The following article was written by J. Richard Rossi for
Western Flying magazine, September, 1942
We had only the old Tomahawks (predecessor of the current P-40 of fighter planes) to work with over in Burma and China, but everyone seems to think we did a pretty good job with them. We, too, think we had splendid success.
I enjoyed every minute of it, but I’d like to set the public right on several points. First, I want to add my words of praise to those already spoken about our Curtiss Tomahawks. Except for a few P-43’s, it was the only plane we had in Burma and, properly used, its performance could not be questioned. The Japs didn’t show us anything superior in all-around ability.
I’ve heard that newspapers make much of the report that one of our tactics over Burma was to use our wings to snap off wings of Jap fighters and bombers. It did happen, but I’ve heard that each time it was an accident. The maneuver definitely was not one of the routine tricks in our repertoire. We needed ships too badly to take such chances.
Every Man for Himself
The much publicized story that we always flew in formations of twos was not entirely accurate either. We’d usually take off and climb together and, perhaps, stay together while cruising around, but once the Zeros or 97’s arrived we’d split up. It was every man for himself.
You can’t give all your attention to a Zero if you also have to worry about keeping close to another plane. A three-plane formation is an entirely different proposition.
Formations just wouldn’t work because we usually were greatly outnumbered and the Japs were good fighting pilots in good, but flimsy, airplanes. Fortunately, we were flying strongly built ships that gave us a lot of protection.
We could out-fly the Zeros, but they could make tighter turns and get inside. They also could operate more efficiently at higher altitudes. That didn’t bother us because we usually managed to meet them somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 feet and, occasionally, below 10,000.
We knew the Zeros could make tighter turns, but they seldom caught us that way. If one got on the tail of my Tomahawk, I’d drop away and, if possible, shoot back at him. Many times that trick brought us in a head-on position and that usually meant a dead Jap. One blast was enough. I didn’t have much to fear in a head-on meeting because the Zeros don’t have our firepower and my engine gave me plenty of protection. I never saw a Curtiss Tomahawk go down in flames.
Contrary to accepted statements, we never had more than 22 planes in flying condition at any airport. We lost a lot of them and replacement were hard to get.
Our repair services system was a wonder to behold. If a Tomahawk had to be jacked up, it would be dragged to a tree and rigged from a limb with a block and tackle. The Chinese, working without jigs, duplicated many parts and wings for the P-40’s. Their system always was a mystery to me, but it was effective.
One of our major problems at first was the lack of adequate maps. We used Chinese maps for a while, but they were not too accurate. Some of the more experienced AVG boys made hand-drawn maps, had them mimeographed and distributed them among us. They worked out very well in many areas.
The Chinese weather service was excellent and it was supplemented by data from our own boys. We had (a) warning service to inform that Jap bombers were approaching. We knew they were there (before) they arrived. We lost a few planes on the ground but our planes were pretty well hidden.
Worst part about the job in Burma was the constant moving of air bases and planes as the Japs moved in. Then, for days, we’d sit around doing nothing. We wouldn’t see a Jap for four or five days, so we’d go up looking for them just to relieve the monotony. Food? Don’t mention it.
Practically any day we really wanted action we could find it. There were (never) sufficient planes to go around.
(some editing for accuracy – AVG Web Editor)