"Preserving the memory of their sacrifices!"
1937 - 1941
Japan's Strategy appears to have been one of the key factors in the flow of the China-Burma-India conflict. Japan entered World War II with limited aims and with the intention of fighting a limited war. Its principal objectives were to secure the resources of Southeast Asia and much of China and to establish a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" under Japanese hegemony. In 1895 and in 1905 Japan had gained important objectives without completely defeating China or Russia and in 1941 Japan sought to achieve its hegemony over East Asia in similar fashion. The operational strategy the Japanese adopted to start war, however, doomed their hopes of limiting the conflict. Japan believed it necessary to destroy or neutralize American striking power in the Pacific (the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Far East Air Force in the Philippines) before moving southward and eastward to occupy Malaya, the Netherlands Indies, the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, the Gilbert Islands, Thailand, and Burma. Once in control of these areas, the Japanese intended to establish a defensive perimeter stretching from the Kurile Islands south through Wake, the Marianas, the Carolines, and the Marshalls and Gilberts to Rabaul on New Britain. From Rabaul the perimeter would extend westward to northwestern New Guinea and would encompass the Indies, Malaya, Thailand, and Burma. Japan thought that the Allies would wear themselves out in fruitless frontal assaults against the perimeter and would ultimately settle for a negotiated peace that would leave it in possession of most of its conquests.
Combative hostilities and incidents of Japanese seizure of land, assets and cities had been occurring for several years, when full-scale war between Japan and China began in July 1937. Although quickly defeated in north China, stubborn Chinese resistance in Shanghai later that year earned them worldwide respect. However, Japan's highly trained soldiers proved too much for the Chinese. Driven from Shanghai, the Chinese retreated inland. Nanking, the Nationalist capital, fell to the Japanese in December 1937. China’s ruling Kuomintang Party refused Japan's peace overtures and withdrew their Government still deeper into the rugged interior, finally reestablishing a capital at Chungking, on the upper Yangtze gorges some 700 miles from the coast.
Burma lies like a giant wedge between India and China and after its occupation by the Japanese, the only link between these two countries was a hazardous air route across the rugged Himalaya Mountains--the famed "Hump." The obstacles posed by terrain and the extremes in climate were difficulties never before experienced in mass operation of aircraft. Across this treacherous route, the AAF undertook and maintained the aerial re-supply of China in the greatest sustained aerial transport achievement of the war, carrying cargoes ranging from bombs, gasoline, and medicine to spare parts, trucks, and K-rations.
By mid- to late-1940, for a variety of reasons ranging from noble political idealism to crude anti-Japanese sentiment, the West was again ready to support China. Chiang's army received $250 million worth of tanks, trucks, and aircraft from the Soviet Union in 1938, plus some British and French military supplies. Nevertheless, by the summer of 1939 Japan controlled most of northeastern China and all major coastal seaports, except for the British Crown Colony at Hong Kong. In short, China was isolated except for supplies moving from the west along the so-called Burma Road or through French Indochina.
In 1940 Japan took advantage of the German invasion of France to cut both supply lines to China. In June, with France focused on the war in Europe, Japanese warships moved into French Indochina and closed the railroad from Haiphong. A month later, threatening war if its demands were not met, Japan secured an agreement from the hard-pressed British government to close the Burma Road to war materiel temporarily. The Burma Road reopened in October 1940, literally the sole lifeline to China.
Joining in widespread international condemnation of Japan's aggression, the United States circumspectly supported China. President Roosevelt approved $25 million in military aid to China on 19 December 1940, permitting the Chinese to purchase one hundred P 40 pursuit aircraft. By late spring 1941, the United States had also earmarked over $145 million in lend-lease funds for China to acquire both ground and air equipment. In May 1941, Secretary of War Henry Stimson approved a Chinese request for sufficient equipment to outfit thirty infantry divisions, intended for delivery by mid-1942.
Prompted by his private adviser, Claire L. Chennault, Chiang also obtained Roosevelt's support for an American Volunteer Group (AVG) of about one hundred U.S. civilian volunteers to fly the one hundred recently purchased P-40s. The men of the unit began arriving in Burma in late 1941, the first Americans actually to be fighting alongside the Chinese.
