Chapter 15
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Allied Offensive in Burma

Through the discouraging months which followed the Allied loss of Burma in the spring of 1942, General Stilwell had labored to increase the effectiveness of the Chinese armies and to perfect plans for the reconquest of northern Burma in the hope of re-establishing overland communications with China. The Combined Chiefs of Staff in May 1943, though according an immediate priority to the needs of Chennault, had nevertheless given Stilwell the promise of support in his effort to free the trace of the Ledo Road.* This promise included the assurance that diversionary British offensives in central and south Burma would be undertaken in support of the coordinated advances of Chinese forces from Yunnan and Assam.1 Meeting at Quebec in August, the CCS reaffirmed these commitments and assigned to the newly established Southeast Asia Command of Lord Louis Mountbatten a mission to capture northern Burma and increase the flow of supplies to China.2

The plans adopted at this time included a proposal to use "long range penetration groups" for ground operations behind enemy lines according to a pattern tested under the leadership of Brig. Orde Wingate during the spring of 1943. Wingate's "First Expedition," though without important accomplishments, had been acclaimed because of the daring of its personnel and because it offered a new means of striking the enemy. It was accordingly decided to organize another expedition under Wingate with a special force raised from British imperial reserves, this force to be joined by 3,000 American ground combat troops in operations supporting the advance of Allied forces from Ledo, Yunnan, and Imphal. Wingate's original force having depended

* See above, p. 443.


Cheng-kung, China
Cheng-kung, China

Airfield Construction, CBI

India Base
India Base


Kunming, China
Kunming, China

Control Towers, CBI

Jorhat, India
Jorhat, India


Attack on Train, Mandalay-Yeu Railway
Attack on Train, Mandalay-Yeu Railway

Enemy Communications in Burma

Bombing Meza Bridge, 30 January 1944
Bombing Meza Bridge, 30 January 1944


7th Bombardment Group en route to Burma Target
7th Bombardment Group en route to Burma Target


heavily upon air supply, the new plans assigned an even larger role to air transport and Arnold promised a special unit for the purpose.3

Though Mountbatten did not arrive in the Far East until 6 October 1943 and did not activate his command until 16 November, the decisions at the QUADRANT conference immediately stirred British and American staffs in CBI to a new enthusiasm,4 and the prospect for a time continued to be hopeful. Within ten days of his arrival in India, Mountbatten went to China for conferences with the Generalissimo which established relations between SEAC and the Chinese government on a cordial basis, although the Generalissimo was careful as usual to safeguard his independence. When Mountbatten returned to New Delhi, where he first set up his headquarters (incidentally, outside the boundaries of his own command), he was accompanied by Stilwell. Together they drafted plans to be submitted to the President, the Prime Minister, and the Combined Chiefs at the forthcoming SEXTANT conference at Cairo.5 These plans rested upon the assurance given Mountbatten by Churchill that he would have sufficient support from British fleet units to undertake serious amphibious operations in southern Burma,6 thus meeting a condition placed by the Generalissimo on the commitment of his Yunnan force. The plans retained diversionary overland offensives toward Mandalay and Akyab in central Burma and extensive operations by long-range penetration groups.7

While these larger plans were being perfected, the Allied offensive got under way on 31 October 1943, when Stilwell launched a drive south from bases in the Brahmaputra valley with the immediate aim of seizing the Mogaung-Myitkyina area. The Chinese 22d and 38th Divisions were already heavily engaged in combat with elements of the Japanese 18th Division as Mountbatten and Stilwell took their plans for final approval to Cairo late in November.

At Cairo the reaction to the proposed strategy was favorable. The Generalissimo, who was present, received the assurance of the President and the Prime Minister that forces would be made available for the scheduled amphibious operations, and Chiang, after some vacillation, agreed to commit his Yunnan force. When he and Mountbatten left Cairo for India, where they reviewed the Chinese troops at Ramgarh, they had reason to believe that adequate plans had been agreed upon to guarantee a major success in Burma during 1944.8 But CBI fortunes, having thus reached their high point, faced an immediate and


Map: Burma Operations, Nov. 1943-May 1944
Burma Operations
Nov. 1943 -- May 1944


precipitous decline. On 27 November the President and the Prime Minister left Cairo for Tehran, where they met Marshal Joseph Stalin in the EUREKA conference. There the situation was drastically altered by Stalin's promise to join the war against Japan after the defeat of the European Axis provided British and American resources were meanwhile concentrated against Germany. Roosevelt and Churchill thereupon reversed some of the decisions they had made in Egypt, including the plans for Mountbatten's amphibious offensive. After his return to Cairo, the President informed the Generalissimo, by radio on 6 December 1943, that large-scale amphibious operations would have to be foregone.9

Seeking to hold Chiang Kai-shek to the commitment of his Yunnan force, Mountbatten promised to undertake a small amphibious operation to land 20,000 men behind the Japanese positions on the southern part of the Mayu Peninsula. The Generalissimo, however, considered himself to have been released from his promise of a Yunnan offensive* and, although he agreed to permit the Ledo force to continue the offensive which it had already begun, he would have nothing to do with Mountbatten's scheme.10

It seemed apparent to Mountbatten that without the Yunnan force there was little chance of securing the trace of the Ledo Road prior to the opening of a Chinese port by U.S. Pacific forces. He himself could assist Stilwell's drive with no more than three small operations: a thrust across the Chindwin River, a limited offensive in the Arakan against Akyab, and the employment of long-range penetration groups in the heart of Burma.11 The attempt to build the Ledo Road thus promised a waste of effort and materials which probably could be put to better use. Mountbatten accordingly turned his attention to possibilities toward which he had been inclined personally from the first, proposing an immediate concentration on the construction of additional airfields in Assam to provide the Fourteenth Air Force with the means for a stepped-up attack on the enemy air force in China and on Japanese shipping down the China coast. As a substitute for Stilwell's Burma campaign, Lord Louis proposed an attack on Sumatra and Singapore to be mounted after the defeat of Germany in coordination with the developing Allied offensives in the Pacific.12

