Biplane fighter aces

China

Lieutenant Fan Hsin-Min

Fan Hsin-min served with 29th Pursuit Squadron of the 5th Pursuit Group in February 1938. The squadron was at this time equipped with Gloster Gladiator Mk.Is.

The Chinese Gladiators made their combat debut on 24 February 1938 when the seaplane carriers Notoro and Kinugasa Maru despatched eight and five Type 95 (E8N) seaplanes to attacked Nan Hsiung. Some of the Japanese aircraft carried bombs while others served as escorts. A group of twelve Gladiators from the 28th (three Gladiators) and 29th (nine Gladiators) Squadrons were scrambled from Nan Hsiung Airfield led by 29th PS's Squadron Leader Buffalo Wong to meet the intruders.
They were divided into two groups immediately after becoming airborne. The first group was led by Buffalo Wong and the other group by Deputy Squadron Leader Hsieh Chuan-ho. Flying at 6000 feet, they sighted the E8Ns at the 9 o'clock position.
During this combat the Gladiators where hampered by jamming guns, few had all four functioning while two had all four jamming. (Art Chin recalled that the problem was attributed to a bad load of ammunition from Belgium).
Buffalo Wong signalled the group to follow him to dive into the enemy formations. Buffalo Wong single-handed shot up two Type 95's, one hit over Nan Hsiung, caught fire, dived to extinguish the flames and flew away to the south. The other streamed fuel after being shot up over Shaokuan but escaped towards the south-east. Buffalo Wong also shot up another with the help of his wingmen Lieutenants Huang Kwang-ching, Chou Ling-hsu, Huang Neng-rong. The Japanese plane streamed fuel but also did not go down immediately.
Lieutenants Li Yu-rong, Chou Ling-hsu, Fan Hsin-min and Shang Deh-ren each took turns to fire at another enemy aircraft. The Japanese aircraft was seen leaving trailing black thick smoke.
Meanwhile, Deputy Squadron Leader Lieutenant Hsieh Chuan-ho and his wingmen Lieutenant Teng Chung-kai and Lieutenant Yang Ru-tong were attacking a floatplane when the nimble Japanese plane turned sharply and shot down and killed Yang (Gladiator #2902) in a head-on pass. Teng and Hsieh believed they hit the Japanese in turn but were unable to finish him off because of jamming guns.
A 28th PS pilot, Chen Chi-Wei chased an E8N 300 feet above the ground. Due to gun(s) jamming he pressed in too close to fire his remaining guns and lost control of his Gladiator #2808 and was unable to pull out of a tailspin. He crashed and was lost. The air battle ended at 10.00.
The Chinese Air Force lost two Gladiators and pilots in this combat. Additionally, Chou Ling-hsu's Gladiator #2810 was hit by a rear gunner shattering a wing strut and damaging an aileron and a control cable when some of his guns jammed and he pressed in too close during his. Huang Kwang-ching's #2907 hit a bomb crater during landing and its upper wing and elevators snapped. Deputy Squadron Leader Xieh Chuanwo's #2901 ran off the runway due to a brake failure inflicting minor damage to its right wings. #2909, which was grounded due to a leaking wing tank was hit by strafing Japanese aircraft.
No Japanese aircraft was seen to crash during the combat but two floatplane wrecks were found after the action way to the south, one at Tseng Cheng, 160km directly south of Shaokuan (and only 80km from Hong Kong) and the other at Hsin Feng, 90km south of Nan Hsiung. The two that caught fire during the combat (one claimed by Buffalo Wong and one by Lieutenants Li, Chou, Fan and Shang) were the most likely to have crashed. Japanese records states that the one Type 95 from each of the seaplane carriers "failed to return" and another from the Notoro was written off in a crash landing. This last Type 95 (no. 13 over 1) was hit 138 times (!) The observer was riddled with multiple hits and killed while the pilot was wounded in the right leg. In addition, Notoro and Kinugasa Maru each lost one other aircrew killed. From these casualty figures it appears that a total of 5 floatplanes were hit badly enough to have aircrew killed (Notoro; two lost on downed aircraft, one lost on aircraft written off in landing and one on another aircraft. Kinugasa Maru; two lost on downed aircraft, one on another aircraft.). This match with the Chinese claims of 5 Japanese aircraft being hit.

