(Document Source: EUCMH Archives CD #8 World War Two Monographs – China Burma India)

A group of Kachins with a parachute-qualified OSS officer somewhere in Burma 1944-45. There was also the danger that even with the capture of the home islands the war might not end but continue interminably on the Asian mainland where large numbers of Japanese troops occupied Korea, Manchuria, and the richest and most populous areas of China. While American forces in the Pacific had been making dramatic progress since early 1942, the Allied effort in the China Burma India Theater of Operations had bogged down in a morass of conflicting national objectives. The group displays the variety of weapons that were prevalent in Detachment 101’s guerrilla elements

China-Burma-IndiaAt the beginning of 1945, less than eight months remained before the final surrender of Japan. Those eight months, however, were to see some of the bitterest fighting of the war. Although the final outcome was no longer in doubt, when and how the conflict would end remained unclear. The American naval blockade of Japan combined with a growing air offensive was placing a serious strain on Japan‘s economy. Yet any invasion of the Japanese home islands would most likely be drawn out and extremely costly in lives. The hope Americans held in the early stages of the war that Chinese manpower and bases would play a vital role in the defeat of Japan was unrealized. Americans sought to achieve great aims on the Asian Mainland at a small cost, looking to the British in India and the Chinese, with their vast reservoirs of manpower to carry the main burden of the ground conflict. Neither proved capable of exerting the effort the Americans had hoped.

Generals Stilwell and ChennaultSTRATEGIC SETTING

Early in 1942, Gen Joseph W. Stilwell arrived in the Far East to command American forces in what became the China Burma India Theater and to serve as chief of staff and principal adviser to Gen Chiang Kai-shek, the political and military leader of Nationalist China. Stilwell’s mission was to improve the efficiency of Chiang’s army which had been fighting the Japanese since 1937 and to keep China in the war. But the Japanese conquest of Burma, later in 1942, cut the last overland supply route to China and frustrated Stilwell’s plans. The flow of supplies to Chiang’s armies thereafter depended on a long and difficult airlift over the high peaks of the Himalayas (The Hump) from northeast India to the main logistical base at Kunming in southwestern China. Stilwell thought, as did the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the first order of business was to retake Burma and reopen the land supply line to China. To realize that goal, he undertook the equipping and training of Chinese troops in India, the X Force, which eventually would grow to five divisions. In the meantime, he sought to concentrate an even larger force in Southwest China, the Y Force of twenty-five Chinese divisions. If both X and Y Forces could be given offensive capabilities, a joint operation between them could squeeze the Japanese out of northern Burma and reopen the landline to Kunming.

C-46 Curtiss Commando flying the Hump

Stilwell’s hopes for the Northern Burma offensive was part of a larger Allied plan for the reconquest of Burma. Although the overall design was approved by the US and British Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, the limited resources available to the theater discouraged immediate action. Moreover, Gen Lee Claire Chennault of the Flying Tigers fame, then commanding the recently formed 14-USAAF in China, urged that the Hump Airline should be used to support his air force rather than to supply Chinese ground forces. At the Trident Conference in May 1943, US and British leaders approved a new plan that stressed Chennault’s air operations while agreeing to conduct a limited ground offensive in central and Northern Burma which would include the construction of a new road from India to join with the trace of the old Burma Road inside China. Logistic difficulties in India, however, delayed the opening of any land offensive and kept the Hump Airlift well below target figures. The landline ran from the Indian Port of Calcutta 400 miles northeast to the British front near Imphal and then extended another 200 miles north to the Chinese X Force near Ledo. Lack of trained manpower and construction supplies delayed the completion of the new supply route, the so-called Ledo Road, which extended on into Burma. Until the initial sections of the Ledo Road were completed, both air and ground operations against the Japanese in Northern Burma were severely handicapped.

Area Map

Undaunted, Stilwell pushed two Chinese X Force divisions from Ledo toward Myitkyina, some 175 miles to the southeast, in October 1943. The advance was to be part of a larger offensive planned for early 1944 with the British 14-A attacking east from Imphal in India and the Chinese Y Force attacking west astride the old Burma Road toward the China-Burma border, all under the overall direction of Lord Louis Mountbatten heading the new Southeast Asia Command. Anticipating the Allied offensive, the Japanese Burma Area Army commander, Gen Masakazu Kawabe, struck first. In March 1944, he launched a major offensive into India with his 15th Army of about 100.000 veteran troops, while a newly organized 33d Army attempted to check both Stilwell’s advance and that of the Chinese Y Force which had begun moving forward astride the Burma Road toward the Burmese border. The Japanese attacks initially met with great success, forcing Gen William J. Slim to postpone his own plans in a desperate defense of the Indian Frontier. However, by July, Kawabe’s forces were severely overextended and generally exhausted, allowing the Allies to retake the initiative on all fronts.

