Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Pilots bring old secrets to light

The existence of the Black Bats Squadron, which flew numerous clandestine missions in the Korean and Vietnam wars in support of the US, is only now being recognized

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Eighty-two year old Tai Shu-ching, who claims to have flown 78 secret missions over China in the 1950s and 1960s, displays records from his glory days.

PHOTO: AP

In the Military Dependants Village Museum in Hsinchu City, 85-year-old veteran Liu Chiao-chi (劉教之), a member of the 34th Squadron in the ROC Air Force, was telling a visitor of the dangers and hardship he experienced when he was still in service.

While talking, Liu pointed the different travel routes he had flown on a map and to photos of pilots he recognizes. He also explained in detail the significance of the squadron's emblem - a bat with seven stars - and explains how this special squadron was formed.

"Not too many knew about this," Liu told the Taipei Times. "The Ministry of Defense even acted like we'd never existed and tried to dissociate themselves from this part of history."

Liu's disappointment may have been shared by other members who used to serve in this particular air force squadron, whose sacrifices have been ignored by the government and were almost unknown by their contemporaries.

A Bit of History

In the early 1950s, when the US was engaged in the Korean War, the US government recognized the strategic role that Taiwan could play and decided to work more closely with Taiwan.

The Nationalist Government in Taiwan at the time had its own agenda, with President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) still hoping to one day retake China. For this, he would need US military aid.

A secret cooperation between the two began through the establishment of Western Enterprises Inc in Taipei, which was composed mainly of experienced combat and intelligence specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The purpose was to facilitate the provision of advanced armaments and personnel training from the US to Taiwan.

Some of the local trainees eventually became members of the 34th Squadron, which was charged with flying secret low-altitude reconnaissance flights over China. Special cameras were installed on their planes, allowing them to capture photos of China's military infrastructure. As they would only be sent for missions at night, they were nicknamed the Black Bats Squadron (黑蝙蝠中隊).

The Bats reported directly to Taiwan's Air Force Intelligence Administration, an organization independent of the Air Force's chain of command.

General I Fuen (衣復恩) was the chief of the administration and the main coordinator between the US and Taiwan in this project .As the actions taken by the Bats were highly classified, General I was granted the authority to report directly to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

Each member of the squadron was asked to write his will before he began to fly missions. Each also was required to sign a document demanding they keep all their actions secret.

Between 1955 and 1968, the Bats flew 838 missions, during which 142 officers were killed.

In the documentary The Secret Hidden in the Sky of Taiwan (台灣天空的祕密), director Ting Wen-chin (丁雯靜) located some members of the Bats Squadron and persuaded them to tell their story.

Pilot Chu Cheng (朱震) remembered being on a mission one night, when Chinese planes got a lock on him soon after the team had completed their task.

"They were following us closely and I couldn't fly any lower to the ground," Chu recalled. "The situation left me with no time to think about questions of life and death; I only knew I needed to find ways to dodge."

Chu survived - but only because his attacker used up all his bullets.

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