On 13 April 1938 the Japanese carrier Kaga launched a strike on Canton consisting of three Type 95 (A4N) fighters, three Type 96 (A5M) fighters and 18 Type 94 (Aichi D1A1) dive-bombers. PO1c Jiro Chono in an A5M led the fighters and Lieutenant Nishihara led the dive-bombers. Chono had taken over when the original leader, Lieutenant Hideo Teshima, had to abort due to mechanical problems on his A5M.
At 10:10, jingbao (intelligence) announced the approaching enemy aircraft. Gladiators of the 5th PG were on alert and were scrambled at 10:20 from Tienho airbase. Squadron Leader Wong Sun-Shui led nine Gladiators from the 29th PS and Captain Clifford Louie led nine from the 28th PS to intercept.
Flying in an echelon formation at 15,000ft, the 29th PS Gladiators were to be responsible for CAP above Guangzhou while 28th PS, flying a 3,000ft higher in two formations, were to seek and destroy enemy aircraft. At 10:50 nine dive-bombers at 13,000ft and 15 "pursuits" (actually five fighters and nine dive-bombers) at 17,000ft were spotted by Wong Sun-Shui above Jiangchuan (a hamlet located north-west of Tienhe airbase). It was clear that they were heading for the Tienhe airbase and Wong Sun-Shui wiggled his Gladiator's (no. 2913) wings to warn his wingmen of the approaching enemy fighters and simultaneously accelerated towards the bogeys. He led his flight consisting of Lieutenants Li Yu-Rong and Huang Kwang-Ching in a diving pass on the nine lower dive-bombers, which were in their bomb run on Tienho Airfield.
Wong Sun-Shui shot up one of the D1A1 and sent it down in flames. The top cover of Japanese fighters came down to intervene. Wong Sun-Shui got into a turning fight with one of the A4Ns and claimed to have shot it down (a wreck was found on one of the islands in the Pearl River, which might have been this aircraft). The flight of A5Ms then turned towards Wong Sun-Shui who was, unfortunately, plagued by jamming guns. After only two firing passes, he had only one of his cowl machineguns still capable of firing. Nevertheless, he managed to down one of the A5Ms before another (the lead plane in the flight flown by PO1c Chono) hit him from the left. Wong Sun-Shui was wounded in the left hand and his engine caught fire, forcing him to bail out. His Gladiator came down near Tai-Ho City north east of Canton (the location of this crash was possibly recorded in error. It is likely that crash site was Tai-Ho Hsiang village in Pan-Yu County south east of Canton as the fight had moved to the south east of Canton). While parachuting down, he witnessed his wingman downing another A5M.
The other two Gladiators in Wong Sun-Shuiís flight also came under attack. Li Yu-Rong attacked and shot down a divebomber but he was himself hit from behind and killed by a pursuing A5M. His Gladiator no. 2910 fell in the south-eastern part of Canton City near Chungshan University. Lieutenant Huang Kwang-Ching tried to intervene but was too late. While he was dogfighting Li's assailant, two other Japanese fighters attacked him and hit him a dozen times, puncturing one of the tires on his landing gear. It was probably at this time when Lieutenant Teng Chung-Kai intervened, bouncing Huang's attackers from behind and disrupting their attack, thereby allowing Huang to escape to the north-west. Teng claimed to have downed one of the A4Ns in flames. Continuing his chase of the Japanese planes, Teng claimed to have downed another "Type 95" over Shi-Pai. It is unclear whether Teng claimed this type, i.e. an A4N, specifically as most other pilot-reports claimed only to have engaged "biplanes" (as opposed to monoplanes - i.e. A5Ms). In the heat of combat, it may have been difficult to differentiate between the A4Ns and the dive-bombers.
The remainder of the 29th PS was also kept busy actively attacking other Japanese fighters. Xieh Chuanwo and his wingman Huang Xiaolen fought on despite being outnumbered by the Japanese fighters.
Early in the action Clifford Louie and his 28th PS Gladiators also joined the combat. Clifford Louie and his wingmen Lieutenants Wu Bo-Jun and Chen Yu-Shen dived on the D1A1s as they were dropping their bombs. Louie claimed to have hit one of the D1A1s and sent it descending north east of Tienho Airfield streaming smoke. He then attacked another "biplane" (probably another D1A1) but his guns jammed after about a dozen rounds, forcing him to break off and climb up to a "covering position".
PO1c Tanaka commanded this D1A1 and it ditched after battle damage. Tanaka reported that he had just completed his bomb run when a Gladiator hit him from behind, damaging his engine, which spewed black smoke and sprayed oil over both crewmen. The D1A1 managed to limp out to the mouth of the Pearl River before the engine seized up. Trading height for distance, the D1A1 glided out to ditch. Tanaka and his crewman NAP1/c Katsumiha took to their dinghy but not before stripping the Type 89 machinegun (Japanese version of the Lewis gun) from its swivel mount. Using the gun, the two held off a number of Chinese armed junks long enough for a floatplane commanded by Lieutenant Yowahara to land alongside and picking them up.
As Louie pulled up to a higher altitude, his deputy Lieutenant Kwan Yen-Sun and wingman Leong Kongyung were diving into four A4Ns. Kwan fired a quick burst and the enemy fighters scattered. He managed to damage a fleeing A4N and seeing that the enemy fighter was trailing white smoke (probably from leaking fuel tank) he then attacked two other A4Ns. These returned the fire but his wingman Leong Kongyung broke off the attack from above. Leong then closed in on the tail on an A4N but he had to brake off the attack after malfunctioning machine-guns.
Lieutenant Chou Geng-Hsu followed Louie's Flight down on a firing pass at the D1A1s. He claimed to have fired over a hundred rounds at one of the dive-bombers while diving from 30 degrees above and behind it. He claimed to have pulled up and away after seeing the Japanese plane catch fire. At that point, Chou Geng-Hsu spotted Chono climbing up after him in his A5M. Chou Geng-Hsu dived at Chono and traded shots with the A5M forcing it to dive away.
PO1c Chono and the remaining A4N flown by PO3c Hatsu-o Hidaka attacked Louie's Flight, shooting down Wu Bo-Jun who was killed when his Gladiator no. 2810 crashed near Tai-Ho Hsiang (village) in Pan-Yu County south east of Canton. Chen Yu-Shen was also shot up and badly wounded when he crash-landed Gladiator no. 2812 at Bai-Ke Ao, also in Pan-Yu County. Totally Chono and Hidaka claimed two victories each in this combat.
Lieutenant Chou Ling-Hsu also followed Louie's Flight down on the D1A1s and spotted one circling. Diving from above and behind, Chou Ling-Hsu hit the D1A1 (which he identified as an A4N) making it stream smoke and descend. Fearing that the Japanese planes had an advantage at lower altitude, Chou Ling-Hsu climbed up to a covering position (clearly, the Chinese pilots were confusing the A4Ns with the D1A1s.). After two firing passes, Lieutenant Fan Hsin-Min also saw a Japanese biplane showing "signs of damage" and trying to escape.
Satoru Ono (8 victories Ė 3 in China) flying one of the D1A1s returned claiming one enemy fighter shot down.
The battle lasted for 40 minutes and the Gladiators landed at 11:40. Li Jahung returned with minor damaged to the wings of Gladiator no. 2908 and Huang Kwang-Ching returned with more than ten bullet holes and a punctured landing-gear tire on Gladiator no. 2917. The 28th and 29th Squadrons claimed at least nine victories in this air combat. It would appear that the Japanese lost at least 5 aircraft, one A5M, two A4Ns and two D1A1s while claiming 15 enemy fighters shot down and 3 probables. The fighter pilots lost were PO1c Naoshi Eitoku (Pilot 13), PO3c Yukio Miyasato (Otsu 3) and PO3c Yuji Mori (Otsu 3). The Chinese found a total of 4 wrecks, which would account for the 3 fighters and almost certainly one of the dive-bombers. One of the wrecks was found at Chi-Ao, which is on an island way out at the mouth of the Pearl River near Macao. That may have been one of the A4Ns that Teng chased away from Lieutenant Huang south east of Canton. The other 3 fell around Canton City, one at Shao-Ho just north east of Canton; one at the Chungshan University Agricultural Department south east of Canton and the third in an island on the Pearl River near Canton. Unfortunately, the types were not identified so it is difficult to match them up.

