separated, mediums and fighters veering off toward Haiphong and the heavies continuing across the Gulf of Tonkin to Sama Bay at the southern tip of Hainan Island. At Haiphong, clouds protected the cement works, the primary target, and prevented close observation of the results obtained when bombs rained on harbor installations. At Sama Bay the Liberators hit the airdrome, a coalyard, docks, an oil refinery, and a fuel dump. Opposition from the air did not appear and antiaircraft fire was surprisingly light and inaccurate. One B-24, however, was abandoned near Lao Kay on the return, with one crewman killed. The first heavy bomber mission by the Fourteenth Air Force was a success.5
Four days later the Liberators, again accompanied by Mitchells and fighters, struck the Tien Ho airdrome at Canton. The mediums took the airdrome itself while the B-24's attacked the barracks and storage areas. No interception took place until completion of the bomb run, although a B-25 exploded just as it opened its bomb-bay doors. Bomb patterns were good. The main hangar was completely wiped out and smoke from gas and oil blanketed the area for two days. After the bombing some twenty enemy fighters intercepted, pressing their attacks with unusual determination, but their eagerness enabled the fighters of Col. Clinton D. Vincent* to destroy some thirteen of them in the running fight which developed.6
After the Tien Ho raid, the Liberators turned to the Hump flight to stock materiel for future missions. Early in the month a typical fighter squadron shift was made to give the worn-out pilots from the east a chance to recuperate on less active duty at Kunming. On 10 May fighters from Kunming ran the last mission of importance during the month, a bombing and strafing mission against targets of opportunity in northern Indo-China. Meanwhile, 2-14 May, the enemy was content to feint
* Commander of the fighters at eastern bases, which were designated Forward Echelon.
at American-occupied dromes. On 15 May the Japanese struck at Kunming with the heaviest assault yet made on an American base in Asia. Thirty twin-engine bombers, escorted by some forty Zeros, dropped their bombs without interference save from four P-40's which happened to be airborne and in position. Nearly all the bombs fell short, but considerable damage was wrought, including destruction of a B-24 and a B-25. Again a strong force of P-40's was unable to make contact until after the bombs had dropped, but once more the fighters exacted a heavy toll of enemy planes. Twice in a month, however, the Japanese had slipped through the customarily dependable air warning net to strike at Kunming. Only inaccurate bombing had saved the nerve center of the Fourteenth Air Force.7
The motive behind the intensification of attacks on American bases late in April, coinciding almost to the day with Chennault's departure for Washington, was made clear early in May, when the enemy launched a ground offensive in the Tung-ting Lake region. Accompanied by radio announcement of their intention of moving up the Yangtze to take Chungking, Japanese forces fanned out and began pushing the feeble Chinese defenders from the Tung-ting “rice bowl.” Spearheads soon developed toward I-chang and beyond, and toward Changsha, dangerously close to Hengyang, an invaluable American listening post in the past.8
Aerial activity which accompanied the unfolding campaign followed no definite plan, the vicissitudes of battle bringing on both sides a day-to-day selection of targets. The Japanese tried strenuously to gain air ascendancy in the battle zone by attacking all American-used bases within range of the land operations, and the Americans, strengthened by the arrival of fifty-odd fighters during May, attempted to turn the Changsha and Chungking drives, at the same time taking counter-air force action to prevent being driven from their precariously held forward positions. They bombed and strafed enemy ground positions, fought off raiders when possible, and attacked every airdrome within their reach. The outcome was undecided for many days, and when the enemy drive toward Chungking reached a point out of the range of fighters at Hengyang, the Japanese seemed on the way to a successful campaign.
At this point, however, the Fourteenth Air Force was able to give some weight to the statement made by Chennault at TRIDENT that Japanese penetrations into the interior of China must be made along
rivers and could be checked almost entirely by air power. When the Chinese became unduly alarmed at the enemy advance on their provisional capital, they appealed for air support. The battle area by that time being out of the range of all American fighter bases, the B-24's were thrown into the breach. Flying from a Chengtu field and escorted by Chinese fighters, they ran missions against ground forces in the Yangtze gorges until the enemy began to fall back. Perhaps these attacks crippled the supply line of the advancing columns, and they certainly raised morale among the Chinese defenders, but it is doubtful that they were the deciding factor leading to the Japanese withdrawal. Nevertheless, the retirement from advanced positions along the Yangtze was followed by similar withdrawals on other parts of the offensive front. On 2 June, Radio Tokyo announced the end of offensive operations west of Tung-ting, claiming full attainment of objectives. Later intelligence from Japanese sources indicates that the real purpose of the Tung-ting Lake campaign was to open the river to I-chang so as to release river steamers from that area for use nearer the coast.9
After bombing the Japanese ground forces before I-chang, the B-24 squadrons on 8 June turned to the task of destroying shipping. On that day their primary target, Haiphong, had to be abandoned in the face of heavy overcast, but bombing of secondary targets at Hanoi and Hongay was rewarded by the sinking of a freighter estimated at 7,000 tons. Continuing rainstorms and heavy overcasts prevented further missions to Indo-China in June, and the Liberators turned to the laborious and uninspiring chore of hauling freight over the Hump.10
Chennault had returned to the theater early in June to find the threat to Changsha and Chungking gone, with the Americans in the east enjoying temporary air ascendancy. Dive-bombing and strafing P-40's were finding numerous remunerative rail and river targets in the regions where the enemy was retreating, while Mitchells continued to pound lightly defended airdromes. Sweeps over the Yangtze from Yochow to Hankow paid big dividends, while Yochow, a key railhead and port which served as a collection and distribution point for enemy forces and as guardian of rail, river, and lake traffic between Hankow and I-chang, proved an especially fine target. These raids came to a halt, however, because of insistent rumors of enemy air reinforcements and of an imminent assault on American bases. Extensive reconnaissance of enemy airdromes discovered no concentration of aircraft
in the area, but on 23 July the predicted assault began. For three days the Japanese made a supreme effort to wipe out the eastern bases, delivering attack after attack from the north and from the Canton area. Spreading their well-coordinated assaults over most of the American-used fields along the Hankow-Haiphong railway line, they apparently hoped to divide and weaken interceptor strength, preventing any concentrated opposition by the two fighter squadrons available for defense of the region. Fighting desperately, the Americans warded off numerous raids, inflicting heavy losses on the invaders, but wave after wave of enemy planes came over and their bombing tactics were wily and effective. Hengyang runways were rendered useless on the first day of the offensive. On the second day, after feinting at Kweilin, the enemy delivered another blow at Hengyang as well as a strong attack on Ling-ling. Hengyang sustained further damage and Ling-ling was heavily hit. Meanwhile lesser attacks were launched at the undefended and rarely used fields at Kienow, Kanchow, Chih-chiang, Shao-yang, and Sui-chuan, all of which suffered severe damage. After three days of constant fighting, the Americans, in desperation, mounted a counterattack on the airdrome at Hankow, from which some of the attacks presumably had been directed. They damaged the base in an unopposed attack, but when they returned the next day in a follow-up raid, they met stubborn opposition from a large number of Japanese fighters. In a long, running fight, the enemy suffered severe losses. Few American planes were shot down, but many of the aircraft were so badly riddled that they had to be temporarily grounded for repairs. The raids on Hankow, and the bad weather which followed, probably saved the fighters another ignominious withdrawal from their eastern bases, an event that doubtless would have seriously lowered the morale of the Chinese ground forces before Changsha.11
