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China's Wings

Cover of China's Wings

China's Wings

War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom During the Golden Age of Flight
Borrow Borrow Borrow

From the acclaimed author of Enduring Patagonia comes a dazzling tale of aerial adventure set against the roiling backdrop of war in Asia. The incredible real-life saga of the flying band of brothers who opened the skies over China in the years leading up to World War II--and boldly safeguarded them during that conflict--China's Wings is one of the most exhilarating untold chapters in the annals of flight.

At the center of the maelstrom is the book's courtly, laconic protagonist, American aviation executive William Langhorne Bond. In search of adventure, he arrives in Nationalist China in 1931, charged with turning around the turbulent nation's flagging airline business, the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). The mission will take him to the wild and lawless frontiers of commercial aviation: into cockpits with daredevil pilots flying--sometimes literally--on a wing and a prayer; into the dangerous maze of Chinese politics, where scheming warlords and volatile military officers jockey for advantage; and into the boardrooms, backrooms, and corridors of power inhabited by such outsized figures as Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek; President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; foreign minister T. V. Soong; Generals Arnold, Stilwell, and Marshall; and legendary Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe.

With the outbreak of full-scale war in 1941, Bond and CNAC are transformed from uneasy spectators to active participants in the struggle against Axis imperialism. Drawing on meticulous research, primary sources, and extensive personal interviews with participants, Gregory Crouch offers harrowing accounts of brutal bombing runs and heroic evacuations, as the fight to keep one airline flying becomes part of the larger struggle for China's survival. He plunges us into a world of perilous night flights, emergency water landings, and the constant threat of predatory Japanese warplanes. When Japanese forces capture Burma and blockade China's only overland supply route, Bond and his pilots must battle shortages of airplanes, personnel, and spare parts to airlift supplies over an untried five-hundred-mile-long aerial gauntlet high above the Himalayas--the infamous "Hump"--pioneering one of the most celebrated endeavors in aviation history.

A hero's-eye view of history in the grand tradition of Lynne Olson's Citizens of London, China's Wings takes readers on a mesmerizing journey to a time and place that reshaped the modern world.

From the acclaimed author of Enduring Patagonia comes a dazzling tale of aerial adventure set against the roiling backdrop of war in Asia. The incredible real-life saga of the flying band of brothers who opened the skies over China in the years leading up to World War II--and boldly safeguarded them during that conflict--China's Wings is one of the most exhilarating untold chapters in the annals of flight.

At the center of the maelstrom is the book's courtly, laconic protagonist, American aviation executive William Langhorne Bond. In search of adventure, he arrives in Nationalist China in 1931, charged with turning around the turbulent nation's flagging airline business, the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). The mission will take him to the wild and lawless frontiers of commercial aviation: into cockpits with daredevil pilots flying--sometimes literally--on a wing and a prayer; into the dangerous maze of Chinese politics, where scheming warlords and volatile military officers jockey for advantage; and into the boardrooms, backrooms, and corridors of power inhabited by such outsized figures as Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek; President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; foreign minister T. V. Soong; Generals Arnold, Stilwell, and Marshall; and legendary Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe.

With the outbreak of full-scale war in 1941, Bond and CNAC are transformed from uneasy spectators to active participants in the struggle against Axis imperialism. Drawing on meticulous research, primary sources, and extensive personal interviews with participants, Gregory Crouch offers harrowing accounts of brutal bombing runs and heroic evacuations, as the fight to keep one airline flying becomes part of the larger struggle for China's survival. He plunges us into a world of perilous night flights, emergency water landings, and the constant threat of predatory Japanese warplanes. When Japanese forces capture Burma and blockade China's only overland supply route, Bond and his pilots must battle shortages of airplanes, personnel, and spare parts to airlift supplies over an untried five-hundred-mile-long aerial gauntlet high above the Himalayas--the infamous "Hump"--pioneering one of the most celebrated endeavors in aviation history.

