During the 1930s, the Chinese Air Force was composed largely of foreign volunteers, at first Americans but later Italians. By 1937 the strength of the Air Force stood at 500 aircraft, but few of these were serviceable, and the remainder were destroyed by the Japanese in the air battles of 1937.
Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Madame Chiang called for further foreign aid to form an international force to fight the Japanese. At first an international squadron was established of mixed membership, mainly British, American and Dutch pilots. It only had 36 aircraft and had been destroyed by 1938. The international squadron was replaced by six Russian squadrons, two of bombers and four of fighters provided under a clause of the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1937. The Russian force was totally self-contained and provided all its own supplies and ground crew. It allowed the Chinese Air Force to regroup in the north around Kunming and the Russians sent it 400 aircraft, and a number of new and more efficient flying schools were set up. The kernel of the postwar Chinese Air Force was very largely Russian-trained.
Although efficient, this Russian contribution was too small to provide an overall air defense of China, and in January 1939 after extensive Japanese raids on Chungking, Madame Chiang searched for reinforcements. The American Volunteer Group (AVG) filled the breach. In October 1940 Major-General Mao Pang-tzo the Director of the Operations Branch of the Chinese Air Force, was sent to the United States to buy aircraft. Though the Chinese wanted 650, they eventually got 100 P-40s discarded by the British. The recruitment of pilots was much more difficult. Chennault enthusiastically agreed to head the AVG. To get round the Neutrality Acts two corporations were set up as go-betweens, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) and China Defense Supplies. All AVG recruits were considered as ’employees’ of CAMCO, and General Chennault was named as their ‘supervisor’ .
In June 1941 the AVG consisted of 100 pilots and 150 mechanics. The following month the AVG was allotted 269 new fighters and 66 bombers and a scheme was considered to extend the AVG to a second group equipped with Hudson bombers, though the entry of the US into the war after Pearl Harbor preempted this.
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In 1937 the Chinese Navy was very small by Western standards and totaled 59 vessels. The largest vessel were six light cruisers, none of which exceeded 3600 tons. Supporting these were 30 gunboats and a miscellaneous collection of 23 gunboats, sloops and transport vessels.
Most of these were sunk in the Yangtze, at Shanghai, Tsingtao and Canton during the Japanese attacks of 1937 and fell easy victim to Japanese bombing and artillery fire. Some vessels that were beached were salvaged and repaired by the Japanese, but for all intents and purposes the Chinese Navy had ceased to exist.
In north China, the communist forces of Mao Tse-tung were the main opponents of the Japanese. Like the Nationalists, however, they preferred to maintain a low level of operations, saving themselves for the coming struggle for the control of China. After Pearl Harbor, they decided that Japanese defeat was inevitable, and in any case the major communist offensive of the war, the ‘Hundred Regiments Campaign’ of 1940, had been very costly.
After the losses of the Long March, communist forces had begun operations against Nationalists from their new base in Yenan in 1936, but in 1937 a truce was patched up to meet the Japanese menace, and the three communist Front Armies under Chu Teh were designated the 8th Route Army; this had an official strength of 45,000 men but was probably 80,000 strong, including guerrillas.
The basic organization was quite standard: three squads (each of 10 to 16 men) made up a platoon, three platoons a company (with its administrative troops about 120 men strong); three companies a battalion; three battalions a regiment; three regiments a division and three divisions an army. Support weapons were whatever was available, and the communist forces were woefully lacking in machine guns and artillery.
The cohesion of this ill-equipped army was enormous, however. Often short of equipment and heavy armament, the communists made up for this with the discipline of their organization.