CBIVA Sound-off
Winter 2002 Issue

By Joseph B. Shupe

A new long-range penetration group, known as the MARS TASK FORCE (MTF), was formed to replace Merrlll's Marauders. This was a brigade-sized unit consisting of the 475th Infantry (containing survivors of Merrill's Marauders) and the recently dismounted 124th Cavalry of the Texas National Guard. They were part of the offensive that resumed on October 14, 1944. The 475th replaced the Chinese 22nd Division and held its ground against repeated assaults until the Japanese withdrew. Meanwhile, the Chinese 38th Division on the left flank drove the Japanese into Bhamo. After a delaying action, the enemy evacuated Bhamo on December 15th, and withdrew south toward Lashio.

The Burma Road now lay within the group of our forces. The next phase of the campaign would involve a larger role for the MTF. Gen. Sultan wanted to send the Force up to the Shweli River toward the Burma Road to the rear of the Japanese forces. The enemy was opposing the advance of the Chinese 30th and 38th Divisions from Bhamo.

The 124th Cavalry, many of whose troopers still wore the high-top boots, first had to make the killing hike from Myitkyina south through the rugged mountains to the Shweli River. Making their way along narrow paths which took them from deep valleys to peaks above the clouds, the men of the 124th finally reunited with the 475th at the small village of Mong Wi in early January 1945.

From there, the MTF moved east to drive the enemy from the hills overlooking the Burma Road. Bringing up artillery and mortars, they opened fire on the highway and sent patrols to lay mines and ambush convoys. After the experience with the Merrill's Marauders, however, Gen. Sultan (commander of the newly-formed India-Burma Theater) and the MTF commander, BGen. John P. Willey, were anxious not to risk the unit's destruction by leaving it in an exposed position astride the road.

The MTF may not have actually cut the Burma Road, but its threat to the Japanese line of retreat did hasten their withdrawal, and the reopening of the road to China. While the Y-Force* advanced southwest from the Chinese end of the Burma Road toward Wanting, the Chinese 30th and 38th Divisions moved southeast toward Namhkan where they were to turn northeast and move toward a linkup with the road at Mong Yu.

To oppose this drive, the Japanese deployed the 56th Division at Wanting, troops of the 49th Division at Mong Yu, and a detachment at Wanting, but these units planned to fight only a delaying action before retreating south to join the defense of Mandalay. The enemy withdrew as soon as the Chinese applied pressure.

As the MTF were establishing their positions to the south, the 30th and 38th Chinese Divisions captured Namhkan and drove toward Mong Yu. On January 20th, advance patrols of the 38th linked up with those of the Y-Force outside Mong Yu. Another week was necessary to clear the trace of any threat from Japanese patrols and artillery fire, but on January 28th, the first convoy from Ledo passed through on its way to Kunming. In honor of the man who pursued this goal for so long, the Allies named the route the Stilwell Road. (See map #1.)

*Yunnan Chinese divisions with American Liaison Groups consisting of teams of 6-20 infantry, artillery, engineer, ordnance, signal, QM, and veterinary personnel. The American contribution also included portable surgical and field hospitals.


