Biplane fighter aces


Colonel Kao Chi-Hang

Kao Chi-Hang was born in 1908 into a Roman Catholic family in the Tung Hua County in the Liaoning Province, Manchuria. He was the eldest of six siblings.

In 1925, he entered the Northeastern Army Academy as an artillery cadet.
The following year, he was selected to receive flight training in France.

He returned to China in 1927 and was posted to the Flying Eagle Squadron of the Northeast Army under Marshal Chang Tso-Lin.

In 1929, he became a flight instructor.

When the Japanese invaded Manchuria on 18 September 1931, he went south to join the Central Government and became an instructor in the Central Flying School at Chienchiu near Hangchou.

After returning from Italy after an inspection tour, he was made Deputy Chief of Instruction, and commander of the 4th Fighter Group, with the rank of major.
In August 1937 the 4th PG was equipped with Curtiss Hawk IIIs

On 14 August 1937, the IJNAF Kanoya Kokutai dispatched nine Mitsubishi G3M1 Model 11 long-range bombers under the command of Lieutenant Commander Nitta to attack the Schien Chiao Airfield near Hangchou and nine under the command of Lieutenant Commander Asano to attack the Kwang-teh Airfield. The Japanese planes took off from Matsuyama Airfield in Taipei at 14:50 (local Japanese time), each carrying two 250kg bombs.
The raid was soon spotted by the Chinese and the Chinese intelligence reported that a number of Japanese bombers had taken-off from an airfield Taiwan, crossed the Formosa Strait and were heading north over Chekiang in the direction of Hangchou. At this time, Hangchou was only defended by a handful of Hawk IIIs flown by instructors from the Central Chinese Aviation Academy since reinforcements from Chou Chia-Kou hadn't been able to fly in due to bad weather. Colonel Kao Chi-Hang had previously flown from Nanchang to Schien Chiao to await the 4th PG’s Hawk III’s, which were flying in from Chou Chia-Kou in the Honan Province and which was under his command. The three squadrons of the 4th PG encountered heavy weather en route, with heavy rain and low visibility.
However barely had the warning been received when a number of Hawk IIIs from the 21st and 23rd Squadrons of the 4th PG landed. The newly arrived fighters were hurriedly re-fuelled, but this was far from complete when the air alarm started due to the arrival of Lieutenant Commander Nitta’s bombers. Colonel Kao rushed to his aircraft no. IV-1, which had just been landed by Captain Mao Ying-Chu. Ordering Mao to go get another aircraft, Kao jumped into IV-1 and, without waiting to be refuelled, took off immediately. He joined up with Lieutenant Tan Won who had just spotted Nitta’s flight (1st Shotai) of three G3Ms.
It's possible that they only saw one G3M since according to Japanese records, Nitta’s flight (1st Shotai) did not find Schien Chiao Airfield in their first effort. When they turned back south, the No.3 separated from the flight and Nitta and No.2 missed the airfield again. The latter two could do nothing but flew home. They did not see Chinese aircraft either. The Japanese bomber came in at the low “attack” altitude of 500m, which made it easier for the Chinese to intercept it right after the take-off. The No.3 G3M dropped its bombs on the airfield doing little damage. Tan opened fire on G3M. However, the much more experienced Kao noted that Tan had opened fire from out of effective range. Kao then bore in himself and closed in also on the No.3 Japanese aircraft. He first silenced the two Japanese gunners and then closed in to 20m(!) firing steadily at the left engine. The wing tanks on the left wing caught fire and the G3M crashed burning near the town of Ban Shan near the airfield.
Kao then spotted the 3rd Shotai and attacked the No.2 aircraft between Schien Chiao and Chien Tang River. Again, Kao bore in to close range firing at the fuselage and the left wing on the G3M, putting the left engine out of action. Kao’s engine was then hit by return fire forcing him to return to Schien Chiao.
While Kao was attacking the No.2 plane in the 3rd Shotai, 21st PS Squadron Leader Captain Lee Kuei-Tan and his wingmen Lieutenant Wang Wen-Hua and Lieutenant Liu Chi-Sheng caught up with the No. 3 plane of the same Shotai. Shooting at the hapless G3M repeatedly, the three brought it down near Ban Shan. This G3M (No.3 from 3rd Shotai) had got separated from the rest of the Shotai long before arriving over Shien Chiao.
The 3rd Shotai reported that No.1 and No.2 made their first pass over Schien Chiao from the west. Due to the bad weather they did not drop the bombs in this pass. Instead, they turned back and made the second pass from the east. After finally dropping their bombs, they turned south and sped away, across Chien Tang River. No.2 got its left engine damaged over Shien Chiao (probably by Kao) and was attacked again by three Chinese fighters at 30 nautical miles and 170 deg off Shien Chiao.
