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What were the American-equipped armies of Nationalist China equipped with?

What were the American-equipped armies of Nationalist China equipped with?

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During the latter years of WWII, the US equipped and trained a number of Chinese (Kuomintang) armies to fight the Japanese. Initially the Chinese armies were greatly inferior, armed with bolt-action rifles and a very limited amount of artillery; brought to modern standards, these armies outclassed their Japanese counterparts, with the semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle and fully-automatic Thompson submachine gun providing devastating firepower.

What were such armies (e.g. the New 1st Army) typically equipped with? How many guns and artillery of each type?

It's difficult to speak of "typical" because in reality, equipment distribution was highly variable and carried out under haphazard circumstances. Undoubtedly, the best and most completely equipped Nationalist armies were those participating in the Chinese Expeditionary Force. These armies consisted of triangular formation divisions, each of which were, in theory, supposed to have:

  • 12x 75mm mountain guns on the divisional level
  • 6x heavy machine guns, 2x bazooka, and 2x81mm motar per battalion
  • 9x light machine guns, 18x Thompson submachine guns, and 6x 60mm mortars per company

Source:《民國軍事史》姜克夫 重慶出版社, 2009

In reality few units were ever equipped to this level, and certainly not before the Burma Road was reopened in the very last calendar year of the war. The situation within China was in comparison far more bleak. Generalissimo Chiang, for instance, famously denounced General Stilwell for hoarding airlifted equipment for the Burma expedition, alleging that by the end of his tenure in October of 1944:

In all, excepting the Yunnan Expeditionary Forces, the Chinese armies have received 60 mountain guns, 320 anti-tank rifles and 506 bazookas.

Romanus, Charles F., and Riley Sunderland. China-Burma-India Theater: Stilwell's Command Problems. Government Printing Office, 1953.

Even after substantial deliveries began to be made under Wedemeyer, equipment were distributed to armies which then handed them out as they see fit to subordinate divisions. Most supposedly Americanised divisions thus actually operated a Frankenstein mix of foreign and domestic arms.

The idea that the Nationalists had a vast army of well-equipped, modern units only ever really existed in Communist propaganda.

Why this US Army tank unit proudly calls itself ‘The Bastards’

I never hesitate to identify as a Bastard. More than once I’ve heard surprised reactions to the moniker. Should the term “Bastards” be changed? Isn’t it insensitive at best or inflammatory at worst? I would argue that not using “Task Force Bastard” is a disservice to the military, our soldiers, and our unit’s heritage, although I acknowledge that most don’t know the history behind the name. If they did I’m certain they’d use the term out of a sense of duty.

The 1st Combined Arms Battalion of the 194th Armor Regiment (Task Force Bastard) traces its lineage to the 34th Tank Company. Headquartered in Brainerd, Minnesota about 100 miles from the source of the Mississippi River, the area is traditionally known as the home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Densely wooded with areas of fertile river valley, many of the men came from family farms. The Minnesota Company was part of the National Guard which early on provided much of the fighting power for World War II, and was federalized in February 1941. Arriving at Fort Lewis, Washington, 34th became A Co. and was combined with two armored units from Missouri and California to form the 194th Tank Battalion, commanded by Minnesotan Col. Ernest B. Miller. The unit was equipped with M3 Stuart light tanks.

Light tank going through water obstacle, Ft. Knox, Kentucky in June 1942

In the fall of 1941, prior to U.S. entry into WWII, the 194th became the first expeditionary armored force in U.S. military history when it deployed overseas to the Philippines to augment Filipino forces and defend Manila Bay from invasion as part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s War Plan Orange. Unknown to the men of the 194th, MacArthur’s intent was to use the Philippine front as a temporary shield to blunt Japanese tempo, allowing for additional Allied planning for a comprehensive Pacific theater strategy, to include the retention of Midway Island designated as decisive terrain.

The Japanese bombarded Clark Field on December 7th, 1941, the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. With the U.S. Naval fleet and “Far East” Army Air Force crippled, the Imperial Army invaded a few days later for a ground offensive. Outnumbered and out-gunned, the brave soldiers of the 194th and their Filipino counterparts fought for more than three months before the forces of the island country surrendered. The survivors endured the infamous 60+ mile “Bataan Death March,” unsurpassed in cruelty in modern military history. The men who survived the march were eventually loaded onto “Hell Ships” that transported the POWs to languish in squalid camps where they suffered psychologically and physically from torture, malnourishment, Beriberi disease, malaria, and dysentery until liberation in 1945 following Allied victory in the Pacific and the end of World War II.

82 men of the 34th Tank Company left Minnesota in 1941, and 64 accompanied the 194th overseas to the Philippines. Of the original 64 Minnesota National Guardsmen, only 32 survived to return to the forests and fields of central Minnesota, forever marked by their perseverance and mindful of their fallen brothers. Pvt. Walt Straka, 101, the sole Minnesota survivor of the Death March, resides in Brainerd. “I should have been dead a thousand times,” he said in a recent interview.

The battalion motto is “Remember Bataan…Never Forget!”

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 194th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, load ammunition into their M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, May 3, 2021, at Udairi Range Complex, Kuwait. The main gun of the M1 Abrams MBT shoots a 105 mm round before firing on the zero range to ensure their weapons were ready for their upcoming mission, Operation Phantom Steadfast. The unit reports to Task Force Spartan while deployed in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Juan Carlos Izquierdo, U.S. Army Central Public Affairs)

We are the Bastards precisely because Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and the Army by extension, abandoned the 194th and left them to fend for themselves as a tactical pawn in a greater Pacific strategy. They held out for months with degraded equipment, no air support, no resupply, no reinforcements, no food, no medical supplies, and scarce ammunition. By the time they surrendered the soldiers’ barrels were empty, and so were their stomachs. The name “Bastard” reminds the Army that utilitarianism in all its forms is to be rejected, that the men of the 194th will never be forgotten, and that the lesson of the Bastards’ abandonment should never be repeated. As captured in the poem by US war correspondent Frank Hewlett:

We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan.

No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces

And nobody gives a damn.

Nobody gives a damn.

Today, the 1st Combined Arms Battalion of the 194th Armor Regiment (Task Force Bastard) is proud to serve as the theater armored Regional Response Force and we stand ready to answer the call and come to the aid of our brothers and sisters in CENTCOM. In other words, we will not abandon them in a time of need. We are prepared to provide highly trained personnel and equipment in support of federal, state, and community missions in order to assist and protect the citizens of Minnesota and the United States, and to partner with allied nations to promote regional peace and stability.

Instead of being amused, feeling uncomfortable, or even upset by our name, take a moment and remember the men at Bataan who died and those who came back forever changed. With honor and a commitment to never forget, loudly call us “Bastards.” It’s okay. We deserve it.

Capt. Charlie Anderson is the S2 for 1-194 AR (TF Bastard). He is currently deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield. From 1998-2006 he served as a military policeman, completing a combat tour in Iraq 2003-2004. After a 7-year break-in-service, he re-enlisted and completed State officer candidate school, branching military intelligence (MI). As a member of the Minnesota National Guard, his previous assignments include 2-147 Assault Helicopter Battalion (AS2) and 334 BEB MICO (XO). In his civilian life, he is a Commander with the Saint Paul Police Department and a local elected official. He resides in Marine on St Croix, Minnesota with his wife (Betsy) and four children (Thorin, Ingrid, Kjersten, and Leif).

China Offensive 5 May--2 September 1945

As victory in Europe appeared increasingly inevitable in the early months of 1945, the Allies began to focus greater military resources on the war against Japan. Throughout the spring of 1945 Allied forces drove the Japanese from Burma and dislodged Japanese forces from key islands in the central and southwest Pacific. With its sea power shattered and its air power outmatched, Japan's only remaining resource was its relatively intact ground force. Although the land campaigns in Burma and the Philippines had been disastrous Or the engaged Japanese forces, those and other outlying garrisons represented only a small percent of its ground troops. The bulk of Japan's army of over two million men was on the mainland of Asia, primarily in China.

Suffering from the travails of a civil war that had begun in 1911, and from pervasive economic problems, China had lost much of its enthusiasm for the struggle against the Japanese. Since 1937, when the Sino-Japanese conflict became an open war, China's best troops had been repeatedly defeated and its richest coastal and riverine cities captured by the Japanese. From the beginning of World War II, Allied planners believed it would be essential to assist China in its war against Japan, but had not regarded it as a decisive theater. Unable to deploy ground forces for operations there, the United States provided air and logistical support, technical assistance, and military advice to the Chinese army for its continuing struggle against the Japanese.

Strategic Setting

Chungking, 900 miles to the west of coastal Shanghai, and Mao's forces were based 500 miles north of Chungking in equally remote Yenan. The Allies provided material assistance to the Nationalist army, but dissension among the Nationalist factions made it impossible for Chiang Kai-shek to consolidate his military forces in an effort to combat both the Communists and the Japanese. In fact, both the Communists and the Nationalists held the major part of their armies in reserve, ready to resume their civil war once Japan's fate had been decided elsewhere.

Severe economic problems made it difficult for Chiang Kai-shek to sustain his army in the field. China had no industrial base to support the prolonged war, and the Japanese occupation and blockade had made it increasingly hard for the Allies to ship supplies into the country. For logistical support, the Nationalist army depended on the limited Allied tonnage flown over the 14,000-foot Himalayas mountain chain, the so-called Hump, from India into southern China. Previously, those supplies had been delivered by road, but the fall of Burma to the Japanese in 1942 closed that route. No large-scale offensive could be mounted as long as the supply situation remained critical. Early Allied plans for the China theater thus concentrated on supporting Nationalist forces with advice, training assistance, and critical supplies and on establishing air bases from which to conduct strategic bombing attacks against Japan. Eventually, Allied leaders hoped to seize the ports of Hong Kong and Canton, some 700 miles southeast of Chungking, allowing them to establish a maritime supply line to China.

U.S. leaders initially expected little from the Chinese Army. Theoretically, Chiang's army was the largest in the world. In reality, it consisted mostly of ill-equipped, inadequately trained, poorly organized, and ineptly led units. Many soldiers suffered from malnutrition and clothing shortages. Although an administrative system that was primitive at best prevented western observers from making any useful estimates of the precise size and capabilities of the somewhat amorphous mass of troops, clearly it had been unable to halt an enemy advance or fight a modern war since the very beginning of the struggle. Mao's forces, if better motivated, were even less well equipped and, by 1945, were focusing most of their efforts at establishing guerrilla and clandestine political organizations behind the Japanese lines, rather than opposing them directly.

Command problems also plagued the Nationalist forces. All operational plans and decisions originated from Chiang Kai-shek's headquarters in Chungking. But the Generalissimo had little contact with his troops and was often completely out of touch with battle situations.

Situation in China
October 1944

Nevertheless, he generally refused to allow his field commanders to adjust their forces in response to local combat conditions without his personal approval. Unable to coordinate large-scale operations, the Chinese generals normally committed their units in a piecemeal fashion, accomplishing little against the Japanese. Mao's forces were not much better as their decentralized organization limited their ability to conduct conventional warfare. China's only indigenous protection lay in the size of the country and the lack of a well-developed transportation network, which imposed severe handicaps on the invaders.

Japanese military forces occupied the eastern third of the country and controlled all of the seaports and main railroads and highways. General Yasuji Okamura commanded the undefeated, veteran China Expeditionary Army, consisting of l armored division, 25 infantry divisions, and 22 independent brigades--11 of infantry, 1 of cavalry, and 10 of mixed troops. General Okamura divided those forces into three separate groups: The North China Area Army occupied the north China plain from the Yellow River to the Great Wall and kept watch, along with the large Japanese army in Manchuria (Kwangtung Army), on the Soviet forces in the Far East. To the south, the 13th Army held the lower Yangtze River valley and the coast north and south of the port city of Shanghai. The 6th Area Army was immediately west of the 13th Army and extended south to Canton and Hong Kong on the coast. The 6th Area Army, which contained the elite of the Japanese units, operated against the Chinese and Americans in central China. Despite the large number of units, the size of the country and the absence of a more developed transportation net immobilized much of the Japanese army and limited the extent of its operations. With most of its troops committed to pacification or occupation, and without strong air support or an adequate logistics system, the Japanese operated only with difficulty outside of their lodgment areas.

