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The Flying Tigers' raid on Chiang Mai

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Just out of curiosity, do any of you historical airbuffs have any information on the missing Spitfire that was on static display behind the high school in Phrae?

Long after the war, the RTAF donated an old Allied aircraft for display at Yupparaj Prep School, near the southeast corner of the school property at the intersection of Ratwithi and Ratchaphakinai. The display, probably similar in appearance to those of aircraft around the Chiang Mai Airport today, was vandalized and pieces scavenged to the point that the aircraft eventually disappeared. My wife remembered it being whole in 1980 when she arrived here. Two retired faculty members recalled that, piece by piece, it seemed to evaporate. It was long gone by 2002 when I settled in here. Thais don't tend to revere history; that plane represented cash: salvageable material. That might explain the disappearance of the plane at Phrae.

If you can find that picture, it would certainly be of interest.

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. . . the question of whether or not the raid on Chiang Mai airfield was a surprise to the Japanese at the time. . . .

Reasonable question. The passage of time, I would guess, is the source of the contradiction: time does both embellish and dim memories, collapsing events, etc.

You quote Charlie Bond who was speaking at the Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery . . . in 2003: ". . . Now it was clear we had caught them flat-footed without any warning . . . ." He was speaking 62 years after the event.

You and I unfortunately don't have copies of the documents that Dan Ford and Bob Bergin do, but I think we can assume that those documents were written up shortly after the attack and we have to rely on Ford's and Bergin's summations. They've both got top notch reputations.

Ford, Dan, Flying Tigers (Washington: Smithsonian, 1991, 2007)

Jack Newkirk and the other three Panda Bears . . . flew on instruments until they reached Chiang Mai about 7 am . . . Newkirk tarried long enough to strafe the Chiang Mai railroad station --- an astonishing breach of discipline, like poking a stick into a hornet's nest before your friends come along. . . .

Bergin, Bob, "Flying Tiger, Burning Bright", in Aviation History, July 2008, pp 24-31.

pp 29-30: . . . Charlie Bond, flying on Neale's wing, was the only one who had flown over the area before. . . . As the Flying Tigers started strafing, they could see props turning. . . .

Newkirk's P-40s had reached the eastern side of Chiang Mai at 0710. Bond noted that Newkirk's flight arrived at Chiang Mai "a few minutes ahead of us," then added, "For some reason or other, while flying down to attack Lampang, they decided to strafe the Chiang Mai railroad depot." That alerted the Japanese at the airfield, who were already manning anti-aircraft guns and trying to get their fighters in the air when Neale's flight arrived. . . .

I think that's a realistic solution to the contradiction you point out.

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. . . the question of whether or not the raid on Chiang Mai airfield was a surprise to the Japanese at the time. . . .

Reasonable question. The passage of time, I would guess, is the source of the contradiction: time does both embellish and dim memories, collapsing events, etc.

You quote Charlie Bond who was speaking at the Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery . . . in 2003: ". . . Now it was clear we had caught them flat-footed without any warning . . . ." He was speaking 62 years after the event.

You and I unfortunately don't have copies of the documents that Dan Ford and Bob Bergin do, but I think we can assume that those documents were written up shortly after the attack and we have to rely on Ford's and Bergin's summations. They've both got top notch reputations.

Ford, Dan, Flying Tigers (Washington: Smithsonian, 1991, 2007)

Jack Newkirk and the other three Panda Bears . . . flew on instruments until they reached Chiang Mai about 7 am . . . Newkirk tarried long enough to strafe the Chiang Mai railroad station --- an astonishing breach of discipline, like poking a stick into a hornet's nest before your friends come along. . . .

Bergin, Bob, "Flying Tiger, Burning Bright", in Aviation History, July 2008, pp 24-31.

pp 29-30: . . . Charlie Bond, flying on Neale's wing, was the only one who had flown over the area before. . . . As the Flying Tigers started strafing, they could see props turning. . . .

Newkirk's P-40s had reached the eastern side of Chiang Mai at 0710. Bond noted that Newkirk's flight arrived at Chiang Mai "a few minutes ahead of us," then added, "For some reason or other, while flying down to attack Lampang, they decided to strafe the Chiang Mai railroad depot." That alerted the Japanese at the airfield, who were already manning anti-aircraft guns and trying to get their fighters in the air when Neale's flight arrived. . . .

