Flying Tigers
revised and updated

THE WARBIRD'S FORUM

A letter home, on a day that would live in infamy

Envelope mailed from Burma, 1941

We can send an email around the world at virtually no cost, and have a video conference for pennies a minute. So it's hard for us to understand (or remember, in my case) how slow and expensive it was to exchange information and affection in what my young neighbor calls the Dark Ages. On November 17, 1941, RT Smith of the 3rd Squadron Hell's Angels, stationed at Toungoo airfield north of Rangoon, sent a letter to his mother and father in California. The cost was 3 rupees, 15 annas, and 3 pies -- about one dollar in US currency, when a dollar bill was worth about twenty of today's. $20 to send Christmas greetings to the folks at home!

The British military duly censored RT's letter and put it on an "Empire" seaplane of British Overseas Airways, flying to Sydney by way of Singapore. On November 29, the US-bound mail bag was transferred to a "China Clipper" of Pan American World Airways for its island-hopping flight to Honolulu, whence it arrived on December 4. From there it flew to San Francisco, and finally Los Angeles, where it was postmarked on Sunday, December 7, 1941 -- the date that President Roosevelt vowed would "live in infamy." It was delivered the following morning, three weeks after RT had mailed it, to a family and in a nation that had been changed forever overnight.

RT's envelope will be part of a postal history of Burma during the reigns of Edward VII, George V, and George VI, 1900-1948, by James Song FRPSL. He will devote nineteen pages to the Flying Tigers at Toungoo and Rangoon. A tip of the virtual hat to Mr Song (Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society of London) and to Brad Smith (RT's son and a grand repository of Flying Tiger knowledge).

Stalin's master spy

An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin's Master Agent -- Richard Sorge was born in Baku, the capital of present-day Azerbaijan, of a German father and a Russian mother. Even his mother spoke to him in German, and it was for the German Empire that he fought in the First World War. Nevertheless, Sorge would devote his life to the post-1971 Russia of Lenin, Stalin, and the Communist International. Indeed, it sometimes seemed that he loved the Soviet Union more than its own representatives, the spy handlers for whom he worked, and who too often ignored his findings. Or perhaps he just loved the life! He was a born betrayer: of countries, of organizations, of men and women. In one sublime porridge of deceit, he became the trusted advisor of a German embassy official in Tokyo, stole Germany's secrets from the man, seduced the man's wife, and in time seduced his mistress as well.

In the spring of 1941, Sorge picked up unmistakable signs that Germany planned to invade the Soviet Union. But the spy chiefs he worked for were being purged, one after another, and they were too frightened to tell Stalin that his bet on Adolf Hitler was about to come back and bite him. Then too, Sorge's radioman had become less interested in espionage than in the business enterprise that financed it, and he sometimes failed to send a message, or sent only a portion of it. So it came about that the most productive spy ring of all time failed to change the course of history. It's a breathtaking yarn, told masterfully by one of those Englishmen who "read" history at Oxford, become war correspondents in scary places, and finally turn to writing history, and all with admirable skill. "The self-selected champions of the proletariat pose stern and unsmiling in group photographs of the period," Mr Matthews writes of Sorge's schooling in Moscow. "Soberly dressed, peering through angry little glasses, they resemble indignant librarians more than tough street fighters. In a world of physically diminutive Jewish intellectuals, the tall, Aryan, war-wounded Sorge literally stood out from the crowd." Indignant librarians! I would love to have written those lines.

Also reviewed this month: Retreat from Moscow: A New History of Germany's Winter Campaign, 1941-1942. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Welcome to the forum!

Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings:

Annals of the Flying Tigers
Annals of the Brewster Buffalo
Annals of Poland: war and exile, 1939-1948
Japan at War, 1931-1945
Annals of the Chinese Air Force
Glen Edwards and the Flying Wing
Remembering Bluie West One
Annals of Vietnam
War in the Modern World

Plus these excellent places to look for more:
The Warbird's Book Club
Daniel Ford’s books
The Piper Cub Forum

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

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