|Born the son of missionary parents in Korea, David "Tex"
Hill has become one of America's most famous and beloved fighter aces.
"Tex" Hill: Flying Tiger recounts his intriguing early life, standout
career, and non-stop adventures of all kinds. Tex's story is
inescapably intertwined with those of Claire Chennault, the famed 'Flying
Tigers', and the nation of China, and this book weaves all three
fascinating storylines into a masterful tapestry, certain to entertain and
Tex and his grandson relate Hill's exploits through his naval aviation days and on to the Far East, where a motley collection of maverick airmen and ground crew -- the American Volunteer Group -- changed the face of the war in China and Burma through unparalleled valor.
The story then moves on to Tex's command of America's first jet-equipped fighter squadron and the creation of the Texas Air National Guard. The authors include a hard-hitting assessment of the failures and missed opportunities that changed China's stance toward America and the West just a few short years after their wartime alliance.
Finally, Tex's foray in the the realms of Hollywood filmmaking, African big game hunting, mineral mining in Mexico, and operating oil interests in south Texas round out the tale, providing an insightful look into the life of one of World War II's premier flying legends.
Our early morning game of cribbage was interrupted by an alarm of a Jap observation plane coming over. We took off and circled west of the field, Bob Neale with a flight of four at eighteen thousand feet, George Burgard with a flight of three at twenty thousand feet, and me with a flight of four at fifteen thousand feet. They came, and we started after them. On my wing, Joe Rosbert moved in close and fired his guns to get my attention. He pointed to a flight of five Japanese bombers to my lower right. I had almost committed my formation to Japs at my left front, but with the altitude advantage I agreed with Joe. We attacked the lower formation. After two passes we still saw no enemy fighter escort. On the third attack I closed up fast on the tail of the bomber on the outside of the vee formation, firing short bursts. Suddenly five of my guns quit working, so I had only one left. *!#%! I concentrated on the recharge hydraulic buttons in the lower cockpit, and when I looked up I caught a glimpse of six I-97 fighters high and to my right and one twin engine bomber by itself which I figured was a cripple.
I pulled away to get my guns working again, but none would work. Then I noticed the glaring yellow coolant overheat light - the indicator went clear over to the peg! Smoke was curling out from behind my instrument panel. Obviously my cooling system had taken some return fire from the bomber. That eventually damaged the hydraulic system that worked the guns.
I cut down and away and then noticed what was on my tail; two Jap I-97s. One pulled off, but the other stuck with me to within a thousand feet of the ground. I was in a maximum dive because I was trying to save the engine long enough to make a try for the field. Pulling back on the throttle, I was staying ahead of the Jap fighter just enough to stay out of range of his guns.
I was beginning to feel that my number was up this time. My oil pressure dropped to zero. Speed was about 315 MPH. I hunched behind the armor plate, listening for the pings of the Jap's guns while trying to make a decision about bailing out or belly landing. Luckily, the Jap must have thought I was a goner, for he turned his fighter away and climbed back to the battle area. A second later my propeller stopped. I stared at one of the three blades straight up in front of the nose of my ship. I was dropping fast toward an area of rice paddies located at the base of a mountain. I was too low to bail out, so I decided to risk a wheels up landing. I picked out a field and glided in, rolling my canopy back. I tried the flap levers. Hell, they wouldn't work! I was going to overshoot the field. I wasn't over a hundred feet above it, and my speed was giving out fast. I risked a drastic bank and turn, trying to hit the slope of the rice paddy.
It worked. Just as I flattened out my wing, I hit the ground. I bounced out of one rice paddy, sailed over a small dike, and smashed down into another water-filled paddy. What a jolt! I was thrown against my safety belt. My head flew forward, and the right side of my forehead caught the gunsight. I was momentarily dazed but brought back to my senses by the sound of the canopy slamming back shut.
I rolled the canopy open again, unsnapped my safety belt, hit my parachute release button, and jumped out of the cockpit onto the wing. The fuselage was smoking, but no fire had started. The propeller and gear housing had torn loose from the nose and had become a curled mass of junk about fifteen feet in front of the plane. The oil and coolant radiators had been torn off and were strung out behind the ship. What a mess.
God, I was glad to be alive! I looked up for signs of aircraft, particularly Japanese. There weren't even any sounds of aircraft. I retrieved my helmet, oxygen mask, goggles, and earphones and moved out toward the left wing tip. My head ached. I reached up and felt a couple of deep gashes in my forehead from the gunsight. Fortunately they weren't bleeding heavily.
