Sino-Japanese Air War 1937 – 1945

1939

In 1939 the Japanese began to conduct their attacks mainly at night. Arriving in mid-year, the test pilot K. K. Kokkinaki (at first the deputy commander of a rotational group of volunteers, and after the departure of Stepan Suprun, their commander), remembered that, “the Japanese bombers appeared over Chungking on moon-lit nights when they could see easily the major landmarks. They flew in formation, and when passing through the zones of our fighter activity, from time to time, on command of the formation leader all the aircraft would open a defensive barrier of fire in the direction of most likely attack by fighters. The performance was effective. It was like a gigantic fiery broom sweeping the starry sky.” However on one occasion toward the end of 1938, in the memory of the volunteers, the Japanese got so carried away that in their eagerness they began to shoot not only at the ground but also on each other. There were no Chinese aircraft in the air and with their “fiery brooms” the Japanese “swept up” eleven of their own bombers. Naturally, the Chinese credited them to their own antiaircraft guns. K. K. Kokkinaki completed 166 sorties in China and claimed 7 enemy aircraft.

After the fall of Guangzhou and Wuhan, the main air bases in China became Chengdu and Chungking, the new Chinese provisional capital. Throughout 1939 the Japanese continued to mount attacks on the Chinese city, but tactics changed a bit. While in 1937-1938 the Japanese operated over the near rear of the Chinese forces in groups of 20 to 25 aircraft, and over large industrial and administrative centres in groups of up to a hundred aircraft, as early as April 1939 there were noted only occasional flights by individual aircraft, while over the cities they flew, with rare exceptions, in small groups numbering up to ten machines. The main task of the Soviet and Chinese fighters remained air defence of the large cities.

January 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

According to Chinese sources, by the beginning of 1939 there remained in the Chinese Air Force fewer than 100 aircraft of various types. Soon, mainly due to large Soviet shipments, the amount rose to 200 combat aircraft.

In January 1939 the 16th PS flew to Kunming (Yongnan Province).

In January 1939 the 18th PS relocated to Kunming for defence of the city from air attacks while continuing training on the Hawk 75Ms. Reportedly Claire Chennault led it (but the Squadron Commander was Major Yang Yibai), although there is no information about his personal participation in air battles.

Squadron Commander Yang Yibai and his Hawk 75M in Kunming in 1939
Image kindly provided by Donald Young

18th PS and Hawk 75M in Kunming, 1939. Squadron Commander Yang Yibai in the front centre
Image kindly provided by Donald Young

In January 1939 the 17th PS was left in Lanzhou for defence against air attacks. The 26th, 27th and 29th squadrons were concentrated at Chengdu.
At this time the 5th PG had one I-15bis and one I-16 at the group headquarters while the 17th, 28th, and 29th squadrons each had ten I-15bis.

From January 1939 the 29th PS with the I-15bis protected Chengdu from air attacks.

By the beginning of the year the 1st BS handed over two SBs to the 5th RG at Liu Fuchuan and returned to Chengdu for retraining.

IJAAF


IJNAF

During January Navy bombers attacked Kweiyang four times.

Operations

2 January 1939
On 2 January five pilots of the 25th PS, returning from Chungking to Zhichyang (Sichuan province) were killed in a flying accident. The remaining pilots of this squadron were sent to Lanzhou for reforming.

7 January 1939
Japanese aircraft attacked Chungking during the day.

10 January 1939
Japanese aircraft attacked Chungking during the day.

11 January 1939
Led by Squadron Commander Liu Yi-Jun (劉依鈞), the five remaining Hawk 75Ms of 25th PS were flown to Chongqing and transferred to the 18th PS. On returning aboard an air transport plane, all five pilots were killed when the transport plane crashed in an accident. The 25th PS was disbanded due to the lack of pilots and aircraft.

February 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

In February the 2nd BS and 4th BS concluded their training in Chengdu.

IJAAF

During the attacks on Lanzhou and Chengdu on 12, 20 and 23 February by the 12th, 60th and 98th Kokutais, the 12th and 98th Kokutais suffered heavy casualties and the attacks were suspended. The air units were ordered to assemble in central China to prepare for future operations.
Durng these attacks one hundred enemy aircraft were reported damaged both in the air and on the ground. At this time it appeared to the Japanese that the morale of the enemy air force was high and air battles were often carried on for a long period of time.

IJNAF

During February Navy bombers attacked Kweiyang and Lungchou four times.

Operations

4 February 1939
On 4 February Su Xian-Ren, the commander of the 24th PS, flew in his fighter on administrative duties from Hunan to Tungliang (Sichuan Province), but he was intercepted by a group of Japanese fighters, shot down and killed.

5 February 1939
On 5 February four Vultees of the 10th BS attacked Yang-Chuan airfield and dropped 1120 kg of bombs. They returned claiming 10 aircraft destroyed on the ground.

12 February 1939
On 12 February 30 Japanese bombers were observed on a course for the airfield at Lanzhou. 18 did not, however, continue to target but turned away at a distance of 10-15 km, and headed back (they were probably operating from airfields in the Shanxi province, without fighter protections and operating at their maximum range).
The remaining was probably intercepted by Chinese pilots from the 17th PS, who claimed victories over Lanzhou during the day.
Soviet volunteers also took part in this combat.
It seems that the Japanese bombers were from the 12th, 60th and 98th Kokutais.

20 February 1939
At 13:50 on 20 February 1939 the Air Defence Command at Sian notified the 1st Air District Command that 30 Japanese aircraft (Mitsubishi Ki-21s and Fiat BR.20s) were heading towards Lanzhou in the Kansu province in Northwest China.
Nine I-15bis from 17th PS were scrambled first to intercept the Japanese aircraft and was later joined by two more. Later Russian volunteers were scrambled at 14:05 with seven I-15bis and one I-16. At 14:10 four I-15bis from the 15th PS, one I-16 and one Curtiss Hawk took off from the Siku field.
The first formation of nine Japanese aircraft attacked the Lanzhou airfield from north-west at 14:50. The second formation of twelve aircraft attacked from west at 15:15 together with a third formation of nine aircraft.
Captain Shen Tse-Liu, commander of the 17th PS, shot down the lead aircraft of a squadron of nine Japanese aircraft. His vice-commander Ma Kwok-Lim shot down the second aircraft of the third flight. Kuo Yao-Nan downed one Japanese aircraft. They were soon joined by the I-15bis flown by Russians and the 15th PS led by Lee Teh-Piao and Chang Tang-Tien. Shen later shot down another aircraft from the third Japanese formation.
On this day the bombs fell on the city and not the airbase and totally nine of the bombers were claimed destroyed by the returning Chinese pilots. One of the Soviet volunteers was wounded during the combat. The Air Defence Command at Sian observed only 21 Japanese aircraft retreating to the east after the battle.
It seems that the Japanese bombers were from the 12th, 60th and 98th Kokutais.

