By Carl Molesworth

Staffed with green USAAF pilots and led by means of a handful of pro veterans of the yank Volunteer workforce (AVG), the twenty third FG was once shaped within the box at Kunming, in China, on July four, 1942 and flew wrestle missions that very same day. The teams 3 squadrons - the 74th, seventy fifth and 76th Fighter Squadrons - have been before everything built with war-weary P-40s passed down from the AVG. those have been supplemented by way of the hooked up sixteenth FS, flying new P-40Es, and all squadrons decorated the noses in their airplanes with fearsome and iconic sharksmouth designs.

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To rectify the ituation, Maj Tom Hitchcock, Army Air For e attache in London, proposed mating the Mu rang airframe with the powerful Roll -Royce Merlin engine. The Merlin, unIt to re-equip with the new fighters to replace their ageing P-40s. Groundcrews were given maintenance manuals for the P-51 A to study, and the pilots sought out any information they could find about their new mounts. The first aeroplanes arrived in Kunming on 17 Oerober, and by the end of the week l5 of them were on hand. Although new to China, the P-51 As were not exactly new airFrames.

Meanwhile, aJAAF Force attacked Hengyang. An aggressive attack led by Capt Bill Grosvenor of the 75th FS mrew oFF the bombers' aim, and no damage was done ro the airfield. The morningof30 July signalled the end of theJAAF's oFFensive against Chennault's eastern airfields. The 3rd Air Division sent two Formations From Hankow on different routes toward Hengyang, attempting to Capt William B Hawkins flew P-40K-1 '24' (42-46252) during his tour with the 74th FS in 1942-43, gaining credit for three confirmed victories and one ship sunk whilst at the controls of the fighter.

The P-40's wing was mangled but intact, and Lopez managed to land his aeroplane without incidcnt at Hengyang. Lopez's victory was the first of five he would score in China. In all, 23rd F pilots were credited with 16 confirmed vi tories on 12 December. The 76th FS, under newly appointed commanding officer CaptJohn S Stewart, moved its P-51 As from Kweilin to the forward base at Suichuan, lo on the Kan River in south Kiangsi Province, on 26 December 1943. Japanese intelligence was apparently very good in this area because the JAAF's 3rd Air Division launched an arrack on the base from Canton the very next morning.

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