Area Map

Slim’s offensive now began in earnest, and it continued throughout the rainy season, ultimately resulting in the destruction of the Japanese 15-A and the reconquest of Central Burma. But even before his forces had begun driving east, Stilwell’s attack produced results. Spearheading his attack was a recently formed American unit led by Gen Frank A. Merrill and known as Merrill’s Marauders (5307 Galahad). Moving in advance of the cautious X Force Chinese divisions, the Merrill’s Marauders, code-named Galahad, had managed to seize their main objective, the airfield at Myitkyina in Northern Burma. However, Japanese troops clung to portions of the town itself, and the American troops, their effectiveness being worn away by battle casualties, disease, and fatigue, were unable to root them out until August. By the time Myitkyina in Northern Burma was secured and the British advance through Central Burma well advanced, Allied success in the Pacific had greatly diminished the importance of both, the Burma Theater of Operations and the China Theater of Operations. The subsequent successful invasion of the Philippines promised a surer and faster route to Japan than through the Asian Mainland. Although American hopes for at least a major air campaign against Japan from the Chinese mainland never completely faded, the continued difficulties in supplying such an effort, and the series of Japanese ground offensives in 1944 that overran most of the newly constructed American airfields in Central China, made such projections extremely unlikely. In fact, the last US heavy bombers left China in January 1945, eventually ending up on Saipan, about 1500 miles south of Tokyo, where the major American strategic bombing offensive against the Japanese home islands was being mounted.

Meanwhile, throughout the summer of 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been urging Chiang Kai-shek to place all of his US-supported armies under the command of Gen Stilwell. Chiang, not unexpectedly, refused and asked for Stilwell’s recall, a request that the president honored. In October 1944, Gen Albert C. Wedemeyer replaced Stilwell as chief of staff to Chiang and commander of American forces in the China Theater.

Area Map

At the same time, a separate theater in India and Burma was created with Gen Daniel I. Sultan, formerly Stilwell’s deputy, as its commanding general. In China, the command issue was dropped, and the American strategy became simply one of trying to realize at least something from previous investments without additional commitments. In Burma, however, the Allied counter-offensive continued, despite the greatly diminished strategic importance of this remote sub-theater.

After the Army Air Force dropped supplies to the Mars Task Force, the soldiers then had to repack the material onto the mules

PFC James L. Miller, Love Co, 3/475-IR, rests with his mule prior to climbing a steep grade on Feb 10, 1945


During the second half of 1944, the Japanese retreat in Burma continued unabated with only rearguard actions punctuating an otherwise steady withdrawal. In October, the Japanese Imperial High Command in Tokyo changed the Burma Area Army’s mission from preventing the resumption of Allied land communications from India to China to holding Southern Burma. Although concerned that the Allies might move through Burma to attack Thailand and Malaya, Tokyo indicated that the Burma Area Army should not count on receiving additional forces. It would have to make do with its existing strength which in November 1944 was about 100.000 combat troops with 60.000 more troops in the rear area. To hold Southern Burma, Gen Hoyotaro Kimura, who had replaced Kawabe as the commander of the Burma Area Army, chose to make a determined stand along a generally east-west line of about 350-430 miles north of Rangoon. The 28-A held the western part of the line near the coastal town of Akyab. The remnants of the 15-A covered the center around Mandalay, along the Irrawaddy River, 250 miles southeast of Imphal. The 33-A protected the eastern flank near the town of Lashio 130 miles northeast of Mandalay and 170 miles south of Myitkyina. Kimura decided not to defend farther north, reasoning that the Allies’ supply problems would become more difficult as they advanced southward, while his own logistical difficulties would lessen as he drew nearer his rear bases.

While the Burma Area Army prepared its defenses, Mountbatten again reorganized the Southeast Asia Command for the final campaign to retake Burma. Gen Sir Oliver Leese, who formerly commanded the British 8-A in Italy, became the overall commander of Allied land forces. In addition, Leese would exercise direct command of the newly formed 11th Army Group, comprising Slim’s 14-A and the independent British 15th Corps. He would also coordinate operations conducted by Sultan’s Northern Combat Area Command and all units from the Chinese Y-Force, now known as the Chinese Expeditionary Force, that crossed into Burma from China. The Allied plan to recapture Burma, called Operation Capital, called for the 14-A to strike southeast to the Irrawaddy River and capture Mandalay, while the 15th Corps contained Japanese forces along the coast in Southwest Burma. Meanwhile in Northern Burma, the Northern Combat Area Command and the Chinese Expeditionary Force, after reopening the land route between India and China, were to advance through Lashio onto Mandalay by mid-February, the peak of the dry season. Were additional troops to be made available, Mountbatten would use them to launch a sea and airborne assault on Rangoon (Operation Dracula). If they were not forthcoming, then the 14-A would have to continue its attack south to take the Burmese capital before the start of the rainy season in May.

