P -38 Lightning and Chinese Air Force Reconnaissance
By Jude BK Pao
P-38 Association member, Jude BK Pao, graduated from the AAC Class 45F, Douglas Field, AZ and had P-38Photo Recon Training in Radpid City, SD, 1946. He flew more than 150 sorties over Mainland China from 1946-1965 and retired with a rank of Maj General in the Chinese Air Force. His last post was Defense & Air Attachè to Washington DC. His civilian service includes National Security and Foreign Service in South Africa. He received more than 21 decorations and medals for Combat or Distinguished Service. The follow story is told in his own words and is unedited. You can click on the photos in this article to see an enlargement.
P-38 Lightning achieved its fame soon after rolling out of Lockheed production line with her beautiful appearance and versatile performance. Very soon she made herself world-renowned after entering combat service. As World War II dragged on Lightning aircraft had flown allover the world in combat patrol, theater defense, ground strafing, bomber escort and photo reconnaissance. Theaters of operations covered German-Italy occupied western Europe, northern Africa, Atlantic Ocean, British Channel, North Sea and the Mediterranean. In Far East and in the Pacific Ocean P-38s were extremely active over Japanese occupied island groups, Indo-China, Malaysia, Burma jungle and great part of Mainland China.
The most outstanding accomplishment of P-38 Lightning was the shooting down of a Japanese Imperial Fleet commander, Admiral Yamamoto, over the island chain of South Pacific. I was extremely happy to hear the splendid story when I was on a troop ship bound from Bombay, India to US west coast by way of Guadalcanal in the winter of 1944. I was exceedingly excited as I heard the fantasy and still enjoy it today.
Most or all of the Lightning combat missions were flown by brilliant Uncle Sam pilots and supported by highly qualified American crews. Nevertheless, some thirty or so Chinese Air Force pilots had flown P-38s (photoreconnaissance configuration) for eight years before the conclusion of the war in 1944-45 on Mainland China and in Taiwan later. I was one of the photo jockeys flying the Lightning until the whole fleet of Lightning in CAF inventory totally phased out 1952.
Five batches of Chinese Air Force pilots were selected to fly P-38s, most of them graduates (fresh green horn pilots) of the old Army Air Corps Western Training Command Flying Schools. Only three combat ready old hands, Maj. C. C. Fang, 12th Squadron Commanding Officer, Captain K. L Shih, Deputy CO and Lt K. C. Weng, Squadron Chief Operations Officer from Chungking, wartime capital of China.
When I graduated from Douglas Army Field, Douglas AZ (Class 45F of US Lend-Lease Act Foreign Student Training Program) in August 1945 I was immediately chosen among other three classmates, Sub Lt Peter Huang, Sub Lt K. K. Chow and Sub Lt Y S. Chiu for P-38 Lightning Combat Crew Training. We were designated the 5th batch or the last batch ofP-38 trainees.
As soon as I came out the graduation ceremony auditorium and gave a dollar bill to an American enlisted man who gave me the first salute. (This is the usual practice in the old day.) I was ordered to pack and depart Douglas on an overnight train to Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma City, OK. Will Rogers Field was operated by a detachment of the 3rd Numbered Air Force. As we reported in we were treated very nicely.
As soon as we got settled down and received an orientation, the Base Authority lined up an 80-hour extensive B-25 instrument training program and curriculum for ground school. We received a lot of personal flying equipment too. During the period in Will Rogers each one of us was arranged for a Lightning Mark-up flight. Three flights each. It was extremely interesting.
In our preceding class there were two Turkish officers who had finished ground school and ready to go for transition flight. It happened we were lodging in the same BOQ. Both of them gave us a hearty welcome and promised to show us downtown the first night. The big Turk put all of us into his Oldsmobile and drove down to Broadway and many major avenues. He drove exceedingly fast to bombard Oklahoma City. I told him on the way “”Guy! You are flying too low.”
Not before long we learned that both Turks were recalled by their own government because war was already over. They didn’t complete the training program. I still remembered one Turk on his first solo flight he put a neighboring town totally blackout. His tree top buzz knocked down a high voltage power wire. Although he denied the accusation, one of his Lightning vertical fin showed the cut.
