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Blog Topic: From Flying Sharks to Flying Tigers

January 8, 2015

Squadrons of the American Volunteer Group

Flying Tigers personel of the American Volunteer Group

Flying Tigers personnel from the American Volunteer Group. Public Domain photo.

Recent book purchases for my WW2 library have centered around the famous Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group in China. I have listed my three favorites at the bottom of this post as I feel they are very good references.

The Flying Tigers had three squadrons, the first, second, and third, and initially they were assigned ninety-nine P-40s. These were taken from the stocks that were suppose to be sent to Britain, and destined for the North African Air Force. Churchill agreed to the transfer of the P-40s to China.

The first 33 were assigned to be in first squadron, and designated with a white stripe on the fuselage just ahead of the tail. The next group of 33 went to the second squadron (planes 34-66) and designated with a blue stripe. The third squadron (planes 67-99) were painted with a red stripe.

The Flying Sharks vs the Flying Tigers

Shark's or Tiger's mouth logo

American Volunteer Group P-40 Warhawks in China. National Archives photo.

The American Volunteer group spotted a photo in an English publication showing the shark's mouth logo that was used by British North African Air Force second squadron. They decided to use it as their squadron logo. Their commanding officer, Colonel Chenault (later General Chenault) agreed, but said it was to be used by the entire group of three squadrons.

The shark's teeth were painted on all of these aircraft, on the air intake scoop at the lower part of the airplane's nose. This was done while the Volunteer Group was unaware of a logo design for a flying tiger, that was being developed in the Disney studios at the request of a representative of the Chinese government.

Flying Tigers logos

Flying Tiger logo designed by Disney Studios. Note Hell's Angels logo from third Squadron, on jacket of R. T. Smith..

During the development of the second logo, flying dragons was initially suggested, but the representative of the Republic of China said that was an antiquated logo, unrepresentative of the modern China, and vetoed it. The Flying Tigers was suggested because the Bengal Tiger was a ferocious animal from southeast Asia, and this idea was approved. The artwork was printed up as two part decals (peel and stick) and shipped to China. The American Volunteer Group, who now thought of themselves as the Flying Sharks, were quite surprised when the Flying Tigers logos turned up. Apparently the most common response from the pilots was, What do flying tigers have to do with sharks? And this is how the American Volunteer group became the Flying Tigers.

Interestingly, the position of the decal of the Flying Tiger was specified to be immediately behind and just below the cockpit. This happened to be under the location of two holes in the Plexiglas, drilled as fill caps for fuel. It was very common for these decals to became stained and curled as the tanks were overfilled or dripped fuel. Often you will see photographs where only the tiger's head is left. The rest of the decal, becoming damaged, was painted over, leaving the undamaged head of the tiger.

Also seen in photographs are some of the two part decals applied with Flying Tigers only, and others, the Flying Tigers with the V (for victory), as time was not always taken to put on the V.

~ Jon

Daniel Ford, Flying Tigers – Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, (1991).
Terrill Clements, American Volunteer Group Colours and Markings. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Limited, (2001).
Larry M. Pistole, The Pictorial History of the Flying Tigers. Virginia: Moss Publications (June 1981).


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