The 22nd PS refuelled at Kwang-teh and took off at 16:20 to fly to Schien Chiao where they landed at around 17:00. The 22nd PS was on the ground, refuelling at Schien Chiao when the Japanese bombers dropped their bombs and they scrambled trying to catch the Japanese bombers that were flying east. They flew to the mouth of the Chien Tang Chiang (river) amid low cloud and bad weather where they lost sight of the Japanese aircraft and returned to base. Pilots included in this chase were flight leader Lieutenant Le Yi-Chin and 2nd Lieutenant Chang Kwang-Ming. However, Lieutenant Cheng Hsiao-Yu of the 22nd PS managed to intercept them. Cheng had taken off too late to intercept Nitta’s flights during the attack and flew on to Chien Tang Chiang on a hunch. After passing Weng Chiao Pu Airfield, Cheng reported good visibility below the clouds. Spotting the G3Ms, Cheng gave chase and attacked one of them. Cheng reported shooting at and hitting the right wing of his target. A fire broke out but then quickly went out again. Cheng attacked 6 - 7 times before breaking off when his ammo was exhausted. He reported that it went down at the estuary of Chien Tang River.
It seems that he also had attacked the 3rd Shotai, which reported bombing Schien Chiao 18:20-18:25 Japanese time (17:20-17:25 Chinese time). They reported that they were attacked two different Chinese fighters. The first time was between Schien Chiao Airfield and Chien Tang River (Kao). The second time was approximately 15 minutes after the first attack when the Japanese plane had crossed the Chien Tang River (Cheng). The No.2 plane of the 3rd Shotai was at the receiving end this time as well and managed to limp back to Matsuyama Airfield in Taipei on one engine and made a forced landing. However, as it touched down, the left landing gear collapsed, and the aircraft suffered “moderate damage”. The bomber had suffered 38 hits in the plane's fuselage and tail, 14 hits in the left wing with the left engine put out of action and 21 hits in the right wing. The Japanese later took this plane out of service to be displayed in Japan and, to all intents and purposes, it was written off.
Lieutenant Commander Asano’s Kwang-teh Attack group, took off from Matsuyama at 14:55 Japanese time (13:55 Chinese time) and got lost shortly after reaching the Chekiang coast at 16:45 Japanese time (15:45 Chinese time) due to a typhoon in the Shanghai area, which made the weather terrible. They headed west to try and find a landmark, reaching Chu Chiang River at 17:00. They then turned north to try and find another landmark. At 17:14, Lieutenant Commander Asano gave up and headed south-east back to the Chekiang coast. At 17:45, they reached the town of Ta Ching near Wenchow on the Chekiang coast. They were then able to plot a course to Kwang-teh using two large lakes, Tai Hu and Nan Hu, as waypoints. At 19:30, the Kwang-teh Attack group reported being attacked by a Chinese Hawk III just short of their target. At 19:40, the group dropped 16 250kg bombs on Kwang-teh airfield. Three G3M from this group were hit in the attack. The No.2 plane of the 1st Shotai was hit once. The No.3 plane of the 5th Shotai was hit twice in the left wing and three times in the right. The No.2 plane in 2nd Shotai was hit in a wing tank and was losing fuel with the crew apparently not realizing the extent of the fuel leak at the time. This G3M eventually ran out of fuel just short of the Taiwan coast and ditched just off the lighthouse at the mouth of Keelung Harbour. The ditching could have been avoided had the crew realized the extent of the fuel leak. The 2nd Shotai had not dropped all of its bombs during the attack on Kwang-teh. They decided to bomb Schien Chiao on the way home. At 20:50, they dropped their remaining bombs on Schien Chiao. However, the No.3 G3M from the Shotai became separated from the other two in the gathering darkness. The leader of the 2nd Shotai, Lieutenant Umebayashi, led his two bombers in a 40 minutes search where the No.3 eventually was found and the 2nd Shotai headed back to Taiwan together. At 22:53, the No.2 bomber ran out of fuel and ditched!
The group led by Lieutenant Commander Asano had run into a single Hawk III flown by Captain Chow Ting-Fong (Squadron Leader of the 34th Provisional Pursuit Squadron made up of cadets flying Hawk IIs). Chow was a flight instructor from the Air Force Academy and he reported intercepting a group of Japanese twin engine bombers after flying alone to Kwang-teh at around 18:30. Chow made four firing passes on the nine Japanese bombers from different directions. The first pass was head-on, followed by a climb and diving attack from the front. Pulling up after this pass, Chow attacked from the rear and below. Finally, Chow attacked from the front and below. The Japanese formation consisted of Asano’s leading 1st Shotai with the 2nd Shotai to the left and the 5th Shotai to the right. It is now apparent that Chow attacked each of the Shotais in turn during his firing passes. According to the Japanese reports, one bomber from each Shotai was hit. Since the Kwang-teh attack group did not report being attacked by other Chinese fighters, credit for the No.2 plane of the 2nd Shotai lost in the Keelung Harbour ditching should go to Chow.
The Chinese lost one Hawk III which ran out of fuel when it tried to take off as Nitta's G3Ms arrived overhead. This unfortunate Hawk no. 2105 crashed into a tree, mortally injuring its pilot Lieutenant Liu Shu-Fan. Another pilot from the same flight, Lieutenant Chin An-Yi, was slightly injured when his Hawk no. 2106 also ran out of fuel and ended up force landing next to an AA gun position.
So, the final tally for the day was 3 G3Ms destroyed and one written off on landing. Actually, Chinese pilots made only 3 claims, but AA gun crews also made 3 additional claims. As a result, 6 claims were submitted in total (and publicized for propaganda purposes).

