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Gao Zhihang
Gao Zhihang
Born (1907-05-14)14 May 1907
Died 21 November 1937(1937-11-21) (aged 30)
Place of birth Tonghua County, Liaoning, Qing China
Place of death Zhoujiakou, Henan, Republic of China
Allegiance Taiwan Republic of China
Service/branch Northeast Army
Republic of China Air Force
Years of service 1920–38
Rank Colonel
Major General (Posthumous)
Unit Flying Eagle Squadron
4th Air Force Group
Commands held 4th Air Force Group
Pursuit Air Force
Battles/wars Second Sino-Japanese War
Awards Order of the Sacred Tripod
Three Star Medal

Gao Zhihang (Chinese: 高志航; Wade–Giles: Kao Chih-hang; 14 May 1907 – 21 November 1937) was a flying ace of the Republic of China in the Second Sino-Japanese War. On August 14, 1937, the 4th Air Force Group commanded by Gao shot down six Japanese planes over Jianqiao, while suffering zero losses. Subsequently, Gao became a Chinese war hero.

Early life

Gao was born in Tonghua County of Liaoning Province into a Roman Catholic family on May 14, 1907. He was the eldest of six siblings.[1] Gao was admitted into the Education Class of the Northeast Army Officers as an artillery cadet. He was selected to receive flight training in France in the following year.[2] Gao returned to China in 1927 and was posted to the Flying Eagle Squadron of the Northeast Army under Marshal Zhang Zuolin and became a flight instructor in 1929.[1]

When the Japanese invaded Manchuria on 18 September 1931, he went south to join the Central Government and became an instructor in the Central Flying School near Hangchou. After returning from Italy after an inspection tour, he was made Deputy Chief of Instruction, and commander of the 4th Pursuit Group.[1]

Air battles

Battle of Shanghai

While Chinese intelligence reported a number of Japanese bombers having taken off from an airfield in Taiwan on 14 August 1937, crossing the Formosa Straits on a northernly heading in the direction of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, the incoming raid was detected and sounded by the Chinese air raid warning network. These were the 18 Imperial Japanese Navy G3M bombers of the Kanoya Kokutai; 9 led by Lieutenant Commander Nitta to attack Jianqiao Airbase, and 9 led by Lt. Cmdr. Asano to attack Guangde Airbase.[1]

As soon as reports of the approach of the bombers at an altitude of four thousand meters came in, the pilots of the 4th Pursuit Group led by Colonel Gao ascended through the clouds, and found the sleek twin-engined G3M bombers in loose formation. Gao Zhihang pinpointed a G3M bomber, closing in and first focusing his aim at the machine-gunner in the pop-up turret, silencing the gunner, and the riddling the left engine with bullets until it erupted in fire, and sending it crashing down in flames in the town of Banshan by Jianqiao airfield. This was the first official victory for the Chinese Air Force against the invading Japanese air power. At least three more G3Ms were claimed by other pilots of the 4th PG, some shared, including that of Maj. Li Guidan, Capt. Liu Zhesheng, Capt. Zheng Shaoyu, et al. Colonel Gao's victory was widely publicized and gave him a patriotic hero status in the news around the country; the 4th PG led by Gao Zhihang was officially named the "Zhihang Group". The following day, Col. Gao led 21 Hawk IIIs on an early morning combat air patrol when they encountered 12 B2M attack bombers from the IJN fleet aircraft carrier Kaga on approach to Jianqiao, and in the confusing melee through the clouds over Hangzhou Bay, Col. Gao's pilots claimed 17 of the B2Ms shot down, when in fact 11 of the 12 were shot down without loss to the Chinese,[3][4] except for a serious injury that Col. Gao received from the machine gun fire of the B2M which he shot down, which would put him out of action for almost two months.[5] [6]

Defense of Nanking

After almost two months of recovery from injuries sustained from gunfire in the attack against Japanese B2M attack planes from aircraft carrier Kaga over Hangzhou Bay in August, Colonel Gao sought to boost morale and improve the dogfighting performance of the Hawk IIIs. While on the shakedown of his airmen, he had his maintenance crews remove the bomb-racks, fuel tank cowlings, landing lighting equipment, etc. On October 12, 1937, he led an aggressive search-and-destroy mission consisting of six Hawk IIIs, two Boeing P-26/281s "Peashooters" and a Fiat CR.32 against any Japanese fighter aircraft approaching Nanking airspace. As they've expected, a group of Mitsubishi A5Ms was caught entering Nanking airspace, and in the ensuing fray, Major John Wong Pan-yang, a Chinese-American volunteer pilot from Seattle, flying a P-26 "Peashooter", drew first blood shooting down the A5M piloted by PO1c Mazazumi Ino. Captain Liu Cuigang shot down another A5M and Colonel Gao scored a double-kill, shooting down two A5Ms including that of shotai leader WO Torakuma. This was a monumental moment of air-superiority exhibited by the Chinese pilots due to the great experience of Col Gao, Maj Wong and Capt Liu in particular, as they were outnumbered and yet so convincingly defeated the Japanese fighter group flying the far-more advanced Mitsubishis.[7]

