Biplane fighter aces


Lieutenant Chen Huai-Min

1916 – 29 April 1938

Chen Huai-Min was born in 1916 and was a native of Shantung, but he grew up in Chen Jiang in the Kiangsu Province.

He graduated from the 5th class of the Central Flying School.

When the war with Japan started he served in the 23rd PS of the 4th PG. This unit was at the time equipped with Curtiss Hawk IIIs

On 19 September 12 A5Ms led by Lieutenant Shichitaro Yamashita of the 13th Kokutai participated in the first air attack on Nanking as escort for the 17 carrier bombers commanded by Lieutenant Commander Tetsujiro Wada. Three fighters from Kaga under the command of Lieutenant Chikamasa Igarashi were also added to the main force and 16 reconnaissance seaplanes also took part in this attack. Engaging in air battle with some reported twenty Curtiss Hawks and Boeing 281s that had risen to intercept them, twelve enemy aircraft and three probables were claimed shot down by the fighters. Totally it seems that the Japanese claimed 33 victories and 6 probables in this combat. Kiyoto Koga of the 13th Kokutai, who participated in his first combat, returned claiming two Curtiss Hawks shot down while shotai leader PO1c Tadashi Torakuma of the 13th Kokutai (also in his first combat) claimed two enemy aircraft. Toshiyuki Sueda of the same unit in his first combat claimed two enemy aircraft (of a total of 9 – 6 in China). One victory was also claimed by Osamu Kudo of the 13th Kokutai over Nanking but his aircraft was hit and he was forced to ditch in the Yangtze River but he was rescued. Juzo Okamoto of the 13th Kokutai claimed his first victory (of a total of 9 – 3 in China) while flying as the number three wingman to Lieutenant Shichiro Yamashita. Of the three fighters from Kaga both Lieutenant Igarashi’s and the number two wingman’s aircraft developed malfunctions and returned but over Nanking PO2c Ki-ichi Oda, who had carried on, claimed two and one probable Curtiss Hawk. Three Japanese carrier bombers and one seaplane were lost.
It seems that they were intercepted by 23 Chinese aircraft; eight Hawk IIIs of the 4th PG, eight Hawk IIIs from the 5th PG and five Boeing 281s and two CR.32s from the 3rd PG. It seems that eleven Chinese aircraft were lost for only one claimed, this one being made by Lieutenant Chen Huai-Min of the 23rd PS, 4th PG (Hawk IIIs), which claimed one Japanese aircraft shot down. Four Chinese pilots were lost in this combat. They were Dai Guang-Jin (Hawk III no.2509), Liu Lin-Qing (Boeing281), Huang Ju-Gu and Liu Chi-Hung, flight leader of the 8th PS (CR.32). Four more Chinese pilots were wounded including flight leader Liu Chung-Wu of the 25th PS (Hawk III no.2101), which was hit in the left leg and returned to Ju-Rong airfield near Nanking. Wu Ting-Chun’s (Hawk III no.2102) leg was also hit by bullets and he made a force landing at Yang-Zhou airfield. Liu Yi-Jun was injured and baled out of Hawk III no.2512 and the same fate fell to Yang Ji-En, which also was wounded and baled out of Hawk III no.2306. Four more Hawk IIIs returned damaged; “IV-1” flown by Captain Mao Ying-Chu, no. 2404 flown by vice-commander Teng Ming-Teh of the 25th PS, one aircraft flown by Chou Geng-Hsu of the 25th PS and no.2405 flown by Chen. Two Boeing 281s were also lost in this combat.

He was wounded over Wuhan on 28 February 1938

In March and April 1938, the 3rd PG based at Hsaio Kan and the 4th PG based at Hankou with a combined strength of over 40 I-15bis’ made long-distance flights to provide ground support for the army in the raging battle near Tai Er Chuang in southern Shantung Province.

