Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault (September 6, 1893 – July 27, 1958), was an American military aviator. A contentious officer, fierce advocate of "pursuit" fight-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the U.S. Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment.
Poor health and disputes with superiors led Chennault to resign from the service on 30 April 1937. Chennault arrived in China on June 1937, after retiring from the United States Army Air Corps with the rank of captain. He joined a small group of American civilians training Chinese airmen. He had a three-month contract at a salary of $1,000 per month, with the mission of making a survey of the Chinese Air Force. When the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) broke out in July, he served as "air adviser" to Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Government leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, working through the generalissimo's wife, Soong May-ling or "Madame Chiang" as she was known to Americans, was in charge of the Aeronautical Commission and thus became Chennault's immediate supervisor. That August, Chennault became Chiang Kai-shek's chief air adviser, helping to train Chinese Air Force bomber and fighter pilots, sometimes flying scouting missions in an export Curtiss H-75 fighter, and organizing the "International Squadron" of mercenary pilots.
Increasingly, however, Soviet bomber and fighter squadrons took over from China's battered units, and in the summer of 1938 Chennault went to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Western China, to train a new Chinese Air Force from an American mold.
On October 19, 1939, Chennault boarded Pan American Airways "California Clipper" (Boeing B-314; NC18602) at the Pan American Airways terminal in Hong Kong. Chennault was on a special mission for Chiang Kai-shek. The California Clipper made a number of stops in the Pacific that included Manila (21 October) and Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii (October 25), eventually arriving at Treasure Island, San Francisco CA (October 26). Traveling with Chennault were four Chinese government officials: Mr. Shiao-down Chiang, Mr. Liu Yu-Wan, Mr. Tuan-Sheng Chien, and Mr. Ken-Sen Chow. Four of these passengers listed their place of origination as Kunming China, and Mr. Chow as Kaiting China.
By 1940, seeing that the Chinese Air Force had collapsed, because of ill-trained Chinese pilots and shortage of equipment, Chiang Kai-shek sent Chennault to the United States to meet with Dr. T. V. Soong in Washington DC, with the following directed purpose: to get as many fighter planes, bombers, and transports as possible, plus all the supplies needed to maintain them and the pilots to fly the aircraft. With Chennault, the Chinese President ordered Chinese Air Force General Pang-Tsu Mow to assist Chennault at the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC. Together, they departed on Tuesday, October 15, 1940, from Chungking (Chongqing), China, arriving at the Port of Hong Kong where they boarded American Clipper (Boeing B-314, Pan American Airlines No. NC 18606, Captain J. Chase), on Friday, 1 November 1940; arriving Port of San Francisco at Treasure Island, on Thursday, November 14, 1940. They reported to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States Hu Shih on a mission that would ultimately conclude negotiations for the creation of an American Volunteer Group of pilots and mechanics to serve in China. How to obtain the shopping list of planes, aviation supplies, volunteers, and funds for the Bank of China were discussed in a meeting held at the home of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. Saturday afternoon, 21 December 1940, with Captain Chennault, Dr. T. V. Soong, and General Pang-Tsu Mow. He departed Hong Kong on 19 June 1940 aboard Pan American Airways Honolulu Clipper; departed Manila, Philippines, on 21 June; arrived at Treasure Island, San Francisco, California, on June 25; departed from Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Mills Field, Oakland, California, at 7:00 PM, 25 June aboard a United Airlines DC-3; arriving at Washington National Airport, June 26. This mission was focused on establishing bank loans between the U.S. government and the Bank of China. Traveling with Dr. Soong were three other Chinese government bank officials: Chu-Chen Lee, Fu-Chen Chang, Chien-Hung Chang. By late July 1940, Dr. Soong was able to obtain concessions from the U.S. government for two $50 million loans (to stabilize Chinese financial market; to purchase war material). On Friday, April 25, 1941, the United States and China formally signed a $50 million stabilization agreement to support the Chinese currency. Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau signed for the United States, and Dr. T. V. Soong and Dr. Lee Kan both signed for the Chinese government with the Chinese Ambassador to the United States Dr. Hu Shih present.
By Monday afternoon, December 23, upon approval by the War Department, State Department and the President of the United States, an agreement was reached to provide China the 100 P-40B Tomahawk aircraft (redesignated P-40C's after their modifications for overseas service) that were originally scheduled for shipment to Great Britain but cancelled due to the Tomahawk's inferior flight performance against German fighters. With an agreement reached, General Pang-Tsu Mow returned to China aboard SS Lurline; departing out of the Port of Los Angeles Friday morning, January 24, 1941. Chennault followed shortly after with a promise from the War Department and President Roosevelt to be delivered to Chiang Kai-shek that several shipments of P-40C fighters were forthcoming along with pilots, mechanics, and aviation supplies. And, Dr. Soong began negotiations for an increase in financial aid with U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Federal Loan Administrator Jesse H. Jones on Thursday, 17 October 1940.