The following excerpts are from Erik Shilling's Book "Destiny - A Flying Tiger's Rendezvous With Fate"
December 10, 1941, Toungoo, Burma
In Kunming we stayed in the dormitory of what had been a university. Keith Christensen and I shared a room on the second floor. We had a houseboy to keep the place clean and get our laundry done. He got us a clay charcoal pot to provide some heat for the room. It was cold in Kunming. We almost asphyxiated ourselves one night when we forgot to open a window and the charcoal heater used up most of the oxygen in the room.
The Chinese really tried to do everything in their power to welcome us. The food was the best we had eaten in a long time. There was a bar in the hotel, but they had the worst beer ever made. It was a twenty minute drive through the city of Kunming to the airfield.
If you couldn't make it to the airfield when an air raid alert sounded, there were hundreds of grave mounds surrounding the city and they made an ideal place to go.
Around the middle of March, 1942, I was called into the office of Squadron Leader Arvid Olson who asked me my opinion about acquiring some ground defense weapons to take with us to a place called Magwe. He showed me a number of boxed Bren guns of .303 caliber and a couple of old Browning .30 water-cooled machine guns. He said they had come off the U.S.S. Panay, a gunboat the Japanese had bombed and destroyed in 1937. We settled for four Brens and two water-cooled .30s. Olson didn't want the latter, but I promised I'd take care of them.
April 8, 1942, Loiwing, China
On April 8 we had an alert. Some of our boys took off to intercept an observation plane, but it escaped. A few days after the alert, Jap fighters got us with no warning. I was just getting out of bed when we heard their engines and machine guns. I tried to get out the door, but our radioman, Harvey Cross, who was a pretty big guy, knocked me to the floor. Several of our planes were hit, but the damage was surprisingly small. One of our crew chiefs, who had been running up his engine, thought one of our guys was firing his own guns until his instrument panel disintegrated. It was a miracle no one was injured.
During the same day, another air alert was sounded. After our aircraft took off, Joe Poshefko and I cleared the field and sat on a hill overlooking the runway. Suddenly Jap fighters begin strafing the airfield. We could see smoke where once our P-40Es had been parked. Then our own fighters hit the Jap fighters, and we got to witness a low altitude dog fight. The sky started to rain Jap planes.
I had my camera and took one picture of a Jap fighter that was diving straight into the ground. He was not on fire, but evidently he'd been killed in the cockpit. Later on I found out it was a victory for Arvid Olson. I have no idea how many planes were shot down, but I'll never forget that afternoon and how proud I was of our guys.
Joe Poshefko and I went down to where the Jap had crashed. It was about two hundred yards away from us. The ground was very hard, and the plane was completely destroyed and burning. The pilot had been thrown clear, but his body was burnt beyond recognition. I picked up an instrument guage, a .50 machine gun cartridge and the receiver part of a machine gun with the synchronizing trigger motor still attached. The .50 cartridge was new to me. It was an explosive bullet.
A number of aircraft arrived from Kunming, and we began having trouble with some of the wing guns. One squadron had 7.9 caliber machine guns and the ammunition was not interchangeable even though it was similar in appearance. With several scrambles going on every day, some of the planes did get the wrong ammo, but we only caught it when we tried to charge the guns in(loading) on the ground.
Clarence Riffer set our armament truck on fire when he struck a match to check the gas gauge. The gauge was located under the front seat, and the gas cap was off. Someone jumped in the ammunition truck and got it clear while the rest of us put out the fire. There were many refugees. Two big transport planes came and took out as many as they could carry. Since they could only take hand-carried baggage, we received all kinds of goodies they had to leave behind. Joe Poshefko was presented a little English sedan with a sunroof. We had fun with that little car. Some of the guys received pistols and suitcases full of clothes.
During one of the maximum effort missions, we loaded some of the P-40Es with six small fragmentation bombs. They were manufactured by the Chinese and weighed about thirty pounds each. The detonators which went in the nose were blank cartridges about .38 caliber. I've heard this mission stopped the Japanese advance up the Burma Road.
Five of our planes went to escort a flight of British Lancaster bombers on a mission to hit the Japanese ground forces just north of Moulmein. Except for the danger of being hit by anti-aircraft fire, the operation was fairly routine. So we were surprised when one of our returning planes did a double victory roll over the field; that meant he had shot down two Japs. Soon the others came over also doing victory rolls. We had an excited discussion with the pilots. They were just heading back from the escort mission when they ran into a Japanese fighter patrol. Six enemy aircraft were shot down, for sure, with an equal number of probables. We were all keyed up with anticipation for further encounters with the Japs.
