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

The Books I Picked & Why

Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger

By Martha Byrd

Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger

Why 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.


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

By Daniel Ford

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

Why 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.


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Into the Teeth of the Tiger

By Donald S. Lopez

Into the Teeth of the Tiger

Why 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.


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

By Edward M. Young

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

Why 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.


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

By Henry Probert

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

Why 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.


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