From 1937 to 1941, China fought Japanese invaders hard and alone without much foreign aid. Among those who came to help, there were “Flying Tigers”, the American volunteer fighter pilots led by Col. C. L. Chennault, stories about him and his boys were of bravery and somehow of romanticism. However, little were told about Советские добровольцы в Китае, the Soviet Volunteer Group. The stories of Russians pilots helping us fight Japanese aggression were buried deep after the end of WWII mainly as a result of the subsequent Cold War and our anti-Communist policy.
Seventy years after V-J Day and on our Air Force Day, I’d like to talk about Soviet Volunteer Group to show our gratitude to friends who had helped us when we were in need.
Soon after the Marco Polo Bridge incident on July 7, 1937 that had triggered Second Sino-Japanese War, unwilling to see Japan overwhelm mainland China and threaten their Central Asian border, Soviet Union secretly issued an battle order called Operation Z: To mobilize five air groups including 80 pursuit fighters and 64 bombers to China by land to help fight Japanese. Later after having signed a mutual military assistance pact with us, over five hundred Red Army pilots and maintenance crew, the aircraft of five groups along with additional 225 Soviet-made planes that we had purchased arrived Lanzhou and Wuhan ready to fight with our air force. These Russian airmen fought gallantly. Thus, with such reinforced air power, the Japanese dream of “destroying China within three months” was practically smashed.
Unlike American volunteers who had to resign their commissions from the US armed forces to help us fight Japanese, Russian pilots were all active-duty Red Army personnel who fought in combat aircraft like I-15, I-16, SB-2, and DB-3 with Chinese insignia.
Russians fought in China until September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. They gradually pulled back to prepare for the possible German invasion of their motherland.
Despite of the fact they had gained great victories against Japanese in those four years, which included a successful raid on Japanese base at Sungshan, Taipei, Taiwan, these Russians kept their help to us at very low profile. Their pilots seldom fraternized with our air crew, they never shared their tactics with us, they withheld their combat credits, and they brought all their records back home when they were ordered back.