We enjoyed our stay in Will Rogers very much and made many friends. Unfortunately, the airfield was scheduled to pay-off to FAA after the war. We were told once again to pack and depart northward by train to Rapid City, South Dakota, via Kansas and Nebraska. Rapid City was located in a very cold region. Snow was heavy around Christmas time. It gave me the first chance to pile up snowman and shot pheasants in Black Hill reservation. I learned ice skate too.
We began busy after long Christmas/New Year holidays. Ground school of P-38 configuration, Alyson power plants, navigation & communication equipments, meteorology, electrical system and photography… etc. At the same time we were given twenty-four hours right hand seat ride on B-25 for take-off and landings drill because P-38’s control column is handled by right hand.
Rapid City Army Base was located eight miles east of the city with three doubles of double runways in various directions. In 1945-46 the airfield was manned by the 3rd Air Force. Like a storage park all kinds of aircraft parked on the ramp from B-17s, B-25s, B-26s, A-26s, P-38s, P-5 1 s and P-61 Black Widows. When I made a returned visit in September 2000, I couldn’t recognize anything because the field bas been renamed Ellsworth AFB with a three-miles lengthy runway. The complex is much enlarged all beyond my recognition.
Within six weeks after the New Year we had finished all the ground school curricula and started P-38 training flight. My instructor, Lt Nash, was a very good fighter pilot and instructor. He showed me every thing of the plane including at control systems, instrument gages; toggle switches, color codes of wires and cables. He gave me a black fold test in the cockpit and asked me to recite emergency procedures. Then he gave me a piggyback ride and demonstrated all kinds of maneuvers including all kinds of acrobatics Very uncomfortable in the piggyback, however, I felt great.
After complete all tests and flight line check we were authorized to fly solo. We started to fly traffic pattern (Takeoff and landings). Gradually we flew aircraft performance and high skill maneuver, such as: single engine performance, night transition, cross country flights, navigation flights, deferent altitude photographic runs, charting and mapping. ..etc.
I flew with great joy because a Photo Joe was a lone ranger. You could do whatever you want. Before I completed each flight I always buzzed around Mount Rushmore in Blackhills National Forest to see the giant heads of four US Presidents. One day I chased a Gooney Bird bound north from Rapid City for ten minutes. The control tower called me to pullout. He said” Boy! You are chasing Governor Halifax. of Canada. “, It was lousy but fun. We finished the entire training program in Rapid City in two and a half months.
Most of the IPs in the detachment were experienced old hands, good fighter pilots from European or Pacific theaters. They knew how to get their enemies killed and how to save their neck. Otherwise they would not be here. My IP Lt Nash told me very solemnly: “As a Photo Joe you don’t shoot but you should know how to secure your areas. When you come to an unfriendly environment you should always keep your eyes open and scrutiny your tail. If your enemy behind you kept jumping up and down, don’t worry. He is not ready. Once he got stabilized you should duck the fast the better.” I kept his word the rest of my life.
Saying goodbye to Rapid City in mid May we boarded a narrow gauge railroad train to Denver, Colorado. I visited Denver the first time but I had flown over the city and landed in Lowly One Airfield many times. From Denver we shifted to a major railroad train, Trans Pacific Line, to Sacramento, CA. We (eleven young lieutenant) were picked up by Mercer Airfield Authority and lodged us there two weeks waiting for sea going transport home. While we were there we took a leisure trip to San Francisco another visit to Yosemite National Park.
Some time in early June we were asked to go to San Francisco to board an Ocean Liner for Shanghai. It Was very comfortable in the liner, nice travel, good cabins, good food and many games. It only took twelve days instead of forty-four days when we came to the States during the hot war year in the Pacific.
After departing Shanghai, the biggest commercial city complex of China, we proceeded by rail for two and a half hour to Nanking, capital of the Republic. We were picked up by a coach to an airfield south of the capital, home base of the Chinese Air Force only reconnaissance squadron. The Squadron Commander, Colonel K K Shih, gave us a hearty welcome because we were fresh new blood to build up the squadron personal strength. It was hot and humid during the summer in Nanking but we felt pleasant because, after all, we got settled down.