23 February 1939
On 23 February a group of a reported 57 Japanese bombers targeted Lanzhou, but only the first group of twenty bombers arrived over the city. Attacking them along the route, fighters shot down six bombers and instead of pursuing the remainder, waited along the route for the next group. However, they other groups attacked a secondary target instead.
Chinese pilots from the 17th PS claimed victories over Lanzhou during the day.
Soviet volunteers also took part in this combat.
It seems that the Japanese bombers were from the 12th, 60th and 98th Kokutais.

March 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

In March 1939 the entire 4th PG (21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Squadrons) was transferred to Guangyangba aerodrome for the defence of Chungking against air attacks where they remained until July, intercepting enemy attacks.

IJAAF


IJNAF

The 3rd chutai of the 64th Sentai moved to Taiyuan during March, flying patrols and supporting ground forces in northern China from there.

Operations


April 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

On 1 April the 34th PS of the 6th BG was again organised as a fighter unit and sent to Lanzhou.

At the end of April I-15bis from the 29th PS headed by Squadron Leader Captain Ma Kwok-Lim were sent on a special deployment to Nancheng (Shenxi Province) for protection of the ground forces.

In April the 1st BS of the 1st BG again began to take part in battle.

In April, 18th PS took part in intercepting operations over Kunming as part of the Pursuit Group led by Group Commander Hu Zhengyu (胡莊如).

IJAAF


IJNAF

The newly refitted Akagi was posted to the 1st Carrier Division in November 1938 and operated in the southern China and Hainan Island areas from the end of April 1939 to the middle of February 1940. She then returned to homeland waters.

During April Navy bombers attacked Kunming and Mengtsu four times.

Operations

11 April 1939
On 11 April SBs from the 1st and 2nd BGs attacked Yang-Chung.

29 April 1939
On 29 April 1939 (Japanese Emperor Hirohito's birthday), seven Japanese Army Type 97 (Ki-27) fighters from the 3rd chutai of the 64th Sentai conducted a fighter sweep from Tuncheng against the Chinese Airfield at Nancheng.
The 29th PS scrambled six I-15bis, led by Squadron Leader Captain Ma Kwok-Lim. The Chinese had switched to flying in elements of two for better mutual protection. Lieutenant Teng Chung-Kai was teamed with Ma. The Chinese fighters had just taken off and were at 2,500m when the JAAF fighters arrived at an altitude of around 3,000m. The second Japanese Shotai attacked Ma and Teng while the first shotai attacked the second and third Chinese elements consisting of Lieutenant Chai Shi-Wei with Lieutenant Liu Meng-Chin (2nd) and Lieutenant Liu Sheng-Fang with Lieutenant Kung Shu-Ming.
Faced with a foe with superior aircraft and altitude, the Chinese were hard pressed. Nevertheless, they fought aggressively, trying to cover each other’s tails. The Japanese pilots took full advantage of the superior speed and zoom climb abilities of their Ki-27 by making diving passes and then zooming back up for altitude. Sometime during the action, the Japanese appeared to have shifted to concentrating their attacks on the second and third Chinese flights. Soon, Lieutenant Liu Sheng-Fang was shot down and killed. Lieutenant Kung tried to cover but took 10 hits in the wings for his trouble. However, by turning tightly, Kung was able to evade repeated attacks until the Japanese ran low on fuel and retired.
The flight of Chai and Liu Meng-Chin fared even worse. They were attacked by three Ki-27s. Chai was downed and killed but Lieutenant Liu Meng-Chin exacted a measure of revenge but hitting one of the Ki-27s with a snap shot forcing it into a spin. This was Sergeant Major Takeji Harada (Sho-2) who was killed in the crash. The other two Ki-27s ganged up on Liu and fatally damaged his I-15bis. Liu managed to bail out and survived.
By concentrating on the second and third Chinese flights (with one shotai each), only left one Ki-27 taking on the most experienced of the Chinese pilots (Ma and Teng). Although the Japanese, First Lieutenant Yoshio Sotomura (47th Class), also was a senior pilot, he made the critical error fighting to the strengths of the Chinese (probably as a result under-estimating the Chinese pilots and their inferior planes). Instead of fighting in the vertical plane where the Ki-27 had the advantage, Sotomura got into a turning fight with Teng. While Teng kept Sotomura occupied, Ma climbed above the two and bounced the Japanese from behind, hitting the Ki-27 in the fuel tanks. Smoke poured from the Ki-27 as Sotomura tried to escape. Evidently damaged, the Ki-27 could not pull away from the normally slower I-15bis. Ma was able to close to 50m and appeared to hit the Japanese pilot with gunfire as, all of a sudden, the Ki-27 stopped evasive action and flew straight with level wings. At this critical juncture, all four of Ma’s ShKAS machine guns jammed. Nevertheless, the Ki-27 was done for and it crashed shortly afterwards. The Japanese pilot died of his injuries. Although, he did not hit the Japanese, Teng contributed to the kill through fine teamwork with his element leader.
The Japanese fighters returned claiming 11 shot down against a reported 20 plus I-15bis for the loss of two fighters (Harada and Sotomura).

On 29 April SBs from the 1st and 2nd BGs attacked Yang-Chung but no enemy aircraft were discovered at the airfield.

May 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

Between May and August, the 18th PS, was re-stationed to Yibin.

IJAAF


IJNAF

Between May and October Navy bombers attacked Chungking 13 times, Chengdu twice and Liangshan once.

Operations

3 May 1939
On 3 May 54 Japanese bombers bombed Chungking. The commander of the 4th PG, Teng Ming-Teh led the group into battle. The Chinese pilots returned claiming seven Japanese aircraft. Squadron vice-commander Chang Ming-Sheng (no. R-7153) was shot down and escaped by parachute, but later died of his wounds.