A hero's-eye view of history in the grand tradition of Lynne Olson's Citizens of London, China's Wings takes readers on a mesmerizing journey to a time and place that reshaped the modern world.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter Two

    Crouch / CHINA'S WINGS

    SAINT PATRICK'S DAY, 1931

    A ragged wind gusted among the deep-­draft vessels anchored a few miles northeast of Woosung, near the eastern edge of China, where Shanghai's river, the Whangpoo, emptied into the mighty Yangtze. The transpacific liner Empress of Japan drew too much water to cross the submerged mud bar the larger stream had built across the Whangpoo's mouth, so a lighter eased alongside to take her passengers the last dozen miles upriver to Shanghai. Choppy swells whumped between the hulls and pitched up fat drops of spray. As he trotted down a gangway onto the smaller craft, William Langhorne Bond turned up his coat collar and clasped his fedora tighter to his head. Close-­cropped strands of reddish hair showed beneath his hatband. A toothbrush mustache edged past the corners of his mouth, dominating his thin face and drawing attention from his piercing gray-­blue eyes and the bent nose that looked like it might once have been broken. It was March 17, 1931, Saint Patrick's Day, and the thirty-­seven-­year-­old former heavy-­construction foreman had come halfway around the world from his home in Petersburg, Virginia, to take a job he knew next to nothing about.

    Bond found a seat inside the lighter, but he couldn't keep still. Soon back on deck, he cupped his hands, lit a cigarette, and rested his forearms on the starboard rail. The Yangtze's far northern shore was ten miles distant, a reach so wide Bond couldn't escape the sense he was still at sea. Nobody knew where the river began (he loved that); probably at some anonymous trickle on the Tibetan fringe, thousands of miles away. But by the time the Yangtze had convulsed and roared and soughed from its mountainous headwaters and undulated across the lowlands of eastern China, collecting tribute from an uncounted multitude of creeks, springs, and lesser rivers, it had grown into a truly enormous aquatic beast that spewed water into the East China Sea through a fifty-­mile-­wide estuary. The Sinologists whose books he'd read during the Pacific crossing identified the Yangtze as the single most powerful force governing the evolution of Chinese culture. Indeed, in many ways, the Yangtze was China, a unifying artery running through the heart of a nation that might not have existed without it. No other earthly waters mattered so much, to so many people. Fully one-­tenth of mankind depended on the waters of the Yangtze Basin, an intersection of demographics and hydrology that any businessman could see made the Yangtze River a gateway to the largest potential marketplace on earth, and from its position near the mouth of the great stream, Shanghai was the key controlling the gate. For the last ninety years, ever since British gunboats blasted open the trade of central China in the 1840s, fortune seekers from around the world had flocked to do business in the city. William Bond stood on the cusp of joining them at a time when China was reeling from nearly a century of domestic upheaval and foreign-­visited disaster, struggling to unify, modernize, unlock its long-­suppressed potential, and take its place among the world's great nations. With his new job, Bond expected to participate in what would surely be one of the twentieth century's great dramas.

    The deckhands cast off, the engines growled, and the lighter made way for the Whangpoo. China beyond the riverbanks was greenish and gray and surprisingly flat. A low, rounded hill that lay like a rice sack above the joining of the two rivers provided the only contour of relief. Across the bar, the Whangpoo took on an unguinous yellow tint, and the lighter pushed into the...

About the Author-
  • Gregory Crouch graduated from West Point, where he studied military history. He completed U.S. Army Airborne and Ranger schools and led an infantry platoon in Panama, for which he earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He left the Army to pursue other interests, most notably in mountaineering and surfing, and his work has appeared in National Geographic, American History, Outside, Climbing, and Mother Jones, among many publications. The author of Enduring Patagonia, Gregory Crouch lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    Advance praise for China's Wings "Too many people think the war in the Pacific began with Japan's sudden strike on Hawaii, launched seemingly out of nowhere. Crouch's vividly written book explains how America's business interests in 1930s China set it on the path to Pearl Harbor. This is the rousing story of the enterprising Pan Am pilots who built a frontier airline and went on to become aviation heroes, flying over the Himalayas, helping save China, and thereby transforming the world."--James D. Hornfischer, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Neptune's Inferno "Dramatically rendered."--Kirkus Reviews "In China's Wings, Gregory Crouch recalls the remarkable encounter between an ancient civilization and the most modern technology in the world, as intrepid Americans and their Chinese partners struggled to establish a sophisticated air network over a vast land that barely knew electricity. This gripping book will transport you to a fascinating lost time."--James Bradley, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers and The Imperial Cruise "West Point grad Crouch brings us a story that's part adventure, part unearthed history [and] not just for history buffs."

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War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom During the Golden Age of Flight
Gregory Crouch
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