As far as I can remember US military leftover about fifty (50) or so P-38 Lightning in China Theater, most of them in Nanking at the end of the war, CAF 12th Recon Squadron could only take eighteen (18) Photo Recon version F5E or F5G for a squadron strength. The rest were kept partially mothballed or for cannibalization. What is a shame!
After I ‘took two local orientation flights I was fully qualified to join our fellow pilots to fly combat missions. My first mission was a photo run of Linchih in the hill slope of Shangtung Province. Not before long I had flown allover China. This was a period of so call “”civil war.” on Mainland China immediately after World War II Both Central Government and Chinese communists accused each other for territory dominance. We in the nationalist Armed Forces called it counter insurgent warfare. General of the Army of the United States George Marshall was busy running back and forth to negotiate a peaceful solution. Very sorry and disappointed, he made little or no success.
No sooner than P-38 Lightning came into Chinese Air Force service, most of the Chinese military brass (Including the Generalissimo) took great interest in the new scientific machines, the precision camera system. As the operations directive states: “No major strike should launch before a photo reconnaissance mission.” Aerial photography flights also conduct after a strike for damage assessments. Consequently, we made few friends with the guys in fighter or bomber groups, because aerial photographs oftentimes nullify or discredit what they claimed.
I received my first medal in a Manchurian campaign by mapping out a forty square miles war zone over Sze-ping, north of Mukden that won the battle. Many Photo Joes got credit too. In the fall of 1946 I was ordered to a funny assignment to Hainan Island in South China Sea. I stayed there in the hot tropical beach landing strip flying twice a week over Paracel Island and the nearby island group just for showing off ROC presence. It was understood that French Authority in Indo China shortly after the war attempted laying territory water claim in South China Sea.
Most of the cities and towns on Mainland China after eight year of resist Japanese war had been ruptured or partially destroyed. My Squadron Commander, Col Shih, was a very outstanding officer and a knowledgeable man. Quite often he sent us to help make city mapping for national rehabilitation. We were dispatched to fly a lot of land survey and river charting including the Yangtze River Gorge for national economic development. In so doing we saw by our own eyes an immense Chinese territory. It built up our navigational skills too. I would say I had flown all part of China except the remote Wild West provinces and Tibetan territory.
I am a southerner from Kwangtung province and seldom traveling north except South Dakota in the States. One day in December 1946 my CO sent me a cable from Peking (Meaning North Capital) asking me to fly a mission from Nanking to Peking I via Kiangsu, Anfei, Shantung and Hepei provinces. He lined up twelve (12) targets and a lengthy railroad track in my flight plan. He asked me to take off the following morning and land Nan Yuan Airport (American Marine called it Nine-One Airfield) in Peking. He said he would meet me there at noon. I did accordingly and landed on time. However, I had to stay north for almost two years.
The 12th Squadron set up a branch office in Peking, headed by a flight leader, with four pilots, a few crewmembers and administrative personnel. Each pilot took turn to fly missions over northern China and Inner Mongolia. Each pilot should also take turn to fly TDY (Temporary duty) to Mukden, Manchuria and stay there two weeks every month. Up north the pilot was on his own with a P-38, a crew chief, a mechanic, a hydraulic technician, a cameraman, a sedan and a truck.
During these two-year staying in northern China and Manchuria, I flew a lot of missions over Hepei, Shangtung, Shansi, Shensi provinces and Inner Mongolia region. Over northeast China (Manchuria) alone. I put up a lot of flying time. Most of the Manchurian flight were planned in longer duration and covered great distance, sometimes a flight last more than seven and a half hours because so many targets along the Sino-Russian border.
Two big drop tanks (230 gallons each) I carried enable me to fly such long range along the Amur River, boundary water between both Chinese and Russian territory. No matter which route I flew, this is a must flight line. I used to fly 25,000 or 30,000 feet fumbling along this river, the Ussuri and the Sunghuajiang. Those big cities in Heilongjiang and Jillin provinces such as: Harbin, Chichihar, Pei-an, Chiamuzee, Hakho, Maodanjiang, Tunhua, Jillin also marked in my IN flight chart.
