The Politics of Airpower in US-China relations 1928-1941
Buchan, Eugenie Maechling
Date: 6 August 2013
University of Exeter
PhD in History
This thesis looks at the politics of airpower in US-China relations in 1928-1941, in particular the question of aviation assistance to the Nationalists. Since World War II, American historians have asserted that before Pearl Harbor, Americans helped the Chinese to improve their air force to resist Japan. The thesis finds, however, that ...
This thesis looks at the politics of airpower in US-China relations in 1928-1941, in particular the question of aviation assistance to the Nationalists. Since World War II, American historians have asserted that before Pearl Harbor, Americans helped the Chinese to improve their air force to resist Japan. The thesis finds, however, that trade not aid dominated the approach of the US government and private individuals towards China and that Chiang wanted an air force to use against his internal enemies, not Japan. Moreover, the Roosevelt Administration consistently treated China’s airpower needs as secondary to those of Britain or the US military. In the interwar years, China and the United States had less to do with each other than with other allies. In 1933-1935 Chiang preferred an official Italian air mission to an unofficial American one. After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, Stalin sent massive air assistance to China which eclipsed the influence of American aircraft salesmen and advisers. In 1938-1939 President Roosevelt promoted the sale of aircraft to Britain and France, believing that large modern air fleets would deter Germany from aggression against its European neighbours. China was far down his list of priorities. In 1939 the Administration adopted a policy of promoting aircraft sales to China which was comparable to that adopted for its European allies. By encouraging aircraft sales to the Nationalists, the Administration hoped to boost China’s resistance so that Japan would remain ‘bogged down’ in China instead of attacking the Asian colonies of European allies. In the winter of 1940-1941, the formation of a mercenary air force, the American Volunteer Group (AVG) was associated with this strategy. As this thesis reveals, British and Chinese officials decided to base the AVG in Burma to enhance the air defence of British territory in the Far East. Thus the AVG became unofficial aid primarily for Britain. Soon after Pearl Harbor, the American press began to treat the AVG as symbol of Sino-American friendship. The group became known as the Flying Tigers and the original reasons for its formation were buried under layers of propaganda which have distorted the historical record ever since.
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