Survival Chits, Maps and Aids to Assist Downed Aviators

History and Development

Since 1917, downed aircrews have depended upon the survival chit, 'a few square inches of fabric promising a reward,' for help in returning home safely.  

Yu Song Dan will never forget that day--July 12, 1950--17 days after the Korean War began. Neither will seven American airmen from a Boeing B-29, who owe their lives to the young North Korean and his father, Yu Ho Chun, who rescued them after they parachuted from their crippled plane and protected them from detection by North Korean forces. They also owe their lives to a "blood chit," a written promise to reward anyone who helped the downed airmen. 

The B-29's mission was to bomb a bridge in a chain of islands off the Inchon Peninsula. The sky was overcast at 8,000 feet, and the B-29 crew had been instructed to bomb visually. As they approached the target area, flying below the clouds, they were attacked by a Soviet-made Yakovlev Yak-9 fighter. The B-29 caught fire, and its crew bailed out over enemy territory. One of the airmen, who was badly wounded, was found by several North Koreans, who pulled his flight suit off, dressed his wounds and put him into civilian clothes. They found a silk scarf with an American flag and several oriental languages printed on it in his flight suit pocket. Yo Song Dan took it to his father, head of the village of Chumen-Do. The message, written in Korean, stated: "I am an American. I do not speak your language. Misfortune forces me to seek your assistance in obtaining food, shelter and protection from the Communists. Please take me to someone who will provide for my safety and see that I am returned to my people. I will do my best to see that no harm comes to you. My government will reward you." 

At great risk to themselves, the North Koreans located the other B-29 airmen and took them by junk 100 miles down the coast, where they were put aboard a British frigate and taken to safety. Two weeks later, Yu Ho Chun was captured by North Korean soldiers, who tortured him and then stabbed him to death. He was awarded the Air Force Exceptional Service Award posthumously 14 years later. His son, Yu Song Dan, who immigrated to Houston in 1988, received a check from the U.S. government for $100,000 in 1993. It was the largest award ever made under the blood chit program, which saved or assisted at least 42 airmen to return to friendly forces during that "forgotten war." 

This written promise of reward for help rendered American airmen has been in effect since the winter of 1937-38, when Colonel Claire L. Chennault's 14th Volunteer Bombardment Squadron, predecessors to the famed "Flying Tigers," wore cloth patches, called "hu chao," on their flight suits.  These identified the wearers as Americans who were helping China fight the Japanese and requested that the Chinese assist them. At first called rescue patches, these blood chits, as they were later dubbed, were a pass to safety for those who crashed or bailed out in enemy-occupied areas-as well as what amounted to a U.S. government IOU. 

The use of blood chits originated with British Royal Air Force (RAF) units serving in India and Mesopotamia during and after World War I. The cards or certificates, first called ransom notes, were given to pilots and observers printed or handwritten in Urdu, Farsi, Pashto, Arabic and other local languages. These promised large monetary rewards to anyone who assisted in the safe return of airmen to the nearest British outpost.  Airmen were also issued cards containing short phonetic phrases that could help them communicate with their helpers. In the vernacular of the times, the RAF crews called them "goolie" chits, based on the Hindustani word for "ball," because of the very real threat that captured airmen would be turned over to tribal women to be castrated. The term "blood chit" was simply a more polite term that was eventually adopted by the British and American military forces. 

The concept of providing airmen with a written request for assistance might be said to have begun when American President George Washington gave Jean-Pierre Blanchard a "passport" before the famous French balloonist ascended from Philadelphia for the first piloted balloon flight in America on January 9, 1793. It was a letter that recommended "to all citizens of the United States, and others, that in his passage, descent, return, or journeying elsewhere, they oppose no hindrance to the said Mr. Blanchard; and that on the contrary, they receive and aid him with...humility and goodwill." 

The letter proved helpful when Blanchard landed near Woodbury, N.J. Farmers who saw the strange object drop out of sky began to flee, frightened by the balloon's sudden appearance and by Blanchard's shouting at them in French. When he showed them the president's letter, however, they immediately helped him to return to Philadelphia. 