Still, China had a lower priority for supplies than the United States and its European Allies. Even the relatively meager amount of materiel required by the Chinese proved difficult to deliver. Japanese control of the China coast meant that all supplies had to reach inland China through either Burma or French Indochina. British reluctance to provoke Japan limited shipments through Hong Kong, and French acquiescence to Japanese occupation of northern Indochina in September 1940 left Rangoon, Burma, the closest friendly port to Nationalist-held areas in China. Having crossed nearly 14,000 miles by sea, lend-lease aid next went by rail to Lashio in northern Burma, and then 715 miles by truck over the Burma Road to Kunming, China. Over this precarious route only a trickle of supplies arrived at Kunming.
By late 1941 the United States was shipping lend-lease materiel by sea to the Burmese port of Rangoon. Over this narrow highway, slow moving trucks provided some re-supply to the Chinese Army, whose continuing strength in turn forced the Japanese to keep considerable numbers of ground forces stationed in China. Consequently, Japanese strategists decided to cut the Burma lifeline, gain complete control of China, and free their forces for use elsewhere in the Pacific.
The geography of Burma had isolated it from India and China, its larger and more populous neighbors. The high, rugged mountain ranges discouraged trade and travel. This lack of contact had shaped Burma into a country distinctly different from either of those larger neighbors, who in turn had little interest in Burma given the natural barriers to invasion. Japan's dramatic 1941 bid for dominance in the Far East, however, caused both India and China and their Western patrons, Great Britain and the United States, respectively, to focus attention on Burma.
At one time the British had attempted to govern Burma as a province of India, but the artificial mixing of the two cultures proved unworkable. In 1937 Burma had become a separate colony with a largely autonomous government. Its still-dependent status dissatisfied many of the more politically aware Burmese, who formed a vocal minority political party favoring complete independence from Britain. When a number of the leaders of this movement visited Tokyo in the years before 1941, Japanese government officials had expressed sympathy with their efforts to attain independence. Burma, however, was still very much a permanent possession in the eyes of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who clearly had no intention of presiding over the dissolution of the British Empire. Churchill saw the status quo ante helium as a primary British war aim, with both India and Burma remaining colonies as they had been since 1941.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a different vision for postwar Asia. Roosevelt believed that the European empires in the Far East were archaic and that their colonies would soon be independent countries. He also wanted China treated as an equal Allied partner in the war against Japan in the hope that it would develop into a great power friendly to the West. On a more immediate and practical note, keeping China in the war would also keep a large contingent of Japanese ground forces occupied on the Asian mainland, out of the way of American operations in the Pacific.
Although Great Britain and the United States were pursuing the same strategic goal of ultimately defeating Japan, they disagreed about Burma's role in attaining that goal. Their leaders agreed that Burma should be defended against the Japanese, but their motives differed. For the British, Burma provided a convenient barrier between India, the "crown jewel" of their empire, and China with its Japanese military occupation. The Americans saw Burma as the lifeline that could provide China the means to throw off the shackles of Japanese occupation and become a viable member of the international community.
Despite the Allies' determination to hold Burma, their plans for the defense of the region were incomplete. The Burmese were not consulted and had little reason to fight the Japanese. More significantly, neither Britain nor the United States was prepared to commit significant forces to save the area. Japanese leaders, in contrast, were prepared to do more and viewed Burma as critical to their overall strategy for the war. The occupation of Burma would protect gains already secured in the southwest Pacific and set the stage for a possible invasion of India, which conceivably could link up with a German drive out of the Middle East and close the Allied supply line along the Burma Road into China.
Less than a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes took off from captured bases in Thailand and opened the invasion of Burma by bombing the Tavoy airdrome, a forward British outpost on the Andaman Sea south of Rangoon. The next day, 12 December 1941, small Japanese units began the ground offensive by infiltrating into Burma. Not having prepared for war, Imperial British forces in Burma lacked even such rudimentary necessities as an adequate military intelligence staff. Although a civil defense commissioner had been appointed in November 1941, the British had not made contingency arrangements, such as military control of the railroads and the inland waterways. The only British forces in Burma were a heterogeneous mixture of Burmese, British, and Indian units known as the Army in Burma. Their air support consisted of some sixteen obsolete Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters.