These proposals brought Mountbatten into conflict with Stilwell, who stood fast for the advance across Burma as the surest and swiftest

* The situation was similar to that of January 1943. See above, p. 460.


means of establishing satisfactory communications with China. In an effort to win CCS support for the argument that offensive efforts should be concentrated south of Burma, Mountbatten sent representatives to Washington and London in February 1944.13 Stilwell countered by sending representatives to Washington, where the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had rejected British proposals for an attack on Sumatra as early as May 1943, recommended to the CCS that Mountbatten be directed to undertake the offensive in upper Burma during the current dry season.14

The Burma offensive had thus been launched with the highest hopes, had then been whittled down to a scale that raised serious doubts as to its effectiveness, and was continued under circumstances in which responsible commanders were divided as to its wisdom.

Thrusts into Burma

Meanwhile, as the year 1943 drew to its close, the military situation was not encouraging. After several weeks of heavy fighting, Allied forces had made no important gains. The Japanese held strong positions in the hills and mountains that formed the Burmese frontier with India. Though their lines of communication were elongated, they were in general adequate except for the last link. The dirt roads over which supplies had to be transported from the railheads to the battle front could not support the requisite traffic during the rainy season. The Burmese railway system in 1942 had had the sea at Rangoon as its only practicable contact with the outer world, but by 1944 it had been tied in with the railway systems of Thailand and Indo-China.15 Allied lines of communication were less satisfactory. Sea and air transportation from the United States and Britain to India and the air and rail transportation across India reached a final bottleneck in Assam. There were not enough fields to take care of the air traffic; river traffic up the Brahmaputra was slow and tortuous; and the Assam railway had been designed to meet the needs of tea gardens. Attempts to improve the rail line and increase its capacity dated from 1942, and though by May 1943 its daily tonnage had been raised from 600 to 1,000 tons, it was still far below requirements. Mountbatten and General Somervell wanted the line taken over by American railway troops. At first the Indian government objected strenuously but gave its consent in November 1943. An improvement was soon noticeable, but the tonnage fell far short of what had been promised. From Assam there were


still no all-weather roads crossing the mountains into Burma in 1943, and it was evident that advancing Allied armies would have to depend upon air supply for their success.16

In December 1943 there were four points at which the Allies were in contact with the enemy within the Burma area. The British 15 Corps was just over the Burma frontier in the Arakan, and the 4 Corps was in Assam. These two corps constituted the Fourteenth Army under Lt. Gen. William Joseph Slim. In north Burma there was the Northern Combat Area Command under Stilwell, who controlled the Chinese 22d and 38th Divisions with 30th Division held in reserve. In the region of Fort Hertz there was a small garrison of Kachins under British officers, and on 1 February 1944 they were transferred to Stilwell's NCAC. In India at Hailakandi and Lalaghat, to the rear of the Allied positions, Wingate was preparing his Special Force for long-range penetration operations in Burma. In opposition to the Allied forces the Japanese had the 55th Division in the Arakan and four divisions of the Fifteenth Army in Assam and north Burma, which gave the enemy a total of 135,000 troops. Reinforcements were arriving by the end of 1943, and by March 1944 the Japanese would have in Burma eight divisions and an independent brigade.17

Having failed in the attempt after his return from Cairo to persuade the Generalissimo to commit the Yunnan force to the fight, Stilwell left Chungking for the Burma front, where he arrived 21 December 1943. Undaunted by the cancellation of the amphibious operations and the collapse of plans for an offensive from Yunnan, Stilwell held to his convictions that he could take Myitkyina. Supported by a right-flank column from Taro, his main forces had to advance up the Hukawng valley and cross the relatively low mountain barrier at Jambu Bum into the valley of the Mogaung River, which flowed southeastward to join the Irrawaddy below Myitkyina. The distance was 170 air miles from Ledo, and it was more than doubled by devious trails which were steaming with moist heat, often choked with jungle growth, and dangerous with fever-bearing insects and poisonous reptiles--and defended by a wily enemy who was holding strong positions.18

General Stilwell had planned for his north Burma campaign since May 1942. Once he arrived in the battle area he sought to put aside the responsibilities of the paper war being waged in Delhi and Chungking. Though he was severely criticized for "disappearing in the jungles" when he was needed for important theater decisions,19 he put his heart


and soul into the fight as it was fought by the Chinese soldier, and within five months he had accomplished a victory which had generally been regarded as impossible. Throughout January the advance was slow, being bitterly opposed by the enemy over difficult terrain. By the end of the month the Ledo force was less than twenty miles from its position of 21 December. The offensive remained unimpressive, except for the fact that Chinese troops, well fed, clothed, equipped, and trained, had taken the initiative and forced back the Japanese army. Stilwell was rightfully satisfied with the accomplishment, for it was the first successful sustained Allied offensive in Burma.20 But before the momentum of his advance could achieve the spectacular, operations in the south distracted attention from the Ledo region.

