Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

Recruiting the AVG:
Bruce Leighton's memo

[A tip of the virtual hat to Alan Armstrong, who located this memo at the Museum of Naval Aviation History, Pensacola. Undated, it was probably written in May 1941. Bruce Leighton was a retired navy officer and a vice-president of Intercontinent Corporation, owned by Bill Pawley and his brothers. I have reproduced it as nearly as possible in the original format. Items in brackets were added by me, and the same is true of boldfaced phrases. Note that paragraph (2)(b) promises that the AVGs will retain seniority and rank, but not time toward retirement. Indeed, crediting AVG time toward retirement is specifically ruled out in other documents on file at Pensacola. — Dan Ford]


    Following a long history of growing interest in U.S. Government aid to China, the Chinee Government sent a special mission to Washington early this year [1941] to arrange for loans and other assistance to build up their depleted air force.

    Arrangements were made for $100,000,000 loan and for the immediate release to China by the British of 100 Curtiss P-40 pursuit planes from then current British allocations, and numerous representations took place between U.S. Government and Chinese representatives as to the facilities available in China to assure that aircraft supplied would be effectively operated.

    The history of Chinese air activities had made it plain that the Chinese air force is not at present adequately trained or organized or equipped to maintain and effectively operate modern high-performance aircraft. Means must be provided for the Chinese to obtain the services of American pilots and key ground personnel with experience in military operations to act as a nucleus tactical organization upon which to progressively build a modern air force in China by (a) later additions to American personnel and (b) accelerated training of native Chinese personnel.

    Because practically all experienced men of necessary qualifications in this country have been called into active military or naval service, the only immediate source of supply is from the active military services, but for obvious reasons individuals engaged in operations of this nature contemplated in China must have no connection with the U.S. Government services while so engaged. They must act as individuals and on their own responsibility. Experience in previous attempts to form operating and maintenance groups of American personnel in China in various activities has clearly shown that direct employment of such groups of individuals by Chinese government agencies does not bring effective results. Successful results have been obtained only where the personnel are employed and paid by some responsible American concern having long experience in China.

    The Intercontinent Corporation is such a concern. It had for years been engaged in aircraft activities in China, and through a subsidiary, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, had maintained aircraft manufacturing activities for more than five years in China, and had been particularly active in the training of Chinese mechanics and establishment of repair and maintenance facilities in many parts of China since the beginning of hostilities in Shaighai in 1937. It maintains offices in New York, Chungking, Rangoon, and HongKong, and now operates a factory and assembly and repair base in China adjacent to the Burma route [at Loiwing], which is the only facility at present available for the assembly of aircraft shipped into China via that route.

    CAM Co's president, Mr. W. D. Pawley, and its vice-presidnet, Mr. B. G. Leighton, (a former naval officer with 12 years of active service in the U.S. Naval Air Forces, and now a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve, on inactive duty), are well known in military and naval circles in this country and intimately familiar with conditions in China, and personally acquainted with many responsible Chinese government officials.

    Called into consultation by the Secretary [of the Navy] and the Chinese Embassy, they volunteered the services of their organization for the recruiting and employement of the pilots and ground personnel, and organization of repair facilities in China, the understanding being that men so recruited would be employed under contract, ostensibly as civilian employees in the same status as technical personnel whome they [CAMCO] had been regularly employing for their normal manufacturing activities for years past. These services are being rendered without compensation, other than reimbursement to CAM Co by the Chinese government for direct out-of-pocket expenses. The financial conditions are set forth in the attached copy of formal agreement between Chinese Embassy and CAM Co.

Poland's Daughter

    To put the project into effect many complicated details have had to be arranged with U.S. Government offices. All arrangements have been handled orally with no file record of any nature. The procedure is as follows:

    (1). CAM Co's representatives have been given letters of introduction by SecNav's office and by Office of Chief of Air Corps to Commanding Officers of naval and military units, to whom CAM Co representatives orally explained the nature of their visit and the interest of the U.S. Government departments, suggesting that the Commanding Officers obtain any required oral confirmation from Washington.

    (2). After clearing with the Commanding Officer of the station, CAM Co representative contacts individual Reserve officers and enlisted men attached to the station, and receives written employment applications from those interested. Pursuant to oral advices given CAM Co by the Army and Navy Washington offices concern, (U.S. Air Corps Personnel Division and BuNav), applicants are orally informed that:

    (a) Resignations or discharges will be approved to accept employement with CAM Co. (Standard forms for resignation and discharge requests have been supplied by Washington offices concerned.).

    (b) Although they completely sever their official connections with the United States military service, it is the intent of the War and Navy Departments that upon completion of their employment with CAM Co, and to the extent permitted by the broad discretionary powers of the Secretaries of War and Navy in relation to Reserve personnel, that they will be accepted for re-commission or re-enlistment in the active Reserve in such rank or grade and under such conditions as will give them the same seniority and other benefits, including disability benefits, as they would have enjoyed had they remained on active duty in the Army or Navy Reserve.

    (3). Successful applicants are processed as follows: CAM Co representative visits station and:

    (a) Executes employment contract (Standard form attached)

    (b) Receives applicant's signed resignation or request for discharge.

    (c) Assists applicant to fill out passport application.

    (d) Proceeds to Washington with (b) and (c), clears (b) with Army or Navy personnel office concerned, clears (a) with Passport Division of State Department and obtains passport, obtains required visas from British and Chinese Embassies.

    (e) Arranges transportation to China, including necessary arrangements for forwarding by CAM Co. offices in the Orient to final destination.

    (f) Notifies applicant when all is cleared, and instructs him where and when to report.

    (4). Weekely summary reports of progress are submitted to SecNav. and to Special Chinese Affairs desk in State Department.

    (5). If interested, offices and desks in Washington are consulted and kept constantly informed of progress through frequent personal visits of CAM Co personnel in Washington.

    The original program called for the shipment to China of 100 Curtiss P-40's. Subsequently arrangements have been made under Lend-Lease Act for the supply to China of substantial additional numbers of aircraft and extension of the original project, and further plans are at present under consideration for the supply of bomber type planes, as soon as personnel and facilities are available to handle.

[The bomber group was indeed recruited in the fall of 1941, some ground crew and one pilot sent out by sea, and a flight of Lockheed A-28 Hudsons scheduled to fly out on December 10, only to have the 2nd AVG aborted by the Pearl Harbor attack. The planes and men were taken back into US Army Air Forces service.]

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

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