The blood chits issued to Chennault's pilots beginning in 1937 bore the Chinese Nationalist flag, the chop (or seal) of the Chinese air force headquarters (later the Chinese Aeronautical Commission) and Chinese lettering that read: "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," implying that a debt was owed to anyone who helped save an Allied airman from capture by the Japanese. In the early months of World War II, the British issued blood chits to their aircrews, including several in 1940 to RAF pilots in Ethiopia. When the United States entered the war, the Americans adopted the practice, printing chits in nearly 50 languages. 

In their extensively illustrated book Last Hope: The Blood Chit Story, authors R.E. Baldwin and Thomas W. McGarry point out that illiteracy among the Chinese prevented many from reading the Chinese characters, but the Chinese flag on the chits was universally recognised. The need for better communication between downed airmen and indigenous populations led to the publication of "pointee-talkee" booklets. These small books were first made by American and British escape-and-evasion organisations in Asia.  Printed in English and the other languages most likely to be needed, they had questions and answers listed side-by-side in both languages so an airman could point to a question in English and the native could point to an answer in his language. Also provided for those who could not read were colourful illustrations, cartoons or symbology that would identify a downed crew member as an Allied flier, show that he desired assistance in returning to Allied hands and assure the rescuer that he would be rewarded for his help. 

The authorities realised that incentives would be needed to persuade natives of foreign lands to help, and there were none more acceptable than money or objects of value that were prized by the recipients. Small purses containing paper money, silver and gold coins were issued before each mission to Australian, Dutch and American crews operating over the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). Use of the purses was supposed to be carefully controlled--they were to be opened only when a downed airman needed the contents to gain assistance and reward his helpers. In addition to blood chits, other NEI kits contained promissory notes, glossaries and letters to native chieftains that were to be filled in by the airman with his name, rank, serial number and the circumstances and type of assistance he was given. In areas where money might not be of much interest to potential rescuers, barter or trade kits were provided that contained articles like buttons, razor blades, safety pins, rings, watches, gold link chains and small pieces of jewellery. Emergency currency certificates called "guerrilla currency," which promised payment to guerrilla fighters when the war was over, were printed and issued during the 1945 Philippine operations. 

The flying services had a problem with security for the kits containing currency. Their storage and issuance were an administrative burden, particularly in the post WWII­era, when the Strategic Air Command (SAC) had large stockpiles of currency on hand for dozens of foreign countries. Blood chits were never meant to be given to those who helped the fliers.  Instead, a crew member was to give anyone who helped a written statement summarising the nature and extent of assistance rendered, the blood chit number, the crewman's name, and his signature. The amount paid would be based on the amount of risk the helper faced during the rescue, the duration of aid and any personal losses. 

The evasion kits improved as World War II continued in the Pacific. Small paperback phrase books that included military terms translated from English, as well as booklets with advice on escape and survival, were added to the kits. Lieutenant Robert S. McCarter, a North American P-51 pilot in the Fifth Air Force, wrote in Last Hope that his kit was carried on long missions from the Philippines to Hong Kong or Formosa and had to be returned to the personal equipment officer upon his return. He recalled: "The kit contained a silk Blood Chit with the American flag and another silk chit with the Chinese flag. There were three paper items: one is a picture of a downed flier facing a Chinese coolie and showing the open flight jacket with the chit of the American flag; another shows the insignia of the Fifth, Thirteenth and CBI air forces surrounding a paragraph written in Chinese. The third item was a typewritten sheet of 10 questions in English and Chinese. These items were folded and placed in a clear plastic packet. In addition, my packet contained two cloth maps of the area we were to cover." 

