Title Banner: The Army Air Forces in World War II

Chapter 8
The Liberation of Burma

AFTER the occupation of Myitkyina on 3 August 1944, more than two months elapsed before the Allied forces were ready to renew offensive operations. During the intervening weeks, SEAC strategists produced blueprints for three coordinated attacks: Operation CAPITAL for the liberation of north Burma, Operatian ROMULUS to clear the Arakan of enemy forces, and Operation TALON for capture of Akyab. Of these operations, the first was by all odds the most important. Phase I of CAPITAL, scheduled to be terminated by 15 December 1944, called for the expulsion of the enemy from all points in Burma north ofa line drawn slightly south of Indaw, Kunchaung, Sikaw, and Namhka;Phase II, to be completed by 15 February 1945, called for ejection of the Japanese from the entire region north of a lineKalewa-Shwebo-Mogok-Lashio. If in the execution of this and the two lesser operations large numbers of enemy forces could be destroyed north of Mandalay, the Allies were to becommitted to an immediate advance on Rangoon. On the other hand, if the Japanese escaped from northern Burma without crippling losses, SEAC intended to hold the Kalewa-Lashio line during the months ofbad weather, May to October. An amphibious attack, coded DRAcula, would then be staged against Rangoon in the autumn of 1945.l

When plans for Operation CAPITAL were completed toward the end of September 1944, the Allied armies, soon to come under the command of Gen. Sir Oliver Leese,were deployed along three fronts. Stilwell's Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC), which would soon be placed under Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Sultan, held recently occupied positions south of Myitkyina. In northeastern Burma Brig. Gen.Frank Dorn's Chinese YOKE Force held positions along the line of


the Salween River. West of NCAC, the British Fourteenth Army (4 and 33 Corps) under Lt. Gen. Sir William Slim, occupied positions which extended southward toward theArakan, where the British had their 15 Corps under Lt. Gen. Sir Montague Stapford.2

Both on the ground and in the air the Allies possessed an overwhelming numerical superiority. Available British and Indian combat troops numbered 628,000, in addition to 58,000 Chinese, 32,000 Africans, 10,000 Kachins, and 7,000 Americans. Some 275,000 "lines of communications" troops brought the total strength to better than 1,000,000 men. Against this vast army the Japanese had an estimated 220,000 soldiers in Burma, with approximately 190,000 others stationed in Thailand, Indo-China, Malaya,and Sumatra3 Eastern Air Command in September 1944 had nearly 900 aircraft, and this number was increased to almost 1,500 by December.* They were operated and maintained by a total of 100,000 to 150,000 officers and enlisted men.4 In contrast, the Japanese were estimated to have only 160 planes in October and approximately 300 in December.5

Following the occupation of Myitkyina, General Stilwell had reorganized the Chinese forces which constituted the main ground strength of NCAC: the Chinese First Army, under the command of Lt. Gen.Sun Li-jen, included the 30th and 38th Divisions; the Chinese Sixth Army,under Lt. Gen. LiaoYao-hsiang, was composed of the 14th, 22d, and 50th Divisions. In addition, Stilwell had the British 36 Division, a composite Chinese-American force (the Mars Brigade) composed of remnants of Merrill's Marauders and some inexperienced replacements sent for that organization, a Chinese regiment, a Chinese




tank brigade, and a force of Kachins. Under the over-all control of the Eastern Air Command,* the U.S. Tenth Air Force supported the Allied forces in NCAC. The RAF 224 and 221 Groups supported the 15 Corps and the Fourteenth Army respectively, while the Combat Cargo Task Force, activated in September under the command of Brig. Gen. Frederick W. Evans with headquarters at Comilla, provided air supply for the latter. The Strategic Air Force carried on long-range attacks against enemy communications in south Burma, Thailand, and Malaya. In preparation forthe fall offensive Tenth AirForce transferred its headquarters from Kanjikoah to Myitkyina, 221 Groupwent to Mon-ywa, and 224Group located its headquarters at Cox's Bazar.6

The difficulty for the Japanese, who had to make every effort to hold south Burma as the first line ofdefense for Thailand and Malaya, was increased by the critical situation inthe Pacific. With the rapidly developing threat to their position in the Philippines and on Formosa, it was difficult for them to secure proper reinforcements in men, aircraft, and equipment for southeast Asia. The Japanese command chose essentially the same defense line set by the Allies as their objective during Phase II of Operation CAPITAL: Lashio-Mandalay-Yenangyaung-south Arakan. The Japanese well understood that holding this line depended upon gaining time to prepare its defenses; that time they failed to win.7 The enemy alreadyhad lost control of the air in Burma and was destined never to regain it.With commitments to support the armies in China and with the drain imposed by the heightening battle in the Pacific, the enemy's air forces in southeast Asia could muster only feeble efforts to disrupt Hump operations to China and occasional attacks on other Allied transport planes. Even this effort lacked spirit.8

Preparations made by Eastern Air Command guaranteed that Allied air superiority would be maintained. With its units moved to forward bases, EAC assigned special areas of responsibility for counter-air activity in a systematic attempt to keep the enemy air units under constant control.9 A special radio net supervised by EAC would serve to alert the Tenth Air Force, 221 Group, and 224 Group. All known airfields in north and central Burma used by the enemy for staging purposes was assigned as the responsibility of the nearest Allied force. When it became known that enemy aircraft were staging in the forward

* See above, pp. 204-7.


regions,10 or that an enemy attack on Allied positions was in progress, each commander was to order his planes to strike the assigned enemy fields, preferably at the expected hour of Japanese refueling. This plan coordinated attacks against all fields which the enemy was likely to use, minimized the chances of his aircraft escaping by separating into small groups, and hoped to attack his planes at the most vulnerable time. The method was so effective that by the end of 1944 EAC was complete master of the Burma air, and the enemy was made incapable of any serious offensive action.11 The Japanese pulled more and more of their platles back from the forward area in Burma to bases in Thailand. These moves increased the distance that Allied aircraft had to cover in order to continue their counter-air effort, but undeterred by long flights, the Anglo-American pilots of EAC continued topunish the retreating enemy. In the later stages of the Burma campaign an increasing part of the burden necessarily fell to Strategic AirForce.