At 13:00 on 31 May 1938, nine IJNAF Type 95 (E8N) aircraft were spotted and phoned into the Chinese Air Raid Warning Net by ground observers. The IJNAF floatplanes were flying towards Hukou from Shu Sung in the Anhuei Province. Chin Shui-Tin and four pilots of 28th PS took off from Nanchang to engage the raiders. They sighted nine E8Ns in a 'V' formation at 6000 feet near Hukou. The Gladiators had a height advantage of 1500 feet and Chin immediately signalled to attack. Immediately he rolled his Gladiator and dived to attack the E8N formation with his wingmen in hot pursuit. Since the E8Ns were less manoeuvrable they resorted to abrupt rolling and banking to try to shake off the attacking Gladiators. After 30 minutes of attacks, Chin shot down an E8N. Its wreckage and two dead Japanese crewmembers were later found approximately 20km north of Chen Chia-Ying (Chen Jia-Ying in Pin-yin). This aircraft was from the seaplane carrier Kamikawa Maru and the crew of PO3c Sato (pilot) and PO3c Nakayam (observer) were KIA.
Chou Ling-Hsu also shot down an E8N. This aircraft crashed near Anqing and the survivors were rescued by a Japanese vessel. Chinís other wingmen, Kwan Yen-Sun, Teng Chung-Kai and Fan Hsin-Min also inflicted damage to other E8Ns. The Gladiators withdrew from their attacks when they began to run low on fuel and all of them landed safely at 14:30.