On 18 October 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled the U.S. commander of the China-Burma-India theater and chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek, Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, to the United States. Stilwell, in command since March 1942, had long been at odds with the Generalissimo. The American general's low opinion of Chiang and his troops was well known, keeping the relationship between adviser and advisee perpetually strained. Not surprisingly, when President Roosevelt had suggested that Stilwell be given command of the Chinese forces in August 1944, the Generalissimo adamantly rejected the proposal. Stilwell's recall decided the resulting political and military deadlock in favor of Chiang, but the Generalissimo's troubles were far from over.

Subsequently, Roosevelt divided the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations into two parts. Lt. Gen. Daniel I. Sultan took command of the India-Burma theater, and Lt. Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer arrived in China on 31 October 1944 to become the commanding general of the U.S. forces in the China theater and chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek. The Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed Wedemeyer to advise and assist the Generalissimo on all matters pertaining to the conduct of the war against the Japanese, including training, logistical support, and operational planning for the Chinese Nationalist forces.

Before World War II General Wedemeyer had served tours in the Philippine Islands and in China. More recently, his experience as a member of the War Plans Division of the War Department General Staff gave him the perspective and experience needed to develop strategic plans for China. Furthermore, he had become familiar with the Chinese army and acquainted with Chiang Kai-shek while serving as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Southeast Asia Command under Lord Mountbatten, before his appointment to the China theater. Unlike his predecessor, Wedemeyer quickly established an excellent working relationship with Chiang.

The American forces in China were a varied lot, reflecting the diverse nature of their missions. The B-29s of the XX Bomber Command, under Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, were controlled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not General Wedemeyer. The long-range bombers had a strategic offensive mission, striking from their bases in India and China at targets as far away as Formosa, Manchuria, and southern Japan. Wedemeyer also had no direct authority over the China Wing, India-China Division, Air Transport Command, commanded by Brig. Gen. William H. Turner, charged with ferrying troops and supplies within China and flying the Hump.

Of those American forces under Wedemeyer's direct control, the Fourteenth Air Force, commanded by Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault, was the most significant. Because of the weakness of Chiang's army and the lack of adequate roads and railways, Chennault's mixed force of fighters, medium and heavy bombers, and transport aircraft was vital to keeping supplies flowing to the Chinese troops and their American advisers and in attempting to halt Japanese excursions into Chinese-held territory. Other than air units, Wedemeyer had only a small number of ground force personnel. Most were advising and training parts of the Chinese army, particularly a number of American-sponsored divisions.

As much of the staff for the old China-Burma-India Theater of Operations had been located in India, Wedemeyer's new headquarters was extremely small. Initially, he reorganized it into two main elements. A forward echelon in Chungking, the wartime capital of China, dealt primarily with operations, intelligence, and planning. A rear echelon at Kunming, some 400 miles southwest of Chungking and the China terminus for the Hump air supply line, handled administrative and logistical matters. The commander of Wedemeyer's Services of Supply, Maj. Gen. Gilbert X. Cheves, headed the latter.

Almost immediately, Wedemeyer was faced with a major crisis. In October 1944, provoked by American bomber raids from China on

southern Japan, the Japanese began a major offensive to eliminate the airfields used for staging the air attacks. On 11 November, less than two weeks after Wedemeyer's arrival in China, the Japanese Eleventh Army captured Kweilin, 400 miles southeast of Chungking and one of the Fourteenth Air Force's largest bases. The Twenty-Third Army, moving west from the Canton area, seized another air base at Liuchow, 100 miles southwest of Kweilin. From Liuchow the Japanese moved southwest toward Nanning, some 150 miles away. On 24 November the town fell, allowing the Japanese to establish tenuous overland communications across all of eastern Asia between Korea and Singapore. By mid-November many of the major airfields used by the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force and the XX Bomber Command in China had been occupied, and Japanese forces shifted their advance westward toward Kunming and Chungking. Both of these cities were critical: if Kunming fell, the Hump aerial supply line would be cut if Chungking, Chiang's wartime capital, was lost, the blow to Nationalist prestige and authority might be fatal.

In attempting to halt the Japanese offensive, the Chinese forces had performed poorly. Wedemeyer recognized that before the Chinese army could be successful, at least part of it must be transformed into an effective combat force. Under the threat of further Japanese advances against Kunming and Chungking, Chiang agreed to the creation of a force of thirty-six infantry divisions under a single responsible Chinese field commander and a combined Chinese-American staff. The divisions, which were referred to as the A LPHA Force after a plan of defense, code-named A LPHA , would be equipped, trained, and supplied by Americans.

Although Chiang's agreement to the A LPHA Force plan was a major victory for the American advisory mission, Wedemeyer did not achieve all that he had sought. Chiang, concerned that Mao Tse-tung might turn some of his three-million-man Communist military force against Nationalist strongholds, refused to permit the Americans to train more than thirty-six divisions, only about 15 percent of the total Chinese army. More significant, the Generalissimo kept many of his best soldiers out of the A LPHA divisions and in reserve near Chungking.

For an immediate defense against the advancing Japanese, Wedemeyer turned to Chennault's Fourteenth Air Force and also requested the return of two American-equipped and -trained Chinese divisions from Burma and India. But, fortunately for the hastily formed and relatively unprepared A LPHA force, the Japanese had outrun their supplies by mid-December and were forced to halt their

"Welcome" China 1945 by John G. Hanlen. (Army Art Collection)

advance to the west. Chennault's airmen now began systematically attacking Japanese supply centers and railways to prevent a buildup of supplies to support additional Japanese offensives. More and better aircraft, including the new P-5 1 fighter-bombers with their great range, along with an increased flow of supplies over the Hump, allowed the Fourteenth to wage a heavy and sustained bombing attack whose cumulative effect on the Japanese was serious. The 6th Area Army, most immediately affected by the air strikes, concluded that the severe shortage of fuel and the impending collapse of rail communications might soon force them to abandon south China, an estimate of which the Americans and Chinese remained ignorant.

Japanese supply difficulties and the Fourteenth Air Force's raids had bought part of the time needed for the A LPHA divisions to be turned into an effective combat force. Moreover, increased tonnage flown over the Hump and the imminent success in Burma, which would reopen the ground supply route to China, made it likely that the equipment and supplies for the A LPHA divisions would arrive in a timely manner. The missing piece in creating the A LPHA Force was a

more effective organization to train, supply, and control the operations of the divisions. Recognizing this, General Wedemeyer, in January 1945, established the Chinese Combat Command and the Chinese Training Command.

The Chinese Combat Command, headed by Maj. Gen. Robert B. McClure, was designed to make the advisory effort more effective in the face of Chinese practices and attitudes that had caused problems in the past. The key issue was leverage. McClure wanted every Chinese A LPHA Force commander down to regimental level to have an American adviser. If a Chinese commander refused to accept the advice of the American working with him, the matter would be referred to their next higher Chinese and American superiors, ultimately ending up with Chiang Kai-shek and General Wedemeyer. Any Chinese commander who continually refused to follow advice would be replaced or have American support withdrawn from his unit.

Personnel shortages prevented the system from being extended to the regimental level, but eventually all 36 divisions, 12 armies, and 4 group armies of the A LPHA Force received American advisers and liaison personnel, some 3,100 soldiers and airmen, all linked by radio. Each advisory team had about twenty-five officers and fifty enlisted men, picked from different arms and services so that qualified technicians from ordnance, logistics, and engineer specialties would be available to help the Chinese. Advisers also furnished technical assistance to the Chinese in handling artillery and communications, and American military medical personnel worked with Chinese medics, nurses, and doctors who generally lacked formal training. Each advisory team also had an air-ground liaison section, operating its own radio net to provide air support. At the unit level, the American advisers accompanied Chinese forces in the field' supervising local training as best they could and working with Chinese commanders on plans and tactical operations. In no case were Americans in command, and their influence depended primarily on their own expertise and the willingness of Chinese commanders to accept foreign advice. And, not surprisingly, in those Nationalist units which Chiang hoped to conserve for his expected postwar struggle against the Red army, operations against the Japanese were not pursued with great vigor.

Training, American officers believed, was the key to success. While the Chinese divisions received unit training from personnel of the Chinese Combat Command, U.S. troops assigned to the Chinese Training Center, under the command of Brig. Gen. John W. Middleton, trained individual soldiers and, in some cases, cadres of special units. Training Center members established and then operated service

American soldiers attached to a Chinese division send a message from the field. (U.S. Army Military History Institute)
schools, prepared and distributed training literature, and gave technical assistance to those assigned to the Chinese Combat Command. Ultimately, General Middleton operated seven service schools and training centers, the majority located near Kunming. Of those, the Field Artillery Training Center was the largest and' at its peak some one thousand Americans were instructing about ten thousand Chinese in the use of American-supplied artillery.

In addition, the China theater operated a command and general staff school and a Chinese army war college training centers for infantry, heavy mortar, ordnance, and signal troops and an interpreters' pool to teach English to the large number of Chinese serving as interpreters for the American advisers. Although the Americans wanted as many of the Chinese senior officers as possible exposed to the China Training Center coursework, only a small percentage of those officers actually attended the schools.

U.S. advisers also helped establish a Chinese services of supply (SOS) logistical organization to support the A LPHA Force. Emphasizing the movement of supplies from rear to front, it sought to supplant the traditional Chinese practice of cash payments and foraging. Of the approximately 300 Americans serving in the Chinese SOS headquarters, 147 officers and enlisted men worked in the Food Department, 84 served in the Quartermaster Section, and the rest were divided among ordnance, medical, transportation, communications, and other staff departments. In the field, 231 Americans manned a Chinese driver training school, and another 120 worked with various Chinese service elements. In a departure from standard practice, Chiang gave the American SOS commander, General Cheves, the rank of lieutenant general in the Chinese army and command of the Chinese SOS for the A LPHA divisions.

The A LPHA Force, concentrated around Kunming and commanded by General Ho Ying-chin, the former chief of staff of the Chinese army, gradually began to take shape. Wedemeyer hoped that US. assistance would transform its thirty-six divisions into a force capable of seizing the initiative from the Japanese in China. He believed that each one of the U.S.-sponsored divisions, with ten thousand men and its organic artillery battalion, would be more than sufficient to defeat a Japanese regiment.

Ultimately, Wedemeyer hoped to lay the groundwork for a Chinese offensive in the summer of 1945 that would recapture lost ground in the Liuchow-Nanning area east of Kunming and then drive on to capture a port in southeast China. At a minimum, such an offensive would tie down Japanese troops who might otherwise be sent back to defend

Japan against an Allied invasion. Once a port was captured, the increased flow of supplies would enable Chinese armies to undertake a general campaign to clear all Japanese forces from the Asian mainland. Wedemeyer's plan, code-named Operation B ETA , seemed especially desirable in early 1945, when some American strategists expected that the Japanese, even with their home islands overrun, might make a final stand in China and Manchuria.