SAF Operations

Operational directive No. 14 of EAC, dated 19 September 1944, assigned to the Strategic Air Force special responsibility for all targets lying south of the 23d parallel and east of the Salween River--an area of responsibility reaching into Malaya and Indo-China and including all of Thailand. There were slight modifications made in the boundaries by directives of October and December, and in February 1945 the line was moved slightly to the west to include the Rangoon estuary and was restricted at the same time in the east by the frontier between Thailand and Indo-China.12 Nevertheless, between October 1944 and April 1945 operatior is of the Strategic Air Force were generally curtailed in the west and concentrated in the east. This was done because of the advance of the Allied armies and also because it was noticed that the Japanese were improving the line of communication from Bangkok north through Thailand to Bhamo and the Yunnan front. Also the Bangkok-Chiengmai railway had been strengthened, and the roadways leading from Thailand to the Shan States had been repaired and improved. Japanese communications through Thailand, therefore, loomed as targets of prime importance.13

EAC's operational directive No. 16 of 18 October 1944 listed the following objectives for strategic bombing: the mining of enemy-held ports; destruction of naval and merchant vessels as targets of opportunity;


and disruption of communications within or leading into Burma, with special attention to the Bangkok-Pegu railway and parallel roadway, the Chiengmai-Kentung lines of communication, and the 360-foot Ban Dara bridge of the Bangkok-Chiengmai line. In addition, bombing attacks were ordered on locomotives and rolling stock, air force installations, ports and shipping facilities, military depots and dumps, and centers of Japanese administration.14

The practicability of mining operations had been already established. On 12 September 1944 the Pakchan River had been heavily seeded and the flow of traffic up thestream disrupted.15 After Bangkok, Koh Sichang, and Tavoy had been mined, there followed in October a remarkably successful mining of the inner approaches to Penang by fifteen Liberators, each of which laid four 1,000-pound mines "precisely in the position ordered."16 The aircraft flew from Kharagpur to Penang and returned, a distance of 3,000 miles, without mishap.17 Other areas mined during the month were Mergui, Ye, and the Pakchan River. In November there were fewer mines laid though more areas were visited.18

With the beginning of October 1944, anti-shipping activities were stepped up with a series of heavy raids directed against the docks and jetties of Mou1mein.19 In November, despite a reduction inoperations of about 50 per cent to accommodate special training information flying, navigation, gunnery,and aircraft recognition, the Strategic Air Force flew 697 sorties and dropped more than 1,000-tons of bombs.20 In long-range attacks B-24's wrecked the Ban Dara bridge on 3 November,21 and the next night the Liberators successfully struck in force the Makasan workshops at Bangkok and the Insein works at Rangoon. At both points the targets were left blazing. As the month advanced, attacks continued against tunnels, bridges, and railway facilities and equipment. On 15 November the Mergui waterfront was bombed by fifteen Liberators and three days later the jetty at Martaban was fired. On 22 November the port of Kao Huakang, which the Japanese had built north of Victoria Point, was razed.22 On 26 November Liberators inflicted severe damage on the Pyinmana station and sidings,and 28 and 29 November brought heavy attacks on the Mandalay and Bangkok marshalling yards.23 At the close of the month Strategic Air Force counted a total of 3,078 tons of bombs dropped in 1,513 sorties flownduring the preceding six months.

With the restoration of full operating strength in December, following


a training period, the heavy bombers during the ensuing five monthswere to break the record set during the period 1 January to 31 May 1944, when 4,109 sorties had beenflown and 6,859 tons of bombshad been delivered. Between 1 December 1944 and 30 April 1945, the air force flew 4,500 sorties, but ofeven greater significance is the fact that the 13,000 tons of bombs dropped almost doubled the total for the earlier period even though the difference in the number of sorties was relatively small.24 This extraordinary achievement spoke well for the training the crews had been put through during November, and for efforts to improve the equipment used. Early in 1944 the 1,000-mile flight to Bangkok had been close to the extreme radius of a B-24 carrying a 3,000-pound bomb load. By the end of the year, however, a variety of devices for conserving fuel and increasing the bomb load made it possible for a Liberator to deliver to the same target as much as 8,000 pounds of bombs.25 The bombs themselves, moreover, had been rendered more effective. A simple nose spike, inserted to prevent ricochet when a bomb was dropped on railroad tracks, had been employed both by the Germans and the Allies in North Africa, but the device reached its full development in the India-Burma Theater. The Azon bomb, amore intricate mechanism which could be radio-controlled in its flight, received its first combat test by the Tenth Air Force in amission of 27 December 1944. The new weapon proved especially helpful in the interdiction of rail lines, and its use reduced materially the number of aircraft required for that purpose.

