P-40 "Flying Tigers"

Front crest has a detail of one squadron's Tiger mascot.

The main artwork on the back of the shirt has three P-40's on a mission.You get to see the P-40's from three different angles!

Silk screened on a ring spun, white, 100% Cotton, Hanes Beefy-T.

P-40’s “Flying Tigers”

In the dark days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when almost every news story was filled with story after story of defeat at the hands of the Japanese forces, one unit, the 1st American Volunteer Group, (AVG) nicknamed “The Flying Tigers,” gave hope to Americans that things could and would turn around. The Tigers, recruited U.S. Navy, Marine and Army Air Corps flyers, operating out of secret bases in China, working as private military contractors, (or in other words, mercenaries), were scoring victories on an almost daily basis against the Japanese air force. These American aviators, recruited under Presidential approval and commanded by Claire Chennault, a retired U.S. officer who became military aviation advisor to Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in the Sino-Japanese War

Chennault spent the winter of 1940–1941 in Washington, supervising the purchase of 100 Curtiss P-40 fighters (diverted from a Royal Air Force order) and the recruiting of 100 pilots and about 200 ground crewmen. The pilots were offered around $700 a month, roughly twice normal flight pay, and a bounty of $500 for each enemy aircraft shot down.

The Tigers' distinctive shark-mouth fighters became and still remain among the most recognizable of any individual combat aircraft of World War II.

Chennault taught a radically different approach to air combat based on his study of Japanese tactics and equipment, and his judgment of the strengths and weaknesses of his own aircraft and pilots. The actual average strength of the AVG was never more than 62 combat-ready pilots and fighters. Chennault called for his pilots to work in teams, to=2 0climb and then ambush enemy aircraft from out of the sun, since their P-40’s were not as maneuverable or as numerous as the Japanese fighters they would encounter. He prohibited his pilots from dogfighting or entering into turning duels with the more nimble Japanese fighters, telling them to execute a diving or slashing attack and to dive away to set up for another attack. This "dive-and-zoom" technique was contrary to what the men had learned in U.S. service, but worked well against the more maneuverable but more fragile Japanese aircraft.

Lacking a two-stage supercharger limited the P-40 to middle and low altitude combat, difficult in Europe against the German Luftwaffe, but perfect for China against the early Japanese aircraft. Compared to opposing Japanese fighters, the P-40's strengths were that it was very sturdy, heavily armed with .50 cal. machine guns, had self-sealing

gas tanks, was generally faster in a dive and possessed a good rate of roll. During the 7 months they operated before being absorbed into the U.S. Army Air Corps, they were officially credited with destroying almost 300 aircraft (although true figures are probably lower) while losing only 14 pilots in combat.

Th e Curtiss P-40’s that Chennault purchased for the Chinese were the most basic models, without reflector gun sights, radios or even wing guns. The lack of these essential items caused continual difficulties for the Tigers.

But even with those problems, including always being outnumbered in every engagement, the Tigers’ kill ratio was superior to that of contemporary air groups flying against the Japanese. Much of their success was due to high morale and group esprit. AVG pilots were "triple volunteers" who had volunteered for service with the U.S. military, the AVG, and for brutal fighting against the Japanese. The result was a corps of experienced and skilled volunteer pilots who wanted to fight.

Probably the most famous Flying Tiger was Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who was discharged from the AVG in April 1942 and returned to active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. He went on to command the successful “Black Sheep” Squadron in the Solomon Islands, an outfit with many similarities to the Flying Tigers, and was one of two AVG veterans (the other being James Howard of the USAAF) to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

The success of the AVG led to negotiations in spring 1942 to induct the unit into the USAAF with Chennault as the commander. Chennault was reinstated into the USAAF as a colonel and immediately promoted to brigadier general as commander of tactical U.S. Army Air Forces units in China.

Just before their 50th reunion in 1992, the AVG veterans were retroactively recognized as members of the U.S. military services during the seven months the group was in combat against the Japanese. The AVG was then awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for "professionalism, dedication to duty, and extraordinary heroism." In 1996, the U.S. Air Force awarded the pilots the Distinguished Flying Cross and the ground crew were all awarded the Bronze Star.

The image of the dashing Flying Tigers, always out-numbered, always out-gunned, attacking out of the sun with their fearsome shark-mouthed planes is one that will forever be ingrained in our imaginations.


The artwork on this site and all discriptions are copyrighted and the exclusive property of Pete Feigal.

It may not be reproduced or used for any purpose without the express written consent of the artist. Thank you.