Cloth chits used in the Pacific and other theatres were worn or carried in various ways. According to Roger Perreault, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, blood chits were sewn to the outside of the intermediate leather flight jacket or to the outside of the flight coveralls. "They soon became tattered and dirty from chafing against the parachute harness," Perreault recalled. "Some pilots had them sewn inside. They were placed high inside in the middle of the back. I never had mine sewn on at all. I carried them folded in my jacket or coverall pockets. I just transferred them from pocket to pocket into whatever I was wearing for a particular flight." Joseph Caruana, a P-51 Mustang pilot in the Fifteenth Air Force, recalls that when he was flying missions over Europe, an evasion kit was issued before each flight and contained two maps; currency of either France or Germany, depending on the route of flight; a compass atop a waterproof matchbox; pointee-talkee booklets; and an identification card with his photograph in civilian clothes. 

One of the important requirements of the blood chit system, especially in China during World War II, was authenticity. The chop of the Chinese ambassador to the United States was necessary to make chits legitimate. Thousands of cloth chits were manufactured by four companies in the United States, and the chops were laboriously imprinted by hand at the Nationalist Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., by Lloyd R. Shoemaker and a colleague, both American military intelligence specialists.  Many tests were conducted on the cloth chits to prevent fading and to make them more durable and more waterproof. Rayon acetate was tried, but that material deteriorated rapidly in tropical climates. How the material reacted to rapid or extreme temperature changes and exposure to gasoline or other agents also had to be considered. Eventually, cotton became the recommended material for the cloth chits. However, the information gathered during the fabric testing was lost when wartime records were destroyed in 1945. 

Despite problems with it, rayon acetate was used after World War II until 1961. Today chits are made of Tyvek Spun-bonded Olefin paper, the same durable material that is employed in mattress tags. Whatever material is used, one official report in 1963 emphasised that it must be low in bulk, because "aircrews notoriously object to the addition of even the slightest unnecessary bulk and weight." 

Although blood chits were principally used in the Pacific theatre, British and American crews engaged in the shuttle-bombing missions between England and Italy with landings in Russia were also issued blood chits and language aids in English, Russian and Eastern European languages. The Red Army troops were notoriously trigger-happy and would more often than not shoot first, then check for identification afterward. Crews were cautioned to be aware of the location of the front lines and to carry an identification card. They were also advised to learn some Russian phrases.  Some crews were issued arm bands showing the American flag, similar to those used by American troops during the Normanby invasion.  Intelligence officers briefing shuttle-bombing crews, mindful that some might be forced down in Russian-held territory, told the crews: "Do not arouse suspicion of Red Army troops by any overt action; do not attempt concealment, and do not bear arms in your hands. Raise your hands on the approach of Red Army troops; indicate or display your identification card." 

A blood chit program would not have had any validity if the promised rewards were not forthcoming when individuals presented their chits for payment and their stories were authenticated. At first during World War II, the awards paid depended on the war theatres and their commanders.   Payment of $50 in equivalent local currency for each bona fide chit was eventually established as standard compensation in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, New Guinea and the Philippines. The standard payments in Greece, North Africa and the China-Burma-India Theatre was $100. During the Korean conflict, the payment for a blood chit was normally $100.00. 

All payments could be made in "specific cash or equivalent" and did not include payments for lodging, food and transportation of the downed airmen. However, repayments for care and safe havens were payable at $5 for each day up to 30 days that a rescued individual was sheltered, and from $1 to $2.50 per day for each day a person was sheltered beyond 30 days. In neutral Sweden and Switzerland, the expenses of aircrews interned there and the expenses of covert work to evacuate them were paid from confidential air attaché funds or by the State Department. 

Blood chit payments were made by Allied occupying forces as soon as possible in some cases or were postponed until the enemy was defeated in others, in an effort to prevent an enemy from taking revenge on helpers or their families. When World War II was over, U.S. and British claims commissioners travelled throughout war-torn Europe, trying to authenticate and pay blood chit claims and promissory notes handed out by American troops. A summary report shows that in Europe, the commissioners paid 65,000 persons blood chit rewards. If a person who assisted an airman had died in the process and his case was authenticated, appropriate decorations "commensurate with the services rendered" were awarded, according to a 1957 report. 

