Chennault, Major General Claire Lee, 1890-1958

In 1937 Chennault had retired from the USAAF because of faulty hearing and had left for China to become an adviser on aviation and the supervisor of a training program. In November 1940 he returned to Washington to recruit pilots and was able to get 100 veteran Army, Navy and Marine corps fliers to join him and a further 100 engineers to maintain equipment. The unit, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was operational in 1941 and in the skies over Burma destroyed nearly 300 Japanese aircraft in six months’ fighting. In April 1942 he was called to active duty in the US Army and became leader of the 14th US (Voluntary) Army Air Force in China. In May 1943 at the Washington Conference Chennault came into conflict with General STILWELL, CHIANG Kai-shek’s Chief of Staff, over the distribution of resources and over strategy. Chennault wanted to build up the Air Force and, having secured a larger share of material and supplies than Stilwell, launched an attempt to drive the Japanese back. This was accomplished too successfully by July 1943 and the Japanese launched a counteroffensive, Ichi-Go, to reconquer the lost territory. In July 1945 Chennault resigned in disagreement over the decision to disband the Chinese-American joint wing of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault was a rough man, who was nicknamed ‘old leather-face’ because of the burn marks on his face received during the days of open cockpits.

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