In order to utilize to the maximum the limited technical and maintenance personnel available, all Azon bombing equipment was concentrated in the 493d Bombardment Squadron of the 7th Bombardment Group. Best results were obtained by dropping bombs singly from an altitude of 8,000 to 10,000 feet.26 Such a procedure required as much time as possible over the target, and the success with which the new weapon was employed in Burma owed much to the weakness of enemy ground defenses.27 In April 1945 Stratemeyer wrote Arnold: "The 7th BombGroup's Azon bombing continues to be highly successful, with one mission getting four bridges with four bombs,and another getting 6 direct hits on two bridges with 6 bombs."'28 To the new bombs the Strategic Air Force added a psychological weapon--leaflets to warn the natives away from railroad tracks and installations. With more effective bombing to drive home the warning, trackmen, switchmen, and other laborers feigned illness or without excuse vanished


into the hills. At least partly because of this, during 1945 the enemy suffered a critical shortage of labor for his railway system.29

SAF's operations in December 1944 centered around southern Burma,with special attention devoted to railway communications with Thailand, and these areas continued to receive major attention as the effort to choke off supplies to the Japanese Army in Burma continued into 1945.30 Leaving to the B-29's of XX Bomber Command such distant targets as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur,* Strategic Air Force's Liberators carried their attacks down the Malay Peninsula as far as Na Nian, some 150 miles south of Chumphon.31 Bridges, railways, roads, and canals were broken more rapidly than the enemy could repair them through January, February, and March. In April supply dumps in the Rangoon area were attacked five times by formations of bombers varying in strength between twenty and sixty aircraft. Stores at Moulmein were hit on 7 April, and a week later the 7th Bombardment Group knocked out the Sarnsen Power Station near Bangkok. The climax was reached on 24 April when the 7th Bombardment Group sent forty planes against the Bangkok-Rangoon railway line, claiming on this one day thirty bridges smashed and eighteen damaged between Kanchanaburi and Thanbyuzayat.32 These more distant attacks were supplemented by those of SAF's medium bombers to deny the enemy full use of transportation facilities leading northward from the major depots to the battle lines.

The cost paid by the Strategic Air Force was surprisingly low. Though the Japanese defense was sometimes ingenious, it was seldom effective. In addition to the usual employment of AA, land mines were exploded by remote control to wreak some damage on aircraft attacking railway lines and bridges at low altitudes. Flat cars were turned into flak wagons armed with machine guns and light AA including 40-mm. guns. These flak wagons sometimes fought back from fixed positions on sidings and sometimes as part of a moving train. In the course of the first five months of 1944, SAF had lost eight heavy bombers, six of them American and two British, and fourteen medium bombers, twelve American and two British. Between June and November 1944 the British paid with two Wellingtons and fourteen Liberators while the Americans sustained a loss of four B-24's. Between December1944 and the end of April 1945,the British lost fourteen more Liberators and the Americans seven B-24's.In all, sixty-three

* See above, pp. 159-63.


EAC aircraft engaged in strategic bombing went down under enemy fire, thirty-four British and twenty-nine American.33

Compensation for these losses was the cumulative effect of the bombing. As early as September 1944, it was learned that some Japanese detachments had died of starvation. By December of that year the enemy suffered from such a shortage of locomotives that the efficiency of his railway communications was drastically cut. Moreover, long sections of railway lines were unserviceable for weeks at a time because of broken bridges and tracks. When the Japanese turned to the use of roadways, planes of shorter range made devastating attacks upon motor transports. The damage to port facilities and to shipping by aerial mining added to the enemy's embarrassment.34 It isimpossible to measure exactly SAF's contribution to the victory in Burma, but there can be no doubt of the substantial assistance rendered.

The Freeing of Northern Burma

NCAC's headquarters had been moved to Myitkyina on 1 October 1944, and two weeks later the 38th Division of the Chinese First Armystruck south toward Bhamo to initiate the ground offensive for the liberation of northern Burma. Simultaneously, the Chinese Sixth Army moved out in a southwesterly direction and soon swept through Shwegugale and Shwegu. Along the Salween, China's Yunnan forces fought through the rain, sleet, snow, andmud of the river gorge to capture Teng-chung, Lung-ling, and Mang-shih and then moved west toward Wanting in an offensive that brought again into the news place names not included since the spring of 1942. Two months to the day after the offensive opened, the 38th Division bypassed Bhamo and began, in conjunction with Dorn's forces advancing west of besieged Wanting, an encircling movement of Namhkam. It was captured in mid-January. By 27 January 1945 the trace of the Ledo Road had been cleared all the way from Ledo to China,* and the Allied line in eastern Burma was firmly fixed from the point where it crossed the Salween River, thirty-five miles northwest of Kunlong, along a line

* Throughout the summer of 1944--during the siege of Myitkyina and during the pause in the offensive from August to mid-October--construction on the Ledo Road had continued. Thereafter the engineers remained close behind the infantry, until Bhamo fell 15 December. From that point an old road swung southward like a crescent through Namhkam and back to Wanting where it joined the original "Burma Road" and crossed into China. Therefore, when the "trace" of the Ledo Road was "cleared" in late January 1945, the way was immediately open for traffic, and the first caravan passed from India to China without further delay.


which ran southwest to a point sixty-five miles south of Bhamo andthence almost due west to the Irrawaddy River.35

At the Irrawaddy a juncture was made with the Allied forces which had advanced down the rail corridor from Mogaung to within thirty miles of Mandalay. These forces were the British 36 Division, which remained under NCAC until 1 April 1945, and the Chinese 22d Division. Having launched their offensive in conjunction with that of the Chinese 38th Division, they quickly took Mohnyin, Mawhun,and

