Captain Liu Chi-Han
In February 1938 Captain Liu Chi-Han served as commander of the 22nd PS. This unit was at the time equipped with I-15bis and I-16s.
As Japanese troop advanced on Wuhan, the temporary capital of the Chinese government, the 4th PG was made responsible for the air defence of the city and was based at Fencheng.
On 18 February 1938, the Japanese attacked the town with a reported 16 bombers, escorted by 26 fighters. In fact the actual composition of the Japanese force was 15 G3M bombers escorted by 11 A5M carrier fighters. The G3Ms were from the Kanoya Kokutai and led by Lieutenant Commander Sugahisa Tuneru. The escorts were from the 12th and 13th Kokutais and led by Lieutenant Takashi Kaneko of the 12th Kokutai.
According to Japanese accounts, there were low clouds over Wuhan, which caused a lot of confusion. Following warning from the air raid warning net, the Chinese interceptors began taking off at 12:45. First came eight I-15bis from the 23rd PS based at Hsiao-Kan led by Captain Lu Ji-Chun. Then came eleven I-15bis from the 22nd PS led by Captain Lee Kuei-Tan, commander of the 4th PG, which took off from Hankou Airfield at 13:00. Finally, ten I-16s of the 21st PS led by the commander Captain Teng Ming-Teh took off from Hankou Airfield at 13:10.
The first Chinese interceptors to encounter the Japanese were the I-15bis from the 22nd PS led by Lee’s flight, which included Lieutenant Cheng Hsiao-Yu in the no. 2 position, Lieutenant Chang Kuang-Ming as no. 3 and Lieutenant Pa Ching-Cheng as no. 4, were climbing steeply at about 1500 meters south west of the airfield three minutes after take-off. Japanese planes from the upper rear intercepted them from an altitude thought to be at 4000 meters. Other Chinese accounts indicate that six A5Ms attacked the first six aircraft in the Chinese formation and another 6 (sic) attacked the two flights of five bringing up the rear. It would appear that it was the 12th Kokutai A5Ms led by Lieutenant Kaneko that attacked Captain Lee and the first two flights of the 22nd PS. Other A5Ms, including those from the 13th Kokutai, attacked the two rear flights of the 22nd PS. Caught by surprise, the 22nd PS was hard hit and the Chinese planes were badly scattered. Badly shot up in the initial attack, Lee managed to regain control and headed back to Hankou Airfield. Witnesses on the ground saw him attempting to land his stricken I-15bis. Unfortunately, it would appear that Lee’s fuel tanks had been hit and were leaking because, while on final approach, the I-15bis suddenly burst into flames and crashed. Lee, the youngest Commanding Officer of the 4th PG at the time, was killed. Cheng and Pa were hit at the same time and spiralled down. Chang was attacked by three Japanese aircraft more than a dozen times. He damaged one of the enemy aircraft, and landed without injury to himself but counted over 210 bullet holes on his aircraft, including three rounds lodged in his parachute pack seat. Pa was killed when his aircraft crashed but Cheng spiralled down and landed safely. After landing he found his rudder cable severed by a Japanese bullet.
At the rear of the 22nd PS formation, things were just as desperate when they engaged the Japanese at 3000 meters south-west of Hankou. Lieutenant Wang Yi was shot down and killed. Captain Liu Chi-Han, 22nd PS leader, claimed to have shot down the A5M attacking him in a turning fight. However, Liu’s own engine was also hit in the fight and it exploded shortly afterwards, forcing Liu to bail out. While descending in his parachute, two A5Ms came in to strafe Liu. Liu recalled that the Japanese bullets zipped by "like hailstones". After dodging couple of passes, Liu allowed his body to go limp and "played dead". Thinking that the Chinese pilot had been killed, the Japanese broke away allowing Liu to land safely. Lieutenant Li Peng-Hsiang, also in the rear of the formation, came under attack by a 13th Kokutai A5M flown by shotai leader PO1c Mitsuga Mori. Lieutenant Wu Ting-Chun tried to intervene by attacking from above and behind Mori. However, Mori turned sharply away from the attack, causing Wu to collide with Li. Wu managed to bail out and survive but Li was killed. According to other sources Wu claimed to have downed a Japanese fighter, and then crashed into another one. On returning, Mori claimed to have downed two other I-15bis (his first 4 victories of a total of 9 – 4 in China). Feng Yu-Ho claimed two Japanese aircraft and Chang Ming-Sheng claimed a Japanese light bomber.