The following day, I was playing a game of Acey-Ducey with Dick Rossi. The other pilots were lounging on cots inside the alert shack, or outside taking sunbaths in the hot tropical sun in just their shorts. The afternoon quiet was pierced by the loud jangle of the telephone. We all turned to watch Bob Little's face as he picked up the receiver.
He said nothing to the other end but hollered, "Scramble!"
That was it - we all jammed the doorway like stampeding cattle. I catapulted onto the wing of my plane and we took off in pairs in clouds of dust.
It seemed like hours to get to altitude, but was probably only about ten minutes. Bob Little waggled his wings and pointed south. I could tell from his devilish grin that we were in for something. Turning quickly I saw two formations of twenty-seven bombers, each headed for the airdrome.
I checked the gun switches "ON" then "OFF" and "ON" again just to be sure. I had a bomber picked out as my target and was getting my finger set on the gun button when we found ourselves in the midst of a group of fighters flying crazily in a bunch like bees. In a flash one appeared in my sight at close range; the two ugly red suns on the wings stood out. I managed one quick burst and almost immediately flew through the smoke and pieces that came from the plane. As I dove down and away I saw him catch fire and spin earthward.
Pulling up to gain precious altitude, I looked around and all the planes seemed to have disappeared as if by magic. I took a heading towards Moulmein. Ahead and below, I spotted a foolhardy Nip pointed towards home. I closed on him with all guns blazing. Although white smoke appeared behind his engine, he made a sharp turn and went out of sight below of me. Looking back I saw two of his mates trying to train their sights on me. I pushed the stick forward so hard I almost catapulted through the canopy. As I hurtled downward, I crouched down expecting at any moment the thud of bullets on the armor plate behind. Finally, I looked back on both sides. Not only had I lost my pursuers but there was nothing in sight.
With the all-clear message came the return of our flight, one by one. What a day! I had gotten my first Jap fighter and one probable. There was great excitement as we filled out our combat reports. Dick Rossi had gotten two planes. Our score; twenty-one confirmed and thirty probables. The Jap bombers had left a few craters on the field and killed one RAF man on the ground. But their losses must have convinced them that the AVG had, by no means, been destroyed as was told by the Japanese propaganda machine.
"Pappy" Boyington's flight crash lands in Wenshan, China.
When Stan (Regis) and I returned to Kunming, we were told the 2nd Squadron had lost four aircraft near Wenshan near the Indochina border. All had crashed landed in a rice paddy. The aircraft were escorting the Generalissimo and his wife, the Madame, up to Chungking. About half way up the flight leader, Boyington, turned the flight back because of low fuel and bad weather. Unfortunately the P-40s ran out of gas and crash landed just a few miles from the Japanese. The pilots survived, but the "old man" (Chennault) was plenty steamed over losing the four ships. As I recall our line Chief asked Regis, myself, and Major Chen, a Chinese interpreter, to salvage the ships before the natives cut the remains up for pots and pans. We checked out a 6x6 flatbed truck, a jeep, tools, some spare props, and some other assorted parts taken from the "graveyard."
En route to Wenshan we stopped at a small village for the night. The village was run by a local war lord who invited us to spend the night with him. In one of the rooms was an old Chinese man close to death. Next to him was a casket, a lit candle, and a small bowl with an egg on top of some rice. I later learned the egg symbolized rebirth in the Hindu religion.
March 11, 1942
By the time we arrived at the crash site, the coolies had pulled the aircraft out of the muck. It was a wonder the pilots survived. A true testimonial to their piloting skills and the P-40 construction. The C model was built in two pieces and joined at the centerline. The joint where the two wing sections connected acted as a skid in case of a "belly" landing. Two aircraft were wrecked beyond repair. The landing was a mess, the props were bent, and the hydraulics were questionable. We replaced the props with spares and fixed the landing gear as best we could. Next we cut a narrow take-off strip right down through a cemetery, by a rice paddy, down an embankment, and off the end of a cliff. The Chinese built the strip in two days. The strip was just long enough to get a "light" P-40 off. We removed the pilot's armor plate and most of the gas.
March 16, 1942
On or around March 15, Boyington arrived. I'm not sure why he volunteered to fly the aircraft out. We could have easily "hauled" them back to Kunming. I do know Chennault was pretty steamed about losing the four aircraft. As Boyington puts it in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep , after he crashed the aircraft he returned to a "cold" Kunming reception. "I volunteered to fly them out if we could get them fixed."
