The best books about the Flying Tigers

Who am I?

I became enchanted with the Flying Tigers as an eighth-grader in 1945, and when our daughter needed a topic for her high-school history paper forty years later, I suggested the AVG. The books (including Olga Greenlaw’s) flooded into our house. Kate was a Harvard freshman the following year, her Chinese roommate gave me a rough vocabulary, and I flew to China and Burma to walk the ground and quiz the locals. In all the years since, I’ve never stopped learning about these men and their great moment in military history.


I wrote...

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

By Daniel Ford,

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

What is my book about?

In 1986 I realized that the Flying Tigers—American pilots who volunteered to fly for China before the US entered the Second World War—were getting along in life. So I set out to interview the survivors and discover the reasons for their astounding war record. The search took me five years, talking to people and reading the accounts in the US, Britain, Burma, China, and Japan. 

What a story it turned out to be! “Expect some surprise,” wrote one historian about the book, which won the Aviation / Space Writer’s Award for 1991. Twice revised and updated since then, it remains the definitive history of the Flying Tigers.

The books I picked & why

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Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger

By Martha Byrd,

Book cover of Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger

Why this book?

Like the Tigers themselves, their granite-faced commander was much glorified during the war and afterward, but he was a man with flaws. Claire Chennault lied about his age, among other things, and it wasn’t until Martha Byrd thought to examine the family bible that the record was corrected. Hers is the only reliable biography of the man who forged the fighter group that defended Burma and China in the early days of the Pacific War.


Tale of a Tiger

By Robert T. Smith,

Book cover of Tale of a Tiger

Why this book?

R. T. Smith was a Flying Tiger ace, credited with a fraction less than nine Japanese planes shot down. He also took some remarkable photos. Postwar he tried many things, including freelance publishing, and he had the happy inspiration of reproducing his wartime diary just as he wrote the words in 1941-1942, making it the only first-person account that hasn’t been edited for publication. Hard to find but very much worth looking for.


A Flying Tiger's Diary

By Charles R. Bond Jr., Terry H. Anderson,

Book cover of A Flying Tiger's Diary

Why this book?

Charlie Bond was a career aviator and retired as a two-star general, so his account is discreet and clearly edited for publication. But he was more serious than most of the buccaneers who joined the American Volunteer Group; he paid attention to what was going on at headquarters high and low, and he had a keen eye for his fellow pilots. History professor Terry Anderson provided the background, and R. T. Smith some of the photographs.


The Lady and the Tigers: The story of the remarkable woman who served with the Flying Tigers in Burma and China, 1941-1942

By Olga Greenlaw,

Book cover of The Lady and the Tigers: The story of the remarkable woman who served with the Flying Tigers in Burma and China, 1941-1942

Why this book?

The beguiling Olga married an aircraft salesman named Harvey Greenlaw (among others) and with him was hired by Chennault for his pick-up AVG headquarters. She became a combination den mother and sex symbol for the Tigers in Burma, where she was charged with keeping the group’s “war diary.” When the Greenlaws came home in the summer of 1942, Olga brought a copy with her, and from it and her personal diary wrote this wonderful account of her year with the AVG. As with R. T. Smith’s facsimile diary, her facts check out, and I relied on her book while writing my own. Later, with her heirs, I edited a slimmed-down version so it would be more widely available.


Tonya

By Gregory “Pappy” Boyington,

Book cover of Tonya

Why this book?

Greg Boyington was a Flying Tiger before he took command of the famous “Black Sheep” fighter squadron and recipient of the Medal of Honor. He may have been Olga’s lover, and he certainly was Chennault’s most troublesome pilot. The two men despised one another, and Tonya was Boyington’s revenge. The novel is a thinly disguised and highly improbable account of the “Flying Sharks” in Chinese service. Great literature it’s not, but those who know something about the AVG will have a lark matching his characters with their real-life counterparts. 


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