A week ago Republic of China Air Force held a big ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of a magnificent raid launched by Sino-American Composite Wing of the U.S. 14th Air Force on Shinchiku (now Hsinchu) air base on November 25, 1943, destroying 42 Japanese aircraft. President Ma attended this ceremony and praised the American volunteers (“The Flying Tigers”) for their contributions and sacrifices helping us fight against the Japanese.
(Tupolev ANT-40, or Tupolev SB twin-engined three-seat high speed bomber in Nationalist Chinese markings)Well, Americans were not the only foreigners who came to China to help us resist Japanese invasion. Very few knew that five years before the raid, on February 23, 1938 a flight of 28 Tupolev SB bombers bearing Nationalist Chinese markings flown by former Soviet pilots took off from their base in Hankow of Hubei province, attacked Sungsan air base in Taipei, destroying 12 Japanese aircraft and a fuel dump which had stored gasoline enough for three-year use. This attack paralyzed the Sungsan base for a month and all attack bombers returned their base safe. Sungsan base was where Japanese G3M bombers took off to attack our Jianchiao base on August 14, 1937. In which attack, our air force shot down six enemy bombers, thus achieving 814 Victory. This is why August 14 was later made our Air Force Day.
Why were Russians helping us fight the Japanese?
As the Republic of China’s fragile air force had nearly been wiped out in the first two months since the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out on July 7, 1937, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek turned to the Soviet Union for help. Sensing that the threat of Japanese expansion might one day endanger the security of the territories in the Far East, Stalin agreed to sell us 225 all sorts of military aircraft. The Soviet ruler also agreed to send pilots and ground crew along to aid China’s struggle against fascist Japanese. Unlike the model of American volunteers coming to China who had to first file for discharge from the U.S. armed forces as requested by the State Department to avoid political entanglement, as that was before the Pearl Harbor attack when the U.S. still had formal ties with Japan, Russian “volunteers” got to retain their military status and ranks and fought the Japanese in China as Red Army pilots and soldiers. In regard of Stalin’s decision, Japan could do nothing but protest.
More than 80% of those Soviet pilots who came to China were seasoned flyers who had acquired ample combat experiences in the Spanish Civil War, so very soon they gained quite a few victories over the Japanese. However, in total 227 Russians were killed in action before April 1941 when Stalin signed a neutrality pace with Japan and recalled all Soviet military personnel home.
After the end of World War II, the ruling KMT of the Republic of China began her four-year civil war with Chinese Communist Party. Lost and forced to retreat to Taiwan, the KMT downplayed the contribution and sacrifice of those Russians in helping us against Japanese aggressors. Seventy years have passed, and I think it is time we should replenish and update this forgotten chapter of our modern history textbook.