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Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault (6 September 1893 – 27 July 1958), was an Americanmarker military aviator who commanded the "Flying Tigers" during World War II. His family name is pronounced shen-awlt.

Early life

Born in Commerce, Texasmarker, to John Stonewall Jackson Chennault and Jessie (Lee) Chennault. His mother was born 20 August 1876 in Franklin Parish, Louisianamarker, the second daughter of William Wallace Lee (1836–1911), son of Henry Bryant Lee and his wife, Margaret Bell Lee, prominent slaveowners and planters of Scott County, Mississippimarker, and his second wife, Josephine Gilbert. Chennault was raised in the town of Waterproofmarker in Tensas Parish, Louisianamarker.Chennault began misrepresenting his birth date as September 1890, perhaps as early as the middle of 1909. He was too young to attend college after he graduated from high school, so his father added three years to his age. The 1900 US Census record from Franklin Parishmarker, LA, Ward 2 states that C L Chennault was age six in 1900, with a younger brother age three (born in Louisianamarker).

Military career

Chennault attended Louisiana State Universitymarker between 1909 and 1910 and received ROTC training (Claire). At the onset of World War I, Chennault graduated from Officer's School at Fort Benjamin Harrisonmarker, and was transferred to the Aviation Division of the Army Signal Corps. He learned to fly in the Air Service during World War I, remained in the service after it became the Air Corps in 1926, and became Chief of Pursuit Section at Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s. Poor health and disputes with superiors led Chennault to resign from the service in 1937. He then joined a small group of American civilians training Chinese airmen and served as "air adviser" to Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Government leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, Soong May-ling, during the Sino-Japanese War .

Chennault participated in planning operations and observed the Chinese Air Force in combat from a Curtiss Hawk 75). In this period, he would organize the International Squadron.

May-ling Soong and the creation of the Flying Tigers

Soong May-ling, or "Madame Chiang" as she was known to Americans, was acting as the leadership of the Aeronautical Commission. She thus became Chennault's de facto employer in China with a position as Air defense advisor with salary of $1,000 per month, for a three month mission to China to make a confidential survey of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault arrived in China on June 1937, after officially retiring from the US Air Force.

In the summer of 1938 Chennault went to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Western China, to forge, at the request of Madame Chiang, a new Chinese Air Force from an American mold.

On 19 October 1939, Claire L. Chennault (traveling as a U.S. citizen; passport no. 379160) boarded Pan American Airways "California Clipper" (Boeing B-314; NC18602) at the Pan American Airways terminal in Hong Kongmarker. Chennault was on a special mission for Chiang Kai-shek. The California Clipper made a number of stops in the Pacific that included Manilamarker (21 October) and Honolulumarker, Territory of Hawaii (25 October), eventually arriving at Treasure Islandmarker, San Francisco CA (26 October). Traveling with Chennault were four Chinese government officials: Mr. Shiao-down Chiang, Mr. Liu Yu-Wan, Mr. Tuan-Sheng Chien, and Mr. Ken Sen Chow. Four of these passengers listed their place of origination as Kunming China, and Mr. Chow as Kaiting China.

On 1940, seeing that the Chinese Air Force had collapsed, because of ill-trained Chinese pilots and shortage of equipment, Chiang Kai-shek sent Chennault home to the U.S. to solicit funds for aircraft to try to save China from total defeat. President Roosevelt then sent Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks to the Chinese under the American Lend-Lease program. Chennault also was able to recruit 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.

Flying Tigers

Based primarily out of Rangoonmarker, Burmamarker, and Kunmingmarker, Yunnanmarker, Chennault's 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) – better known as the "Flying Tigers" – began training in August 1941 and fought the Japanese for seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbormarker. 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 planes, to guard the Burmamarker Road, Rangoonmarker, and other strategic locations in Southeast Asia and western Chinamarker against Japanesemarker 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 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 and then major general, commanding the Fourteenth Air Force.

China-Burma-India theater

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 Chinese 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 was not prepared to begin major offensive operations against the Japanese. 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.

Good weather in November 1943 found the Japanese Army air forces 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 1944, 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 E. 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 Roadmarker 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.

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 stated 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."