By the end of July attrition had reduced the fighter strength in China to a dangerous low of sixty-four planes for four squadrons, with only thirty-three at the eastern bases. P-40K's and P-40M's had arrived during May, June, and July, and July brought six P-38's which were sent immediately to the east, but the accelerating tempo of combat operations accentuated the need for more and more aircraft. None of the new squadrons promised at TRIDENT for July delivery had arrived in China. The P-38's were a welcome addition, but their greater fuel consumption made them somewhat less desirable than would otherwise have been the case. The newest model P-40's were rugged and
possessed great firepower, but they were slow climbers and still had limited ceilings. All the while, there was a steady influx of new-model Japanese fighters, planes which could dive with the P-40 and almost equal it in level-flight speed. The U.S. planes had one superior quality: they could absorb tremendous punishment and return to base to fight again, but the outlook at eastern bases on 1 August was dark.12
While the fighters were clinging to their forward bases and hoping for reinforcements, significant plans were being made for use of the bomber arm. During May and June, Brig. Gen. Howard C. Davidson, soon to command the Tenth Air Force, studied in China the possibilities for using China-based American planes against Japanese commercial shipping. On the basis of his studies, he agreed with Chennault that the Fourteenth Air Force could help immeasurably in weakening Japan's tenuous hold on its wartime empire.13 Much of the shipping between the homeland and conquered territories to the south passed along the China coast within easy reach of long-range planes operating from existing bases in China. American submarines were already reported to be sinking ships off the China coast at a rate greater than the replacement capacity of the enemy, and it was argued that air attacks, in addition to direct destruction of shipping, would aid the submarine campaign by driving enemy vessels eastward into deeper waters. On the lakes and rivers of central China fighter-bombers had already begun to make heavy inroads on inland merchant shipping through dive bombing and strafing. A more ambitious effort against the enemy's merchant marine promised to be a logical and fruitful development of the Fourteenth's operations.
Hoping to put this suggestion into action immediately, Chennault forthwith advised the heavy bomber group and the medium squadron that shipping and harbor installations would have first priority for the month of July. Inauguration of the program had to wait, however, until the weather cleared in the second week of the month. Then, capitalizing on every subsequent break in the overcast, the bombers struck again and again at their assigned targets. The B-25's were moved to Kweilin, whence they began to search the seas in the vicinity of Canton and Hong Kong, while the B-24's, still based in the Kunming area, struck at shipping farther south. On both heavy and medium missions the bombers were regularly escorted by fighters, but Japanese air forces at that time apparently were concentrated in more northerly areas and most of the forays went unopposed. In spite of the two-week
delay at the outset, the bombers claimed 41,000 tons of shipping sunk and 35,000 tons damaged during the month of July.14
For the first twelve days of August air activity was at a standstill because of heavy rains and low-hanging clouds. On the 13th, however, the Yunnani-based 16th Fighter Squadron, which had been reinforced by replacement pilots, once again resumed offensive patrols over western China and Burma, dropping bombs with regularity on Mang-shih, Lung-ling, Teng-chung, and other likely targets that could be located through occasional breaks in the overcast. These patrols, flown at above 20,000 feet, revealed that the new pilots had received insufficient altitude testing in their operational training unit (OTU). Some were found to be unsuited to the job and were transferred to transport and low-altitude flying.15
Meanwhile, over eastern China the fighter pilots were having trouble with an altitude problem of a different type. Taking advantage of the break in the weather, new Japanese fighters initiated a series of attacks from such high altitudes that the P-40 pilots found it futile to try to make contact. On the morning of 20 August, enemy fighters, avoiding the P-38's at Ling-ling, turned the tables on the P-40's at Hengyang and Kweilin by employing tactics identical to those used successfully for so long by Chennault. Maintaining an altitude above the ceiling of the P-40's until a good opportunity presented itself, the Japanese planes dived on the Americans below, made one pass, and then climbed back to safety. The American pilots claimed two fighters shot down, but in exchange three P-40's had been lost. That afternoon eight B-25's and eleven P-40's from Kweilin struck at Tien Ho airdrome, from which part of the morning raiders had probably come. The attacking planes had little or no time for checking the results of their bombardment, for they were intercepted and given another demonstration of the improved performance and tactics of Japanese fighter aircraft. The American airmen faced the unpleasant realization that the P-40 was outmoded and that unless more and better fighter aircraft could be provided, the eastern bases might become untenable.16
The heavy bombardment arm, which had flown no combat missions since 29 July, on 17 August attacked an encampment south of Haiphong with some success. A mission set up for 21 August called for fourteen B-24's of the 374th and 375th Squadrons, flying from Chengkung, to be joined at Hengyang by seven B-25's and a P-40 escort for an attack on Hankow, but it was one of those days when nearly
everything went wrong. Shortly before the Liberators were scheduled to arrive over Hengyang, Col. Bruce K. Holloway, commander of the 23d Fighter Group, had to send his fighters aloft to meet an incoming flight of enemy planes. After the Japanese aircraft withdrew, Holloway called the P-40's in for servicing, but time was pressing and only six of the twelve could be made ready for the scheduled rendezvous. The Liberators failed to rendezvous and, in fact, missed Hengyang altogether. Accustomed to flying unescorted missions over Indo-China, the B-24's continued without fighter protection to the target, where they unloaded their bombs on the dock area. Immediately, they were attacked by a cloud of fighters, estimated at from sixty to a hundred planes. The defenders pressed home their attacks with unusual daring and determination and, on the first series of passes, shot down the plane of the squadron leader, Maj. Bruce Beat, and wounded the pilots in each of the lead planes. For twenty-seven minutes the unequal fight continued. A second B-24 crash-landed with three of the crew dead and two seriously wounded; and a third was so badly shot up that it was forced down at Ling-ling. The others reached Kweilin. Of the fourteen Liberators, two had been lost and ten badly damaged. On the surviving planes one tail gunner was killed and three pilots and one co-pilot were wounded. The heavy bombers had inflicted great losses on the enemy attackers but no accurate tabulation was possible.17 Meanwhile, the B-25's, coming in later from Kweilin to Hengyang, had picked up the full escort of twelve fighters. Arriving at Hankow some time after the B-24's, the Mitchells made their run over the airdrome without mishap, apparently catching on the ground some of the fighters which had engaged the B-24's. The timing of the enemy attack on Hengyang, plus the readiness of fighter planes at Hankow, raised some speculation as to whether the Japanese had known in advance of the coming attack. There was some question, also, as to the advisability of allowing the Liberators to bomb without escort.18