Map: The Burma Campaign
The Burma Campaign

Mawlu, where the 22d Division turned east on 6 November. The 36 Division took Indaw on 10 December and ICatha the next day. Tigyaing was occupied on 23 December and Twinnge on 24 January 1945. At that point the 36 Division, having reached the southern limits of NCAC's responsibility, turned sharply to the east toward Mogok.36

While these advances were occurring in the area assigned to NCAC,the British Fourteenth Army in western Burma had struck the enemy with full force in a four-pronged drive radiating outward from the general area of Imphal toward Homalin in the north, toward


Sittaung from Tamu; directly south from Tamu toward Tiddim, and down the Manipur valley to Tonzang. Once the movement gained momentum, success followed quickly. Tiddim was in Allied handsby 18 October and Kalemyo fell on 13 November. By 15 December the offensive crossed the Chindwin River at Sittaung, Mawlaik, and Kalewa. Finding themselves suddenly out-flanked in the west, the Japanese began a swift retreat toward Wuntho, and before Christmas the Fourteenth Army was working in conjunction with the 36 Division to clear the enemy out of the Mogaung-Mandalay rail corridor. By early January 1945 Ye-u was captured. From that point a sharp salient was driven into the Japanese lines; Shwebo fell by the middle of the month; and thereafter the victorious troops met little opposition until they were within twelve miles of Mandalay. A sudden lurch to the south carried the battle line slightly west of Sagaing, along the elbow of the Irrawaddy westward and south of Mon-ywa, to Gangaw on the Myittha River and the frontier of the Arakan.37

In the Arakan, the far western sector of the Burmese battle front, victory remained with Allied arms. On 8 November 1944 Mountbatten had ordered the execution of Operations ROMULUS (clearing the Arakan) and TALON (capture of Akyab). The advance down the Kaladan and Kalapanzin valleys, begun on 12 December, was almost unopposed. By the end of January 1945 the Allied line had advanced from just east of Maungdaw to the outskirts of Ailinbya, a distance of sixty air miles; the distance, however, is a poor measure of the accomplishment. Following the sinuous coast line, the advancing armies took Akyab, occupied half of Ramree Island, and at Kangaw landed behind the Japanese positions at Minbya, thus threatening to outflank the enemy positions between the coast and the Chindwin River. When anamphibious landing was made on Akyab Island on 3 January 1945, it was found that the enemy had already left in his hasty retreat to the southeast.38 At the close of January the battle line ran roughly northeast from Minbya to the Irrawaddy just above Mandalay, thence sharply north for more than ninety miles along the Irrawaddy and then approximately eastward to Kunlong on the Salween.

On the eve of the inauguration of the offensive in October 1944, Lt.Gen. Sir William Slim had announced to his Fourteenth Army that the "whole plan of battle" was based on Allied air support,39 a statement which was no mere gesture of courtesy. Only by heavy dependence upon the unique assistance that could be given by air had it


been possible to undertake and execute the coordinated movements onthe ground which by February 1945 rendered the expulsion of the Japanese from Burma aquestion only of time.

Among the varied activities of Eastern Air Command, none was more important than the air transport provided by the Tenth Air Force and the Combat Cargo Task Force. During September 1944 troop carrier and combat cargo aircraft operating from Assam to northern Burma hadcarried 18,170 tons of supplies which were vital to the pre-offensive build-up, The cargo transported was principally food and ammunition, but such essential engineer items as trucks, bulldozers, and grading equipment were flown into Myitkyina to expedite the airdrome construction program for that area. Pipeline equipment was also delivered by air to assist SOS engineers in their efforts to complete a pipe-laying project from Tingkawk Sakan in the Hukawng Valley to Myitkyina by 1 October. With this special assistance, the project was finished on 28 September.40

With the coming of October, preparation for the heavier responsibilities of the ensuing months went farward rapidly.* The Combat Cargo Task Force had been intended at first to support both NCAC and the Fourteenth Army, but after 10 September CCTF was obligated only to Fourteenth Army. At ComilIa a new headquarters, designated the Combined Army-Air Transport Organization, was established alongside General Evans' headquarters with responsibility for screening daily requests and establishing priorities for delivery. Headed by the air supply officer of Fourteenth Army and composed entirely of British personnel, this organization from 17 October forward functioned in close cooperation with CCTF.41 That force began its heavy operations in October with an over-all strength of 163 transport aircraft belonging to the 1st Combat Cargo Group, the 1st Air Commando Group, and the RAF 177 Wing.

The growing importance of air transport once offensive ground operations

* In October the 3d Combat Cargo Group took over at Dinjan and the 443d Troop Carrier Group moved forward to Ledo, where it remained until May 1945. The 1st Troop Carrier Squadron continued to operate out of Sookerating until April 1945, when it moved forward to Warazup. By November 1944 the 2d Squadron moved to Shingbwiyang, where it operated until May 1945 and then moved to Dinjan. At the end of 1944 the 9th Combat Cargo Squadron moved forward to Warazup, and the remainder of the squadrons of the 3d Combat Cargo Group stayed in Assam, except for the transfer of the 11th Squadron to China in April 1945. During April the 13th Combat Cargo Squadron operated from Tulihal, on the Imphal Plain, in order to reduce flying distance to the 36 Division with its mounting needs for air supply.