Arriving from Hsiao-Kan, the 23rd PS I-15bis led by Captain Lu Ji-Chun saw the surviving 22nd PS planes being chased all over the skies by the Japanese A5Ms. Joining the melee, the eight I-15bis of the 23rd PS took the heat off the 22nd PS, allowing the badly mauled survivors to escape. The Japanese A5Ms, having come off their success against the 22nd PS, were fighting well with their flights largely intact. The 23rd PS soon found themselves at a disadvantage. It would appear that the Chinese fighters were not able to effectively support each other in the fight. Once again, individual Chinese fighters found themselves under attack by flights of three A5Ms. Somewhere in the melee, Captain Lu was isolated, shot down and killed. Lieutenant Wang Yu-Kun, after claiming to have downed two A5Ms, came under attack by three others. Wang’s controls were shot away and the I-15bis went into a long glide towards fields north east of Wuhan. The Japanese planes continued to fire on Wang’s plane but, fortunately, the Chinese pilot was not hit. The I-15bis eventually crash-landed in a field, Wang was knocked unconscious but he survived with only a bruised right leg. Liu Chung-Wu and Hsin Sau-Chuan each claimed a victory. Hsin was so close to the Japanese aircraft he shot down that lubricants of the Japanese aircraft splashed on his windshield and totally obstructed his vision and he had to break off action.
Just as it appeared that the 23rd PS was going to suffer the fate of its sister squadron, the tables were turned with the arrival of ten I-16s from the 21st PS. Having climbed to 3500 meters north-west of the airfield, the 21st PS led by Captain Teng, saw the A5Ms dive from approximately 4000 meters altitude and attack the 22nd PS south west of Wuhan. Arriving on the scene with an advantage in altitude, the I-16s were able to surprise the Japanese, which were tangled in a dogfight with the 23rd PS. This time, it was the turn of individual Japanese fighters to be attacked by the Chinese in flights of three. Lieutenant Liu Chi-Sheng scored a solo kill and then joined Captain Teng and Lieutenant Yang Ku-Fan to attack another A5M which was engaged in a turning fight with Lieutenant Liu Chung-Wu of the 23rd PS. Together, the four Chinese fighters shot down this hapless A5M. Lieutenant Yang Ku-Fan then joined with Lieutenant Li Wen-Hsiang, Lieutenant Wang Teh-Lian and Lieutenant Han Sen to down another A5M. Finally, Lieutenant Huang Yuan-Po, Lieutenant Wang Teh-Lian and Lieutenant Kung Yeh-Ti combined to down a fourth A5M.
Soviet volunteers also took part in this combat and according to the recollections of the volunteer Aleksey Dushin, about 10 o’clock in the morning they took off on an alert and at an altitude of 4500 m found themselves under cumulus clouds. An arrow on the ground pointed out the direction from which the Japanese would appear. After a ten-minute flight along this course they turned and flew back, and straightaway they discovered about 1500-2000 m beneath them, three flights, each of nine Japanese bombers flying in a tight formation. Moments later Japanese fighters appeared flying above the clouds. They began to dive on the Soviet volunteers on a meeting course, with the initiative remaining with them. Three Japanese attacked Dushin, and consequently he shot at all three. A cone of bullets, in his words, found one aircraft, but it did not burn. Two A5Ms began to fire at him, but he was rescued by the manoeuvrability of the I-15bis. Dushin was able to escape from them by diving, but on the way out the third Japanese caught him. But an I-16 came to his rescue, which later turned out to have been flown by Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy (or Ivan Puntus according to other sources). Dushin then chased after “his” Japanese and opened fire at a distance of 25 meters. But the guns suddenly ceased, out of ammunition. Nonetheless the A5M made an unnatural climb upward and vanished from the pilot’s field of vision. Several days later a Japanese fighter was found in this region, in Dushin’s opinion, the very same one.
Blagoveshchenskiy fought an air-combat with a leader of a Japanese group of fighters and he shot down the Japanese fighter. His own fighter was however damaged and he suffered from a damage control stick, hits on the armour plate and tears on his flight suit.
It seems that Georgii Konev claimed an enemy aircraft in this combat while flying an I-16 and Ivan Puntus claimed an A5M. Leytenant Dimitriy Kudymov (I-16) also claimed an A5M.
In this combat was the commander of the I-15bis squadron N. A. Smirnov killed together with a second volunteer. After the death of Smirnov, the commander officially became A. S. Zingaev, though the “chief” of the group remained Blagoveshchenskiy himself. Totally the Soviet volunteers claimed five victories in this combat.
