Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The process of planning the Malaya offensive air operation and the awareness of control of the air
By curious coincidence, the Imperial Army and Navy started to plan the offensive operation of strategic vital areas such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Borneo and Malaya, assuming Great Britain as a hypothetical enemy when ‘Air Troops Operations’ was compiled. At first, this offensive operation was the naval plan. But the Imperial Army took responsibility after the Annual Operation Plan of 1939, and saw difficulties with accomplishing the plan. Although the operational concept of Imperial Army Aviation remained the support of ground operations at that time, they realised from current wisdom that air strikes were indispensable at the beginning of a war. However, they did not have the striking range necessary to conduct ‘aerial exterminating action’ before the landing operation in the Malaya offensive operation. To begin with, Type 97 fighters (Ki-27) of the Imperial Army’s mainstay had only 400 kilometres of combat radius. Therefore, it was not possible to escort amphibious squadrons the distance of 600 kilometres across the Gulf of Thailand, even if they could hold some airfields in southern French Indo-China. Secondly, even Type 97 heavy bombers (Ki-21) could only reach northern Malaya.
Eventually, they tried to overcome their difficulties by using tactics where advance elements executed surprise landings and capture of airfields before ‘aerial exterminating action’. This idea was based on the result of a map manoeuvre exercise at the Army Staff College in January 1941. The purpose of this manoeuvre exercise was to evaluate the plan drafted by Lieutenant-Colonel Tanigawa Kazuo of Military General Staff. Participants were Colonel Miyoshi Yasuyuki, Instructor of Army Staff College, as director of this manoeuvre exercise, and students of Army Aviation as exercise players. Before he wrote the plan, Colonel Kazuo Tanigawa spent nearly one month in 1940 investigating British Malaya, French Indo-China and Thailand for operations against British forces of the southern area. From this experience, he realised the most difficult problem for the execution of this operation was the lack of combat range of Imperial Army fighters. To address this problem, the Imperial Army speeded up the process to adopt the Type 1 fighter (K-43) with a longer combat radius. This new fighter was to have a combat radius of from 600 to 700 kilometres using the same engine as the Imperial Navy Type 0 fighter (A6M). The Type 1 fighter enabled the following: air cover of an anchorage area by fighters, and ‘aerial exterminating action’ to northern Malaya from southern French Indo-China by a strike package of bombers and fighters. Based on using the Type 1 fighter, Tanigawa devised the original plan where a section of ground forces would begin to land in northern Malaya to capture airfields. After ‘aerial exterminating action’, the ground forces’ main body would land in Mersing, in north-east Singapore, with the support carrier group. But Director Miyoshi set the exercise to land at Singora and then go down through the Malay peninsula. He thought Tanigawa’s plan would not guarantee enough control of the air for this operation because he could not count on support from the carrier group at that time. In fact, the Type 1 fighters available for use in the Malaya offensive air operation consisted of only two regiments (60 fighters). The difference in thought came from their operational concept. Tanigawa made much of ‘aerial exterminating action’ at the beginning of a war to gain control of the air. However, Miyoshi considered the long theatre of the Malaya peninsula and instead placed greater importance on ensuring control of the air step by step by gradual advance.
Next is an example of how they actually gained and maintained control of the air in the Malaya offensive air operation. The Imperial Army attached much importance to the speed of offensive action in both the ground and the air operation in Malaya. Imperial Army Aviation perceived that this speed was restricted by the speed of gaining control of the air, and the advance of control of the air was related to the speed of capturing airfields. Imperial Army Aviation adopted tactics to accelerate control of the air by utilising ‘aerial exterminating action’ and capturing airfields for Imperial Army Aviation to use one by one to complement the still-short combat radius of the fighters. In the opening battle that launched this operation, the 5th Division, as advanced elements of the 25th Army, started surprise landings in Singora and Patani. The Takumi Column, commanded by Major-General Takumi Hiroshi, and the Uno Column, led by Colonel Uno Misao, landed in Kota Bharu and Nakhotn, Bandon, before the start of ‘aerial exterminating action’. These landing forces included air section troops such as aircraft maintenance crew, crew for repair and management of airfields, etc. The landing of the Takumi Column was at 2.15 a. m. on 8 December 1941, almost one hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor. ‘Aerial exterminating action’ against the airfields at Sungei Petani and Alor Star in Kedah province began at 8.20 a. m., almost six hours after the Takumi Column landing.
Miyoshi’s plan included a traditional area of conflict in the operational concepts between ground forces and Army Aviation. This conflict was the order of priority between ‘aerial exterminating action’ for gaining control of the air, and the ground support mission. In his plan, the speed of gaining and expanding control of the air would be subject to the speed of the capture of airfields, where the capture of airfields was a ground operation itself. This was the dilemma of Tanikawa. He longed for air operations as an independent ‘air force’ in Malaya.
