Document Source: Operations of the 5307th (Composite) Regiment (Provisional), Merrill’s Marauders, (Codenamed – Galahad), in Northern Burma during the period of April to May 1944, (LRPM) Long Range Penetration Mission. Personal Experience of the Counter Intelligence Corps Officer, Maj Farris Hardin
(Definitive Version, Doc Snafu, November 4, 2022)
This archive covers the operations of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) Merrill’s Marauders (Galahad), in North Burma from April 27 to May 27, 1944, during the China Burma India Campaign (CBI). In January 1942, the Japanese invaded Burma with two divisions which they had concentrated in Southern Thailand. Moulmein was taken on January 30, and although the Salween River and the Sittang River crossing were bitterly contested by the Indian and Burmese Air Forces aided by the British Royal Air Force, as well as the American Volunteer Group (AVG), Flying Tigers, these forces were quickly overwhelmed by Japanese superiority by Japanese planes, men and equipment. Rangoon, the capital and principal port fell on March 8, and the Japanese division pushed up the Sittang River where Gen Joseph W. ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell was deploying his Chinese forces for the defense of the Burma Road. The other Japanese division pushed up the Irrawaddy River, driving the Burmese and Indian defenders before it. Toungoo on the Sittang River and Prome on the Irrawaddy River was seized early in April. From Prime, the Japanese pushed north to Yenangyaung, then west, and on May 4, occupied the port of Akyab on the Bay of Bengal.
The Japanese landed two additional divisions at Rangoon and drove rapidly north into the upper Salween Valley, where they occupied Lashio, the junction of the rail and highway sections of the Burma Road. Mandalay was evacuated by the Chinese troops on May 1. From Lashio, the enemy pushed up the Salween Valley well into China. In the North-Central Burma, they proceeded north along the Irrawaddy River almost to Fort Hertz and occupied Kalewa on the Chindwin River. British, Burmese, and Indian survivors retreated up the Chindwin Valley and across the Chin Hills, while the decimated remnants of the Chinese forces retired to India via Schingbwiyang. As no motor road or railroad connected India with Burma, the withdrawal was made entirely by foot. The monsoon rains of June found the Japanese holding all of Burma except for the undesirable fringes of mountains, jungle, and swamps in the north and west. The Japanese continued pressure along the coast from Akyab and by October 1942, despite stubborn British resistance, had reached the frontier of Bengal, a province of India. In February 1943, the enemy launched an offensive northwest from Myitkyina, closing the Sumprabum, thus threatening to destroy the British-led Kachin Levies operating in the area.
The Japanese conquest of Burma seriously menaced India and cut the last land route of supplies to China. In addition to its strategic value, the seizure of Burma by the Japanese was well worth the effort. The paddy fields of the valley and delta of the Irrawaddy River normally yielded seven million tons of rice. This crop solved a major supply for the rice-eating Japanese garrison; while any large-scale Allied offensive in Burma would necessitate the Allied being supplied from far away Indian bases. In their withdrawal, the British destroyed the field and demolished the refinery of the rich oilfield area near Yenangyaung. This denied the petroleum to the enemy, but it would have been a great asset to the Allied mobility had they been able to retain it, as these fields normally produced 250.000.000 gallons per year. In addition, the wolfram mines on the Salween River, the largest single source of Tungsten in the world, were in the hands of the enemy. The occupation of the inner basin of Burma gave the Japanese two distinct advantages for future military operations. First, they were occupying areas least affected by either monsoon or malaria, both of which are major factors to be considered when planning campaigns in affected areas. Secondly, the Japanese enjoyed a better system of land communications than the Allies.
At the Quebec Conference (Aug 1943), Lord Louis Mountbatten was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Southeast Asia Command, which included the China Burma India Theater of Operations. As a result of a decision made at this conference, the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was to be organized to participate in the Burma Operations. This decision was made upon the request of Gen Order C. Wingate for 3000 jungle-trained American Infantrymen to be organized under his direction into LRPGs (Long Range Penetration Groups). Wingate had already enjoyed marked success with LRPGs of the British Army in Burma. By January 1944, the three battalions comprising the provisional unit had been transported to India, organized, trained, and equipped for employment, and on January 8, was assigned to Vinegar Joe Stilwell’s field command in North Burma. He expected to use it to facilitate the seizure of key points by his main Chinese forces which were beginning their drive against the 18th Japanese Division.
