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


China Campaign

The major U.S. failure in China was logistical: America was not able to consistently meet its Lend-Lease commitments. The closing of the Burma Road in 1942 made it impossible to deliver sufficient equipment, weapons, and munitions to build the dream of a well-equipped and trained thirty-division Chinese force. By the time the Burma Road reopened in 1943 and supplies flowed freely across the border into China, operations in other theaters had shaped the course of the war against Japan. A paucity of available airlift capacity meant that deliveries of supplies to China over the Hump proved barely adequate to replace Chinese war losses, but not to sustain a major unit modernization and training program. Generalissimo Chiang used this U.S. failure to undermine General Stilwell's credibility in Chungking and to reject his strategic and operational guidance when it conflicted with the Generalissimo's desires.

The primary mission of all American forces in China and elsewhere in the Pacific area was the defeat of Japan, but the U.S. military's main focus in China was to keep China in the war through the provision of advice and materiel assistance. As long as China stayed in the war, hundreds of thousands of imperial Japanese Army soldiers could be tied down on the Asian mainland. Additionally, China represented the only continental base from which we could engage directly the Japanese Empire. Before Pearl Harbor, actual warfare between Japanese and Nationalist Chinese forces had practically ceased, but tensions between the Chinese Nationalists Kuomintang (KMT) and Communists (CPC) precluded a unified Chinese war effort against the occupying Japanese. Chinese society was polarized with the Nanjing Nationalist Government (Japanese organized puppet state), the Nationalist Kuomintang government, factions of regional former warlords nominally loyal to the Nationalists, and the Communists, who were engaged in a guerrilla war against the military and political forces of the Nationalists. Thus both a military and diplomatic problem was involved in our relations with the Chungking government. U.S. strategic goals to train and supply materiel support for the Chinese Army divisions standing up to Japanese adversaries, were secondary objectives to simply keeping China in the war against Japan.

The American strategy had two military objectives. The first involved recapture of Burma and the reopening of the Burma Road so that Chinese armies could be adequately supplied. Heavy armament and artillery could not be carried by air. Once the first objective of logistics supply was achieved, the second could be undertaken. This later objective would engage Chinese forces in the pursuit of the Japanese imperial army on the Asiatic mainland.

General Stilwell was the instigator of these basic strategic concepts. He envisioned three great Chinese armies to be trained and equipped by Americans. These forces would cooperate with American forces later to be landed on the China coast to drive the Japanese out of their Greater East Asia. At the time of Pearl Harbor, there were ostensibly about three hundred undermanned and poorly equipped divisions in the Chinese army. Out of these, Chiang agreed to supply Stilwell with men for three major task forces.

Convinced that the Chinese soldier was the equal of any given the proper care and leadership, Stilwell established a training center for two divisions of Chinese troops in India. Stilwell focused early on the opening of the Burma Road (and the extension to Kunming, the Ledo Road) from northern Burma and India, so that greater supplies could be transported to China. Then a competent Chinese army could be organized and trained that would fight the Japanese effectively. Strategically, this was the only area at that time where the possibility existed for the Allies of engaging large numbers of troops against their common enemy, Japan.

Stilwell was constantly embroiled in disagreements with Chiang about engaging Chinese forces against the Japanese. Stilwell would press Chiang to fight, while Chiang, with some legitimacy, preferred to preserve a defensive posture for political and military reasons. Chiang was concerned that his troops lacked training and supplies, and he also was reluctant to weaken the overall strength. He anticipated the future needs of capable Chinese Nationalist forces ready to fight Mao Tse-tung's Communists, after the end of the war with the Japanese. Despite facing a common foe in Japan, Chinese society was polarized. Some Chinese were supporters of the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government; some supported one of the numerous former warlords nominally loyal to the Nationalists; and some supported the Chinese Communist Party, who were engaged in a guerrilla war against the military and political forces of the Nationalists. Continuing tensions, which sometimes broke out into pitched battles, precluded development of a truly unified Chinese war effort against the Japanese. Infuriated by what he regarded as Chiang's corruption, incompetence and timidity, Stilwell constantly filed reports to Washington complaining of Chiang's inaction. Eventually, Stilwell’s belief that Chiang and his generals were incompetent and corrupt reached such proportions that Stilwell sought to cut off Lend-Lease aid to China.

For his part, Chiang would sometimes countermand orders to Chinese units issued by Stilwell in his capacity as Chief of Staff. Chiang demanded impossibly large amounts of supplies before he would agree to take offensive action. Since the amount of supplies that could be transported to China by air were inadequate, Stilwell constantly fought not only Chiang but also the American air forces in China under General Chennault, which demanded large percentages of the supplies for their own operations. Stilwell also continually clashed with Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, and apparently came to believe that the British in India were more concerned with protecting their colonial possessions there than helping the Chinese fight the Japanese. In August 1943, as a result of the feuding and conflicting goals of the British, Americans and Chinese and the lack of coherence of a strategic vision for the China Burma India theater, the Combined Chiefs of Staff split the CBI command into a Chinese theater and a Southeast Asia theater.

