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|Print Size: 37" X 24.25"|
TIGERS IN THE GORGE
by John D. Shaw
PRINT 3 IN THE JOHN D. SHAW FLYING TIGERS SERIES
May, 1942 . . . Thousands of refugees fled down the tortuous Burma Road toward Kunming, China to escape the advancing armored forces of Imperial Japan. With the armies of china devastated, it was evident that nothing but the winding Salween River at the bottom of the treacherous gorge could slow the enemy's surge toward the capitol city. After destroying the bridge behind them, those fleeing watched helplessly as the Japanese hastily started to construct a makeshift pontoon bridge. It appeared that China would face certain surrender if the enemy made it across. Hopes of an easy victory quickly began to fade through, when suddenly through the gorge rang the echoes of snarling Allison engines, powering shark mouthed P-40s of the legendary American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers! With 'Tex' Hill leading the charge, and with only a handful of men and planes, the AVG stopped the Japanese cold in the Salween River Gorge, and China would not fall.
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AUTOGRAPHED BY 26 FLYING TIGERS!
Each lithograph is autographed by the artist and a combination of these distinguished signers . . .
Charlie Bond, Vice Squadron Leader
Al Kaelin, Admin. Clerk
Joe Rosbert, Flight Leader
Dick Rossi, Flight Leader
2nd Pursuit Squadron
George Bailey, Crew Chief
David 'Tex' Hill, Squadron Leader
Robert 'Buster' Keeton, Flight Leader
Bob Layher, Flight Leader
Charlie Mott, Flight Leader
Peter Wright, Flight Leader
Frank A. Andersen, Crew Chief
Charles Baisden, Armorer
Paul Clouthier, Operations
Ken Jernstedt, Flight Leader
Paul J. Greene, Flight Leader
Frank Losonsky, Crew Chief
Joe Poshefko, Armorer
R.J. 'Catfish' Raine, Flight Leader
Ed Stiles, Crew Chief
Group Headquarters Section
Ed Fobes, Admin. Clerk
'Red' Foster Petach, Nurse
'Rich' Richardson, Communications
This story is taken from the 2002 Flying Tigers Reunion Program, produced by Valor Studios.
IN THE GORGE
By the end of April 1942, the Japanese had made major gains in their sweep across Southwest Asia: the Philippine Islands, Guam and Wake Island, Singapore, and Burma had all fallen to the invading Japanese. With the fall of Burma, the embattled Chinese had lost their last remaining overland supply route, the Burma Road. The seven-hundred-mile road from Lashio, Burma to Kunming, China stretched over mountain ridges that rose nine thousand feet to mile-deep gorges cut by the muddy waters of the Mekong and Salween Rivers. Through the mountain passes the road twisted back and forth, with hairpin turns that took a driver's full attention lest he go hurtling down the mountainside.
As the Japanese drove north through Burma, the AVG, operating out of Loiwing, on the Chinese border with Burma, flew daily missions against the Japanese, strafing and bombing the advancing columns of troops, tanks, and vehicles. The mass of Japanese men and material overwhelmed the limited resistance that the AVG could muster, however, and, by April 25, the Tigers were preparing to evacuate Loiwing. Chennault ordered Tex Hill's Second Squadron to Mangshi, eighty miles north on the Burma Road into China, while "Oley" Olson's Third Squadron remained at Loiwing for a holding action.
With the Japanese army just a few miles south, the Third Squadron evacuated Loiwing on April 30, leaving twenty-two Tomahawks in various stages of repair and assembly burning in the hangars on the field. Chennault had sent most of the Third Squadron's Tomahawks to Kunming, but had ordered five to Paoshan, a Chinese city a short distance from the east bank of the infamous Salween Gorge.
Chennault ordered Mangshi evacuated on May 1, and the Second Squadron's cars, trucks, and Tomahawks headed for Kunming. On May 5, the Japanese Air Force attacked Paoshan with fifty bombers. By this time, Chennault's carefully developed warning net had faded away with the fleeing Chinese. The AVG element at Paoshan was caught by surprise, with only Bob Little and Charlie Bond being able to get airborne during the raid. Climbing to nineteen thousand feet, they encountered the second wave of twenty-five bombers, one thousand feet below in a V-formation.
Claiming two bombers destroyed before running out of ammunition, Bond turned back to Paoshan. As he was making his approach to land, however, he looked back to discover three Japanese fighters on his tail. With his P-40 riddled by the Japanese gunfire and fire spreading in the cockpit, he opened the canopy, rolled the aircraft, and tumbled out, his chute opening scant feet above the ground. He suffered burns to his hands, torso, and head and lacerations to his scalp from two machine gun bullets. He would live to fly another day.
Others on the field proved not so lucky, however. First Squadron pilot Ben Foshee was severely wounded by a bomb blast, along with a CAMCO employee and a few Chinese hostel workers. A Chinese doctor attempted to amputate Foshee's torn leg, but Foshee would not allow it, demanding that Doc Richards attend to him. The AVG flight surgeon had an eight-mile journey to reach Foshee, however, and was delayed getting through the mass of refugees in the bombed city. Foshee died from loss of blood before Doc Richards arrived. The Japanese formation did not get off scot-free, however. Tex Hill, leading a flight of six P-40Es from Yunnan-yi, met the Japanese bombers as they raced for their home base in Burma. Frank Lawlor shot down two, while Tex Hill, Frank Schiel, Gil Bright, Freeman Ricketts, and Matt Kuykendall scored one each.