During the night of 14 and 15 August the pilots of the 4th PG at Schien-Chiao airbase had to prepare their fighters themselves since the ground personnel had left the field to take shelter during the air raid on 14 August and had not returned. The pilots carried cans of fuel on their backs from the storage building to the field, punched holes on the cans and fuelled the aircraft themselves. They had not eaten since noon, and were not able to go to bed until 1:30 a.m. They did not sleep long because alarm sounded less than two hours later.
In the early morning on 15 August Colonel Kao Chi-Hang led 21 Hawk III's from the 4th PG to intercept a dawn attack on Hangchow by twelve Type 89 torpedo bombers from the Japanese carrier Kaga. In the confused action in and out of clouds, the 4th PG made 17 claims, more than the total number of Japanese planes in the action. The actual losses were six shot down and two ditched in Hangchow Bay.
Kao quickly shot down one of the Type 89's on the edge of the formation and then attacked another setting it alight. A lucky shot from the starboard quarter hit Kao in the right arm before passing through the instrument panel and damaging the engine in his Hawk No. IV-1. He was forced to land at Schien-Chiao and was out of action for 2 months.
21st PS's Squadron Leader Captain Lee Kuei-Tan in No. 2101 attacked the No. 2 Shotai, shooting down the No. 2 plane over Chao-Er. Two out of the crew of three were seen to bail out but they were over the Chao-er River and probably did not survive. Lee then teamed up with Lieutenant Cheng Hsiao-Yu of 22nd PS in No. 2202 to claim another Type 89. Return fire from the tightly packed Japanese formation was heavy and Lee's No. 2101 received slight damage to its upper wings while Cheng’s No. 2202 took a shot in one of its landing wheels. Cheng’s wingman, 2nd Lieutenant Chang Kuang-Ming also claimed a victory in this combat when he attacked the leader of a group of Japanese bombers. He opened fire with his two machine guns. Tracers and bullets truck his target, and the enemy plane turned into a fireball and plunged out of the sky. He broke off immediately and turned around for another strike.
Lieutenant Huang Yan-Po in No. 2107 attacked the first Shotai, claiming to have shot down the No. 3 aircraft in flames. He too took a shot in the landing wheel. Lieutenant Tan Won in No. 2104 also attacked the same Shotai and claimed another Type 89. This may have been the aircraft of the Kaga's Commander, Air Group (CAG) Commander Iwai who was killed in this action along with his deputy. Lieutenant Wang Wen-Hua caught two Type 89's trying to attack Schien-chiao from the south and shot one down in flames. One of the crew, a young ensign, bailed out and was captured. (This unnamed ensign later defected to the Chinese side and helped translate decoded Japanese radio messages). Lieutenant Yuan Chin-Han in No. 2108 went after the No.1 Shotai in a formation and claimed to have shot down the leader in flames (this may also have been Iwai's plane, it is almost certain that many Chinese pilots shot at the same planes). Lieutenant Liu Chi-Sheng in No. 2102 also claimed one Type 89 over Woong-Chia-Fu but was hit in the fuel tank and force landed at Chaio-shi Airfield where his plane was further damaged by bombing.
Lieutenant Le Yi-Chin from the 22nd PS made no less than 4 claims but these are almost certainly duplicates of other claims or overoptimistic.
Deputy Squadron C.O. Lai Ming-Tang landed to refuel and took off again to claim a shared kill with his wingman Lieutenant Liang Tian-Cheng.
Of the 23rd PS, Captain Mao Ying-Chu, Lieutenant Yang Yu-Ching and Lieutenant Wang Yin-Hua each claimed one Type 89.

