Robert Short, American airman

American airman Robert Short, an Army Reserve Lieutenant, was in China in early 1932 when the so-called January 28th Incident occured and Japanese forces carried out attacks in the Shanghai area. The Japanese had total control of the skies over Shanghai.

This coincided with the arrival of an experimental fighter plane, the Boeing XP925A, (modified 218) which was quickly set up and armed. Short had been working for L.E. Gale, importer of Boeing airplanes, and was introduced as an advisor to the Chinese Government. He delivered the plane to Nanjing on Feb 19, 1932. It was given by Boeing to the Chinese after having been used as a test ship for many new advances in fighter design.

On that flight, Short engaged a flight of three Japanese fighters near Nanxiangzhen and shot down one, killing a Japanese flyer, Lt. Kidokoro of the Naval attache air unit. Then, on February 22, 1932, Short single-handedly attacked a formation of six Japanese naval aircraft -- three bombers escorted by three fighters -- which were bombing a refugee train at Suzhou Station. Short mortally wounded the commander of the bomber flight, Lt. Kotani, but then died himself when he pressed on with the attack despite having a fighter on his tail flown by Lt. Ikuta, who shot him down in flames. The low altitude combat lasted less than two minutes and was witnessed by many.

The Chinese were astonished by Short's action and gave him a hero's funeral which was delayed for a month so that his mother and brother could attend, along with half a million people who gathered along the route of the procession, wailing "Short, La." He was buried near Hongjiao Airport in Shanghai. The image of American planes defending China was established.

Short had the dubious honour of being the first man to be shot down in aerial combat by the Japanese.

For more information on aviation in Old China, see also August 14, 1937, and early aviation.