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Aces of Aviation

Curtiss P-40B Warhawk of Claire Lee Chennault

Curtiss P-40B Warhawk of Claire Lee Chennault

Curtiss P-40B Warhawk from the American Volunteer Group, which fought against the Japanese under command from General Claire Lee Chennault, in January/February 1942.

Wingspan: 11.38 meters.

Length: 9.67 meters.

Height: 3.22 meters.

Engine[s]: Allison V-1710 of 1040 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 566 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 9857 meters.

Range: 1980 kilometers.

Armament: Six Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine guns.

Born in 1892, Claire Lee Chennault achieved fame as the founder and commander of the American Volunteer Group, which flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in the defense of China against the Japanese at the time of the entry of United States in the Second World War. At the end of the First World War, Chennault was an Infantry Officer but shortly after, when destined to the Army Air Service, he earned his Pilot Wings. After a brief period as flight instructor, he became a passionate advocate of interceptor fighters.

Frustrated by the lack of official resolution and his debilitated health, Chennault retired from the Air Corps with the rank of Major in 1936, but he immediately received an invitation to become a counsellor of aviation of General Chiang Kai-Shek, with the task of organizing an air defense system in China to oppose the Japanese threat. During the first four years, the rudimentary air force organized by Chennault, composed of poorly trained pilots, could present only a weak opposition to the enemy air force. However, in 1941 he managed to get a delivery of one hundred of Curtiss P-40B fighters for the defense of China.

He deployed two P-40B squadrons in Kumming, for the protection of the road to Burma, and a third one in Mingaladon, for the defense of Mandalay. After the Japanese attack against United States, the small force of Chennault was the only modern air force capable of facing the Japanese threat against Burma and, during the sixty days which preceded the fall of Rangoon, the "Flying Tigers" of Chennault destroyed about 150 Japanese aircraft in air combat. The methods of intensive training applied by Chennault were successful, turning his squadrons into effective and coherent combat units for both air combat and air support.

After that, Chennault was incorporated again to the United States Air Force with the rank of Major General. Subsequently, the American Volunteer Group became the Chinese Combat Group, and later the 23rd Fighter Group. After diverse efforts to advise Chiang Kai-Shek once the war was over, Chennault returned to United States, where he died the 25th July 1958.

American Volunteer Group