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


China Burma India Theater

American military actions during World War II are well known in the European Theater of Operations and the Pacific Campaign. However, many do not realize the significance of Allied presence in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater, in campaigns against the Japanese in Asia.

On the Asian continent, China as an Allied partner carried the burden of the fighting. The China Theater of Operations more resembled the Soviet-German war on the Eastern Front than the war in the Pacific or the war in Western Europe. China had been at war with Japan since 1937 and continued the fight until the Japanese surrender in 1945. After years of fierce fighting in 1941, the Chinese Nationalist Army had organizednearly 4 million men. They were organized into 246 "front-line" divisions, with another 70 divisions assigned to rear areas. However, even with years of battle experience, most of these divisions were poorly trained and ill equipped, and they were often led by officers with questionable loyalties. China was occupied by about 1.5 million Japanese, and was divided into areas of Japanese control, Nationalist China control, and areas sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party.

American relations with China during the years preceding the Japanese invasion was defined by mutual trade activity, loose alliances, and informal treaties enacted to maintain stability of Asia and protect economic interests. Informal and official civilian and military attachés served in the US and China, and the military stability of the Nationalist Chinese faction was a great concern of the US State department. The United States had for some twenty years before WWII, employed a small fleet of gunboats in Asian waters, and more ships were added as occasion demanded. This squadron-sized unit of the Asiatic Fleet patrolled the waters of the Yangtze River as far inland as Chungking, more than 1,300 miles from the sea, and occasionally far beyond. Some of these Asian experiences would give US actions a boost during later operations in the war, and provided a training ground for operational commanders.

America began active participation on the Allied side of World War II in March, 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor, with participation in the Lend-Lease Act. This pact was formed between the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, France and other Allied nations to provide material and supplies in support of the war. Terms of the agreement permitted the President of the United States to "sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government [whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States] any defense article". American troops were introduced in India in March 1941 under terms of the Lend-Lease Act, to prepare for support of China's resistance efforts against Japanese occupation.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. government and American flyers were actively involved in developing and assisting Nationalist China's aviation industry development. The most ambitious and famous undertaking to promote China's air effort against Japan began in 1937 with Claire L. Chennault, then a captain in the United States Army Air Corps, retiring from active duty to accept an offer form Madame Chiang Kai-shek for a three month mission to China to make a confidential survey of the Chinese Air Force. At that time the fledgling Chinese Air Force was beset by internal problems and torn between American and Italian influence. Madame Chiang Kai-shek recognized the importance of air power to unify China, and in her role as Secretary General of the Chinese Commission on Aeronautical Affairs, she sought to reorganize the Chinese Air Force. Chennault recruited former American military pilots, American-made fighter planes, and aircraft support personnel. Chennault's combat and other experiences between 1937 and 1941 in China, together with the knowledge he attained of combat tactics and the operations of Japanese Air Force laid the ground work for the organization of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) in 1941 (later popularly known as the Flying Tigers). Prior to America's entry into the war, this expedition was surreptitiously launched with the sanction of President Roosevelt. The scheme represented the culmination of America's policy of gradual entanglement with China's cause.

Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. An agreement was worked out between the Chinese and the British whereby one squadron of the AVG would assist the 16 planes of the Royal Air Force in the defense of Rangoon, Burma. The other two squadrons were to be stationed at Kunming, China at the terminus of the Burma Road. The Third AVG squadron in Burma moved from Toungoo to Mingaladon, near Rangoon on December 12, 1941. The First and Second squadrons flew to Kunming on the afternoon of the 18th. The first combat for the AVG occurred over southern Yunnan Province on December 20, 1941. The Flying Tigers shot down nine out of ten Japanese bombers with a loss of one AVG aircraft. After the AVG was disbanded on July 4, 1942, the China Air Task Force of the United States Army Air Forces, commanded by General Chennault, officially took over air operations in China. In early March, 1943, the 14th Air Force was activated under the command of Chennault and replaced the China Air Task Force. Chennault remained in command of the 14th Air Force until the end of July, 1945. General Chennault formally retired from the military for the second time in October, 1945.

(Continue to the Burma Campaign)
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