Pvt Charles H. Pelsor, Easy Co, 2/475-IR, fires a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) at Japanese near Tonkwa

At the beginning of 1945, Sultan’s Northern Combat Area Command, in addition to administrative and supply organizations, contained several large combat units. These included the American trained and equipped Chinese 30, 38, and 50-IDs; the British 36-ID, on loan from the 14-A; and the recently activated American 5332 (Brigade)(P), a long-range penetration unit. The 5332-B, also known as the Mars Task Force, had three regiments. One contained the survivors of the Merrill’s Marauders, which had been reorganized, brought up to strength with replacements from the USA, and redesignated the 475-IR. Another was the 124-CAV, a dismounted former National Guard unit from Texas functioning as infantry. The third, considered to be an elite unit, was the US-trained and equipped 1st Chinese Regiment (S). Against increasing resistance from the Japanese 33-A, Sultan’s forces moved south from Myitkyina with the British 36-ID to the west, the Chinese 50-ID in the center, and the 30 and 38-IDs along with the Mars Task Force in the east. At the same time, the Chinese Expeditionary Force drove west toward the town of Wanting on the China-Burma Border. Although the 33-A’s defensive positions along the border separated the two converging forces, the Japanese were greatly outnumbered and no match for Sultan’s men. By late January the Japanese 33-A was forced back, Wanting was captured, and the land route to China was restored to Allied control.

By Ralph E. Raird

The 5332d Brigade (Provisional) was activated on July 26, 1944. It soon came to be known as the Mars Task Force. It was designed as a Long Range Penetration Force (LRPF) and training, equipment, and organization were all directed toward this end. The following narrative report is submitted. Staff and unit histories and technical reports are submitted under separate cover. Mars was able to profit from the experience of Gen Order Wingate’s Raiders as well as the Merrill’s Marauders in the Burma jungle operations. The leaven of veteran jungle fighters was mixed with the freshness of volunteers and the assignment of the 124-CAV. A triangular plan was envisioned and in many ways, the Mars Task Force was truly a Division consisting of the 475-IR, the 124-CAV (Sp), and the Chinese 1-IR. The latter had been a Mortar Regiment until converted by Mars to an Infantry Regiment. The Cavalry Regiment had a long history of mounted Cavalry and was converted by Mars to Cavalry dismounted, with the functions and employment of an Infantry Regiment. The 475-IR was organized by Mars and given official status as a numbered Infantry Regiment by the War Dept. The Brigade itself was organized as a Provisional unit.

PFC Oscar Mensles, Granbury, Texas, member of the Mars Task Force, the only American ground combat unit in Southeast Asia

The 124-CAV was constituted on February 13, 1929, in the Texas National Guard and organized on March 15, 1929, from new and existing units. It initially consisted of two cavalry squadrons, each with two troops, headquarters, and support units. Its headquarters was organized in San Antonio. The regimental band was redesignated from the Band Section of the 112th Cavalry’s Service Troop at Mineral Wells. Its Machine Gun Troop was redesignated from Troop B, 56th Machine Gun Squadron Cavalry at San Antonio. The Medical Department Detachment was redesigned at Houston from the Medical Department Detachment of the 56th Machine Gun Squadron. Headquarters and Troops A and B of the 1st Squadron were organized at Fort Worth. Troops A and B were redesigned from Troops E and G of the 112th Cavalry, respectively. 2nd Squadron headquarters was organized at Houston, while Troops E and F were organized at Brenham and Mineral Wells, respectively. Troop E was redesignated from Troop A of the 56th Machine Gun Squadron, while Troop F was redesignated from the 112th Cavalry’s Service Troop. The regiment’s Headquarters Troop was organized at Austin, completing the initial organization of the 124-CAV. The regiment was part of the 23-CAV Division’s 56-CAV Brigade and was commanded by Col Louis S. Davidson, the former executive officer of the 56-CAV Brigade. Each summer from 1929 to 1939, the 124-CAV conducted training at Camp Wolters. The regiment’s designated mobilization training station was Fort Bliss. Between September and October 1929, the regiment was called up for state duty to enforce martial law during the breaking up of the organized crime organization in Borger. In May 1930, it was called up to restore order after the Sherman Race Riot. Between September 1931 and December 1932, the regiment was called up to enforce order and prevent illegal oil production in the East Texas Oil Field. On November 29, 1934, the regimental executive officer Col Calvin B. Garwood took command of the regiment after Davidson was promoted to command the 56-CAV Brigade. Between 1935 and 1939, the 124-CAV was awarded the National Guard Association’s Pershing Trophy for cavalry marksmanship.

56-CAB Brigade war maneuvers. Pvt Jack H. Hereford, Fort Worth, Texas, on a motorcycle. He has one leg draped over the seat of his ride and the other on the ground. He is dressed in his military uniform. In one of the front pockets of his shirt, a folded piece of paper is sticking out. On his head, he has a pair of riding goggles. The back of the bike has a couple of large bags attached, as well. Behind him, the rest of the road can be seen as well as several trees. Pvt Hereford is a messenger for the brigade weapons troop

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