The endeavor to carry out independent air operations in Malaya
After the map manoeuvre exercise at the Army Staff College, Tanigawa began to devise a full-dress plan of offensive air operations while serving as a staff member of the Army Division of the Imperial General Headquarters from early September 1941. At that time, the ‘Outline of Imperial Policy’ to assume the offensive in the Southern area was decided. At the beginning, the operations area of the Southern area was divided into the Philippines front and the Malaya/Singapore front. After Tanigawa completed the plan, he became the chief of the air staff office at the Southern General Army Headquarters on 13 November 1941. There is evidence showing the essence of Tanigawa’s operational concept as an ‘independent army air force’ in his plan and leadership of the Malaya offensive air operation. This is seen in the concept of ‘independence of aviation units’ and ‘uniqeness of air operations’.
Looking first at ‘independence of aviation units’, Tanigawa tried to gain independence of aviation by giving discretionary powers concerning air operations to the Southern General Army in the Southern offensive campaigns plan of the Army Division of the Imperial General Headquarters. His campaign plan to put whole aviation units under the direct control of the Southern General Army Commander was approved on 5 November. In his plan this operation would initially begin by the landing of advance elements in Malaya and by air attack on the Philippines. Next, major elements of the ground forces would land in the Philippines and Malaya and should quickly capture them based on a successful result of rudimentary air operations. Based on the guidelines of this air operation, Imperial Army Aviation units were expected to gain control of the air by pre-emptive attack on enemy airfields jointly with Imperial Naval air units. This was intended to steer landing operations of major elements to success followed by air support to ground operations. The main body of Imperial Army Aviation advanced to Malaya. The Southern General Army was organised with the 14th Army, primarily consisting of two infantry divisions for the Philippines offensive operation, and the 25th Army of four infantry divisions for Malaya, as the direct control units; and the 3rd Air Corps of three air brigades, the 5th Air Corp of two air brigades and other small air units.
This plan gave priority to the ground support mission, but Tanigawa, as air staff officer of the Southern General Army, took direct control of aviation units to pursue the plan for independent air operations. In the plan of Southern General Army, Tanigawa attached the 5th Air Corps to the Commander of the 14th Army, but he left the 3rd Air Corps under direct control of Southern General Army. By not attaching the 3rd Air Corps to the 25th Army, the organisation of the task force placed the 3rd Air Corps on an equal basis with the 25th Army. In addition, he reinforced the 3rd Air Corps by attaching one air brigade of the 5th Air Corps. The 3rd Air Corps was composed of the 3rd, 7th 10th and 12th Air Brigades. Thus the 3rd Air Corps had a total of 612 aircraft, and was the main force of Imperial Army Aviation. This source of air power was used to capture Malaya as the main air operation of the Southern General Army. The reason for this quantity of aircraft was based on the following estimate. The Imperial Army projected that British Air Force aircraft were around 200 to 250 in Malaya, 200 in India and 50 in Burma. The Imperial Army planned to deploy two or three times that number to achieve superior air power potential in the main theatre.
The issue concerning attachment of air troops was the most difficult and anguishing issue for Tanigawa. He finally came to a conclusion that did not attach air troops to ground forces, but had air troops supporting the ground forces. He had anxiety about the ground forces’ lack of understanding concerning the uniqueness of air operations, and he was furthermore apprehensive about possible obstructions to progress in overall Army operations by the feud within the Imperial Army between ‘aerial exterminating action’ and the ground support mission that had existed since the compilation of ‘Air Troops Operations’. Tanigawa reasoned that the 3rd Air Corps, who supported not only the 25th Army of Malaya but also the 15th Army of Burma, might have a chance to shift the centre of gravity of ‘aerial exterminating action’ depending on the situation. He also felt that the ground forces did not have staff with experience and expertise to fully realise the complex mechanism and operations of air power operations. Above all, Tanigawa feared that lack of understanding by ground forces could bring about an unnecessary loss of valuable and scarce air assets. Tanigawa thought that control of the air by ‘aerial exterminating action’ contributed more to the overall army operation than just providing ground support mission. He tried to plan air operations mainly to gain control of the air under direct control of the Southern General Army, but Tanigawa understood that attachment to ground forces was also favourable for acquiring enemy airfields.