On 14 February 1945, General Wedemeyer submitted his plan for the Chinese offensive to Chiang Kai-shek, who immediately approved it. Wedemeyer's plan made a number of assumptions: the war in Europe would come to an end in May operations in the Pacific would continue as planned and would force the Japanese armies in China to redeploy to the north and east a four-inch pipeline under construction from Burma would be completed by July and the Hump and the land route to China through Burma, which opened in February, would together be able to deliver 60,000 tons of supplies per month. The plan had four phases: the capture of the Liuchow-Nanning area the consolidation of the captured area the concentration of forces needed for an advance to the Hong Kong-Canton coastal region and an offensive operation to capture Hong Kong and Canton. The Joint Chiefs of Staff eventually approved the plan on 20 April, but by that time it had been overtaken by other events in the China theater.

In late January and early February, the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo revised its China policy. With the situation in the Pacific worsening, and with the increased possibility of both Japan and China being attacked from the sea, it ordered the China Expeditionary Army to focus on preventing an Allied invasion of China. Advance American air bases in China were to be destroyed but other than that, only small forces would be permitted to launch raids into the interior. Instead the Japanese command wanted to strengthen its forces in central and south China, particularly in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River between Shanghai and Hankow, about 450 miles to the west. To execute the new plan, General Okamura established three new divisions to reinforce the defenses along the coast of China. However, he also kept his remaining units concentrated in the interior. In late March, a renewed Japanese offensive began with the China Expeditionary Army attacking westward on a broad front between the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, with the objective of capturing the American air bases at Laohokow, 350 miles northeast of Chungking, and at Ankang, some 100 miles west of Laohokow. On 8 April, Laohokow fell.

The Chinese Army, 85 percent of which fell outside the A LPHA Force, was unable to counter the Japanese advance in any meaningful


On 13 April, while the Chinese and American forces regrouped for combat, the Japanese began the expected offensive aimed at the Chihchiang air base, site of the Fourteenth Air Force's largest forward base south of the Yangtze. Its capture would lay open the approaches to Kunming, 500 miles to the west, and Chungking. In addition to destroying the air base, Okamura, ignoring the orders from Imperial General Headquarters, hoped to recapture the initiative in China by defeating the main body of the Chinese forces in the area southeast of Chungking.

Okamura deployed approximately 60,000 troops for the new offensive against about 100,000 Chinese defenders. Previously, China's numerical advantage had been offset by the superior equipment and training of the Japanese. Such was still the case. The Chinese units of the A LPHA Force were, in many respects, little better than those that had suffered defeats in the past. Lack of time had prevented the completion of the planned twenty-three weeks of training for combat divisions not all had received American equipment, and those that had were still unfamiliar in its use.

Several changes were in place, however, which drastically affected the combat potential of the A LPHA Force. A vastly improved supply situation meant that not only was Chennault's Fourteenth Air Force now capable of sustained operations, but also that the Chinese would receive food and ammunition on a regular basis. An American advisory system, tied together by radio, which could pass along timely information of enemy movements and coordinate more effective responses, was present in most divisions. Perhaps of even greater importance, old

Chinese soldiers await removal to a field hospital for rehabilitation. (U.S. Army Military History Institute)

attitudes of suspicion were being replaced by a new spirit of mutual cooperation between the Chinese and the Americans.

The Japanese drove directly against Chihchiang from the east while two smaller forces to the north and south moved generally parallel to the main column. The Chinese Combat Command's advisory and liaison system was immediately called into play. At a meeting on 14 April, the day after the Japanese general advance began, Generals Ho and McClure agreed on the basic plan to counter the enemy attack. Chinese armies would be concentrated to the north and south to prepare to strike the enemy advance in the flanks and rear. The Chinese center around Chihchiang would be strengthened by moving the new 6th Army, composed of two veteran divisions of the Burma campaign, into the area. When Chiang Kai-shek attempted to become actively involved by issuing orders directly to General Ho, General Wedemeyer politely, but firmly, dissuaded him.

By late April, 6th Army forces began concentrating at Chihchiang. Although their deployment from Burma diverted scarce fuel from the

The Chihchiang Campaign
8 April--7 June 1945

Fourteenth Air Force, American airmen continued to fly repeated missions against the attacking Japanese. Meanwhile, other Chinese armies moved into position, the 94th to the south and the 100th and 18th to the north. And, perhaps most heartening, the 74th Army, defending the Chinese center on a fifty-mile front, was putting up a stout resistance, slowing the Japanese advance.

On 3 May a Chinese-American staff conference decided to counterattack a Japanese detachment near Wu-yang, seventy miles southeast of Chihchiang. The subsequent engagement by the 5th Division of the 94th Army on 5 and 6 May was completely successful. Over the next few days, the 5th and 121st Divisions, also of the 94th Army, repeatedly outflanked the Japanese and hustled them north. American advisers commented on the aggressiveness of the Chinese commanders and the bravery of their men. Frequent airdrops of ammunition and food had raised their morale, while the Chinese commanders had reportedly sought the advice of the American liaison officers before

making decisions. To the north, the Chinese 18th and 100th Armies moved into the Japanese rear. With the 94th Army threatening from the south, the Japanese were forced into a general retreat and by 7 June were back at their initial starting positions. From the beginning of the enemy advance in early April until its end in June, the Japanese suffered 1,500 killed and 5,000 wounded. Chinese casualties were at least 6,800 killed and 11,200 wounded, but for the first time the Chinese losses were not in vain.

The Chihchiang campaign demonstrated that Chinese troops could successfully face the Japanese if they had sufficient numerical strength, coordinated their movements and actions, and received a steady supply of food and ammunition. By aggressive maneuvering, the Chinese had outflanked a determined foe and forced its retreat. Wedemeyer's A LPHA Force, whatever its shortcomings, had proved its worth.

In mid-April the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters had more immediate matters to reflect on. American troops had landed on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which could provide staging bases for attacks on Japan itself. Subsequently, Tokyo ordered the Kwangtung Army in Manchuria to transfer one-third of its ammunition and some of its best troops to the home islands. Tokyo also issued warning orders to the China Expeditionary Army to prepare to concentrate its forces in the Yangtze River valley between Shanghai and Hankow around the main ports of China, such as Shanghai and Canton and across northern China, joining with the remaining units of the Manchurian Kwangtung Army. Okamura was to be reinforced with newly mobilized units from Japan, bringing his total troop strength by the summer of 1945 to over a million men south of the Great Wall, although the quality was less than before. The redeployment in China would guard against anticipated American amphibious landings along the coast and a Soviet attack from the north. The Japanese leaders hoped to deny the Allies staging areas from which they could attack Japan and to protect Chinese mines and factories, which could still supply Japan's military forces.

Thus, when the Japanese drive on Chihchiang was blunted and pushed back, reinforcements were not rushed to the area to retrieve the situation, as the local commander demanded. Instead, the Japanese prepared for further withdrawals. In mid-May, as the situation on Okinawa deteriorated, Imperial General Headquarters ordered the evacuation of the southern rail line extending to Kweilin and Liuchow, a branch of the main Hankow-Canton railway. Thus, within a few days of the end of the Chihchiang campaign, General Okamura had begun to move units from south China and redeploy them into northern and central China.

As the Japanese forces started pulling back, General Wedemeyer and China theater planners began studies on how best to exploit the withdrawal. Reviving the B ETA plan for an advance to the coast to capture the ports of Canton and Hong Kong seemed a good possibility. With U.S. forces now established in the Philippines, supplies could quickly be brought to China from Manila. Furthermore, the evacuation of the air bases in the Kweilin-Liuchow area, about 270 miles west of Canton, which was expected to occur soon, would help solve the logistical problems of supporting the offensive. Supplies then could be flown directly from India or the Philippines to east China.

The revised plan, renamed C ARBONADO , called for a rapid advance to the coast in August to seize Fort Bayard on the Liuchow Peninsula, about 250 miles southwest of Canton. Once a forward supply base had been established at Fort Bayard, Wedemeyer believed that the main C ARBONADO attack could begin on 1 September from the Kweilin-Liuchow area with a final assault on Canton on 1 November. Additional combat aircraft arrived in China to prepare for and support C ARBONADO . The U.S. Tenth Air Force from India joined the Fourteenth Air Force on 23 July to form the Army Air Forces, China theater, under the command of Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer. Logistical support was another matter, and it proved to be no less troublesome than previously.

As the Chinese followed the retreating Japanese, it quickly became apparent that, while aerial resupply could provide ammunition, it could not feed entire Chinese armies. Parts of the countryside contained no food' and a ground line of supply had to be established to move food supplies forward. To organize an effective logistical system for a sustained offensive, preparations had to be made all the way from India to Kunming. To make matters even more difficult, operations over the land route through Burma proceeded under monsoon conditions from late May until the end of the summer. Despite these problems, the troops of General Sultan, the commander of the India-Burma theater, provided steadily increasing support for the China effort. With combat operations in Burma drawing down, Sultan's command became, in effect, the support agency for Wedemeyer.

The Chinese armies slowly moved forward into the vacuum left by the retreating Japanese. Northeast of Chungking, the Chinese armies skirmished with the Japanese in June and July and then withdrew to reorganize when it became apparent that the new Japanese defensive line was strongly held. In central and south China, more minor fighting occurred, but the Japanese troop movements into northern and central China were largely unopposed, at least initially. Along the coast between Shanghai and Canton, Nationalist Chinese forces moved into

The Chinese return to Liuchow in July 1945. (U.S. Army Military History Institute)

Fukien Province, seizing the port of Foochow in May. Despite this success, the Japanese tightened their grip on Shanghai and also south of Foochow, on Canton, by reinforcing the garrisons of the two ports with troops withdrawn from Fukien and by sending additional troops to the Swatow and Amoy coastal areas between the Canton-Hong Kong area and Foochow. Although the Japanese hoped to reserve their main strength for a defensive struggle in the north, they meant to conduct a strong rearguard action against any Allied attempts to seize the southern coast from either the land or the sea.

On 26 June Chinese forces recaptured the airfield at Liuchow, but sharp fighting ensued as the Chinese attempted to cut the Japanese line of withdrawal near Kweilin, on the railway about one hundred miles north of Liuchow. By the end of July, the Chinese had concentrated sufficient troops in the area for an attack, but the Japanese, the bulk of whom had cleared the area moving north, relinquished the city. As August began, the Japanese had almost completed their redeployment into the areas they intended to defend to the last.

Planning for the capture of Fort Bayard proceeded while the Chinese followed up the retreating Japanese. At a conference on the island of Guam on 6 August, representatives of the China and the Pacific theaters met to make final arrangements for the seizure of the area. At the time, Allied analysts estimated that the Japanese had over 14,000 troops in the area, but in fact there were less than 2,000, and even those were in the process of withdrawing toward Canton. Nevertheless, a sharp action occurred on 3 August, about twenty miles west of Fort Bayard as the Chinese drew near. That and poor weather, which limited aerial resupply, held the Nationalist troops short of the coast.

On 6 August 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and three days later a second bomb on Nagasaki. That same day, 9 August, the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan with three Soviet army groups invading Manchuria from the east, north, and west. With Japanese defenses crumbling in Manchuria and the end of the war imminent, Wedemeyer suspended the planned capture of Fort Bayard. On 14 August, the Japanese government accepted the terms of the Allied demand for unconditional surrender.

Although warned by General Wedemeyer in July of the problems that would result from a sudden surrender of the Japanese, Chiang Kai-shek and his government were unprepared for the abrupt collapse. Wedemeyer had alerted Washington to the impending crisis. Recognizing that the U.S.-sponsored divisions of the A LPHA Force still represented only a small percentage of the huge but unwieldy Nationalist Chinese army, he judged that Chiang's government could not withstand an open civil war against the Communists. Nevertheless, U.S. leaders were understandably reluctant to become directly involved in a new war, although U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops soon arrived in China to receive the surrender of the Japanese garrisons there. Meanwhile, on 22 August, the China Theater suspended all training under American supervision, an action that marked the beginning of the end for the elaborate system of American liaison, air and logistical support, and advice. The armies of Chiang Kai-shek would soon be on their own.

