Biplane fighter aces


General (1st Grade) Lai Ming-Tang

At the start of the Sino-Japanese war Lieutenant Lai Ming-Tang was serving as squadron vice-commander of the 22nd PS, 4th PG. This unit was at the time equipped with Curtiss Hawk IIIs.

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.

On 7 September three A5Ms led by Lieutenant Chikamasa Igarashi escorted six Type 96 carrier bombers from the Kaga. At 07:50 they were intercepted by a three-aircraft formation of Curtiss Hawk IIIs including Lieutenant Lai Ming-Tang (Hawk III no. New-1), Flight leader Lieutenant Lu Ji-Chun of the 23rd PS (Hawk III no. 2303) and Chou Geng-Hsu of the 25th PS near Tai Hue.
Lu and Chou attacked the bombers and claimed one each. The Chinese fighters were then engaged by the A5Ms and tangled with them for half an hour before being able to disengage and return to Nanking at 08:30. When returning Lai’s Hawk had been hit 61 times and Lu had been hit in the buttock. He made an emergency landing and touched ground safely at Nanking Base. In the hospital, he told his fellow pilots how he felt when he was hit:

“When the bullet entered my leg muscles it felt cool and not burning hot. I did not feel any pain then, but realized that a bulging item has lodged in my flesh. Then blood gushed out and soaked my flight suit. It also felt cool, but the sensation of pain increased every second and every ensuing minute. When I landed the plane, the pain was almost unbearable.”
When returning to the Kaga the Japanese fighters reported that they had been involved in combat with seven Curtiss Hawks while supporting a carrier attack unit. The Japanese fighters claimed five Chinese aircraft of which Igarashi claimed three and PO1c Watari Handa (flying as number two) claimed one. No Chinese aircraft was lost in this combat.

Lai Ming-Tang was later promoted to squadron commander and then became head instructor in a flying school. He then led a group of cadets to receive flight training in the US.

Later in the War, he served as the Chinese Embassy’s air attaché to the United Kingdom.

Lai Ming-Tang ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory, this one being claimed while flying the Curtiss Hawk III.

He advanced through numerous command positions in the Chinese Air Force and the Ministry of National Defense. He rose to C-in-C of the Combined Services and C-in-C of the ROCAF in Taiwan, and in 1971, became Chief of General Staff in the Ministry of National Defense, attaining the highest position in the military with the rank of General (1st Grade), the highest rank in the Republic of China military.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  15/08/37 ½ Type 89 (a) Shared destroyed Curtiss Hawk III   Hangchow area 4th PG

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with 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.

Tidbits from the Sino-Japanese Air Battles - Chang Kuang-Ming, 1998 World News Weekly August 1998 kindly provided by Tom Chan
Information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung, Tom Chan and Erich Wang.

Last modified 14 April 2003