Polikarpov I-16 Type 10

Japan and China went to war in 1937.  Sometimes known as the Second Sino-Japanese War, this blurred into War War II in 1939, and even more so in 1941.  It didn’t end until the atomic bombing of 1945.


After the jump, a look at a Chinese fighter from 1939.

In 1937 China was simply not as modern as Japan.  In no sector could its industries compete.  So China sought foreign aid.  The first to help was Germany, who was starting serious modernization and was happy to have another proving ground apart from just Spain.  But in 1938 Germany and Japan signed the “Anti-ComIntern Treaty”.  This was a friendship treaty between Germany and Japan, that identified the Communist International Party as their common rival.


So suddenly the Soviet Union had common cause with China, and they pledged aid.  This climaxed with the Nomonhan War of 1939; in which Soviet armor proved its superiority to Japanese, but the Japanese Army Air Force exposed the fatal obsolescence of the VVS (Soviet Air Force).  Unfortunately for China, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a non-aggression treaty in 1941, which left them scrambling for aid once again.


So when Claire Chennault was hired by China to form a new Chinese Air Force in 1941, he was replacing a Soviet one.  This had been known as the Soviet Volunteer Group.  Their peak strength, in early 1941 was over 800 aircraft including fighters, trainers, two and four engined bombers.  Half of these aircraft officially belonged to China.  Over 200 Soviet airmen died in this largely unrecognized war, and this would be the combat experience that served the Japanese so well at the start of the Pacific War.


The I-16 was the most numerous fighter with the Soviet Volunteer Group.  It did well initially, but as Japan deployed more modern types like the Ki-27 (“Nate”) and A5M (“Claude”) it became more obvious that newer types were needed.  This, combined with experience in the Winter War with Finland (Winter 1939/40) provided the intiative that led to MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1 being introduced right at the start of their war with Germany.


This is from the Eduard kit.  It is a simple kit, but fiddly in places, like the exhaust!

A pilot of the Soviet Volunteer Group in China.


About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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7 Responses to Polikarpov I-16 Type 10

  1. Theresa says:

    This plane is an interesting part of the Sino Japanese war predating WW II. It is interesting that the Flying Tigers were already operating during this time period.

    • atcDave says:

      The Flying Tigers were actually formed after the Soviet withdrawal, they were very much the replacement for Soviets. They flew their first combat in December of ’41, shortly after Pearl Harbor.

  2. Terry Brodin says:

    Glad you pointed out the Flying Tigers didn’t fly in combat until after Pearl Harbor.

    While there were foreign pilots flying in China in the late thirties (including Claire Chennault), there does seem to be a misconception that the AVG was fighting for years before the US came into the war.
    Technically they were not really volunteers or mercenaries for China. All AVG personnel were employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), under a one year contract. The pay was good, so they were not totally motivated by patriotic or humanitarian reasons.

    Obviously “Black Ops” are nothing new.

    • atcDave says:

      I think I would classify the AVG as mercenary in the same way the French Foreign Legion was mercenary. They were professional, but motives weren’t all base. Defending China was a popular sentiment in America, and the whole enterprise was unofficially endorsed by FDR himself. And most Flying Tiger pilots returned to US military service eventually.
      Black Op is very fitting description of it.

  3. Terry Brodin says:

    I-16 kinda reminded me of a mating of a F2A Buffalo and GeeBee racer.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah it was definitely a product of its era. I would guess it is not attractive to most modern viewers, but in the mid 1930s it would have been considered modern looking.

  4. Pingback: Curtiss Hawk 81A-2 | Plane Dave

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