The only American combat force even remotely available at the onset of the fighting was the fledgling American Volunteer Group (AVG), which would later be nicknamed the "Flying Tigers." The AVG was preparing to provide air support to the Chinese Army against the Japanese in China. They had begun training during the summer of 1941 in Burma to be out of range of Japanese air raids until ready for combat. Chennault had hoped to employ his three squadrons of fighter aircraft, after thorough training, as a single unit in China, but the subsequent Japanese invasion of Burma quickly changed his priorities. In response to a British request for support on 12 December, one squadron of the AVG moved, near Rangoon, to help protect the capital city and its port facilities. The two remaining squadrons deployed to China to protect Chinese cities and patrol the Burma Road.
When Japan began operations in Burma, the United States recognized that the British would need assistance. The American Military Mission to China (AMMISCA), under Brig. Gen. John Magruder, an officer with previous China experience, had been in Chungking since September 1941 to coordinate, among other things, American lend-lease aid for China. Rather than simply serve as a conduit for Nationalist requests for supplies, Marshall had directed Magruder to advise the Chinese on their military needs and ensure a closer match between those needs and the capabilities of U.S. defense production. The international tensions existing among the nations defending Burma would, in fact, bedevil the entire campaign. The British were fighting for the future of their empire in the Far East and had little concern for China. The Americans, sensitive about their treatment of China in the past, sought to make it a more equal member of the Alliance.
Other problems originated with the British, who were jealous of their imperial prerogatives. The Chinese were willing, even anxious, to provide troops to assist in the defense of Burma. The Generalissimo offered two armies with the proviso that they would operate in designated areas under Chinese command and would not be committed to battle piecemeal. Reluctant at first to permit large Chinese forces to operate in Burma, the British agreed to accept only one division of Chinese troops. Field Marshal Sir Archibald P. Wavell, British commander in chief in India, believed the Japanese offensive in Burma was overextended and would only end in failure; Chinese forces were not required for victory. Accepting the use of one Chinese division, he judged, was an adequate response to the Generalissimo's offer.
Although the British were lukewarm about Chinese participation in the defense of Burma, the Americans embraced the idea. Roosevelt, a long-time China booster, convinced Churchill to appease the Generalissimo by inviting him to serve as supreme commander of Allied forces in a separate China theater. The Generalissimo accepted the offer and even requested an American officer to head the Allied staff. After some discussion, the War Department nominated Maj. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell to be the Allied Chief of Staff. Stilwell's numerous tours on the Asian mainland had made him extremely knowledgeable about the Chinese Army. Stilwell's assignment orders designated him "Chief of Staff to the Supreme Commander of the Chinese Theater." When he reported to the Chinese theater, his orders designated him "Commanding General of the United States Forces in the Chinese Theater of Operations, Burma, and India." Before his departure for the Far East, he had received the approval of the War Department to designate his headquarters, to include any U.S. forces that might join him, the United States Task Force in China.
Even as Stilwell assembled his staff in Washington and began the long journey to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of Operations, the situation in Burma was deteriorating rapidly. Stilwell and his staff left Florida on 13 February 1942. As the party traveled to the Far East, accomplishing the twelve-day trip in a series of plane rides through the Caribbean to South America, over to Africa, and across the Middle East, Japanese successes in the CBI theater continued to mount. Singapore surrendered with 80,000 troops on 15 February; eight days later the British-Indian brigades in Burma were crushed in the Battle of the Sittang Bridge, a defeat that effectively left the path to Rangoon open to the Japanese advance. On 25 February, the Australian-British-Dutch-American Command (ABDACOM), the Allied command established on 15 January to defend the region, was dissolved in the face of continued Japanese pressure. Although Stilwell was assigned duties in China, events in Burma thus dominated his first months as Chiang Kai-shek's Allied Chief of Staff.
The 10th U.S. Air Force was activated in Ohio and slated for deployment to the CBI Theater of Operations. The 10th was to be based in India with the mission of supporting China. Maj. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton, an airman experienced in fighting the Japanese in the Netherlands East Indies, assumed command of the new air force when it arrived in India in early March 1942. Although the 10th Air Force was assigned to the CBI to support the Chinese, the Japanese offensive in Burma meant that Brereton's bombers would be supporting the interests of two major Allies, China and Great Britain.