And so it was that the North Korean Yu Song Dan received a $100,000 check from Uncle Sam in 1990 for his and his father's efforts to save the seven members of that B-29 crew in June 1950. The amount represented the payment in effect at that time, plus 43 years of interest. 

The blood chit story does not end with World War II or the Korean War. Since World War II, military planners have always envisioned the possibility of future conflicts. For example, blood chits and kits were issued for operations in the Far East before the invasion of South Korea in 1950. In 1951, a series of three chits was issued to cover possible hostilities elsewhere in the Far East and in Europe, the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. The United Nations also issued special U.N. blood chits during the Korean War.  Blood chits were printed in 1960 in anticipation of possible operations in Latin America when Cuba nationalised American companies. These were available for issue in English, Spanish and Portuguese during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis a year later. During a period of heightened tension in Central America in the early 1960s, an interim Spanish language blood chit was issued because no suitable chit existed for that area. At the same time, blood chits were created for Southeast Asia and the Pacific area. Those were reprinted for use during the Vietnam War, and dates as late as 1968 appear on the chits. 

In the 1960s, the rise of turbulence in Third World countries, particularly African nations emerging from colonisation, increased the potential for American military involvement. Blood chits for this area presented special problems because large numbers of the people there could neither read nor write. The pointee-talkie booklets, with their pictograph cartoon characters and printed languages, proved useless when it was discovered that some groups were incapable of interpreting two-dimensional representations. Others could not link the meaning of one picture to the next frame of the cartoon. 

By 1967, SAC had opted to return to using only blood chits, a practice that was quickly followed by other commands. In Southeast Asia, the blood chit program was augmented by dropping propaganda leaflets promising rewards for helping not only downed fliers but also American civilians.  Because authorities were worried that the rewards might tempt South Vietnamese to kidnap Americans, the program originally included only North Vietnam and Laos, but it was later expanded to include South Vietnam as well. 

Blood chits have been issued as part of evasion kits to airmen in advance of operations in Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia and the Persian Gulf War. Chits for use during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were first made in November 1990 and are still available for units stationed in the Middle East. Today's kits most often consist of a blood chit, evasion charts, a compass, currency and sometimes a pointee-talkie. The chits are serial-numbered in each corner so that the corners can be torn off and given to four helpers. Authorities emphasise that such payments must not be considered ransom in any way. "U.S. policy has always been never to pay hostile forces or terrorists ransom for hostages or prisoners," according to Paul Boucher, former chief of the Evasion and Escape Operations Division of the Joint Services Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Agency, also known as the JSSA, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, USA. 

During World War II, the U.S. Military Intelligence Service's Evasion and Escape Section (MIS-X) directed the American chit program, while the British escape and evasion organisations (MI-9 and IS-9) provided a similar program for their units. Later, the Defence Mapping Agency took over the U.S. program. Today, the blood chit program is administered from Fort Belvoir by the JSSA, which is responsible for determining and disseminating blood chit policy and for authorising the production, distribution and use of blood chits. The JSSA also establishes payment limitations and provides or appoints an individual in-theatre as its representative to adjudicate all claims. Blood chits are now produced by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) in St. Louis. Although most activities of today's SERE program are classified, the blood chit program is not. The reason, according to Robert Baldwin, is because "we want the world to know that we will pay well to get our people back in the hope that the publicity of rewards will enhance the probability of actually getting them back." 

All chits are carefully stored and controlled and units are accountable for them, but they "have absolutely no monetary or operational value until operationally used," according to a Joint Services SERE background paper.  "When an aircrew member is downed in enemy territory, that individually numbered chit becomes active and has value for purposes of evasion assistance and financial compensation." 

While they may have no value until actually used, blood chits from the past have become valuable collectibles because of their rarity and historical significance. These artefacts, mostly made available by veterans of past wars, are becoming more scarce and thus more popular in certain circles. 

Most of the blood chits available today had been kept by their original users and not turned in when they completed their foreign tours. However, a large number of escape-and-evasion kits containing British and South African gold coins, rings and chains were sold to bidders in 1984 by the Defence Property Disposal Service. 

