The following excerpts are from Chuck Baisden’s Book
“Flying Tiger to Air Commando”
January, 1942, Kunming, China
In Kunming we stayed in the dormitory of what had been a university. Keith Christensen and I shared a room on the second floor. We had a houseboy to keep the place clean and get our laundry done. He got us a clay charcoal pot to provide some heat for the room. It was cold in Kunming. We almost asphyxiated ourselves one night when we forgot to open a window and the charcoal heater used up most of the oxygen in the room.
The Chinese really tried to do everything in their power to welcome us. The food was the best we had eaten in a long time. There was a bar in the hotel, but they had the worst beer ever made. It was a twenty minute drive through the city of Kunming to the airfield.
If you couldn’t make it to the airfield when an air raid alert sounded, there were hundreds of grave mounds surrounding the city and they made an ideal place to go.
Around the middle of March, 1942, I was called into the office of Squadron Leader Arvid Olson who asked me my opinion about acquiring some ground defense weapons to take with us to a place called Magwe. He showed me a number of boxed Bren guns of .303 caliber and a couple of old Browning .30 water-cooled machine guns. He said they had come off the U.S.S. Panay, a gunboat the Japanese had bombed and destroyed in 1937. We settled for four Brens and two water-cooled .30s. Olson didn’t want the latter, but I promised I’d take care of them.
April 8, 1942, Loiwing, China
On April 8 we had an alert. Some of our boys took off to intercept an observation plane, but it escaped. A few days after the alert, Jap fighters got us with no warning. I was just getting out of bed when we heard their engines and machine guns. I tried to get out the door, but our radioman, Harvey Cross, who was a pretty big guy, knocked me to the floor. Several of our planes were hit, but the damage was surprisingly small. One of our crew chiefs, who had been running up his engine, thought one of our guys was firing his own guns until his instrument panel disintegrated. It was a miracle no one was injured.
During the same day, another air alert was sounded. After our aircraft took off, Joe Poshefko and I cleared the field and sat on a hill overlooking the runway. Suddenly Jap fighters begin strafing the airfield. We could see smoke where once our P-40Es had been parked. Then our own fighters hit the Jap fighters, and we got to witness a low altitude dog fight. The sky started to rain Jap planes.
I had my camera and took one picture of a Jap fighter that was diving straight into the ground. He was not on fire, but evidently he’d been killed in the cockpit. Later on I found out it was a victory for Arvid Olson. I have no idea how many planes were shot down, but I’ll never forget that afternoon and how proud I was of our guys.
Joe Poshefko and I went down to where the Jap had crashed. It was about two hundred yards away from us. The ground was very hard, and the plane was completely destroyed and burning. The pilot had been thrown clear, but his body was burnt beyond recognition. I picked up an instrument guage, a .50 machine gun cartridge and the receiver part of a machine gun with the synchronizing trigger motor still attached. The .50 cartridge was new to me. It was an explosive bullet.
A number of aircraft arrived from Kunming, and we began having trouble with some of the wing guns. One squadron had 7.9 caliber machine guns and the ammunition was not interchangeable even though it was similar in appearance. With several scrambles going on every day, some of the planes did get the wrong ammo, but we only caught it when we tried to charge the guns in(loading) on the ground.
Clarence Riffer set our armament truck on fire when he struck a match to check the gas gauge. The gauge was located under the front seat, and the gas cap was off. Someone jumped in the ammunition truck and got it clear while the rest of us put out the fire. There were many refugees. Two big transport planes came and took out as many as they could carry. Since they could only take hand-carried baggage, we received all kinds of goodies they had to leave behind. Joe Poshefko was presented a little English sedan with a sunroof. We had fun with that little car. Some of the guys received pistols and suitcases full of clothes.
During one of the maximum effort missions, we loaded some of the P-40Es with six small fragmentation bombs. They were manufactured by the Chinese and weighed about thirty pounds each. The detonators which went in the nose were blank cartridges about .38 caliber. I’ve heard this mission stopped the Japanese advance up the Burma Road.