American fighters take on Japanese over China

The Flying Tigers P-40 fighter undergoing maintenance at the American Volunteer Group base near Kunming, China.

Chinese forces in Burma were falling back alongside British troops. The American Volunteer Group force in Burma, fighting alongside the RAF, had already been forced to evacuate the country when the principal airfields were overcome.

Now the Japanese kept up the pressure within China itself. Bombers continued to hit Kunming, the city at the centre of the Chinese resistance. The principal fighter defence also came from the American Volunteer Group – known as the Flying Tigers.

They were invariable outnumbered but were giving a very good account of themselves, the leading pilots notching up significant scores very quickly. Charles R. Bond was among them. On 4th May he took on a force of bombers attacking Kunming and returned over the city:

What a sight. Before, the city had been spilling over the evacuees, and now they were jammed all over the place. The Japanese bombs had caught them without any warning. Fires engulfed the city many build- ings and houses were blown to bits.

After one last look I concentrated on my landing approach. I slowed down and moved the lever for the flaps and landing gear forward. Suddenly I heard several loud explosions. The noise stunned me. I immediately concluded that my landing gear hydraulic system had blown up. I had been having trouble with it operating correctly the last several days but couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I decided to try to recycle the gear lever. When I reached down, I cried out in pain. I had stuck my left hand into a raging fire!

I swung my head around and looked to my rear. There they were. Three Jap Zeros right on my tail and firing like mad! The explosions were their rounds of ammunition hitting my armor plate behind my seat. The bullets had gone through my fuselage tanks, which still had a few gallons of fuel in it, before impacting the armor plate. The fuselage tank had exploded, and the fire was shipping into my lower rear cock- pit and then up around my legs.

What a stupe I had been, I had become so engrossed with the bombing scene below that I had made the fatal mistake that a fighter pilot should never get caught doing: I didn’t suspect enemy fighters in the area.

The Japs had laid this attack on a little differently They knew our situation from the two reconnaissance flights that preceded the bombers. They decided to forgo the fighters as bomber escorts and hold them off and away from the field with the hope of catching all of us when we returned – low on ammunition and gas.

For a split second I considered giving up, but something wouldn’t let me. I leaned forward as far as my seat belt would permit, closed my eyes because the fire had begun to engulf me, and reached over with my right hand to grasp the canopy crank and rolled it fully back. I unhooked my seatbelt with my left hand and put both hands on the stick to make the ship climb abruptly and roll over one-half turn to the right.

I took my hands off the control colunm and reached for the right side of the cockpit to get out of the seat.
The airstream grabbed me as the upper part of my body protruded outside the cockpit. It dragged me out. I had forgotten my earphone connection to the radio plug, but the force of the wind tore it loose. I knew I was out of the airplane and opened my eyes. One second the blue sky and the next the ground. I was tumbling. I looked down to find the metal ring to pull my parachute and jerked it wildly. I felt a tugging and then a violent jerk. I was in the parachute straps, floating.

Suddenly I became terrified. Those dirty bastards will strafe me like they did Henry Gilbert at Rangoon. Automatically I started praying – out loud. I prayed devoutly to God with my eyes closed, and then opened them to look for the Zeros. Fortunately, they had pulled away and were heading south.

Looking down, I saw the ground rushing at me. I would hit backward if I didn’t do something, so I tried to kick around in my harness, and I did get about halfway around when I hit. I fell across some large clods of earth in a rice paddy The parachute gradually floated to the ground beside me. I sat up and realised that I still had the rip cord right tightly grasped in my right hand.

I landed in a Chinese cemetery . . . I felt a burning sensation on my neck and shoulder and suddenly realised that my scarf and flying suit were on fire. I hurried to a small stream flowing through the cemetery and laid down on my back and wallowed in the water.

See Charles R. Bond: A Flying Tiger’s diary, Bond was badly burnt but back in action within a couple of months. Read his obituary at Flying Tigers.

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