4 May 1939
The Japanese again bombed Chungking during the day.

25 May 1939
In the evening on 25 May the Japanese attacked Chungking with 26 bombers. Six Chinese fighters intercepted these bombers over the confluence of the Jia-Ling River and Yangtze. The Chinese claimed 2 bombers and one of these was claimed by Liu Chi-Sheng of the 21st PS (I-15bis).
For this feat was Liu Chi-Sheng awarded with the "Four Star Medal".

June 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

In June 1939 an agreement was signed for new credits from the USSR consisting of 150 million dollars.

In June 1939 the 17th PS was transferred to Kunming, the provincial capital, to receive 12 Dewoitine D.510 fighters.

Also in June the 27th PS was attached to the 29th PS at Chengdu. At the end of the year it took part in several air skirmishes.

From 1 June the 34th PS became a special unit, subordinated directly to the Aviation Committee.

In June the 1st BS, which at this time had seven SBs, was transferred to the Hubei Province, but along the route four aircraft were lost in accidents.

The 9th BS (Light) and 11th BS (Light) flew to Nanchang from which they attacked targets along the lower course of the Yangtze River.

In the summer of 1939 the DB-3 long range bomber received its baptism of fire in the Chinese sky. They had no occasion for combat in Spain, for they had not yet been sufficiently developed, and very few machines had left the factory. It was decided to give the new equipment a test in China.
The first group of twelve DB-3s was commanded by Captain G. A. Kulishenko. Its crews were mainly from the 3rd Air Brigade based at Zaporozh’e. Kulishenko himself had a lot of flight time on this aircraft, even as a lieutenant he took part in the military testing of the DB-3 with the 90th Squadron. About a month the group prepared near Moscow. In June 1939 the aircraft flew off along the route Moscow-Orenburg-Alma-Ata. In each machine flew four to six men (since they took with them the staff and ground crews), and cargo of supplies, instruments and replacement parts. Polynin, who had just become deputy to the route commander, led the group along the southern route flying in an SB. All the landing fields as far as Anxi were to short for the DB-3s and their fuel reserves permitted them not to land. Therefore Polynin prepared a second SB at Urumchi. And while the bombers circled over the airfield, he landed and changed aircraft “on the run” and then flew on. As leader he led the DB-3s to Lanzhou, while they flew on their own the rest of the way to Chengdu.
After the first group there followed a second group, also of twelve DB-3s, under the command of N. A. Kozlov. With it went experienced pilots of the Voronezh 11th Aviation Brigade.
The base for these groups at Chengdu became Taipingsi aerodrome (training centre). The aircraft were camouflaged, concealed with nets, and dispersed; the fuel was drained and the scaffolding was dragged off into a swamp.

IJAAF


IJNAF


Operations

5 June 1939
PO3c Genkichi Ogawa (Pilot 40) of the 14th Kokutai was killed during the day in south China.

25 June 1939
On 25 May the 1st BG attacked enemy positions north of Yichang.
Thanks to successful reconnaissance made by the commander of the 1st BG, Yu Hexuan, the operation was successfully made by eight SBs led by Squadron Commander Gu Zhaoxian.

28 June 1939
On 28 June six SBs from 11th BS (Light) were dispatched to attack a steamer by the fortress of Madang. Due to poor weather the fighter cover (I-16s with Chinese pilots) lost the bombers. The formation of the latter group also drifted apart. Only two aircraft reached the target and they were attacked by Japanese fighters. The attack was completed but one of the SBs was shot down, only the navigator baling out.

July 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

In July the 21st and 22nd Squadrons of the 4th PG was sent to Liangshan where they received I-15bis

Wei Yi-Ging became commander of the 32nd PS during July.

On 29 July the 24th PS received seven new I-16s from Liangshan.

On 18 July 1939 30 new I-15bis arrived at Lanzhou.

In July the 2nd BS and 4th BS took part in the defence of Yibin.

IJAAF

The 64th Sentai moved to Manchuria on 26 July 1939 to take part in the Nomonhan incident.
Shortly before leaving, on 1 July the unit formed the nucleus of the 84th I F Chutai, which was formed in Canton with 12 aircraft including reserves.

In July the 77th Sentai formed a third chutai.

IJNAF


Operations

3 July 1939
On 3 July six SBs of the 9th BS (Light) led by Squadron Commander Xu Yipeng departed to attack Japanese shipping. Due to damage, two aircraft did not reach the target. The other four were attacked by Japanese fighters at the moment of bomb release. The squadron commander’s aircraft was shot down first, with the loss of the entire crew. The aircraft of Li Fuyu was damaged and made a forced landing with its gear lowered. The crew were all wounded but survived.

11 July 1939
On 11 July 27 Japanese bombers bombed Chungking. Eight I-15bis, led by Squadron Commander Cheng Hsiao-Yu intercepted the bombers. Liang Tian-Cheng (no. 2307) was shot down in flames in this combat while Cheng returned with 38 bullet holes in his aircraft (no. 2310).

24 July 1939
On 24 July the Japanese again attacked Chungking. Liu Chi-Sheng of the 21st PS (I-15bis no. 2109) claimed one enemy aircraft in this attack and was awarded the "Five Star Medal".

August 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

In an attempt to build Soviet fighters Aircraft Factory No.600 was built on Chinese territory. On 11 August representatives of the Soviet Komissariat of Aircraft Industry and the Chinese government signed an agreement on the organisation of assembly production, 40 km from Urumchi. The first examples, according to the plan, were introduced into production in the fall of 1940, and final construction was concluded by February 1941.

16th PS was disbanded during August 1939.

On 1 August the 18th PS re-based to Chungking, assuming the duty of night defence of Chungking.
Later in the month it moved to Kunming.

In August 1939 remaining pilots of 25th PS, which had been at Lanzhou since January 1939, were dispersed to the 4th and 5th PGs.

In August the 26th squadron again was sent to Liangshan for nine I-16s.

During the month the 5th PG was transferred to Chengdu for defence against air attacks. Here the Chinese at the Taipingsi airbase stationed the “Main Bomber Unit” (training centre) where the Chinese retrained on the SB and then the DB-3. In this city was located an aviation factory which later attempted to copy the SB.

