Contributor: David Stubblebine
Blood Chits, or more properly Identification Flags or Escape Patches, in World War II are most famously associated with the China-Burma-India theater of operations and especially Claire Chennault's "Flying Tigers" of the First American Volunteer Group in China. In the most general terms, a Blood Chit is a written promise of reward to local civilian populations for the safe return of a stranded servicemember.
One of the earliest examples of the concept, according to legend, was a 1793 letter penned by George Washington addressed to "All Citizens of the United States" and given to a French balloonist who did not speak English. The letter contained instructions for residents to assist the balloonist in returning to Philadelphia since it was not known where he and his balloon might come down.
The World War II Blood Chit derived directly from the "Goolie Chit" carried in World War I by British Royal Flying Corps aviators in India and the Middle East. The word "chit" came into English by way of the British occupation of India and a Hindi word meaning a small document or note indicating a debt to be paid.
In 1937 when Claire Chennault arrived in China as an advisor to the Chinese Air Force, foreign pilots flying in China were already being issued rescue patches by the Nationalist Chinese government. They were printed on silk, about the size of a handbill, with a prominent Nationalist Chinese flag in the upper half and Chinese text in the lower half. The text was a message to the effect, "This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care." The text was printed in black while the area was over-stamped in red with the seal of an agency of the Nationalist Chinese Government. This seal was known as the "chop" and was an official stamp carved out of ivory. During the war, chits were authorized by different commissions within the Chinese government and each agency had its own chop. All chits bearing an official chop had implied rewards to those providing aid backed by the Nationalist Chinese Government.
Flying Tiger Blood Chits also came with individual serial numbers but it is unclear how they were recorded. It is known that Claire Chennault himself carried chit number 0001 and chits 0002-0200 were part of his estate after his death. Beginning with the second version of the Blood Chits, the numbering started over so there were many duplicate numbers. The United States War Department in Washington, D.C. issued their own version of the chits with slightly amended text and with serial numbers preceded by a 'W'. These W numbers ran to well over 10,000. The War Department chits were also individually over-stamped in China with the appropriate chop.
Later in the war, many other versions of the chit appeared, some official and some not, with different national flags and with many other languages used. Many of the Flying Tigers famously applied their Blood Chits onto the backs of their flying jackets but sewing them into the inside of their jackets was probably more common, especially later in the war. The silk fabric, if sewn inside the jacket on just three sides, made a good map pocket. Additionally, not prominently displaying the Nationalist Chinese flag on one's back often worked out better if the fliers came down in areas controlled by the Chinese Communists (to this day, the Chinese Communists are still touchy about the Nationalist Chinese flag!). To illustrate the meaning of the chits to their prospective audiences, great numbers of leaflets were dropped with drawings of Chinese farmers and peasants helping downed American airmen who were displaying their chits on the inside of their jackets.
There was even a version of the chit from 1944 showing an American flag with Russian text for United States aircrews in the European Theater involved in Operation Frantic on their shuttle bombing missions into and out of Ukraine.
Beyond World War II, similar instruments were used by United States and/or United Nations forces during the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Cuban missile crisis, the Gulf War, and operations in Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia, and the continuing War on Terrorism. Many of the records surrounding Blood Chits, even those from World War II, remain classified to this day as the families of citizens who helped Allied airmen would still be in danger if the full facts were known.
Air Force Magazine - 1 Oct 1998
China-Burma-India - Remembering the Forgotten Theater of World War II
Herbert A. Friedman - The United States PSYOP Organization in the Pacific During World War II
Last Major Update: Apr 2021
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945