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First Name: Claire

Last Name: Chennault

Birthplace: Commerce, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Lee

Date of Birth: 06 September 1890

Date of Death: 27 July 1958

Rank: Lieutenant General

Years Served:
Claire Lee Chennault

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Claire Lee Chennault
Lieutenant General, U.S. Air Force

Claire Lee Chennault was born on 6 September 1890 in Commerce, TX, to John Stonewall Jackson and Jessie Lee Chennault. He was raised in the Louisiana towns of Gilbert and Waterproof. He began misrepresenting his year of birth as 1890, possibly because he was too young to attend college after he graduated from high school, so his father added three years to his age. The 1900 US Census record from Franklin Parish, LA, Ward 2, states that C.L. Chennault was six years of age in 1900, with a younger brother, aged three.

Military Career

Chennault attended Louisiana State University between 1909 and 1910 and received ROTC training. At the onset of World War I, Chennault graduated from the U.S. Army Officer's School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN, and was transferred to the Aviation Division of the Army Signal Corps. He learned to fly in the Air Service during World War I, graduated from pursuit pilot training at Ellington Field, TX, on 23 April 1922, and remained in the service after it became the Air Corps in 1926. Chennault became Chief of Pursuit Section at Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s.


Into the mid-1930s, Chennault led and represented the 1st Pursuit Group of the Army Air Corps aerobatic team the "Three Musketeers" based in Montgomery, AL. The group performed at the 1928 National Air Races. In 1932, as a Pursuit aviation Instructor at Maxwell Field, Chennault re-organized the team under the name "The Men on the Flying Trapeze."


Poor health, and disputes with superiors, led Chennault to resign from the U.S. Army Air Corps with the rank of captain on 30 April 1937.

Creation of the Flying Tigers

Chennault arrived in China in June 1937. He had a three-month contract at a salary of $1,000 per month, with the mission of making a survey of the Chinese Air Force. Soong May-ling, or "Madame Chiang" as she was known to Americans, was in charge of the Aeronautical Commission and thus became Chennault's immediate supervisor. Upon the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War that August, Chennault became Chiang Kai-shek's Chief Air Advisor, helping to train Chinese Air Force bomber and fighter pilots, sometimes flying scouting missions in an export Curtiss H-75 fighter, and organizing the "International Squadron" of mercenary pilots.

Increasingly, however, Soviet bomber and fighter squadrons took over from China's battered units, and in the summer of 1938 Chennault went to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in Western China, to train a new Chinese Air Force from an American mold.

By 23 December 1940, upon approval by the War Department, State Department, and the President of the U.S., an agreement was reached to provide China 100 P-40B Tomahawk aircraft (redesignated P-40Cs after their modifications for overseas service) that were originally scheduled for shipment to Great Britain but cancelled due to the Tomahawk's inferior flight performance against German fighters. With an agreement reached, General Pang-Tsu Mow returned to China aboard SS Lurline; departing out of the Port of Los Angeles on Friday morning, 24 January 1941. Chennault followed shortly after with a promise from the War Department and President Roosevelt, to be delivered to Chiang Kai-shek, that several shipments of P-40C fighters were forthcoming along with pilots, mechanics, and aviation supplies.

President Roosevelt then sent Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks to the Chinese under the American Lend-Lease program. Chennault also was able to recruit some 300 American pilots and ground crew, posing as tourists, who were adventurers or mercenaries, not necessarily idealists out to save China. But under Chennault they developed into a crack fighting unit, always going against superior Japanese forces. They became the symbol of America's military might in Asia.

The Flying Tigers

Just weeks after the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941), the first news reports released to the public pertaining to Claire Chennault's war exploits occurred on 20 December 1941, when senior Chinese officials in Chungking released his name to United Press International reporters to commemorate the first aerial attack made by the international air force called the American Volunteer Group (AVG). These American flyers encountered 10 Japanese aircraft heading to raid Kunming, and successfully shot down four of the raiders. Thus, Colonel Claire Chennault became America's first military leader to be publicly recognized for striking a blow against the Japanese military forces. This American public fame would last four months until the Doolittle Raid led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces. In 1948, Chennault made a controversial claim that General Clayton Bissell had not informed him of the upcoming raid, and that the Raiders took unnecessary casualties because of it.

Based primarily out of Rangoon, Burma and Kunming, Yunnan, Chennault's 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) - better known as the "Flying Tigers" - began training in August 1941 and fought the Japanese for seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chennault's three squadrons used P-40s, and his tactics of "defensive pursuit," formulated in the years when bombers were actually faster than intercepting fighter planes, to guard the Burma Road, Rangoon, and other strategic locations in Southeast Asia and western China against Japanese forces. As the commander of the Chinese Air Force Flight Training School at Yunnan-yi, west of Kunming, Chennault also made a great contribution by training a new generation of Chinese fighter pilots.

The Flying Tigers were formally incorporated into the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942. Prior to that, Chennault had rejoined the Army with the rank of Colonel. He was later promoted to Brigadier and then Major General, commanding the Fourteenth Air Force.

The first magazine photo coverage of Claire Chennault took place within Life magazine in the Monday, 10 August 1942, issue. The first Time magazine photo coverage of Claire Chennault took place in its Monday, 6 December 1943, issue.

China-Burma-India theater

Throughout the war, Chennault was engaged in a bitter dispute with the American ground commander, General Joseph Stilwell. Chennault believed that the Fourteenth Air Force, operating out of bases in China, could attack Japanese forces in concert with Nationalist Chinese troops. For his part, Stilwell wanted air assets diverted to his command to support the opening of a ground supply route through northern Burma to China. This route would provide supplies and new equipment for a greatly expanded Nationalist force of 20-30 modernized divisions. Chiang Kai-shek favored Chennault's plans, since he was suspicious of British colonial interests in Burma and was not prepared to begin major offensive operations against the Japanese. He was also concerned about alliances with semi-independent generals supporting the Nationalist government, and was concerned that a major loss of military forces would enable his Communist Chinese adversaries to gain the upper hand.