Under the threat of further Japanese advances against Kunming and Chungking, Chiang Kai-shek agreed to the formation of a force of 36 divisions under a single Chinese field commander and a combined Chinese-American staff -called the ALPHA FORCE to be equipped, trained, and supplied by Americans. The 36 divisions were only about 15% of the total Nationalist Army (the rest Chiang used to keep Mac-Tse-tungs three million-man army in check. Fortunately, the Japanese had outrun their supplies by mid-December and were forced to halt their advance to the west. The missing piece in creating the ALPHA FORCE, was a more effective organization to train, supply, and control operations of the divisions. Recognizing this, Gen. Wedemeyer in January 1945 established the Chinese Combat Command (CCC) and the Chinese Training Command (CTC). The CCC was headed by MGen. Robert McClure. He wanted every Chinese ALPHA FORCE commander down to regi-,mental level to have an American advisor. Personnel shortages initially prevented the system from being extended to the regimental level, but eventually all 36 divisions, 12 armies, and four group armies of the ALPHA FORCE received American advisors and liaison personnel, some 3,100 American soldiers and airmen, all linked by radio. Each advisory team had about 25 officers and 50 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. Advisors also furnished technical assistance to the Chinese in handling artillery, and communications. In addition, 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 advisors 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. 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 CCC, U.S. troops assigned to the CTC, under the command of BGen. John Middleton, trained individual soldiers and, in some cases, cadres of special units. CTC members established and then operated schools, prepared and distributed training literature, and gave technical assistance to those assigned to the CCC. Ultimately, Gen. Middleton operated seven service schools and training centers, the majority were located near Kunming. Of those, the Field Artillery Training Center was the largest and, at its peak, some 1,000 Americans were instructing about 10,000 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; also an interpreter's pool to teach English to the large number of Chinese serving as interpreters for the American advisors. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Chinese senior officers actually attended the schools.

American advisors also helped establish a Chinese Services of Supply (SOS) logistical organization to support the ALPHA FORCE. Emphasizing the movement of supplies from rear to the 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. Chiang gave the American SOS commander BGen. Cheves, the rank of lieutenant general in the Chinese army and command of the Chinese SOS for the ALPHA FORCE divisions.

A sand-bagged foxhole for defending the airfield from Japanese ground attack at Chabua.

The ALPHA FORCE concentrated around Kunming and commanded by Gen. Ho Ying-chin gradually began to take shape. Wedemeyer hoped that American assistance would transform its 36 divisions into a force capable of seizing the initiative from the Japanese in China. He believed that each of the 36 divisions sponsored by the Americans, each with 10,000 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 and then drive on to capture a port in southeast China, This, it was hoped, would tie down the enemy troops who might otherwise be sent back to defend Japan against an allied invasion. Once a port was captured, the increase flow of supplies would enable Chinese armies to undertake a campaign to clear all Japanese forces from the Asian mainland. Wedemeyer's plan, code-named Operation BETA, 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.

Gen. Wedemeyer submitted his plan for the Chinese offensive to Chiang on February 14, 1945. Chiang approved the plan subject to: the war in Europe would end; operations in the Pacific would continue to force Japanese armies in China to redeploy to the north and east; a four-inch pipeline 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. Our Joint Chiefs of Staff eventually approved the plan on April 20th, but by that time it had been overtaken by other events in the China Theater.

In late January or early February, Japan 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 to 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, Gen. Oka-mura 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 April 8th, Laohokow fell. (Map #2.)

The Chinese Army, 85% of which fell outside the ALPHA FORCE, was unable to counter the Japanese advance. So, Wedemeyer believed that the Japanese would next move either toward the American air base at Chihchiang, 270 miles southeast of Chungking, or continue westward beyond Laohokow. Wedemeyer thought the drive to Chihchiang more likely, so he prepared the American sponsored unit (ALPHA FORCE), and the 14th AF to continue bombing enemy communications. If the enemy could be delayed now, Wedemeyer hoped that by May 1st, a powerful Chinese-American offensive could sweep them back toward the coast.

III - The Offensive

On April 13th, the Japanese went after the 14th AF forward base at Chihchiang; its capture would open up approaches to Kunming. The enemy deployed some 60,000 troops against about 100,000 Chinese, which were a little better trained and supplied than they were in previous battles, and aided by 14th AF support. The American advisory system with good communications could better control the battle. The Allies agreed on a plan - Chinese forces would strike at the rear and flanks of the foe. When Chiang tried to Issue orders directly to his forces, Wedemeyer dissuaded him. On May 5-6, the Chinese did outflank the Japanese with the aid of frequent airdrops of ammunition and food which raised their morale. The Chinese commanders reportedly sought the advice of the American liaison officers before making decisions. With this concentration of Chinese forces, the Japanese were forced into a general retreat and by June 7th were back to their starting positions. (See Map #3.)

