by Grace Wong
With the Japanese occupation of much of Southeast and East Asia during World War II, the Allies needed a way to deliver British and American supplies to resistance fighters and the areas still free in the China-Burma-India Theater, specifically in Western China. Two main routes were used: one was crossing the Burma Road, and the other was “flying the hump” over the Himalayas.
The Burma Road was a 712-mile long narrow highway stretching from Lashio in eastern Burma (now Myanmar) to Kunming in Yunnan Province, China. It was built by Chinese and Burmese laborers from 1937–1938 with the outbreak of the war in Asia; they had minimal resources and worked under bad conditions. It was a long and dangerous journey, crossing through dense jungles, but the Burma Road was one of the only possible transport routes due to the Japanese naval blockade around the coast of China.
This road remained the main supply route until 1942, when the Japanese took it. Burma had become a strategic location in the war, as having access to it meant access to India as well. With the loss of the Burma Road, the Allies needed an alternate route, and they started organizing an airlift over the Himalayas, going from Assam Province, India, to Kunming, China.
“The Hump” was a dangerous air route crossing the tallest mountains in the world from India to China. Flying conditions were perilous, as the planes were unarmed, the weather was severe, and, as one pilot, Lt. Jay Vinyard, described it, the trip felt “like you were flying through a bucket of water.” However, this route was one of the only options because the Japanese had a strong air force and controlled much of the airspace in that region as well. It was risky, with so many crashes along the mountain pass that there was an “aluminum trail” left by the downed planes. But according to the official records of the Army Air Force, “every vehicle, every gallon of fuel, every weapon, every round of ammunition, every typewriter, and every ream of paper which found its way to Free China for either the Chinese or the American forces during nearly three years of war was flown in” through this crucial pass. Over 650,000 tons of supplies were carried over in this way by the end of the war.
The Flying Tigers, an American volunteer group, alongside the Chinese Nationalists, played a large role in defense of the Burma Road. Later, they also made many of the crossings over the hump. There were other “hump fliers” who risked their lives every time they crossed. In fact, hundreds of crewmen were killed or went missing in action along this route. It is important to recognize the efforts of all those who braved the journey to help China continue its fight.
Both the Burma Road and flying the hump presented perilous conditions, yet the Allies had to make do with what they had access to. Both routes were crucial for the Allied resistance and eventual victory in the China-Burma-India Theater.
“Burma, 1942.” U.S. Army Center of Military History , U.S. Army, 2003, history.army.mil/brochures/burma42/burma42.htm.
Cho, Quin, and Sunwoo Park. Competing Empires in Burma: A Chronicle of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations in World War 2. Pacific Atrocities Education, 2021.
Correll, John T. “Over the Hump to China.” Air Force Magazine, Air Force Association, 1 Oct. 2009, www.airforcemag.com/article/1009hump/.
Hays, Jeffrey. “World War II in Burma.” Facts and Details, 2014, factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Myanmar/sub5_5a/entry-3008.html#chapter-1.
Lindsey, Bill. “FLYING the HUMP during World War Ii.” Lyon Air Museum, 15 Oct. 2020, lyonairmuseum.org/blog/flying-hump-during-world-war-ii/.
Stubblebine, David. “Burma Road and the Hump.” WWII Database, 2015, ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=326.
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