The Japanese had planned an offensive against the Allied positions along the frontier of India as extensive as that which Stilwell had hoped to launch against the enemy. The main Japanese effort was to be aimed at Imphal and it was hoped that northern Assam could be occupied, thereby completing the isolation of China. The campaign was to be opened by a diversionary advance in the direction of Chittagong to draw off British reserves from the central front at Imphal. Lacking the means to supply their armies by air and without normal lines of communication across the mountains, the Japanese expected to maintain their forces from captured British stores.21

By the time the Japanese were ready to strike, the British had moved down the Arakan coast in a small salient toward Akyab, which actually gave the enemy an advantage. The Japanese attempted to repeat the tactics of infiltration which had won them victories in 1942 and 1943, and once again the method worked against the British ground forces. On 4 February the British found themselves outflanked on the left by strong Japanese forces, possibly as many as 10,000, who established road blocks to the Allied rear.22 The Indian 7 Division was cut off from other units, and the Japanese had every right to expect the British forces to attempt a full-scale retreat toward Chittagong. But the situation had changed since 1942 and 1943.The Third Tactical Air Force had the fighter strength to challenge Japanese air superiority above the Arakan battle area, and there were also at hand the transport planes to maintain the beleaguered Allied forces by air supply. At the same time sufficient reinforcements were brought in by air from Imphal to turn defeat into victory by 29 February.23

Up to the point of the Arakan crisis in February 1944 the Japanese


failed completely to understand the possibilities of air supply. On the other hand the Allies, probably through necessity alone, had slowly come to see its significance as a new line of communications. Air supply in the India-Burma area had begun quite modestly on the northwest frontier of India in 1941 when the RAF 31 Squadron gained valuable experience by transporting an army battalion to Iraq. Later, during the first Burma campaign the 31 Squadron was employed to fly supplies to Rangoon and evacuate refugees and casualties.24 Still later in the Burma retreat the American 7th Bombardment Group also participated in an impromptu effort at air transportation and air supply. Between 22 April and 15 June 1942, the Tenth Air Force used its planes to evacuate from Burma to India 4,499 passengers and 1,733,026 pounds of freight, and the RAF evacuated 4,117 persons and dropped 155,652 pounds of supplies to the armies below.* 25 Air supply continued to be used throughout the late spring and summer of 1942 to assist Chinese troops still operating in north Burma in a protracted retreat. After the Japanese invaders of Burma halted their advance some distance south of Fort Hertz, British efforts to supply the garrison by ground transport failed and air supply was adopted. Still later, when air warning stations were established in the Burmese hills, these too were supplied by air. Again, early in 1943 it became apparent that some of Stilwell's Chinese troops in the Naga Hills could not be supplied by native porters or by pack mules throughout the coming monsoon period. Knowing that troops in the Markham River valley in New Guinea had been supplied by air for brief periods, Stilwell decided to use air supply for his otherwise isolated units. The first successful mission was flown from Chabua 6 March 1943, with packing and loading being done by the 3477th Ordnance Company and the 60th Laundry Company.26

It is significant that in March 1943, a year before Wingate's second expedition, serious thought was given to an effective organization and to the development of procedures for the requisitioning, storing, and packing of supplies to be airlifted. These functions eventually came to be one of the keys to American success in air supply and their growth and evaluation are historically important. As it turned out, they were never a direct AAF responsibility, but they were such an integral part of air supply that they cannot be overlooked here. A new organization was set up under the Services of Supply consisting of a

* See Vol. I, p. 493.


detachment to pack and drop supplies and seven detachments, composed of one officer and nine enlisted men each, located in the forward areas to receive and issue supplies. This arrangement was functioning by 14 April 1943. The center of operations at first was Sookerating, later it was shifted to Chabua, and by 1 July 1943 it was in Dinjan.27

By the end of 1943, the potentialities of air supply were widely recognized. As plans for the reconquest of Burma developed at the TRIDENT and QUADRANT conferences, the conviction was held by leading figures in the theater that the advancing armies would have to be supplied by air. Thus in September 1943, Stratemeyer wrote Maj. Gen. Barney McK. Giles that "the only way we can supply any force that advances into Burma is by air. We must have troop carrier squadrons."28 When Stilwell planned his offensive southward from Ledo for the autumn of 1943 he knew he would have to rely on air supply for his advancing troops. At the same time the Joint Planning Staff was advocating an advance by the British eastward of Imphal, knowing that the forces would have to be supplied by air "during the monsoon."29

With the creation of the Eastern Air Command on 15 December 1943, it was decided to bring all air supply activities of the AAF and the RAF under one command. As a consequence, EAC established as one of its four subordinate components the Troop Carrier Command, an integrated organization containing AAF and RAF units. Brig. Gen. William D. Old was designated commander and instructed to "provide air transportation for airborne and air transit forces in the support and training of the Army Group and other land or air forces involved in operations in Burma." On 2 January 1944, General Old established his headquarters at Comilla, and during the first few weeks of its existence there was the usual shifting incident to becoming organized for operations.30 Though the original concept of TCC's role was not one of air supply, the force of events at once threw it into the business of transporting and supplying contingents of ground forces. The 1st and 2d Troop Carrier Squadrons were already engaged in this activity in north Burma when the British began their move into the Arakan in Tanuary 1944, and from mid-January until early February the British troops advancing toward Akyab received more than a thousand tons of supplies delivered by air.31

By 8 February, four days after the Japanese isolated the British force, the situation had become acute, with 22,000 troops having only two days' rations. To meet the emergency twenty-five C-46's were


temporarily transferred to TCC from ATC. Despite serious opposition from the Japanese both by antiaircraft fire and by attacks of fighters on the air transports, the mission was accomplished with protective cover for the transports supplied by fighters of the Third TAF. The most acute needs had been met by 10 February, but supplies continued to be flown to the troops throughout the remainder of the month,32 and by the end of February the situation had been saved. With sufficient supplies and some reinforcement, the British troops beat back the Japanese in defeat. As Stratemeyer wrote Arnold, "All in authority here are convinced that General Old's Troop Carrier Command ... was to a large extent responsible for the success of the battle."33

At Imphal the British felt themselves to be in a strong position, with substantial stores there and with smaller dumps at other near-by towns to meet the emergency needs of the 170,000 troops, civilian specialists, and laborers concentrated in the region.34 The city and its area were occupied by the 4 Corps, which had its 17 Division based at Tiddim, a hundred miles to the south, and its 20 Division located along the road to Tamu. The 23 Division had one brigade at Ukhrul, which guards the road about thirty-five miles northeast of Imphal.35 In India, west of Imphal, Wingate's Special Force was completing its training and final preparations for its glider flights over the Japanese lines to land far east of the Burma border. By 1 March it was a question which would strike first, the Japanese infantry gathering east of Imphal, or Wingate's Special Force in a test of its strength west of Imphal. As it happened, Wingate struck 5 March 1944, and five days later, 10 March, the Japanese broke through the British positions north of Tiddim.

