AMERICAN VOLUNTEER GROUP PILOT TAKES HIS P-40 TOMAHAWK OFF THE FIELD NORTH OF RANGOON. NOTICE TWO GUNS ON EDGE OF EACH WING, ONE EACH SIDE OF COWLING.
FLYING TIGERS IN BURMA
HANDFUL OF AMERICAN PILOTS SHOOT
DOWN 300 JAP WARPLANES IN 90 DAYS
Photographs for LIFE by George Rodger
One shining hope has emerged from three catastrophic months of war. That is the American Volunteer Group of fighter pilots, the so-called “Flying Tigers” of Burma and southeast China who paint the jaws of a shark on their Curtiss P-40’s (above). Outnumbered often ten to one, they have so far shot down about 300 Jap planes, killed perhaps 800 Jap airmen. They have violently wrenched from the Jap Air Force control of the skies over Burma and southeast China. They have conclusively proved what was once only a Yankee belief: that one American flier is equal to two or three Japs. “Give me,” said U.S. Lieutenant General Brett in Australia last week, “100 fighters to 200 Japs and I’ll lick them every time. I am not disparaging the Japs. They are good fighters.” On the following pages LIFE presents the first full-length portrait of the Flying Tigers in action, taken by LIFE Photographer George Rodger before Jap ground forces seized the A.V.G. base at Rangoon.
THE SHARK FACE IS OFF IN A CLOUD OF DUST TO MEET THE JAPANESE INVADERS
The hundred or so young men of then Flying Tigers have several tremendous assets: 1) they have had up to six years of military flying and they have and instinctive feel for what their machines will do; 2) they have been blooded in the air and 3) they are always looking for a fight. The result was bound to be something extremely painful to anybody who ran into them. On their first meeting, they actually lost four planes to the Japs’ six. On the second historic meeting, on Christmas Day, they mowed down 20 out of 78 Japs with a loss of zero. The holocaust was on.
The American Volunteer Group was recruited from U.S. Army, Navy and Marine fliers a year ago, under hush-hush circumstances to avoid offending the Japs. Its job was to help China fight. Pay was $600 a month with a $500 bonus for every Jap plane shot down. The men, who had been promised no loss of rank in the U.S. Armed Forces, began arriving in the Far East last summer, registered as tourists, acrobats, artists. They were trained and organized by China’s crack American Air Chief, Colonel Claire Chennault. When war broke out Dec. 7, they were just about set.
Jap rudder from plane shot down near the field is exhibited by (from left), Pilots Hill, Bacon, Cole, Rector, Lawlor, Schiel. In the background is shark-faced P-40. These men, plus those in jeep car at right, plus two below, make up most of the pilots of this particular squadron of American Volunteer Group. This is an extremely handy group of men.
For the album five more Flying Tigers pose in jeep car on the flying field. Front seat, from left: Newkirk, Geselbracht, Howard; in back: Bartling and Layher. Newkirk, the man making a face, has shot down 25 Japs so far, had seven or eight when the picture was taken at the end of January. Newkirk and Howard are squadron leaders. Other three are late arrivals.
Mad clear through is pilot Matthew Kuykendall, 23, of San Saba, Texas. He was hit in forehead and finger by Jap fire. He owns Hereford herd in Texas, is a fine horseman, roper, rifle shot, rancher.
Under a mango tree, Flying Tiger pilots and crews have lunch of corned beef, vegetables, bread, bananas and coffee. In the background is the tent for pilots on active duty. Word of oncoming Japs comes here by telephone. A few minutes later word cam and the boys went up. They got all of a seven-plane Jap bomber squadron. Lawlor got four, Bartling two. One American plane was lost.
Ready for action after a quick meal is John G. Bright of Reading, Pa. He went to Exeter, was Princeton pole vaulter. Son of a hardware manufacturer, he “always wanted adventurous job.”
Pilots on duty wait for call in pilot tent on edge of field. In foreground is Tom Cole of Missouri who was killed soon after. He had parachuted but Japs machine-gunned him in the air. One of his friends promised, “Those yellow so-and-so’s had better write themselves off all the way down now.” This was the same day’s work in which Kuykendall (right) got a scratch.
After the flight, Pilot Hill (left) talks it over with his armorer, Jim Musick, by the telephone in the pilot tent. There were three raids this days, Jan. 23. In first Jap attack of 30 planes, 16 were shot down. Even in China, the A.V.G. boys get American steak, ham and eggs, pie, hot and cold running water, see very ancient American movies. Most wear shoulder holsters.
Squadron Leader John V. Newkirk, 28, of Scarsdale, N.Y., went to New York Cathedral Choir School, was Eagle Scout, Time, Inc. office boy, graduate of Rensselear Polytechnic. he trained as Navy flier at Pensacola, Fla., married Lansing, Mich., girl.
Squadron Leader James H. Howard, 29, Haverford School, Pomona College (1937), was born in China, captured by Chinese bandits at 12 with his eminent doctor-father, Jim escaped. He was dive bomber on Enterprise. He speaks Chinese.
Pilot Robert Layher, 26, of Otis, Colo., is son of village mailman, graduate of Colorado University and had finished one year of law when he joined the Naval Air Service to become bomber pilot. He married a Colorado University coed last September.
Flight Leader Edward F. Rector, 25, from a mountain farm outside Marshall, N.C., likes to grow tobacco and corn, went to Catawba College, learned to fly with the U.S. Navy. A quiet, hardworking country boy, he is well-liked by everybody.