Immediately, the other two squadrons of the 308th prepared for a second raid on Hankow, this time with the airdrome as the objective. Then, on 24 August, seven B-24's from the 373d Squadron and seven from the 425th took off from Kunming to meet six B-25's from Kweilin and an escort of fourteen P-40's and eight P-38's at Hengyang, preparatory to another attack on targets at Hankow. Again, misfortune attended the mission. The 373d bombers ran into bad weather and
returned to their base, leaving the seven planes of the 425th to push on to the rendezvous alone.19
After the other elements rendezvoused on schedule, all went well until the bombs were away. Several of the planes had mistaken Wuchang airdrome for Hankow and dropped some of their bombs, but saw their mistake in time to save something for Hankow. Heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire could not prevent major damage to the airdrome, but forty enemy fighters then attacked, concentrating their attacks on the Liberators. For forty-five minutes the battle continued, and one by one the B-24's went down. When the Japanese planes finally turned back, only three of the seven heavies remained in the air. These three reached Kweilin, where it was found that all planes were badly crippled, that one pilot and one crewman were dead, and that a co-pilot and five crewmen were wounded. Tragedy still stalked the 425th Squadron as one of the three surviving planes crashed on the return to Kunming the following day, killing ten and injuring two. Of the seven planes which had left Kunming, only two returned; and of the seventy men on the B-24's, more than fifty were killed, wounded, or missing. A whole squadron was rendered impotent for some time to come. Again, surviving B-24 crews claimed heavy enemy losses, and again the B-25's and fighters escaped without loss.20
For several days the Americans turned their attention to the Canton-Hong Kong area, attacking shipping and docks without serious opposition. A Liberator mission to the Kowloon docks was highly successful, and an ensuing brush with enemy interceptors showed that the fighters in this area were not of the caliber of those at Hankow. The Liberators escaped without damage, while five enemy planes were shot down. Mitchells of the 11th Squadron, P-38's of the newly arrived 449th Squadron, and P-40's of the 76th Squadron continued their missions to the north, striking with excellent results a variety of targets in the Tung-ting Lake area. The 308th ran one more mission in August; escorted by twenty-two P-40's and two P-38's which also participated in the bombing, the bombers attempted to damage and flood the Gia Lam airdrome at Hanoi. Although the dikes were hit, the water level was too low to flood the field; but considerable damage was done to runways and buildings. Eight P-40's lost their way on the return and ran out of gas, causing six pilots to bail out and two to make forced landings. Seven of the planes were totally destroyed and one pilot lost his life.21
Operations in September were in general a mere continuation of a previously established routine, with only minor deviations. Arrival of the 25th Fighter Squadron from India made it possible to send the 16th Squadron from Yunnani to Kweilin, for the first time giving the forward echelon enough fighters to afford some measure of security to the bases without seriously interfering with offensive action. Thus, despite the uneasiness which accompanied full knowledge of the superiority of Japanese fighter aircraft, the mediums and fighters from Kweilin, Lingling, and Hengyang gradually extended their attacks on river boats, coastal shipping, enemy-controlled industries, warehouses, troop concentrations, and major air bases throughout the Hankow-Kiukiang-Amoy-Swatow-Hong Kong-Fort Bayard sector. The Japanese were unable to provide sufficient antiaircraft artillery for so wide an area, and their fighters enjoyed little success against the Americans on the few occasions when they made contact. Furthermore, increasingly accurate information from outposts established in enemy-held territory, especially along the Yangtze, enabled the Americans to give missions flown against specific objectives the appearance of sweeps in search of targets of opportunity. Chinese guerrilla activity frequently supplemented the air effort. Undoubtedly, the strikes were more damaging to the Japanese than they had been previously, and so effective were the milk-runs around the arc from Tung-ting Lake to Poyang Lake that the Yangtze between Hankow and Kiukiang was almost wholly interdicted to enemy shipping.22
The Liberators, devoting most of their time during September 1943 to hauling supplies, broke the monotony of flying the Hump by taking on extra bombs in India and dropping them on targets in Burma and along the Salween. Their only regularly scheduled missions were undertaken on the 14th and 15th. On the first day an unescorted flight to Haiphong in unsettled weather brought indifferent results. The next day five unescorted B-24's ran into trouble in the same area. Enemy fighters, which had not shown themselves the day before, attacked the formation in force, shooting down three of the planes and crippling the other two, again pointing up the fact that while fighters and medium bombers were generally left to their own devices, the Japanese seemed determined to check the work of the B-24's.23
During September, the enemy left the reinforced airdromes in the east alone, although they attacked several unoccupied fields in the vicinity early in the month. But while the eastern bases had been reinforced,
those in the west had only two fighter squadrons present, and it was to that region that the Japanese sent their major striking force. On 20 September, twenty-seven bombers strung their bombs across the field at Kunming, doing considerable damage. Fighters of the 16th and 75th Squadrons soon made contact, easily evading an inept fighter escort, and claimed fifteen bombers destroyed. But there were no other attacks on American bases, and Japanese fighters were active chiefly in northern Burma. During the third week in September, the Fourteenth flew numerous fighter sorties from Yunnani to protect the Hump flyers.24
The Chinese-American Composite Wing
The arrival of additional reinforcements, the development of better antishipping techniques by the medium bombers, and unmistakable signs of impending Japanese land offensives from the north, east, south, and west made of October 1943 a memorable month in the history of the Fourteenth Air Force. The 26th Fighter Squadron arrived from India, and for the first time since activation of the China Air Task Force more than a year before, the 51st Fighter Group was reunited. Perhaps more meaningful for the future, however, was the arrival of the first increment of the Chinese-American force from Karachi. This took place too late for the squadrons to go into action during the month, but it represented a partial realization of hopes and plans for use of Chinese combat air personnel under American supervision which dated from the earliest days of American air activity in China.