had begun is indicated by the fact that at the close of the campaign in the spring of 1945 the CCTF included two combat cargo groups, two air commando groups, and three RAF wings. By March 1945 the task force had a total strength of 354 planes. CCTF units had operated atfirst from fields at Sylhet and Tamu, but later the air transports flew from no less than eleven bases along the coast from Cornilla to Akyab and inland as far as Meiktila and Toungoo.42

The transport planes had moved forward with the advancing armies,serving as the vital link with rearareas upon which the ground advance depended. There were landings at primitive forward strips and airdrops, both of men and supplies, at critical points along the battle line. On the return trips thousands of casualties--the victims of enemy guns or of disease--were evacuated to points behind the line where provision had been made for full medical care. The impressive totals for all types of cargo carried by the CCTF between October 1944 and May 1945 are as follows:43

Short Tons
Number of
Number of
October 8,960.19 11,907 5,196 10,842.52
November 13,748.51 19,854 8,289 16,844.24
December 23,738.07


10,980 28,817.43
January 39,564.38 35,780 10,414 44,675.72
February 54,327.26 40,610 11,378 60,045.94
March 66,155.74 56,972 19,888 74,610.34
April 66,388.61 77,026 16,801 76,709.58
May 59,253.56 61,792 11,297 67,293.35
GRAND TOTALS 332,9136.32 339,137 94,243 379,808.12

No less impressive, in view of the difference in strength, was the record compiled by the troop carrier units of the Tenth Air Force.* Unfortunately, no dependable figures are available on the evacuation of casualties, a task in which troop carrier planes enjoyed the assistance of ATC's 821st Medical Evacuation Squadron. But the scale of evacuations, considered relative to strength, was comparable to that maintained by CCTF. Most of the evacuees were delivered to the extensive hospital installations at Ledo, and the peak of deliveries was reached in February 1945, when Tenth Air Force units brought out 3,189 casualties.44 The tonnage of supplies and the number of men delivered to the front areas by Tenth Air Force unitsfrom July 1944 through April 1945 are indicated by the following table:45

* Although the CCTF had a total of 354 aircraft by March 1945, troop carrier units of the Tenth Air Force never possessed more than 120 planes. Much of CCTF's strength, however, was not acquired until late in the campaign.


  Number of
Tonnage of
Number of
July 4,919 16,177 11,616
August 7,470 21,500 17,893
September 6,325 18,170 13,805
October 8,246 23,139 21,519
November 8,629 25,900 14,466
December 8,733 23,552 26,568
January 18,599 23,882 23,381
February 15479 21,137 24.277
March 17,131 22,711 33,427
April 13,355 15,434 38,432
TOTAL 108,886 211,602 225,384

Air transport, though perhaps the most significant support rendered by air to the ground forces, represented only one part of EACÔs activity during the climactic battle for Burma. Tenth Air Force P-47's and B-25's were especially active during October and November as the ground offensive moved through central Burma. In types of activity and in the techniques employed these operations followed patterns setduring the months preceding the occupation of Myitkyina. Such air opposition as the enemy was able to put up caused little trouble, and by the end of the year it had virtually disappeared. Fighters and fighter-bombers struck at enemy defensive positions, troop concentrations and movements, and at supplies on the road or in dumps. The medium bombers specialized in attacks on enemy airfields and on transportation targets, supplementing the heavy bomber blows against more distant rail communications. In western Burma, RAF units provided the support for the predominantly British ground forces, but the 12th Bombardment Group occasionally lent the assistance of its B-25's. In eastern Burma, the Fourteenth Air Force's 25th Fighter Squadron and the 22d Bombardment Squadron assisted General Dorn's Yunnan forces.*

As the Allied armies advanced farther into the depths of Burma, they met fewer organized positions than at first so that there was much less need for direct support of the troops.Increasingly, the planes devoted their attention to ammunition dumps and enemy communications immediately behind the fighting.46 Motor trucks were hunted with special vigor and fell victim to tactical aircraft in increasing numbers. Between 1 June 1944 and 2 May 1945 nearly 8,000 Japanese vehicles were claimed as destroyed. As the upper parts of the Burmese railway system were worked over,bridges, junction points, water towers,

* See above, p. 214.


stations, rolling stock, and all forms of waterway transportation were subjected to repeated attack.47 The 490th Bombardment Squadron (M) of the Tenth Air Force, known as the Bridge Busters,* claimed thirteen bridges within Burma during the first thirteen days of October.48 RAF Hurribombers and Beaufighters continued to harass shipping along the coast and on the Chindwin River. So skillful did the air forces become in their attacks on enemy communications that some ground commanders, sensing the promise that they might quickly overrun all of Burma, argued for acurtailment of air activity lest continued attacks on the Japanese lines of communications cripple facilities neededby the advancing Allied ground forces. Stratemeyer objected that the enemy would scuttle whatever might be left by the air forces, but after a series of conferences in the spring of 1945 he agreed to a more selective policy of bombing.49

Capture of Rangoon

When Phase II of Operation CAPITAL opened in February 1945, the Allies held indisputable superiority in the air, and if Allied advantages on the ground seemed less impressive because the Japanese armies remained intact, the intangibles in the situation all favoredthe Allies. The taste of along-delayed victory had boosted the morale of the Anglo-American-Chinese forces, while the Japanese faced the depressing prospect of additional losses. Moreover, the Allies had broken into open country and possessed the supplies and equipment to press their advantage. The Japanese, on the other hand, had been hurried back against a line they once had hoped to turn into a position of real strength, but the time and the means to accomplish this purpose had been denied them. Nor could their confidence be bolstered by news from the Pacific. By February the Americans had won their gamble at Leyte and could look forward to the early reconquest of all the Philippine Islands. After Halsey's Third Fleet had swept the Indo-China coast in January, Stratemeyer informed Arnold that the Japanese had pulled east so much of their already limited air strength in Burma as to leave Rangoon virtually undefended and to remove all cause for fear concerning the safety of the Hump air route.50

The final phase of the Burma offensive began with skirmishes east ofthe Irrawaddy by NCAC and with important gains by the Fourteenth

* See Vol. IV, 492.