This issue became apparent during the Malaya offensive operation. The 83rd Independent Flying Regiment was to be attached to the 25th Army in the plan, but deployment of this regiment was delayed at the beginning of the operation. Therefore the staff office of the 25th Army was concerned that there was not enough air support for the landing operation of advance elements and requested the attachment of flying units to provide ground support for exclusive use. Thus, emotional disagreements occurred between the 25th Army and the 3rd Air Corps. A certain air staff officer of Imperial General Head-quarters who visited front-line ground forces on 19 December suggested that the 3rd Air Brigade be attached to the 25th Army temporarily. Tanigawa also investigated the situation, and pointed out that Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Commander of the 25th Army, did not always want the attachment. The misgiving of the 25th Army’s staff office about this attachment came from an incomplete linkage between air and ground operations during the previous week. He observed the essence of this issue as follows. The 25th Army only discussed whether or not flying units directly supported ground forces without considering the profit from gaining control of the air. The staff of the ground forces did not understand the complex mechanism of flying units. Tanigawa eventually refused the request of the 25th Army, and kept the 3rd Air Corps under direct control of Southern General Army to maintain the independence of aviation units.
In the operation plan of the Southern General Army, considering the characteristics of the Southern theatre, Tanigawa gave a free hand to the 3rd Air Corps on air operations under direct control of the Southern General Army, and tried to facilitate the unique nature of air operations without having them being dragged into exclusive ground operations. In the first phase of this operation plan, the mission of the 3rd Air Corps was mainly exterminating enemy air power and supporting the 25th Army’s operation using the 3rd Air Corps major elements. Next the 3rd Air Corps supported the 16th Army in the Southern Sumatra operation by trying to cut enemy communication lines and by strategic bombardment. In the second phase, the mission was supporting the 16th Army in the Javanese theatre by a large number of the 3rd Air Corps elements supporting the 25th Army. Tanigawa gave the 3rd Air Corps the primary mission of exterminating enemy air power. This is because it was impossible for the 3rd Air Corps to be exterminating and supporting at the same time while air and ground operations moved simultaneously in the first phase. It seems that the writing together of exterminating and supporting in the Imperial Army Aviation was only a compromise to the conflicts between aviation and ground forces in Imperial Army. In addition, this air operation was planned to ‘exterminate’ and ‘support’ in the vast theatre from Burma to Java. It seems quite natural and reasonable that gaining control of the air should have been the main mission of this air operation in its contribution to the overall campaign.
For instance, ‘aerial exterminating action’ to Rangoon was executed twice on 23 December during the Malaya operation. This operation was in order to eliminate the enemy air threat and to apply political pressure by air attack to the heart of Burma as British air activities became conspicuous in Burma. But this air operation ended with an unexpected loss because of insufficient co-ordination between bombers and fighters. In another example, the Singapore operation and the Palembang airborne operation were conducted at almost same time. The 3rd Air Corps launched ‘aerial exterminating action’ on Palembang on 6 February 1942, and supported the Singapore landing operation by the 25th Army from 9 February. The fall of the Singapore fortress was 15 December, and the airborne assault on Palembang was 14 December, the previous day. The Commander of the 3rd Air Corps also led paratroops at that time. This shows how Imperial Army Aviation demonstrated the uniqueness of operations through ‘aerial exterminating action’, ground support operations and airborne operations.
Tanigawa developed planning and operational leadership from a perspective of the ‘independence of aviation units’ and the ‘uniqueness of air operations’ in the Malaya offensive operation. It was his goal to execute air operations as an ‘air force’ for gaining control of the air by ‘aerial exterminating action’ during actual combat operations.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Japanese forces bombarding Wanping, 1937.
Marco Polo Bridge 1937.
Japanese called this the “China Incident” (“Shina jihen”). Shots were fired out of the dark at Japanese troops of the North China Garrison Army near the Lugouqiao-or Lugou, or Marco Polo-bridge over a tributary of the Hai River. It is not known who fi red at the Japanese. Speculation includes Chinese Communist provocateurs, Chinese Nationalist troops, or perhaps no one at all: it is possible local Japanese troops made up the incident from whole cloth. Japanese troops in the area were part of an international garrison based in the city by right of servitude under certain “unequal treaties” imposed on China many years earlier. They were allowed to maneuver under terms of the Boxer Protocol (1901), under which Japan kept troops in northern China. One Japanese private went missing for two hours, but otherwise no one was hurt. Imperial General Headquarters nonetheless determined to take advantage: an apology was demanded and the Chinese were instructed to withdraw from other key bridges, opening the road to potential conquest of Beijing and Hebei (Hopei) province. The Chinese garrison refused to move.
