Original U.S. Lieutenant General Chennault Signed Photograph Correspondence and News Clippings
Original Items: Only One Set Available. This collection was complied by Mrs. Arthur Lagenderfer "Flo Flo" of Toledo Ohio. Mrs. Lagenderfer befriended Chen Xiangmei (Anna Chennault) who was the second wife of Lt. General Claire Lee Chennault. The nature of their relationship appears to have been close with letters exchanged and shared photographs of each other and their husbands at official Govenermant functions. Mrs. Lagenderfer also kept multiple period news clippings about Chennault. Of particular note is a 1950's photograph of Chennault in uniform on which he wrote: "with best wishes to "Flo Flo"" along with his signature and rank. All in all its a nice little collection which documents the postwar years and personal life of one of America's most important aviators.
Claire Lee Chennault (September 6, 1890 – July 27, 1958) was an American military aviator best known for his leadership of the "Flying Tigers" and the Republic of China Air Force in World War II.
Chennault was a fierce advocate of "pursuit" or fighter-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the United States Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment. Chennault retired from the United States Army in 1937, and went to work as an aviation adviser and trainer in China.
Starting in early 1941, Chennault commanded the 1st American Volunteer Group (nicknamed Flying Tigers). He headed both the volunteer group and the uniformed U.S. Army Air Forces units that replaced it in 1942. He feuded constantly with General Joseph Stilwell, the U.S. Army commander in China, and helped China's Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to convince President Roosevelt to remove Stilwell in 1944. The China-Burma-India theater was strategically essential in order to fix many vital elements of the Imperial Japanese Army on the Chinese mainland to limit their use against Allied forces advancing towards Japan in the two Pacific campaigns.
Creation of the American Volunteer Group, the "Flying Tigers"
Chennault's mission to Washington generated the concept of creating an American Volunteer Group of pilots and mechanics to serve in China. By then Dr. Soong had already begun negotiations for an increase in financial aid with U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Federal Loan Administrator Jesse H. Jones on October 17.
Washington provided the money. How to obtain the shopping list of aircraft, aviation supplies, volunteers and funds for the Bank of China was further discussed in a meeting held at the home of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. with Captain Chennault, Dr. Soong, and General Mow on December 21. On April 25, 1941, the United States and China formally signed a $50 million stabilization agreement to support the Chinese currency. By December 23, 1940, 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 which had originally been built for Britain, but which the British were persuaded to give up in preference for newer models rapidly being built. With an agreement reached, General Mow returned to China aboard the SS Lurline, departing from Los Angeles, California on 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.
The 100 planes were crated and sent to Burma on third-country freighters during spring 1941. At Rangoon, they were unloaded, assembled and test flown by personnel of Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) before being delivered to the AVG training unit at Toungoo. Their first battle occurred on December 20, 1941 with aircraft flying out of Kunming.
CAMCO delivered 99 Tomahawks before war broke out. (Many of those were later destroyed in training accidents.) The 100th fuselage was trucked to a CAMCO plant in Loiwing, China, and later made whole with parts from damaged aircraft. Shortages in equipment with spare parts almost impossible to obtain in Burma along with the slow introduction of replacement fighter aircraft were continual impediments, although the AVG did receive 50 replacement P-40E fighters from USAAF stocks that were originally scheduled for shipment to Great Britain but cancelled due to the Tomahawk's inferior flight performance against German fighters.
Chennault recruited 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. They became the Flying Tigers.
Chennault's 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) – better known as the "Flying Tigers" – began training in August 1941 and was primarily based out of Rangoon, Burma, and Kunming, Yunnan. Just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, senior Chinese officials in Chungking released details of the first aerial attack made by the group, when the American flyers encountered 10 Japanese aircraft heading to raid Kunming and successfully shot down four of the raiders.
Thus, Claire Chennault became America's "first military leader" to be publicly recognized for striking a blow against the Japanese military forces – despite not being a member of the American military, but a civilian mercenary who was paid and promoted to colonel by Chiang Kai-Shek.
The Flying Tigers 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 aircraft, 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 of 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 general and then major general, commanding the Fourteenth Air Force.