The Special Force was made up of the Indian 77 Brigade, the Indian 111 Infantry Brigade, and the British 70 Division re-formed into 14, 16, and 23 Independent Brigades.36 Arnold, fulfilling his promise, committed the 5318th Air Unit under Col. Philip G. Cochran. This organization became an air task force allotted to the Third TAF for operational control, but it was strictly limited in activity to facilitating the forward movement and the supply and evacuation of the long-range penetration columns under Wingate. The task force, which was also instructed to provide the Wingate columns with an air covering and striking force, was equipped with the following aircraft:37


C-47 transports
C-64 transports
CG-4 gliders
L-1 and L-5 aircraft
TG-5 gliders
YR-4 helicopters
P-51A fighters
B-25H medium bombers

When General Marshall had called for the 3,000 volunteers to meet his promise to the long-range penetration groups, there were brought together some 950 veterans of Guadalcanal and New Guinea, 950 men from the Carribean Defense Command, and approximately 1,000 from highly trained units in the United States. Organized into the 5307th Composite Unit (Prov.) and known by code as the GALAHAD Force, the unit had reached India in the autumn of 1943 and immediately had gone into training under Wingate. Presumably Marshall had intended these first American ground combat troops in CBI to serve under Wingate, but in the end they were assigned to Stilwell for use with the Ledo force in north Burma. Placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill and popularly known as "Merrill's Marauders," they played a vital part in the development of Stilwell's campaign from late February.38

Despite previous plans to have the Special Force transported and supplied by Cochran's "Air Commando" force, Old's TCC received responsibility for supplying the expedition by air. As a practical matter, however, both organizations shared in the work, and on the question of control, it was agreed in the end that the task force should retain direction of all glider operations and TCC have charge of transport aircraft operations.39

Three points were selected behind the Japanese lines for landing the Special Force gliders:

The 77 Brigade, with an attached battalion, was scheduled to be flown into Broadway and Piccadilly, and the 111 Brigade was to be put down into Piccadilly and Chowringhee. All troops were to be lifted from the sod strips at Hailakandi and Lalaghat, with the exception of six columns of the 111 Brigade which were to be lifted from the Imphal area and the 16 Brigade which was to march into Burma from Imphal.40 Because Wingate objected to reconnaissance flights over the area he hoped to occupy, and even prohibited tactical flights within the vicinity, preparations for the expedition were completed without


knowledge of the condition of the strips. D-day was set for 5 March and the first take-off scheduled for 1740 hours, which would place the first gliders over Broadway and Piccadilly just after dusk. At the appointed time eighty loaded gliders were ready for the tow, when it was discovered in photographs taken a few hours before by the Air Commando photographic officer that large trees had been dragged across Piccadilly, making the field unusable, but that Broadway was apparently still in good shape. The photographs, of course, had been taken without the consent of Wingate, but they saved his expedition from a major disaster.41

It was decided to put all the gliders down on Broadway, and the take-off began. At first the tug aircraft took up a double tow of two gliders, which proved to be an unsatisfactory load. Frequently towropes broke in take-off. In other instances the consumption of gas was so great that some tugs and gliders had to return to home base or else the tugs had to cut loose their gliders, some over friendly bases and some over enemy territory. The first gliders to land at Broadway found that the field was ditched in several places and contained a number of water-buffalo holes. Early arrivals had their landing gear wrecked and could not be moved from the field before the second group of gliders came down to crash into them. As soon as possible, word was radioed to Lalaghat that no more gliders could be received because of the condition of the field.42 In summary, of a total of sixty-seven gliders dispatched on the night of 5 March, thirty-two reached Broadway. Nine of the remainder landed in hostile territory; nine others landed in friendly country; two were unreported; and fifteen were turned back after Broadway warned that no more gliders could be received at the field. Almost all the gliders reaching Broadway were wrecked or damaged, and only three could later be towed out. Thirty-one men were killed and thirty injured. Nevertheless, great achievements were recorded in the history of air transportation that first night. All told, 539 men, 3 animals, and 65,972 pounds of stores had been safely put down, including such heavy items as bulldozers and lighting apparatus, and within twenty-four hours an airstrip, 300 by 5,000 feet, was cleared and prepared. During the next five days additional men, animals, and supplies were landed by C-47's and more gliders.

Chowringhee was opened the evening of 6 March by twelve single-tow gliders, with less difficulty than had been encountered at


Broadway, and an airstrip was immediately prepared. As the troops of the Special Force advanced eastward, Chowringhee lost its usefulness as a landing field and was abandoned at 0800 on 10 March.43 Ten hours later the Japanese attacked the field by air. But Broadway did not receive an aerial attack until 13 March. Thereafter the enemy was frequently over Broadway but with little effect. On 27 March, Japanese ground forces made a frontal attack on the field, only to be driven back by the garrison.44

The initial phase of Wingate's second expedition ended by 11 March. The accomplishment should be measured by the number of sorties made and the persons and tonnage moved. The figures here presented are those sent by Old to Stratemeyer and differ slightly from those compounded by other agencies. Such differences are easily understood, because of the pressure under which all work was done, and it is doubtful that exact statistics will ever be obtained.45

C-47 sorties 579     
Glider sorties 74     
Persons moved 9,052     
Animals moved 1,359     
Stores moved 254.5 tons