Japanese and Chinese troops clashed the next morning as a local squabble escalated into a Sino-Japanese crisis. The Japanese Army decided to follow the aggressive lead of its local commander and fight for full control of northern China. The initial Japanese attack was repulsed. China formally apologized in an effort to defuse the crisis. In private, Jiang Jieshi confided to his diary on July 8 that China would no longer accept humiliation at the hands of Japan, and moved to fully mobilize his forces. The mood among the Guandong Army regiments commanded by General Renya Mutaguchi was also bellicose, an attitude echoed throughout Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo. Japanese leaders were aware of the Yezhovshchina blood purge of the Red Army then underway and thought that Moscow’s terrible distraction was Tokyo’s great opportunity. Guandong officers and others in the North China Garrison Army had long hoped for a pretext for war, and this incident provided it. Tokyo sent reinforcements to the Guandong Army from Korea and three fresh divisions arrived from Japan on July 25. Two days later the Japanese attacked in force. They quickly overran the ancient Marco Polo (Lugouqiao) bridge and surrounding territory. Thus began the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
In one of a series of border incidents that marked the mid-1930s, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed at Marco Polo Bridge (Lugouqiao), about ten miles west of Beijing, during the night of 7 July 1937. There was nothing particularly unusual about the circumstances, not even that they led to a series of clashes around Beijing. Neither Nanjing nor Tokyo wanted a large-scale war, in spite of the creation of the Second United Front a few months earlier. But the Chinese were determined not to give up this important railway junction. While Japanese naval officers and diplomats feared that the Kanto- Army’s actions might threaten war with Russia, even the army did not foresee that they would snowball into a full-scale Japanese invasion and the beginning of World War II in Asia (known as the Anti- Japanese Resistance War in China).
How had this happened? At the beginning of July, Chinese troops around the Marco Polo Bridge decided to strengthen their defenses. On 7 July the Japanese conducted night maneuvers around the bridge, firing blank cartridges. The Chinese returned fire briefly, and no one was hurt. A missing Japanese soldier at roll call the next morning, however, prompted the Japanese to begin an attack (though the man returned after twenty minutes). The Chinese successfully repulsed the Japanese. Over the next few days feints and counter feints on the ground produced inflammatory statements from Tokyo and Nanjing: demands for apologies, complaints about insults, and references to sacred territories. On 17 July, Chiang Kai-shek declared:
China is a weak country, and if, unfortunately, we should reach the limit of our endurance, then there remains only one thing to do, namely, to throw the last ounce of our national energy into a struggle for the independent existence of our nation… If we allow one more inch of our territory to be lost, then we would be committing an unpardonable offense against our race.
By the end of the month, calculated feints had been replaced by continuous, fierce fighting, and the Beijing-Tianjin corridor had fallen to the Japanese. Japan’s massive invasion of China in the second half of 1937 was not thoroughly planned, but it was the logical result of an unstable situation. What Japan persisted in calling the “China incident” years into the Sino-Japanese War quickly turned into a quagmire. At first, events seemed to be falling Japan’s way. Japan’s best hope was that quick victories might pressure the Nanjing regime into accommodation with Japan. World opinion was sympathetic to China, but China was isolated. Yet the Nationalists would not surrender.
Type 2595 “Ha-Go” tanks of armoured unit of Kwantung Army sees during manoeuvres in September 1944.
Japan’s military presence in and domination of Manchuria in northwestern China received a major victory with the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Under the Treaty of Portsmouth, Japan was required to withdraw its troops from Manchuria proper but gained a leased territory of the Liaotung (Liaodong) Peninsula in southern Manchuria, renamed the Kwantung Leased Territory, which included the fortress and port of Port Arthur. The army unit assigned to garrison the area and the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway (SMR), as far as Changchun, was named the Kwantung Army. From this date this army became the spearhead of Japanese imperialism in China.
With the railway administration working as a colonial power, running ports, harbors, tax collection, mines, and utility companies, the SMR turned the railway zone into a semiautonomous state, and the Kwantung Army was its security and police arm.
After World War I, Japan gained control of former German holdings at Tsingtao in China’s Shandong (Shantung) Province and deployed 70,000 troops from the Kwantung Army to Siberia to support the Whites in the Russian Civil War. The Japanese sought to expand their empire in Siberia, failed to do so, and withdrew in 1922.
In 1927, when Chiang Kai-shek’s troops were marching on Shandong to break the power of local warlords in the Northern Expedition, Japanese troops were sent to Shandong (Shantung). Soon Chinese and Japanese troops were clashing. Chiang withdrew his forces from the city of Tsinan, but the Kwantung Army attacked it the next day, killing 13,000 civilians.
Chiang turned his troops away from conflict with Japan. Tokyo, however, supported the Kwantung Army, issuing warnings to Chiang and Manchurian warlord Zang Zolin (Chang Tso-lin) not to attack Japanese forces or civilians. However, the new commander of the Kwantung Army, General Chotaro Muraoka, had other ideas, moving his headquarters in May 1928 from Port Arthur to Mukden, Manchuria’s main city, and preparing his troops to take control of the region.