Moreover, diplomatic problems erupted between the Allies over issues of control in China. As President Harry S. Truman issued the cease-fire message to all Allied commands on 15 August, Marshall Joseph Stalin's Soviet troops established themselves in Manchuria and sent an advance force to within thirty miles of the ancient Chinese capital of Peiping. With the first rumors of peace, British vessels in the

Allied victory drive along Nanking Road in Shanghai. (U.S. Army Military History Institute)

Pacific sought release from the Allied Pacific Fleet so as to reestablish British control over Hong Kong, while remnants of the French troops who had retreated into China prepared to march back into Indo-China. Simultaneously, Mao Tse-tung, no friend of either Chiang or Stalin, sent his Red army troops scrambling for open control of northern and central China, areas where Red army guerrilla units had already established a solid presence.

The war with Japan finally came to an end in September 1945. Following the 2 September official capitulation to the Allies on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, another ceremony was held on 9 September in Nanking. Here, on the site of the famous "Rape of Nanking," General Okamura formally surrendered Japan's forces in China. But, for China, Japan's defeat merely signaled the resumption of the civil war between China's Nationalists and the Communists for control of the entire country, a contest that, ultimately,

At a banquet to honor General Chennault are, from left facing: Ambassador Hurley, Generalissimo Chang, General Chennault. General Wedemeyer is in profile at extreme right. (U.S. Army Military History Institute)

neither the Soviet Union nor the western Allies could influence in any appreciable manner.


When General Wedemeyer arrived in China at the end of 1944, he faced a still-powerful and intact Japanese ground army. Although Allied leaders lacked sufficient resources to drive the Japanese entirely out of China, they hoped that a Nationalist Chinese army, trained and equipped by the United States, could succeed in tying down Japanese armies in China and prevent their redeployment to Japan.

By the force of his personality and by his determination, Wedemeyer convinced Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the need not only to permit United States military advisers to train and equip Chinese divisions, but also to create a more effective command and control organization. Once Chiang Kai-shek had granted that authority to General Wedemeyer, the Army liaison officers and technicians

6 Most Powerful Armies of All Time

In an anarchical system like international relations, military power is the ultimate form of currency. A state may have all the culture, art, philosophy, and glitter and glory in the world, but it’s all for naught if the country doesn’t have a powerful military to defend itself. Mao Zedong put it bluntly when he stated: “power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Of all the types of military power, armies are arguably the most important for the simple fact that people live on land, and are likely to continue doing so in the future. As the famous political scientist John J. Mearsheimer has noted: “Armies, along with their supporting air and naval forces, are the paramount form of military power in the modern world.”

In fact, according to Mearsheimer, the Pacific War against Japan was the “only great-power war in modern history in which land power alone was not principally responsible for determining the outcome, and in which one of the coercive instruments— airpower or sea power—played more than an auxiliary power.” Nevertheless, Mearsheimer maintains, “land power [still] played a critical role in defeating Japan.”

Thus, armies are the most important factor in assessing the relative power of a nation. But how do we judge which armies were the most powerful in their time? By their ability to win battles decisively and consistently and the extent to which they allowed their countries to dominate other states—a function of land power, as only armies could achieve this type of control and conquest. Here are some of the most powerful armies in history.

The Roman Army

The Roman Army famously conquered the Western world over a period of a few hundred years. The Roman Army’s advantage was tenacity, its ability to come back and fight again and again even in the face of utter defeat. The Romans displayed this during the Punic Wars when despite a lack of knowledge and resources, they were able to defeat the Carthaginians first by waiting them out and then by using the tactics of surprise (by landing an army at Carthage itself).

The Roman Army gave its soldiers many initiatives to fight for the army with vigor and determination. For poor soldiers, victory in war meant grants of land. For landholders, it meant protecting what they held dear and also gaining additional riches. For the Roman state as a whole, victory meant securing Rome’s security.

All of these initiatives spurred Roman soldiers to fight harder, and morale is a very important ingredient in the performance of armies. Just as important in this was its use of multi-line formations which, among its many advantages, helped the Roman Army replenish front-line troops during battle, where fresh Roman soldiers would square off against exhausted enemies. The Roman Army, often led by brilliant generals, also used mobility to generate offensive advantages, especially against their often defensive-minded enemies.

As a result, in a span of about three hundred years, Rome expanded from a regional Italian power to the master of the entire Mediterranean Sea and the lands surrounding it. The Roman Legions—divisions of the Roman Army which contained professional soldiers who served for 25 years—were well trained and well-armed with iron and were placed all over the empire in strategic locations, both holding the empire together and its enemies at bay. The Roman Army, despite some setbacks, really had no competitors of equal strength anywhere in its neighborhood.

The Mongol Army

The Mongols, who numbered at most one million men when they started their conquests in 1206, managed to conquer and subjugate most of Eurasia in a hundred years, defeating armies and nations that had tens or even hundreds of times the manpower of the Mongols. The Mongols were basically an unstoppable force that emerged seemingly out of nowhere to dominate the Middle East, China, and Russia.

Mongol success boiled down to the many strategies and tactics employed by Genghis Khan, who founded the Mongol Empire. Most important was the mobility of the Mongols and their endurance. To begin with, the nomadic Mongol way of life enabled them to move large armies across amazing distances in short times, as the Mongols could live off of their herds or the blood of their horses.

Indeed, the Mongols’ mobility was enhanced by their heavy reliance on horses. Mongol Cavalrymen each maintained three or four horses to keep them all fresh. Cavalrymen, who had bows they could shoot while riding, gave Mongols distinct advantages over the infantry during the fight. The mobility generated by the horses, as while as their strict discipline, also allowed the Mongols to utilize innovative tactics including hit and run attacks and a primitive form of blitzkrieg.

The Mongols also relied heavily on terror, deliberately inflicting major damages and casualties on their defeated enemies to break the morale of future ones.

Ottoman Army

The Ottoman Army conquered most of the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa in its heyday. It almost always overwhelmed its Christian and Muslim neighbors. It conquered one of the most impenetrable cities in the world—Constantinople—in 1453. For five hundred years, it was essentially the only player in a region that was previously comprised of dozens of states and until the 19th century, managed to hold its own against all its neighbors. How did the Ottoman Army do this?

The Ottoman Army began to make good use of cannons and muskets before its enemies, many of whom still fought with medieval weapons. This gave it a decisive advantage when it was a young empire. Cannon took Constantinople and defeated the Persians and Mamluks of Egypt. One of the major advantages of the Ottomans was the use of special, elite infantry units called Janissaries. Janissaries were trained from youth to be soldiers and were thus highly loyal and effective on the battlefield.

Nazi German Army

After the prolonged stalemates of World War I, Nazi Germany’s Army—the Wehrmacht— shocked Europe and the world by overrunning most of Central and Western Europe in a matter of months. At one point, the Nazi German forces even seemed poised to conquer the massive Soviet Union.

The German Army was able to accomplish these enormous feats through its use of the innovative Blitzkrieg concept, which, utilizing new technologies in weaponry and communication, combined speed, surprise and concentration of forces for appalling efficiency. Specifically, armored and mechanized infantry units aided by close-range air support were able to punch through enemy lines and encircle opposing forces. In the opening stanzas of World War II, the aforementioned opposing forces were often so shocked and overwhelmed that they put up only minimal resistance.

Executing the Blitzkrieg attacks required highly-trained, capable forces, which Berlin had in spades. As the historian Andrew Roberts has observed, “soldier for soldier the German fighting man and his generals outperformed Britons, Americans and Russians both offensively and defensively by a significant factor virtually throughout the Second World War.”

Although Nazi ideology and a melomaniac leader hindered the Wehrmacht’s war efforts, it was ultimately insufficient resources and manpower that brought Nazi Germany down.

The Soviet Army

The Soviet Army (known as the Red Army before 1946), more so than any other army, was responsible for turning the tide of World War II. Indeed, the battle of Stalingrad, which ended with the surrender of the entire German 6th army, is nearly universally cited as the major turning point of the European theatre in World War II.

The Soviet Union’s victory in the war, and its ability to threaten the rest of Europe for the next four decades after the fighting stopped, had little to do with superior technology (outside of nuclear weapons) or military genius (indeed, Stalin's military leadership was absolutely disastrous, particularly early on in World War II, and he had purged many of the more capable commander in the years leading up to it).

Rather, the Soviet Army was a military juggernaut thanks almost entirely to its enormous size, measured in terms of landmass, population and industrial resources. As Richard Evans, the preeminent historian of Nazi Germany, explained: “According to the Soviet Union’s own estimates, the Red Army’s losses in the war totaled more than 11 million troops, over 100,000 aircraft, more than 300,000 artillery pieces, and nearly 100,000 tanks and self-propelled guns. Other authorities have put the losses of military personnel far higher, as high indeed as 26 million.”

To be sure, there were moments of military genius, mainly when Stalin empowered his few capable commanders, and promising technology, notably the T-34 tank. Still, these were not the decisive factors in the Soviet Union’s ultimate success, as its enormous sacrifices continued through the Battle of Berlin.

With the exception of nuclear weapons, Soviet army of the Cold War was not much different relative to its adversaries. While NATO held much of the technological advantages during the four-decade struggle, the Soviet Union enjoyed enormous numerical advantages in many categories, most notably manpower. As a result, in the event of a conflict in Europe, the United States and NATO planned to turn to nuclear weapons early.

Related: 21 of China’s World Heritage Sites

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

Although thousands of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers, horses, and bronze chariots famously were discovered in 1974, there's no doubt that many more treasures are still to be unearthed in the archeological site of Emperor Qinshihuang's tomb.

Each warrior is unique and features a realistic human face, likely based on some living person of the time. The army was assembled in formation and equipped with horses, chariots, and all the accoutrements of an elite fighting force—including bronze weapons, many of which were later plundered. The figures were buried in pits 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 meters) deep. The largest of them stretched as far as two football fields laid end to end.

In accordance with custom the tomb was begun while the emperor was alive, and actually quite young, so that he could oversee all aspects of its construction. It took 36 years, and hundreds of workers, to raise the terra-cotta warrior army. In 1987, the mausoleum was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Qin Shihuangdi is said to have had a special interest in immortality. He sent subjects across the empire in search of products or potions that could extend life. This obsession not only remained unrealized but may have proven fatal. It’s believed that one “longevity” potion contained mercury, and scholars suspect it contributed to his death.

Don't Tell Hitler: Nazi Germany Once Helped China Fight Japan

How did German soldiers find themselves in a war in Asia in the 1930s?

Here's What You Need to Know: The strange tale of the Germans in China’s wars demonstrates how quickly loyalty and national interest can shift—and alliances with them.

Most people who stayed awake for at least half of their high school history class knows that the Axis Powers in World War II consisted of Germany, Italy and Japan. But few know that German tactics and weapons—not to mention some actual Germans—helped the Chinese Nationalists stall Imperial Japan’s conquest of China.

For about a decade, German soldiers advised Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek in his campaigns against Chinese Communists … and also against Germany’s future allies, the Japanese.

It’s one of history’s most unexpected—and frankly unknown—wartime partnerships. It all began in the aftermath of the Chinese revolution of 1911, as warlords carved up the country and battled each other for power.

European and American arms dealers, unable to find customers in the war-weary countries of the West in the years after World War I, found enthusiastic buyers in the Chinese. The warlords imported firearms and heavy weaponry and, in some cases, manufactured their own copies.

One of the most powerful, the Manchurian warlord Zhang Zuolin had his own private air force of almost 100 of the latest aircraft, including light bombers. He also maintained close ties with Japan, in particular courting investment from the Japanese South Manchuria Railroad Company.

Some warlords hired foreign military instructors, many of them World War I veterans. The advisers made their way to China in both official and unofficial capacities. The influx of foreign soldiers would soon include Germans.