During his convalescence he initially was replaced by Wang Tien-Hsiang as the active commander of the 4th PG until Wang was killed in action on 22 August.

After recuperating for 2 months, Colonel Kao Chi-Hang returned to action in October. By that time, the Chinese pursuit force defending Nanking was down to roughly a squadron. Unable to replenish its losses and lacking the parts to keep some of the damaged aircraft flying, the Chinese had pooled all the remaining fighters from the 3rd, 4th and 5th PG under one provisional group. Most of the 4th PG pilots had been sent to the Soviet border to receive I-15bis and I-16s. Facing constant attacks from Japanese A5Ms from the 13th Ku, the Chinese had resorted to guerrilla tactics, and avoiding Japanese fighters and making hit-and-run attacks on the bombers. Most of the pilots were exhausted and morale was low. Kao came back and set to work immediately to shake things up. First, he stripped down the Hawk IIIs to make them lighter and more suited to dogfighting the A5Ms. Off went the bomb racks, the cowling for the belly tank, and even the landing lights. Then Kao handpicked three of the most experienced pilots to go with him on the next intercept in the stripped down Hawk IIIs.
The opportunity came on 12 October when the Air Raid Warning Net phoned in a report of two floatplanes flying from Shanghai, apparently on a reconnaissance mission. Colonel Kao’s flight met the two Type 95 floatplanes from the seaplane carrier Kamoi over Chiang-yin. The Chinese Hawk IIIs dived into the attack. Lieutenant Yuan Bao-Kang in No. 2404 got a little too aggressive and collided with one of the floatplanes. The Type 95 crashed in flames but Yuan managed to force land in Chang Chow minus his lower left wing and part of his right upper wing. Yuan suffered only a black eye on landing. The other Type 95 was badly shot up and tried to land on the Yangtse. The Hawk IIIs strafed it until it sank. Both sets of crews, including Lieutenant Commander Nambu, the Squadron Leader, were killed.