Ready to move, Muraoka and his troops waited, firing telegrams to Tokyo asking permission to move. When Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka refused, the Kwantung Army’s officers were stunned. Muraoka decided to kill Zang Zolin, blasting a bridge as the warlord’s train crossed it on June 4, 1928. The Kwantung Army reported to Tokyo that Zang had been killed by Manchurian guerrillas. The truth came out anyway, and Tokyo could do seemingly little to control the insubordinate army and its officers, who had a lot of support in Japan.
But Tanaka was determined to punish the officers responsible for the assassination plot and recommended so to Emperor Hirohito, who agreed. But when the army as a whole objected, Tanaka temporized. He fi red Muraoka and told the public that there was no evidence the Kwantung Army had been involved in the plot. Then Tanaka resigned. The Kwantung Army’s officers had defied Tokyo and gotten away with it.
As the Great Depression wore on, the Japanese economy continued to crumble. Many Japanese army officers, angered by the economic situation, joined secret societies like the Cherry Blossom League, and a group of officers plotted to use the Kwantung Army to seize Manchuria for its rich resources. One of the key men was Colonel Doihara Kenji, who prepared a “Plan for Acquiring Manchuria and Mongolia.”
Chiang Kai-shek, meanwhile, had succeeded in unifying China under the Kuomintang, and Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsueh-liang), Manchuria’s new warlord, supported the Nationalist, or Kuomintang, government. In 1931 clashes broke out between Korean farmers who were Japanese subjects and Chinese farmers over water rights.
Doihara went to Manchuria and determined that a Japanese attempt to seize Manchuria would result in international condemnation. An “incident” had to be manufactured to make a Japanese occupation of Manchuria seem China’s fault. In 1929 the Kwantung Army began to plot an incident under their new boss, Lieutenant General Shigeru Honjo, with Doihara as mastermind.
Japan’s civilian leaders did nothing to control the insubordinate Kwantung Army. The emperor, however, ordered Major General Yoshitsugu Tatekawa to bring a message from him on September 15, 1931, ordering the Kwantung Army not to take any unauthorized action. Unfortunately for Hirohito, Tatekawa’s assistant, Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto, was among the plotters, and he sent a message to officers of the Kwantung Army to let them know that Tatekawa was coming with imperial orders. When Tatekawa arrived in Mukden on September 17, Kwantung Army officers took the general to a party, where he became drunk.
That night Kwantung Army officers blew up a section of track on the South Manchurian Railway 1,200 yards from a Chinese army that failed to derail the night express. Kwantung Army troops then attacked and shelled the Chinese barracks, killing many soldiers. By 10:00 a. m. on September 18, 1931, Mukden was under Japanese control, Chang’s headquarters were ransacked, and his banks and government offices were occupied, as were a dozen other cities in southern Manchuria in a coordinated attack by Japanese units. Some 12 hours after their blast, Kwantung Army officers displayed to Western reporters the “proof” that the Chinese had tried to destroy the railroad, which was bodies of Chinese soldiers shot in the back lying facedown, supposedly cut down while fleeing the scene. The world was outraged by the political adventurism, and Tokyo was stunned. The emperor reminded Prime Minister Reijiro Wakatsuki that he had forbidden such action, and the foreign and finance ministers also objected. But Wakatsuki did not overrule his generals and colonels. The attack and subsequent conquest of Manchuria were accepted as a fait accompli.
From October to December 1931, the Kwantung Army, now empowered by Tokyo and advised by units of the Japanese army in Korea, expanded conquest of Manchuria, even plotting a coup in October to overthrow the civilian government in Tokyo. This attempted coup was ended when the leading plotters were secretly arrested. In December Wakatsuki resigned. Ki Inukai became the new prime minister, but General Araki, leader of the Kodo Ha faction, became war minister, effectively providing the military’s endorsement to the Kwantung Army’s actions. The Kwantung Army now became an occupation force in Manchuria, and its officers became heroes for all of Japan.
The Kwantung Army continued to seize Chinese territory, taking Rehe (Jehol) province in 1933 and Chahar province in 1934. Officers of the Kodo Ha movement were assigned to the Kwantung Army, strengthening its radicalism; among them was Hideki Tojo, who would become Japan’s prime minister during World War II.
In February 1936, the Kwantung Army showed its powerful influence when a group of Kodo Ha officers attempted a coup d’état in Tokyo. It failed, the ringleaders were shot, and the civilian leaders regained some control over the Kwantung Army.
Leaving Chinese unity under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership, the Kwantung Army set to create an “incident” between Chinese and Japanese forces on July 7, 1937, at a railway junction near Beijing (Peking) in northern China, called the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. This led to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, in which Japan committed unspeakable atrocities, such as the Rape of Nanjing. It became World War II in Asia. The Kwantung Army promised Tokyo victory in three months.
