Henry Morgenthau Jr, Roosevelt’s fixer

Henry Morgenthau Jr had long been Roosevelt’s fixer and became the US government’s ‘aviation czar’  From 1939 to March 1941 he deftly handled all foreign sales of US military aircraft through an ad hoc organization, known as the President’s Liaison Committee which reported to him at the US Treasury.

In early January 1941 Morgenthau came up with the original airpower scheme which gave birth to the Flying Tigers . In the winter of 1940-1941 the president and his men became convinced that the Japanese were planning to invade Singapore in the spring of 1941. After exploring but then rejecting the possibility of bombing Japan from China, Morgenthau and US Army Chief of Staff George Marshall hit on another ruse for deterring Japan from Singapore.

Henry Morgenthau Jr and Franklin Delano Roosevelt February 9 1934, courtesy of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library

They wanted Chinese pilots  to fly new fighter planes over the section of the Burma Road that ran through Yunnan province in Southwest China. They were confident that this sudden and unexpected appearance of new aircraft over the Burma Road would distract the enemy from plans to break out of China and advance on neighboring territories such as Singapore and the resource-rich Dutch East Indies. This plan became the basis of Morgenthau’s air program for China in January 1941.

Morgenthau put heavy pressure on British representatives in Washington to resell to the Nationalist regime of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek a hundred Curtiss-Wright P-40 fighter planes, about an eighth of all the P-40s that they had bought for hard cash in 1940. The British were deeply unhappy about losing planes that were needed for operations against Germany in the Mediterranean. From late January 1941 onwards, they contemplated how they could regain access to the hundred fighter planes which the Morgenthau had robbed from Churchill in order to pay Chiang.

Bruce Leighton soon became involved in this thorny transaction to divert a hundred P-40s from the British to the Chinese because of Intercontinent’s long standing commercial arrangements with the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

More about Intercontinent and the P-40s