Sunday, August 9, 2015

Chinese Civil War: Air and Naval Forces 1946-49

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk. 24, aircraft “65” (s/n 50-0751) of 21st FS, 4th FG, Chinese Nationalist Air Force (CNAF)

At the beginning of the Chinese Civil War the Nationalist Air Force - with a reported strength of 1,000 aircraft of all types - had complete air superiority over the Communists. The Nationalists were equipped with a mix of modern US-supplied aircraft like the P-51D Mustang and captured Japanese types like the KI-43 and KI-61 fighters. Bombers were again left-overs from the pre-1945 air force, including the US Mitchell bomber and the Soviet Tupolev SB-2 light bomber. By 1948 the Nationalist Air Force had been reduced to a fraction of its 1945 strength but had one medium and one heavy bomber group, with a mixture of aircraft: 29 US-supplied B24 Liberators, 23 B25 Mitchells, plus a handful of ex-Japanese planes like the KI-48 were also still in service. In addition the Nationalists had 36 Mosquito dive bombers which served in a composite group with four B25s. There were four fighter groups with a total of 139 P-51Ds and 29 older P47s and four of the obsolete P40s dating back to the pre-1941 era. The transport wing of the Nationalist Air Force, which was to prove vital in supplying isolated garrisons, had two groups with a total of 125 C46s and 45 C47 Dakotas. The performance of the Nationalist Air Force during the civil war was mixed with the combat units being poorly led and badly organized. Structures left in place by the US 14th Air Force in 1945, including a large store of spare parts, should have been sufficient to keep the Nationalist Air Force in the air. However, a shortage of skilled ground crew and the corruption of officers meant that at any time a large proportion of available aircraft were grounded. This being said the air force was in almost constant action throughout the war and its transport wing was instrumental in keeping many isolated Nationalist garrisons supplied. Bombers and fighters were reported to often fly too high to be effective against ground targets but there were too few of them to affect the outcome of the war in any case. By March 1949 the majority of Nationalist aircraft had been flown to Taiwan as Chiang Kai-shek began to build up the defences of his island bastion. 

The Communists had been supplied by the Soviet Union with a small number of captured Japanese aircraft after 1945. These included at least one example of each of the Ki43, Ki44, Ki55, Ki61 and Ki84 fighters as well as Ki30 and Ki51 attack aircraft. They also received a few Ki48 medium bombers and various trainers and reconnaissance aircraft. Communist crews were trained at an aviation school in Yenan and were joined by `volunteer' pilots from the Japanese Imperial Air Force. During the civil war a number of Nationalist pilots defected to the Communists with their aircraft and these were then sent back into action after the red star insignia had been added to their planes. In 1949 the Communists captured 1,400 Nationalist aviation technicians in Shanghai, and used them to open a flying school for the PLA. 

Although the Nationalist Navy during the civil war was small it faced no opposition from the Communists who had no seagoing vessels at all. Its boats were limited to commandeered junks which were used to transport troops on the inland waterways. The Nationalist Navy had a few larger ships, including the cruiser Chungking which was the ex-HMS Aurora, and a few survivors of the 1937-45 period. Most of its vessels were gunboats and other coastal patrol boats as well as 130 or so ex-US Navy landing craft. These vessels were very useful for moving Nationalist units up and down the Chinese coastline during the early days of the civil war. By 1949 the Nationalist Navy was divided into three squadrons with a total of three destroyers, six destroyer escorts, 34 various types of landing ships, and a number of gunboats and auxiliary ships. As with the other services, the Nationalist Navy had lost heart by early 1949 and it was no surprise when several ships, including the Chungking, went over to the Communists.

HMS Aurora was sold on 19 May 1948 to the Chinese Navy as compensation for six Chinese Custom patrol ships and one freighter that the British seized in Hong Kong and lost during the war. She was renamed Chung King and became the flagship of Chinese navy. On 25 February 1949 her crew defected to the Communists and the ship was renamed Tchoung King, a variation on her previous name. In March 1949 she was sunk in Taku harbour by Nationalist aircraft. She was later salvaged with Russian assistance but then stripped bare as "repayment". The empty hulk spent the rest of her life as an accommodation and warehouse ship, being subsequently renamed Hsuang Ho (1951), Pei Ching (1951) and Kuang Chou. Her name tablet and shipbell were preserved in Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution.

Cold War, United Kingdom, Air Force


During the Cold War, Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) paralleled the narrowing in focus of Britain's overseas commitments and the reduction of its armed forces. Two predominant forces that shaped the RAF were sharp downsizing and spiraling technological sophistication, which combined to transform the 1945 great power air arm into the only second-tier air force capable of global operations by 1991.
The RAF's contraction from its World War II end strength of 1 million men to only 89,000 by 1991 had a number of important effects. Foremost, the end of conscription in 1960, coupled with ever more complex aircraft, accelerated the professionalization of the service. Additionally, fewer resources and Britain's narrowing strategic interests eliminated most overseas postings outside the United Kingdom after the withdrawal from east of the Suez in 1967. 

The growing technological sophistication of airpower also decisively shaped the postwar RAF. The advent of jet technology and swept wings in the 1940s, supersonic flight, electronic warfare, British nuclear weapons and variable-geometry aircraft in the 1950s, and terrain-following flight in the 1960s presented too hostile an environment for most of the British aeronautical industry. Radical downsizing and consolidation reduced Britain's industry to a handful of companies. The cancellation of the TSR. 2 in 1965 forced cooperation with allied powers in projects such as the Jaguar and Tornado or wholesale adoption of American weapon systems such as the F-111 and C-130. Despite the evisceration of Britain's aeronautical industry, the RAF remained capable of applying cutting-edge technology and by 1991 was one of only a handful of powers capable of worldwide operations with precision munitions. 

The initial role of the RAF in the postwar world emanated from its heritage as a strategic bombing force. Following a 1947 decision to develop an independent nuclear program, the RAF engaged in a tortuous process of developing both usable weapons and the platforms capable of delivering them. Britain achieved the former in a test at the Monte Bello Islands in 1952, but the latter turned out to be more problematic. Although Lincolns (upgraded wartime Lancasters) and Washingtons (U. S.-loaned B-29s) provided an interim nuclear delivery capability, they were ultimately unsatisfactory in the long run. A ten-year development cycle resulted in a generation of swept-wing, all-jet V-bombers-the Valiant, Vulcan, and Victor-that by 1957 were only marginally capable of penetrating Soviet air defenses. An attempt to evade Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems by switching from high- to low-altitude penetration exceeded the design capacity of the V-bombers and mandated their phased withdrawal from frontline strategic service beginning in 1964. That together with the cancellation of the Anglo- American Skybolt tactical missile that was to extend the V-bomber's strike range and the offer of the U. S. Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to the Royal Navy (RN) all but ended the RAF's strategic role. 

As a result, in a general overhaul reflecting changed missions and resource constraints, the RAF drastically reorganized at the end of the 1960s. The dissolution of Bomber and Fighter Commands in 1968 and the creation of the Strike Command was followed by the RN's Polaris-equipped submarines formally assuming responsibility for the British nuclear deterrent in 1969. 

Despite the eclipse of the RAF's strategic role, both before and after 1969 it played an active part in almost every British military operation. After teaming with the U. S. Air Force in the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift, the RAF successfully aided in defeating insurgencies in Malaya, Cyprus, and Kenya. The strength required for the former precluded large-scale conventional involvement in the Korean War. While fighting instability in erstwhile colonies during the 1950s, the RAF also participated in Britain's military campaign during the 1956 Suez Crisis, effectively destroying the Egyptian Air Force in two days. Smaller conventional operations punctuated the 1960s, including the defense of Kuwait in 1961, extended deployments to contain Indonesia during 1963-1966, and the evacuation of Aden in 1967, a part of the overall withdrawal from east of the Suez. 

The slow pace of the 1970s erupted into a major independent campaign in 1982 against Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Operation CORPORATE, which featured joint RN-RAF operations more than 8,000 miles from Britain and required robust logistics, highlighted the RAF as the only European air force still capable of projecting force outside the region. During the 1991 Gulf War, the RAF again showed its prowess by adapting low-level, high-speed delivery techniques developed for the European theater to destroy Iraqi air defenses. Both the RAF's 6,000-plus sorties and extensive Special Air Service operations were a critical component of the Coalition's swift victory. The RAF's performance in the Gulf War underscored its role as a uniquely capable Cold War force that adroitly projected regional and global airpower to advance British and allied interests.

References Freedman, Lawrence. The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy. 3rd ed. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. James, A. E. Trevenen. The Royal Air Force: The Past 30 Years. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1976. Kaplan, Edward Andrew. "With a Bloody Union Jack on Top: The First Generation British Atomic Deterrent." Unpublished master's thesis, University of Calgary, 1995. Taylor, John W. R., and Philip John Richard Moyes. Pictorial History of the R. A. F. London: Allan, 1968. Taylor, N. E. A Short History of the Royal Air Force. London: Ministry of Defence, 1994.