About the only good news in Burma in early March was that Chinese troops were soon expected to enter the defensive campaign. Chiang Kai-shek had agreed that Stilwell would command Chinese forces sent to Burma, and in the press of the military emergency, Chiang Kai-shek and the British had even come to an agreement on the use of these forces. During February, the 5th and 6th Chinese Armies, each with three divisions, slowly began moving into Burma.
After spending almost a week in India learning what he could from the British ("nobody but the quartermaster knew anything at all," he wrote in his diary during the visit), Stilwell finally arrived in Chungking on 4 March and opened the Headquarters, American Army Forces, China, Burma, and India. With this action, Magruder and AMMISCA in China, as well as Brereton and the 10th Air Force in India, came under Stilwell's command. However, Chennault's AVG, which had not yet integrated into the U.S. Army, remained independent. Two days later Chiang Kai-shek met with his new Allied chief of staff, and expressed his concern about the overall command in Burma and the state of Sino-British relations. He informed Stilwell that he had already "told those [Chinese] army commanders [in Burma] not to take orders from anybody but you and to wait until you came." If the British tried to give orders to his commanders, they would simply return home. The Generalissimo went on to express his dissatisfaction with British command in Burma and surprised Stilwell by suggesting that Stilwell take overall Allied command of the entire theater of operations. Following the meeting, the Chinese government sent to Washington a strong message to that effect.
From 6-11 March Stilwell had several discussions with the Generalissimo regarding the defense of Burma and the future role of the Chinese forces. Stilwell wanted to take the offensive and had already begun to develop plans for recapturing Rangoon. He believed that a bold course of action might reveal Japanese weaknesses in Burma. The Generalissimo, however, had other ideas, advocating caution and insisting that the Chinese forces remain on the defensive, not attacking the Japanese unless provoked; he also established specific geographical limitations on the deployment of those forces. Finally, he reiterated his distrust of British motives and his insistence that Chinese forces remain independent of British command. China, he explained' had no interest in sustaining the British Empire, and would fight in Burma only long enough to keep the supply line open.
Rangoon fell to the Japanese on 8 March, closing the primary overland route for U.S. supplies to reach their Chinese Allies
Throughout the spring of 1942, continued Japanese successes in Burma made an Allied offensive in the region extremely unlikely. General Alexander, now designated Allied commander in chief in Burma, organized these forces into the equivalent of two corps, with Lt. Gen. William J. Slim commanding the British Burma Corps at Prome and Stilwell commanding the Chinese Expeditionary Force at Toungoo. All agreed that holding at Toungoo was the key to defending northern Burma. But British intelligence was weak, and unknown to Burma's Allied defenders, the Japanese were steadily increasing their forces in the country and had developed plans which would soon outflank these defenses. At the beginning of March, the Japanese already had four divisions in Burma, twice the number the Allies had estimated. The Japanese planned to surround and annihilate the Allied forces in central Burma near Mandalay. While the Allied ground forces prepared their defensive plans, what little friendly air support existed in Burma was for all intents eliminated from the theater. The fall of Rangoon had limited the RAF and AVG to Magwe, an airfield located in the Irrawaddy Valley about halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay. On 21 March the RAF conducted a successful raid on an airfield near Rangoon, destroying a number of Japanese aircraft on the ground with the loss of only one RAF Hurricane.
But the Japanese had increased their air strength in the theater during March. On the day following the British strike, the Japanese conducted a massive raid on the inadequately protected Magwe airfield and destroyed many of the Allied aircraft on the ground. To prevent further losses, the RAF moved its planes west to Akyab on the coast and the AVG went north to Lashio and Loiwing. Further raids followed, ultimately forcing the Allied air forces completely out of Burma. Without opposition in the air, the Japanese enjoyed virtually unlimited air reconnaissance which, when coupled with a growing number of sympathetic Burmese on the ground, provided them with detailed information on Allied troop dispositions and movements.
