RESERVES FOR THE NEXT WAR
In April 1944, an aging Chinese War Lord acquired an imposing estate near our 40th Bomb Group's Airfield at Hsinching, China. Having been awarded the rank of General in the Nationalist Army, he had his own army, bodyguards, several wives, and much personal property. He lived in a very large dwelling that was the central building in a compound surrounded by a wall topped with broken glass to discourage intruders. Many barns and warehouses were scattered within the enclosure. Security was provided by a group of soldiers stationed near the large double gates at the estate’s entrance.
When the American Flying Tigers and other U.S. Army Air Corps combat units came to China, the Nationalist Army possessed some old warplanes that had escaped destruction by the Japanese Air Force. The War Lord built a road to his estate, and towed three Lockheed Lodestars and five Curtiss fighter planes to storage buildings within his compound.
After the 40th Bomb Group began combat operations at Hsinching, the Chinese General invited Colonel Harman, Commander, 40th Bomb Group, and some of his officers to his home. The War Lord wanted the Americans to meet his staff officers, and to show them his warplanes. An American trained Chinese pilot proudly showed a line of decrepit airplanes that had flat tires, and were sadly rusted and corroded. One could easily imagine what condition the inside of the engines were in, when an American tugged at the propeller of a Lodestar and found it could not be moved. The War Lord failed to understand the significance of this discovery, and continued to smile as if the planes were in good condition. He did not realize that all the planes had long ago become worthless for flying.
When the tour ended, everyone assembled in the house where the host served his special rice wine. It was a fiery drink the Americans called Air Raid Juice. After a few toasts and short comments, the War Lord gave a lengthy explanation of how he would use his air fleet against the invading Communist horde of Mao-tse-tung. The Americans left the compound following that bit of Chinese fantasy.
I have often wondered about those planes. Did the War Lord find parts, pilots, and mechanics to attempt a restoration project? Were the planes salvaged to make wheelbarrows or farm tools? What happened to the War Lord and his fat wives? Of one thing I am sure -- none of the planes dropped a bomb or shot a bullet in the Chinese struggle with the Japanese.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *