Were they American mercenaries during WWII or not? You decide...

The "Flying Tigers" was the nickname given to a select group of American pilots by the Chinese during WWII.

The year is 1941. The Japanese had been bombing China on a regular basis since 1937 and had virtually destroyed the Chinese Air Force. At the time, war between the United States and Japan seemed inevitable. If the Japanese were able to take over China, they would be able to commit more of their resources to the war in the Pacific.

Claire Chennault, a retired Army Air Corps captain was the air advisor to China. He was authorized by the Chinese government to form a "volunteer" group of Americans to help train Chinese aviators and defend the skies over China. Chennault, with the help of some Chinese officials and some high ranking advisors sell their idea to President Franklin Roosevelt.

On April 15, 1941, Roosevelt signs an Executive Order that authorizes the formation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG). The Order allows members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army Air Corp to resign from their respective branch of service with the guarantee that they would be reinstated to their former rank or grade upon completion of their contract with the American Volunteer Group.

Since the United States and Japan were not officially at war, the plan required some finesse. A company that went by the name of Central Aircraft Manufacturing (CAMCO), which had resources in China was chosen as the middleman. The "Volunteers" would sign a one year contract with CAMCO to perform certain services.

In all, about 100 pilots and 200 or so mechanics, armorors, parachute riggers, radio operators and other ground support personel are recruited. The pay was considerably better than what they were receiving while in their respective branch of service . Between 600 to 675 per month for pilots and around 250 on up for ground crews. There was also an incentive that was not in the contract, a $500 bonus for each Japanese plane that got shot down.

By the time the "Flying Tigers" were disbanded in 1942, they had destroyed approximately 300 enemy planes and rendered about 150 inoperable. Twenty- two of them lost their own lives. Four in aerial combat, six on strafing missions, ten in training accidents and two on the ground.

Members of the Flying Tigers naturally did not consider themselves as mercenaries or soldiers of fortune even though they were paid salaries that were considerably higher than their military salaries. Most thought that this was a unique opportunity to serve the country while at the same time improve upon their flying skills. In fact, after the Flying Tigers were disbanded, most returned to their former branch of service and performed in other theaters during the war.

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