bigpigeon.us webpage WW II - Japan > China-Burma-India > Burma - 1941-45, updated by RAC 7 Oct '19.
Under development Jun 2019.
Under development Jun 2019.
Burma at the Beginning of 1942
When the War with Japan began in December 1941, Burma, now know as Myarmar, was one of the many colonies in the British Empire. As the accompanying map shows, Burma was sandwiched between the Republic of China, a small border with Indo China, and Thailand on the east and the large British colony of India on the west.
In December 1941, all shipment of supplies from the Western Allies to China was through the Burma Road, from the railhead at Lashio, Burma to Kumning in southwestern China. To achieve their major goal of shutting down this route, Japanese forces needed only sieze the Rangoon area.
American and British priorities in Burma differed. The British did not Burma to become a springboard for a Japanese invasion of India, the colony sometimes called the Jewel in the Crown. The United States wanted to maximize China's participation in the War with Japan, in order to keep as much of the Japanese military as possible in China, and thus reduce the Japanese ability to enlarge and defend the Japanese Pacific island empire.
Although Thailand became a Japanese ally early in the War with Japan, it was not easy for Japan to invade Burma. Their was no land route between Thailand and the key areas of Burma, and the sea route, from Bangkok south past the Malay peninsula to Rangoon, was 2,000 miles long.
I view land combat in Burma during World War II as consisting of four major phases.
- The initial Japanese advance northward in 1942, opposed by British troops and Chinese troops with American leadership.
- The ensuing two-years plus struggle to push back the Japanese and open the Ledo Road.
- The ill-fated 1944 Japanese offensive from Burma west into Assam, India.
- The final push driving the Japanese south out of Burma.
The Loss of Burma - January - June 1942
The Japanese invasion of Burma began on xxx when Japanese troops, coming overland through Thailand, occupied Moulein east of Rangoon. Later Japanese forces landed by sea near Rangoon.
Rangoon fell on xxx and the allied defenders of Burma, Indian troops with British leadership and Chinese troops under the command of the American general Vinegar Joe Stilwell, attempted in vain to stop the Japanese advance northward.
The British and Indian forces retreated west into India, most of the Chinese troops retreated back into China, and two divisions of Chinese troops retreated into northeastern India.
The Japanese did not occupy all of Burma. For instance, Ft. Hertz in the extreme north remained in Allied hands and was used as an emergency landing field.
New Lifelines to China
US planners, desperate to keep China in the war, developed two routes for a lifeline to China, now that the old Burma Railroad/Burma Road route was in enemy hands. Both new routes would begin at railheads near Ledo in extreme northeastern India and end at Kumning in southwestern China.
We'll return to the Hump and the Ledo Road later.
The Hump Airlift
The United State's priority goal in the China-Burma-India Theater was to keep China involved in the War with Japan, this keeping the Imperial Japanese Army in China, rather then in the Pacific Islands where most US combat occurred. To do this, the United States felt it imperative to open a supply line to China.
Foreshadowing the Berlin Airlift half a dozen years later, the United States mounted an airlift of supplies from railheads in Assam in northeastern India, over the Hump, mountainous areas of Burma and southwestern China, to Kumning.
Although Hump operations began in mid 1942, infrastructure deficiencies in northeast India and limited American resources kept the Hump operation from reaching its goals until December 1943.
Until late in the war, Hump pilots had to fly over 15,000 foot ranges plagued with foul weather, since a more-direct route to the south was within range of Japanese interceptor aircraft.
The Air Transport Command lost 600 aircraft in the Hump operation, with 1,500 aircrew deaths.
The Ledo Road
Starting in late 1942, United States engineering battalions began construction of the Ledo Road, now known as the Stilwell Road, from Ledo near the Hump airfields, with the intent of passing through northern Burma to link up with the unoccupied section of the Burma Road.
Most of the engineering battalions working on the Ledo Road consisted of Black troops, the US Army still being segregated. As sections of the Ledo Road were completed, they were used to support Chinese and American combat operations in north Burma.
