Most of the history written about aerial combat in World War Two tends to center around the pilots and the aircraft, with little, if any mention of the men on the ground who made it possible to get the bombers and fighters into the air. Those men include the engine and airframe mechanics, the crew chiefs and the guys who made sure the guns functioned and the bombs were loaded. The last category was the work of an armorer. This webpage is about one of those dedicated men who instilled confidence in their pilot because he knew that when he squeezed the trigger or toggled off a bomb, the weapons always worked.
Chuck Baisden was an armorer. Yet he was more than that. He was an aerial gunner, so well thought of that one Flying Tiger ace insisted that Chuck be assigned to his B-25 as the top turret gunner. That ace was no less than Robert T. Smith. Flying Mitchells with the First Air Commandos, R.T. would not accept anyone with lesser talents than Chuck.
So who is Chuck Baisden? Ask any AVG veteran and they will tell you that he was "one of the best damn armorers in the AVG." Who could argue? Mr. Baisden's career spanned parts of four decades and was jam packed with adventure and accomplishment. From the ill equipped pre-war Air Corps to the nuclear age Strategic Air Command, Chuck's career is fascinating. However, let's go back to the roots of this story.
Charles N. Baisden was born on March 30th, 1920 in Scranton, PA. From his early childhood, Chuck thrived on adventure and a fondness for firearms. At the tender age of 19, Chuck enlisted in the Army Air Corps in the late summer of 1939. His first duty assignment was to the 33rd Pursuit Squadron of the 8th Pursuit Group at Langley Field. It was here that Chuck received his first exposure to fighter planes. Working around P-36 Hawks and the forerunner of the P-40, the YP-37, his ability was soon noticed and he was sent off to Armament School at Lowery Field in Colorado. In November of 1940, the 8th pursuit Group moved to Mitchell Field on Long Island. Now equipped with some new P-40s and a few of the troublesome Bell YFM-1 Airacudas while still flying some of the older and now obsolescent P-36 Hawks, Chuck was gaining the experience that would later provide him with a special opportunity. One of his more interesting duties was flying in the Martin B-10 as a tow target operator. There are very few people alive today who can say that they crewed a B-10.
In early 1941 President Roosevelt authorized General Claire Chennault to recruit U.S. military personnel for duty with the Chinese Air Force. As Chennault's representatives toured U.S. air fields, Chuck got wind of their mission. Still filled with a thirst for adventure and the lure of earning nearly five times as much money every month, Chuck signed on the dotted line. Granted a Convenience of the Government discharge in May of 1941, Chuck soon found himself aboard ship heading for duty with the American Volunteer Group.
Arriving in Burma, Mr. Baisden was assigned to the 3rd Squadron (forever to be known as the "Hell's Angels"). Chuck soon established himself as a first rate Armament Specialist.
Editor's note: It is a little known fact that several of the Curtiss P-40s purchased by China were fitted with Browning machine guns of 7.92 mm caliber. This, of course, was the standard caliber of the basic Mauser rifles and Maxim infantry machine guns generally equipping the Chinese Army. See Chuck's letter from General Chennault.
Chuck served with distinction until the Flying Tigers were disbanded on July 4th 1942. Returning Stateside in September, he re-enlisted two months later as a T/Sgt and was assigned as a Group armament inspector at Westover Field, Massachusetts working with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. On New Years day 1943, Chuck was promoted to Master Sergeant. Shortly thereafter, he applied for and was accepted into the AAF's Cadet Pilot program. It did not take very long to convince Chuck that he was not cut out to be a pilot and he washed out.
Undaunted, he was sent to Kingman to train as a B-17 ball turret gunner.
Upon completing the training, he was ordered to the east coast to join
a "Project 9". This unit later became the famous 1st Air Commando Group.
In December of 1943, the Group arrived at Karachi, moving soon after
to Hailakandi-Assam. Chuck was quickly gobbled up by R.T. Smith as a
top turret gunner and NCOIC of the Squadron.
According to Smith:
"When I was named to command the B-25H Squadron of the Air Commandos, I personally confiscated Chuck as my top turret gunner. He flew more than fifty (58) missions with me, carrying out his duties with initiative, dedication and expertise. We shared many a wild and hazardous experience during those hectic days and I think of Chuck not only as a comrade-in-arms, but as a tried-and-true friend."
After finishing his tour overseas, Chuck reported to Lowry Field where he served as an instructor in B-29 remote control turrets until being discharged in September 1945.
As a civilian, Chuck missed the challenges of military life and re-enlisted once again in 1948 as a Staff Sergeant. He was assigned to an F-82 Wing at Mitchell and McGuire Air Force bases. He was transferred to Japan in June of 1950 and was assigned to the 80th Fighter/Bomber Squadron of the 8th Fighter/Bomber Group at Itazuke and later the Group moved to Kimpo, Korea. Promoted to T/Sgt. Chuck was transferred to the 93rd Bomber Squadron of the 19th Bomb Wing, located at Kadena AFB, Okinawa. Serving as a combat gunner, Chuck flew many bombing missions over North Korea until his crew rotated back to the States in December of 1951.
Mr. Baisden continued to fly in B-29s until they were phased out of service. He was then trained as a KC-97 Refueling Boom Operator. Then stationed at Otis AFB, Chuck successfully completed 815 refueling contacts and claims this resulted in much gray hair.
After more than 25 years of distinguished and dedicated service, Chuck Baisden finally retired from the Air Force in January of 1964 as a Master Sergeant.
Service awards include the DFC, Bronze Star, Air Medal, 4 Presidential Unit Citations (WWII), SAC Crew Of The Month, Combat Ready Award, 2 Korean War Presidential Unit Citations and the highly prized China National Service Medal.
Chuck resides with his wife Willa in Savannah Georgia. He has three children and eight grandchildren.
Some years after retiring, Chuck decided the time had come to clean out decades of records, letters and photos that he had accumulated during his military career. "In doing so", says Chuck, "I began to remember an incredible time in my life. It was a period, I realized, in which I had a chance to do some things very few people ever get a chance to do." Chuck would eventually put together a self-published book about his experiences in the Air Corps, AVG and Air Force with the appropriate title of Flying Tiger to Air Commando.
Just recently, the book has been revised and published anew by Schiffer Books. Jam packed with photos and rare documents, the book is a special treat for anyone with an interest in the Flying Tigers or Air Commandos. Whereas very little has been written about the uniquely original Air Commandos, this book is of unusual value to the historian and aviation enthusiast as well. Flying Tiger to Air Commando can be ordered at any bookstore or can be obtained directly from Chuck by using the e-mail link provided below.