The Hawk III that flew over the skies of Shanghai was an export model of the Curtiss BF2C-1 Goshawk, one of many aircraft in the Curtiss ‘Hawk’ series. The Goshawk was designed for a combined fighter/bomber role, hence the ‘BF’ designation (for Bomber-Fighter). The design was the last Curtiss fighter to be accepted for service by the US Navy. The version exported to the ROCAF was officially the Model 68, but in service in China it was more commonly known as the Hawk III.
An evolution of previous designs, the Hawk III was a biplane with retractable landing gear (hand-cranked from the cockpit), powered by a 770hp Wright R-1820 engine. Armament consisted of a pair of .30cal machine guns and a total of 500lb of bombs.
The Hawk III served as a multi-purpose aircraft in Nationalist Chinese Air Force, acting as both a bomber and the primary ROCAF fighter during the initial phase of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. It was flown by some of the most famous Chinese aces of the war such as Kao Chi-hang and John Wong. It bore the brunt of Japanese attacks on Shanghai and Nanking in the first few months of fighting, but the Hawk force was badly worn down during these aerial battles.
The Hawk III was gradually replaced by Soviet fighter types as the pre-war ROCAF was ground down, and Russian-built I-15 and I-16 types were imported to rebuild it.