World War II CBI Air Campaign: India-Burma Operations (1942-45)


Figure 1.--World War II brought the 20th Century to large areas of Asia. Here two boys in northeast India have a look at an American observation plane, probably in 1943. The Allies retreated from Burma and set up defenses in northeastern India. The first operations against the Japanese in Burma were air operations, including supporting commando (Chindit and Ranger) operations behind Japanese lines. Light planes like these help to suport these comando operations.

The Japanese immediately after Pearl Harbor opened the CBI theater with first the invasion of Malaya and the seizure of Singapore and then launched the campaign in Burma. All this was accomplished in only a few months and against numerically superior Allied forces, mostly British and Chinese. A major factor in their success was air power. British air units were negligible and the newly arrived American AVG (Flying Tigers) were only a small force. The Japanese were well trained, had much larger air assets, and better aircraft. The Japanese accomplished important goals, seizing resource rich areas and cutting the Burma Road, Nationalist China's life line. About the same time the Japanese complete the conquest of Burma, the U.S. Navy victory at Midway (June 1942), significantly changed the naval balance in the Pacific. This meant the Japanese could not rely on maritime transport to supply their army in Burma, specially as the American submarine campaign began to sink substantial numbers of Japanese marus (transports). And with the American offensive in the Solomons (August 1942), the Japanese did not have the capacity to build substantial air units in Burma. At the same time, American aircraft began to reach India in quantity, even though the CBI was usually the lowest priority theater of the war. The American aircraft included modern types that outclassed the Japanese aircraft, basically the same aircraft with which they began the War. The balance of power in the air changed quickly. The Allies formed Air Command South-East Asia (November 1943) to control all Allied air forces in the theater, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse as Commander-in-Chief. Peirse's and his deputy, USAAF Major General George E. Stratemeyer, formed Eastern Air Command (EAC) to control Allied air operations in eastern India and Burma, with headquartered in Calcutta (1943). Japa nese efforts to invade India, the U Go offensive, floundered because of lack of logistical capability and air support. The Japanese victories in Malaya and Burma were largely due to success in seizing British supplies. In India, the Allies supplied surrounded garrisons by air (Kohima and Imphal). The Japanese attacking force literally starved in the Jungle (1944). Allied air forces supplied British Chindits and American Rangers behind Japanese lands and played an important role in driving the Japanese out of Burma (1944-45).

Japanese Invasion (1942)

The Japanese immediately after Pearl Harbor opened the CBI theater with first the invasion of Malaya and the seizure of Singapore and then launched the campaign in Burma. All this was accomplished in only a few months and against numerically superior Allied forces, mostly British and Chinese. A major factor in their success was air power. British air units were negligible and the newly arrived American AVG (Flying Tigers) were only a small force. Japanese aircraft only days after Pearl Harbor flying from bases in Thailand begn the invasion of Burma. They bombed the Tavoy airdrome, a forward British outpost on the Andaman Sea south of Rangoon (December 11). Th following day Japanese units opened the the ground offensive (December 12). Despite obvious indications of a Japanese offensive, the British were totally unprepared. The British had not even set up a proper military intelligence staff. They had appointd a civil defense commissioner (November 1941), but no contingency arrangements had been made. Important steps like military control of the railroads and the inland waterways had not been takn. The British forces were a mixed grouping of Burmese, British, and Indian units which they nmed thd n Burma. Their air arm was 16 obsolete Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters. The Japanese were well trained, had much larger air assets, and better aircraft. Two forces opposed the Japanese, but they were not coordinated. American General Viniger Joe Stilwell led a Chinese force south into Burma (mid-March 1942). The Japanee immediately attacked Toungoo, in central Burma between Rangoon and Mandalay. They smashed the defending Chinese force there, The British and Indian units in Burma were also defeated. The Japanese took Lashio (April 29). This was the southern terminus of the Burma Road. The British and Indian forcesThe fall of Singapore meant that more Japane forces wre avilble for operatiins in Burna. retreated through the jungke toward India, closely persued by the Japanese. They retreated through Kalewa to Imphāl in eastern India near the Burmese-Indian border. The Chinese retreated across the Salween River into China. Th Japanese by the end of the year held all of Burm. The Japanese accomplished important goals, seizing resource rich areas and cutting the Burma Road, Nationalist China's life line.

The American Volunteer Group/Flying Tigers (1941-42)

The only American combat force in the tgeater was the recently arrived aviation unit, the American Volunteer Group (AVG) which became known as the Flying Tigers. The AIG was commabded by retired Army Air Forces Col. Claire L. Chennault. The AIG was financed sureptiously by the United States and meant to provide the Chinee an air force to oppose the constant Japanese bombing raids. The AVG began training in Burma (summer 1941). This was tonkeep them out of range of Japanese attack until redy for combat. Chennault's plan was to deploy his three squadrons of Curtis P-40 fighters after training, as a unified foce in China. Perl Harbor and the Japanese offensive forced a change in plans. The Britosh requeted air upport (December 12). Chennault moved one squadron of the AVG from the training base in Toungoo to Mingaladon, near Rangoon, to provide fighter protection for the capital and vitl port. Chennault moved the two remaining squadrons to China to protect Chinese cities, aswas the original plan, and patrol the Burma Road.