After approval had been given to Chennault's proposal for incorporating Chinese-American composite wings into the Fourteenth Air Force,* General Davidson took up the task, on special assignment, of implementing the plan. It was not easy to find either the equipment or the American personnel that would be needed, for these new requirements came over and above the accepted AAF program. Some aircraft could be obtained from previous allocations to China Defense Supplies, and the men were scraped together from a variety of sources. By 5 July 1943, Davidson was in position to report satisfactory progress.25
Chennault had proposed that an operational training unit be established in India and operated by the Fourteenth Air Force for the purpose of preparing partially trained Chinese fighter and bomber crews for combat operations. He had also suggested that Chinese Air Force
* See above, pp. 438-43.
mechanics, under AAF supervision, assemble the aircraft to be used, and that Chinese combat and maintenance crews train at the OTU with the units to which they would be assigned. On completion of the training of a complement, the plan called for the American and Chinese officers who had acted as instructors to serve then as group, squadron, and flight commanders of the combat unit, which made it necessary to maintain a continuing flow of officer personnel to the OTU.26
Malir airdrome at Karachi having been selected as the site for location of the Chinese-American OTU, the assembling of personnel and equipment began. Old-model P-40's and B-25's no longer useful for tactical employment were brought in for use as trainers. Additional short-range B-25's from the United States and P-40's from North Africa were eventually assigned. Early in July, Chennault reported to Arnold that Chinese and American personnel were arriving at Karachi and that the OTU would be ready on 5 August. According to the schedule which had been set up and approved, the OTU by 15 March 1944 should turn out eight fighter squadrons and four medium and light bombardment squadrons, together with three group and one wing headquarters. The training program began as scheduled and by 1 September it was well under way.27
The formal activation of Headquarters, Chinese-American Composite Wing (CACW) took place at Malir Field early in October. The wing consisted of the 3d and 5th Fighter Groups and the 1st Bombardment Group (M), each group having four squadrons and receiving its numerical designation from the Chinese Air Force. The first increment to move to China, one bombardment squadron and two fighter squadrons, got its movement orders on 17 October. These constituted the heaviest reinforcement received by the Fourteenth Air Force since the arrival in the preceding spring of the 308th Bombardment Group.28
Ominous information which seeped in from numerous sources indicated that additional air strength in China would be needed very soon. Reinforcements had arrived in the Canton-Hong Kong area and in Indo-China, while enemy activity around Hankow and farther north had suddenly increased. Already Japanese reinforcements in Burma and western China were making themselves felt in a twin drive from Myitkyina and Teng-chung toward the north and east. Should offensives be launched simultaneously in all these sectors, the beleaguered Fourteenth would be hard put to cling to its sphere of operation. Drives
south toward Changsha, northwest from Canton-Hong Kong, and northeast from Indo-China might jeopardize the eastern bases, and if a drive across the Salween succeeded or if a northwestern drive from Indo-China materialized, Kunming itself would be in peril. Enemy land offensives had been checked in the past, but if several of them should come at the same time, the small air strength of the Americans would be spread too thin; and with or without air support, Chinese armies were hardly capable of stopping determined Japanese drives. In the immediate future, air operations would be largely dictated by a changing tactical situation.29
Meanwhile, the increasing effectiveness of the mediums of the 11th Squadron against shipping provided one source of encouragement at least. Adopting a low-level, skip-bombing method of attack on individual targets, the B-25's worked in pairs, the lead plane strafing and the trailer bombing, and then they exchanged positions for the next attack. Gaining greater range by a reduction in bomb load, the 11th Squadron under Lt. Col. Morris F. Taber struck at shipping from Shanghai to Haiphong. When Sui-chuan, a new base farther east, became available, the planes ranged far out over the waters of Formosa and Hainan straits.30
While the medium bombers were harassing the shipping lanes to the east, enemy activity in the west largely determined the course of action taken by the heavies and fighters in the Kunming area. In an attempt to slow the movement of materiel to Burma via Indo-China, the B-24's struck at Haiphong six times, once on a night mine-laying mission, and they flew a few sorties in the neighborhood of Hainan Island. Enemy advances toward the Salween offered further opportunity to combine tactical missions with the boredom of hauling supplies from India. The shuttle ferry-bombing missions became a regular routine, with such points at Teng-chung, Mang-shih, Lung-ling, Kunlong Ferry, Lashio, and Sumprabum receiving attacks from both fighters and B-24's on the 16th.