Pushing back the Japanese and completing the Ledo Road took many months; the first convoy of trucks reached Kumning on 4 Feb 1945.
The Death Railway
While the United States was developing new transport routes to China across North Burma, the Japanese Empire was implementing a land link between the central cores of Thailand and Burma. This link, combined with the Burmese rail and river network, could then support large-scale Japanese offensive operations from Burma.
The Death Railway, built in 1942 and 1943, ran from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma. It cost the lives of over 100,000 laborers, including over 12,000 Allied Prisoners of War.
Today only a portion of the Death Railway remains. It is best remembered for the fictionalized story of the bridge over the River Kwai. You can still see the second bridge built in WW II, at Kanchanaburi near Ban Pong.
March - July 1944 - Imphal and Kohima - Japanese Invasion of India
With the completion of the Death Railway from the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula, Japanese forces were better prepared to launch an invasion of India. The immediate goal of this offensive was to cut the rail link from Calcutta to the Ledo area. This link serviced American, British Empire, and Chinese troops in north Burma.
In long and hard-fought battles supported by aerial resupply, British Empire troops fought back the Japanese advance, inflicting on the Imperial Japanese Army its worst defeat to date in the War with Japan.
Perhaps the Japanese hoped that a breakthrough into eastern India would cause an uprising among the Indian population, India being a British colony. In any event, they brought along some thousands of Indian collaborators.
Special Operations Forces in North Burma
Most combat in north Burma was done by special operations forces with the assistance of US-equipped Chinese troops.
- Chindits - British Empire troops lead by Ord Wingate. - British Army long range penetration brigade.
- 5307th Composite Brigade, aka Merrill's Marauders - US. Army long range penetration brigade.
- 5332nd Composite Brigade, aka Mars Task Force - two US Army regiments and a Chinese regiment .
- Detachment 101 of the Office of Special Services (OSS) - American led consisting mostly of Burmese Kachin tribesmen.
The 1944 Chinese and American Offensive
Sources for the WW II - Burma 1941-45 webpage
- The webpage header photo Merrill's Marauders
- The Burma in 1942 map is courtesy of https://history.army.mil/brochures/burma42/p07(map).jpg.
- The Burma Road Replacement Routes map is courtesy of the Air Force Historical Foundation.
- The Hump Tonnage 1943 map is courtesy of the Pacific War On-line Encyclopedia at https://pwencycl.kgbudge.com.
- The North Burma Area in WW II map, aka The Ledo Road, is courtesy of flickr.com. This is a well-designed and drawn and informative map.
- The The Death Railway map is from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway#/media/File:Death_Railway.png.
- The Battles of Imphal and Kohima map is courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
Pottawattamie County, Iowa WW II Dead - Burma 1941-45
(taken from the bigpigeon.us WW II Dead webarea)
(taken from the bigpigeon.us WW II Dead webarea)
- 10-01 - China-Burma-India - Burma 1941-45: (three dead, updated 6 Oct ’19)
† Evans, Robert Samuel - SN O-489062, US Army
5307 Composite Unit (Merrill’s Marauders); WIA at Nhpum Ga, NW of Myitkyina, Burma, DOW 11 Apr ’44 in hospital, Ledo, Assam, India; CBI Theater.
† McCue, Dudley Van - SN 6554498, USAAF
77th Sqdn., 22nd Transport Gp.; C-87 Liberator Express cargo plane #41-11908 crew member; KIA 10 Sep ’43, Hukawng Valley, Kachin State, N Burma; flight over the Hump from Jurwat, Assam, India to Kumning, China; CBI Theater; BNR.
† Mueller, Eugene Clyde - SN O-704040, USAAF
341st Bomb. Sqdn., 490th Bomb. Gp., 10th AF; B-25D #43-3612 navigator-bombardier; KIA 24 Oct ‘44 near Maymyo, Burma; plane crash; CBI Theater.