For some time before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a small band of American pilots were battling Japanese planes over China—a country Japan had already penetrated. Many people called these pilots mercenaries and adventurers. And the same critics ridiculed their leader, Claire Chennault, for his unorthodox beliefs about the importance and the use of aerial combat in modern warfare. But during World War II, Chennault and his Flying Tigers earned the respect of everyone, with some of the most amazing exploits ever performed by men in the sky. Claire Chennault — once scorned as a radical and a fanatic — was honored by three nations.
Here is the human story of the man behind the legend he created. As a boy in Louisiana, Chennault was sturdy and self-reliant, a crack shot and a fine hunter. He enlisted in the army during World War I, and although he was rejected three times as a pilot trainee, he became a fighter pilot anyway. During his service career, he worked tirelessly to build an American air force second to none, but the military experts ignored his theories about aerial combat.
When Chennault retired from the service at forty-seven, he went to China to help in the fight against Communist agression, and to rebuild that country's air force. He taught both Chinese and volunteer American pilots his daring dogfight tactics, turning his men into a deadly efficient combat team. Inspired by Chennault, who personally shot down 63 Japanese planes, the Flying Tigers fought 50 air battles without defeat. In one long engagement they destroyed 250 enemy planes, losing only 16 of their own. Chennault launched brilliant raids against the enemy, striking their air-fields and shipping. He completely proved his theories of aerial warfare. After the war, he returned to China and operated a commercial airline, and continued his fight against the communist menace in Asia.
Claire Chennault's story is one of adventure and achievement through several decades. As the same time, it traces the history of aviation as it developed during his lifetime.
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