Flying Tigers Heritage Park, Guilin, Guangxi Province

In 1941, the US Government sent a group of American airmen to China to assist in the fight against the Imperial Japanese Army. Known as the ‘Flying Tigers’, the pilots took part in a number of air battles – their aim to destroy Japanese planes and ships, as well as protect major towns and supply roads. When the Japanese overtook Burma in 1942, the Flying Tigers were forced to move their base from Rangoon to Yantang, a city in Guilin in the south of China. A year later in 1943, the US 14th Air Force also moved their centre of command to the airbase at Yantang.

To protect themselves from a possible attack, the Americans set up their headquarters in a natural limestone cave that overlooked the airbase. Throughout their four-year campaign, it is thought the Flying Tigers destroyed 2,600 Japanese planes, 44 warships and killed almost 67,000 Japanese soldiers.

Many years later, the American Flying Tigers Historical Organisation together with Chinese officials agreed to develop a Flying Tigers Heritage park on the site of the old Yantang airbase. Together, both sides raised thousands of dollars in funds to build a new museum and restore the cave where the Flying Tigers command centre was situated.

Opening in March, 2015 the museum structure itself resembles different aspects of a Flying Tiger plane – the entrance symbolises the iconic ‘sharks teeth’ that were painted on the nose of each plane, the ceiling is shaped like a fighter pilots’ cockpit dome and the windows are designed to reflect the planes exhaust stacks. Inside the museum, a number of displays tell the stories of both the American and Chinese airmen who took part in the battle of the skies against the Japanese. Along with detailed descriptions, there are a number of photographs, paintings and a large collection of over 600 items donated by the American Flying Tigers Historical Organisation, including flight suits, cameras and memorabilia.

The nearby cave, that now overlooks the museum, was restored to the way it appeared during the 1940s and visitors are able to look throughout the space. Original bilingual inscriptions written by the American and Chinese pilots can still be read on the walls - the notes mapping out the various battle scenarios the airmen took part in.