An Airline at War, Robert L. Willet

An Airline at War, Robert L. Willet

Pan Am's China National Aviation Corporation and Its Men

The China National Aviation Corporation was an airline originally created as a joint venture between Curtiss-Wright and the Chinese Government, before Pan-Am replaced Curtiss. It operated during one of the most turbulent periods in Chinese history, beginning operations just before the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, and operating for the full length of the war between China and Japan, as well as during the final struggle between the Nationalist Government and the Communists.

Willet's history of the airline focuses very heavily on the people who made all of its achievements possible - in particular the pilots and aircrew, and the senior management in China, faced with the problems of dealing with a Chinese government whose attitude to the airline changed on a regular basis. 

For most of its existence the airline was operating in a war zone. Its duties soon came to include a relentless series of evacuations - from Shanghai, Hankow, Hong Kong and Burma in the face of the Japanese and from Nationalist held cities threatened by the Communists after the war. Although a comparatively small number of losses can be directly attributed to Japanese military action, they did force the airline to operate at night or in bad weather, increasing the already high level of risk involved in flying in China.

C.N.A.C. was also directly responsible for the development of the 'Hump' - the airlift route across the Himalayas from India to China. It was their pilots who proved it was possible, and they flew most of the early missions. Inevitably the military airlift soon became bigger, but it never achieved the same safety record as C.N.A.C.

This book focuses on the human side of the airline's story. The airline suffered a casualty rate as high as any military service, losing 151 of its 300 pilots, co-pilots and radio operators during its twenty year history - only the German U-boats and RAF Bomber Command suffered a similar rate of loss. This book is a worthwhile memorial to these remarkable men.


Section One: The Early Years
1 - C.N.A.C. is Born
2 - Japan Moves
3 - C.N.A.C. Struggles

Section Two: The War Years
4 - Shanghai Falls
5 - Hankow Falls
6 - Hong Kong Falls
7 - A New Look for C.N.A.C.
8 - The Hump
9 - The Hump Flights Begin in Earnest
10 - Another Year of War

Section Three: The Twilight Years
11 - 1945 - A Year of Change
12 - Post War China
13 - The Lights Go Out

Author: Robert L. Willett
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 360
Year: 2008

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