As World War II began and dragged on, the Kwantung Army remained in occupation of Manchuria, “Asia’s Ruhr,” against Soviet invasion. Over time, the army was stripped of most of its equipment and men, which were needed on other battlefronts.
When the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945, and invaded Manchuria, the Kwantung Army had 1 million men under arms equipped with 1,155 tanks, 5,360 guns, and 1,800 aircraft. On paper, this was a match for the Soviets’ 1.5 million men, but the Soviets also fielded 26,000 guns, 5,500 tanks, and 3,900 planes. In addition, the Kwantung Army was short of gasoline, ammunition, and transport.
Yet some of the Kwantung Army’s hotheaded leaders refused to surrender when Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 14, 1945. Commanding general Otozo Yamada refused to obey the Imperial Rescript to surrender, summoned his officers to his headquarters at Changchun, debated the news from Tokyo, and by a majority vote chose to go on fighting.
In the end, the Kwantung Army did obey an imperial command and surrendered to the Soviet Army. Several of its leaders, including Doihara and Tojo, were tried, convicted, and executed at the Tokyo International Court.
Further reading: Harris, Meirion, and Susie Harris. Soldiers of the Sun. New York: Random House, 1991; Hoyt, Edwin P. Japan’s War. New York: Da Capo, 1986; Toland, John. The Rising Sun. New York: Random House, 1970; Tuchman, Barbara W. Sand against the Wind: Stilwell and the American Experience in China. New York: MacMillan, 1970.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
The strategy for the defeat of Japan could not have been simpler: Allied air, land, and sea forces would advance on three broad axes to roll back the new Japanese empire to the Home Islands, which Allied forces would then invade and occupy, if necessary. British Commonwealth forces would advance from India through Burma to Malaya and Hong Kong; Australian- American forces would drive north and west from Australia into the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines; and the United States, rich in naval air and surface units, would attack across the Central Pacific toward the Philippines and Formosa. Destruction of the Japanese armed forces (especially air and naval units) would proceed simultaneously with the ruination of Japan’s economy, dependent upon seaborne oil, minerals, coal, rubber, and foodstuffs. Any amateur who could read a map could design such a grand strategy. Making it happen proved quite a different matter.
The Allied military experience in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater demonstrated how difficult it would be to mount a cohesive offensive effort from nations with conflicting interests and asymmetrical capabilities. Not until 1943 did British commanders in India believe that their principal field force, the Fourteenth Army, could conduct even limited offensive operations. They tested their forces with a one-division advance along the Arakan coast and found the Japanese and terrain unconquerable. The Arakan offensive demonstrated what the Fourteenth Army commander, General William Slim, feared. Only wide-ranging amphibious operations could take his army past the rugged Chin Hills guarding Burma from the west and blocking access to the river valleys leading to Mandalay and Rangoon. A hardened field soldier who had learned his trade on the Western Front and in the Indian Army, Slim combined troop-leading and training skills with personal and moral courage as well as charm, a sound grasp of soldiering, and a solid appreciation of Asian warfare and the excellence of the Japanese Army. He had experienced the catastrophe of the 1942 retreat from Burma and the abortive attack in the Arakan. His honesty and character made him the obvious choice to reshape the Fourteenth Army, a force built on the Indian Army but including the ever-dependable Gurkha Rifles of Nepal, unproven infantry battalions from East and West Africa, and infantry battalions and supporting arms from the British Army.
In theory, the concept of amphibious envelopments reaching to Singapore made sense to everyone except the other Allies and much of the Royal Navy. With the demands of other theaters, the Allies could not find adequate amphibious shipping for even a modest operation aimed at Rangoon and scheduled for late 1943 or 1944. Slim now saw no alternative but an overland advance by his army, gradually reinforced from the Middle East and India proper, where the internal security mission required fewer British battalions by 1944. The Japanese Fifteenth Army, under Lieutenant General Mutaguchi Renya, also grew in the same months from four to eight divisions, thus raising the prospective cost to Slim of an overland battle through the mountains of western Burma. If Slim could find no reasonable alternative to a conventional offensive, others offered shining promises of easy victory. Churchill and Roosevelt, politicians and opportunists to the core, grasped these false options with enthusiasm.