Good weather in November 1943 found the Japanese Army air forces ready to challenge Allied forces again, and they began night and day raids on Calcutta and the Hump bases while their fighters contested Allied air intrusions over Burma. In 1944, Japanese ground forces advanced and seized Chennault's forward bases. Slowly, however, the greater numbers and greater skill of the Allied air forces began to assert themselves. By mid-1944, Major General George E. Stratemeyer's Eastern Air Command dominated the skies over Burma; this superiority was never to be relinquished. At the same time, logistical support reaching India and China via the Hump finally reached levels permitting an Allied offensive into northern Burma.

Chennault had long argued for expansion of the airlift, doubting that any ground supply network through Burma could provide the tonnage needed to re-equip Chiang's divisions. However, work on the Ledo Road overland route continued throughout 1944 and was completed in January 1945. Training of the new Chinese divisions commenced; however, predictions of monthly tonnage (65,000 per month) over the road were never achieved. By the time Nationalist armies began to receive large amounts of supplies via the Ledo Road, the war had ended. Instead, the airlift continued to expand until the end of the war, after delivering 650,000 tons of supplies, gasoline, and military equipment

Chennault, who, unlike General Joseph Stilwell, had a high opinion of Chiang Kai-shek, advocated international support for Asian anti-communist movements. Returning to China, he purchased several surplus military aircraft and created the Civil Air Transport, (later known as Air America). These aircraft facilitated aid to Nationalist China during the struggle against Chinese Communists in the late 1940s, and were later used in supply missions to French forces in Indochina and the Kuomintang occupation of Northern Burma throughout the mid- and late-1950s, providing support for the Thai police force.

In 1951, a now-retired Major General Chennault testified and provided written statements to the Senate Joint Committee on Armed Forces and Foreign Relations, which was investigating the causes of the fall of China in 1949 to Communist forces. Together with Army General Albert C. Wedemeyer, Navy Vice Admiral Oscar C. Badger II, and others, Chennault stated that the Truman administration's arms embargo was a key factor in the loss of morale to the Nationalist armies.

Chennault advocated changes in the way foreign aid was distributed, encouraged the U.S. Congress to focus on individualized aid assistance with specific goals, with close monitoring by U.S. advisers. This viewpoint may have reflected his experiences during the Chinese Civil War, where officials of the Kuomintang and semi-independent army officers diverted aid intended for the Nationalist armies. Shortly before his death, Chennault was asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee of the Congress. When a committee member asked him who won the Korean War, his response was blunt: "The Communists."

Chennault was promoted to Lieutenant General in the U.S. Air Force, several days before his death.


Chennault was twice married and had a total of ten children; eight by his first wife, the former Nell Thompson (1893-1977), an American of British ancestry, whom he met at a high school graduation ceremony and subsequently wed in Winnsboro, LA, on 24 December 1911. By the time he was serving in China, they had divorced. He had two children by his second wife, Chen Xiangmei (Anna Chennault), a young reporter for the Central News Agency. She became one of the ROC's chief lobbyists in Washington.

His children from his first marriage were John Stephen Chennault (1913-1977), Max Thompson Chennault (1914-2001), Charles Lee Chennault (1918-1967), Peggy Sue Chennault Lee (born 1919), Claire Patterson Chennault (November 24, 1920-October 3, 2011), David Wallace Chennault (1923-1980), Robert Kenneth Chennault (1925-2006), and Rosemary Louise Chennault Simrall (born 1928). By his second wife, he had two daughters, Claire Anna Chennault (born 1948) and Cynthia Louise Chennault (born 1950), a professor of Chinese at the University of Florida in Gainesville. On 11 January 1960, his son, David Wallace Chennault, was defeated in a Democratic runoff election for the office of Louisiana State Custodian of Voting Machines. He lost to the incumbent, Douglas Fowler.


Chennault was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in December 1972, along with Leroy Grumman, Curtis LeMay and James H. Kindelberger. The ceremony was headed by retired Brigadier General Jimmy Stewart, and a portrait of Chennault by cartoonist Milton Caniff was unveiled. General Electric vice-president Gerhard Neumann, a former AVG crew chief and the tech sergeant who repaired a downed Zero for flight, spoke of Chennault's unorthodox methods and of his strong personality. An award plaque was presented by Stewart to presidential adviser Thomas Gardiner Corcoran and fighter ace John R. "Johnny" Alison, who both accepted for Anna Chennault, who could not attend,

He was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 40-cent Great Americans series (1980-2000) postage stamp.

Chennault is commemorated by a statue in the Republic of China capital of Taipei.

Monuments to him are locate on the grounds of the Louisiana State Capitol at Baton Rouge, and at the former Chennault Air Force Base, now the commercial Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, LA.

A vintage P-40 aircraft, nicknamed "Joy," is on display at the riverside war memorial in Baton Rouge, LA, painted in the colors of the Flying Tigers.

A large display of General Chennault's orders, medals and other decorations has been on loan to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Washington D.C.) by his widow Anna since the museum's opening in 1976.

In 2005, the "Flying Tigers Memorial" was built in Huaihua, Hunan Province, on one of the old airstrips used by the Flying Tigers in the 1940s.

On the 65th anniversary of the Japanese surrender to China, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Peoples Republic of China officials unveiled a statue of Chennault in Zhijiang County, Hunan, the site of the surrender of Japan.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault died of lung cancer on 27 July 1958 at the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans, LA. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 2334   Created by: MHOH




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