By the end of October 1943 the Japanese, established on the west bank of the Salween for roughly a hundred miles, seemed to have no intention of moving across the river, and the immediate threat was over. Meanwhile, the B-24's had gained some measure of revenge for the maulings they had received at the hands of enemy fighters some weeks before. About mid-October Japanese fighters again began to attack cargo planes in the Myitkyina-Sumprabum vicinity. The B-24's, flying
in loose formation and hoping to be mistaken for C-87's, continued to use the southernmost route while the regular transports flew farther north. The ruse succeeded so well that in two days the 308th heavies reported having destroyed eight attackers. Enemy fighters became more cautious in their attacks on the Hump flyers.31
At the eastern bases, after a flurry of Japanese attacks early in the month, when poor bombing saved the American fields from serious damage, the fighters continued the routine of sweeps to the Yangtze when weather permitted. From the 7th to the 28th, weather conditions were of the worst, reducing the offensive efforts of the fighters almost to zero. News continued to come in of Japanese preparations for an offensive in the Tung-ting Lake sector, and the weather cleared sufficiently in the last three days of the month to permit several devastating sweeps over the Kiukiang area, but the enemy had accomplished much in preparation for the drive under cover of the bad weather.32
In all sectors of China the threat of enemy aggressiveness which had marked the closing days of October continued during November. On the Salween front fighting became less severe, but the fighters and Liberators continued to answer calls for aerial assistance by the Chinese ground forces. The heavy bombers also ran a few routine bombing and mining missions to Haiphong and Hong Kong, but on 18 November they were ordered to India, where they participated in a combined attack with the Tenth Air Force and the RAF on Rangoon, returning to China early in December.* Meanwhile, in east China the long-rumored offensive in the Tung-ting Lake area was becoming a reality, so that units of the forward echelon were allowed little time for operations other than those directed toward aiding the Chinese in turning back the enemy drive. Mediums of the 11th Squadron and CACW's 2d Bombardment Squadron, however, found time to run enough sea sweeps to sink three times as much enemy shipping as the 11th Squadron alone had accounted for in October.33 But the most significant, and perhaps the most rewarding, mission of the month came on 25 November, when Formosa was subjected to its first attack by the Fourteenth Air Force. Reconnaissance over a period of months had revealed that Shinchiku airdrome offered a most inviting target where enemy bombers could nearly always be found parked wing to wing. Shortage of bombers and lack of long-range fighters, as well as lack of bases farther east, had made such a strike impossible during the summer.
* See above, pp. 476-82.
CBI Battle Area
Nov. 1943--May 1944
Soon after Colonel Vincent returned from temporary duty in the United States early in November to resume command of Forward Echelon, he found that the obstacles to this long-dreamed-of mission had been removed. With the first forces of the CACW had come another medium squadron; the P-38's, present since August, had been joined by sixteen old and worn P-51A's; and the base at Sui-chuan was ready for operations. Vincent planned a low-level, daylight raid, knowing that its success depended almost entirely upon surprise. Photographic coverage throughout the first three weeks of the month permitted thorough briefing, and when on 24 November 1943 seventy-five bombers were found at the Shinchiku airdrome, the mission was set for the next day. Eight P-51's, eight P-38's, and fourteen B-25's were to make the flight under Col. David L. (“Tex”) Hill, a former AVG and CATF leader who had just returned to China to command the 23d Fighter Group.
All aircraft were in readiness at Sui-chuan by evening of the 24th. On the next day, which was Thanksgiving, they flew at very low level across Formosa Strait to avoid radar detection. When the shore was sighted, the P-38's took the lead to knock out enemy air opposition. Perfect surprise enabled the Lightnings to claim fifteen of the twenty-odd planes which were airborne. The B-25's followed in at 1,000 feet, dropping frag clusters on the airdrome. The P-51's protected the tails of the bombers until they were safely on the bomb run, then strafed installations and parked planes. Lightnings, after their first engagement, also dropped down to strafe. Only one pass was made by each unit before it headed for home. The brief encounter resulted in claims of forty-two enemy planes destroyed, most of them on the ground, without loss of an American plane or life. Once more the Fourteenth had gambled and won, and had carried the war still closer to the Japanese homeland. Enthusiasm among American personnel in China rose accordingly, but the success was not permitted to affect other operations. The Mitchells resumed attacks on shipping the following day.34
By the middle of November 1943 the Japanese offensive in the Tung-ting Lake region had taken shape in a series of enveloping movements northwest of the lake, threatening Chang-te and, indirectly, Changsha. Units at Hengyang were instructed to give all support possible to Chinese ground forces, and as the ring about Chang-te tightened, the Chinese called for more and more aid. Fighters of the 23d Group and of the 16th and 449th Squadrons of the 51st bore the brunt
of direct support, while bombers of the 11th Squadron and of CACW's 2d Squadron lent aid on several occasions. Even the Liberators of the 308th Group were called in to make counter-air force strikes at major Japanese bases in the rear of the land action when Japanese airmen offered too much opposition. Chang-te was surrounded late in November and fell to the Japanese on 3 December. For the next few days Fourteenth Air Force planes regularly attacked the city, and on 9 December the Chinese reoccupied it as the Japanese began a general withdrawal. The withdrawal provided many opportunities for prowling P-40's, and they made the most of them. Constantly harassed on the ground and in the air, the Japanese withdrew until by the end of the year they were back in the positions they had occupied when the offensive began.35
Throughout November, Japanese planes had kept away from American bases, but often had intercepted American planes over Japanese-held territory. In December they counterattacked, striking in the east and west. As the Japanese retreated from Chang-te, under daily poundings by the Americans, the enemy attempted to draw off the attackers by bombing the bases at Hengyang and Ling-ling, while keeping the fighters at Kweilin alerted almost constantly. The fields at Hengyang and Ling-ling were damaged, but enemy losses were severe, and after 12 December the attacks were discontinued. Never did the Japanese catch the bases without airborne fighters. On 30 December, Sui-chuan was bombed and strafed by twenty fighters. In the west, enemy counter-air force activity was resumed when on 18 and 22 December, Kunming was bombed and on the 19th, Yunnani. As in the east, some damage was done, but defending fighters exacted such a heavy toll of attackers that the offensive moves were soon stopped. Renewed attacks on the Hump flyers in December made necessary an increased number of fighter sorties from Yunnani.36
With constant calls for support of ground troops at Tung-ting Lake, there was a considerable decrease in shipping strikes and in the tonnage sunk. Targets were more scarce, leading to the belief that Japanese shipping was being detoured around Formosa. In the west the situation remained practically unchanged. Major attention was given to support of ground troops, but fighters from Kunming also struck at targets in Indo-China and Thailand. The latter area had assumed greater importance with the completion of the Bangkok-Moulmein railway by the Japanese, and the Liberators added weight to attacks in that sector.
