Moon Chin’s first air raid, part II


Continued from yesterday… another one of China’s Wings’ outtakes.

The bomber peeled from formation and banked toward them.

G3M Nells

It leveled out and bore toward them at two-hundred feet, targeting the Generalissimo’s hanger. Moon could see straight into the airplane’s plexiglas nose, where the bombardier sat, directing the attack. He was wearing a leather flying helmet.[ix] Three streaks fell from the plane. With his bombs loosed, the bombardier picked up the butt-end of the machine gun next to his bombsight, locked eyes with Moon Chin, and swiveled his machine gun toward Moon. Too late. The twin-engines howled overhead. Moon heard the chat-chat-chat of the machine gun further down the field. Then the bombs hit. One smacked through the roof of the Generalissimo’s hanger. Two black plumes spouted from the earth a few hundred feet in front of the bench. Moon Chin pressed his face into the dirt. The concussions boomed over him. He lifted his head and was surprised to see the Generalissimo’s hanger still intact. The last Japanese bomber disappeared into the cloud layer a few minutes after 3 p.m.[x] Moon Chin and Bob Pottschmidt stayed under the bench until the all-clear sounded five or ten minutes later.[xi] It was the first air raid Moon Chin or Pottschmidt had ever experienced. The most amazing thing was how fast it happened.

Japanese bomber (G3M Nell) over Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum outside Nanking

Moon and Pottschmidt inspected the two fresh craters in the dirt in front of the Generalissimo’s hanger. Inside, shards of splintered metal and sticky yellow dust – picric acid, an explosive compound – lay scattered on the floor. The bomb that hit the hanger was a dud. A hole in the roof, a smashed workbench, and a gouge in the concrete was the only damage inflicted.

Other engines sounded in the sky. Moon Chin rushed outside. It was Donald Wong’s Ford tri-motor at 460 feet, throttled back for landing. Moon wondered why he’d come back. Nervous anti-aircraft crews weren’t so quick with their aircraft recognition — they opened fire. A staccato row of machine gun bullets whacked into the aluminum fuselage and wings. Wong poured on the power and climbed into the clouds. Some minutes later, after the gun crews had been restrained, Wong bounced down onto the field, unharmed, but livid. He taxied to the C.N.A.C. station and cut the motors. Ten bullet holes perforated his airplane. Fortunately, none had punctured a gas tank, but one bullet had smacked through the cockpit and deflected from the front-left support of the copilot’s seat.[xii]

Donald Wong’s pilot log. Note his entry for 8-16-37

Wong had escaped Nanking about five minutes before the raid began. He flew west and climbed into the clouds. Ten minutes out his radio failed. Without communication, he couldn’t track the progress of the raid, nor could he receive situation or weather reports from Hankow. He’d eased back under the cloud layer and returned to Nanking.[xiii] Hal Sweet must have continued to Hankow alone.

Moon Chin, Donald Wong, and Bob Pottschmidt flew to Hankow as soon as they’d checked Wong’s Ford.[xiv]

[UPDATE: I neglected this series for a while; I returned to it here, with “The Demise of a Tin Goose.“]


G3M Nell showing plexiglass in the nose

[ix]The planes that made the attack were the G3M “Nell” type. Most technical drawings of Nells show the plane with a solid nose, but I’ve seen a few photographs that show Nell’s with a Plexiglas bombardier’s station in the nose.

[x] End of raid: Lieutenant Commander Hiramoto, Michitaka, “Air Raid on Nanking,” The Chinese Mercury, Winter, 1938; basic details of Moon Chin’s recollections confirmed by a telephone interview with Nelson T. Johnson, the US Ambassador: “Chinese Fight Foe in Air at Nanking,” New York Times, August 16, 1937.

[xi] Five or ten minutes: author’s interview with Moon Chin, April 19, 2006.

[xii] Details of Wong’s approach and the damage to his airplane: Telegram, Wong to Allison, August 15, 1937, provided to the author via email by Allison’s daughter, Nancy Allison Wright, November 15, 2005; author’s interviews with Moon Chin, September 17, 2004, January 7, 2005. (Moon Chin said there were a dozen holes in Wong’s airplane; Wong’s telegram said ten.)

[xiii] Donald Wong flight: Bond to Kitsi, August 28, 1937, written in Hong Kong, the Bond Papers; author’s interviews with Moon Chin.

[xiv] Major details of Moon Chin’s experiences during the Nanking air raid confirmed: Pottschmidt, Bob, a summary of his personal history written in the late 1980s: http://C.N.A.C..org/pottschmidtletter01.htm, accessed May, 2006.

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