Death and legacy

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Chennault was ultimately given an honorary promotion to Lieutenant General in the U.S. Air Force, one day before his death at the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans. He died of lung cancer in 1958 after the removal of most of one lung the previous year. He is buried at Arlington National Cemeterymarker (Section 2, 873).

Chennault is commemorated by a statue in the ROCmarker capital of Taipeimarker, as well as by monuments on the grounds of the Louisianamarker state capitol at Baton Rougemarker, and at the former Chennault Air Force Basemarker, now the commercial Chennault International Airportmarker in Lake Charlesmarker, Louisianamarker. An antique P-40 aircraft, nicknamed "Joy", is on display at the riverside war memorial in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, painted in the colors of the Flying Tigers. A large display of General Chennault's orders, medals and other decorations has been on loan to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Washington D.C.) by his widow Anna Chennault, since the museum's opening in 1976.

Chennault is recognized as a major war hero in China. His Chinese name is Chen-na-de (陳纳德). In 2005, the "Flying Tigers Memorial" was built in Huaihua, Hunan Province, on one of the old airstrips used by the Flying Tigers in the 1940s. Chennault's first wife, Nell Thompson, was an American of British ancestry. By the time he was serving in China, they had divorced. Chennault then married Chen Xiangmei, a young reporter for the Central News Agency. Anna Chennault, as his wife was known, became one of the ROC's chief lobbyists in Washington.

See also



  1. “In the Matter of Est. H. B. Lee, deceased, T. H. and R. H. Lee, Executors.” Chancery Case #1834, Scott Co., MS, March Term 1913.
  2. Rootsweb
  3. Hessen 1983, p. ix.
  4. 1900 US Census, Franklin Par., LA, p. 5A.
  5. Claire Lee Chennault and the Flying Tigers Website Accessed 28 November 2009
  6. Caidin 1978. It is possible his command of this formation as well as the AVG leads to the mistaken belief AVG was in action before Pearl Harbor.
  7. Xu, Guangqiu. wings: the United States and Chinese Military Aviation, 1929–1949. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 978-0313320040.
  8. "The Flying Tigers American Volunteer Group – Chinese Air Force." Flying Tigers Home Page. Retrieved: 21 May 2009.
  9. ("California Passenger and Crew Lists, 1893–1957", U.S. Immigration Officer Mr. E. C. Benson – Inspector In Charge at Treasure Island, "Passenger List, B.O. No. 39637/1, Sheet No. 1")
  10. Sehnert, Walt. "McCook's Glen Beneda and the Flying Tigers.", 5 January 2009. Retrieved: 22 May 2009.
  11. Smith 1995
  12. Chennault, Claire Lee (Major-General, retired), Testimony to the Senate Joint Committee on the Armed Forces and Foreign Relations, letter dated 20 June 1951, and supplemental statement, Appendix 00, p. 3342.
  14. Arlington Cemetery


  • Bond, Janet. A Pictorial History of China Post 1, Part I – 1919–1959. Slidell, Louisiana: American Legion Generals Ward & Chennault & Lt. Helseth Post No. 1 (China), 1988.
  • Byrd, Martha. Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University Alabama Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8173-0322-7.
  • Caidin, Martin. The Ragged, Rugged Warriors. New York: Ballantine, 1978. ISBN 0-345-28302-3.
  • Chennault, Claire. Way of a Fighter. New York: Putnam's, 1949.
  • "Claire Lee Chennault." Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 6: 1956–1960, Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Thomson Gale, 1980.
  • Ford, Daniel. Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941–1942. Washington, DC: HarperCollins|Smithsonian Books, 2007. ISBN 0-06124-655-7.
  • Hessen, Robert, ed. General Claire Lee Chennault: A Guide to His Papers in the Hoover Institution Archives. Palo Alto, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1983. ISBN 0-8179-2652-6.
  • Latimer, Jon. Burma: The Forgotten War. London: John Murray, 2004. ISBN 0-7195-6576-6.
  • "1900 United States Federal Census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, Ward 2.", 20 January 2007.
  • Scott, Robert Lee Jr. Flying Tiger: Chennault of China. Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1973. ISBN 0-8371-6774-4.
  • Smith, Felix. China Pilot: Flying for Chiang and Chennault. New York: Brassey's Inc., 1995. ISBN 978-1574880519.

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