In March of 1941, the Ranger and her crew returned to their
base in Norfolk, VA after a mission escorting British Lend Lease
ships in the Atlantic. Christman, Rector and Hill were met
by a man named Rutledge Irvine, who presented them with a very
intriguing proposal. He was recruiting pilots for a covert
mission in Burma. Sensing an opportunity at real adventure,
the trio signed up.
By mid-summer the three pilots were discharged from the Navy, sent
to San Francisco and then on to Burma, with passage on a ship
called the Bloemfontein. Christman had told his
family that he suspected that war with Japan was imminent, and
that they should prepare themselves for hostilities in the near
future. He said that volunteering was his opportunity to do
something of real meaning for the future.
In a Fort Collins Express-Courier article, his brother-in-law, Al
Schroeder, recalled Bert saying that "the people of the
United States do not know the meaning of patriotism yet, but they
will eventually as it takes a severe shock to tell them."
Upon arrival in Burma, he began to keep an illustrated diary of
daily events, that the called "Logan's Log". He
also created caricatures of the pilots in his Second Pursuit
Squadron, incorporating the "Panda Bear" theme.
Several of these he managed to paint on the fuselages of the
pilot's planes, but his work remained unfinished as the AVG began
the defense of Rangoon.
On December 11th, Christman and Rector were chosen to escort a
photo plane for a long-range reconnaissance mission over Bangkok,
Thailand and its Dong Moung airfield. The mission was a
success, but it revealed a massive buildup of Japanese
aircraft--poised to attack Burma. Bert and the rest of the
Panda Bear squadron were initially sent to Kunming while the
"Hell's Angels" remained to defend Rangoon, but his
squadron was soon called into action.
Christman arrived with the rest of his squadron at the Mingaladon
airfield, north of Rangoon, on December 30, 1941. On January
4th Bert was shot down, his plane riddled with bullets he was
forced to parachute to safety. One of the rounds had traveled
through his cockpit and grazed his neck; he was hospitalized
briefly before returning to duty.
On January 20th he returned from another mission with a badly
On Friday, January 23, 1942, 72 Japanese aircraft attacked
Rangoon. Christman was one of the 18 planes that were
launched to intercept them. He would never return.
Christman's plane had come under fire and been hit in the
engine. He was forced to bail out once more. This
time, however, as he hung in his parachute and decended to the
ground, a Japanese pilot strafed him. Bert was hit in
several places and probably died as a bullet passed through the
back of his neck. He was buried the next day at the church
of Edward The Martyr in Rangoon. His remains were returned
to Fort Collins after the war, where he was laid to rest on
Saturday, February 4, 1950.