Please watch at least this first video for context and background on Claire Lee Chennault:
Chennault as leader of the A.V.G. produced a group of fighting men who were charismatically over-the-top with valor, but were deadly accurate as fighting men. Once America officially entered the war, Stilwell was in charge and the A.V.G. was dissolved into official military control, and their kill ratio declined rapidly. Chennault was so critical of Stilwell, and the American government that the book Way of the Fighter was removed from print quickly and to this day is very rare. To get a copy, it costs anywhere from $150 to $300 dollars for a beat-up copy. The book is a treasure of American spirit and is a key to the kind of talent and drive which makes The United States so unique.
The Flying Tigers, according to the Way of the Fighter was predicted by military experts to not last three weeks in combat against the Japanese. Instead over a 7 month period over Burma, China, Thailand, and French Indo-China the A.V.G. destroyed 299 Japanese planes with another 153 most likely destroyed but unaccounted for. All this with just 12 P-40’s lost in combat and 61 on the ground from Japanese strafing missions. Only four A.V.G. pilots were killed in air combat; six killed by antiaircraft fire; three by enemy bombs on the ground; and three were taken prisoner. Ten more died as a result of flying accidents. The Flying Tigers were so hated by the Japanese because of the tremendous kill ratio against them that they promised on their radio broadcasts to shoot A.V.G. prisoners as bandits on sight. But the three captured pilots were treated with respect indicating the enemy’s genuine admiration for Chennault’s organization.
There were two keys to this success, the first of which was capitalism. The pilots were the best there was and wanted to make a lot of money shooting down Japanese planes. The money attracted the best pilots that were available during the prewar times leading up to World War II. The other of course is Claire Lee Chennault himself. He would eventually become a military general but during his A.V.G. days he was simply a hired strategist for the Chinese who desperately needed a creative, “western” mind to protect them from the invading Japanese. Chennault was extremely unorthodox. In some respects he was very strict; in others he was very lenient. He knew when to apply pressure and when not to, which is a distinctly American trait that military leaders all around the world scoffed at—including The United States. But it was because of Chennault’s manner that the A.V.G. was so incredibly good.
Chennault would train his soldier of fortune pilots relentlessly saying, “You will face Japanese pilots superbly trained in mechanical flying. They have been drilled for hundreds of hours in flying precise formations and rehearsing set tactics for each situation they may encounter. Japanese pilots fly by the book, and these are the books they use.” Chennault would then dump the books into the laps of his star pilots. “Study them, and you will always be one jump ahead of the enemy.” Chennault would stand still for effect, peer at the pilots ruthlessly then say, “They (Japanese) have plenty of guts but lack initiative and judgment. They go into battle with a set tactical plan and follow it no matter what happens. Bombers will hold their formations until they are all shot down. Fighters always try the same tricks over and over again. God help the American pilot who tries to fight them according to their plans. The object of our tactics is to break up their formations and make them fight according to our style. Once the Japanese are forced to deviate from their plan, they are in trouble. Their rigid air discipline can be used as a powerful weapon against them.”
Chennault would present charts, graphs, maps, and hours upon hours of practice flying personally mentoring each of his pilots drilling them, building them up as individuals—treating each of them as though they were the star quarterback on a football team, and they performed for him spectacularly. Once he had their trust, and their ears he would say, “You must use the strong points of your equipment against the weak points of the enemy. Each type of plane has its own strength and weakness. The pilot who can turn his advantages against the enemy’s weakness will win every time. You can count on a higher top speed, faster dive, and superior firepower. The Jap fighters have a faster rate of climb, higher ceiling, and better maneuverability. They can turn on a dime and climb almost straight up. If they can get you into a turning combat, they are deadly.” Chennault would then pull his finger across his throat to drive home the point as the heat of the Toungoo airfield poured in from a tent flap letting in the summer sun, sweat dripping off the fighters as they listened attentively.