Army between Pauk and Pakokku. At first, General Slim had hoped to force the enemy to accept battle in the Shwebo plain, north of Mandalay between the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. But General Kimura knew better than to be caught in that trap. Chiefly dependent upon the strength of his Fifteenth Army, a force exhausted by its continuous fighting withdrawal from Imphal, he held the Shwebo plain only long enough to cover his retreat across the river to the high and wooded banks along the eastern and southern shores of the Irrawaddy. Since General Slim lacked the strength to force a crossing against strong positions, he decided upon a landing some distance to the north of Mandalay as a feint to draw enemy attention from the region south of the city where he intended to make the main crossing.51

These moves were carefully prepared. Headquarters of the Fourteenth Army and of the 221 Group were moved in January from Imphal to Kalemyo, where a joint army-air headquarters was established to insure proper coordination between the ground forces and supporting air units. Realizing that the enemy would offer every resistance to the Allied advance across the Irrawaddy, General Slim made special arrangements with Stratemeyer for additional air support by the Tenth Air Force, the 224 Group, and the Strategic Air Force.52

The first crossing of the Irrawaddy was made about sixty-five miles north of Mandalay at Thabeikkyin. The Japanese nervously began to concentrate forces in that direction, fearful that an attack might be made by 36 Division coming from the region of Mogok. Meanwhile, with 2 Division stationed directly opposite Mandalay, 20 Division made another crossing farther to the west. As the powerful 4 Corps prepared for the showdown, feints were made by the Indian 7 Division and the 28 Brigade at Pakokku and Chauk, between which the Indian 7 and 17 Divisions, the main force, crossed at Nyaungu between 13 and 18 February. After a few days devoted to consolidating positions on theeastern bank, 17 Division, spearheaded by 254 Tank Brigade and with all the motor transport available,struck east across Burma for the region of Meiktila and the rail junction of Thazi. On 27 February the first of the airfields around Meiktila was taken. As soon as the field was made serviceable, C-47's of the 1st and 2d Air Commando Groups flew in a brigade of the British 17 Division from Palel. The move virtually surrounded the main body of Japanese


forces in the Mandalay area, and the great battle which the Allies had sought and the Japanese dreaded was opened with the whole of southern Burma as the prize.53 After the city of Meiktila was taken on 4 March, the Allied forces closed in on Mandalay from all sides. By 9 March the city was surrounded and the siege began. It was expected that the enemy would hold to the last Mandalay Hill, the dominant feature of the area. The second strongpoint was Fort Dufferin, an old fortress of the classic type with extraordinarily thick walls of stone and earth. The resistance offered by the Japanese at the hill was lessthan expected, and after two days of fierce fighting it was abandoned to the Allies. But at Fort Dufferin the Japanese held on stubbornly. On 11 March, after 5.5-inch howitzers breached the north wall with concentrated fire, a battalion tried to storm the opening. Casualties were heavy and the assaulting troops retired: it was evident that a frontal attack on the fortress would be costly: thus, during the night of 16/17 March two battalions, supported by two machine-gun companies, struck suddenly against the north wall in an attempt to take the stronghold by surprise. When this effort also failed, it became apparent that since the available artillery fire was not sufficient to breach the wall and previous air bombing had failed to speed the fall of the fort, some special air effort should be tried.54

On 15 March 10 Thunderbolts dispatched by the 224 Group had dropped 14 tons of bombs on the northwest corner of the fort; the next day, the 221 Group knocked 3 gaps in the southeast corner with 13 tons of bombs; on 17 March 9 Thunderbolts of the 221 Group breached the north wall; and 2 days later B-25's of 12th Bombardment Group breached the north wall again with 2,000-pound bombs. On 20 March the final aerial assault began. Thirty-five B-25's of the 12th Group dropped 104 x 500-pound and 262 fragmentation bombs, followed by Hurricanes of 221 Group which bombed and strafed the entire fort. Thunderbolts, each carrying two 500-pounders, finished off the job. At the end of an hour 130,000 pounds of bombs had broken the walls in 26 places. Attacking through the smoke and dust of the last explosions, the ground forces took the fort without difficulty, and the way was open for the occupation of Mandalay.55 The fall of the city was followed by the rapid expulsion of allenemy forces in the triangular area between the railway and the Irrawaddy River. Rangoon was the next objective.



