Good Morning and Happy Friday,
Today I want to finish up the story on Claire Chennault. I have a brief history of CAT, that was taken from their website, as well as I have an article on the association that represents the people who made CAT work. Interesting history and the work that CAT did made a big difference in the world we live in today.
Civil Air Transport (CAT) was a unique airline formed in China after World War II by General Claire Lee Chennault, leader of the Flying Tigers, and Whiting Willauer of the China Defense Supplies (CDS). They purchased war surplus cargo planes, enrolled WWII veterans, and wound up with an enthusiastic, colorful group of former Flying Tiger aces and CAT airmen from the U.S. Army Air Corps, Navy and Marine Corps. Many had been highly decorated. Operating under the aegis of the China National Rehabilitation and Relief Association (CNRRA), CAT distributed food and medicine to the interior of China where roads, railways and bridges had been destroyed by Japan’s Imperial Air Force.
United Nations relief supplies overwhelmed the docks of Shanghai with no way to distribute them inland except by navigable rivers and air. When China’s Communist 8th Army besieged China’s northern cities, we delivered arms, ammo and food to the defenders and returned to Tsingtao with refugees and wounded soldiers. By the end of 1947, our first year, we had rescued 22,000 refugees and 4,500 wounded Nationalist soldiers from Communist dominated territories. Many of the reinforcements we flew north were draftees of the Nationalist China Youth Corps. They boarded our C-46s in Tsingtao carrying rifles from the First World War and parchment umbrellas. Tin drinking cups dangled from belts of hand grenades and they wore sneakers, and ever-present military police prevented the kids from deserting. We then knew that Nationalist China faced trouble, and Chennault and CAT would be drawn into China’s Civil War, and Chennault would help Chiang Kai-shek resist the spread of a Communist police state.
The other two Chinese airlines, Central Air Transport Corporation (CATC) and China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) flew alongside us in the distribution of food and medicine, and battling the Communists, but when it became apparent that China was losing its northern cities and the Yangtze River was about to be crossed by Mao’s Eighth Army, the Chinese Board of Directors of the other two airlines defected to Beijing, eager to be first in the development of the People’s airline. In a surprise departure from Hong Kong, with their corporate officers aboard, CATC and CNAC headed north to Bejing, the newly formed capital of Red China, leaving 71 airliners of their fleet in Hong Kong where laborers furiously piled spare parts on the People’s newly acquired planes. General Chennault’s friends had warned him that the new People’s Republic had asked the Soviets for transport planes but had been denied; and when he witnessed the action around the 71 airliners, our leader envisioned a paratrooper attack on Taiwan. Whiting Willauer, a brilliant admiralty lawyer, found a way to ground the planes in Britain’s Crown Colony, thus denying Red China the means of an airborne invasion.
With typical American / Chinese innovation, our WWII landing ship was converted to a sea-going aircraft maintenance and repair factory. Magnifluxing tanks with instruments for detecting hidden cracks in landing gear struts and other heavy structures were operable at sea. Machine shops, propeller repair and balancing devices, high-pressure hydraulic test lines, a carpenter shop, an air-conditioned shop for the repair of delicate aircraft instruments, a parachute loft and medical clinic were capable of going full-blast while dodging Red invaders. It had reached the safety of Taiwan with a barge full of spare parts in tow.
We provided hope to thousands of freedom-loving war refugees by flying them to Taipei. We rescued the Government’s Bank of China silver ingots. And we had precluded a brain drain by supporting doomed cities until its city fathers arranged orderly departures to the island of Taiwan, a 240-mile long island approximately 90 miles east of the China Mainland. But we had become an airline with no place to go. It was springtime, 1950. We didn’t know that another war was imminent. Chennault and Willauer sold their airline to the U.S. Government for a song. Our status as an occasional contractor to the CIA was over. CAT was now the bona fide Air Arm of the CIA, a dynamic instrument of America’s foreign policy in Asia. Legally we became employees of the U.S. Government, albeit secret. Our cover was CAT’s passenger schedule which continued, while the CIA’s covert flights appeared to be CAT’s cargo charters.
The CAT Association is a 501(c)(3) Not-for-Profit Association registered in the state of California. Our members are veterans of Civil Air Transport and their families and friends. Formed in 1975 and served by volunteer officers, the Association has been operating continuously for almost four decades. We remain dedicated to the preservation of our history, while fostering the camaraderie and friendship that reflects the spirit of CAT. Three generations of “CATers” are drawn to our annual reunions. We begin the celebrations with moments of silence to recall the price of glory. More than 200 fellow employees died in action. The bones of our Missing In Action lie in unknown mountains and jungles.
John Hill, Curator of the San Francisco Airport Museum, wrote, “Unique among the airlines of the world, Civil Air Transport (CAT) operated against a backdrop of great political transition in China and throughout Asia from its formation in 1946 to its demise in 1968. The company and its remarkable personnel were at the center of much of the region’s major historical events as they boldly defined the power and influence of air transport in the post-WWII era.”
We were a cohesive Sino American operation. Dr. Wang Wen-san (Ph.D., Columbia) was Chairman of the Board. Y.L. Wang (B.A. Economics, University of Wisconsin and Ph.D., Columbia) was our first comptroller. Some of our pilots and mechanics came from the Chinese Air Force and China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). All of us were inspired by the leadership of General Claire Lee Chennault, Whiting Willauer, and Chennault’s Flying Tigers who were the first American aces of WWII. CAT’s footprints are widespread. The manufacturing might of Taiyuan, capital of Shensi Province, with the the heroism of its defenders, enabled an orderly withdrawal to the seat of the anti-Communist Chinese Government on Taiwan. Marshall Yen Hsi-shan, governor of the province became the Premier of Free China during the transition. Yen Hsi-shan said, “Without CAT we would be unable to continue our defense of Taiyuan.”
General Barr, U.S. Military observer and Chief of The American Military Group (AMG) said, “The morale and efficiency of CAT are so good, I don’t see how it is possible in view of the style of emergency existing over the past two years.”
William Casey, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, called us “Secret soldiers of the Cold War.” James Glerum, CIA Paramilitary Case Officer — Special Activities Division — wrote, “…we routinely asked them to undertake missions that we could not conduct ourselves, and to hardship and hazards we have only rarely asked our own people to face.”
The CAT – Air America – Air Asia complex closed down in 1975, the longest-lasting and most successful CIA proprietary in American history, yet the only one which had cost the U.S. Government nothing. As a matter of fact it provided more than $23 million, which had been earned in sunlight.
Click on the link below to learn more about the history of CAT and the association that represents former employees and families.
Felix Smith, Chairman
Civil Air Transport (CAT) Association
Have a good weekend, take some time to enjoy life with family and friends, and remember – protect yourself, protect your family, and protect your profession.
April 13, 2018