Flight Leader David Lee Hill, 26, of Hunt, Texas, is son of Texas Ranger chaplain. At Texas A&M, he was in the cavalry. Graduating from Austin College in 1938, he joined the Naval Air Service, served aboard Saratoga and Ranger.
Pilot Frank Lindsay Lawlor, 27, born at Winston-Salem, N.C., graduated from North Carolina University, was rejected once for Navy Air Corps, stuffed with bananas and made it. He flew aboardSaratoga, has a wife and ten-month-old-son, Lindsay.
Flight Leader Noel Richard Bacon, 24, is son of lady mayor of little Randalia, Iowa. He was Boy Scout, played basketball and clarinet, went to Iowa Teachers College, became Navy flier at Pensacola. Like most of others, he is unmarried.
Pilot William Evart Bartling, 27, of Middletown, Ind., son of contractor, graduated from Purdue in 1938, worked with Carnegie Steel Co., entered U.S. Navy in 1940, was crack dive bomber on theWasp. Two brothers are Ford engineers.
Pilot Henry M. Geselbracht Jr., 25, of St. Louis, was Beta Theta Pi at Washington University and U.C.L.A., graduated in 1939, flew at Long Beach and Pensacola and for movie Dive Bomber. He first rode in plane at 16 at Chicago World’s Fair.
A.V.G. PILOTS REPAIR THEIR P-40’S HIDDEN UNDER MANGO TREES IN BURMA
These great American air fighters do not talk ideologies, though they are all educated men. They do not discuss why they are fighting. They are having a good time and a highly dangerous one, but Dave Hill wants to be a rancher, Layher wants to practice law and Ed Rector wants to grow tobacco in the hills. In effect, the Japs interfere with those programs and must be eliminated.
On this page you see how the A.V.G. services and repairs its planes at an advanced airfield in Burma. Their American ingenuity at patching up their battered planes with hand tools and old material is one reason for their continued practical success over the Japs. On the alert every daylight hour, these pilots make excellent fighting teams, every man pretty much his own master, for every man is squadron-leader material of the highest type. Perhaps half a dozen have lost their lives in combat. The factual story of their skill, courage and fighting spirit has swept Free China with the knowledge of what America’s joining the war means. But their highest compliment came in a Tokyo broadcast that complained that the A.V.G. was not using orthodox tactics.
Flying Tiger plane is repaired and serviced by Armorers Hanley (left) and Musick, under trees. These Tomahawks are more durable than Jap planes, taking beating well.
Chinese ground crew works on damaged tail of P-40. With hand tools they can make any part of a plane’s body work. They consider association with A.V.G. a high honor.
Under the trees where Japs cannot spot them, Americans repair and service their Curtiss P-40’s. Close-up of plane badly shot up is shown in right photo. Crude chain-hoist over tree typifies makeshift facilities used by A.V.G. Initials C.A.M. Co., on truck refer to Central Aircraft Manufacturing Co., which recruited A.V.G.
A suicide dive into Blenheim bomber on R.A.F. airport was tried by a Jap pilot whose plane had been shot up by A.V.G. He missed the Blenheim (right) by a few feet and piled into a bank. Several Jap fliers, seeing they were bound to crash anyway, have tried this. Blenheim was saved by the fact that the Jap did not burst into flames. Here R.A.F. men clear away Jap’s tail assembly.
SMASHED JAP PLANES AND
CREWS GIVE A.V.G. PILOTS
THE MEASURE OF VICTORY
Results in the A.V.G. are measured in terms of smashed Jap planes and dead Jap crews. Some A.V.G. results are shown on these pages. The A.V.G. is usually fighting defensive air actions – i.e., breaking up Jap bomber formations protected by Jap fighters. These Jap fighters are not quite as fast as the American Tomahawks but the climb and maneuver better. Oddly enough, Jap bombers are faster than fighters and the only way the Americans can get them is to gain altitude and gather extra speed diving on them.
The unoriginal Japs are, for the most part, flying American planes. Their bombers are home-made copies of ours, with modifications which are not always improvements. Their engines are duplicates of U.S. designs made in Japan under U.S. patent license. A special Jap touch to aviation is that of officers fly and die with their samurai swords. Chiang Kai-shek, A.V.G.’s boss, told these Americans: “Each of you has proved a match for 30 or more of the enemy. I hope to celebrate with you in Tokyo.”
JAP BOMBER OFFICER FALLS BESIDE HIS SAMURAI SWORD
BURMESE TURN AWAY FROM ANOTHER MEMBER OF CREW
ALL SIX JAPS IN THE BOMBER WERE KILLED IN THE CRASH
LIFE’S PICTURES George Rodger has gone to more sweat and pain to get a few pictures in LIFE than any other LIFE photographer. He has photographed the Free French in Africa, the sandy war of Libya, the grimy war of Ethiopia, the travail of Syria, Iran and Iraq, the Northwest Frontier, India. But in Burma, he found a group of the best American fliers the U.S. will ever produce. There he took the extraordinary pictures of the Flying Tigers of Burma.
On LIFE’s cover Shirley Temple appears at the threshold of her 13th birthday. Growing up has presented problems to the world’s greatest child star which Shirley is meeting with intelligence. In a radio serial, Junior Miss, she acts a role perfectly suited to her age, and she has sensibly decided to continue her movie career. As a baby star, Shirley’s fashions were always copied for other children, but now that she is a busy high school freshman, Shirley has the wholesome desire to copy other girls of her own age.
VOL. 12, NO. 13, MARCH 30, 1942. FLYING TIGERS IN BURMA
Adapted for the Internet by Carl W. Weidenburner
Portions copyright 1942 Time, Inc.