Immediately upon landing, the brigades were split into twenty-six columns of 300 to 400 men each. By 20 March some of the columns were twenty miles west of the Indaw-Mohnyin railway, and others were in the Indaw area. All these columns were entirely sustained by air, as was the garrison at Broadway. An air officer was attached to each column to help arrange for dropping zones and to advise on matters of ground cooperation. Requests for air supply originating with the columns were radioed to brigade headquarters and from there to Special Force headquarters, which placed demands on TCC.46

Between 13 and 19 March, the 27th Troop Carrier Squadron completed 156 sorties and dropped 816,200 pounds of supplies. Separate figures for the 315th and 117 Squadrons are not available for the same period, but the records for the three squadrons between to March and 5 April are as follows:47

27th Troop Carrier Squadron 106 530,000
315th Troop Carrier Squadron 95 475,000
117 Transport Squadron (RAF) 179 895,000


All flights were at night and without escort, the transports maintaining radio silence except in emergency. Targets were located and identified by fires and flares and by homing signals on GP 1083 sets, which began operating fifteen minutes before the estimated arrival time of the transports.

During the night of 24 March the first part of the 14 Brigade was flown in, landing by transport planes at Aberdeen, a recently prepared strip about fifteen miles north of Mawlu. The fly-in was not completed until 4 April.48 During early April the West African 3 Division was flown in, thus completing the air movement of major ground units into Burma for the Special Force. The 16 Brigade, meanwhile, had marched in from Ledo to Mohnyin, having begun the trek in February, thereby bringing the Special Force in Burma to full strength.49

While the Special Force was still in process of being transported into Burma, the expedition suffered a grievous loss in the death of General Wingate, who was killed 25 March 1944 in the operational crash of a B-25 en route from Broadway to Imphal. He was succeeded as commander of the long-range penetration groups by his top-ranking subordinate, Maj. Gen. Walter D. A. Lentaigne, former commander of the 111 Brigade. It would seem that Lentaigne was almost entirely responsible for the operational record of Wingate's second expedition. However, the point is open to debate in view of the evidence that Wingate, probably hoping to strike as far east and south as Mandalay, had given his subordinates a plan which they assumed to be part of the over-all strategy of the theater but which was at variance with the plan held by Stilwell, Slim, and Mountbatten. At any rate the Special Force did not achieve the success anticipated, namely the complete isolation of the Japanese 18th Division, which victory would have led to the demoralization of the enemy. Failure to place a strong force across the Bhamo-Myitkyina road allowed the Japanese to bring in important reinforcements to Myitkyina which helped to hold up Stilwell's advance for many months. Withdrawal of the Special Force began 29 April when the 16 Brigade showed signs of fatigue. Other columns of the Special Force continued to operate in the north, assisting the Chinese-American drives on Mogaung and Myitkyina, and the fly-out of the Special Force was not completed until August.50

Scarcely had the first units of Wingate's second expedition been landed behind the Japanese lines when the enemy struck with force


against the British positions before Imphal. Although the Wingate columns were then to the rear of the Japanese, the latter did not permit this threat to interfere with their own plans, since success of the enemy offensive was predicated upon use of British supplies and a quick victory. On 10 March reports came in from Tiddim that enemy patrols had penetrated beyond British positions, and four days later, 14 March 1944, the road was cut north of Tiddim, isolating the 17 Division.51 It was clear that the enemy would press the offensive as far as possible. The 17 Division, finding its line of communications cut, sought to escape capture by a retreat through the jungle to Imphal, which was reached 1 April 1944, but of course the reserve supplies at Tiddim were lost to the Japanese. The enemy hastened to take Tamu airfield while also pushing west and north, and by the end of March besieged the garrison at Kohima, thereby cutting ground communication between Dimapur and Imphal. Both Kohima and Imphal were thereafter dependent upon air supply.52

The Allies immediately sought to remedy the situation by concentrating the British 33 Corps at Dimapur and sending reinforcements and supplies by air to the besieged forces at Imphal. Obviously the TCC could not meet the new demands as well as fulfil its obligations to the Special Force. In the emergency a full American troop carrier group was borrowed from the European theater, along with the RAF 216 Transport Squadron. With the promise of these transport reinforcements, SEAC regained confidence and settled down to the job of retrieving the situation. The entire British 5 Division was flown to Imphal from the Arakan, and the British 50 Parachute Brigade was brought in to fight a rear-guard action west of Ukhrul. On 6 April the fly-in of the 7 Division from the Arakan began. By 8 April the 64th Troop Carrier Group arrived from the Mediterranean, containing the 4th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 35th Troop Carrier Squadrons. Based on this augmented strength, schedules were revised at meetings held 17 and 18 April at Fourteenth Army headquarters, Comilla. Although there was considerable success in maintaining the flow of reinforcements and supplies, deliveries still fell short of plans and the needs were mounting sharply. Increased Japanese fighter activity and the deterioration of the weather added to the problem. The most disheartening of all the difficulties was the word received on 4 May that the 64th Group with its five troop carrier squadrons and the RAF 216 Squadron would have to return to their European stations on 8 May.


