To maintain narrative momentum and keep focused on the story’s main character, William Langhorn Bond, I excised most of the details of CNAC’s evacuation of Shanghai from China’s Wings chapter 8, “Things Fall Apart,” which happens in mid-August, 1937 at the beginning of the Battle of Shanghai.
A couple of really amazing and adventurous anecdotes were contained within, however — particularly the ones based one my interviews of Moon Chin and the diary entries and correspondence given to me by Nancy Allison Wright, Ernie Allison’s daughter — and I’m going to work them into my next few China’s Wings posts here on my website.
We begin at Shanghai’s Lunghwa Airport on August 15, 1937, with Shanghai erupting into flames north of Soochow Creek, some 6 or 8 miles north of the airport, as fighting broke out between Japanese and Chinese forces.
American Royal Leonard, the Generalissimo’s personal pilot, flew one of CNAC’s DC-2s from Shanghai to Hankow for $1,000 Chinese dollars. Frank Havelick took another. Floyd Nelson flew the third under protest.[i] He’d flown 260 hours in the last two months and was sick from exhaustion. CNAC operations called Moon Chin and ordered him to the airport. Moon left his wife in their French Concession apartment. Allison’s evacuation was underway when he reached Lunghwa. Donald Wong, Moon’s best friend, was outbound for Nanking in one of the airline’s two Ford tri-motors. Hal Sweet and Bob Pottschmidt each had a Stinson in the air behind Wong. Allison assigned Moon Chin to follow in a third Stinson.[ii]
Moon winged up from Lunghwa and raced west, away from the city. Behind him, downtown, he glimpsed the Japanese warships clogging the Whangpoo’s Pootung bend and the whiffs of smoke wind-blown from the muzzles of their guns as they belched cannon fire point-blank into the fighting. Brutal, awful, close-quarters melees raged in the dense neighborhoods north of the International Settlement. Driven by the strong winds, smoke whipped sideways from battlefield infernos in Chapei, Hongkew, and Yangtzepoo. Japanese war planes swooped and dove over targets around North Station.
West of the city, Moon Chin arced northwestward and set course for Nanking. He had no idea when, how, or if he’d be able to return to Shanghai. He hoped his wife would be safe behind him. Moon cruised toward China’s capital at 125 miles per hour with his wings skimming the base of the cloud layer, quick shelter should he encounter Japanese planes. Moon Chin found two of the company’s Stinsons and the Ford tri-motor on the ground ahead of him in Nanking. He joined the other pilots at the Metropolitan Hotel and awaited instructions.[iv]
[i] Leonard, Havelick, and Nelson flew DC-2s from Lunghwa to Hankow: Manila Bulletin, August 29, 1937, clipping provided to the author via email by Ernie Allison’s daughter, Nancy Allison Wright, November, 2005.
[ii] Moon Chin’s experience evacuating Shanghai: author’s interviews with Moon Chin, September 17, 2004, January 7, 2005, April 19, 2006.
[iii] Ground combat: New York Times, August 15, 1937.
[iv] Moon Chin’s flight from Shanghai on August 14: author’s interviews with Moon Chin, September 17, 2004; January 7, 2005; April 19, 2006; “Bob Pottschmidt,” a summary of his personal history written in the late 1980s posted online at cnac.org (I suspect Pottschmidt runs two days together into one. The air raid Potty describes in Nanking occurred on August 15.)