Chiengmai and Lampang suffered from heavy attacks on several occasions.37
These operations had been accompanied by some administrative reorganization. The immense area over which the Americans had to operate, together with the arrival of additional air units in China, had led to establishment of a provisional forward echelon under Vincent, but no comparable organization existed in Yunnan. Transfer of the full 51st Fighter Group to the Fourteenth, the imminent arrival of the remainder of the 341st Bombardment Group (M), and the presence of three CACW squadrons (with three more due shortly) made the need for regular lower echelons of command imperative. The necessity to keep both bombers and fighters in each of the two main combat areas ruled out the possibility of using a bomber and a fighter wing. Consequently, on 23 December 1943, the 68th and 69th Composite Wings were activated, the 68th under Vincent to operate east of the 108th meridian, and the 69th under Col. John Kennedy to the west. CACW units were attached to the 68th Wing for operations, and the wing missions assigned were substantially the same as the objectives previously assigned to the eastern and western forces. At about the same time, it was decided that after 1 March 1944 responsibility for airfield construction and maintenance in China would pass from SOS to the Fourteenth Air Force.38
Plans for 1944
From the beginning, the American air force in China had been confronted with a multiplicity of tasks which far exceeded its resources and made impossible the use of available aircraft in sustained operations against obviously desirable targets. Late in 1943, Allied successes in other theaters encouraged the hope that in the not-too-distant future more resources might be concentrated against Japan. Accordingly, Chennault drew up a comprehensive plan for the use of an expanded air force in China.
He recognized that any plan for expanded air operations in China would depend upon an increased tonnage over the Hump and improvement in the supply line from Kunming to Kweilin, but he believed these could be accomplished in time. His plan called first for continued but much heavier strikes against merchant shipping and the enemy air force; the climax would be reached through long-range bombing attacks on the enemy home islands from bases in eastern China. From
January through June 1944, action would largely be confined to the western sector, where strength would be concentrated during that part of the year when weather frequently rendered eastern bases inoperational. At the same time, improvements would be made in the internal supply line for the build-up of supplies in the east. Then, from July to the end of the year, the attacks would be intensified from eastern bases. For these offensive efforts, Chennault estimated that he would need six fighter groups, two medium groups, and three heavy groups.39
When the plan was submitted to Stratemeyer in November, he immediately expressed doubt that ATC Hump tonnage could support it. Furthermore, he revealed that details were already being worked out for sending very long-range (VLR) bombers to China with fighters to support them, these new aircraft to be controlled directly from a headquarters in Washington. Implementation of the VLR plan would take precedence over the claims of the Fourteenth, but the VLR program would approximate the last phase of the offensive planned by Chennault. Minor portions of Chennault's plan, such as improvement of the Kutsing-Tu-shan bottleneck on the Kunming-Kweilin supply line, were approved. Doubtless Chennault found keen disappointment in the news that the crucial blow against Japan would not be made under his direction, and he was displeased that the basing of B-29's in India under a plan to stage them through Chengtu would plunge the Fourteenth into a new program of airdrome construction and still more complicated problems of supply. Moreover, in spite of the assumption that the B-29's were to haul their own bombs and gas over the Hump, it could be anticipated that the Fourteenth would have a portion of its Hump quota diverted to a fighter wing tied to Chengtu for defense of the B-29 bases.40
The disappointment was offset somewhat by reinforcements for the Fourteenth Air Force early in 1944. In January, the 341st Bombardment Group, less the 490th Squadron, made the move to China which had been pending since the previous summer. But this added only two combat squadrons, the 22d and 491st, the 11th Squadron of this group having been in China since activation of the CATF in July 1942. A second contingent of the CACW, composed of the 1st Bombardment Squadron (M) and the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadrons, arrived in February. But with these three medium squadrons and two fighter squadrons came only eighteen P-40's and thirty-three B-25's. The CACW units went to Erh-tang, where they were attached to the 68th
Wing for operations. The newly arrived squadrons of the 341st were assigned to the 69th Wing in Yunnan.41
During January, February, and March, weather in east China was so bad that, in spite of reliable information that the Japanese were continuing to mass troops and supplies at several key points, the 68th Wing could do little to interfere. January was a month of relative inactivity, giving rest to those squadrons which had been so badly overworked in the recent Tung-ting Lake campaign but at the same time permitting coastal shipping to reinforce Canton-Hong Kong without interference. The elements relented to such an extent in February that the Mitchells enjoyed their best month thus far in tonnage of shipping sunk, but in March shipping targets were so rarely sighted that sea sweeps in daylight hours seemed about to reach the point of diminishing returns. Flights sent to the Yangtze were rewarding but too infrequent to dislocate transportation. Enemy aircraft were also handicapped by weather, but they did manage to bomb Sui-chuan, Ling-ling, Hengyang, and several satellite fields. Few aircraft attempted to intercept American flights to the north until March, when air resistance greatly stiffened. It was observed that enemy pilots showed signs of inexperience and were unable to take advantage of the superiority of their aircraft.42
Enjoying more favorable weather, the 69th Wing in Yunnan was more active, although a gas shortage in Assam severely restricted the 308th's Liberators. Using the advanced base at Nanning extensively, fighter-bombers added weight to the continuing assault on northern Indo-China, so that by the end of March that part of Japan's “co-prosperity” sphere threatened to become a liability. Months of pecking away at specific targets had almost paralyzed shipping and industries along the Tonkin Gulf coast. Furthermore, the natives were becoming restless under the poundings, which brought a severe shortage of consumer goods. Bangkok, Lampang, and Chiengmai in Thailand suffered less severely, yet destruction of railway yards, bridges, and warehouses seriously hampered movement of supplies to Burma and the Salween front. A few strikes at enemy concentrations along the Salween were sandwiched between the missions farther south.43
Meanwhile intelligence which had accumulated for several weeks foreshadowed the sternest test the Fourteenth had ever faced. In the bend of the old Yellow River course the enemy troops and supplies were massing, and similar concentrations were noted in the Hankow
area, at Canton-Hong Kong, on the Luichow peninsula, and in northern Indo-China. It had long been recognized that while the combination of Chinese troops and American air units had stopped enemy stabs of a local nature in the past, they could not stop a large-scale, determined drive by the enemy. The Japanese could go anywhere in China they wished if they were willing to put forth the effort and absorb the losses. All evidence now pointed to the most ambitious military operations they had ever undertaken in China. The appearance in China of ground forces long kept in Manchuria foreboded a campaign with far-reaching objectives. As pointed out above, simultaneous drives from the Yellow River bend southward, from Hankow toward Changsha, from Canton westward, and north from Luichow and Indo-China would catch the entire operational sphere of the 68th Wing in a vise. If successful, it would permit the establishment of an overland transportation route from Peiping to Indo-China, eliminate the Fourteenth Air Force bases from which antishipping strikes originated, and establish military dominance over the China coastal hinterland which later American amphibious operations from the Pacific might want to penetrate. It also could eliminate the Chinese army as a possible offensive military force and perhaps lead to the downfall of the Chinese National Government under Chiang Kai-shek.44