Image: Operation GRUBWORM December 1944 Image: Operation GRUBWORM December 1944
Operation GRUBWORM December 1944
Image: FOURTEENTH AIR FORCE BASES--Runway at Liuchow Image: FOURTEENTH AIR FORCE BASES--Abandoning Hengyang
Runway at Liuchow Abandoning Hengyang


On 22 March, while the Japanese were still withdrawing from the triangle, Allied leaders met at Mon-ywa. Despite the victory at Meiktila and Mandalay, General Leese pointed out that his armies were still so far behind schedule that he doubted the possibility of reaching Rangoon before the monsoon. This was disturbing news, especially to the Americans who had reckoned with confidence upon an early termination of the Burma campaign.56 On 25 March Leese recommended that plans should be made immediately for a modification of the amphibious attack on Rangoon as the only means of guaranteeing the fall of the port before the monsoon.57

The need to take Rangoon prior to the monsoon is easily understood if one appreciates the extent to which the Allied forces, with an extended line of communication, depended upon air supply. During the month of March six full British divisions, two tank brigades, and two independent infantry brigades on the Fourteenth Army front in central Burma, and three Chinese divisions, one British division, and an American brigade on the NCAC front in northeast Burma were maintained in offensive action almost entirely by air supply. In addition to these divisional troops, three corps headquarters and one army headquarters with attendant army and corps troops, together with most of the Tenth Air Force and practically all of the 221 Group were also on air supply. Personnel totaled approximately 300,000 men, and at least 90 per cent of their supplies and equipment was flown in by C-46's and C-47's. Thee vacuation of wounded was handled almost entirely by air and substantial reinforcements were flown in daily. Total airborne tonnage for the Fourteenth Army during March reached approximately 70,000 tons and another 26,000 tons were brought in for NCAC. This was twice the ATC Hump lift for China duringthe same period. The Fourteenth Army was advised about the middle of March that as it advanced to the south and away from existing air transport bases, the tonnage which could be carried to the forward area would necessarily decrease. Nevertheless, the Eastern Air Command committed itself to maintain an average daily lift of 2,000 tons until the fall of Rangoon, on the understanding that the seaport would be taken prior to the monsoon.58 Admiral Mountbatten decreed that an amphibious landing should be made in the vicinity of Rangoon to make contact with the armies coming down from the north before theoutbreak of monsoon storms, and D-day for DRACULA was set for 2 May.59


Actually the operation consisted of three parts: the continued advanceof the armies southward from Mandalay, the employment of paratroopers, and the use of a strong naval force in a supporting amphibious assault. During April the columns of the Fourteenth Army continued to advance toward Rangoon, supported as always by air. Even though the weather began to turn bad, 84,822 tons of supplies were transported into or within Burma by all air agencies during April. By 1 May the army spearheads coming down the Sittang and the Irrawaddy valleys were at Pegu and Prome, the first 40 miles and the second 150 miles from Rangoon.60 Meanwhile, British naval units assembled at Trincomalee in Ceylon. A covering force sailed from there for the Andaman Sea on 27 April and maneuvered off the coast of Malaya for a week. A destroyer force sailed the same day for the Gulf of Martaban. A carrier force had left Trincomalee on 23 April for rendezvous with the Navy transports in the vicinity of Akyab and Kyaukpyu, and together they sailed on 30 April for the estuary of the Rangoon River.61

In preparation for the air phase of DRACULA, the 317th and 319th Troop Carrier Squadrons,augmented by ten aircraft from the U.S. 2d and 4th Combat Cargo Squadrons, had moved to Kalaikunda for modifications and training during the latter half of April62Between 26 April and 1 May the Strategic Air Force delivered pulverizing attacks on gun emplacements and troop concentrations within the Rangoon area, especially along the banks of the Rangoon River.63 On 29 April the paratroop force of 800 Ghurkas with their Canadian jump-masters was flown by the troop carriers to Akyab, whence they would take off for the drop at Rangoon. Plans for fighter cover by four squadrons of the two air commando groups having been completed, at 0230 hours on 2 May 1945 two Pathfinder aircraft took off for a final check on the weather. Though they found cloud and rain along the way, the target was clear. A thunderstorm swept the field at Akyab as the thirty-eight transports assembled for the flight to Rangoon, but there were no mishaps and the jump began at 0633, three minutes behind schedule. The paratroops landed at Elephant Point, about twenty miles south of Rangoon,* encountering no opposition and reporting only eight minor injuries. They experienced no trouble in their advance inland. Reinforcements and supplies were delivered during the afternoon. At 1130 hours Group Captain Grandy, flying

* Not to be confused with the Elephant Point near Akyab.


over the city, observed a sign painted by Allied POW's on the roof ofthe Rangoon jail: "Japs gone." He landed his plane at Mingaladon airfield and entered the city without diffiuulty.64 That afternoon the British 15 Corps disembarked from landing craft of the British Navy on both sides of the Rangoon River. The next day, 3 May, the paratroopers and 15 Corps occupied Rangoon and advanced north to make contact with the army column marching in from Pegu. Although numerous pockets of enemy resistance in the north still had to be cleaned out, for all practical purposes the Burma campaign was over.


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Notes to Chapter 8

1. Rpt. to CCS by SACSEA 1943-1945, pp. 8-84.

2. Ibid., pp. 85-86.

3. Ibid., p. 276.

4. Figures on planes compiled by 22d SCU from AAF Aircraft Status Reports and RAF Bi-Weekly Air State Signals. For personnel, see Rpt. to CCS by SACSEA 1943-1945, p. 276.

5. Japanese order of battle for dates given as found in EAC estimates.

6. The 221 Group moved to Meiktila on 26 April and the 224 Group moved to Akyab 1 March 1945 (Burma Memo, Buds. 314/3/Org., 28 Feb. 1945; ltr., Hq. EAC to AOC 224 Gp., 6 Feb. 1945).

7. Burma Opns. Record, Phase 3, from the FEC Mil. Intel. G.S., Private Memo and Memories of Lt.Cot. Todao Sakai, Burma Area Army Staff, War Dept. Special Staff Hist. Div.

8. Eval. Bd. Rpt. #5, p. 14.

9. Ibid., p. 31.

10. Hist. USAAF Opns. in the India-Burma Theater, 1 Jan. 1944-2 Sept. 1945.

11. Eval. Bd. Rpt. #5, p. 39; ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Nov. 1944.

12. Hq. EAC Opnl. Direc. #14, 19 Sept. 1944; #16, 18 Oct. 1944; #17, 4 Dec. 1944; and #19, 17 Feb. 1945.

13. Eval. Bd. Rpt. #3, p. 7.

14. Hq. EAC Opnl. Direc. #16, 18 Oct. 1944.

15. A/C F. J. W. Mellersh, Despatch on Operations of the Strategic Air Force, 1 June-26 Nov. 1944, p. 13.

16. Ibid., p. 15.

17. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Nov.1944.

18. Mellersh Despatch, 1 June-26 Nov. 1944, pp. 15, 19.

19. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Mar. 1945.

20. Figures supplied bv 22d SCU.

21. E;al. Bd. Rpt. #3, p. 47.

22. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Mar. 1945.

23. Mellersh Despatch, 1 June-26 Nov. 1944.

24. Figures supplied by 22d SCU.

25. Gen. Davidson's Despatch, 15 Dec. 1943-31 May 1945, App. P; Mellersh Despatch, 1 June-26 Nov. 1944, p. 4.

26. Eval. Bd. Rpt. #1, pp. 22-23; rpt. of 10th AF Hist. Off., Azon Bombing in IBT; ltrs., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 7 Feb. and 8 Apr. 1945.

27. EAC Intelligence, Wkly. Intel. Survey #34, 20 Apr. 1945. (This publication should not be confused with the EAC Intelligence Summary.)

28. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Apr. 1945.

29. Eval. Bd. Rpt. #3, pp. 18-19.

30. Ltrs., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 12 Dec. 1944 and 7 Feb. 1945.

31. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Apr. 1945.

32. Mellersh Despatch, 27 Nov. 1944-31 May 1945, Pt. V, pp. 17-18.

33. Davidson Despatch, 15 Dec. 1943-31 May 1945, App. J; A/C F. J.W. Mellersh, Despatch on Air Operations by 231 Group Against the Japanese, 12 Dec. 1943-31 May 1944, App. A; Mellersh Despatch, 27 Nov. 1944-31 May 1945.

34. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Air Comdr. SEA [ACSEA], 11 Jan. 1945; Mellersh Despatch, 27 Nov. 1944-31 May 1945.

35.Northern Area Combat Comd., The Ledo Road; EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., Sept. 1944-Jan. 1945.

36. Northern Area Combat Comd., The Ledo Road; EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., Sept. 1944-Jan. 1945; SACSEA Rpt. to CCS, 1943-1945, p. 80.

37. EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., Sept. 1944-Jan. 1945

38. Ibid.

39. The Statesman, 11 Oct. 1944.

40. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 9 Oct. 1944.

41. ACM Sir Keith Park, ACSEA, Despatch on Air Opns. 1 June 1944-2 May 1945 (Oct. 1945), p. 26.

42. Hq. CCTF, A Review of CCTF Opns., 8 June 1945; Stat. Control CCTF, Monthly Analysis of CCTF Opns.

43. Monthly Analysis of CCTF Opns.

44. Growth, Development and Operational Procedures of Air Supply and Evacuation Analyses, NCAC Front, Burma Campaigns, 1943-1945, Pt. VI, pp. 1-32; Chronological Hist. 10th AF Supply Opns., p. 13.

45. Figures supplied by 22d SCU.

46. ACM Sir Keith Park, ACSEA, Despatch on Air Operations 1 June 1944 -2 May. 1945, p. 54.

47. Ibid., pp. 37-38.

48. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Nov. 1944; Mellersh Despatch, 1 June-26 Nov. 1944.

49. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 13 June 1945.

50. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 7 Feb. 1945.

51. Burma Opns. Record, Phase 3, from the FEC Mil. Intel. G.S. Private Memo and Memoirs of Lt. Col. Todao Sakai, Burma Area Army Staff; SACSEA Rpt. to CCS, 1943-1945, pp. 100-3.

52. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 9 Feb. 1945; SACSEA Rpt. to CCS,1943-1945, pp. 126-27.

53. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 7 Mar. 1945; EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., Jan.-Mar. 1945; SACSEA Rpt. to CCS, 1943-1945, pp. 127-31.

54. Tactics and Strategy of the Japanese Army in the Burma Campaign, Supplement #3, Apr. 1945: US Military Observer Group in India; JICA Files; ACM Sir Keith Park, ACSEA, Despatch on Air Opns. 1 June 1944-2 May 1945, p. 54.

55. EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., 23 Mar. 1945.

56. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 7 Mar. 1945.

57. SACSEA Rpt. to CCS, 1943-1945, pp. 144-45-

58. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 8 Apr. 1945.

59. SACSEA Rpt. to CCS, 1943-1945, p. 145.

60. EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., 27 Apr. 1945.

61. SACSEA Rpt. to CCS, 193-1945.

62. CCTF Hq. Review of CCTF Opns., 8 June 1945; Hq. CCTF, Operation DRACULA, Airborne Phase, Intel. Extract.

63. EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., 4 May 1945.

64. Ltr., Stratemeyer to Arnold, 13 May 1945; EAC Wkly. Intel. Sum., 4 May 1945; Hq. CCTF, Operation DRACULA, Airborne Phase, Intel. Extract.


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