As Baldwin and McGarry note in Last Hope: The Blood Chit Story (LEFT), "Being forced down over enemy or unknown territory is probably one of a combat pilot's worst fears. Separated from his aircraft and wing men, no longer in control of a graceful and deadly machine, often alone and perhaps injured on the ground of a foreign, unfamiliar territory, his nightmare has become reality." To him the blood chit-- "a few square inches of fabric promising a reward for the necessities of survival, assistance in evading capture, and safe return to friendly hands"--represents his last hope, as it has since 1917 to countless evaders down in enemy-controlled territory.

Thanks must be given to Robert E. Baldwin who provided information to assist in the preparation of this article.  Mr. Baldwin is the co-author (along with Thomas W. McGarry) of Last Hope: The Blood Chit Story (right) and is director of the International Blood Chit Museum in Berkeley, California. The museum is dedicated to "the preservation of the artefacts and documentary history of the escape and evasion efforts of the United States, Britain, and the Commonwealth nations from all time periods." It provides consultation, makes escape-and-evasion artefacts available to other museums for temporary exhibit, and supplies displays and slide shows to aviation groups and other organisations. The museum can be contacted at: P.O. Box 11131, Berkeley, CA. 94712-2131, USA. 

The definitive text as of 2008 is survical chits is Last Hope - The Blood Chit Story, published by Schiffer USA. This thoroughly researched book deals with all aspects of survival chits, promisory notes and escape devices. 

BELOW:   All chits and maps unless otherwise sited are from my collection and are of original manufacture (not reproductions).     

Safe conduct chit as issued by the Chinese Aero Commission to US aviators who served in China and surrounding areas (Circa October 1944)

MIS X Type 1 chit. This chit was the first type made by Military Intelligence Service (MIS-X) in the US for use in China.  The chit is a direct copy of the original Chinese Aero Commission Rescue Patch as used by the 14th Volunteer Bombardment Group (14th VBS).  The 14th VBS was developed in 9 July 1932, reached their heyday in 1937-38 with Chennault and were disbanded on 22 March 1938.  On 15th April 1941 Roosevelt allowed China to recruit pilots for the American Volunteer group AVG (Flying Tigers).  This chit was issued circa early October 1944. 

The chop is that of the Kuomintang government’s ambassador to the USA whilst the flag is that of the Chinese nationalist flag.  The serial number is proceeded by a W which designates that this chit was issued in Washington DC.  The scrip translates to:

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. 

This message is identical to the late style Chinese Aero Commission Rescue chit from which this chit was derived.  The W preceding the issue number indicates the chit was issued from Washington DC.

US blood chit printed in seven languages: French, Annamese (Vietnamese), Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai and Lao (Circa late 1944)

MIS X Type 4 chit. This chit is the fourth and final chit that was printed in seven languages.  Annam was for the northernmost province of French Indo China, and the language named Annamese is what we call Vietnamese today.

Serial numbers for Type 4 chits are printed in red at the bottom, and early versions such as this one are identified by the fact that the No: does not precede the serial number.  The inclusion of Japanese was important as folks in the Marshall islands and in Korea had been under Japanese control since 1910 and were well versed in the language.

The American flag has replaced the Chinese flag so that the chit can be used in several operational regions.  Furthermore, by 1944 many inhabitants of war torn countries knew what the American flag looked like.  The chit is printed on rayon acetate material and is numbered.  Most Type 4 chits were issued to USN , USMC and USAAF fliers operating in the POA and SWPA.  Very few of this style were used in China and India.  These latter countries for the most part had chits made in-country or used the MIS X Type 1 chit.

Strict protocols were established as to which units were issued which numbers, however, the administrative burden on such a system frequently meant that many numbers were not recorded.  This chit is the same design style as chits used in the Korean, Vietnam and cold war periods, with the exception that languages were changed dependant on operational areas.  Chit size is approximately 31 cm x 24 cm.          


Survival chit, cloth charts, stars and stripes silk flag and shoulder flash (China Burma India area of operations). Circa 1939-1945)

Three rayon/silk survival maps that still are folded as they were issued to pilots for inclusion into their survival packs. 