Four Japanese pilots were lost in this combat. They were Lieutenant Takashi Kaneko (Class no. 57), leader of the escorting fighters, PO1c Shigeo Miyamoto (Otsu 1), Sea1c Hiroji Hayakgawa (Pilot 29), all from the 12th Kokutai and PO1c Inao Hamada (Pilot 34) of the 13th Kokutai. In addition, one A5M from the 13th Kokutai was damaged and the pilot, NAP3c Airora Sao, badly injured by two bullets. For their part, Japanese pilots claimed a total of 15 I-15bis (including one probable), two I-16s and one SB. The Chinese pilots totally claimed at least twelve Japanese aircraft in this combat. Captain Lee Kuei-Tan, Captain Lu Ji-Chun, Lieutenant Pa Ching-Cheng, Lieutenant Wang Yi and Lieutenant Li Peng-Hsiang were killed during the battle.
On 29 April 1938 (Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s birthday) 18 G3M2s of the 13th Kokutai Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) escorted by 27 A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai under the command of Lieutenant Commodore Y. Ozono attacked Wuhan.
The 4th PG at Hankow Field had nine I-15bis, seven I-16s, and two I-16s from the 24th PS. The Russian volunteers had 23 I-15bis and 16 I-16s. The 3rd Group detachment based at Hsiao Kan was equipped with four I-15bis and six I-15bis were from the 17th PS, 5th PG.
Reconnaissance revealed the Japanese intentions in good time and early in the morning at Nanchang’s aerodromes (there were two) the order went out to all to fly to Hankow in flights, at treetop level (altitude no greater than 25 m). By 08:00 a lot of fighters had concentrated there. By 09:00 all the aircraft had been re-fuelled and the pilots were in the cockpits waiting the order to take off. That day dense clouds at several levels covered the sky, beginning at 2000-2500 m.
The first communications from the air warning system (VNOS) began to be received at 10:00. At 14:00, when the Japanese aircraft approached Wuhan fighters were already waiting in the air with sufficient altitude. According the previously drawn up plans, the I-15bis closed in on the Japanese fighters in a pincer attack while the I-16 formation fell upon the bombers.
Mao Ying-Chu, commander of the 4th PG, led nine I-15bis into the battle. Liu Chi-Han and Liu Chung-Wu took off first and met over a reported 20 Japanese aircraft. They each claimed a Japanese aircraft, as did Yang Shen-Yen. Moments later Liu Chung-Wu claimed a second Japanese aircraft. His aircraft was, however, also damaged in this battle.
Teng Ming-Teh led the I-16s of the 4th PG and 24th PS to patrol the airspace over the airfield. The Russians at first left the formation, but then turned around and joined in the battle near Liang Tze Lake. They claimed six Japanese bombers and seven fighters.
During the combat Lieutenant Chen Huai-Min of the 23rd PS claimed a Japanese plane. His plane was then badly damaged and he rammed another Japanese aircraft and both aircraft exploded in mid-air. Chen was killed.
While the combat was in full swing the four I-15bis of 3rd PG and the six I-15bis of 17th PS arrived overhead at 6500 feet south of Wuhan after that the Japanese bombers had dropped their bombs. They immediately joined combat and Shen Tse-Liu, commander of the 3rd PG detachment severely damaged one Japanese bomber. His vice-commander Li Chia-Hsun and Mo Ta-Yen each downed a Japanese bomber. Zhu Jia-Xun flew the fourth 3rd PG I-15bis. During the combat Zhu claimed to have downed one of the G3M2s south-east of Wuchang. This was near the position where two of the IJNAF G3M2s was downed. Many other Chinese and Russian volunteer pilots also made claims so Zhu should probably only be credited with a "shared" kill.
The Russian volunteer Aleksey Dushin told in his memoirs that they took of early, first Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy, after him the entire group in established order. The I-15bis were to join battle with the fighters. At a height of about 3000m they moved off from Hankow about 100 km in the direction of Nanking, orienting themselves through the gaps in the clouds by the channel of the Yangtze. Not finding the fighters, on a return course, through gaps in the clouds they discovered a large group of bombers approaching on a parallel course. With a sudden attack at close range they right away set fire to three of the bombers, including the formation leader. The formation immediately fell apart and jettisoned its bombs in a rice paddy. In the air, developed dogfights and in various parts of the sky appeared the torches of burning Japanese aircraft. The “Chizhi” chased after the bombers for their full radius of action - more than 200 km. When his ammunition was completely exhausted Dushin ran into two A5Ms but there was nothing he could do to them. A. S. Zingaev’s group, with an advantageous position attacked a group of Japanese bombers on the approaches to the aerodrome, and in their first attack shot down two (Zingaev shot down the leader). In this combat Grigoriy Kravchenko shot down two (one bomber and one A5M) aircraft. But in the end, he was cut off from his formation and hard pressed by four Japanese who set his aircraft afire. He was saved by Anton Gubenko, who came to his help at the right moment.
