The best books on the Air War in the China-Burma-India Theater during WWII

Carl Molesworth Author Of Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark
By Carl Molesworth

Who am I?

Carl Molesworth’s interest in China and the Far East dates back to childhood memories of stories told by his mother and grandmother of their experiences living in China during the 1920s. He acquired his interest in aviation from his father. Carl began researching the air war in the China-Burma-India Theater while working as a newspaper editor in the late 1970s and published his first book on the subject, Wing To Wing – Air Combat in China 1943-45, in 1990. Of his 14 subsequent books, nine have covered various aspects of air combat in the CBI.

I wrote...

Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark

By Carl Molesworth,

Book cover of Flying Tiger Ace: The story of Bill Reed, China’s Shining Mark

What is my book about?

Bill Reed had it all ­- brains, looks, athleticism, courage, and a talent for leadership. After a challenging childhood in Depression-era Iowa, Reed joined the US Army Air Corps, but the outbreak of World War II saw him give up his commission. Instead, he travelled to China to fly for the American Volunteer Group - the legendary Flying Tigers. 

This book is a biography of his extraordinary life, focusing on his time spent flying with some of the famous aerial groups of World War II. It draws heavily on Reed's own words, along with the author's deep knowledge of the China air war and years of research into Reed's life, to tell his compelling story.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger

Why did I love this book?

The story of Claire Lee Chennault is the story of American involvement in China’s air war against Japan, 1937-1945, and Martha Byrd’s 1989 work is the definitive Chennault biography. First as an advisor to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek, then commander of the legendary American Volunteer Group – the “Flying Tigers” – and ultimately in command of the U.S. 14th Air Force, Chennault was the driving force behind Allied efforts to push the Japanese invaders out of China during World War II. While numerous other authors have described Chennault in fawning, simplistic terms, Byrd did the deep research needed to bring out the contrasts in the character and personality to this complex man. The result is an inciteful, highly readable account of the life of a true American hero.

By Martha Byrd,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Chennault as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in rural Louisiana in 1893, Claire Lee Chennault worked as a teacher before joining the army and becoming a commissioned officer. This book provides a balanced portrait of a brave and controversial airman who commanded a training air force for Nationalist China.

Book cover of Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942

Why did I love this book?

In my bookshelf alone I count eight unit histories of the American Volunteer Group, the storied band of American pilots and technicians who fought for China in the first seven months of America’s involvement in World War II. I’m sure there are more. But when I need to check a fact about the AVG, the first book I turn to is Daniel Ford’s 1991 work. Ford was the first author to research Japanese sources to tell the full story of the Flying Tigers, and for that he was roundly criticized by AVG veterans who felt he had denigrated them by revealing that Japanese records did not support all of the AVG claims of combat success. In my view, however, the important contribution of the AVG was not the number of enemy planes its pilots did or didn’t shoot down but instead was the morale boost its successes gave to an American public otherwise shocked and discouraged by the advances of Axis forces across the globe during the first half of 1942.

By Daniel Ford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flying Tigers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Early in the Second World War, in the skies over Rangoon, a handful of American pilots met and bloodied the Japanese Army Air Force, winning immortality as the "Flying Tigers." Arguably America's most famous combat unit, they were hired to defend beleaguered China for $600 a month, plus $500 for each Japanese plane shot down--fantastic money in 1941, when a Manhattan hotel room cost three dollars a night.

To bring his prize-winning history of the American Volunteer Group up to date, Daniel Ford has drawn on the most recent U.S., British, and Japanese scholarship, providing new information about the Tigers,…

Into the Teeth of the Tiger

By Donald S. Lopez,

Book cover of Into the Teeth of the Tiger

Why did I love this book?

When I met Don Lopez in the late 1970s while he was the deputy director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, I was interviewing him for a magazine article about his exploits as a fighter ace in China during World War II. The intelligence, graciousness and sense of humor I noted that day come through loud and clear in this memoir published in 1997. In contrast to the rest of the books I’m highlighting here, Lopez provides a vivid, first-hand account of what it was like to actually do the fighting in the skies over China, 1943-45. A terrific storyteller, he goes beyond descriptions of exciting air battles to explain the emotional highs and lows he experienced as his personal successes and those of his fellow pilots in the air failed to blunt the major enemy offensive that was underway on the ground at that time.

By Donald S. Lopez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Into the Teeth of the Tiger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Into the Teeth of the Tiger provides a vivid, pilot’s-eye view of one of the most extended projections of American air power in World War II Asia. Lopez chronicles every aspect of fighter combat in that theater: harrowing aerial battles, interludes of boredom and inactivity, instances of courage and cowardice. Describing different pilots’ roles in each type of mission, the operation of the P-40, and the use of various weapons, he tells how he and his fellow pilots faced not only constant danger but also the munitions shortages, poor food, and rat-infested barracks of a remote sector of the war.…

Book cover of The Tenth Air Force in World War II: Strategy, Command, and Operations 1942-1945

Why did I love this book?

If you could only have a single book about American involvement in the air war over Burma during World War II, this would be the one. Ted Young’s history of the Tenth Air Force has it all, from high-level political maneuvering (and there was plenty of it) and seemingly endless reorganizations to in-the-cockpit combat accounts and a generous selection of photos and maps. He describes in detail the constantly shifting priorities and strategies faced by the Tenth Air Force, along with the many innovative tactics and techniques developed by units such as the First Air Commando Group. In addition, Young brings fresh insight into many of the officers who led the efforts in Burma, men such as Clayton L. Bissell. Young describes him as “a capable staff officer with broad administrative experience” who nevertheless was unable to establish a good working relationship with Claire L. Chennault, his more colorful counterpart in China. This is a big book, both in physical size and the volume of material contained between its covers.

By Edward M. Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tenth Air Force in World War II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During World War II, flying B-24 Liberator bombers on missions deep into Burma, B-25 Mitchell bombers attacking Japanese lines of communications, and P-40 Warhawks, P-47 Thunderbolts, and P-51 Mustangs flying close support for General Joseph Stilwell's Chinese and American forces in northern Burma, the Tenth Air Force worked closely with the squadrons of the Royal Air Force to push the Japanese out of Burma. The first comprehensive history of the Tenth Air Force and the Army Air Forces, India-Burma sector, this book covers these operations in the context of Allied strategic objectives for prosecuting the war in China and Southeast…

Book cover of The Forgotten Air Force: The Royal Air Force in the War Against Japan 1941-1945

Why did I love this book?

Understanding the full scope of the air war in the CBI requires knowledge of Royal Air Force operations against the Japanese, and Probert’s book delivers. I regret that I am not aware of a similar book covering the CBI story from the point of view of the Japanese Army Air Force. Probert begins his book with the arrival of RAF flying boats at Singapore in 1928 and recounts in detail the events of World War II from the debacle in Burma and Malaya in 1941-42 to the hard-won victory in 1945. Substantial appendices, notes, photographs and maps complete the package.

By Henry Probert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Forgotten Air Force as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The role of the Royal Air Force in the Far Eastern war has received much less attention from historians than its many activities in the war against Germany and Italy. Indeed, just as the Fourteenth Army was and still is referred to as the Forgotten Army, so can the airmen and airwomen who fought alongside them reasonably consider themselves the Forgotten Air Force. This book, published to mark the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Japan, recalls and explains their achievements, and pays them their rightful tribute. The history covers, among other things, the problems of the 1930s as they…

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