A Japanese offensive begun in early March rapidly achieved success. However, the Chinese 200th Division held at Toungoo for twelve days against repeated Japanese assaults. Their stand represented the longest defensive action of any Allied force in the campaign. Even so, another major Allied withdrawal was inevitable. By the end of March the Allies were retreating north with the British and Chinese blaming each other for the repeated reverses.
Any hope for holding central Burma required increased air power in the theater. The most readily available sources were the 10th Air Force in India and the AVG in China. Brereton had assumed command of the 10th Air Force on 5 March, but it remained largely a paper organization. During a 24 March meeting with Stilwell at Magwe, the air corps general estimated that his command would not be ready for combat until 1 May. Stilwell accepted that estimate, and Brereton returned to his headquarters in Delhi. A few days later, a puzzled Stilwell learned of two bombing raids which the 10th Air Force conducted on 2 April against Japanese shipping: one at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands and a second at Rangoon. Neither had been coordinated with Stilwell's headquarters. Brereton, caught between conflicting requirements, had authorized the 2 April missions to support the British in India on direct orders from Washington. On 15 April the War Department extinguished any further hope of air support for the Burma Campaign from the 10th Air Force. In accordance with British desires, the 10th would concentrate its efforts on defending India.
In the meantime, even though the AVG had been forced from Burma in March, Chennault attempted to keep up the fight from Loiwing, just inside China. During April the group flew patrol and reconnaissance missions over the Chinese lines in Burma, but their efforts were too small to be significant. By the end of April, even this effort came to a halt as continued Japanese pressure forced the AVG deeper into China. Finally, a desperate scheme to give the AVG a longer-range bombing capability came to naught.
The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders
At dawn on April 18, 1942, a U.S. Navy task force was heading through rough Pacific seas toward Japan. One of the ships in the flotilla was the aircraft carrier Hornet with 16 AAF B-25s on deck. Plans called for the B-25s to take off from the carrier when within 450 to 650 miles of Japan, bomb selected targets at such locations as Yokohama and Tokyo, and then fly another 1,200 miles to friendly airfields on mainland China.
Unfortunately, an enemy patrol boat was sighted and, although it was sunk by U.S. gunfire, it was decided to launch the planes at once in case the patrol boat had been able to radio a warning to Japan. The 16 B-25s were launched while the task force was 800 miles from Japan rather than the desired 450 to 650 miles. They all reached the Japanese islands, dropped their bombs on oil stores, factory areas, and military installations, and then headed out across the East China Sea. However, night was approaching, the planes began running low on fuel, and the weather was rapidly becoming worse. The crews realized they could not reach the Chinese airfields and had the choice of either bailing out, ditching at sea, or crash-landing, although one plane was able to divert to Vladivostok where its crew was interned by the Russians.
When the news of the raid was released, American morale zoomed from the depths to which it had plunged following Japan's successes. It also caused the Japanese to transfer back to the home islands fighter units, which could have been used against the Allies. In comparison to the B-29 attacks against Japan two years later, the Tokyo Raid was a token effort. However, it was an example of brilliant tactics.
Japanese successes on the ground and in the air continued throughout the month of April. As the Allied forces fell back along the Irrawaddy and Sittang Valleys into central Burma, the third prong of the Japanese offensive toward Lashio became apparent. With their forces concentrated in the river valleys, the Allies could do little about the Japanese thrust in the northeast. Lashio fell on 29 April, completing the Japanese blockade of China by closing the Burma Road. With Lashio in Japanese hands, the defense of Burma became untenable and Stilwell ordered an emergency evacuation. Part of the Chinese force managed to withdraw east into China, but three divisions headed west into India. Determined to begin a renewed defensive effort, Stilwell sent part of his staff ahead to prepare training bases in India.
On 26 May, the Burma Campaign ended with barely a whimper as the last of the Allied forces slipped out of Burma. Stilwell's assessment was brief and to the point: "I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out why it happened and go back and retake it."
1942 - 1944
In the larger picture, however, the conflicting goals of the countries involved made the loss of Burma almost inevitable. Neither the defenders nor the invaders saw Burma as anything other than a country to be exploited. To Britain, Burma was simply a colony and a useful buffer between China and India. To China, Burma was the lifeline for national survival. To the United States, Burma was the key to keeping China in the war against Japan, which in turn would keep large numbers of Japanese tied up on the Asian mainland and away from American operations in the Pacific. The wishes of the local population remained unaddressed and local resources therefore remained untapped.