At 07:40 on 3 August 1938, 18 G3Ms were seen flying over Guangde. Later at 09:00, more than 70 Japanese fighters were reported heading for Hankou. In response to this treat, the Chinese Air Force scrambled 52 fighters consisting of 20 I-15bis, 13 I-16s, 11 Gladiators and 7 Hawk IIIs in four groups from Hankou to intercept the Japanese intruders. The 11 Gladiators were assigned to the 4th PG, which was divided into two subgroups. Subgroup A was led by Captain Wu Yu-Liu, Commander of the 3rd PG, who was flying an I-15bis and with four Gladiators under his leadership. Subgroup B was led by 28th PS leader Chin Shui-Tin, who was flying Gladiator no. 2809 and with six Gladiators under his leadership.
Subgroup A took off from Hankou at 09:55. Because Wu Yu-Liu's I-15bis not could match the speed of the Gladiators, he was forced to fly astern of the Gladiators and he therefore passed the command to Zhu Jia-Xun, Squadron Leader of 32nd Squadron. As Zhu led the Gladiators to move into the forward position, Wu's I-15bis was attacked by A5Ms. Since the I-15bis was obsolete in comparison to the more nimble Japanese fighters, Wu's situation was most critical but luckily Zhu and his Gladiators returned and attacked the A5Ms. Zhu and He Jermin took charge of the attack while the other Gladiators provided them with cover at a higher altitude. Zhu attacked the two A5Ms chasing Wu's I-15 and one of them abruptly turned and fled while the other was hit by Zhu, who punctured the A5Ms wing tank causing it to lose altitude rapidly. Zhu's wingman, He Jermin, shot down another A5M, which ditched into Lake Chaoping. Totally, Subgroup A was in combat with the A5Ms for more than 10 minutes and they landed at Hankou airbase at 11:30.
Subgroup B was airborne just a few minutes after Subgroup A departed. Chin led the seven Gladiators in a wide orbit in the south-west corner of Hankou climbing to 12000 feet. The height made the Chinese pilots groggy from hypoxia when they suddenly became aware that the sky to their left was speckled with A5Ms. Chin signalled the Gladiators to climb to 21000 feet but the Japanese fighters detected them. Over 30 A5Ms diving from 2000 feet above engaged the seven Gladiators. There were three I-16s from the 1st Air Group (probably from the 26th PS) attached to Subgroup B and these were lagging behind the Gladiators. The attacking A5Ms immediately cut these off. Squadron vice-commander Louie Yim-Qun in Gladiator no. 5732 was flying in the tail end Charlie position and he was attacked simultaneously from different directions but he was relieved by Chin and Shen Mushiu in Gladiator no. 2804. Louie Yim-Qun claimed a shared enemy aircraft destroyed in this combat.
An I-16 under attack from several A5Ms was helped by Chinís wingman, Fan Hsin-Min in Gladiator no. 2805, who dived to his rescue but he was soon himself under attack from other A5Ms. Chin went to his wingman's aid and managed to shoot the A5M off his tail. Before Chin could deliver the coup de grace to his victim, he came under attack himself. The first indication he got of the attack was bullets bouncing off the newly installed armour plate, which probably saved his life. Chin turned tightly to evade the attack but his Gladiator was already damaged. Three A5M's lined up to making firing passes, diving from above, firing and then zooming back up for altitude, taking full advantage of the A5M's better performance in the vertical plane. After a few passes, Chinís aircraft was badly shot up, with a number of wing-bracing wires shot away. His aircraft was almost uncontrollable and he decided to take one of the A5M's with him. As one of them completed his firing pass and began his zoom climb, Chin reversed his turn and rammed the A5M. His right wings and nose hit the tail of the A5M and tore it off. Chinís head was slapped against the side of the canopy of the wildly spinning Gladiator before he was able to bail out. Landing in a field, Chin was presented with a machine gun salvaged from his crashed Gladiator. Hitching a ride back to Hankou in a Douglas O-2MC, Chin was sent to the infirmary when Chennault came to visit him. Chin joked about the machine gun by asking Chennault if he could swap it for a new plane to fight the Japanese. Chennault later embellished the story in "The Way of a Fighter" saying that Chin found the gun, carried it back to the airfield and asked to swap it for a plane. More dramatic but not quite the truth!
A fourth A5M was claimed by Liu Ling-Yang of 28th PS. His own aircraft was however damaged and he bailed out into the Yangtze River and swam to safety.
Subgroup B lost another Gladiator in this combat. This loss was attributed to an engine failure when the engine on Gladiator no. 5723 stopped in the middle of the combat. The Gladiator started to spin and with many difficulties was the pilot, Chou Ling-Hsu, able to get out of the cockpit in time since when he was hanging in his parachute, the Gladiator exploded in mid-air, sending debris flying several thousand feet in all directions.
In this combat claimed the commander of the 26th PS, Captain Wang Han-Hsun, an enemy aircraft before his I-16 was badly hit; in his cabin were more than 60 bullet hits. Liu Ling-Chi (no. 5922) also shot down a Japanese aircraft. When his I-16 was set afire the pilot baled out. I-16 no.5921 was shot down and no. 5920 made a forced landing.
The Japanese escort seems to have been 21 A5Ms, which returned claiming 27 enemy aircraft and 5 probables for the loss of three fighters from the 15th Kokutai (Lieutenant (junior grade) Naohisa Shinjo (Class 62) and PO2c Hitoshi Fukusawa (Pilot 27) were killed while PO3c Namitaro Matsushima (Pilot 30) was taken prisoner but later returned) after having been intercepted by a reported 50 Chinese aircraft.