Already tied to Nationalist China by sentiment and prior commitment, Roosevelt never abandoned his hope that Chiang Kai-shek’s armies would go on the offensive and that Chiang himself could actually play the role of regional leader. From mid-1942 until mid-1943 Roosevelt struggled to keep China in the war, aided in his quest by Marshall and Stilwell. In October 1942 Roosevelt answered Chiang’s Three Demands with limited promises of an air buildup in India and a serious effort to bring Lend-Lease supplies to Kunming by air. The Allies could complete the Ledo extension of the Burma Road only by driving at least one Japanese division from northern Burma with some sort of Sino-American army. Roosevelt did not promise to send ground combat forces, even though Stilwell favored this option. Encouraged by Hap Arnold’s staff and Chennault (now commanding the Tenth Air Force in China) to think more about offensive air operations from China, Roosevelt in May 1943 chose (much to Stilwell’s dismay and Chiang’s delight) Chennault’s concept of a major bomber offensive against China’s coastal cities and Japanese sea lanes. Chennault, the air defense expert, suddenly promised victory through bombing, probably influenced by his nominal theater air commander, Major General Clayton D. Bissell, and Bissell’s patron, Hap Arnold. The air plan, however, offered Stilwell some solace, since such a commitment required an open Ledo- Burma Road and a reformed Chinese Army to protect the bomber bases in China. At the Quebec conference of August 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved an offensive in north Burma.
With his schemes for amphibious operations frustrated by shipping shortages, Churchill supported American plans for the China-Burma-India theater, even though he had little faith in Nationalist China. Moreover, Churchill fell under the spell of one of the war’s most eccentric and charismatic commanders, Brigadier Orde Wingate. A Middle Eastern expert with guerrilla successes in the Sudan, Ethiopia, and Palestine, Wingate argued for unconventional warfare in Burma. Slim doubted Wingate would find the Japanese as impressionable as his Middle Eastern foes, and he resented Wingate’s influence with Churchill, who allowed Wingate to strip Fourteenth Army of some of its best British, Gurkha, and African troops.
Bursting with energy, Wingate formed the 3,300-man 77th Brigade in 1943, the Long Range Penetration Group (LRPG) or “Chindits,” a nickname drawn from the ferocious winged lions of stone guarding Burma’s temples. Wings had much to do with the Chindits, since Wingate expected his force to land by glider or parachute behind Japanese lines and then be resupplied by air. Fighter-bombers would provide fire support instead of artillery. The first experiment in February–June 1943 was no great success, proving only that Chindits got tired and sick like everyone else and could not live by airdrops alone. The Chindits killed three times as many Japanese as they themselves lost (68 to 28), but almost the entire force ended the operation unfit for future duty. Slim certainly did not see the Chindit operations as a substitute for his campaign.
Wingate’s quixotic schemes then grew into a larger and more optimistic plan for a return to Burma in 1944 on the same model. Churchill liked the concept, while Stilwell saw Wingate’s force as a useful instrument in his own plan to lead a Sino-American ground force against Myitkyina, a crucial road junction on the way to Lashio, terminus of the Burma Road. With the approval of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, appointed the theater commander in September 1943, Wingate wrested control of troops in India that were outside Slim’s command and formed a six-brigade LRPG of 20,000 officers and men. Stilwell had no comparable ground force. He had two small Chinese divisions under his direct control, and Marshall had provided only a makeshift infantry regimental combat team drawn from “volunteers” from the U.S. Army. Designated the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional, the unit preferred the name Merrill’s Marauders, thus identifying themselves with Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill, one of Stilwell’s favorite staff officers but an inexperienced commander with a serious heart condition.
Stilwell, however, had some other assets to entice Wingate into the north Burma campaign. First, he had the full cooperation of the American air forces (if not Chennault), since an open Ledo-Burma Road would dramatically reduce the airlift requirements over “the Hump,” the dangerous southeastern extension of the Himalayas. Moreover, the prospect of Chinese bases attracted American bomber generals, who were not having great success yet over Germany and who had made huge investments in a new long-range bomber, the B-29 Superfortress. Arnold and Bissell organized their own special operations wing, the 5138th Air Force Unit or the 1st Air Commando Group, commanded by Colonel Philip “Flip” Cochran, who proved one of the most able officers in the China-Burma-India theater. Stilwell promised Wingate that Cochran’s 200-aircraft group, which included fighter-bombers and transports as well as gliders and reconnaissance aircraft, would provide the Chindits the aerial support the RAF could not, if Wingate coordinated his operations with the Myitkyina expedition.
Both Stilwell and Wingate assumed they would enjoy the services of the pro-Allied Burma hill tribes. The major mountain tribal groups—Nagas, Kachins, Karens, Shans, and Chins—numbered a minority of about 7 million of Burma’s 17 million people. The Nagas, Kachins, and Karens had served happily in the colonial security forces, had fought the Japanese in 1942, and now wanted weapons to fight Burmese collaborators and the Japanese. Many Karens had become Christians, and the Kachins rivaled the Gurkhas in their warriorlike qualities. In 1943 the hill tribes welcomed new guerrilla leaders from the United States and the Commonwealth, Detachment 101 of the OSS and Force 136 of the British Special Operations Directorate. Generously supplied with arms, money, supplies, and radios, these partisan teams rallied thousands of Kachin and Karen tribesmen. They, too, depended on the 1st Air Commando Group for support.