By May 5, the Japanese army had advanced to the Salween River, seventy-five miles along the Burma Road inside China. Chinese resistance had melted away, with much of the disorganized Chinese army fleeing into the mountains and others pushing civilian refugees out of the way along the Burma Road as they raced for the Hweitung suspension bridge across the Salween River gorge. The remnants of the Chinese army made it across the bridge just ahead of the Japanese. The Chinese then blew up the bridge, effectively stopping the advance of the Japanese. Had the Chinese not blown up the bridge, the Japanese would have had a clear, unobstructed route to Kunming. Once Kunming fell, denying the Chinese their last major supply point by air, China would be out of the war. Only two things were stopping the Japanese: a demolished bridge and the Flying Tigers.
For several months, Chennault's armorers had been trying unsuccessfully to fit workable bomb racks on the P-40B Tomahawks. With the arrival in late March of the newer model P-40E "Kittyhawks," however, the problem was solved. The E-model came with underwing mountings for six thirty-five-pound fragmentation bombs. Roy Hoffman, the AVG's chief armorer, and Third Squadron armorer Charlie Baisden devised a rack beneath the aircrafts belly that could carry the plentiful 570-pound Russian bombs supplied by the Chinese. The Second Squadron, made up largely of ex-Navy pilots, provided the dive-bombing expertise needed.
On the morning of May 7, Chennault called together his pilots and briefed them on the mission: Tex Hill would lead the flight of four P-40Es, accompanied by former USS Ranger pilots Ed Rector, Tom Jones, and Frank Lawlor. A top cover of Tomahawks would be flown by Arvid Olson, R.T. Smith, Erik Shilling, and Tom Haywood.
That afternoon, taking off from Yunnanyi, the two flights arrived over the target area to find Japanese engineers busily working to span the muddy Salween with pontoon bridges. At the juncture of the Salween River and the Burma Road, the road drops sharply over a mile down into the gorge. Japanese armored columns, trucks, and troops snaked back east for twenty miles along the narrow approaches to the gorge. As Chennault described later, the Japanese were trapped in the open "like flies on flypaper - a sheer precipice on one side of the narrow road and a rock wall on the other."
Signaling his flight for the attack, Tex Hill peeled off in a dive toward the western end of the Japanese column. Aiming for the sheer rock walls above the convoy, he released his 570-pound demolition bomb. As the bomb found its mark, tons of rock came cascading down on the hapless Japanese troops below, effectively sealing off any retreat back along the Burma Road. Rector, Lawlor, and Jones followed in a string, each dropping his own payload and causing further chaos and panic below.
Hill and his company followed with successive attacks along the twenty-mile length of the Japanese column, expending their fragmentation bombs and ammunition from their six .50-caliber machine guns.
Their ammunition gone, Hill and his flight climbed out of the target area to allow the top cover flight to add to the carnage. The four Tomahawks led by Oley Olson swept the column with their own .30-caliber guns until they had expended their ammunition; then, they joined Hill and his flight as they headed west for Yunnanyi.
The scene below was sheer pandemonium - vehicles were burning, the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers were strewn about like cordwood, and smoke rose thousands of feet in the air.
The AVG had just begun. After refueling at Yunnanyi, the P-40Es were loaded with more fragmentation bombs, incendiaries were added to the armament load, and the pilots made a second round trip to the Salween Gorge. Chennault followed up with an attack by a dozen Russian SB-3 twin-engine bombers flown by Chinese pilots and even a few Hawk III biplanes from the training school at Kunming joined in the fray.
Chennault continued the attacks with small flights of Tomahawks and P-40Es over the next three days, harassing the small remnant of retreating Japanese as far south as Wanting. The drive on the Salween had been stopped. The Japanese were never able to cross the Salween Gorge and, even though they maintained artillery and infantry positions on the Salween's west bank, they were never again able to attempt a river crossing. With the emboldened Chinese on the east bank, the opposing forces faced each other in a stalemate until the Japanese were driven back south into Burma in the summer of 1944. Chennault and the AVG had broken the back of the Japanese invasion of Western China.
John D. Shaw has pursued his art and graphics career since 1985. Born in 1961, this native of Carson City, Nevada has always maintained an interest in creating both fine and commercial art. As an illustrator, Shaw has created artwork for a variety of clients such as Lucasfilms Ltd., Kellogg's, Major League Baseball, Coast Federal Bank of California, etc.
Shaw's work took a major new emphasis in 1993, when he began creating paintings with an historical aviation theme. With special attention to the World War II era, his depictions of these aircraft, people and their missions have won national awards.
His artwork has adorned the covers of national magazines, from Private Pilot's Aviation Art Gallery, to Challenge Publications' Aviation Art, to Primedia's World War II and Aviation History.
John D. Shaw with the original painting
"By The Dawn's Early Light"