US-Britain-China Relations

As I cobbled together the back story of the Flying Tigers, it seemed to me that three so-called allies, the United States, China and Britain never entered into a genuine coalition.

Instead they were locked into three bilateral relationships, Sino-British, Sino-American and the “special” Anglo-American relationship bolstered by FDR’s policy of “all aid short of war” for Britain.

They were like couples on a dance floor, occasionally bumping into each other. Each seemed to keep the contents of their arrangements secret from the others; at times each partner for the sake of national interests undermined the others.

The archival records suggests that the British, Chinese and Americans never formally consulted about the AVG: each had different information and views about it. From March 1941 onwards, Lauchlin Currie, the president’s administrative assistant and point man on China was the only US official who had full command of the facts about US air aid for China: everyone else in the Administration was in the dark: at one point China experts in the Office of Naval Intelligence complained that they could not give the British any meaningful data about the AVG and its supervisor Claire Chennault because they knew so little about the project.

At the same time, the British managed to keep secret from US officials the extent of Sino-British military cooperation and their plans for the AVG. Consequently there was no consensus among these so-called allies about who should provide what provisions for the group or define its objectives. Their mutual mistrust was the key factor that undermined the organization of the Flying Tigers before Pearl Harbor and ultimately checked its capacity to sustain combat operations in the first half of 1942.