Claire Chennault

From Academic Kids

Maj. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault (September 6, 1893 - July 27, 1958) was a United States aviator famous for commanding the "Flying Tigers" during World War II.

Born in Commerce, Texas but raised in Waterproof, Louisiana, Chennault learned to fly in the Army during World War I and became Chief of Pursuit Training for the US Army Air Corps in the 1930's. Poor health and disputes with superiors led Chennault to retire from the service in 1937. He then joined a small group of American civilians training Chinese airmen and served as air adviser to Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, Soong Mei-ling, during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG)--better known as the Flying Tigers--began training in the summer of 1941 and fought the Japanese for six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chennault's three squadrons American volunteer pilots used his tactics of "defensive pursuit" to guard the Burma Road, Rangoon, and other strategic locations in Southeast Asia and western China against Japanese forces.

The Flying Tigers were formally incorporated into the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. Earlier, Chennault had rejoined the Army with the rank of colonel; he was promoted to brigadier and then major general, heading the 14th Air Force. He achieved considerable success with limited forces, but his command was wracked by disputes with superiors, and he retired in 1945 shortly before the Allied victory in the Pacific.

Chennault, who unlike Joseph Stilwell had a high opinion of Chiang Kai-shek, advocated international support for Asian anti-communist movements. Returning to China postwar, he purchased several surplus military aircraft and created Civil Air Transport (later Air America). These aircraft supported the Kuomintang against Mao Zedong's Communists in the Chinese Civil War and supported the U.S. military during the Korean War and the French during the First Indochina War. Promoted to lieutenant general in retirement, Chennault died in 1958 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He is commemorated by a statue in the ROC capital of Taipei, as well as by monuments on the grounds of the Louisiana state capitol at Baton Rouge, and at Chennault Air Force Base, in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Chennault is still recognized as a major historical contributor to Chinese history within China. His Chinese name is Chen-na-de (陳纳德). He married a Chinese woman, Chen Xiangmei (陈香梅) (Anna Chan), much younger than he at the time.

Further reading

  • Martha Byrd - Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger ISBN 0817303227
  • Claire Chennault - Way of a Fighter (Putnam's, 1949)
  • Daniel Ford - Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group ISBN 1560985410
  • Robert Lee Scott Jr - Flying Tiger: Chennault of China ISBN 0837167744

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