President Roosevelt then sent Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks to the Chinese under the American Lend-Lease program. Chennault also was able to recruit some 300 American pilots and ground crew, posing as tourists, who were adventurers or mercenaries, not necessarily idealists out to save China. But under Chennault they developed into a crack fighting unit, always going against superior Japanese forces. They became the symbol of America's military might in Asia.
Just weeks after the Japanese air Attack on Pearl Harbor (Sunday morning, December 7, 1941), the first news reports released to the public pertaining to Claire Chennault's war exploits occurred on December 20, 1941 when senior Chinese officials in Chungking that Saturday evening released his name to United Press International reporters to commemorate the first aerial attack made by the international air force called the American Volunteer Group (AVG). These American flyers encountered 10 Japanese aircraft heading to raid Kunming, and successfully shot down four of the raiders. Thus, Colonel Claire Chennault became America's first military leader to be publicly recognized for striking a blow against the Japanese military forces. This American public fame would last four months until the Doolittle Raid led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, United States Army Air Forces. In 1948, Chennault would make a controversial claim that General Clayton Bissell had not informed him of the upcoming raid, and that the raiders took unnecessary casualties because of it.
Based primarily out of Rangoon, Burma and Kunming, Yunnan, Chennault's 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) – better known as the "Flying Tigers" – began training in August 1941 and fought the Japanese for seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chennault's three squadrons used P-40s, and his tactics of "defensive pursuit," formulated in the years when bombers were actually faster than intercepting fighter planes, to guard the Burma Road, Rangoon, and other strategic locations in Southeast Asia and western China against Japanese forces. As the commander of the Chinese Air Force flight training school at Yunnan-yi, west of Kunming, Chennault also made a great contribution by training a new generation Chinese fighter pilots.
The Flying Tigers were formally incorporated into the United States Army Air Forces in 1942. Prior to that, Chennault had rejoined the Army with the rank of colonel. He was later promoted to brigadier and then major general, commanding the Fourteenth Air Force.
Throughout the war Chennault was engaged in a bitter dispute with the American ground commander, General Joseph Stilwell. Chiang Kai-shek favored Chennault's plans, since he was suspicious of British colonial interests in Burma and was not prepared to begin major offensive operations against the Japanese. He was also concerned about alliances with semi-independent generals supporting the Nationalist government, and was concerned that a major loss of military forces would enable his Communist Chinese adversaries to gain the upper hand.
Chennault, who, unlike Joseph Stilwell, had a high opinion of Chiang Kai-shek, advocated international support for Asian anti-communist movements. Returning to China, he purchased several surplus military aircraft and created the Civil Air Transport, (later known as Air America). These aircraft facilitated aid to Nationalist China during the struggle against Chinese Communists in the late 1940s, and were later used in supply missions to French forces in Indochina and the Kuomintang occupation of Northern Burma throughout the mid- and late-1950s, providing support for the Thai police force.
In 1951, a now-retired Major General Chennault testified and provided written statements to the Senate Joint Committee on Armed Forces and Foreign Relations, which was investigating the causes of the fall of China in 1949 to Communist forces. Together with Army General Albert C. Wedemeyer, Navy Vice Admiral Oscar C. Badger II, and others, Chennault stated that the Truman administration's arms embargo was a key factor in the loss of morale to the Nationalist armies.
Chennault advocated changes in the way foreign aid was distributed, encouraged the U.S. Congress to focus on individualized aid assistance with specific goals, with close monitoring by U.S. advisers. This viewpoint may have reflected his experiences during the Chinese Civil War, where officials of the Kuomintang and semi-independent army officers diverted aid intended for the Nationalist armies. Shortly before his death, Chennault was asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee of the Congress. When a committee member asked him who won the Korean War, his response was blunt: "The Communists."
Chennault was promoted to Lieutenant General in the U.S. Air Force, several days before his death on July 27, 1958 at the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans. He died of lung cancer. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 2, 873).
Chennault was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in December 1972, along with Leroy Grumman, Curtis LeMay and James H. Kindelberger. The ceremony was headed by retired Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart. An award plaque was presented by Stewart to presidential adviser Thomas Gardiner Corcoran and fighter ace John R. "Johnny" Alison, who both accepted for Anna Chennault, who could not attend.
In 2005, the "Flying Tigers Memorial" was built in Huaihua, Hunan Province, on one of the old airstrips used by the Flying Tigers in the 1940s. On the 65th anniversary of the Japanese surrender to China, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and PRC officials unveiled a statue of Chennault in Zhijiang County, Hunan, the site of the surrender of Japan
Created by: Lorenzo Brieba
Record added: Sep 19, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 76736722
Added: Nov. 27, 2012