The Fourteenth Army hurriedly recomputed its needs and found that with the withdrawal of the 64th Group, TCC would be seventy-nine aircraft short of the number necessary to meet requirements.53

The pressure was somewhat relieved when more than 25,000 administrative personnel were flown out of the besieged area, thereby reducing considerably the rations demanded of air supply. Moreover, it was then decided that the 64th Group and the 216 Transport Squadron could remain in SEAC until 1 June, and in addition, Wellingtons and B-25's of the Strategic Air Force were pressed into service. In June the weather unexpectedly became better. The 64th Group and the 216 Transport Squadron were given a second extension, this time until the arrival of the 3 Combat Cargo Group. As a result of these good fortunes, the rate of airlift rose rapidly and actual deliveries began to exceed planned schedules.54

As the British forces in Imphal and Kohima gained in strength, they took the offensive from the Japanese and fanned out in all directions. On 22 June the 5 Division, which had been advancing north from Imphal toward Kohima, made contact with the 33 Corps coming down from Diniapur. The next day the first truck convoy got through to the plain and the siege of Imphal was over.55

Army figures for supplies, reinforcements, and evacuation of casualties flown for the 4 Corps between 18 April and 30 June 1944, only, are as follows:

  April May June Total
Army stocks (short tons) 2,210 5,545 12,370 20,125
Nonessential personnel (out) 550 26,970 2,190 29,710
Casualties 742 4,259 5,264 10,265
Reinforcements 1,480 5,101 6,041 12,622

Although the above figures are not exact, they are sufficiently accurate to suggest the magnitude of the work accomplished. Because of the rapid development of the Imphal emergency, the TCC was called upon suddenly to add an enormous burden to its existing responsibilities, but its commitments elsewhere were not lessened. In addition to its other tasks the TCC made it possible for 28,000 British and 30,000 Indian troops to maintain combat for three months entirely by air supply while at the same time transporting and supplying the Special Force. Even the Japanese, in their contemporary accounts of the battle, admitted their defeat as a result of Allied air supply. "Our ... difficulty in operating on ... [the Imphal] front lies in lack of supplies


and air supremacy," said a Tokyo broadcast. "The enemy received food supplies through the air route" explained the reporter, "while our men continued in battle eating a handful of barley or grain."56

Air Combat Operations

It is obvious, of course, that neither air supply nor air transportation of troops could have been successfully executed without Allied control of the air.* Although the Americans and British had increased considerably their air power in India during the first part of 1943, it was not until the end of the year, with the establishment of the Eastern Air Command on 15 December, that they seriously threatened enemy air superiority in the area. When EAC was activated the Japanese had an estimated 250 aircraft in the Burma region, a total increased to 277 during January 1944.57 Possessing well-equipped bases relatively far to the rear and scores of forward-area strips, the enemy had extreme mobility. He based his aircraft in lower Burma and in Thailand, then staged them forward to central and north Burma and struck quickly. The Japanese aircraft were manned by pilots and crews who were experienced and resourceful fighters, and they were regarded as a courageous and a worthy foe.58 But the tide had turned by January 1944, and American industry was producing planes in numbers which not only met the requirements of the European theaters but also outmatched the enemy in Asia. To begin his fight against the enemy, Stratemeyer had under his command in EAC during January 1944 some 532 RAF and 287 AAF aircraft, or a total of 819, of which 576 were fighters, 70 medium bombers, 79 heavy bombers, 10 reconnaissance, and 84 transports. There are, however, certain deductions to be made which decrease somewhat the preponderant strength of EAC. Thus a hundred fighters were held back from counter-air force operations to defend the air installations in Assam and the Hump route, and there were all told at least another hundred aircraft in January 1944 which were nonoperational. Nevertheless, 400 British-American fighters against an estimated 100 on the Japanese side gave an overwhelming advantage to the Allies.59

The work of counter-air force operations was the responsibility of the Third TAF, which had been activated 18 December 1943 as a subordinate command of EAC. Third TAF was commanded by Air

* Fighters operated from fields in north and south Assam; the medium bombers were located in south Assam; and the heavy bombers were in the vicinity of Calcutta.


Marshal Sir John Baldwin, who set up headquarters at Comilla. When the Japanese opened an air offensive in January 1944 against the Hump route, they ran head-on for the first time against the Third TAF. The enemy next shifted his efforts to the Arakan in support of his current infiltration and offensive against the British thrust toward Akyab. There were vicious sweeps over Allied ground and air installations during the first week in February 1944, but again the enemy ran up against the Third TAF. As in defense of the Hump route, the TAF, this time using newly arrived Spitfires, inflicted serious losses upon the Japanese, who were denied local air superiority.60

In March the intensity of the struggle for air supremacy increased. In the early part of the month the Japanese moved up a large number of aircraft to the forward fields in central Burma, presumably for use in their attempt to take Imphal. The enemy aircraft were soon spotted by TAF and 61 were destroyed and 11 damaged on the ground. In attacks on Allied installations the Japanese suffered further losses. It has been estimated that during March the enemy had 117 planes destroyed, 18 probably destroyed, and 47 damaged. During the same period, EAC lost 38 planes destroyed or missing and 32 damaged.61

The effect of the counter-air force operations was definitely noticeable in the reduced number of enemy aircraft involved in action. By the end of March, estimated enemy combat aircraft strength in the theater had dropped to 216, and enemy operations became more and more defensive in character. But EAC exerted mounting pressure against the enemy in April and claims showed 107 enemy planes destroyed, 15 others probably destroyed, and 61 damaged. The EAC in turn lost to enemy action 34 planes destroyed and missing and 35 damaged.62

The enemy then made a last attempt to keep control of the air over Burma by bringing up large numbers of replacements, and in spite of losses during the first four months of 1944 Japanese combat aircraft available to the Burma region as of 7 May was estimated at 348--198 in Burma, 18 in the Bangkok area, and 132 in Malaya and Sumatra. Nevertheless, even with these reinforcements the enemy could gain no more than local air superiority of a temporary nature. During May EAC's records indicated that the enemy had lost 85 aircraft destroyed, 24 probably destroyed, and 86 damaged. During the same period the EAC lost 33 destroyed, 12 missing, and 62 damaged.63 By June 1944 Allied air superiority in Burma was no longer challenged.