I think that's a realistic solution to the contradiction you point out.

There is no contradiction. Charles Bond's 2003 statement at the dedication of the AVG Memorial at the Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery was unequivocal.

We can agree to disagree .

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We agree to disagree. Let us move on.

My belief that the Chiang Mai airfield raid caught the Japanese by surprise is based on attack leader Charles Bond's credible testimony, and the probability - almost certainty - that forewarned Japanese gunners would have annihilated the low-flying raiders.

You believe otherwise, and I respect your right to do so.

Another interesting question is the origin of the name "Flying Tigers." In my original post I stated: "Officially designated as the American Volunteer Group [AVG], they were soon given the nom de guerre "Flying Tigers" by the Nationalist Chinese led by Chiang Kai Shek, under whom they served; and who were fighting the Japanese in an uneasy alliance with Mao Tse Tung's Red Army."

My source for crediting the Nationalist Chinese was an official communique from the US Embassy, Thailand, relating the history of the AVG. The relevant quote is: "They fought with such determination and skill that the Chinese newspapers started calling them 'Flying Tigers." That was my source of information about the origin of the name.

You challenged this with a counter-version from Daniel Ford. Your response to me was: "You note that the name "Flying Tigers" was given by the Nationalist Chinese. Ford closes a review of the name's source with 'over the years, journalists and historians have tried to find a source for the name in China, but its derivation is less exotic: the Tigers were christened by a well-paid suit in Washington.' He was referring to the so-called 'Washington Squadron', the backoffice support in Washington DC [Ford pg. 107]."

The historian Daniel Ford is usually reliable, but this seemed like hearsay, I went with the US Embassy version and my own feeling that the name originated in China... it sounds like a typical Chinese art motif, such as "Tigers and Dragons - prancing and soaring", or some mythological martial arts related theme.

But who knows? It could have been some "well-paid suit" that named them.

Can you comment?

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It always amazes me when I read about all the terrible things that happened during WW2. It almost seems like science fiction and unbelievable at a time when the world went insane.

I consider myself lucky not to have lived through a war and pray and hope that none of my children or grandchildren will never see a war. In my lifetime I have met countless Japanese and German people and find it difficult to comprehend that 70 years ago we would have legally tried to kill each other probably on sight without even knowing these people.

Back in the late 1960s in London I worked for a tinned food processing factory. It was one of my first jobs after leaving school. There was a guy named Raymond (Ray) in his 40s. When any pieces food dropped on the floor he would pick up the scraps with his hand and eat them. When I asked what was wrong with that guy? I was told just ignore him he`s a nut-case and many of my work colleges would make fun of him, including me at first I`m terribly ashamed to say. Later I discovered that Raymond had spent 2 years in a prison camp as a Japanese POW, he was tortured and starved and had to scavenge for food anyway he could After the war Raymond suffered from extreme trauma those terrible memories forever in this mind. But there was little counselling available for the war survivors in those days and many were misunderstood and written off. I never forgot that guy and why I believe war should never be glorified, because no one could ever know what it was like unless they lived through it, that pertains to all sides.

In the early 50s I attended a private school and we had a janitor who was always shaking . He had been in the Baton Death March.

a few years ago we went to see the bridge over the river Kwah it was not a big thing but we visited the grave yards that are kept up by the Australian Government in beautiful condition and it gave us a sense of what had happened. It was very peaceful every grave had a headstone with the name rank and country.

There is a set of very sturdy stairs and ramps built down to hells fire pass. Just the trip up and down gave us an idea of what the prisoners must have gone through. It is a trip well worth the experience. In one of the cemeteries there is a small description of what went on and it says it was the Koreans who were the guards and when the rail road was done the prisoners were turned over to the Japanese and their conditions got better.

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. . . The historian Daniel Ford is usually reliable, but this seemed like hearsay, I went with the US Embassy version and my own feeling that the name originated in China... it sounds like a typical Chinese art motif, such as "Tigers and Dragons - prancing and soaring", or some mythological martial arts related theme.

But who knows? It could have been some "well-paid suit" that named them.

Can you comment?