The first magazine photo coverage of Chennault took place within Life magazine in the Monday, August 10, 1942, issue. The first Time magazine photo coverage of Chennault took place in its Monday, December 6, 1943, issue.
Throughout the war Chennault was engaged in a bitter dispute with the American ground commander, General Joseph Stilwell.
Chennault believed that the Fourteenth Air Force, operating out of bases in China, could attack Japanese forces in concert with Nationalist troops. For his part, Stilwell wanted air assets diverted to his command to support the opening of a ground supply route through northern Burma to China. This route would provide supplies and new equipment for a greatly expanded Nationalist force of twenty to thirty modernized divisions.
Chiang Kai-shek favored Chennault's plans, since he was suspicious of British colonial interests in Burma, and he was unprepared – and unwilling – to begin major offensive operations against the Japanese, preferring to save his troops for the eventual civil war. 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.
The sharply differing assessments held by Stillwell and Chennault came out in a meeting in 1943 with President Roosevelt, who asked both commanders for their opinion of Chiang. Stillwell stated: "He's a vacillating, tricky, undependable old scoundrel who never keeps his word". Chennault by contrast told Roosevelt: "Sir, I think the Generalissimo is one of the two or three greatest military and political leaders in the world today. He has never broken a commitment or promise to me". Chennault was supported in his disputes by Soong Mei-ling, Chiang's politically powerful wife, who was one of the richest women in 1930s China, and unlike her husband, was fluent in English.
Stilwell and Chennault loathed each other, having very different personalities, described by the British journalist Jonathan Fenby as a clash between Stilwell, the New England Puritan and proud "Yankee" who "prized moral courage" above all vs. Chennault, the Southern gentleman and "Good Ole Boy" who accepted "human foibles" as natural. For an example, Chennault opened up a brothel in Guilin for his pilots, recruiting English-speaking prostitutes from Hong Kong who fled to the inland of China to escape the Japanese, arguing that his men needed sex and it was better to have his "boys" visit a brothel that was regularly inspected to reduce venereal diseases. Chennault felt his men were going to visit brothels, regardless of what the rules said, and it was better to have them visit a brothel whose women were inspected for venereal diseases than one that was not, under the grounds that a man in the hospital for a venereal disease was one less man who could participate in the war. Stilwell was enraged when he heard about Chennault's brothel and promptly had it shut down, saying it was disgraceful that an officer of the United States Army Air Force would open such an establishment. The British Field Marshal Alan Brooke, who met both Stillwell and Chennault in late 1943, wrote that Stillwell was a "hopeless crank with no vision" and Chennault was "a very gallant airman with a limited brain".
In November 1943 the Japanese Army air forces were ready to challenge Allied forces again, and they began night and day raids on Calcutta and the Hump bases while their fighters contested Allied air intrusions over Burma. In April 1944, the Japanese launched Operation Ichigo-the largest Japanese offensive of all time-that committed 1 million Japanese soldiers to action. The 14th Air Force was involved in strafing and bombing attacks against the Japanese advancing on the city of Changsha, which Japanese had tried and failed to take three previous times since 1938, making the city into a symbol of Chinese defiance. Relations between Stilwell and Chennault reached their nadir in 1944. Stilwell used the success of Operation Ichigo as proof the fallacy of Chennault's claim that air power alone could defeat Japan while Chennault accused of Stilwell of deliberately taking a defeatist attitude as a gambit to force Chiang to cede more powers of command to him. As the Japanese took Changsha in June 1944, Chennault criticized Stilwell for trying to command the Chinese armies from Burma, sending a message to Washington saying no-one had seen Stilwell in southern China recently.