At 03.00 on 9 April, Liu Chi-Han’s 22nd PS and Liu Chung-Wu’s 23rd PS took off from Hankou to bomb Japanese positions near Tai Er Chuang. At dawn, they refuelled at Zhumadian and landed again at Kuei Teh to be refuelled and bombed up, each plane carrying four 25-kg fragmentation bombs. They then flew towards Zaozhuang and Tai Er Chuang to attack Japanese positions. Because of the limited range of the I-15bis they could only spend 15 minutes in the target area. After the planes refuelled at Kwei Teh and took off for Chou Chia-Kou, they saw six Japanese biplanes and three monoplanes over the field, but they did not attack.
That night, they received an order to attack Tai Er Chuang again on the following day. They took off in the early morning of 10th April, refuelled and bombed up at Kwei Teh, and carried out their mission of bombing and strafing Japanese positions. On the way back to Kwei Teh, the 23rd PS sighted enemy aircraft and veered off. Then the 22nd PS encountered enemy planes, and both sides mixed up in a melee. Chang Kuang-Ming lost sight of other planes momentarily after making a steep climb, and then witnessed dogfights between six Chinese aircraft and six Japanese Type 95 biplanes. The performance of the Type 95 and the I-15bis were about the same and both sides were chasing and making tight turns, but did not have a chance to get a clear shot. Most Chinese aircraft were low on fuel and had to break off action. Chang saw a Japanese monoplane (Nakajima Type 97) chasing an I-15bis at high speed, and dove after the Japanese aircraft. It turned to evade him and hit the tail of the I-15bis, and both aircraft tumbled out of the sky.
Then Chang was attacked by three Type 97s from above. He took evasive action, flipped over, made a half roll and tried to climb, and then was hit by enemy gunfire. The aircraft went into a corkscrew, and Chang became dizzy and lost his vision. The throttle control became totally unresponsive. He could feel hot lubricant slopping on his legs and feet. He knew the aircraft could catch fire any moment and decided to bail out. He released his lap belt and shouldered his way out of the cockpit door. He spun out in the air and the objects he carried in his leg pockets, including map, protractor, ruler, pen, goggle and revolver, all flew out into the air. Chang bent his legs and put his arms below his knees to stop the spinning. He estimated that he had fallen from 6000 meters to 3000 meters and pulled the ripcord. The parachute opened with a big thump. As he descended slowly, he was dreading that he would land to the north of the Yellow River occupied by the Japanese. Images from his past went through his mind. Suddenly, he regained some vision. From pitch black, he began seeing things in deep yellow, and then light yellow, and he saw the deep blue sky turn into light blue.
His joy suddenly turned into fright as he saw three Japanese aircraft flying towards him, with guns blazing. In the first attack, tracers burned several holes on his parachute and severed five cords. The parachute went lop-sided, accelerated its downward decent, and swung left and right. The second aircraft attacked and severed three more cords. The swaying and acceleration increased. The Japanese planes left him only when he was near the ground. Chang fell on a vegetable field in Hsia Yi County east of Kwei Teh. He injured his lower back on landing, and the injury bothered him all his life.
The villagers told him a Japanese aircraft and a Chinese aircraft had crashed about a mile south of the village. Chang rushed to the scene of the crash, and found Chen Huai-Min of the 23rd PS. The tail of his aircraft was damaged when a Japanese aircraft collided with him and he bailed out. He was also shot in the leg and he had used his shirt as a tourniquet. There was no medical facility in the village. Chang got an oxcart from the village and spent all night to get Chen back to Kuei Teh Air Base, and then transferred him to a hospital. He then found a damaged I-15bis from the 3rd PG at the base with the main strut damaged by bullets. As he did not want to spend two days and two nights on a train to Hankou, he flew the damaged plane back at low speed and high altitude. His squadron mates had given him up for dead after two days, and were overjoyed to see him back.
According to other sources it was Chen Huai-Min who crashed his aircraft into Japanese aircraft, not the other way around.

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.

Chen’s body was found a month later in the Yangtze River.

At the time of his death Chen Huai-Min was credited with 4 biplane victories.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 19/09/37   1 Enemy aircraft (a) Destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 2405 Nanking area 23rd PS
2 10/04/38   1 Ki-27 (b) Destroyed I-15bis   Tsu Chuang area 23rd PS
3 29/04/38 14:00- 1 Enemy aircraft (c) Destroyed I-15bis   Wuhan area 23rd PS
4 29/04/38 14:00- 1 Enemy aircraft (d) Destroyed I-15bis   Wuhan area 23rd PS

Biplane victories: 4 destroyed.
TOTAL: 4 destroyed.
(a) In this combat the Japanese claimed 33 victories and 6 probables for the loss of 3 carrier bombers and 1 seaplane. 11 Chinese aircraft were lost for only 1 claimed (by Lieutenant Chen Huai-Min).
(b) Claimed by ramming.
(c) 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.
(d) Claimed by ramming 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.

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 II - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 10 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Stars & Bars - Frank Olynyk, 1995 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-17-5
Tidbits from the Sino-Japanese Air Battles - Chang Kuang-Ming, 1998 World News Weekly August 1998 kindly provided by Tom Chan
Much additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung, Tom Chan, Andrei Demjanko, Erich Wang and Mirek Wawrzyński.

Last modified 22 April 2020