With these dire possibilities in mind the Fourteenth Air Force in April made all possible preparations to meet the challenge to its position in eastern China. CACW units were prepared for a move to Chinese Air Force bases in the north, from which they could operate against the Japanese in the Yellow River bend, and the remaining squadrons with the 68th Wing were deployed for possible attacks from north, east, and south. Meanwhile, certain squadrons of the 69th Wing were earmarked for support of an imminent offensive by the Chinese forces in Yunnan against the Japanese along the Salween River. Never in accord with Stilwell on the question of operations in Burma, Chennault now recommended that the offensive be postponed so that 69th Wing units could be used to reinforce the 68th. The ground offensive was launched as planned, however, thus tying down at least three squadrons for the next several months, during which the 68th fought a losing fight against overwhelming odds.45
The Salween drive was a part of the British-Chinese-American effort to reoccupy Burma and push through a land supply line from
Assam to Yunnan.* Chinese-American forces in northern Burma were making progress down the Mogaung valley while a British campaign was in progress farther south. The mission of the Yunnan force was to drive down the Burma Road, taking Teng-chung, Lung-ling, Mangshih, and Pingka, and eventually to meet with the other attacking forces in central Burma. The mission of the 69th Wing in this campaign was to give close tactical support to the attackers, isolate the battlefield, and provide air supply. Final word on selection of targets was to be given by Brig. Gen. Frank Dorn, commander of the Yunnan force, from his headquarters at Pao-shan. A forward echelon headquarters of the 69th Wing was set up on 2 May at a new field near Yunnani, with Maj. A. B. Black in command. Air support was to be provided largely by the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 22d Bombardment Squadron.46
On 11 May 1944, with the monsoon upon them, Chinese troops crossed the Salween in force at two places north of Teng-chung and made two lesser thrusts across the river opposite Pingka. The Japanese had been in possession of some of the area for more than two years and had skilfully taken advantage of the terrain to develop strong defensive positions dominating every avenue of approach. Although they were numerically inferior to the Chinese and were completely without air support, they were deployed so as to exact the heaviest possible casualties among the attackers. Moreover, they possessed superior lines of supply. On the other hand, the Chinese were short of artillery and, with an unbridged river at their backs, had to depend on mules and coolies to bring up supplies after they had been brought across the stream.
Reduction of each strongpoint was dependent upon heavy air attack, and by the end of May none of the major objectives had been taken. The recently arrived 27th Troop Carrier Squadron was attached to the 69th Wing for air dropping, but advanced Chinese troops continued to run short of food and ammunition. Numerous bombing and strafing missions to enemy staging areas and supply dumps were successfully carried out, and the 308th's heavy bombers were called on to add weight to the bombing of rearward supply lines, but the small Japanese forces held on tenaciously. By the end of June, Teng-chung, Lung-ling, Mang-shih, and Pingka were still in enemy hands. The campaign continued throughout the summer, and when Myitkyina finally fell to the
* See above, pp. 515-16.
Chinese-Americans from northern Burma in August the Salween drive was still stalled.47
As early as February 1944, the possibility of a Japanese offensive to capture the Chinese-held link on the Peiping-Hankow railroad between the Yellow River and Sinyang was apparent to both the Chinese and the Americans. Reports on enemy strength, deployment, facilities, and equipment north of the Yellow River were conflicting, but early in March it was determined that additional enemy troops were moving into the Sinsiang-Mang-shan area north of the river and others were being concentrated along the Peiping railway. Some sixty fighter aircraft were reported at Tientsin at about the same time. Further evidence of the seriousness of enemy preparations came in reports that the Yellow River bridge above Cheng-hsien was almost completed and construction of two additional bridges in the same vicinity was well under way. By the end of March a strong force had gathered around Sinsiang, Kai-feng, and Yang-cheng, with modern artillery, tanks, and other mechanized equipment not ordinarily seen in China.
Chennault appealed to Stilwell on 8 April for additional supplies, but was told that the crisis in Assam caused by the Japanese invasion of India in the Imphal area precluded any increase at that time.48 Nevertheless in spite of the growing threat of Japanese air power at Hankow and Canton, Chennault prepared to put into operation a plan which had originally been drawn up in early March for combatting the enemy move in the north. This plan involved moving four fighter squadrons and one medium squadron of the CACW to Chinese Air Force (CAF) bases at Liang-shan, En-shih, Nan-cheng, An-kang, and Sian, where they would operate with two fighter squadrons of the CAF. They were to defend Chinese cities and airdromes within range of enemy aircraft; attack key rail junctions, enemy airfields, and traffic on the Yellow and Yangtze rivers; destroy the railroad from Hankow north to Sinyang; and knock out the Yellow River bridges. Further, they were to interdict Hankow railway yards and give support to Chinese ground forces when possible. The squadrons were to be at their bases ready to attack a few days before the enemy drive started.49
Since Chinese Air Force bases were inadequately equipped, some improvements had to be made, but when the squadrons finally arrived they found operating conditions bad. Heavy rains and lack of air transportation delayed the transfer of squadrons to the north, and for some unexplained reason Chinese intelligence failed to give notice of the
imminence of the attack. Chennault had estimated, that it would commence about 1 May 1944, but skirmishing began on 17 April and large-scale river crossings were accomplished on the 19th. The CACW squadrons were not yet ready for action, and the offensive got well under way without interference from the air. Thus a fine opportunity to strike before the enemy could disperse was lost. Greatly disturbed by developments in the north, Chennault flew to Chungking on 22 April for a conference, but found the primary interest there centered on the impending Salween offensive.
Finding that he could not draw on his resources in Yunnan, he hurriedly ordered Liberators of the 308th and the few Mustangs of the 23d Group to Chengtu for a try at knocking out the Yellow River bridges. On 25 April, after having failed in an attempt to bomb Sinyang on the way to Chengtu bases, twenty-seven Liberators, led by Lt. Col. James C. Averill and escorted by ten Mustangs under Col. “Tex” Hill, struck at the rail and highway bridges north of Cheng-hsien, a vital rail junction recently fallen to the enemy. Bombing from high altitude in deference to heavy antiaircraft defenses, the B-24's caused slight damage to both bridges, so slight that the Japanese could repair them with ease. The next day twenty-four Liberators escorted by ten P-51's, and also accompanied by twelve of the first P-47's (Thunderbolts) to appear in China, attempted to bomb the other bridge northeast of Chungmow. The entire flight was forced to return to base because of bad weather. After this abortive mission the Liberators and Mustangs returned to their home bases, and the Thunderbolts retired to Chengtu. By this time the CACW was almost ready to take over.50
The task force selected for this first important CACW project was composed of the 2d Bombardment Squadron (M) and the four squadrons of the 3d Fighter Group. The wing's commander, Col. Winslow C. Morse, headed the force, with Col. T. Alan Bennett in command of the fighter group. At the main base at Liang-shan were stationed the medium squadron and the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadrons. The 32d Fighter Squadron was sent to Nan-cheng and the 28th to En-shih. The CAF squadrons were to be based at An-kang and Nan-cheng, and Sian was to be used as an advanced base.