Rise of the Nationalists:

The greatest threat to the warlords were not each other, but revolutionaries under the banner of the Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang. Led by Sun Yat-Sen, a republican and educated medical doctor, the Kuomintang sought to unify China and transform it into a modern state.

The Kuomintang, aligned with the Chinese Communist Party and backed by Soviet advisers under the command of Vasily Blyukher, launched the Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords.

Under the military leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek, the Nationalist army scored victory after victory against the warlords. With the death of Sun Yat-Sen of liver failure, Chiang began to consolidate control of the movement. That put him at odds with the Communists, several of whom were themselves plotting to take control of the revolution.

When the army reached Shanghai in 1927, Chiang enlisted local crime syndicates, notably the powerful Green Gang, to crack down on labor unions and violently purge Communists from the ranks. He then expelled Blyukher and the other Soviet advisers, unceremoniously sending them back to Moscow.

The last major warlord was Marshal Zhang Zuolin. Failing to protect Japanese investments, Zhang had fallen out of favor with his backers in Tokyo.

On June 4, 1928, while traveling an SMR rail line, a bomb detonated underneath Zhang’s armored train, killing him. Most believe the Japanese Kwantung Army planted the explosive device.

Zhang was succeeded by his son Zhang Xueling, the Young Marshal. The Young Marshal, whom the Japanese expected to be a spineless puppet they could easily control, surprised everyone by quickly aligning himself with the Nationalists. The warlord era was fast ending.

But Chang realized he had a problem. Severing ties with the Soviets had left him without any significant foreign backer. There were still a few warlord holdouts—who often did have foreign backing—plus a growing Communist insurrection. Japan also loomed just across the China Seas.

On the advice of a German-educated friend, Chiang looked to Berlin to fill the void the Soviets had left. Germany was an attractive partner to Chiang. Berlin had lost all of its holdings in China after World War I and would be less likely to interfere in China’s politics than comparable Western powers.

And the forced downsizing of Germany’s once-mighty army also resulted in a wealth of highly experienced but unemployed German soldiers who’d be eager for work in China.

Here Come the Germans!:

Chiang sent an invitation to Gen. Erich Ludendorff to bring military and civil experts to China. Ludendorff declined the invitation, fearing his high profile would attract unwanted attention. Still, he saw potential in the offer, and recommended retired Col. Max Bauer—a logistics specialist with war experience—to lead a proposed German Advisory Group.

After a quick tour of China, Bauer returned to Berlin and handpicked a team of 25 advisers. Immediately upon arriving in November 1928, the advisers set to work training young Chinese officers.

Despite most of the advisers being retired—and technically civilians—in the employ of the Chinese government, the activities of German military men abroad was a touchy subject due to post-war limitations on what Germany could legally do.

As a result, Bauer gave strict orders to the group to avoid diplomats and journalists. Despite this, American military observers in 1929 reported seeing Chinese troops undergoing close-order drill under German supervision.

Bauer worked to standardize the acquisition of equipment and weapons, urging Chiang to cut out expensive middlemen and buy directly from manufacturers.

Unsurprisingly, many of these manufacturers were German, resulting in increased business for German companies. But the retail boom was cut short by Bauer’s unexpected death in May 1929.

Bauer was succeeded by Col. Hermann Kriebel, a Nazi fanatic. He had been a member of the paramilitary Freikorps and had a long record of putschist activity with Hitler in Bavaria. One rumor has it that as a member of the German 1919 Armistice delegation, his parting words were, “See you again in 20 years.”

Kriebel was arrogant, contemptuous of the Chinese and clashed with Bauer’s selected officers. His attitude almost doomed the mission, and Chiang demanded he be replaced.

Kriebel was succeeded by Gen. Georg Wetzell. He helped plan anti-Communist operations and advised Gen. Ling during the 1932 Shanghai War against the Japanese. He also convinced Chiang to set up an artillery school. Chinese artillery would play a huge role years later against Japanese invaders.

Gen. Hans von Seeckt, an influential German army staff officer and Wetzell’s successor, built Chinese capacity further. Seeckt, vividly recalling the bloody cost of static trench warfare, believed in a war of movement.

He used his connections with German industrialists to bring in a huge influx of modern German equipment, ranging from helmets to artillery. One journalist suggested that as much as 60 percent of Chinese war material at this time was imported from Germany.

The last and arguably best chief adviser was Gen. Alexander von Falkenhausen. He had been military attaché in Tokyo from 1910 to 1914 and traveled to China to observe the revolution in 1911. During World War I, he served in France, East Prussia and Turkey and as a commander was credited with two victories over the British in East Jordan in 1918.

As a world traveler and professional soldier who’d worked in a variety of cultures, Falkenhausen was immune to the extremism that drove many of his predecessors. He also had little love for the Nazis, having lost his brother to a violent internal struggle in the party that solidified Hitler’s control.

As a result, he was better able to develop close personal and professional ties with the Chinese.

Chinese in Germany:

With Germans increasingly entrenched in China, some of their Chinese counterparts found themselves in Germany. Chinese businessmen, government officials and students hoped to learn from Germany’s rapid rebound from an economically crippled failed state into a world power. German industry was of particular interest.

The Nazis were split on their opinion of the Chinese. Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in particular were in bitter disagreement. Goebbels was decidedly pro-China and favored continuing German business interests—he also viewed Chiang as a burgeoning fascist.

Goering, however, saw the Japanese as the stronger and most worthy power in Asia—especially considering their disdain for the Soviets—and pushed for the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan.

One of the most notable Chinese in Germany at the time was Chiang Kai-Shek’s adopted son Chiang Wei-Kuo. He went to study military tactics with the German army, training in military schools and taking part in military operations.

He even commanded troops during the annexation of the Austria.

As Falkenhausen took over the group in 1936, tensions between Japan and China were escalating. Around the same time, The Young Marshal Zhang Xueling, tasked by Chiang to eradicate the communists, was fed up with battling fellow Chinese while the Japanese only grew stronger.

Zhang conspired with Communist leader Zhou Enlai and proceeded to kidnap Chiang and force him into a truce with the Communists. Upon his release, he promptly had Zhang imprisoned. Falkenhausen set to work advising Chiang on how best to resist Japanese aggression. One of the great ironies of this episode is that Falkenhausen and Chiang’s interactions were always in Japanese, their only common language.

Japan Invades:

The July 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident marked the beginning of Japan’s full-scale invasion of China. The poorly-trained Chinese troops in the north were quickly routed. When the fighting broke out in Shanghai, Tokyo expected a quick victory.

However, among the Chinese troops dispatched to Shanghai was the German trained — and equipped — 88th Division. Against all expectations, the division’s infantry inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese in vicious urban combat. The Japanese responded by shelling and bombing the Chinese troops—and by sending in tanks.

These American mercenaries were the heroes of China

A one-year contract to live and work in China, flying, repairing and making airplanes. Pay is as much as $13,700 a month with 30 days off a year. Housing is included and you’ll get an extra $550 a month for food. On top of that, there’s an extra $9,000 for every Japanese airplane you destroy — no limit.

That’s the deal — in inflation-adjusted 2020 dollars — that a few hundred Americans took in 1941 to become the heroes, and some would even say the saviors, of China.

Those American pilots, mechanics and support personnel became members of the American Volunteer Group (AVG), later known as the Flying Tigers.

The group’s American-made warplanes featured the gaping, tooth-filled mouth of a shark on their nose, a fearsome symbol still used on the US Air Force’s A-10 ground-attack jets to this day.

The nose’s symbolic fierceness was backed up by its pilots in combat. The Flying Tigers are credited with destroying as many as 497 Japanese planes at a cost of only 73 of their own.

Today, even with US-China tensions rising, those American mercenaries are still revered in China, with memorial parks dedicated to them and their exploits.

“China always remembers the contribution and sacrifice made to it by the United States and the American people during the World War II,” says an entry on the Flying Tigers memorial page of China’s state-run newspaper People’s Daily Online.

The formation of the Flying Tigers

When these Americans arrived in China in 1941, the country was very different from the China we know today. Leader Chiang Kai-shek, a revolutionary who split with the Communist Party, was able to loosely unite the country’s warlords under a central government.

In the late 1930s, China had been invaded by the armies of Imperial Japan and was struggling to withstand its better equipped and unified foe. Japan was virtually unopposed in the air, able to bomb Chinese cities at will.

Faced with that dire situation, the Chiang government hired American Claire Chennault, a retired US Army captain, to form an air force.

He spent his first few years in the job putting together an air raid warning network and building airbases across China, according to the Flying Tigers’ official website. Then in 1940, he was dispatched to the United States — still a neutral party in World War II — to find pilots and planes that could defend China against the Japanese air force.

With good contacts in the administration of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a budget that could pay Americans as much as three times what they could earn in the US military, Chennault was able to get the fliers he needed.

The planes posed a bit more of a problem. The US was making them in large numbers, but they were destined for Britain to use against Germany or for US forces, amid fears that the war in Europe would soon suck in the US.

A deal was secured to get 100 Curtiss P-40B fighters built for Britain sent to China instead. For its hardship, Britain was promised a new and better model about to go to the assembly line.

In his memoirs, Chennault wrote that the P-40s purchased by China were lacking some important features, including a modern gun sight.

“The combat record of the First American Volunteer Group in China is even more remarkable because its pilots were aiming their guns through a crude, homemade, ring-and-post gun sight instead of the more accurate optical sights used by the Air Corps and the Royal Air Force,” he wrote.

What the P-40 lacked in ability, Chennault made up for in tactics, having the AVG pilots dive from a high position and unleash their heavy machine guns on the structurally weaker but more maneuverable Japanese planes.

In a low, twisting, turning dogfight, the P-40 would lose.

A ragtag group of fliers

The pilots Chennault had to teach were far from the cream of the crop.

Ninety-nine fliers, along with support personnel, made the trip to China in the fall of 1941, according to the US Defense Department history.

Some were fresh out of flight school, others flew lumbering flying boats or were ferry pilots for large bombers. They signed up for the Far East adventure to make a lot of money, to find lost girlfriends or because they were simply bored.

Perhaps the best known of the Flying Tigers, US Marine aviator Greg Boyington — around whom the 1970’s TV show “Black Sheep Squadron” was based — was in it for the money.

“Having gone through a painful divorce and responsible for an ex-wife and several small children, he had ruined his credit and incurred substantial debt, and the Marine Corps had ordered him to submit a monthly report to his commander on how he accounted for his pay in settling those debts,” according to a US Defense Department history of the group.

With such a disparate group of fliers, Chennault had to teach them how to be fighter pilots — and to fight as a group — essentially from scratch.

The training was rigorous and deadly. Three pilots were killed early in accidents.

During a single day, eight P-40s were damaged as pilots landed too hard, or the ground crew taxied too fast, causing collisions. In one case, a mechanic watching another mishap crashed his bicycle into a fighter, damaging its wing. There were so many accidents on that day, November 3, 1941, the AVG called it “Circus Day.”

Chennault expressed his disappointment at his group’s first combat mission against Japanese bombers attacking the AVG base in Kunming, China, on December 20, 1941. He thought the pilots lost their discipline in the excitement of combat.

“They tried near-impossible shots and agreed later that only luck had kept them from either colliding with each other or shooting each other down,” the Defense Department history says.

Still, they shot down at least three Japanese bombers, losing only one fighter that ran out of fuel and crash-landed.

Establishing a legend

The pilots of the AVG quickly conquered their steep learning curve.

A few days after Kunming, they were deployed to Rangoon, the capital of British colonial Burma and a vital port for the supply line that got allied war materiel to Chinese troops facing the Japanese army.

Japanese bombers came at the city in waves over 11 days during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The Flying Tigers ripped holes through the Japanese formations and cemented their fame.