Following their victory in the Fourth Battle of Changsha, the Japanese began to advance on the city of Hengyang held by the 10th Chinese Army commanded by General Xue Yue. The 14th Air Force bombed the supply lines of the advancing Japanese and Chennault reported to Washington that his "boys" had shot down 210 Japanese planes in the aerial battles over Hengyang. However, the Chinese soldiers holding Hengyang were ill-equipped, with the American journalist Teddy White reporting that only a third of the Chinese infantrymen had rifles, their artillery consisted of just two French artillery guns from World War I, and the majority lived on starvation rations of one bowl of rice per day. Despite their bravery in resisting Japanese assaults on Hengyang all through July and August 1944, the Chinese weaknesses in regards to weapons and food began to tell with Xue reporting his men badly needed supplies to hold Hengyang. Channault wanted to air drop food, weapons and ammunition to the 10th Army, but was vetoed by Stilwell on the grounds that to air drop supplies would "set a precedent for further demands that could not be met". Chennault did have the pilots of the 14th Air Force brave Japanese anti-aircraft fire to fly in as low as 300 feet to drop supplies of food, ammunition and medical supplies, but Xue stated he needed far more. A requst from Chennault to air drop 500 tons of weapons to the 10th Army was rejected by Stilwell as a "waste of effort". On 7 August 1944, Xue reported the Imperial Japanese Army had broken his defense lines and entered Hengyang and the next day, Hengyang fell with Xue ordering his men to abandon the city. Fenby wrote that Hengyang would have probably fallen as the Japanese had committed overwhelming force, but the city could have had far longer than the seven weeks that it did if only Xue and his 10th Army had received more supplies, stating that Stilwell was remiss in attempting to command Sino-American forces fighting in Burma and in China at the same time.
The Japanese ground forces advanced and seized Chennault's forward bases. Slowly, however, the greater numbers and greater skill of the Allied air forces began to assert themselves. By mid-1944, Major General George Stratemeyer's Eastern Air Command dominated the skies over Burma; this superiority was never to be relinquished. At the same time, logistical support reaching India and China via the Hump finally reached levels permitting an Allied offensive into northern Burma. Chennault had long argued for expansion of the airlift, doubting that any ground supply network through Burma could provide the tonnage needed to re-equip Chiang's divisions. However, work on the Ledo Road overland route continued throughout 1944 and was completed in January 1945. Training of the new Chinese divisions commenced; however, predictions of monthly tonnage (65,000 per month) over the road were never achieved. By the time Nationalist armies began to receive large amounts of supplies via the Ledo Road, the war had ended. Instead, the airlift continued to expand until the end of the war, after delivering 650,000 tons of supplies, gasoline, and military equipment.
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. This same force supplied the intelligence community and others during the Vietnam War.
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 claimed 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 twice married and had a total of ten children, eight by his first wife, the former Nell Thompson (1893–1977), an American of British ancestry, whom he met at a high school graduation ceremony and subsequently wed in Winnsboro, Louisiana, on December 24, 1911. The marriage ended in divorce in 1946, long after his service in China started. He had two daughters by his second wife, Chen Xiangmei (Anna Chennault), a young reporter for the Central News Agency whom he married on December 2, 1947. She became one of the Republic of China's chief lobbyists in Washington, DC. His children from the first marriage were Lt. Col. John Stephen Chennault, USAF Ret. (1913–1977), Max Thompson Chennault (1914–2001), Charles Lee Chennault (1918–1967), Peggy Sue Chennault Lee (1919–2004), Claire Patterson Chennault (November 24, 1920 – October 3, 2011), David Wallace Chennault (1923–1980), Robert Kenneth Chennault (1925–2006), and Rosemary Louise Chennault Simrall (September 27, 1928 – August 25, 2013).
The Chennault daughters from the second marriage are Claire Anna Chennault (born February 1948) and Cynthia Louise Chennault (born 1950), a retired professor of Chinese at the University of Florida, Gainesville. As the State of Louisiana had passed an anti-miscegenation law in 1894 forbidding marriage between whites and non-whites, Chennault had been informed by his lawyer that his marriage to Anna was illegal in Louisiana, and to ensure his will was respected, Chennault—who lived in Monroe, Louisiana—had his will probated in Washington, D.C.
Claire P. Chennault, one of Claire Lee's sons, was a U.S. Army Air Force and then U.S. Air Force officer from 1943 to 1966 and subsequent resident of Ferriday, Louisiana.
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