When the Japanese took eight POWs from the "Doolittle Raid," ("Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"), they executed three and one died of maltreatment, a 50% death rate.

The "Flying Tigers" were an even greater thorn in the Japanese side; some of their B-29s repeatedly bombed Japanese cities, long range. And of course, their fighters shot down hundreds of Japanese planes.

How did the Japanese treat the Flying Tigers that were shot down and captured over Japanese territory or otherwise taken prisoner. Were they treated "normally," or were many tortured and executed?

  • 8
    Were they treated "normally," or were many tortured and executed? -- is there a difference? The Japanese normally tortured and executed many of their prisoners. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:53
  • @JohnColeman: That's why I put "normally" in scare quotes. Of course, I meant normally by western, not Japanese standards.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 16:36
  • 5
    Flying Tigers and B-29s existed at the beginning and end of the war, respectively. The Flying Tigers were a volunteer expeditionary force not part of the U.S. military. B-29 crews were treated very poorly. Surrender was considered a disgrace by the Japanese. Prisoners by definition surrendered.
    – TomO
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 17:25
  • 1
    Not all captives of the Japanese in WW2 were treated badly. (though of course we know that many were). As a very general rule I think those who were held prisoner inside Japan itself fared better.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 23:09
  • @TomO That could lead to a question on how Japanese PoWs were treated on return to Japan.
    – JAB
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 15:39

3 Answers 3


According to Daniel Ford's "Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942" (and this page) only four Flying Tigers were ever captured by the Japanese. One of those, Arnold Shamblin, never was heard of again and is considered dead, so he might've been executed. Others were treated just like any other Western PoWs (which meant prisoner camps filled way over their projected capacity, bad food, worse medical support, cultural tensions with Japanese leading to abuse of prisoners, and every above point steadily deteriorates as the war turns out not to be in favor of Japanese. Oh, and also forced labor), and eventually returned to US. Here's a 2016 interview with one of them, so you can get a first-hand account on how he was treated.

  • 6
    It's not good to leave information available only in a link, which might go dead one day. Please include a brief overview of the relevant info alongside the interview link.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 19:40
  • @jpmc26 "just like any other Western PoW" - seems like a brief overview to me. Might be cause for another question, granted.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 21:03
  • @jpmc26 A random question just popped into my mind. Is it possible Danila Smirnov's answer "might go dead one day"? Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 21:44
  • @NoctisSkytower - Indeed it might. And if someone cited this answer on another cite, it would probably be wise to briefly summarize it.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 0:51
  • @jpmc26 Added a bit of a summary on prisoner life in japanese camps. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 3:36

This book on Pappy Boynton's life talks about his time as a POW and the general idea was that it was harsh and they were severely underfed.

He mentions that Boynton ended up working in the mess and would steal handfuls of lard when he could (he'd have been severely beaten or worse for this if found out) and when he got back that he wolfed down 2 candibars one after another, then explained to his buddies that they didn't understand how little he had to eat in captivity.

IIRC, when they surrendered and his camp was let free, he had no trouble telling the authorities who had treated him badly.


Let's be clear about the group in question.

The 'flying tigers' were a group of American pilots, mechanics and support staff who had left the US military and were fighting under the flag of the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Chinese government, with the Chinese sun insignia on their airplanes. And they were very well paid for doing so, a pilot made $600-650/month plus $500 for every Japanese plane they shot down - very good money for 1942. They were mercenaries. The AVG was formed with covert assistance by Franklin Roosevelt in early 1941, but it wasn't able to mount missions until December 20, 1941, by which time the US was officially at war with Japan.

This is distinct from the China Air Task Force, later to become the 14th USAAF, which was a division of the US Army, under US government command, fighting out of China during the war. Most of the AVG were drafted into the CATF, when the AVG was officially disbanded in July, 1942. General Chennault tended to refer to the CATF personnel as 'flying tigers', probably as a morale booster.

While it operated, only one Flying Tiger was taken prisoner: Mac McGarry. As he was a mercenary at the time of his capture, he could have been executed on the spot, but the Japanese didn't kill him, and he was able to escape. This low prisoner account resulted from the fairly small number of AVG aircraft actually in operation, and the very short period of time that the AVG was actually in action - about seven months.

When US airpower began to dominate and especially after the B29 raids on Japan had begun, US fliers who came down in Japanese held territory tended to be executed upon capture, more often than not.

  • "Mac McGarry. As he was a mercenary at the time of his capture, he could have been executed on the spot" -- On What basis?
    – pugsville
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 13:32
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    The generally accepted rules of warfare. Anyone fighting out of uniform, or not fighting as part of a military of a sovereign nation, can be executed once a military tribunal has established their status.
    – tj1000
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 16:15
  • 1
    From the wiki: "The group of volunteers were officially members of the Chinese Air Force."
    – justCal
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 1:16

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