Major Chin Shui-Tinand two other pilots went down to Liu-chow in August 1939 to pick up three Gladiators to fly back to Lanzhou when the Japanese invaded Kwangsi. Thus began the "guerrilla campaign" waged by Chin Shui-Tin and his small band, which ended in December 1939.
ROCAF records indicate that the 32nd PS flight of three Gladiators and one I-15bis under Major Chin Shui-Tin fought 2 air-to-air engagements in September 1939 and 5 in November and December 1939, claiming 4 confirmed kills (3 on 27 December 1939) and 3 damaged.

On 1 August, during one of the recurring re-organisations, all the ground personnel of the 34th PS were dispersed to other units, and the pilots remained alone but for a single clerk, a counter- intelligence officer and a single soldier.

On 3 August 1939 30 new I-16s arrived at Lanzhou.

IJAAF


IJNAF


Operations

4 August 1939
During a night attack on 4 August Li Zhiqiang (4th PG) (I-15bis no. 2310) was shot down and killed.

September 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

During August and September the CAF flew 765 sorties, intercepting 60 raids, while three Chinese attacks (45 sorties) were mounted on Wuhan.
During these two months the CAF lost 35 aircraft and 13 pilots, bringing its total losses in the first nine months of 1939 to 54 aircraft and 25 pilots.

The transfer of the 26th PS from Liuzhou (Guangxi Province) to Chengdu for inclusion in the 5th PG had been delayed from February to September 1939, possibly from difficulties with transport. In Chengdu they received seven I-16s.

In September 1939 the 19th BS (Light) of the 6th BG converted to the SB and after only a short retraining the unit was thrown into the battle at Guinang.

In all, by September 1939, 292 SBs had been sent to China.

From September 1939 the flight personnel of the 10th BS and 14th BS of the 8th BG arrived at Chengdu to retrain on the Ilyushin DB-3. The group commander, Xu Huangsheng, together with some of his pilots had experience flying the SB, but had not flown much. Most of the pilots had earlier flown the American Vultee V-11GB attack aircraft, but had no experience with two-engine aircraft.
Conversion was complicated by the fact that the DB-3 did not have a complete second set of controls in the navigator’s compartment. The second, removable, control stick was intended not for an instructor, but in order that the navigator could relieve the pilot for short periods during a long flight (or return the aircraft home if the pilot had been disabled, which sometimes happened.) nor was there a throttle, and the view forward was obstructed by the machine gun. None the less, by the spring of 1940 they had trained about 45 pilots.
At first the Chinese navigators and gunners began to fly operations in mixed crews and then the Chinese began to operate independently.

IJAAF

According to Japanese data, from May to September 1939, Japanese bombers from the aerodrome at Hankou completed 22 air attacks on Chungking and Chengdu (about 200 sorties).

IJNAF


Operations


October 1939

The ground war


Chinese Air Force

At the end of October the air defence of Chungking was strengthened with the redeployment of the 24th PS to the airbase at Baishing.

IJAAF

In late October the 11th Sentai moved from Harbin, Manchuria, to Wuchang to undertake interception and ground support duties.
They stayed here until December 1940 but no aerial encounters occurred during this period, and it then returned to Harbin.

In late October the 77th Sentai moved to Manchuria.

IJNAF


Operations

3 October 1939
On 3 October the Kulishenko’s group attacked Hankou aerodrome, which by then was in the deep rear of the enemy. The SBs could not reach this far and the Japanese did not expect any attacks. In the open the Japanese had located a naval aviation aerodrome designated “Base W”. It was also used by pilots of Army Aviation. On this day the airbase prepared to receive new aircraft ferried from Japan and representatives of the fleet command and the city authorities had assembled there.
Nine DB-3s flew to the target unobserved, in a tight wedge, maintaining radio silence. They attacked as the ceremony was in progress. Aircraft stood in four rows, wing tip to wing tip. From an altitude of 8700 m. the Soviet volunteers bombed them with a mix of high explosive, fragmentation-high explosive and incendiary bombs. According to the reports of the crews, most of the bombs exploded along the rows of aircraft, which were tossed in every direction from the force of the blasts, with many burning. Antiaircraft was silent and only a single fighter took off from the enormous bonfire below. In it flew the later famous Japanese ace Saburo Sakai, but he was unable to catch the departing and lightened DB-3s. The Japanese identified the unknown bombers as SBs and were very surprised at their appearance.
Reportedly 64 aircraft were destroyed or damaged, with 130 people killed and 300 wounded. The fuel reserves burned of three hours. Japanese sources confirm the loss of fifty machines. Killed were seven senior officers of Captain 1st Rank and higher and twelve more were wounded. Amongst the latter was Rear Admiral Tsukahara, commander of the 1st Rengo Kokutai. A period of mourning was declared and the airfield commandant was shot.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Kanetake Okazaki (Class 62) of the 12th Kokutai was killed during the day.

4 October 1939
The Soviet volunteer Stepan Suprun claimed a shared Japanese bomber during the day.

5 October 1939
The Soviet volunteer Stepan Suprun claimed a Japanese bomber during the day.

14 October 1939
The attack on Hankou aerodrome was repeated on 14 October. Twelve DB-3s flew to the target, again led by Kulishenko. But just after dropping their bombs they were attacked by Japanese fighters and three bombers received damage. Wounded, Kulishenko flew his bomber as far as the city Wangxian, where he landed on the Yangtze River about 100-150 m. from the bank. After the aircraft came to a halt, he lowered the landing gear and the aircraft began to sink. Kulishenko died of his wounds. The aircraft was later pulled from the water and repaired.
Reportedly on this occasion at Hankou 36 Japanese aircraft were destroyed by the bombing. It is possible that the Japanese suffered even greater losses - about forty naval and army machines. Later there was a third attack which raised Japanese losses (according to Soviet reports) to 136 aircraft.
One of the wounded airmen at Hankou was the ace-to-be Mototsuna Yoshida of the 12th Kokutai (14 victories) while PO3c Isamu Ochi (Pilot 41) from the same unit was killed.

26 October 1939
Japanese army and navy bombers attacked enemy airfields in the Lanzhou area and the city during the day.

27 October 1939
Japanese army and navy bombers attacked enemy airfields in the Lanzhou area and the city during the day.

28 October 1939
Japanese army and navy bombers attacked enemy airfields in the Lanzhou area and the city during the day.
During the three days attacks they claimed 20 Chinese aircraft shot down and severe damage on important establishments in Lanzhou.