We put thirty gallons of gas into the tank, barely enough to get him home. I was sure the aircraft would fly, but had no idea if the brakes or landing gear would work and at the time I didn't have the equipment to do the checks. I told Boyington he was going to have to put the coals to it and fly it "gear down" all the way. I just didn't trust the hydraulics. We moved the aircraft to the absolute end of the strip. Pappy started the engine, barely warmed it up, and pushed it full throttle. He had the engine screaming. "Pushed the throttle forward 'till the manifold pressure was well into the red. Plane flew nose high for a mile 'til it leveled out." I remember he was barely flying when he hit the end of the strip. The rest of his trip was uneventful. I marvel how he flew those aircraft off that mountain strip.
Pappy stayed in Kunming a day before returning to pick up the second ship. That night we tipped a couple of glasses of rice wine together. Greg left the AVG soon after he salvaged the two aircraft.
The following article was written by J. Richard Rossi for
Western Flying magazine, September, 1942
We had only the old Tomahawks (predecessor of the current P-40 of fighter planes) to work with over in Burma and China, but everyone seems to think we did a pretty good job with them. We, too, think we had splendid success.
I enjoyed every minute of it, but I'd like to set the public right on several points. First, I want to add my words of praise to those already spoken about our Curtiss Tomahawks. Except for a few P-43's, it was the only plane we had in Burma and, properly used, its performance could not be questioned. The Japs didn't show us anything superior in all-around ability.
I've heard that newspapers make much of the report that one of our tactics over Burma was to use our wings to snap off wings of Jap fighters and bombers. It did happen, but I've heard that each time it was an accident. The maneuver definitely was not one of the routine tricks in our repertoire. We needed ships too badly to take such chances.
Every Man for Himself
The much publicized story that we always flew in formations of twos was not entirely accurate either. We'd usually take off and climb together and, perhaps, stay together while cruising around, but once the Zeros or 97's arrived we'd split up. It was every man for himself.
You can't give all your attention to a Zero if you also have to worry about keeping close to another plane. A three-plane formation is an entirely different proposition.
Formations just wouldn't work because we usually were greatly outnumbered and the Japs were good fighting pilots in good, but flimsy, airplanes. Fortunately, we were flying strongly built ships that gave us a lot of protection.
We could out-fly the Zeros, but they could make tighter turns and get inside. They also could operate more efficiently at higher altitudes. That didn't bother us because we usually managed to meet them somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 feet and, occasionally, below 10,000.
We knew the Zeros could make tighter turns, but they seldom caught us that way. If one got on the tail of my Tomahawk, I'd drop away and, if possible, shoot back at him. Many times that trick brought us in a head-on position and that usually meant a dead Jap. One blast was enough. I didn't have much to fear in a head-on meeting because the Zeros don't have our firepower and my engine gave me plenty of protection. I never saw a Curtiss Tomahawk go down in flames.
Contrary to accepted statements, we never had more than 22 planes in flying condition at any airport. We lost a lot of them and replacement were hard to get.
Our repair services system was a wonder to behold. If a Tomahawk had to be jacked up, it would be dragged to a tree and rigged from a limb with a block and tackle. The Chinese, working without jigs, duplicated many parts and wings for the P-40's. Their system always was a mystery to me, but it was effective.
One of our major problems at first was the lack of adequate maps. We used Chinese maps for a while, but they were not too accurate. Some of the more experienced AVG boys made hand-drawn maps, had them mimeographed and distributed them among us. They worked out very well in many areas.
The Chinese weather service was excellent and it was supplemented by data from our own boys. We had (a) warning service to inform that Jap bombers were approaching. We knew they were there (before) they arrived. We lost a few planes on the ground but our planes were pretty well hidden.
Worst part about the job in Burma was the constant moving of air bases and planes as the Japs moved in. Then, for days, we'd sit around doing nothing. We wouldn't see a Jap for four or five days, so we'd go up looking for them just to relieve the monotony. Food? Don't mention it.
Practically any day we really wanted action we could find it. There were (never) sufficient planes to go around.
(some editing for accuracy - AVG Web Editor)
Articles at Planes and Pilots of WWII
B-10s to Stratojets by Chuck Baisden and C.C. Jordan.
Fei Hu: The Script by Frank Christopher.
The Last P-40C by Tom Cleaver and Erik Shilling.
Flying The Prototypes by Erik Shilling.
A Flying Tiger's Story by Dick Rossi.
Tale Of A Tiger by Robert T. Smith.
Erik Shilling: Flying Tiger.
Changing from "Donkeys" to "Mustangs" Chinese Aviation In The War With Japan, 1940-1945.