We are both in search of truth. In that effort, each of us applies the mechanisms, processes which have served him ably to this point in time. And in these two instances, we have come up with different versions of truth. Both seem well supported. You believe you have used good sources. I believe I have used good sources. But neither of us is an expert on the subject of the Flying Tigers.

Your concern about evidence that you consider to be hearsay is valid. However, I don't have access to all the information that Dan Ford and Bob Bergin do, and I feel comfortable with their judgments, their summaries. I'm putting myself in their hands. I'm conceding my sovereignty to them over matters involving the Flying Tigers. I'm willing to delegate responsibility to them for those matters about which I don't have hard evidence --- which is almost everything about the Flying Tigers. If you feel concern about any of the material I have ascribed to them, at least in the case of Dan, you can query him on his Warbird's Forum message board. I've queried him myself on some items and found him to be a very approachable personality. As a result, I feel he's worthy of my confidence. Bob: I can't help you with his contact info --- I've never tried communicating with him. I've just read some of his books and articles and found those dealing with the Flying Tigers to be generally coincident with Dan's work.

Edited by islandee

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. . . The historian Daniel Ford is usually reliable, but this seemed like hearsay, I went with the US Embassy version and my own feeling that the name originated in China... it sounds like a typical Chinese art motif, such as "Tigers and Dragons - prancing and soaring", or some mythological martial arts related theme.

But who knows? It could have been some "well-paid suit" that named them.

Can you comment?

We are both in search of truth. In that effort, each of us applies the mechanisms, processes which have served him ably to this point in time. And in these two instances, we have come up with different versions of truth. Both seem well supported. You believe you have used good sources. I believe I have used good sources. But neither of us is an expert on the subject of the Flying Tigers.

Your concern about evidence that you consider to be hearsay is valid. However, I don't have access to all the information that Dan Ford and Bob Bergin do, and I feel comfortable with their judgments, their summaries. I'm putting myself in their hands. I'm conceding my sovereignty to them over matters involving the Flying Tigers. I'm willing to delegate responsibility to them for those matters about which I don't have hard evidence --- which is almost everything about the Flying Tigers. If you feel concern about any of the material I have ascribed to them, at least in the case of Dan, you can query him on his Warbird's Forum message board. I've queried him myself on some items and found him to be a very approachable personality. As a result, I feel he's worthy of my confidence. Bob: I can't help you with his contact info --- I've never tried communicating with him. I've just read some of his books and articles and found those dealing with the Flying Tigers to be generally coincident with Dan's work.

Thanks for the response.

I'll try to get an answer on the Warbird's Forum.

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On 12/6/2014 at 5:33 PM, Johpa said:

Just out of curiosity, do any of you historical airbuffs have any information on the missing Spitfire that was on static display behind the high school in Phrae? The locals referred to it as a Dakota, which I believe became the generic word for any prop plane amongst the Seri Thai folks in Phrae. Somewhere I have a photo of the plane taken by a Peace Corp volunteer take back in the early 1960s. I have not found a later photo of the plane.

Until several years ago this particular plane was one of the few tail numbers whose fate was unknown and the only Thai Spitfire whose fate was a mystery. How it ended up in the back of local high school in Phrae is also a mystery as the few other Thai Spitfires are on prominent display at the front of regional technical colleges and at Don Muang as "gifts" of His Majesty.

...funny those Peace Corps Volunteers have a way of uncovering....

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My Dad was there! He served with the Flying Tigers in WWII. When I was a kid he told me a few stories about it. Showed me the pictures and what he had brought back. Including a footlocker full of Chinese money. Wish I had listened more! Too late now. The history channel has a good movie about them. Until a couple of weeks ago when I saw the film I really had no idea what they had done!

100 planes. The Chinese airforce was destroyed and the USA gave the Chinese these P40's but they had no pilots left!

The Americans pilots volunteered to fly the planes to the huge detriment of the Japanese who thought they had eliminated all Chinese opposition. The unit later became part of the Army Airforce.

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An old topic but for those who haven't seen it, here are some photos of the memorial to the Flying Tigers at the Chiangmai Foreign Cemetery:

Foreign Cemetery 1.jpg

Foreign Cemetery 2.jpg

Foreign Cemetery 3.jpg

Foreign Cemetery 4.jpg

Foreign Cemetery 5.jpg

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