Death

During October 1937, he was promoted to Commander of Pursuit of the Chinese Air Force, while remaining at the same time as commander of the 4th Group. By November 1937, Colonel Gao's 4th PG had flown to Lanzhou Donggang Airbase where they were re-equipped with the Polikarpov I-16 Type 5, and then leading the second group in their return-flight to Nanjing on 21 November to resume combat operations.[1][8][9]

While refuelling at Zhoujiakou Airfield, they were caught by some Japanese ten Mitsubishi G3M2s, who evidently were conducting an attack/reconnaissance mission with crucial intelligence reports about the Chinese movements. The bombs were already falling when Kao ran to his I-16. The engine of the fighter wouldn't start and with the bombs falling closer, the ground crew, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, left the aircraft to take cover. Chasing after them, Gao brought them back at the point of his service revolver to help him start the engine but lost his life when a bomb exploded alongside the aircraft.[1][10]

At the time of his death, Gao had claimed 4 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying the Curtiss Hawk III. According to official record of the Republic of China Air Force he is only credited with 3.5 victories and thus awarded the Three Star Medal.[1]

Legacy

Gao was promoted to Major General posthumously.[1] In 1940, the government announced August 14 would be Air Force Day to raise the morale of the Chinese populace.

He was the main character in the 1977 Taiwanese film Heroes of the Eastern Skies and the 2011 Chinese TV series Departed Heroes. He is also featured in the upcoming TV series Eastern Battlefield.

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "Colonel Kao Chi-Hang". Håkans aviation page. http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/china_kao.htm. 
  2. "Heroic figure: Gao Zhihang". PLA Daily. August 31, 2005. http://english.chinamil.com.cn/site2/special-reports/2005-08/31/content_285197.htm. 
  3. Howarth, 1983, p. 213. Lieutenant Commander Iawai led twelve Type 89 (Mitsubishi B2M) attack bombers from the aircraft carrier Kaga... intercepted by Chinese Hawk fighters... only Lieutenant (jg) Tanaka landed his crippled plane back aboard Kaga with his gunner PO1c Mitsui...
  4. Caidin, 1969, p. 33. Twelve Type 89 (B2M) attack bombers on a raid against Hangzhou led by Group Commander Iwai took off from aircraft carrier Kaga... eleven of the Type 89s were shot down by a group of Chinese fighters... had Lt.(jg) Tanaka not managed to bring his bullet-riddled and crippled bomber back to the carrier, the fate of the B2M may never have been known.
  5. https://www.jasve.com/junshi/cacdf16da4a697cc99e82f55b7c1cc08.html
  6. https://usnwcarchives.org/repositories/2/archival_objects/58526
  7. http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/china_wong1.htm
  8. "拱星墩兰州城东曾经的商贸文化娱乐中心__中国甘肃网". http://gansu.gscn.com.cn/system/2016/09/01/011471623.shtml. 
  9. "兰州空战:中国空战史上最惨烈的一次大战(图)_资讯_凤凰网". http://news.ifeng.com/history/1/midang/200802/0226_2664_413261.shtml. 
  10. 徐 (Xú), 2016, pp. 354-355. 高烈士志航~冯烈士幹卿 ~ After receiving the new I-16 fighters from the Russians in Lanzhou, Colonel Gao led his group back to the critical situation at Nanjing... at a refueling stop at Zhoujiakou Airbase, a suddenly attack by a well-planned Japanese raid, caught the Chinese pilots and ground crew with their new fighters on the ground... Colonel Gao did not take cover, and decided to engage the Japanese air raid, but the bombs were falling and the Japanese machine guns strafing... Gao and his crew chief Feng Qianqing were killed by a Japanese bombs exploding nearby

Bibliography

  • 徐 (Xú), 露梅 (Lùméi). 隕落 (Fallen): 682位空军英烈的生死档案 - 抗战空军英烈档案大解密 (A Decryption of 682 Air Force Heroes of The War of Resistance-WWII and Their Martyrdom). 东城区, 北京, 中国: 团结出版社, 2016. ISBN 978-7-5126-4433-5.
  • Cheung, Raymond. OSPREY AIRCRAFT OF THE ACES 126: Aces of the Republic of China Air Force. Oxford: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015. ISBN 978 14728 05614.
  • Howarth, Stephen. THE FIGHTING SHIPS OF THE RISING SUN: The Drama of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1895–1945. Fairfield, Pennsylvania: Fairfield Graphics, 1983. ISBN 0-689-11402-8.
  • Caidin, Martin. Zero Fighter: Ballantine's Illustrated History of World War II Weapons Book No. 9. New York, NY: Ballantine Books Inc, 1969. ISBN 978 03560 30739.

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