Survival maps were made of paper, cloth, rayon, cheesecloth, silk and an assortment of other materials.  Maps made from silk and rayon was favoured as they did not decompose when wet, dried quickly and did not make a noise when the downed pilot opened them or folded them.  Maps provided essential information such as currents, depth, wind directions, land areas, etc.  There are many variants and they were folded concertina-style for packing into either survival kits or placing within pockets of flight apparel. 

The small stars and stripes silk patch (10 x 4 inches) was often carried in the pocket or sewn to the upper shoulder of the A2 jacket, while the shoulder patch was often used as a ready means of identifying the pilot's nationality to natives and others who did not speak English.  The shoulder patch is the insignia for personnel assigned to the China Burma India area of operations.  The pen is for scale only.


Survival chart/map constructed from silk depicting ocean currents.  AAF Cloth Chart Naci-Ho N0. S-12 and Western Pacific.  Circa 1939-1945

The map at the left was used by Lt. Edward Lewis Krum – 28TH Photo Reconnaissance  Squadron and 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron during his service in the Pacific Area of Operations. 

Click this link to read more on this officer

Lt. Krum carried this map on all of his photographic and recon assignments along with a RAAF drift chart and MIS Type 4 survival chit.  The map is made of silk, double sided with different maps on each side, and opens to a size of approximately one meter by one meter.  His name is marked in the margin and the article shows the effects of much use.







Survival chit used by RAF flight personnel during the Gulf War.  Circa 2003-2004

This white coloured chit constructed from coarse silk was used by RAF flight personnel during the current Iraq Gulf War conflict.  The chit depicts several local languages: Turkish, Aramaic, Kurdish, Armenian, Persian, Arabic and English.  The English reads:

"I am British and I do not speak your language.  I will not harm you!  I bear no malice towards your people.  My friend, please provide me with food, water, shelter, clothing and necessary medical attention.  Also, please provide safe passage to the nearest friendly forces of any country supporting the British and their allies.  You will be rewarded for assisting me when you present this number and my name to the British authorities".

Note this issue stamp number located in the bottom right hand corner.  The chit is the size is approximately 30 cm x 1 cm.

In addition to this chit, RAF aviators also carried cloth and silk terrain maps.  These terrain maps are identical to the standard military issue topographical maps. 




Survival chit and map combined.  AAF Cloth Chart No. 133.  Circa 1943

This map constructed from rayon shows terrain covered by the Hump route from Chabau, India to Kunming, China.  The map has printed in the boarder seven languages: Bengali, Hindustani (Urdi), Kachin, Lisu , Burmese, Chinese and English.  The chit reads:

I am an American airman.  My plane is destroyed.  I cannot speak your language.  I am the enemy of the Japanese.  Please give me food and take me to the nearest Allied military post.  You will be rewarded.

This item was the only survival article produced by the US during the Second World War that combined two of the most important evasion aids: cloth map and survival chit (blood chit).  The map is double sided with a different map on the other side.  (partial image of chart shown.  Actual chart size is approximately one meter by one meter.





Survival chit used by aircrews flying over Russian occupied territory.  Circa 1943-1945

Two-sided chit with the Union Jack and a message in Russian and English were issued to Allied air crews operating over Soviet controlled areas.  The chits were made from rayon material and were designed to have been sewn together.  For some unknown reason this chit has not had its partner sewn to the rear.  The chit has been used and the edges (not visible in photo) have been folder over on themselves and exhibit blanket stitching.  The chit reads "Please communicate my particulars to British Military Mission in Moscow".

Chits were vital when flying over Russian occupied areas as the Russian were renown for being trigger happy.  Usually British and South African crews carried the chits in their pocket, however, American crews often sewed the chit to the inside of their flying jacket.

This survival chit was carried by Warrant Officer Frank Langford, South African Airforce during operations to resupply the Polish Underground Army in Warsaw (Warsaw Concerto) in 1944.    Click to read more about this officer


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