With the establishment of the new South East Asia Command in August 1943, Stilwell was appointed Deputy Supreme Allied Commander under Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. He built up the Chinese forces for an offensive in northern Burma and in December he assumed direct control of operations to capture the Burmese city of Myitkyina. The city did not fall until August 1944. Among other reasons, Stilwell blamed the British Chindits for not obeying his orders promptly.

Some historians have asserted that Roosevelt was concerned that Chiang would sign a separate peace with Japan, which would free many Japanese divisions to fight elsewhere, and that Roosevelt wanted to placate Chiang. Finally, there was also the perception among some British and American troops that Stilwell was incompetent in command and lacked empathy with the troops. More than one of Stilwell's units, including the Chindits and Merrill's Marauders, were virtually destroyed and consistently worn down in combat under extremely difficult circumstances. Stilwell may not have clearly understood the environment in which they were operating, and has been criticized by some historians for his tactical employment of these units.

In the China Theatre there was a constant power struggle between Stillwell, Claire Chennault and Chiang over the conduct of operations and apportionment of material. His personal bias against Chiang made him neglect important Chinese victories. The Imperial army, however, suffered significant losses in all battles, including the battles that they won, showing that Chiang's army, despite severely poor conditions, was fighting bitterly against the Japanese. Stilwell promoted the perception in some areas of the US government that the Chinese theatre was hopeless, resulting in cutting of funds to China. He also limited the amount of air force assets at Claire Chennault's disposal. However because of Stilwell's interference, numerous opportunities slipped by and China was left to fight with minimal support, until Stilwell's reassignment. Stilwell, despite being the Chief of Staff in the China theatre, ignored military reports from the Chinese army and American intelligence units, preferring to use biased information from the Japanese and the Russians.

One of the most significant conflicts to emerge during the war was between General Stilwell and Chennault. Chennault commanded the Chinese air force and was very close to the Chiangs. In addition, Chennault advocated pursuing a strict air campaign against the Japanese. Stilwell insisted that the air campaign should not start until fully fortified air bases, supported by large infantry reserves had first been established. Chiang was accused of hoard supplies and personnel while avoiding deployments to support needed air bases. Consequently, in 1944 the Japanese launched the offensive Operation Ichi-Go and quickly overran the air bases. Chiang manipulated the opportunity to rid himself of Stilwell, blaming him for the Japanese successes and demanding that the Americans recall him. In October 1944 Stilwell was relieved of his commands by President Roosevelt, and he returned unceremoniously to the United States.

When General Wedemeyer arrived in China at the end of 1944, he faced a still-powerful and intact Japanese ground army. Although Allied leaders lacked sufficient resources to drive the Japanese entirely out of China, they hoped that a Nationalist Chinese army, trained and equipped by the United States, could succeed in tying down Japanese armies in China and prevent their redeployment to Japan.

Combined operations by rival Chinese armies against the Japanese were impossible. Thus, differing Sino-American aims, magnified by internal political conflict, cultural differences, and the personality conflicts between General Stilwell and Generalissimo Chiang, all inhibited chances for success in the war effort.

Both Stilwell and Wedemeyer had found themselves involved in competing priorities between the air and ground wars. Although he recognized the value of the support of the Fourteenth Air Force to the Chinese Army, Stilwell was increasingly frustrated by Chennault's success in selling his ambitious air campaign. Chennault had secured President Roosevelt's support by promising a quick, cheap victory through air power that avoided relying on the problem-ridden Chinese Army. The thought of using Chinese air bases for U.S. planes to attack Japanese bases in China, Japanese shipping in the Pacific, and Japan itself had tremendous appeal to the president. The same concept appealed to Chiang because it required few of his precious resources. In contrast, the plans of Stilwell and Wedemeyer demanded the "Americanization" of theater operations and a major overhaul of the Chinese Army. Ironically, for political rather than military reasons, Chennault's request for diversion of Hump supply tonnage and coolie laborers to build air bases was perhaps the more practicable course of action.

The political nature of the Nationalist Chinese Army threatened all American objectives in the China theater. Since that army served primarily as a political tool of Chiang Kai-shek and as a foundation of the Nationalist regime, any action that modified its structure or risked its destruction was assiduously avoided by the Nationalist government. The army had to be maintained, not reformed. Military commanders were often selected for their political loyalty to Chiang rather than for their military ability, and risking excessive casualties through offensive operations was unacceptable. Chiang also had to keep his Communist rivals at bay, sometimes engaging his best troops for that purpose.