31 October 1939
The Soviet volunteers tried to attack Yuncheng aerodrome on 31 October but this was a complete failure. Yuncheng airbase was located all of twenty to thirty km behind the front lines, but at the limit of the radius of action for the DB-3s based at Chengdu. According to Chinese intelligence, up to a hundred Japanese aircraft had concentrated at Yuncheng and the Soviet aviation advisor P. N. Anisimov made the decision to deliver a blow with all available DB-3s with out preparatory aerial reconnaissance. He personally flew in Kozlov’s aircraft replacing the gunner.
Due to poor weather the navigators of both groups lost orientation. The crews had no information about reserve landing grounds along the route. Nobody reached the Yuncheng aerodrome. They landed where the came down. A clear summary of the losses cannot be found, but on the basis of requests for replacement parts sent to Moscow, it is possible to come to the conclusion that they disabled about ten machines.

November 1939

The ground war

On 15 November the Japanese invaded the Kwangsi Province in an attempt to seize Nanning, to cut the Chinese supply line from Hanoi, in French Indochina.

Chinese Air Force


IJAAF


IJNAF

In November the 14th Kokutai was reorganized and the group’s strength was changed to 18 carrier fighters and 9 carrier bombers.

During November Navy bombers attacked Chengdu once and Lanzhou twice.

Operations

2 November 1939
On 2 November 1939 Chin Shui-Tin damaged a "Type 97" reconnaissance aircraft over Wuming Airfield, Kwangsi together with Tang Hsin-Kwang. After the combat Chin was frustrated as he had silenced the Japanese rear gunner and was expecting his wingman Tang Hsin-Kwang to finish off the kill - which he failed to do.
The aircraft was actually a JNAF Type 98 (C5M). The observer Sub Lieutenant Yonetarou Ueda was "badly injured by Chinese fighter attack", consistent with Chin’s description. Chin had also mentioned that according to Chinese intelligence Japanese reconnaissance aircraft was based in Hainan Island and this was indeed the case with Ueda and his C5M.

4 November 1939
On 4 November 1939 72 G3Ms (36 from the 13th Kokutai, 18 each from the Kisarazu and Kanoya Kokutais) attacked Chengdu in Sichuan Province in retaliation for a highly successful attack on the Hankou Huang-chia-tun Airfield on 14 October 1939. (DB-3 bombers flown by Soviet volunteers, who claimed over 50 Japanese Army and Navy aircraft destroyed during this attack.) The G3Ms came over in two formations, each with 36 aircraft. Captain Okuda (nicknamed ‘King of the Bombers’), commander of the 13th Ku, led the first formation with all of the aircraft from 13th Kokutai.
The Chinese responded by sending two formations against the attackers. The first Japanese formation was heavily attacked by seven Dewoitine D.510s of the 17th PS, led by Captain Shen Tse-Liu and seven I-15bis from the 27th PS led by Captain Hsie Chuan-Ho. The 27th PS first made contact with the 13th Ku about 4,000m over Fenghuang Shan. The Chinese Air Raid Warning Net had given ample warning and the Chinese fighters, equipped with oxygen and radio receivers in the lead aircraft, were able to climb and attack the Japanese from above. Diving down at 65 degrees from behind, the I-15bis concentrated on the leading flight of G3Ms. After the initial pass, the I-15bis followed up with firing passes from the rear at the same level or slightly below. Then came the cannon armed D510. Captain Shen led his squadron in a level attack from the front. (Past experience had shown that when firing in a dive, the spring tension of the drum magazine in the Hispano HS-404 cannon was insufficient to feed the gun causing stoppages.) This time, under ideal conditions, Shen was able to make one devastating head-on pass on Okuda's G3M. Multiple hits by the deadly 20mm cannon set Okuda's G3M on fire at the right wing root. The fire then spread to the fuselage fuel tanks. The G3M then nosed over in a dive, which resulted in both wings snapping away. Shen and his squadron turned around to attack the Japanese formation form the rear. This was when the concentrated firepower of the G3Ms began to tell. Shen’s D510 No. 5921 was damaged and he made a forced landing in which he was injured. Another D510 (No. 5924 flown by Lieutenant Chen Kwei-min) was damaged in the fuel tank but managed to land safely. Three 27th PS I-15bis were slightly damaged. Another G3M was shot out of formation smoking heavily but was not seen to crash by the time the Chinese fighters retired.
The second Chinese formation was led by Group vice-commander Wang Han-Hsun and included nine I-15bis led by Captain Ma Kwok-Lim of the 29th PS and six I-16’s of the 26th PS. Included in Ma’s group were Lieutenant Teng Chung-Kai, now promoted to Squadron vice-commander. They met the Kisarazu and Kanoya formation over Taiping-shi Airfield. Ma led the I-15bis in a vertical diving pass on the leading flight of the formation. After the initial pass, the I-15bis turned back to attack from below and behind. They were joined by two I-16's from the 26th PS, which had become separated from their formation. After the first two passes, the volume of return fire from the Japanese formation was seen to appreciably slacken. The lead ship from the Shotai to the right of the leading shotai was seen to catch fire and gradually descend below the formation. Teng in I-15bis No. 2903 was credited with hitting this aircraft and contributing to it falling out of formation. In a final firing pass from behind and below, the concentrated return fire from the Japanese formation hit Teng’s aircraft and he crashed to his death. Wang Han-Hsun in I-15bis “V-2” was wounded and made a forced landing. All but one of the other I-15bis were damaged and three more had to make forced landings (I-15bis nos. 2910, 2904, 2907). Both of the 26th PS I-16s were also shot up badly, one, No. 2609 crashed at Jintang, killing its pilot Lieutenant Tuan Wan-Yu and the other, no. 2604 force landed at Pengshang.
During the attack the Japanese dropped over 100 bombs on Fenghuang Shan Airfield. The second Japanese formation of 36 aircraft dropped over 200 bombs on Wenjiang Air Field. They destroyed one aircraft and two trainers on the ground.
After the battle, the Chinese found three wrecks and the bodies of Okuda and one of his Buntaicho. The Japanese, however, admitted to a total of 4 losses.

December 1939

The ground war

On 18 December the Chinese launched a successful counter-offensive against the Japanese in the Kwangsi Province.