“Use your speed and diving power to make a pass, shoot and break away. You have the edge in that kind of combat. All your advantages are brought to bear on the Japanese deficiencies. Close your range, fire, and dive away. Never stay within range of the Jap’s defensive firepower any longer than you need to deliver an accurate burst. You need to sharpen your shooting eye. Nobody ever gets too good at gunnery. The more Jap’s you get with your first burst, the fewer there are to jump you later. Accurate fire saves ammunition. Your plane carries a limited number of bullets. There is nothing worse than finding yourself in a fight with empty guns.”
The Flying Tigers would become part of the official American military under the United States Army Air Forces’ 23rd Fighter Group. The effectiveness of the A.V.G. pilots declined quickly under the regimented military life insisted upon by Stilwell. However some ace pilots like Tex Hill would stay on and help train other American pilots in the ways of the famous A.V.G. and Chennault’s battle tactics would migrate from aircraft carrier to carrier throughout the entire Pacific allowing America to gradually beat back the Japanese and eventually dominate them. The victories in the Pacific theater were not a result of General Stilwell or MacArthur, but rather because of Clair Chennault. Without Chennault, America would not have won in the Pacific and Japan would have taken China months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This would have given them access to numerous natural resources that would have allowed them to dominate the entire continent of Asia. World War II really came down to two generals who broke official rules of orthodox command, Patton in Europe took Trier with only two divisions sarcastically replying to his furious commanders who instructed him otherwise that he would “give it back,” if they didn’t approve of his methods, and of course Chennault’s epic battles with Stilwell—Stilwell obviously jealous of Chennault denied him of supplies and manpower secretly hoping it would end the winning reputation of the former A.V.G. commander. The victories in the Pacific and in Europe were won by soldiers of fortune, and unorthodox command. It was not just won by bravery, or equipment, but by people who knew how to use the strengths of their equipment against the enemy and were not afraid to upset the command structure of their superiors. That is the “American” way!
On the other hand the allies, particularly the R.A.F. out of England with their Spitfires had a much more difficult time. For instance, in the battle over Rangoon, the R.A.F had losses comparable to the Japanese while the American A.V.G. had a 15 to 1 kill ratio fighting right alongside them all. This is because the A.V.G. were unorthodox freedom fighters combating for money and adventure while the R.A.F and Japanese pilots were regimented military fighters who would follow orders to a fault, and could be counted on to die if needed for the greater good.
After America defeated the Japanese, Stilwell, foolishly advised command that there was no other need for America to guard China from any hostile threat in that region even though Claire Chennault was practically jumping up and down begging America to stop the push by communists into China from Russia. Chennault warned that there would be more war, likely in Korea and Vietnam if America did not continue to defend China. Truman, and American military command ignored Chennault with the same institutionalized swagger that they professed that the Flying Tigers would be destroyed within three weeks. They blew off Chennault’s warnings, blacklisted his book, Way of the Fighter, and assumed that they had won the Pacific war based on their West Point educations. They were wrong. Within a few years America was back at war with Korea, then a few years after that with Vietnam. But at that point communism had already affected the collective based cultures of Asia and had even gone to work in America under the counter-culture movement starting at colleges within The United States.
Few people would believe that the slow slide into such an abyss of global communism and socialism began when America won World War II and stopped listening to General Claire Lee Chennault. But it did. Too many Americans at the time did not see communism as a threat but did see Japan as a threat because of their obvious hostilities toward the outside world. However, as Chennault published his book, Way of the Fighter, Chinese communists were taking over the country violently torturing the kind of people the A.V.G. fought so valiantly to defend, leaving them alone and defenseless. Communist China then moved against Tibet and America did nothing about it. Just that fast the entire land mass of Asia was under communist control and quickly seeping into all of Europe through the less offensive term of socialism. Communists did to the world what Chennault did to the Japanese pilots, they exposed the rigidity of American politics and picked off their enemies one by one over a long period of time—just as Chennault had warned.
The lessons should be clear, freedom, capitalism and innovation beats rigidity, command structure, and orthodox behavior. And it isn’t group consensus that wins wars and defends nations, but ultimately solitary minds, valor, and raw courage that is more unpredictable then structured. And thus, that is the Way of the Fighter, and the way that nations prosper.