“In 11 days of fighting, the AVG had officially knocked 75 enemy aircraft out of the skies with an undetermined number of probable kills,” the group’s website says. “The AVG losses were two pilots and six aircraft.”

The Flying Tigers spent 10 weeks in Rangoon, outmanned and outgunned by the Japanese the entire time, but they inflicted staggering losses on Tokyo’s forces.

In his memoir, Chennault notes what his group — never fielding more than 25 P-40s — accomplished.

“This tiny force met a total of a thousand-odd Japanese aircraft over Southern Burma and Thailand. In 31 encounters they destroyed 217 enemy planes and probably destroyed 43. Our losses in combat were four pilots killed in the air, one killed while strafing and one taken prisoner. Sixteen P-40’s were destroyed,” he wrote.

The US military notes the heroics performed on the ground:

“The crew chiefs and support technicians performed miracles of improvisation in getting the fighters ready to fly, but if any (aircraft) … had been on US military bases, they would have been deemed unflyable,” it said.

Despite the Flying Tigers’ heroics in the air, allied ground forces in Burma could not hold off the Japanese. Rangoon fell at the end of February 1942 and the AVG retreated north into Burma’s interior.

But they’d bought vital time for the allied war effort, tying down Japanese planes that could have been used in India or elsewhere in China and the Pacific.

According to Chennault, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made this comparison:

“The victories of these Americans over the rice paddies of Burma are comparable in character, if not in scope, with those won by the RAF (Royal Air Force) over the hop fields of Kent in the Battle of Britain.” Chennault quotes Churchill as saying.

Claim to fame

Though news didn’t travel quickly in 1941-42, the United States — still reeling from the devastating December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — was eager for heroes. The Flying Tigers fit the bill.

Republic Pictures cast John Wayne in the leading role of “Flying Tigers” in 1942. Movie posters showed a shark-toothed P-40 diving in attack mode and a promotional still shows Wayne standing by one of the P-40s. On screen, Wayne plays the first of his many war hero roles, Capt. Jim Gordon, modeled on Chennault.

“The story has little in common with real history, and lots of classic post-Pearl Harbor propaganda fills the script,” says its review on

Wayne’s official Facebook page says producers were careful the film, one of the box office hits of 1942, didn’t reveal any war secrets.

“No scene of the interior of the airplane could be shown for security reasons. The instrument boards shown were fake,” it says.

While Republic Pictures was busy with the film, the AVG’s sponsors in Washington asked the Walt Disney company to make a logo.

The Disney artists came up with “a winged Bengal Tiger jumping through a stylized ‘V for Victory’ symbol,” the US history says.

It may be surprising that the logo didn’t include the iconic shark mouth featured on the Flying Tigers’ aircraft.

Chennault wrote that the shark mouth didn’t originate with his group, but was copied from British P-40 fighters in North Africa, which in turn may have copied them from Germany’s Luftwaffe.

“How the term Flying Tigers was derived from the shark-nosed P-40’s I never will know,” he wrote.

Whose country to fight for

When the US entered the war after Pearl Harbor and began to look for ways to take the fight to Japan, the idea of an experienced group of American fighter pilots operating under Washington’s command appealed to US military leaders. They wanted the Flying Tigers assimilated into the US Army Air Corps.

But the pilots themselves either wanted to go back to their original services — many came from the Navy or Marine Corps — or wanted to stay as civilian contractors of the Chinese government, where the pay was much better.

Most told Chennault they’d quit before doing what Washington wanted. When the Army threatened to draft them as privates if they didn’t volunteer, those who’d considered signing on opted out.

Chennault, who’d been officially considered an adviser to the Central Bank of China while commanding the AVG, was made a brigadier general in the US Army and agreed that the Flying Tigers would become a US military outfit on July 4, 1942.

Though the Flying Tigers continued to wreak havoc on the Japanese in the spring of 1942 — striking ground targets and aircraft from China to Burma to Vietnam — it was clear the force was entering its waning days, according to US military history.

The AVG flew its last mission on the day it would cease to exist, July 4.

Four Flying Tiger P-40s faced off against a dozen Japanese fighters over Hengyang, China. The Americans shot down six of the Japanese with no losses of their own, according to US history.

A contribution never forgotten

With today’s trade wars and provocative military exercises in the Pacific over the past few years, US-China relations have been in a downward spiral.

But beneath those headlines, the bond that American mercenaries made with China almost 80 years ago remains untarnished.

In May, the Chinese Consulate in Houston donated $11,000 in food to a hospital in Monroe, Louisiana, home to the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, as the medical center grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.

“While there are lots of ‘headwinds’ in the China-U.S. relationship currently, China has never doubted for a moment that friendship between peoples of our two great nations will ever be changed,” read a letter from the Chinese consul general accompanying the donation.

Also in May, China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region sent medical supplies to the Flying Tiger Historical Organization for distribution to its members as well as friends and relatives of Flying Tigers veterans, a Xinhua news service story said.

In China, current tributes to the Flying Tigers are prominent.

The professional basketball team in Xinjiang has adopted the term as its nickname, there are at least half a dozen museums dedicated to or containing exhibits about the Flying Tigers in China and they’ve been the subject of contemporary movies and cartoons.

Ma Kuanchi helped establish the Flying Tiger Heritage Park on the site of an old airfield in Guilin where Chennault once had his command post in a cave.

Ma came together with two Americans to establish the Flying Tiger Historical Organization, which cooperated with the government in Beijing to raise money for, construct and curate the Guilin park, which opened in 2015.

Last year, Ma told the Chinese TV network CGTN what he sees as the legacy of those Americans who went to China in 1941.

“The Flying Tiger is one of the common grounds for the Rose Garden in the US and the Great Hall of the People in China. We would like to cherish the spirit of the Flying Tiger for mutual respect, sacrifice, dedication and mutual understanding. To find a common ground and the two great nations will have a brighter future,” Ma said.

In the US, the website for the Louisiana museum that bears Chennault’s name sums up what he hoped his legacy would be at the top of its mainpage, using the last lines of the general’s memoir:

“It is my fondest hope that the sign of the Flying Tiger will remain aloft just as long as it is needed and that it will always be remembered on both shores of the Pacific as the symbol of two great peoples working toward a common goal in war and peace.”

Introducing the Irregular Warfare Initiative

Can satire predict reality? Sometimes it definitely seems to.

On May 18, 2016, the satirical Duffel Blog reported with tongue firmly in cheek that “the Pentagon’s top spokesperson said he was ‘pretty sure’ the military could ditch the manual used for counterinsurgency, since it plans to fight all future wars against conventional armies that wear uniforms and use known tactics.” Several months later, the Army Times published a more serious article that the Army would be reducing training for counterinsurgency (COIN) to focus on preparing for large-scale combat operations (LSCO) against near-peer competitors. The Army Times article, and others like it, reflected the view that the return to great power competition presages a return to fighting major battles, or at least preparing to do so.

Funny as it might be to see satire (dumping COIN knowledge) matched with reality (shifting training and acquisition dollars to focus on big wars), it is also tragic when it is déjà vu all over again. The United States has done this before, with fatal consequences for American soldiers and their allies. After developing considerable knowledge on how to train for and fight COIN during the Vietnam War, the Army as an organization purged its institutional knowledge in the early 1970s, perhaps motivated in part by the stunning successes of the USSR-equipped Arab forces that came close to overrunning American-equipped Israeli forces in the first forty-eight hours of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Any remaining COIN expertise was relegated to special operations forces, particularly the US Army Special Forces (which was not even a permanent branch at that time). The US military refocused on equipping, planning, and preparing to fight the Soviet Union in major combat operations and failed to institutionalize the irregular warfare (IW) competencies bought at such tragic expense in Vietnam and other battlefields.

Abandoning IW as a national security tool was surely politically expedient at the time—the Vietnam War had been wildly unpopular—but doing so did not change the nature of threats in the international environment. Small wars have always accompanied great power competition. Within six years of Vietnam ending, the United States was again fighting an irregular conflict in El Salvador after neighboring Nicaragua fell to a communist insurgency. Only two years later it was supporting insurgencies against communist governments in Afghanistan and Nicaragua. Throughout the 1990s, the United States played a significant role in irregular conflicts in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Colombia, and beyond.

But it never rebuilt the skills lost after Vietnam, at least not at scale. And when the United States returned to large-scale COIN operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, self-deceit on the enduring importance of IW hurt it on two fronts. During planning for both operations, the lack of IW doctrine did a disservice to US political leaders by not forcing their attention to the key activities that come after major combat operations. Consequently, and tragically, once the wars in both countries escalated, many of the US forces on the ground were ill prepared and had to relearn the hard-fought lessons of how to conduct COIN.

This time is different, right?

It is tempting to think the United States can opt out of IW conflicts in the future. There is a clear preference by some to move on from costly and enduring conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq. We tried IW, the argument goes, and did not get good strategic results, so we must move on to focus on great power rivals, which means a tight focus on major combat operations. Irregular warfare, COIN, foreign internal defense, counterterrorism, et cetera—it is all old news.

But waxing nostalgic for the “good old days” of preparing to fight major combat operations is a fallacy. In practice, great power competition and irregular warfare have always been inextricably linked. Indeed, some scholars argue that international orders with two or more competing powers may be especially conducive to enduring small-scale conflicts between evenly matched forces.

This time around the stakes of disregarding IW may be even more severe than during and immediately after the Cold War. Threats from violent nonstate actors persist, but now great power rivals such as China and Russia are regularly competing in the gray zone that exists below the threshold of open armed conflict. Both competitors employ tactics in this space designed to attack the United States’ interests and coerce its partners. If history is any guide, this kind of competition will spill into irregular warfare, which will remain as important as ever. While Iraq and Afghanistan have with good reason reduced the national security community’s appetite for IW, future national security threats will require engaging in it.

What is old, is new again—but harder

The return to great power competition requires the United States to be able to plan, prepare, and resource across the spectrum of conflict, from the extremely unlikely nuclear exchange, to unlikely but consequential conventional war, to ongoing operations in the gray zone (which will continue for the foreseeable future). To an extent, this is similar to the situation that faced the United States during the Cold War, but several features are also markedly different. There are now at least three major actors (China, Russia, and the United States), America’s adversaries and competitors are achieving nonmilitary successes in parallel to their military pursuits, and the economic interdependence of the United States and China creates a new set of constraints for both sides compared to the Cold War, when the two great powers operated parallel and largely independent economic systems.

Coupled with major technological, demographic, and environmental shifts, the United States and its partners face a harder problem than during the Cold War. Hard problems require hard thinking from a wide variety of perspectives across all instruments of national power. The community needs a platform that can connect military and national security planners engaged in IW with scholarly research and critical thinking.

To help bridge this gap, the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project and the Modern War Institute at West Point are proud to announce the launch of the Irregular Warfare Initiative (IWI). IWI is designed to support the community of irregular warfare professionals, to include military and interagency practitioners, scholarly researchers, and policymakers, by providing a space for accessible, practically grounded discussions of irregular warfare policy and strategy.

Practitioners have important trial-and-error lessons to share from engaging in IW contexts around the world. Researchers have the ability to step back and extrapolate important lessons from within and across conflicts, and over time. Both do better when they communicate. IWI’s goal is to serve as a focal point for bringing together IW professionals from across the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of the national security community with policy-focused academic researchers. It will provide a forum for debate and discussion so that the community can appropriately archive and apply the hard-fought lessons of the past two decades of IW in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world, while also engaging with innovative ideas for applying these and emerging IW competencies in the competition and conflict realms the United States expects to see in the future. We can all hope this skill set will not be in great demand, but if history is any guide, we should prepare as if the new era of great power competition will indeed require it.

