I wanted to post this as a resource for anyone studying private military forces and their uses by nations. Claire Lee Chennault led the company called the American Volunteer Group or AVG in China against the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, all with US blessing. His small force of mercenary pilots fought for 600 dollars a month (which was two to three times more than their military pay) and 500 dollars per Japanese aircraft they shot down.(offense industry)
What makes Claire significant is his theory of war, and the US military’s desire not to heed his theories. Matter of fact, it was this clash that led to Claire leaving the military, and later going to China with the blessings of the US to advise China’s fledgling air force. Claire in essence had an outlet to apply his theories of war, and not only did he advise the Chinese, but raised a mercenary army to assist.
This small mercenary army of aviators took on the entire Japanese air force at that time, and it was Claire’s planning and strategic thinking that evened the odds against the Japanese. He was certainly able to prove his theories of air power as soon as Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and brought the US into outright war with Japan. AVG was the only asset of the US that could strike back at the Japanese immediately after that attack.
And boy did they stick it to the Japanese. Their private war lasted about 6 months, and they did some damage:
The AVG was officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed, including 229 in the air. However, a researcher who surveyed Japanese accounts concluded that the number was much lower: 115. Fourteen AVG pilots were killed in action, captured, or disappeared on combat missions. Two died of wounds sustained in bombing raids, and six were killed in accidents during the Flying Tigers’ existence as a combat force.
The fight was also very uneven, and this was a PMC versus the air force and resources of a nation. Here is a statistic of how many folks we are talking about. Which further emphasizes how the AVG had to really depend upon the support of the people and really effective use of aerial strategy.
By November 1941, when the pilots were trained and most of the P-40s had arrived in Asia, the Flying Tigers were divided into three squadrons: 1st Squadron (“Adam & Eves”); 2nd Squadron (“Panda Bears”) and 3rd Squadron (“Hell’s Angels”).They were assigned to opposite ends of the Burma Road to protect this vital line of communications. Two squadrons were based at Kunming in China and a third at Mingaladon Airport near Rangoon. When the United States officially entered the war, the AVG had 82 pilots and 79 aircraft, although not all were combat-ready.
The paper below goes into detail about the theory, and pay particular attention to how similar the thinking is to Sun Tzu. Yet there is not one mention of him studying Sun Tzu? You see concepts like attacking weakness with strength, using deception, the effective use of lookouts and networks, and the whole ‘know yourself, know your enemy’ theme. He really focused on the strengths of the Chinese people and bringing them into the strategy. The people are the ones that called in enemy fighter positions through an organized system of observers, helped build up the 100 bases that were crucial to Claire’s mobility strategy, and helped rescue downed pilots. This was an aerial version of guerrilla warfare.
There is a lot of good stuff in this paper, and the point I want folks to think about for the grand picture of this story, is that private force can be a strategic asset of a nation. Claire and his AVG ‘airmen of fortune’ were celebrated in the US and world as they prosecuted the war in Asia in the post Pearl Harbor days. It would be like DynCorp waging war in Pakistan in the days right after 9/11, and everyone cheering them on as they decimate terrorist hideouts.
The AVG or the Flying Tigers also remind me of Stirling’s Private Army in Yemen. I wouldn’t be surprised if AVG is what inspired Stirling, because AVG’s private war in Asia was big news around the world. You could also classify this as a case for the successful use of a PMC in offensive operations, or actually fighting a war. (much like with Executive Outcomes) And of course, it is another case study of offense industry, with the use of bounties as an incentive. So for all of those reasons, I think it is important to give some attention and credit to this man and what he and his company was able to accomplish. –Matt