Later the same day the Japanese attacked Nanking with nine G3Ms escorted by eleven A5Ms from the 13th Kokutai led by Lieutenant Commander Nakano. Colonel Kao led six Hawk IIIs, two Boeing 281s and one Fiat CR.32 to intercept. Wong Pan-Yang, in Boeing No. 1706, spotted the Japanese planes first. Diving on the tail end Shotai led by Warrant Officer Torakuma's A5M, Wong attacked the No. 3 plane flown by PO1c Mazazumi Ino (Pilot 30) and shot it down. Ino was on his first mission and may have mistaken the Boeings for friendly A5Ms.
The Japanese formation broke down immediately into a melee as the Chinese fighters mixed it up with them for the first time in over a month. So surprised and confused were they that the Japanese later reported that Chinese "Breda 27s" surrounded them when in actual fact there were only two Boeings involved. Actually, Wong dived away right after his successful firing pass. He had pulled up to rejoin the battle when he saw another Japanese plane below. Diving into the attack, his map case broke loose and struck him in the face with such violence that completely disoriented him. Realising that a sky full of angry Japanese fighters was no place to be he dived out of the fight.
Meanwhile, Kao was busy tangling with the A5Ms to give his comrades a chance to get at the bombers. However, the A5Ms were able to divert most of the attacks and even downed one of the Hawks killing the inexperienced sub-lieutenant Chao Fang-Chen of the 24th PS. Captain Liu Chui-Kang in Hawk III No. 2407 (or no. 2401) was hit and lost a bracing wire as he made a pass at the G3Ms. The A5M clung to his tail like a leech. However, next to Kao and Wong, Liu was probably the most experienced Chinese pilot. He led the A5M in a dive towards Nanking and then pulled up in a series of tight loops. On the 3rd loop, the A5M overshot, ending up squarely in Liu’s sights. A quick burst sent the A5M crashing into a Mr. Yang's residence in the southern part of Nanking.
Back at altitude, Kao spotted an A5M closely pursuing Lieutenant Lo Ying-Teh, flight leader in the 24th PS. This was shotai leader Warrant Officer Torakuma trying to avenge his wingman. Not spotting Kao in time, Torakuma's A5M was riddled with gunfire and had to crash land on the banks of the Yangtse. The hapless pilot survived and was saved by the Japanese Navy. Lieutenant Lo also made good his escape but three A5Ms almost cornered Kao. Handling the Hawk III masterfully, using tight turns and even the outside loop, he was able to keep out of the gun sights of the Japanese pilots. Every so often, Kao was able to get in snap shot at the Japanese planes. Finally, two of the A5Ms broke off, probably for the lack of fuel. One continued to fly in a series of loops, seemingly oblivious to the Chinese plane. Kao finally managed to pull alongside the A5M and look into the cockpit where he saw the Japanese pilot staring straight ahead and clutching the stick to his stomach. His chest had been ripped open by bullets. Somewhere during the dogfight, one of Kao's snap shots had scored and the A5M was flying with a dead man at the controls. Eventually, the A5M crash-landed after it ran out of fuel. Kao went to examine the largely intact A5M and marvelled at its modern design. (This was actually the second A5M to be captured intact by the Chinese. On 26 September Lieutenant Lo Ying-Teh forced down the first A5M. Eventually, both A5Ms were turned over to the Russians and sent to the Soviet Union for testing).
Japanese records showed that three pilots from 13th Kokutai were killed - PO3c Nagaharu Umeda (Pilot 32), PO3c Torata Takiguchi (Pilot 25) and Ino while four A5Ms were lost in this action, while claiming 5 shot down (all these claimes seems to have been made by the Torakuma shotai) and 2 destroyed on the ground. Only Kao, Liu and Wong made claims so there was no debate from the Chinese side as to who scored (except there were not enough details in the reports of both sides to match up the victims of Kao and Liu). It was the first time the A5M were trounced so convincingly and all the more remarkable as the Chinese were outnumbered as usual. The critical factor here was the experience of the Chinese pilots, particularly Kao, first Chinese pilot to single-handedly score a double-kill against the formidable A5Ms.