Chinese Air Force

To support the Chinese Kwangsi-offensive and direct the air-units the more experienced 1st ARC (Colonel Chang Ting-Meng) temporarily replaced the 2nd ARC (Colonel Hsing Chan-Fei) at Liuchou, with the 2nd ARC moving to rear positions at Kwei-Lin.
Taking part in the offensive were 115 aircraft of the 3rd, 4th and 5th PGs, 6th BG, 18th PS and one of the Soviet groups.

In December the 18th PS took part in battles in the south of Guangxi.

At the end of December the 4th PG returned to its airbase at Guangyangba.

In December 1939 at the height of the fighting for Guinang, in addition to Soviet volunteers (Suprun’s Group), the Chinese Aviation Committee gathered almost all their fighter aviation there. The 4th PG (Commander Liu Chi-Han) with the 21, 22, and 23 squadrons were equipped with I-15bis. The 27th and 29th squadrons under the command of the commander of the 3rd PG, Huang Pantang were equipped with 14 I-15bis and seven Gladiators under the vice-commander of the 3rd PG. Parts of the 18th PS with Hawk 75Ms. Finally the 32nd PS was equipped with the ancient “Douglas”.
There are no reported details of the air battles.

Stepan Suprun’s group (up to 50 fighters) soon became one of the main forces containing the Japanese. Air victories appeared on the scores of Suprun, Kokkinaki, Mikhailov, Kondratyuk, Kornienko, and others. In December 1939 Suprun’s group was transferred to the south where the battle for Yunnan Province had become much more intense, travelling along what would be named the “Burma Road”. Our pilot protected the airfields and communications lines from air attacks.

IJAAF


IJNAF

At the end of December thirteen A5Ms of the 14th Kokutai advanced from Haihow to the base at Nanning, which had just been captured.

During December Navy bombers attacked Lanzhou three times.

Operations

9 December 1939
On 9 September was Sergeant Yoshinosuke Matsumoto (YobiNCOR) of the 11th Sentai shot down by AA-fire over the central China and killed.

Christmas 1939
A few days before Christmas 1939 Chin Shui-Tin claimed a lone twin-engine bomber over Kwangsi. He recalled downing it by diving and then pulling up to hit its belly.
This claim has not been possible to verify with Japanese records.

25 December 1939
Three SBs piloted by Soviet volunteers tried to bomb Japanese positions near Jiutong in the morning but bombed Nanning instead since they were unable to see markers laid out by Chinese ground forces. Three more SBs together with a Gladiator successfully bombed several Japanese strongpoints in the afternoon, helping Chinese ground forces to capture a number of positions.

Ten I-15bis of the 4th PG, ten I-15bis of the 5th PG and five Hawk 75Ms of the 18th PS took off from Chihkiang during late afternoon to intercept Japanese aircraft. One Japanese aircraft was claimed damaged but one Chinese aircraft was lost and at least 6 more were damaged.

26 December 1939
Japanese Army and Navy bombers attacked targets around Lanzhou.

27 December 1939
Chin Shui-Tin flew his final action over Kwangsi. Chin was leading two Gladiators and one I-15bis from the 32nd PS on an escort mission for three Soviet Volunteer BG SB bombers. During the mission they became involved in combat with Japanese fighters. All three Chinese fighters were shot down. One pilot, Wei Yi-Ging (Commander of the 32nd PS) was killed and the I-15bis pilot, Chen Ye-Hsin, force-landed on the battlefield after being wounded in the back. Chin, after being hit while shooting an A5M off Chen's tail, was hit from behind by another A5M. His Gladiator caught fire but he managed to nurse it back over Chinese lines near Naning before bailing out, suffering terrible burns to his face and hands. The Japanese fighters were probably A5Ms from the 14th Kokutai led by Ensign Kazu-o Muranaka. Muranaka who had arrived to Nanning during the day flew a combat air patroll in the afternoon together with Sea1c Nojima. They engaged single-engine aircraft they jointly claimed 2 victories and one probable. These were the 14th Kokutai’s first victories.
However the Soviet Volunteers got through and bombed their targets unmolested, contributing to the successful Chinese Army counter-attack at the Kunlun Pass.
Chinese sources also claimed that ground troops found three enemy wrecks (two with serial numbers recorded) in the area after the action, which could match with Chin’s claim for 2 destroyed and 1 probable during this combat. However, these claims have not been possible to verify with Japanese records.
Chin Shui-Tinspent the rest of the war in various hospitals. He was in Hong Kong when it was captured by the Japanese, but managed to escape, and eventually returned for treatment to the US.

Japanese Army and Navy bombers attacked targets around Lanzhou.

28 December 1939
Japanese Army and Navy bombers attacked targets around Lanzhou.
During the three-day attacks in the Lanzhou area a force of 100 aircraft had been used and 20 Chinese aircraft were claimed destroyed.

30 December 1939
Thirteen A5Ms from the 12th and 14th Kokutais under the command of Lieutenant Takahide Aioi attacked Liuzhou during the day.
They engaged intercepting I-15bis and I-16s, returning claiming fourteen shot down. Two of these were claimed by Lieutenant Motonari Suho of the 14th Kokutai. PO2c Hiroshi Fujita (Pilot 42) from the 14th Kokutai was killed in this combat.
The Chinese reported that 33 I-15bis and nine I-16s tangled with Japanese fighters, claiming three shot down. The Chinese lost a Soviet volunteer killed, and a total of twelve planes were shot down or damaged in the fight.
According to the archives of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, the last Soviet pilot shot down in air combat is listed as killed on 30 December 1939 and buried in the city of Liuzhou, Guangxi-Zhuanxi Autonomous Region.

31 December 1939
Three SBs attacked the Nanning airfield with 18 100kg bombs and claimed to have destroyed eight aircraft on the ground.