In 1944, the British began offensive operations in the Akyab and Imphal areas, while Chinese troops attacked astride the Burma Road, along the Salween River in southwestern China. Chinese troops under the command of Gen Stilwell began offensive operations in the area of Ledo. Five different Japanese Divisions were in Burma, and they also were ready to resume the offensive. The 55th Division on the Akyab front was extremely aggressive, while on the Chindwin River, the 15th, 31st, and the 33rd, were organizing for a strong offensive. In the 18th Division, the conquerors of Singapore stood ready to oppose any advance in North Burma. The American-trained Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions began their offensive to clear the Ledo Road. The Ledo Road was the key to an understanding of the 1944 campaign in Northern Burma. The Combined Chiefs of Staff had recognized the importance of giving China sufficient support to keep her in the war; and accordingly, as a result of a decision made at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, the Combined Chiefs directed that surface communications be re-established with China and the flow of air supply over the Hump be increased.
The resumption of land communications with China had become the main aim of the Allied strategy, but only a complete defeat of the Japanese in Burma would give the Allies the old route from Rangoon to China. The Ledo Road was a daring effort to build a new road from Northeast India across North Burma, linking up with the Burma Road at the frontier of China. The base of departure in India had rail and water communications with the larger ports of India, as well as several large airfields.
Included in the plans for the Ledo Road was the construction of a pipeline consisting of two 4-inch lines to carry gasoline pumped from India to China, thereby relieving the road and air traffic. This pipeline was to parallel the road as much as practicable. By early February, the Allied offensive was making good progress and the highway had been extended some 100 miles from Ledo, although the main Japanese defenses had not been reached. The 5037 Composite arrived at Ledo, and Gen Stilwell sent it on a wide envelopment across the mountains to reach the rear of the Japanese opposing the advance of his Chinese troops.
The terrain on North Burma is a veritable mass of large rivers and small streams, dense jungles, and sharp hills and mountains. The main routes of communication are native footpaths and narrow cart tracks throughout 95% of the entire area. The climate is a tropical monsoon area with extremely heavy rainfall; the average rainfall in North Burma is 75 to 100 inches per year. During the period from March to June, the weather is excessively hot and humid. The Marauders crossed mountains 8000 feet high and moved over extremely difficult terrain in their efforts to gain access to the enemy’s rear. Pack mules were used and in addition to all supplies being received by air, all casualties were evacuated by air, which in many cases necessitated the construction of airstrips in the jungle so that light liaison aircraft could land to pick up their patients. After penetrating the enemy rear areas, the Marauders established roadblocks, ambushed supply trains and groups of enemy reinforcements, and generally harassed the Japanese 18th Division forces opposing the advance of the Chinese.
By April 27, 1944, the Marauders had at least reached a striking distance of Myitkyina, and the adjacent airfield, which was the only hard-surfaced airdrome in North Burma. The Marauders were nearly exhausted, however, having fought for almost three months and could not go much longer without rest and reinforcement. Stilwell’s 22nd and 38th Chinese Divisions were fighting toward Kamaing, while in the Irrawaddy Valley, north of Myitkyina, the British-led Kachin and Gurkha forces were fighting south toward a large Japanese supply base at Nsopzup, after having recaptured Sumprabum. Myitkyina, utilized by the Japanese as their principal base for the defense of Burma from the north, was situated 170 air miles southeast of Ledo and is the northernmost point of a railroad from Rangoon as well as the head of navigation of the Irrawaddy River. It lay in the proposed path of the Ledo Road, approximately 170 air miles from the Burma Road junction at Lashio. The capture of the town and its airfield would dispose of the principal airbase from which the Japanese aircraft had harassed American transport planes flying supplies into China. In addition, the capture of Myitkyina by the Allies would quickly paralyze Japanese operations in North Burma.
