In October 1937 the Chinese Government placed an order for 36 Gladiator Mk.Is with Vickers Mk. V machine guns for use in the war against the Japanese.
In late November, early December 1937 these aircraft accompanied by a Gloster working party arrived by sea at Hong Kong for assembly at Kai Tak Airport. Under pressure from the Japanese the British Government refused to give the Chinese the technical support required to assemble these aircraft. The Gladiators were moved to Guangzhou via the Kowloon Guangzhou Railroad and then by junk up the Pearl River. Due to regular harassment by Japanese aircraft only three or four Gladiators were assembled. The remainder of the first batch of twenty aircraft were assembled at a variety of places, including Shougouling Air Base, or to give its more poetic name Tienhe (Constellation), and even a cemetery. During the next few weeks the Gladiators were quickly put together under the most primitive conditions. These completed machines were then dispersed into the interior to keep them out of harms way until pilots could be trained to fly them.
The first twenty aircraft were issued to the 17th, 28th and 29th Fighter Squadrons of the 5th Fighter Group. The final sixteen were also issued to the 28th and 29th FS, mainly as a means to replace attrition. During the training period several aircraft were either damaged or written off due to the inexperience of the Chinese pilots.
At the beginning of 1938 the Chinese Air Force consisted of some 320 aircraft of various nationalities, these comprised of Tupolev SB-2, Vultee V-11, Martin 139 WC, Northrop Gamma 2E, Heinkel He 111, Fiat CR30, Curtiss Hawk III, Polikarpov I-15, I-16 and Gladiators.
The Gladiators were dispersed as follows;
17th FS 4 Gladiators, 16 I-15s based at Xian, Hankou and Xinyang.
28th FS 16 Gladiators based at Gunzhou, Hengyang, Changsha, Kanko and Nanchang.
29th FS 16 Gladiators operated from same bases as 28th FS.
At the end of August 1938 most of the Gladiators had been lost or was unserviceable due to combat damage even if later missions with Chinese Gladiators are known (the "guerrilla campaign" waged by Major Chin Shui-Tin and two other pilots in Kwangsi between August and December 1939). The three remaining Gladiators were used as training aircraft.
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford.
The Gloster Gladiator - Francis K. Mason, 1964 Macdonald & Co. Ltd. London
Additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung.