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    US Naval Group China's secret operation with China, WWII, SACO


Burma Campaign

Japan had invaded China in 1937, gradually isolating it from the rest of the world except for two tenuous supply lines. A narrow-gauge railway originated in Haiphong, French Indochina (what is now Vietnam), and the gravel highway Burma Road linked Lashio in British Burma to Kunming. Supplies traveled in support of the Chinese resisting the Japanese offensives into the interior. In 1940 Japan took advantage of the German invasion of France to cut both supply lines to China. With France focused on the war in Europe, Japanese warships in June moved into French Indochina and closed the railroad from Haiphong. A month later Japan secured an agreement from the hard-pressed British government to close the Burma Road to war materiel temporarily, on threat of war if its demands were not met.

The Burma Road lifeline to China reopened just four months later in October. By late 1941 the United States was shipping lend-lease materiel by sea to the Burmese port of Rangoon, where it was transferred to railroad cars for the trip to Lashio in northern Burma and finally carried by truck over the 712-mile-long Burma Road to Kunming. Over this narrow highway, trucks carried munitions and materiel to supply the Chinese Army, whose continuing strength in turn forced the Japanese to keep considerable numbers of ground forces stationed in China. Consequently, Japanese strategists decided to aggressively cut the Burma lifeline to gain complete control of China, in an effort to free their forces for use elsewhere in the Pacific. The Burma support ended in January, 1942, with the capture and occupation by the Japanese attacking from Thailand.

Arriving in Burma in 1942, just in time to experience the collapse of the Allied defense of that country, General Joseph Stilwell personally led the American forces out of Burma on foot. This courageous walkout from Burma and his bluntly honest assessment of the disaster captured the imagination of the American public, badly in need of candor and an American hero at that stage of the war.

Just prior to World War II, Stilwell was recognized as a top corps commander in the Army and was initially selected to plan and command the Allied invasion of North Africa. Between the wars, Stilwell had served three tours in China, where he became fluent in Chinese, and was the military attaché at the United States Embassy from 1935 to 1939. In 1939 and 1940 he served in the 2nd Infantry Division and from 1940 to 1941 organized and trained the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, Monterey, California. When it became necessary to send a senior officer to China to keep that country in the War, Stilwell was selected. He became the Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and served as the commander of the China Burma India Theater responsible for all Lend-Lease supplies going to China, and later was Deputy Commander of the South East Asia Command.

Stilwell's post in the China Burma India Theater, while a geographical command on the same level as the commands of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, was a more complicated one due to the lower priority of his general mission. Nonetheless, he had a formidable task to provide the Theater with supplies and personnel for Allied forces and some U.S. contingents as well as the greater need to balance sensitive political and military activities. The British and the Chinese were ill-equipped and more often than not on the receiving end of Japanese offensives. Chiang was often accused of hoarding Lend-Lease supplies for later use during the inevitable civil war with the Communists, which put him directly at odds with Stilwell who wanted to use the supplies to prosecute the war. While he outwardly gave Stilwell command of some Chinese troops, Chiang continually issued countermanding directives and actively created obstacles. George Marshall acknowledged he had given Stilwell the toughest assignment of any theater commander.

With the fall of Burma China was cut off completely from Allied aid and material except through the hazardous route of flying cargo aircraft over the Himalayas from India, known as flying "The Hump". Early on, the Combined Chiefs of Staff had determined that Allied ground forces would not be sent to China since they could not be adequately supported. Conceptually, the Allies' strategy was that China would supply the ground forces to fight the Japanese, and the Americans would provide logistical and air support. The mission of the Service and Supply troops was to supply General Stilwell's troops in retaking Burma from the Japanese and reopen the Burma Road to China.

(Continue to the China Campaign)
     Visit image gallery of 1945 China, from SACO photos!

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