The Chihchiang campaign showed that Chinese troops could do well if they had enough soldiers; and their actions were coordinated; and they had enough food and ammunition.

In mid-April, the enemy had problems elsewhere; our troops landed on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Tokyo ordered its army in Manchuria to transfer one-third of its ammunition to the home Islands; and also issued orders to Its army in China to concentrate its forces in the Yangtze River area and also around the main ports of China, such as Shanghai and Canton. The Japanese Army in China also was to be reinforced to over one million men south of the Great Wall to guard against American amphibious landings along the coast and a Soviet attack from the north.

Thus, when their drive on Chihchiang was repulsed, the enemy prepared for further withdrawals. In mid-May, as the situation in Okinawa deteriorated, the evacuation of the rail line to Kweilln and Liuchow was ordered. So, enemy troops moved from South China to northern and central China. At this point, Gen. Wedemeyer revived the BETA, plan to move to the coast and capture Canton and Hong Kong. With the Philippines now in our control, supplies could be moved from Manila direct to China. Also, the Japanese evacuated air bases in the Kweilin-Liuchow area.

The revised plan renamed CARBONADO called for a move to the coast in August to seize Fort Bayard on the Liuchow Peninsula about 250 miles southwest of Canton. Once Ft. Bayard was secured, the main CARBONADO attack could begin on September 1st from the Kweilin-Liuchow area with a final assault on Canton on November 1st. Additional combat aircraft arrived in China to support the operation. The 10th AF from India joined the 14th AF on July 23rd to form the Army Air Forces China Theater, under Gen. Stratemeyer.

Some problems did emerge such as insufficient food for the Chinese forces, so an effective logistical system was still necessary from India to Kunming; this in the middle of the monsoons, but Gen. Sultan of the India-Burma Theater provided steadily increasing support.

Chinese forces continued to advance against a retreating enemy army; they moved into Fukian Province In May. On June 26th, they recaptured the airfield at Liuchow, and later the one at Kweilin. As August began, the Japanese had almost completed their redeployment on North China. Planning for the capture of Ft. Bayard proceeded. At Guam, representatives of the China and Pacific Theaters met to make final arrangements for the seizure of the area. Planners thought there were 14,000 Japanese there, but there were only less than 2,000 and even they were in the process of retreating toward Canton.

On August 5th, the first A-bomb was dropped; three days later the second; on the same day the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War with three army groups and invaded Manchuria. At this point, Wedemeyer suspended the planned capture of Ft. Bayard. On August 14th, the Japanese surrendered. Chlang was unprepared for the abrupt collapse of Japan. Wedemeyer alerted Washington of the Impending crisis. Recognizing the American-sponsored divisions of the ALPHA FORCE still represented only a small part of the Chinese Nationalist Army, he judged that Chiang's government could not withstand an open civil war against the communists. Nevertheless, U.S. leaders were reluctant to become directly involved in a new war, although additional U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops soon arrived in China to receive the surrender of the Japanese garrisons there. Meanwhile, on August 22nd, the China Theater suspended all training under our supervision. This marked the end of the elaborate system of American liaison, air, logistical support, and advice. Chiang's armies soon would be on their own.

Then, diplomatic problems erupted between the Allies over Issues of control in China. President Truman issued a cease-fire message to all Allied commands on August 15th. Stalin's Soviet troops established themselves in Manchuria and sent an advance force to within 30 miles of Peiping. The British reestablished control of Hong Kong, and France went back into Indo-China. Simultaneously, Mao Tse-tung sent his troops into north and central China.

The war ended, so for China's Nationalists this signaled the resumption of the civil war, which neither the Soviet Union, nor the western Allies could influence in any appreciable manner. (Extracted from the CMM Pubs 72-5 and 39, by Joe Shupe.)

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