By: Paulina Hernandez
Burma was a mountainous country nestled between British India and Japan occupied China. Prior to 1941, Burma was of little importance to countries such as Great Britain and United States. The mountainous region of Burma discouraged any type of trade or travel. Only once did the campaign of the Japanese to control Southeast Asia began, did Great Britain and the United States realize the value of Burma.
From the beginning, Great Britain and United States agreed that Burma was strategic in defeating Japan. Interestingly enough, Great Britain and the United States differed in their motives for protecting Burma. First, Great Britain viewed Burma as a barrier between British India and Japan occupied China. The barrier between these two countries would secure the safety of the “Crown Jewel of the British Empire”. In contrast, the United States saw Burma as a lifeline for China, who was under occupation by Japan. The United States believed that if they were to hold Burma, the Chinese could overthrow Japan and take back their country. The continued support of the Chinese, was an effort by Franklin D. Roosevelt to gain a potential ally in China.
A crucial roadway in providing aid for China was the Burma Road. The Burma Road was used as a means to transport aid to Japan-occupied China from their American allies. Japanese strategists decided to cut the Burma Road in order to gain complete control over China. Japan’s motive for the occupation of Burma would ensure the protection of their other occupied lands in the pacific. Furthermore, the occupation of Burma could possibly lead to an invasion on British India.
The loss of the Burma Road led to alternative methods of transportation. For example, an alternative method employed by the allies, was the use of mules. The idea was that packs of mules ,would be guided through the jungles, across rivers, and the Himalayas into China. Harsh conditions such as freezing temperatures and the limitation of supplies caused this option to be questioned. Another example, was the construction of an air bridge that would enable supplies to be flown from India to China. The pilots would travel in unarmed planes across the eastern Himalayas, nicknamed the “hump”, by allied forces. The flights were perilous because the aircrafts were unarmed and crossing into enemy territory.
In December of 1942, British General Sir Archibald Wavell was in agreement with American General Stilwell to construct the Ledo Road and make it a NCAC operation. The NACA was the Northern Combat Area Command and under the command of General Stilwell. The allied forces began the creation of the Ledo Road, towards the end of December of 1942. The route would began in Assam, India to a juncture in Mung-Yu that connected to the Burma Road. The Burma Road would then connect to Kunming, China. Through the Ledo Road, allied forces would be able to send aid to the Chinese forces.
The difficulty in constructing the Ledo Road was because of Japanese forces controlling most of the Burma Road. Therefore, allied forces had no idea about the terrain nor the layout of the area. The allied forces gained this knowledge as construction continued.
The Ledo Road was not completed until late 1944. During its construction, the airbridge proved to be instrumental in the fight against Japan. The flights taken across “the hump” proved more effective than the planned Ledo Road. By the end of construction, flights across the “hump” had carried 650,000 tons of supplies to China. The number of supplies surpassed the number of the Ledo Road, which had transported 147,000 tons.
The Ledo Road was named Stilwell Road in honor of General Stilwell. While it was planned to be a strategic road, the Ledo Road proved to be a waste of time, money, and resources for the Allied forces. While construction of the Ledo Road was underway, offensive forces infiltrated Burma. One offensive force was known as the Chindits. The Chindits were a special unit force who operated behind enemy lines. The Chindits were formed in the summer of 1942 under the command of Major General Ode Wingate DSO. There were two Chindits expeditions into Burma.
The first was Operation Longcloth which commened on February of 1943. Operation Longcloth consisted of 3,000 British Gurkha and Burmese soldiers. The main objective of operation Longcloth was to remove a possible threat to Fort Hertz which was the last British outpost in northern Burma. During the operation, Major General Wingate would change tactics, failing to advise various columns which would result in miscommunication. The majority of the Chindits resupply came from air support. The Japanese forces became aware of the transportation of supplies and quickly cut off the Chindits’ resupply. Ultimately, Major General Wingate and the Chindits were forced to retreat into India. They would soon return to Burma in the March of 1944 for Operation Thursday. The Chindits were a experimental unit that partook in the eventual victory over Japan in Burma.
Towards the end of the campaign, British attention went into planning the invasion of Malaya. This plan never took effective due to the surrender of the Japanese. The Battle for Burma ended with Japan’s surrender.