The creation of EAC also gave an impetus to "strategic bombing" never known during the first two years of the conflict. The Strategic Air Force under the command of General Davidson had its headquarters at Belvedere Palace in Calcutta, once the winter residence of the viceroys. Originally the SAF consisted of the U.S. 7th and 341st Bombardment Groups and the 175, the 184, and the 185 Wings of the RAF 221 Group, redesignated on 1 January 1944 as the 231 Group. The 7th Group was heavy bombardment, flying B-24's, and the 341st Group was medium, using B-25's. One British wing, the 175, was medium, using Wellingtons; the other two wings, the 184 and 185, were both heavy, using Liberators.64 In January 1944, within a month after the creation of the SAF, there were within SAF's possession forty-eight AAF B-24's, thirty-seven B-25's, thirty-one British Liberators, and thirty-three Wellingtons, making a total of seventy-nine heavy and seventy medium bombers. In January, however, the 341st Group, except for the 490th Squadron, was transferred to China, and the number of SAF B-25's was reduced from thirty-seven to sixteen. Then by mid-April the 12th Bombardment Group (M), recently transferred from the Italian front, began service with SAF, and the number of B-25's increased from sixty-six in April to eighty-five in May.65

The main function of SAF was to disrupt the transportation system upon which the enemy's forces in Burma depended. There was a marked tendency, evident early in 1944, to accept as first-priority targets, naval and merchant vessels. Second-priority targets were communications leading into Burma and those within the country, with particular attention being paid to locomotives and rolling stock. Third priority targets were enemy air installations. Fourth priority was given to ports and shipping facilities. Depots, dumps, and military installations were accepted as fifth-priority targets.66 The purpose was to injure the enemy in two ways. First, it was intended to sever Japanese long-distance water communications with the homeland and thus partially to blockade enemy forces in Burma. Second, it was planned to destroy Japanese power of resistance to the Allied armies within Burma by disorganizing railway and roadway communications in Burma and razing military dumps, stores, and native industrial areas.67

The attack by SAF on the waterways communications was not particularly fruitful. Even in 1942 Japanese sea traffic west of


Singapore was not as heavy as it was in the China seas. Consequently, SAF found that enemy merchant vessels were not sufficiently concentrated within the radius of its bombers to justify an intensive search for them while in transit. As a result, the actual tonnage sunk by SAF in the Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Sea was negligible. The SAF struck its heaviest blows at enemy shipping by aerial mining of essential water areas and by raiding harbors and port facilities.68

Aerial mining was conducted in accordance with three principles. First, there were persistent attacks on enemy-held ports in regular use. Second, the enemy's mine-sweeping problems were made as complicated as possible by using an assortment of mines. Third, there was use of delay-arming mechanism in mining where weather or extreme range prohibited frequent remining.69 In this way strategic areas could be mined when most advantageous to the aircraft employed, and the mines would not become active until a much later date. The more important areas thus mined were Port Blair, Rangoon, Ye, Moulmein, Tavoy, Mergui, Bangkok, Sattahib Bay, and ports of the Malay Peninsula. During the monsoon period these harbors were blocked by mines with a 30-day-delay period, making the waters suddenly dangerous a month after the raid as though subjected to new mining.70 Mining operations in the theater remained on a relatively small scale--the primary purpose being to inhibit the use of the harbors and incidentally to sink any ships attempting entry.71 The success of operations against ports by mining and bombing should be judged not by the number of missions flown nor by the number of ships destroyed but by the absence of shipping from mined waters and from ports subject to bombing. Because of the air superiority enjoyed by the EAC, at least after May 1944, large Japanese vessels were excluded from the Andaman Sea, not so much because of actual sinkings as because of the risk they would have faced had they appeared.72

Meanwhile, operations against communications within Burma and Thailand were concentrated against railways. The best targets were bridges, because they were especially vulnerable in view of new "bridge-busting" techniques developed in January 1944.* In selecting the bridges to be attacked, an attempt was made to isolate segments of the lines and thereafter to destroy the stranded locomotives and rolling stock.73 The Burma-Thailand railway system had three inherent weaknesses. There was a lack of side lines over which the traffic might

* See above, p. 491.


be run if the yards of such centers as Bangkok, Pegu, and Mandalay were incapacitated. Second, there was a long stretch of 420 miles between Bangkok and Pegu which, if broken at any point, would sever the Thailand and Burma systems, an increasingly important consideration in view of the exclusion of Japanese shipping from the ports of the Andaman Sea. And finally, there were in Burma alone 126 bridges over one hundred feet long and 176 other bridges more than forty feet long.74 The successful bombing of any two successive bridges therefore isolated the intervening track and opened to destruction the trapped rolling stock. The enemy then had to effect a transfer of material by detours around the breaks, a slow process, with a long delay in supplying the front.75 The destruction of the larger rail installations was assigned to British Liberators and AAF B-24's, which carried out missions against marshalling yards, repair depots, and turn-tables. In these operations the emphasis was given to the three important railway centers of Bangkok, Rangoon, and Mandalay. Night operations against rail stations and yard facilities were performed by Wellingtons, and B-25's were employed in daylight sweeps on rail lines and in attacks on bridges.76

Attacks on bridges were constant, but as in 1943 many of those damaged during the day were overnight made serviceable again by the Japanese. Such repairs, of course, were makeshift, and in many cases the reconstructions were washed away with the coming of the monsoon. Moreover, reconnaissance revealed the progress of repair work, and its completion called for new attacks and new destruction. As a consequence bridges were always out somewhere along the main lines. Between February and May the movement of military supplies on the Mandalay-Myitkyina line was largely interrupted, and though there were alternative supply routes, they could accommodate only a small part of the traffic normally carried by rail.77

The attack on inland communications lines included attacks on roadways as well as railways. Two of the more important roads were those leading toward the Imphal sector of the front, one coming from Yeu and the other from Wuntho. Attacks on these roads began on 18 April 1944 and continued daily. Bridges were destroyed and the medium bombers strafed motor and animal traffic. Wellingtons carried out night sweeps to drop their loads on convoys, and bombs were also dropped at the base of precipitous cliffs to cause impeding landslides.78