Meanwhile, the Japanese forces in the north, spearheaded by light and medium tanks and aided by dive bombers and fighters, moved rapidly, fanning out over a broad area from several distribution points. Where mechanized columns were unable to move, cavalry units were
active. At the same time a northward advance began from Sinyang. Except in a few well-fortified localities, the Chinese offered practically no resistance to either the northern or southern drive. Nor were the CACW units permitted to operate without interference after their arrival. On 30 April and 1 May, before the fighter squadrons had arrived, the B-25's had to desert their Liang-shan base and fly to a rearward base to avoid bombing attacks. An attempted Mitchell mission to Sinsiang on 30 April was abortive, but on 3 May the B-25's scored eleven direct hits on the Yellow River bridges which the 308th had recently damaged. On the way home they and their escorts dropped down to strafe columns along a road to Lo-yang and caught the Japanese completely by surprise. Obviously enemy ground forces had felt secure from air attacks, for they had taken no precautions. For the next few days strafing missions by the fighters and the B-25's played havoc with similar columns, until finally the Japanese became more careful. They dispersed and camouflaged, and when strafing planes came over they met them with heavy fire from small arms. Newly equipped with rocket launchers before the month ended, the strafers attacked and destroyed more imposing targets. Throughout May there was occasional opposition from enemy aircraft, but in aerial combat the CACW pilots held their own with the Japanese. Night bombings of CACW airfields were frequent, but En-shih was so located that the 28th Squadron there was generally able to intercept bombers heading for the CACW bases during daylight hours. Perhaps the most successful offensive action of the month was an unopposed B-25 attack on the Sinyang rail yards and supply area. Both the bombers and their escort were able to strafe at will after the bomb run, bringing severe damage to enemy installations.51
By June 1944 the Japanese had closed the rail link from Sinyang north to the Yellow River and were rapidly rebuilding the tracks. At the same time, they were consolidating their positions between the rivers, but they showed no signs of extending their corridor to the west. Tanks, armored cars, and trucks were less in evidence. The CACW task force, whose mission originally was scheduled to last one month, continued its operations into June and, as it turned out, never moved back south. Having failed to prevent occupation of the rail corridor, the squadrons now harassed the enemy in the newly occupied area. Japanese activity to the south, however, soon diverted their attention to the Yangtze sector, and a Chinese campaign directed at I-chang
required a concentration of effort on that battleground as well as on the river approaches to the east. Acquitting themselves well in aerial combat with enemy planes, the CACW fighters suffered heavy losses on the ground from enemy bombings and operational mishaps. Consequently, the four squadrons on many occasions practically merged for combat operations. The B-25's suffered the loss of one plane in a taxiing accident and four more which flew into a fogged-up mountainside. In June a detachment of eight P-51's from the 26th Squadron arrived to fly missions in the area. Their first mission was their most successful one. Striking at railroads, and rolling stock more especially, they reported destruction of twenty-two locomotives on their first sweep. The Mustangs remained at Liang-shan until the end of the month, when the Honan campaign could be said to have ended.52
The Chinese effort at I-chang was perhaps as much a diversionary action as anything else, for it had neither the ground strength nor air support to give it a chance of success. CACW fighters, aided by CAF craft, served as artillery, but bad liaison frequently led to mistakes in targets bombed and to failure by the ground forces to attack on the heels of an air attack for which they had asked. Enemy aircraft were met regularly in this small campaign, and here the CAF gave no help to the CACW. Their pilots had been ordered to give support to the ground forces but not to engage in combat with enemy aircraft, and while they flew missions with the CACW they invariably fled at the first sight of Japanese planes. I-chang was never seriously threatened, and apparently the attacks had no effect on enemy plans for a major campaign against the Changsha-Kweilin railway zone to the east.53
The CACW in itself, of course, could not have saved the railway above Sinyang. But this inexperienced task force had caused the enemy to slow down the advance and to restrict his ground movements toward the west, thereby perhaps preventing the occupation of a wide corridor which would have secured the railway from too frequent Allied air attacks after it was rebuilt. The force had also destroyed much enemy materiel and had caused many casualties to ground troops. It had been proved too that Chinese pilots, trained by Americans and operating under their supervision, were probably the equal of the current crop of Japanese pilots. In the months that followed, CACW pilots would give enemy transportation many heavy blows, and thus reduce the effect of the defeat in the campaign by denying the Japanese full use of their objective after it was won.
Meanwhile, on 26 May 1944, what proved to be the major phase of the Japanese summer offensive began with enemy columns moving south from the Yangtze at points extending from I-chang eastward to Wu-hu. In contrast with earlier thrusts at limited objectives in this region, this was a general offensive by a force exceeding by at least a hundred thousand any other offensive force the Japanese had employed in China. The very magnitude of the advance seemed to confuse the Chinese. They guessed that the focal point of the attack would be Changsha, where terrain would favor the defenders, but they could not commit themselves to a definite plan until enemy intentions were more clearly revealed. When it was seen that Changsha was actually in the line of the main drive, it was too late to set the defense firmly.
Moving southward in at least six distinct lines of attack the Japanese refused to pile up before fixed points of resistance, by-passing each prepared position of the Chinese and leaving only enough strength behind to contain the defending garrisons. They used almost every conceivable means of transportation in their advance, and their speed and tactics tended to throw the defenders into a panic. Within a few days the various penetrations had consolidated into three main drives, one directly southward from Yochow toward Changsha, and one on each side, directed at points south of Changsha on the Hsiang River.
As the summer approached, it was all too evident that a crucial battle was at hand, a battle upon whose outcome hung the future of air operations in east China.
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