IWI will support three pillars of engagement. The first pillar will be IW-focused content, which will include both the Irregular Warfare Podcast and written content from contributors across the community of IW practitioners and researchers. The second pillar will take the form of interactive engagements, to include an annual conference focused on interdisciplinary collaboration. The final pillar will include an annual fellows program, providing the opportunity for a select number of professionals to engage in substantive examination of some of the most pressing IW challenges of the day. Through these vehicles, IWI intends to facilitate dialogue, provide access to new ideas, and support innovative approaches to addressing the contemporary strategic security environment.

The need for this kind of dialogue is real and growing. We look forward to you joining the discussion!

Jacob N. Shapiro is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and Managing Director of the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. He is a veteran of the United States Navy.

Colonel Patrick Howell is the Director of the Modern War Institute. He received his PhD in Political Science from Duke University and is also a Chief of Staff of the Army Advanced Strategic Planning & Policy Program (ASP3) Fellow (Goodpaster Scholar).

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official positions of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.


Allied plans Edit

After the Japanese invasion of Burma in early 1942, the Allies had launched tentative counterattacks in late 1942 and early 1943, despite lack of preparation and resources. This resulted in a defeat in the coastal Arakan Province of Burma, and a questionable success in the first Chindit long-range raid into Burma (codenamed Operation Longcloth).

In August 1943 the Allies created South East Asia Command (SEAC), a new combined command responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre. Its Commander in Chief was Admiral Louis Mountbatten. This brought a new sense of purpose and in November, when SEAC took over responsibility for Burma, the newly formed British Fourteenth Army was ready to take the offensive. The substantial improvement in the effectiveness of the troops which Fourteenth Army inherited has been credited to its commander, Lieutenant General William Slim. He enforced the use of anti-malarial drugs as part of an emphasis on individual health, established realistic jungle warfare training, rebuilt the army's self-respect by winning easy small-scale victories and developed local military infrastructure. [5]

Slim's efforts were aided by improvements to the Allied lines of communication. By October 1944, capacity on the North-East Indian Railways had been raised from 600 tons a day at the start of the war to 4,400 tons a day. The Allied Eastern Air Command, which consisted mainly of Royal Air Force squadrons but also several units of the Indian Air Force and bomber and transport units of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), had gained air superiority and this allowed the Allies to employ new tactics, relying upon air support and aerial resupply of troops.

SEAC had to accommodate several rival plans:

  • Admiral Mountbatten, as a naval officer who had previously served as commander of Combined Operations HQ, favoured amphibious landings. The first of these was to be on the Andaman Islands (Operation "Buccaneer"), but the landing craft assigned to the operation were recalled to Europe in preparation for the Normandy Landings.
  • The previous year, a British attack into the Burmese coastal province of Arakan had been heavily defeated. Having been reorganised, XV Corps had taken over this part of the front and was preparing to renew the offensive with the aim of capturing Akyab Island, important for its port and airfield. A limited amphibious move (Operation "Pigstick") in support of this attack had to be abandoned for lack of the necessary landing craft and other shipping.
  • The American aim in the China Burma India Theater was to maintain military aid and supplies to the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek, with its wartime capital in Chungking. They had established an air supply route, known as the Hump, over the Himalayas to Kunming in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Some Chinese forces which had retreated into India in early 1942 had been re-equipped and retrained by an American military mission under Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell, who was also Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-shek and Deputy Commander of SEAC. Stilwell proposed to construct a new road, the Ledo Road, to link India and China by land, although British leaders were sceptical about the value of this road and the effort devoted to it. By the start of 1944, the new road had reached the far side of the Patkai mountains, and Stilwell was preparing to advance on Kamaing and Myitkyina in northern Burma.
  • Chiang Kai-shek had agreed to mount an offensive across the Salween River into eastern Burma from Yunnan. When the Andaman Island landings were cancelled, he claimed this was a breach of faith and cancelled the Yunnan offensive, although he later reinstated it.
  • Following a long-distance raid (Operation "Longcloth") in 1943 by a long-range penetration force known as the Chindits, British Major-General Orde Wingate had gained approval for the force and its scope of operations to be greatly expanded. This was opposed by Slim and others who felt that this was too great a drain on manpower and resources, but under political pressure from Winston Churchill, Wingate's plans went ahead. The Chindits, designated Indian 3rd Infantry Division for cover purposes, were to assist Stilwell by disrupting the Japanese lines of supply to the northern front.
  • Wingate had originally planned that an airborne brigade would capture a Japanese-held airfield at Indaw, which would then be garrisoned by a line infantry division as a base for further Chindit raids. This second part of the plan for Wingate's Special Force, which would have imposed heavy demands on the available transport aircraft and also required troops already allocated to other operations, was later dropped. [6][7]

After protracted staff discussions within India and between the Allied staffs and commanders in London, Washington and Chungking, the Allied plans for 1944 were reduced to: the offensive by Stilwell's Chinese troops from Ledo the Chindit operation in support of Stilwell the renewed overland attack in Arakan and a rather ill-defined offensive across the Chindwin River from Imphal in support of the other operations.

Japanese plans Edit

About the same time that SEAC was established, the Japanese had created a new headquarters, Burma Area Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe. Its subordinate formations were the Japanese Fifteenth Army in the north and east of Burma and the Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army in the south and west.

By chance or design, the new commander of Fifteenth Army, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi, had played a major part in many recent Japanese triumphs. He had for example been the officer immediately concerned in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, which started hostilities between Japan and China, and stated his belief that it was his destiny to win the war for Japan. [8] He was keen to mount an offensive against India. Burma Area Army originally quashed this idea, but Mutaguchi's persistent advocacy won over officers at Southern Expeditionary Army Group at Singapore, the HQ of all Japanese forces in southern Asia. Finally, Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo approved Mutaguchi's plan. Officers who opposed Mutaguchi's plans were transferred or sidelined. [9] Neither Kawabe, nor Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, the commander in chief of Southern Expeditionary Army Group, were given any opportunity to veto Mutaguchi's plan, or to control the operation once it had started.

The Japanese were influenced to an unknown degree by Subhas Chandra Bose, commander of the Indian National Army. This was composed largely of Indian soldiers who had been captured in Malaya or Singapore, and some Tamil labourers living in Malaya. At Bose's instigation, a substantial contingent of the INA joined in this Chalo Delhi ("March on Delhi"). Both Bose and Mutaguchi emphasised the advantages which would be gained by a successful attack into India. With misgivings on the part of several of Mutaguchi's superiors and subordinates, Operation U-Go was launched. [10]

Stilwell's forces, the Northern Combat Area Command, initially consisted of two American-equipped Chinese divisions, with a Chinese-manned M3 Light Tank battalion and an American long-range penetration brigade known after its commander as "Merrill's Marauders". Three Chinese divisions were later flown from Yunnan to Ledo to reinforce Stilwell.

In October 1943 the Chinese 38th Division, led by Sun Li-jen, began to advance from Ledo towards Shinbwiyang, while American engineers and Indian labourers extended the Ledo Road behind them. The Japanese 18th Division advanced to the Chindwin to stop them, but found itself outmatched. Whenever the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions ran into Japanese strong points, the Marauders were used to outflank Japanese positions by going through the jungle. A technique which had served the Japanese so well earlier in the war before the Allies had learnt the arts of jungle warfare was now being used against them. At Walawbum, for example, if the Chinese 38th Division had been a little swifter and linked up with the Marauders it could have encircled the Japanese 18th Division.

Not only were the Japanese driven back, but the Allies were able to use the trace of the track the Japanese had constructed to supply 18th Division, to speed their construction of the Ledo Road.

Second Chindit Expedition Edit

In Operation Thursday the Chindits were to support Stilwell's advance by interdicting Japanese supply lines in the region of Indaw. On 5 February 1944, Brigadier Bernard Fergusson's 16th Brigade set out from Ledo, on foot. They crossed exceptionally difficult terrain which the Japanese had not guarded, and penetrated the Japanese rear areas. In early March, three other brigades were flown into landing zones behind Japanese lines by the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group, from where they established strongholds on most of the Japanese road and rail links to their northern front. Over the next two and a half months the Chindits were involved in many very heavy contacts with the Japanese.

Brigadier Michael Calvert's 77th Brigade successfully defended one of the landing zones, codenamed "Broadway", and established a road and railway block at Mawlu, north of Indaw. This position, codenamed the "White City", was successfully held for several weeks. Not all communications to the Japanese northern front were blocked, as only a single Chindit battalion operated against the road from Bhamo to Myitkyina, beyond the range of effective Allied air support.

On 24 March, Fergusson's brigade attempted to capture the airfield at Indaw but was repulsed, following which the exhausted brigade was withdrawn to India. On the same day, Wingate, the commander of the Chindits, was killed in an aircrash. His replacement was Brigadier Joe Lentaigne, formerly the commander of the 111th Brigade, one of the Chindit formations.

On 17 May, overall control of the Chindits was transferred from Slim's Fourteenth Army to Stilwell's NCAC. The Chindits evacuated "Broadway" and the "White City", and moved from the Japanese rear areas to new bases closer to Stilwell's front. They were given additional tasks for which they were not equipped. At the same time, the Japanese replaced the scratch "Take Force" which had been trying to defend their rear areas with the newly formed headquarters of the Japanese Thirty-Third Army, and deployed 53rd Division against the Chindits.

The 111th Brigade, commanded by John Masters, tried to establish another road and rail block codenamed "Blackpool" near Hopin, but were forced to retreat on 25 May after 17 days of battle. The monsoon had broken, making movement difficult and preventing the other Chindit formations reinforcing Masters's brigade. Calvert's 77th Brigade subsequently captured Mogaung after a siege which ended on 27 June, but at the cost of 50 percent casualties.

By July, it was clear that the Chindits were exhausted by continuous marching and fighting under heavy monsoon rains, and were withdrawn. By the end of the campaign the Chindits had lost 1,396 killed and 2,434 wounded. Over half the remainder had to be hospitalised with a special diet afterwards. The British 36th Division was transferred from the Arakan to Stilwell's command to replace the Chindits.

Yunnan Front Edit

The Chinese forces on the Yunnan front mounted an attack starting in the second half of April, with nearly 40,000 troops crossing the Salween River on a 200-mile (320 km) front. Within a few days some twelve Chinese Divisions, totalling 72,000 men under the command of General Wei Lihuang, were attacking the Japanese 56th Division. The Japanese forces in the North were now fighting on two fronts, against the Allies from the North West and the Nationalist Chinese from the North East.

The Chinese Yunnan offensive was hampered by the monsoon rains and lack of air support, but succeeded in surrounding the garrison of Tengchung at the end of May. (It held out before being annihilated in late September.) After overcoming determined Japanese resistance (in which the Japanese were helped when Chinese plans and codes fell into their hands by chance), the Chinese captured Lungling at the end of August. At this point, the Japanese moved reinforcements (amounting to a further division in strength) to Yunnan and counter-attacked, temporarily halting the Chinese advance. [11]

Myitkynia and Mogaung Edit

While the Japanese offensive on the Central Front was being waged, Stilwell's forces continued to make gains. On 19 May, the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions encircled Kamaing. Two days before, on 17 May, Merrill's forces captured the airfield at Myitkyina after a march across the Kumon Bum Mountains which nearly crippled the already weary Marauders. [12] If Chinese troops from Ledo had been flown in that afternoon to attack the town immediately they could have overwhelmed the small garrison, but support and logistic units were flown in first and the opportunity to capture the town easily was lost, as Japanese reinforcements arrived in the town.

The resulting prolonged siege was not very well directed and cost the allies many men, particularly amongst the Marauders who were kept in the line for reasons of American prestige, and among the Chindits who were forced to remain in the field to disrupt Japanese relief attempts far longer than had been planned. However, because of the deteriorating situation on the other fronts, the Japanese never regained the initiative on the Northern Front.