The Japanese had a tremendous advantage from the beginning of the campaign. The invading forces were under a single command with one goal, the capture of Burma. Their unity of purpose and unity of command were complemented by the commitment of adequate resources to accomplish the agreed-upon task. Japanese air superiority gave their ground forces significant advantages, not the least of which was using air reconnaissance to confirm Allied troop dispositions and denying the same information to their opponents. However, had their leaders found such actions necessary and compatible with their overall designs, the Japanese might have further exploited the support available from Burmese citizens anxious to escape so many decades of British rule.
For the Allies, the CBI theater would remain low on their priority list throughout the war. In this economy-of-force theater, the Allies conducted limited operations to occupy Japanese attention. That role, however, did not restrict Allied forces to purely defensive operations. Immediately after the humiliation in Burma, Stilwell and Allied planners began preparations for their next campaign, drawing on the lessons they had learned from the 1942 disaster. Allied strategy during the next phase of the war in the CBI theater would center on recapturing enough of Burma to reestablish a supply line into China. However, continued problems with inter-Allied cooperation, among other factors, would make it a very costly campaign.
Stilwell's first instinct in the China theater was to seize the initiative, so June 1942 found him proposing a counteroffensive to push the Japanese back down the Yangtze valley toward Hankow. Perhaps of more immediate import, Stilwell was also proposing lifting the blockade of China by recapturing Burma, and possibly even northern Indochina, through a multi-front offensive. This second project was particularly attractive, because the units involved could be directly supported by British’ ports in India. Stilwell reasoned a simultaneous advance from both the west and east against the north-south portion of the Burma Road held by the Japanese, would be difficult to counter and that restoration of the China land supply route would make possible the other projects seemingly desired by both Chiang and Stilwell.
Chiang and President Roosevelt were both troubled at the concept of using Chinese or American forces to restore Burma to British Imperial control. Further, although Stilwell had requested that at least one American division be committed to the Allied campaign in Burma, no U.S. forces were made available, greatly reducing American leverage.
Chiang also questioned the level of lend-lease supplies and their transportation to China itself. U.S. and Chinese plans, approved in 1941, would require delivery of at least 7,500 tons of supplies per month. Because of production problems in the United States, however, the War Department was able to forward only 3,500 tons per month to China through most of the rest of 1942. Although it approved an additional 1,500 tons per month to U.S. air units in China, for a monthly goal of 5,000 tons, even this supplement was unrealized. The Allies lacked the airlift capability, in 1942, to move the supplies over the Hump. The CBI theater's Air Transport Command had only fifty-seven aircraft in May. Partly because of inclement weather, these planes averaged only fifty-seven round trips between China and India during the months of May and June, delivering a total of 186 tons for both months. Consequently, supplies intended for the Chinese accumulated in India awaiting airlift to China.
Air Transport Command Created
On May 29, 1941, the Air Corps had created the Ferrying Command to fly aircraft from U.S. factories to Canada and to Atlantic ports for delivery to Great Britain. By the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the command had delivered approximately 1,350 planes for Britain.
Also, the command was to establish air transport service between Washington and Britain. On July 1, 1941, Lt. Col. Caleb V. Haynes inaugurated the first flight in a modified B-24 by way of Newfoundland and soon the command was making regular flights to England. With Maj. Curtis E. LeMay as co-pilot, Haynes began a pioneering 26,000-mile survey trip on Aug. 31, 1941 across the southern Atlantic via Brazil from the U.S. to the Middle East and back. Projects also were begun in 1941 to build airbases along a southern flight corridor from the U.S. to Australia. Regular service along this route began in 1942.
When the U.S. went to war, the War Department was forced to turn to the civil airlines for aid in securing additional aircraft, developing new flight routes, and transporting cargo and passengers on contract over domestic and foreign routes. Thousands of new transport planes were ordered, reservist pilots were called to active duty, and hundreds of civilians were commissioned as officers and made "service pilots," a rating for which physical qualifications were lower than for a combat pilot.