Known Russian volunteers known to have claimed in this combat are Blagoveshchenskiy, Dushin, A. Grisenko, Gubenko, Kravchenko (two), I. Puntus, Georgiy Zakharov and A. Zingaev. The major success of the volunteers was explained by the Japanese fighters, which were late at the rendezvous with their bombers, and also by the Soviets’ successful use of the clouds.
AA at Wuchang also fired at the Japanese aircraft over Hanyang and claimed two of them.
A total of 21 Japanese aircraft, 11 fighters and 10 bombers, were claimed shot down in this fierce 30-minute battle and 50 aircrew were killed. Two parachuted and were captured. However, it has only been possible to verify two lost G3M2s.
Twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed; identified are Chen Huai-Min, starshiy leytenant Lev Zakharovich Shuster (born 1914) and kapitan Aleksey Yevgen’yevich Uspenskiy (born 1906). Shuster was reportedly killed while colliding with a Japanese aircraft.
The Japanese reported that when their formation appeared over Hankow, a reported 78 I-15s and I-16s rose to intercept. They claimed that in a 30-minute battle they destroyed no fewer than 40 Chinese aircraft while themselves losing only two A5Ms (PO2c Ken-ichi Takahasi (Pilot 19) and PO3c Kinji Fujiwara (Pilot 29) being killed) and two G3M2s. During this combat Motonari Suho claimed his first victory (totally 15 victories – 11 in China) but his own aircraft received hits, however; on the way, back to base he had to make an emergency landing at Anking because he ran out of fuel. Lieutenant Takahide Aioi claimed his first two victories when he shot down two I-15s (totally 10 victories – 5 in China). The Japanese attribute the greatest part of their success to the inexperience of their opponents. In other accounts (also based on Japanese sources), 67 Soviet aircraft participated in the battle, of 19 I-15bis and six I-16s were flown by Soviet volunteers. According to these accounts the Chinese lost nine aircraft and four pilots.
After this fierce combat Japanese did not attack Wuhan for a month.
In December 1939 at the height of the fighting for Guinang, in addition to Soviet volunteers (Suprun’s Group), the Chinese Aviation Committee gathered almost all their fighter aviation there. The 4th PG (Commander Liu Chi-Han) with the 21, 22, and 23 squadrons were equipped with I-15bis. The 27th and 29th squadrons under the command of the commander of the 3rd PG, Huang Pantang were equipped with 14 I-15bis and seven Gladiators under the deputy commander of the 3rd PG. Parts of the 18th PS with Hawk 75s. Finally, the 32nd PS, which was equipped with the ancient “Douglas”.
There are no reported details of the air battles.
In September 1940, he served as commander of Suining Air Base.
Liu Chi-Han ended the war with 2 biplane victories.
|Enemy aircraft (b)
Biplane victories: 2 destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with A5Ms from 12th and 13th Kokutais, which lost four A5Ms with a fifth damaged while claiming 15 I-15bis (including one probable), two I-16s and one SB. The 4th PG claimed at least 11 A5Ms (and one damaged) and one light bomber while losing at least nine I-15bis (no I-16s) and getting one I-15bis damaged. The Soviet volunteers claimed 5 victories while losing two I-15bis.
(b) Claimed in combat with G3M2s of the 13th Kokutai and A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai of the Japanese Naval Air Force. Chinese pilots and Russian voluntary pilots claimed 21 Japanese aircraft, 11 fighters and 10 bombers, but it seems that only two G3M2s and two A5Ms were admitted. The Japanese claimed 40 Chinese aircraft but only twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed.
Chang Kuang-Ming, 1998 World News Weekly August 1998 kindly provided by Tom Chan
Polikarpov I-15, I-16 and I-153 Aces - Mikhail Maslov, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-981-2
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part II - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 10 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part IV - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 12 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Stars & Bars - Frank Olynyk, 1995 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-17-5
Much additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung and Tom Chan.
Additional information kindly provided by Andrei Demjanko, Erich Wang and Mirek Wawrzyński.