The long siege also resulted in heavy Japanese losses. When the airfield was captured, the Japanese in the town at first intended to fight a delaying action only, aided by the monsoon rains. On 10 July, Major General Genzo Mizukami, who had been sent with reinforcements and placed in charge of the garrison, was ordered personally to "Defend Myitkyina to the death". The Japanese dug in and repelled several Chinese attacks. Further resistance appeared hopeless by the end of July. Mizukami evacuated the survivors of the garrison before fulfilling the letter of his orders by taking his own life inside the defended perimeter. Myitkyina was finally captured on 3 August. [13]

Combined with the British capture of Mogaung in June, the capture of Myitkyina marked the end of the initial phase of Stilwell's campaign. It was the largest seizure of Japanese-held territory to date in the Burma campaign. The airfield at Myitkyina became a vital link in the air route over the Hump.

In Arakan, XV Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Philip Christison, renewed the advance on the Mayu peninsula. Ranges of steep hills channelled the advance into three attacks by 5th Indian Division along the coast, 7th Indian Division along the Kalapanzin River and 81st (West Africa) Division along the Kaladan River. The 5th Indian Division captured the small port of Maungdaw on 9 January 1944. The Corps then prepared to capture two disused railway tunnels which linked Maungdaw with the Kalapanzin valley. However, the Japanese struck first. A strong force from the Japanese 55th Division infiltrated Allied lines to attack the 7th Indian Division from the rear, overrunning the divisional HQ.

Unlike previous occasions on which this had happened, the Allied forces stood firm against the attack, and supplies were dropped to them by parachute. In the Battle of the Admin Box from 5 to 23 February, the Japanese concentrated on XV Corps' Administrative Area, defended mainly by service troops, but they were unable to deal with tanks supporting the defenders. Troops from 5th Indian Division broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the defenders of the box. Although battle casualties were approximately equal, the overall result was a heavy Japanese defeat. Their infiltration and encirclement tactics had failed to panic Allied troops, and as the Japanese were unable to capture enemy supplies, they themselves starved.

Two fresh Allied divisions (the 26th Indian Division and the British 36th Division) took over the front in the Mayu peninsula and resumed the offensive. However, XV Corps's offensive wound down over the next few weeks, as the Allies concentrated their resources, particularly transport aircraft, on the Central Front. After capturing the railway tunnels and some hills which dominated the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road, XV Corps halted during the monsoon. Some ground in the malarial Kalapanzin valley was given up to reduce losses to disease, and Japanese counter-attacks forced the isolated 81st (West Africa) Division to retreat up the Kaladan Valley.

At Imphal, IV Corps under Lieutenant-General Geoffry Scoones had pushed forward two divisions to the Chindwin River. One division was in reserve at Imphal. There were indications that a major Japanese offensive was building, and Slim and Scoones planned to withdraw and force the Japanese to fight at the end of impossibly long and difficult supply lines. However, they misjudged the date on which the Japanese were to attack, and the strength they would use against some objectives.

The main body of the Japanese Fifteenth Army, consisting of the 33rd Division, 15th Division and the brigade-sized "Yamamoto Force", planned to cut off and destroy the forward divisions of IV Corps before capturing Imphal. The 31st Division would meanwhile isolate Imphal by capturing Kohima. Mutaguchi intended to exploit this victory by capturing the strategic city of Dimapur, in the Brahmaputra River valley. If this could be achieved, his army would be through the mountainous border region and the whole of North East India would be open to attack. Units of the Indian National Army were to take part in the offensive and raise rebellion in India. The capture of the Dimapur railhead would also sever the land communications to the airbases used to supply the Chinese via the "Hump", and cut off supplies to General Stilwell's forces fighting on the Northern Front.

Preliminary battles Edit

The Japanese began crossing the Chindwin River on 8 March. Scoones only gave his forward divisions orders to withdraw to Imphal on 13 March. The 20th Indian Division withdrew from Tamu without difficulty, but the 17th Indian Division was cut off at Tiddim by the Japanese 33rd Division. From 18 to 25 March, the 17th Division was able to fight its way back through four Japanese road blocks, thanks to air re-supply by the RAF and U.S Troop Carrier Command crews in their Douglas C-47 Skytrains, and assistance from Scoones's reserve, the 23rd Indian Division. The two divisions reached the Imphal plain on 4 April.

Meanwhile, Imphal had been left vulnerable to the Japanese 15th Division. The only force left covering the northern approaches to the base, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, was roughly handled at the Battle of Sangshak and forced to withdraw by a regiment from the Japanese 31st Division on its way to Kohima. However, the diversionary attack launched by Japanese 55th division in Arakan had already been defeated, and in late March Slim was able to move the battle-hardened 5th Indian Division, with all its artillery, jeeps, mules and other materiel, by air from Arakan to the Central Front. The move was completed in only eleven days. The division's HQ and two brigades went to Imphal, the other brigade (the 161st Indian Infantry Brigade) went to Dimapur from where it sent a detachment to Kohima.

Kohima Edit

While the Allied forces in Imphal were cut off and besieged, the Japanese 31st Division, consisting of 20,000 men under Lieutenant-General Kotoku Sato, advanced up the Imphal–Dimapur road. Instead of isolating the small garrison at Kohima and pressing on with his main force to Dimapur, Sato chose to concentrate on capturing the hill station. The Japanese records indicate that Sato (and Mutaguchi's other divisional commanders) had severe misgivings about Fifteenth Army's plan. In particular, they thought the logistic gambles were reckless, and were unwilling to drive on objectives they thought unattainable.

The Battle of Kohima started on 6 April when the Japanese isolated the garrison and tried to dislodge the defenders from their hill top redoubts. Fighting was very heavy around the bungalow and tennis court of the Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills. This phase of the battle is often referred to as the Battle of the Tennis Court and was the "high-water mark" of the Japanese attack. On 18 April, the 161st Indian Brigade relieved the defenders, but the battle was not over as the Japanese dug in and defended the positions they had captured.

A new Allied formation HQ, the XXXIII Corps under Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford, took over operations on this front. The British 2nd Division began a counter-offensive and by 15 May, they had prised the Japanese off Kohima Ridge itself, although the Japanese still held dominating positions north and south of the Ridge. More Allied troops were arriving at Kohima. The 7th Indian Division followed 5th Indian Division from the Arakan, an Indian motor infantry brigade reinforced 2nd Division and a brigade diverted from the Chindit operation cut Japanese 31st Division's supply lines. XXXIII Corps renewed its offensive in the middle of May.

Imphal Edit

The Battle of Imphal went badly for the Japanese during April, as their attacks from several directions on the Imphal plain failed to break the Allied defensive ring. The fighting took place in three main sectors. The Japanese 15th Division's attacks from the north were broken when infantry from the 5th Indian Division and M3 Lee tanks recaptured a vital hill at Nungshigum, which overlooked the main airstrip at Imphal, on 13 April. Fighting between Yamamoto Force and the reduced 20th Indian Division swayed back and forth through the hills on either side of the main Imphal-Tamu road throughout the month. The Japanese 33rd Division was slow to throw in its main attack from the south but there was severe fighting around the village of Bishenpur for several weeks.

At the start of May, Slim and Scoones began a counter-offensive against the Japanese 15th Division north of Imphal. Progress was slow. The monsoon had broken, making movement very difficult. Also, IV Corps was suffering some shortages. Although rations and reinforcements were delivered to Imphal by air, artillery ammunition was running short. However, the Japanese were at the end of their endurance. Neither their 31st Division nor 15th Division had received adequate supplies since the offensive began, and during the rains, disease rapidly spread among the starving Japanese troops.

Lieutenant-General Sato had notified Mutaguchi that his division would withdraw from Kohima at the end of May if it were not supplied. In spite of orders to hold on, Sato did indeed begin to retreat, although an independent detachment from his division continued to fight delaying actions along the Imphal Road. Meanwhile, the units of 15th Division were wandering away from their positions to forage for supplies. Its commander, Lieutenant-General Masafumi Yamauchi (who was mortally ill), was dismissed but this could not affect matters. The leading British and Indian troops of IV Corps and XXXIII Corps met at Milestone 109 on the Dimapur-Imphal road on 22 June, and the siege of Imphal was raised.

Mutaguchi (and Kawabe) nevertheless continued to order renewed attacks. 33rd Division (under a new forceful commander, Lieutenant-General Nobuo Tanaka), and Yamamoto Force made repeated efforts south of Imphal, but by the end of June they had suffered so many casualties both from battle and disease that they were unable to make any progress. The Allies had in the meantime cleared large numbers of starving and disordered Japanese troops in and around Ukhrul (near Sangshak) north of Imphal. The Japanese Imphal operation was finally broken off early in July, and they retreated painfully to the Chindwin River.

Aftermath Edit

The attempted invasion of India was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history. They had suffered 55,000 casualties, including 13,500 dead. Most of these losses were the result of disease, malnutrition and exhaustion. The Allies suffered 17,500 casualties. Mutaguchi was relieved of his command and left Burma for Singapore in disgrace. Sato refused to commit Seppuku (hara-kiri) when handed a sword by Colonel Shumei Kinoshita, insisting that the defeat had not been his doing. [14] He was examined by doctors who stated that his mental health was such that he could not be court-martialled, probably under pressure from Kawabe and Terauchi, who did not wish a public scandal.

From August to November, Fourteenth Army pursued the Japanese to the Chindwin River despite heavy monsoon rains. While the newly arrived 11th East Africa Division advanced down the Kabaw Valley from Tamu and improved the road behind them, the 5th Indian Division advanced along the mountainous Tiddim road. As Fourteenth Army planned to use only the Kabaw Valley route for supply during the next season's campaign, the Tiddim Road (which included evocatively named stretches such as the "Chocolate Staircase") was allowed to fall into ruin behind the 5th Division, which was supplied entirely by parachute drops. An improvised light formation, the Lushai Brigade, was used to interrupt the lines of communication of the Japanese defending the road. By the end of November, Kalewa (an important river port on the Chindwin) had been recaptured, and several bridgeheads had been established on the east bank of the Chindwin.

Slim and his Corps commanders (Scoones, Christison and Stopford) were knighted in front of Scottish, Gurkha and Punjab regiments by the viceroy Lord Wavell in a ceremony at Imphal in December.

Second expedition (Early 1943 – March 1945) [ edit | edit source ]

Between 1942 and 1943, many Chinese soldiers were airlifted from Chongqing to India and trained under American advisors. The X Force was incorporated into the New First Army, which was supported by American Special Forces in their field operations. ⎚] For most of 1943, the Chinese Army engaged in several conflicts with the Japanese Army while defending the construction of the Ledo Road. In October 1943, the New First Army managed to defeat the Japanese veteran 18th Division at Hukawng Valley. ⎛] To secure the opening of the Ledo Road, the Chinese Army in India was retitled the "Northern Combat Area Command" (NCAC), and re-entered Burma in the spring of 1944. ⎜] The Chinese Army engaged and defeated the Japanese forces during various campaigns in Northern Burma and Western Yunnan and recaptured Myitkyina in August. Allied success in these campaigns enabled the opening of the Ledo Road. However, by the time Myitkyina was captured, Allied success in the Pacific theatre was reducing the significance of the China-Burma-India theatre. ⎝]

Intending to coordinate with the X Force, Wei Lihuang's Chinese Expeditionary Force in Yunnan, known as the Y Force, crossed the Salween River in April and launched an offensive against the Japanese Army. ⎞] By January 1945, the Y Force had captured the town of Wanting on the China-Burma border and regained control of the land route from Burma to China. The first convoy via the newly opened Ledo-Burma Road reached Kunming in February 1945. ⎟]

Watch the video: Kinas Nationalsang (June 2022).


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