Claire L. Chennault's reputation as leader of the Flying Tigers has been immortalized in movies and novels, and he is one of America's more famous airmen. He has been the subject of a number of biographies-probably more than he deserves. Of these, the best is certainly that of Martha Byrd, Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger (University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1987). She gives us a portrait of someone who at turns could be gruff, stubborn, iconoclastic, gentle, or cultured.
Chennault arrived at the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) in 1930 with a reputation as a premier pursuit pilot. His ideas concerning pursuit employment evolved from much thought and practical experience. But Air Corps doctrine was making a decisive shift in favor of bombardment, and Chennault's attempts to stem that tide were futile. As Byrd points out, Chennault's abrasive personality negated his arguments, and his colleagues found it more satisfying simply to ignore him. Suffering from a variety of physical ailments and realizing his theories were out of tune with Air Corps policy, he retired in 1937. Soon after, he moved to China, where he served as an adviser to Chiang Kaishek, and formed the Flying Tigers volunteer group to fight against the Japanese. The muchstoried group of mercenariesturnedheroes was well suited to Chennault's aggressive and unconventional personality. When America entered the war, the Flying Tigers were incorporated into the Fourteenth Air Force, and Chennault was promoted to brigadier general and made its commander. Never on good terms with his Air Corps colleagues, Chennault exacerbated this relationship with his constant complaints and his tendency to circumvent the chain of command by dealing directly with Chiang and President Roosevelt. Although knowing how this infuriated his superiors, Chennault persisted. As a consequence, George Marshall thought him disloyal and unreliable, Hap Arnold considered him a "crackpot," and Joe Stilwell (his superior in China) called him "a jackass." Even if his strategic theories had been correct, his method of promoting them ensured their demise. In fact, his ideas were not sound. He believed that a small force of aircraft, mostly pursuit with a handful of bombers, could so disrupt Japanese logistics as to lead to its eventual defeat. But interdiction campaigns do not win wars, and it is doubtful if any amount of tactical airpower could have prevented Japan from overrunning China, much less brought about its defeat. Though an outstanding tactician, whose determination in the face of overwhelming supply and equipment difficulties kept the Fourteenth Air Force in the field, Chennault's strategic ideas can only be classified as puerile. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book-the best available on the important airman.
A step below Byrd's effort is that of Jack Samson, Chennault (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987). Samson flew in Chennault's Fourteenth Air Force during the war and afterwards often went fishing and hunting with his former boss. As a result, he gives some useful insights into the personality of the Flying Tiger, while at the same time providing a fairly detailed account of combat operations. This work relies heavily on Chennault's personal papers (located at Stanford University) and recounts the heavy correspondence between the general and Chinese leaders. In addition, Samson covers the decade after the war when Chennault organized the Chinese Air Transport (CAT) company. This is especially interesting because CAT worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency and eventually became Air America. Unfortunately, the author's portrayal of Chennault is far too laudatory. The general is glorified throughout and those who disagreed with him-Joe Stilwell, Clayton Bissell, and George Marshall-are depicted as uninformed, narrowminded, and selfserving.
A piece of wartime propaganda and boys' adventure story is Sam Mims's Chennault of the Flying Tigers (New York: MacraeSmith, 1943). Only slightly above that caliber are Keith Ayling's Old Leatherface of the Flying Tigers: The Story of General Chennault (Indianapolis, N.Y.: The BobbsMerrill Co., 1945); Robert B. Hotz's, With General Chennault: The Story of the Flying Tigers (New York: CowardMcCann, Inc., 1943); and Duane P. Schultz's, The Maverick War: Chennault and the Flying Tigers (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987). Robert L. Scott's Flying Tiger: Chennault of China (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959) is interesting because Scott was a successful fighter pilot (author of God is My CoPilot) and therefore speaks with some authority regarding Chennault's tactical ideas and his early warning network. Another work that provides some interesting insights into Chennault's personality and leadership traits is a pamphlet published by the Fourteenth Air Force Association and edited by Malcolm Rosholt, Claire L. Chennault: A Tribute (Rosholt, Wisconsin, 1983). The general's Chinese wife, whom he married in 1946, has also written two books that show a more personal side of his life. She depicts her husband as kind, loving, romantic, and stubborn. In addition, her works contain information from Chennault's early career that he presumably related to her during their marriage. The two books by Anna Chennault are A Thousand Springs: The Biography of a Marriage (New York: Eriksson, 1962) and Chennault and the Flying Tigers (New York: Eriksson, 1963).
Chennault's memoirs are titled Way of a Fighter (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1949), and that title sums up the general's view of his life-an endless stream of battles against incompetent superiors. This work opens with a foreword that decries the situation then present in China, which he maintains was caused by the ineptitude of Joe Stilwell and George Marshall. In other words, Chennault has some old scores to settle in this memoir. No one emerges looking very dignified in this account of constant bickering, and indeed, one is left with the impression that Washington very cleverly sent its most difficult senior officers to a minor theater where they could fight amongst themselves and be out of the way. The saving grace of this book is its detailed account of the fighter tactics used against the Japanese and the hardships of operating in the China theater at the end of the American supply line.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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