Known units taking part in combat during 1939

Chinese Air Force

Known units, commanders and stations
Squadrons Groups Commanders Stations Aircraft types Note
  1st BG Kung Yin-Chung
Yu Hexuan
  Tupolev SB  
1st BS 1st BG Gu Zhau-Xiang Liu Fuchuan ( – beginning/39)
Chengdu (beginning/39 – )
Tupolev SB  
2nd BS 1st BG   Chengdu (February 1939)
Yibin (July 1939)
Tupolev SB  
  2nd BG Chin Wen   Tupolev SB  
11th BS 2nd BG   Nanchang (06/39 – ) Tupolev SB  
9th BS (Light) 2nd BG Xu Yipeng ( – 03/07/39)
Mei Yuan-Bai ( – 03/10/1939)
Nanchang (06/39 – ) Tupolev SB  
  3rd PG Huang Pantang   Polikarpov I-15bis
Gloster Gladiator
 
7th PS 3rd PG Lu Tian-Long (1938 – 20/03/41)   Polikarpov I-15bis (03/38 – 01/41)  
8th PS 3rd PG     Polikarpov I-15bis (03/38 – 01/41)  
27th PS 3rd PG   Chengdu Polikarpov I-15bis
Gloster Gladiator
 
29th PS 3rd PG     Polikarpov I-15bis
Gloster Gladiator
 
32nd PS 3rd PG Wei Yi-Ging (07/39 – 27/12/39)   Gloster Gladiator Mk.I
Polikarpov I-15bis
‘Douglas’
 
  4th PG Teng Ming-Teh
Liu Chi-Han (1939)
Guangyangba (03/39 – 07/39)
Guangyangba (12/39 – )
   
21st PS 4th PG Lo Ying-Teh (1939) Guangyangba (03/39 – 07/39)
Liangshan (07/39 – )
Polikarpov I-15bis (07/39 – )  
22nd PS 4th PG Cheng Hsiao-Yu Guangyangba (03/39 – 07/39)
Liangshan (07/39 – )
Polikarpov I-15bis (07/39 – )  
23rd PS 4th PG   Guangyangba (03/39 – 07/39) Polikarpov I-15bis  
24th PS 4th PG Su Xian-Ren (22/08/38 – 04/02/39) Guangyangba (03/39 – 07/39)
Liangshan (07/39 – )
Baishing (10/39 – )
Polikarpov I-16 (29/07/39 – )  
  5th PG   Chengdu (08/39 – ) Polikarpov I-15bis
Polikarpov I-16
 
17th PS 5th PG Captain Shen Tse-Liu (1939) Lanzhou
Kunming (06/39 – )
Polikarpov I-15bis
Dewoitine D.510 (06/39 – )
 
26th PS 5th PG (09/39 – )   Liuzhou ( – 09/39)
Chengdu (09/39 – )
Polikarpov I-16  
28th PS 5th PG Major Louie Yim-Qun (1939 – 1940) Chengdu Polikarpov I-15bis  
29th PS 5th PG Captain Ma Kwok-Lim (1939) Chengdu
Nancheng (end/04/39 – )
Polikarpov I-15bis  
  5th RG   Liu Fuchuan Tupolev SB  
19th BS 6th BG     Tupolev SB (09/39 – )  
34th PS 6th BG ( – 01/06/39)
HQG (01/06/39 – )
  Lanzhou   Again organised as a fighter squadron on 1 April 1939.
10th BS 8th BG   Chengdu (09/39 – ) Vultee V-11
Ilyushin DB-3 (09/39 – )
 
14th BS 8th BG   Chengdu (09/39 – ) Ilyushin DB-3 (09/39 – )  
4th BS     Chengdu (February 1939)
Yibin (July 1939)
Tupolev SB  
15th PS       Polikarpov I-15bis  
16th PS     Kunming (01/39 – )   The squadron was disbanded during August 1939.
18th PS   Major Yang Yibai (楊一白) (07/37 - 02/41) Kunming (01/39 – )
Yibin (05/39 - 01/08/39)
Chungking (01/08/39 – 08/39)
Kunming (08/39 - )
Curtiss Hawk 75M  
25th PS   Liu Yi-Jun (劉依鈞) (18/08/38 – 11/01/39) Lanzhou (01/39 – 01/39) Curtiss Hawk 75Ms (07/38 - 01/39) Independent squadron.
Disbanded on 11 January due to lack of pilots.

Voluntary Soviet units
Unit Commanders Stations Aircraft types Note
Suprun group Stepan Suprun
K. K. Kokkinaki
  Polikarpov I-16  
Kulishenko group Captain G. A. Kulishenko (06/39 – 14/10/39) Taipingsi (06/39 – ) Ilyushin DB-3  
Kozlov group N. A. Kozlov Taipingsi (06/39 – ) Ilyushin DB-3  

IJAAF

Known units, commanders and stations
Regiment Squadron Commander Station Aircraft type Note
10th Sentai 2nd chutai   Northern China   Reconnaissance unit.
11th Sentai   Major Tadashi Okabe (09/39 – 01/03/42) Wuchang (10/39 – 12/40) Nakajima Ki-27 (12/37 – 06/42)  
11th Sentai 1st chutai Captain Kiso-o Beppu (09/39 – 07/41) Wuchang (10/39 – 12/40) Nakajima Ki-27 (12/37 – 06/42)  
11th Sentai 2nd chutai Captain Masayoshi Taniguchi (08/39 – 12/42) Wuchang (10/39 – 12/40) Nakajima Ki-27 (12/37 – 06/42)  
11th Sentai 3rd chutai Captain Shunsuke Matsumura (10/39 – 03/41) Wuchang (10/39 – 12/40) Nakajima Ki-27 (12/37 – 06/42)  
12th Sentai     Northern China ( – 05/39)
Southern China (05/38 – )
Fiat BR.20  
12th Sentai 1st chutai   Northern China ( – 05/39)
Southern China (05/38 – )
Fiat BR.20  
12th Sentai 2nd chutai   Northern China ( – 05/39)
Southern China (05/38 – )
Fiat BR.20  
15th Sentai     Northern China ( – 05/39)
Southern China (05/38 – )
  Reconaissance unit.
15th Sentai 1st chutai   Northern China ( – 05/39)
Southern China (05/38 – )
   
15th Sentai 2nd chutai   Northern China ( – 05/39)
Southern China (05/38 – )
   
27th Sentai     Northern China ( – 09/39)
Manchuria (09/39 – )
  Light bomber unit.
27th Sentai 1st chutai   Northern China ( – 09/39)
Manchuria (09/39 – )
   
27th Sentai 2nd chutai   Northern China ( – 09/39)
Manchuria (09/39 – )
   