Industrial targets too were struck. In late 1943 the refinery at Yenangyaung was producing an estimated 5,000 gallons of gasoline per day. Concentrated bombing reduced this output to 1,680 gallons per day. In April the Chauk gasoline plant, with an estimated production of 3,500 gallons per day, was severely damaged and, in addition, many thousands of gallons of stored gasoline were destroyed. Yet, it must be said that, while these attacks probably created a shortage of gasoline for Japanese military operations, the enemy always succeeded in meeting his minimum requirements.79

The intelligent conduct of these bombing operations depended, of course, quite largely upon air photographic reconnaissance, as did the operations of the Third TAF and TCC. The Photographic Reconnaissance Force under the command of G/C S. C. Wise, EAC, gave excellent service to the combat units. Photographic liaison officers at headquarters of SAF, TAF, and TCC received requests for missions which were then assigned to the proper reconnaissance squadrons. First-phase interpretation of the photographs was made at once and copies of the photographs were sent to the Bally Seaplane Base near Calcutta, where second- and third-phase interpretations as well as mosaics, controlled mosaics, and photographic or lithographic prints were made on a production basis.80

Stilwell's Advance on Myitkyina

While the Japanese offensives were being defeated in the Arakan and checked before Imphal and Wingate's Special Force was being maintained through the power of air supply and air transport, Stilwell's troops in the north, also supplied by air, were increasing the speed of their advance on Myitkyina. The Chinese soldiers fighting their way up the Hukawng valley were aided by Wingate's raids in the south and by Merrill's Marauders to the north, the latter once outflanking the enemy in the Hukawng valley. On 19 March the Ledo force took Jambu Bum and broke into the Mogaung valley where the Marauders outflanked the Japanese for the second time. Myitkyina then seemed within reach, but with the approach of the monsoon Stilwell felt the time had come for very drastic action to hasten the advance. He therefore decided to have most of the Chinese continue down the Mogaung valley and to send the Marauders and some Chinese across the high Kumon range to the north and east, directly into the Irrawaddy valley for a surprise descent upon the airfield at


Myitkyina. This necessitated getting more troops out of China for reinforcements in Burma and Chiang Kai-shek agreed to let Stilwell have the 50th Division; by mid-April he had promised to commit the Yunnan force. The decision to fly in the 50th Division from China imposed another burden on the airlift system in the north during April. ATC brought the troops as return loads from China to Sookerating in Assam, whence they were lifted to the front in Burma by the 1st Troop Carrier Squadron.81

The 1944 winter-spring campaign then drew to a dramatic climax. On 28 April Merrill's Marauders, reinforced with the Chinese 150th Regiment of the 50th Division and 300 Kachins, began crossing the Kumon range and headed downhill toward Myitkyina. The movement was executed with considerable secrecy, and before the Japanese knew that the city was imperiled the Marauders, on 16 May, were within four miles of their goal. The airstrip, more important than the city, had facilities for landing transport aircraft, and supplies could be flown in across the entire length of the drive from Shingbwiyang to the Irrawaddy. Without the airstrip the Allied troops would lack an efficient line of communications since the monsoon would soon make supply-dropping less dependable.82

The attack on the airstrip was set for 1000 hours 17 May, as it was known that the Japanese took cover in the scrub some distance from the field during daylight to escape the strafing which had recently been given in good measure. The assault on the strip was made by the Chinese 150th Regiment. The Japanese were completely surprised, their defense was weak, and by 1530 hours Stilwell received word that transports could land. He immediately ordered prearranged reinforcements flown in from India. By 1600 he could see the transports and gliders going overhead.83 It looked as though Stilwell had achieved a magnificent victory, with Myitkyina, Japan's chief base in north Burma, about to be occupied and the Japanese already withdrawing rapidly from the Fort Hertz area. But at this point things began to go wrong.

First of all, Stilwell and Merrill, the latter having established his headquarters at the Myitkyina strip as soon as it was occupied, wanted and expected the 89th Regiment of the Chinese 30th Division to be flown in as planned to afford the infantry strength for an attack on the city before the Japanese could dig in and get their own reinforcements. Meanwhile Air Command, South East Asia, in conjunction


with EAC, had concluded that Merrill needed AA units to ward off Japanese attacks on the newly acquired positions. EAC therefore had prepared to fly in first certain British AA units unrequested by Stilwell and then later on to fly in the 89th Regiment. The result was confusion on the Myitkyina airstrip plus the absence of the needed infantry.84 Second, trouble developed with Merrill's Marauders, whose numbers had shrunk in the course of the campaign, because of casualties and disease, from 3,000 to approximately 1,000 by the time Myitkyina was reached. Unfortunately, the Marauders believed that their mission would not exceed three months, and the sudden realization that they would be required for further service after the occupation of the airstrip broke their morale. Third, the Chinese 150th Regiment had not been blooded in battle prior to Myitkyina. In the attack on the Japanese the night of 20 May when Merrill hoped to take the city, the Chinese troops became confused, fired on their own men and ran away in panic.85 Thereafter there was little chance of an early occupation of the town of Myitkyina. The enemy's strength was constantly increasing and soon rose from an estimated 500 troops on 17 May to more than 3,000, and they held strong defensive positions.

General Stilwell was then faced with the responsibility of conducting a long siege of Myitkyina while his own armies had no lines of communication other than air supply, the efficiency of which was already threatened by the approaching rainy monsoon. Stilwell was disappointed and ill with worry.86 Yet in retrospect it is easy to see that he had won an impressive victory and, what was probably more significant, his faith had been justified in the military qualities of the Chinese soldier when given proper training and equipment.

As for the future, unquestionably the most significant feature of the campaigns in Burma during the first half of 1944 lay in the air transport of large bodies of troops and their sustenance by air supply in the Arakan, at Imphal, in central Burma, and in the advance on Myitkyina.87


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