The United States advised and supported China's ground war, while basing only a few of its own units in China for operations against Japanese forces in the region and Japan itself. But even with the primary American goal of keeping keep the Chinese actively engaged in tying down the million plus Japanese forces, Intelligence units operated with broader Allied interests. Whereas MacArthur in the Pacific was interested in special operations from the beginning, Stilwell had to be sold on such activities. An orthodox soldier and admirer of infantry, he initially dismissed guerrilla warfare and sabotage as "illegal action" and wanted to concentrate on building a powerful Chinese army. Nevertheless, the potential for special operations in his China-Burma-India theater (CBI) drew the kind of entrepreneurs that MacArthur had kept out of the Philippines.

By the force of his personality and by his determination, Wedemeyer convinced Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the need not only to permit United States military advisers to train and equip Chinese divisions, but also to create a more effective command and control organization. Once Chiang Kai-shek had granted that authority to General Wedemeyer, the Army liaison officers and technicians serving in the China theater, building on the foundation erected by General Stilwell, clearly created a more capable Chinese military force. The success of Wedemeyer's reforms, and of the revitalized Chinese military forces, was seen in the failure of the Japanese Chihchiang offensive. If the war had dragged on in China, the Japanese would have had a more difficult task in dealing with the new Chinese armies. However, there is no doubt that the American victory over Japan was the product of a host of earlier battles in the Pacific. The China theater remained at the end of the war, as it had since the attack on Pearl Harbor, a sideshow, one whose fate was ultimately determined by battles fought elsewhere.

Despite these problems, the China Defensive Campaign succeeded. China remained in the war, diverting 600,000 to 800,000 Japanese troops, who might otherwise have been deployed to the Pacific. Because of U.S. support to China, the Japanese Army might conduct limited offensive operations there, but had no hope of ultimate victory on the Asian continent. Chiang relied on his U.S. allies to open the Burma Road, and on U.S. air power to check Japanese offensives by interdicting supply lines in order to conserve his own army and the territory in the interior of China that his government continued to control.

Japanese ICHIGO offensive, from Dept. of Army

In April, 1944 the Japanese forces launched an offensive campaign in China named Operation Ichigo. This desperate move involved 400,000 troops organized in 17 divisions. The operation had three major objectives:

Control the entire length of the railroad between Beijing and Hong Kong
        Establish a link for forces between Pusan, Korea and Saigon, French Indochina
        Recapture and control Allied air fields in southern China

Operation Ichigo was a series of major battles between the Imperial Japanese Army forces and the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China, fought from April 1944 through mid 1945. Three primary battles in the provinces of Henan, Hunan and Guangxi. To the south, the Japanese offensive also enjoyed a steady string of victories from May through August, although both the Chinese Army and the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force harassed and delayed the pace of the Japanese advance. The devastating losses coupled with the negative public opinion in the U.S. that followed caused the U.S. to lose confidence in the Chinese troops' ability to fight the Japanese, and subsequently the China-Burma-India Theatre lost its priority. Instead the U.S. focused its resources on the Island-hopping offensive in the Pacific. By May 1945, the United States and China were finally ready to assume the offensive in China.

The war with Japan finally came to an end in September 1945. Following the September 2nd official surrender to the Allies on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, another ceremony was held on September 9th in Nanking. Here, in the shadow of the infamous "Rape of Nanking," General Okamura formally surrendered Japan's forces in China. The seven day lag in officially capitulating in China forced some uncertain But, for China, Japan's defeat merely signaled the resumption of the civil war between China's Nationalists and the Communists for control of the entire country, a contest that, ultimately, neither the Soviet Union nor the western Allies could influence in any appreciable manner.

The American advisory effort in China not only aided the Allied military effort, but also reinforced traditional United States interests in China. From the beginning of the war, President Roosevelt wanted to bolster Chiang and the Nationalist government to serve as a counterpoint against a potentially resurgent Japan, as well as a deterrent to an anticipated Soviet influence. The President saw postwar China as a major power and partner, protecting U.S. economic, diplomatic, and strategic interests in Asia. Although the United States subsequently provided massive amounts of economic and military aid to Chiang Kai-shek, that assistance failed to create an effective, pro-Western government or military force. Within four years of the war's end Mao Tse-tung and his Communist forces overran China, forcing Chiang and his Nationalist supporters to flee to the island of Formosa and providing the last act in a drama that had begun forty years earlier.

(Continue to US Intelligence operations in WWII China)
     Visit image gallery of 1945 China, from SACO photos!

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