31st Sentai         Light bomber unit.
44th Sentai     Central China   Reconnaissance unit.
45th Sentai     Central China ( – 09/39)
Manchuria (09/39 – )
  Light bomber unit.
59th Sentai   Lieutenant Colonel Issaku Imagawa (07/38 – 12/39)
Major Naoto Doi (12/39 – 09/41)
Hankou (03/11/38 – 08/39)
Yuncheng (02/39)
Hankou (10/39 – 08/40)
Nakajima Ki-27 (07/38 – 06/41) Took part in the Nomonhan incident in September 1939.
59th Sentai 1st chutai Captain Takeo Sato (07/38 – 03/39)
Captain Mitsugu Yamamoto (03/39 – 15/09/39)
Captain Takeyo Akera (10/39 – 09/41)
Hankou (03/11/38 – 08/39)
Yuncheng (02/39)
Hankou (10/39 – 08/40)
Nakajima Ki-27 (07/38 – 06/41) Took part in the Nomonhan incident in September 1939.
59th Sentai 2nd chutai Captain Kunio Yamada (07/38 – 07/40) Hankou (03/11/38 – 08/39)
Yuncheng (02/39)
Hankou (10/39 – 08/40)
Nakajima Ki-27 (07/38 – 06/41) Took part in the Nomonhan incident in September 1939.
60th Sentai     Nanyuan ( – early/10/39)
Ani (early/10/39 – )
Mitsubishi Ki-21  
64th Sentai   Major Tamiya Teranishi (01/08/38 – 03/39)
Major Hachio Yokoyama (03/39 – 10/39)
Tianhe (09/11/38 – 26/07/39) Nakajima Ki-27 (04/38 – 11/41) Moved to Manchuria on 26 July 1939 to take part in the Nomonhan incident.
64th Sentai 1st chutai Captain Mitsugu Sawada (01/08/38 – 03/39)
Captain Fumio Maruta (03/39 – 05/41)
Tianhe (09/11/38 – 26/07/39) Nakajima Ki-27 (04/38 – 11/41) Moved to Manchuria on 26 July 1939 to take part in the Nomonhan incident.
64th Sentai 2nd chutai Captain Tsuguroku Nakao (01/08/38 – 07/39)
Captain Shuichi Anzai (07/39 – 01/09/39)
Tianhe (09/11/38 – 26/07/39) Nakajima Ki-27 (04/38 – 11/41) Moved to Manchuria on 26 July 1939 to take part in the Nomonhan incident.
64th Sentai 3rd chutai Captain Goro Suzuki (01/08/38 – 09/40) Changte (08/38 – 03/39)
Taiyuan (03/39 – 26/07/39)
Nakajima Ki-27 (04/38 – 11/41) Moved to Manchuria on 26 July 1939 to take part in the Nomonhan incident.
75th Sentai     Central China   Light bomber unit.
77th Sentai   Major Hachiro Kawahara (12/39 – 07/41) Wuchang (11/38 – 10/39)
Lungchen (10/39 – 11/41)
Kawasaki Ki-10 (31/07/38 – 10/39) Moved to Manchuria in November 1939.
77th Sentai 1st chutai Captain Shin-ichi Muraoka (31/07/38 – 03/40) Wuchang (11/38 – 10/39)
Lungchen (10/39 – 11/41)
Kawasaki Ki-10 (31/07/38 – 10/39) Moved to Manchuria in November 1939.
77th Sentai 2nd chutai Captain Masatane Tanimura (31/07/38 – 03/39)
Captain Naoichi Uranaka (03/39 – 07/40)
Wuchang (11/38 – 10/39)
Lungchen (10/39 – 11/41)
Kawasaki Ki-10 (31/07/38 – 10/39) Moved to Manchuria in November 1939.
77th Sentai 3rd chutai Captain Tatsuo Sato (07/39 – 07/40) Wuchang (07/39 – 10/39)
Lungchen (10/39 – 11/41)
Kawasaki Ki-10 (31/07/38 – 10/39) Established in July 1939. Moved to Manchuria in November 1939.
90th Sentai   Colonel Masao Yamase Northern China   Light bomber unit.
90th Sentai 1st chutai   Northern China    
90th Sentai 2nd chutai   Northern China    
98th Sentai     Northern China Fiat BR.20  
Independent 10th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai Captain Kiyoshi Kimura (07/38 – 05/40) Taiyuan (12/38 – 03/41) Nakajima Ki-27 (07/38 – 06/42)  
Independent 16th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai   Northern China   Reconnaissance squadron.
Independent 17th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai   Central China   Reconnaissance squadron.
Independent 18th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai   Central China   Reconnaissance squadron.
Independent 82nd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai   Southern China   Light bomber squadron.
Independent 83rd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai   Northern China   Reconnaissance squadron.
Independent 84th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai Captain Magoji Hara (01/07/39 – 08/40) Canton (01/07/39 – 09/40) Nakajima Ki-27 (01/07/39 – 06/42) Formed on 1 July with personnel from the 64th Sentai.

IJNAF

Known units, commanders and stations
Group Squadron Commander Station Aircraft type Note
Akagi Fighter daitai   southern China (end/04/39 – middle/02/40) Mitsubishi A5M  
Akagi Bomber daitai   southern China (end/04/39 – middle/02/40) Aichi D1A2  
Akagi Attack daitai   southern China (end/04/39 – middle/02/40) Yokosuka B4Y1  
12th Kokutai Fighter daitai   Hankou (autumn/38 – 1940) Mitsubishi A5M  
12th Kokutai Attack daitai   Hankou (autumn/38 – 1940) Yokosuka B3Y1  
13th Kokutai Bomber daitai Captain Okuda ( – 04/11/39)   Mitsubishi G3M  
14th Kokutai Fighter daitai   Sanqzao Island (04/38 – )
Ishu-to
Haihow
Nanning (12/39 – )
Mitsubishi A5M  
14th Kokutai Bomber daitai   Sanqzao Island (04/38 – )
Ishu-to
Haihow
   
14th Kokutai Attack daitai   Sanqzao Island (04/38 – )
Ishu-to
Haihow
  Disbanded in November 1939.
Chingtao Kokutai Bomber daitai   Northern China   Carrier attack aircraft.
Kanoya Kokutai Bomber daitai     Mitsubishi G3M  
Kisarazu Kokutai Bomber daitai     Mitsubishi G3M  
Takao Kokutai Bomber daitai   Southern China Mitsubishi G3M  











Last modified 17 August 2011