The Marauders were physically worn out, having marched and fought through several hundred miles of exceedingly difficult terrain since Feb 9, 1944, and during most of that 80-day period they had lived exclusively on K-rations in addition nearly all of the men had suffered in some extend from dysentery and fevers. The unit had lost some 700 men killed, wounded, and sick, from their original strength of approximately 3000. All supply and evacuation had been carried out satisfactorily by air, however, there were no American replacements in the theater to refill the Marauder ranks. Stilwell was forced to reinforce the three battalions of Marauders with elements of the 88th and 150th Chinese Regiments and approximately 300 Kachins to provide sufficient strength for the mission.
– (1) (H-Force) Col Charles N. Hunter, composed of the 1/5307 and the 150th Chinese Regt;
– (2) (M-Force) Col George A. McGee, composed of the 2/5307 and the 88th Chinese Regt;
– (3) (K-Force) Col Henry L. Kinnison, composted of the 3/5307 and 300 Kachins.
The Artillery support consisted of one Battery 75-MM Pack Howitzer (22nd Chinese Division) attached to H-Force, while the 5307 Organic 75-MM Pack Howitzer Battery was attached to K-Force for duty.
THE MOVE TO MYITKYINA
Moving out on Apr 28, they established several roadblocks behind the enemy lines to screen the main effort and directed a strong column toward Myitkyina. The column crossed the Kumon Range which rose in this area to over 6000 feet (1850-M). The trail selected for use has been reported as impassable and had not been used in ten years. Capt William A. Laffin and Lt Paul A. Dunlap with a group of 30 Kachin Levies and 30 coolies were assigned the mission of preceding the main column and repairing the worst places along the route. In spite of the extreme difficulty caused by the monsoon rains and low clouds, airdrops were carried out successfully. Rain fell daily and the damp heat was stifling. Footholds had to be cut in some places where the train was so stepped that pack animals could not negotiate it otherwise. In places, no path of any sort could be found despite the work of Capt Laffin’s advanced group. Twenty packs of animals with their loads of ammunition and weapons slipped on the uncertain footing of the hillsides and plunged to their death in the valleys far below.
OSS 101 (Office of the Strategic Services Detachment 101) furnished the force a Kachin guide who led them on a circuitous route through the jungle and the paddy fields in order to reach Myitkyina unobserved by either the Japanese or the natives. The guide, Nauiyand Nau, was bitten by a poisonous snake in 2030 on May 15, just as the force reached the upper Namkwi River about 15 miles from the objective. He attempted to go on but within a short time, he was unable to walk on his badly swollen foot. Without his guidance, the Marauders were practically immobilized. Capt Laffin and Lt Dunlap decided to make an incision at the spot where the snake’s fangs had penetrated Nau’s foot and for two hours sucked the poison from the wound. By 0230, the Kachin had recovered sufficiently to mount Col Hunter’s horse and continue leading the column toward its objective for the night.
H-Force resumed its march at noon on May 16 and crossed the Namkwi River, near the village of Namkwi. K-Force was feinting toward the enemy supply base at Nsopzup, some twenty miles to the north, while M-Force was blocking roads, trails, and screening the maneuver some thirty miles to the northwest. The only two natives who had observed the column had been taken along with the force to prevent their alerting the Japanese garrison in Myitkyina. In view of the fact that this force was now only some four miles from the airstrip in Myitkyina, Col Hunter took more precautions to keep the movement of his force unknown.
The Kachin guerrillas assisted his men in rounding up all the inhabitants of Namkwi, some of whom were known to be pro-Japanese, and confined them within H-Force’s lines until morning. In order to maintain the secrecy of the Marauders’ arrival so close to the airfield, neither railroad nor telegraph line was cut.
ATTACK PLAN – MYITKYINA AIRSTRIP
Col Hunter selected the time of the attack on the airstrip as 1000, May 17. His plan called for the 1/5307 (Col Osborne), to lead the Chinese 150th Regiment southwest of the field and leave them to attack the airstrip at that point. Osborne and his men were to move southwest and secure the ferry terminal at Pamati. By controlling this terminal, the Marauders had possession of the nearest crossing of the Irrawaddy River. The plan for the attack on the airstrip was based on information brought back by a six-man patrol under Sgt Clarence E. Branscomb which enable Col Hunter to accurately estimate the number of Japanese troops and Burmese workmen on the airstrip as well as the fact that the Japanese habitually withdrew during daylight to the thick scrub and bamboo clumps at some distance from the airstrip in order to avoid strafing of the field by Allied aircraft.