Battle of Midway: Impact on Japanese War Effort (June 1942)

About the same time the Japanese completed the conquest of Burma, the U.S. Navy victory Midway (June 1942), significantly changed the naval balance in the Pacific. The American carriers cut the heart out of the First Air Fleet--sinking four of their first line carriers. It was, however, the fierce battles in the South Atlantic that behan to wittle down Japanese naval power with losses of destroyers, cruisers, and battleships. Now the Imperial Navy gave as much as it lost. The ship tllies were nout equal. But this was at a time that the Japnese had a material advantage in ships and planes. If Jaoan w going to win the War, it was going to be in 1942, all it could do in 1942 was to fight ghe Psvific fleet to a drawl. And it 1943 the Arsenal of Democracy began to deliver carriers, crusiers, destoyers, and submarines to the fleet in incrediable numbers more than replacing the 1942 losses and baginning expansion of the fleet. The Japanese shipyards were also active could not even replsce the losses let alone expnd th fleet. This meant in the CBI the Japanese could not rely on maritime transport to supply their army in Burma. The American submarine campaign began to sink substantial numbers of Japanese marus (transports) in the Pacific. Gettig supplies through to Rangoon in the Inin Ocean was out of the question.

Japanese Bombing of India (1942-44)

The Japanese from bases in Indo-China (Vietnam) and Thailand after Pearl Harbor swept through Southeast Asia seizing Malaya, Singapore, and Burma only stopped bt the monsoon rains (May 1942). The British, commonwealth and Chinese forces made a stand in eastern India on the Burmese frontier. There strengthened by the flow of supplies through Calcutta they were able to block further Japanese advances. And from bases in eastern India supplies to China were flown over The Hump. The Japanese wanted to continue their offensive into India. And naval dominnce would have cut off the Allied forces in India from reinforcement and supply. Reverses in the Pacific War, however, meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy was unable to control the Indian Ocean. This meant that the only way to cut off supplies was aerial bombing. And as most of the supplies arrived at Calcutta, that Indian city and port became the primary target of the Japanese bombers. The Japanese began bombing raids (late-1942). They continued eposoduically through 1944. While they caused some damage in Calcutta, the campaign proved to be a mere pin-prick in the massive Allied supply effort. THe inaccuracy of World War II bombers and the small loads of the Jopsnense bombers mean that they did not hve the capacity to severely damage the Calcutta port infrastructure. A large raid would be about 30 bombers. At the time, the Allies were routinely staging thousand bomber raids in Europe. With reverses in Burma and the Pacific, and no longer able to supply air bases in Indochina and the Andaman Islands, the Japanese ended the campaign (December 1944).

Air Ballance

With the American offensive in the Solomons (August 1942), the Japanese did not have the capacity to build substantial air units in Burma. At the same time, American aircraft began to reach India in quantity, even though the CBI was usually the lowest priority theater of the war. The American aircraft included modern types that outclassed the Japanese aircraft, basically the same aircraft with which they began the War. The balance of power in the air changed quickly. The Allies formed Air Command South-East Asia (November 1943) to control all Allied air forces in the theater, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse as Commander-in-Chief. Peirse's and his deputy, USAAF Major General George E. Stratemeyer, formed Eastern Air Command (EAC) to control Allied air operations in eastern India and Burma, with headquartered in Calcutta (1943).

The Hump (1942-45)

The primary focus of American CBI air operations was China. It was important for the Allies to keep Chiang and China in the War because the bulk of the Japanese Army was deployed there. And President Roosevelt believed that China could play a major role in the war. It was not possible to supply the vast quantity if equipment the Chinese Army needed by air. The air lift capacity could not begin to meet the needs of the Chinese Army. Not only did the United States not have enough planes and crews to do his, but the route over the eastern Himalayas was extrenmely dangerous. The route became jknown as the Hump. Many planese were lost flying the route. [Diebold] The Allies began supply runs to China from India over the forbidding Himalayan Mountains (April 1942). Among the dangers were the unknown reception of the flyers by people like the Lolo tribesemen. The pilots referred to these runs as flying "The Hump". The flights because of the Himalayas were dangerous. They were 530-mile flights. The flights were conducted as part of the 10th Air Force operations. Nearly 1,000 men and 600 Air Transport Command (ATC) planes were lost during the CBI operations over the Hump. The China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) lost an additional 38 planes and 88 airmen.

Allied Special Operations (1943-44)

Allied air forces supplied British Chindits and American Rangers behind Japanese lands. The U.S. Army Air Forces created what would be known as the Air Commandos. This was a unit that opened up a new role for air poer. They began supporting British ground forces which were inserted in the Burmese jungle behind Japnese lines, the group led by Orn Windgate known as the Chindits. The American flyers not only hekp supply the Chindits, but developed unconventional hit-and-run tactics to both confuse the Japanese and destroy their lines of communication and supply. The Americans used light planes to evacuate wounded men ho would have otherwise died. They usev transports like the C-47 to to deliver heavy cargo. Other aircrft used were fighters, gliders, and helicopters. About 500 hundred men comprised the unit. [Blood] When the Americans inserted commandos of their own, Merrils Maurauders, the Air Commandos played the same role.

Japanese Offensive: U Go (1944)

Japanese forces invaded India with the U Go offensive. They attacked with a substantial force, but with virtually no aur support. And because there ere no connecting roads, they had to mive through the jungle, carrying supplies and equipment. As a result they had very little artillery support. The uccess of their advance in Malaya/Singapreand Burmaas that they managd to seize Britih supply depots. This did not occur in India. The Japanese floundered in bloody , but unsucessful battles because of lack of logistical capability and air support. In India, the British stood and fought. The Allies supplied surrounded garrisons by air (Kohima and Imphal). The Japanese attacking force literally starved in the Jungle (1944). Only a small part of the attacking Japanese foirce emerged from the jungle back to Japanese lines.

Allied Invasion of Burma

Allied Air Forces also played an important role in driving the Japanese out of Burma (1944-45).

Sources

Blood, William T. Air Commandos Against Japan: Allied Special Opperations in World War II Burma.






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Created: 7:42 AM 5/24/2014
Spell checked: 5:56 PM 5/24/2014
Last updated: 7:36 AM 1/23/2019