This particular aircraft (P-38 Lightning) once stationed in Mukden came under the strict command and control of Northeast Military District Air Command. The Commander had the authority to fully utilize the plane, assigning any mission he felt necessary. Ordinary he assigned one long flight a week but he could delegate two if he felt necessary. All flights were launched and recovered in Mukden, at Peiling Airfield, north of the city. In case running short of fuel or weather condition the pilot had the option to land in an alternate airport in Changchun, capital of Jillin province.
Manchuria was a very important war zone in the civil war. Both Nationalist Government and Communist high command deployed their best troops and equipments in order to win the battle. In the middle of 1948, however, situation I changed. The Nationalist Armed Forces suffered. The war situation got worsening.
The reason was very simple. After eight years fighting the Japanese invasion, many soldiers were tied of battle and mentally fatigued. They lost the will to fight another long war. Besides, governmental corruption and financial bankruptcy pushed the inflation sky high. Many people suffered and hated the government. On the contrary Communist soldiers, most of them, were poor farmers. They could hang on and look for the better.
In the fall of 1948 government troops controlled only a few city complexes, most of the countryside were under Communist dominance. Railroad tracks and highway were cut off and on. Before Christmas all government ground troops were ordered to withdraw to central China. The Air Force also gave order to fly all airplanes southward into Peking, Hsuchow, and Shanghai.
In early 1949 a number of major campaigns were staged but not in Nationalist favor. The biggest warfare called ShuangTuChih campaign between Hsuchow and Panfu involving more than a million fighting personnel on both sides was launched. All the Chinese Air Force fighters, bombers, transport and photo recon airplanes jammed in two major airfields in Nanking. Unfortunately the battle was lost in six weeks. That was the last giant battle of the civil war.
Before the Communists crossed the Yangtze River, many negotiations took place between politicians of both sides. It made no progress just Wasting time. To preserve the aerial combat strength Chinese Air Force Headquarters outlined directives to subordinate units to withdraw some aircraft to Taiwan. Followed the directive the 12th Squadron planned to fly all the flyable P-38s to Taiwan. And the plan was executed soon after.
Some time in May I was asked to fly one of the first three P-38s to Taiwan. Led by a flight leader we took off from Nanking via Hengchow and Wenchow to Taiwan. This was the first time we crossed the strait and headed for the island. When we arrived at Tao Yuan Air Field we saw three buffalos graze on the short runway. We had to buzz around to scare them off before landing. Wow! What a strange field landing we had made.
Altogether we were told partially moving to Taiwan, most of the aircraft still stationing at Jiangwan Airfield in shanghai to support the fighting. After the big city I of Shanghai’ was overrun we withdrew to Tinghai Airstrip in Choushan island group. Fighting was still carrying on until total withdrawal.
Under the redeployment directives, ten (10) flyable P-38s and two B-25s in our squadron were flown to Taiwan. In a showoff Double Ten National Holiday Military Parade on October 10, 1949 all ten P-38s had successfully flown tight formation over Capital Taipei. Disregard the successful flyby all flyers were told NOT to run up die engines for magnetic check. Strictly by order we scrambled onto the runway.
After the government retreated to Taiwan no more fighters or bombers made over flight except P-38s and B-25s. Due to fuel and parts shortage no training flight was available except combat mission. Photo Joes took turns to fly deep into Hankow, Nanking Hsuchow and Shanghai area to take pictures. High Authority wanted to keep eyes open. P-38 Lightning in that particular time still control the sky until Russian Mig-15s came to airbases in Shanghai.
As time went on, say, from late 50 to 51 we lost a few good pilots and P-38s due partly to malfunction and mainly to metal fatigue. Four flyers got killed. One pilot was shot down sough of Shanghai at 26,000 feet. Pilot reported the tracer bullets came from below. Chinese Air Force was determined to terminate all P-38 over flight for fast better jet propeller engine aircraft, say, RF-86s and RF-84s.However, P-38 Lightning is always in Chinese Air Force memory.