During October 1937, he was promoted to Commander of Pursuit of the Chinese Air Force, while remaining at the same time as commander of the 4th Group.

By November 1937, Colonel Kao’s 4th PG had re-equipped with the Polikarpov I-16 Type 5 and he led the second group in their return-flight to Nanking on 21 November.
While refuelling at Chowkiakou Airfield (Honan Province), they were caught by some Japanese ten G3M2s, who evidently were conducting a reconnaissance. The bombs were already falling when Kao ran to his I-16. The engine of the fighter wouldn't start and with the bombs falling closer, the ground crew, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, left the aircraft to take cover. Chasing after them, Kao brought them back at the point of his service revolver to help him start the engine but lost his life when a bomb exploded alongside the aircraft.
This was the first operational loss of an I-16.

At the time of his death, Kao had claimed 4 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying the Curtiss Hawk III.
According to official record of the ROCAF (Republic of China Air Force) he is only credited with 3.5 victories and thus awarded the Three Star Medal.

Kao was promoted to Major General posthumously.
The 4th PG has since been known as the “Chi-Hang Group”.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  14/08/37 17:00- 1/2 G3M1 (a) Shared destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 'IV-1' Ban Shan 4th PG
  14/08/37 17:00- 1/4 G3M1 (b) Shared destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 'IV-1' Ban Shan area 4th PG
1 15/08/37   1 Type 89 (c) Destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 'IV-1' Hangchow area 4th PG
2 15/08/37   1 Type 89 (c) Destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 'IV-1' Hangchow area 4th PG
  12/10/37   1/4 Type 95 (d) Shared destroyed Curtiss Hawk III   Chiang-Yin area 4th PG
3 12/10/37   1 A5M (e) Destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 'IV-1' Nanking area 4th PG
4 12/10/37   1 A5M (e) Destroyed Curtiss Hawk III 'IV-1' Nanking area 4th PG

Biplane victories: 4 and 3 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 4 and 3 shared destroyed.
(a) Mitsubishi G3M1 Model 11 from 1st Shotai of Kanoya Kokutai, IJNAF, which crashed burning near the town of Ban Shan.
(b) Mitsubishi G3M1 Model 11 from 3rd Shotai of Kanoya Kokutai, IJNAF, which crashed on landing at base.
(c) Claimed in combat with B2Ms (Type 89 torpedo bombers) from the Japanese carrier Kaga. The Chinese pilots claimed 17 destroyed enemy aircraft but the actual losses were six shot down and two ditched in Hangchow Bay. Kao is officially only credited with one victory.
(d) Two E8Ns (Type 95 floatplanes) from the seaplane carrier Kamoi were shot down in this combat for two claimed by the Chinese pilots. Both crews were killed including the Squadron Leader Lieutenant Commander Nambu.
(e) The Chinese pilots claimed four destroyed in this combat. 13th Kokutai lost three pilots; PO3c Nagaharu Umeda (Pilot 32), PO3c Torata Takiguchi (Pilot 25) and PO1c Mazazumi Ino (Pilot 30) (shot down by Wong Pan-Yang) and four A5Ms in this action. Warrant Officer Torkuma (shot down by Kao Chi-Hang) was safe.

China Incident (Air Enthusiast/April 1973) - Victor Chun, 1973 kindly provided by Börje Henningsson
Tidbits from the Sino-Japanese Air Battles - Chang Kuang-Ming, 1998 World News Weekly August 1998 kindly provided by Tom Chan
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)
Much additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung, Tom Chan, Jack Hwang and Erich Wang.

Last modified 27 November 2019