Fan Hsin-min ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory this one being claimed while flying Gloster Gladiator Mk.I.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1938                
  24/02/38   1/4 E8N (a) Shared destroyed Gladiator I #2810 Nan Hsiung area 29th PS
  13/04/38   1 D1A1 (b) Damaged Gladiator I   NW Tienhe airbase 29th PS
  31/05/38 13:00-14:30 1 E8N Damaged Gladiator I   Hukou, Kwangsi 29th PS

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed, 2 damaged.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed, 2 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with E8N's from the seaplane carriers Notoro and Kinugasa Maru. The Chinese pilots claimed 2 aircraft (and 3 damaged) but the seaplane carriers only lost one aircraft each in the combat.
(b) The 28th and 29th PS claimed at least nine victories (5 D1A1s, 3 A4Ns and 2 A5Ms) in this air combat while losing four Gladiators. The fighters from the Kaga claimed four victories while losing at least 5 aircraft, one A5M, two A4N and two D1A1. The Chinese found a total of 4 wrecks, which would account for the 3 fighters and almost certainly one of the dive-bombers.

Sources:
Chinese Air Force Gladiators in Action - D. Y. Louie, 1998 Small Air Forces Observer vol. 22 no. 4 (88) December 1998 kindly provided by Santiago Flores.
Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II - Ikuhiko Hata and Yasuho Izawa, translated by Don Cyril Gorham, 1989 United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, ISBN 0-87021-315-6
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part III - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 11 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Much additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung and Tom Chan.




Last modified 04 July 2007