Ferrying Command B-24s displayed American flag markings to indicate neutrality prior to U.S. entry into WWII in 1941. The AAF had fewer than a dozen such B-24s converted to carrying cargo and passengers, plus 40 to 50 twin-engine transports. Flights over the Hump began in April 1942 when the Army flew gasoline and oil to China for planned use by Doolittle's Raiders following their attack on Tokyo.
On June 20, 1942, the Ferrying Command became the Air Transport Command (ATC) with world-wide responsibility for ferrying aircraft; transporting personnel, materiel, and mail; and maintaining air route facilities outside of the U.S. Under the control of AAF's Air Transport Command (ATC) after December 1, 1942, the India-China Wing of the ATC slowly increased its lift over the Hump from 2,800 tons in February 1943 to more than 12,000 tons a month in early 1944 and 71,000 tons in July 1945. Although the Hump operation cost the lives of some 800 flyers, it kept China in the war.
In the same month, Allied troop carrier units and an AAF air commando group carried out a daring operation far behind enemy lines in central Burma. Using gliders and C-47's, they landed some 9,000 British "Chindit" raiders under Major General Orde Wingate, 1,300 pack animals, and 254 tons of supplies and airfield construction equipment. Such long-range penetration ground forces, supplied entirely by air, struck at vital enemy communications and supply lines, keeping the Japanese forces in Burma off balance.
To the north, American-trained Chinese troops and American guerrillas under Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill, sustained mainly by airdrops, seized the airfield at Myitkyina in northern Burma in May 1944 and reopened the Burma Road to China in January 1945. However, the total tonnage brought over the road by truck until the end of the war did not equal that flown over the Hump in a single month. Anglo-Indian ground forces, supported by the 10th AF and RAF combat and cargo aircraft captured Mandalay in March 1945 and Rangoon in May, as they drove the remnants of the Japanese forces from Burma.
During the enemy's rapid advance through Burma, Allied combat air power consisted of a meager force of British RAF units, the American Volunteer Group (AVG or Flying Tigers), and fewer than a dozen AAF B-17s and LB-30s (export version of the B-24) assigned to the newly created 10th AF. A trickle of reinforcements arrived from the U.S. and AAF bombers succeeded in flying a few bombing missions against the enemy, but they were unable to halt the Japanese advance. As Allied defenses crumbled in Burma, AAF transport crews aided in the evacuation of personnel and dropped supplies to the remnants of Lt.Gen. Joseph Stilwell's command as they retreated on foot. In June, all of the 10th AF's bombers were transferred to Africa to bolster defenses there, temporarily leaving the AAF in India without a single operating combat unit.
In China, the supplies, the aircraft and a few personnel, volunteers, of the Flying Tigers were inducted into the AAF's 23rd Fighter Group on July 4th, 1942 under Brigadier General Chennault's ‘China Air Task Force.’ The unit had an effective strength of about 35 P-40's and seven B-25 medium bombers of the 11th Bombardment Squadron. Less than a year later in March 1943 Chennault's unit, with great support by President Roosevelt, gained independent status as the 14th AF. However, the scope of the 14th AF operations throughout the war was limited by fuel shortages, tonnage which must be carried over the Hump and lack of which, several times, severely restricted fighter and medium bomber operations.
Small in size even by Pacific standards, the 14th AF fought against heavy odds defending the Chinese end of the Hump route and supporting the Chinese ground army. The arrival of B-24's enabled the 14th AF to begin heavy bomber raids in May 1943 against Japanese shipping off the Chinese coast. However, much of the bombers' available flying hours were spent hauling their own supplies over the Hump in support of bombing missions.
In the spring of 1944, the Japanese began a series of successful offensives and by year's end had driven the 14th Air Force from many of its forward bases and had established a continuous line of communications from French Indo-China to North China. During the offensive; however, 14th Air Force pilots and gunners destroyed almost eight aircraft for each American plane lost in combat. In December 1944, ATC and troop carrier aircraft flew two Chinese divisions in Burma back to China where, supported by the AAF, they launched a counteroffensive in May 1945, retaking the initiative until war's end.