While Slim’s Indian divisions conducted cautious offensive operations in central and south Burma in 1943–44, the Chindits, Marauders, and Chinese marched or flew into north-central and northern Burma in February and March 1944.Wingate did not intend to support Stilwell, but he died in an air crash in March, and his successor then coordinated the movement of the six LRPG brigades with Stilwell’s force. Unfortunately, Stilwell underestimated the fighting skill and tenacity of the Japanese 18th Division, under Lieutenant General Tanaka Shinchi, and he used his forces (including air support) with such profligacy that the Chindits and 1st Air Commando were combat-ineffective before Myitkyina fell. The Marauders and three Chinese divisions fought their way to the headwaters of the Irrawaddy by April 1944 but exhausted themselves in the process. In the battles of Walawbum and Shadzup, only the timely arrival of the Chinese saved the Marauders from disaster. Merrill himself collapsed with another heart attack.
Stilwell then ordered the remnants of his expeditionary force on a 65- mile trek to Myitkyina, which it besieged in June and finally captured in August with the help of more Chinese and the Burmese partisans. The campaign destroyed the Marauders and crippled the Chinese X Force. The campaign did not end, however, since Chiang had finally ordered Y Force into Burma from the east, while Marshall sent two more U.S. infantry regiments (Mars Force) to the CBI to replace the Marauders, who mustered barely 200 effectives from an original 3,000-man force. Chiang’s price of cooperation was Stilwell’s relief, since he viewed “Vinegar Joe” as pro- Communist. Stilwell did know which Chinese regime would seize the Mandate of Heaven. The Kuomintang, he noted, was characterized by “corruption, neglect, chaos, economy [bad], taxes . . . hoarding, black market, trading with the enemy.” The Communists “reduce taxes, rents, interest . . . raise production, and standard of living, participate in government. Practice what they preach.” Vinegar Joe, sick and bitter, left the CBI before the north Burma force finally met Y Force at the Chinese border south of Lashio and allowed U.S. Army engineers to link the Ledo Road with the highway to Kunming.
By the time the land route to China had been reopened, the Chennault air plan had already come a cropper. Even Roosevelt finally accepted the conclusion his military chiefs had reached long before: the Chinese Nationalists would do little to defeat Japan. Within China, signs of shirking were only too clear. Inflation and corruption, fueled by American supplies and money, became rampant. Chinese military casualties fell below 300,000 for the first time since 1937. The American military mission in Chungking, now directed by Major General Albert C. Wedemeyer, believed that only the Communist Eighth Route Army and the OSS-supported Chinese-Mongolian partisans were real fighters.
The decline of the Nationalist Army did not reflect any lack of effort by Tenth Air Force’s air transports in flying “the Hump.” By August 1943, C-46s were delivering 5,000 tons of supplies a month to China, an unthinkable figure when Chiang had demanded that support a year earlier. By January 1944, Tenth Air Force effort reached 15,000 tons a month. The commitment took a heavy toll. The transport force lost at least one aircraft for every one of the 500 air miles between India and China; more than 1,000 aircrewmen perished along the route. At its peak strength, Tenth Air Force had 650 aircraft in the air every day, around the clock. This effort made it possible for Chennault to mount Operation Matterhorn, the strategic bombardment of Chinese and Formosan targets with B-24s and B-29s based in China.
The opportunity cost to the Chinese Nationalists was high, too, since 90 percent of the cargo tonnage in 1943–44 was aviation gasoline and ordnance, not Lend-Lease arms for the Chinese Army. This imbalance exacted its toll all too soon. As the airlift over “the Hump” provided more logistical support, Arnold sent more operational wings to China and created a new command for Chennault, the Fourteenth Air Force, which included one B-29 bombardment wing. When Churchill and Roosevelt met Chiang Kaishek on their way to Teheran in November 1943, they promised Chiang, awash in self-importance, a great air war from China against Japan. Their meeting coincided with the first American bombardment of Formosa. They also promised to push operations in Burma to open the Ledo-Burma Road and increase Lend-Lease aid. In return for recognition of his role as Allied Generalissimo in Asia, Chiang promised to use his army to the best of its limited ability to support the American and British offensive.
The Japanese did not look kindly on the growing U.S. Army Air Forces presence in China, however, and ordered the China expeditionary army to begin ICHI-GO (Operation One) in January 1944. For the next ten months the Japanese Army pushed the Nationalists back and overran base after base, forcing the forward-based Fourteenth Air Force fighters and bombers deeper into China, more than half of which remained unconquered. The Chinese Army’s resistance was erratic and ultimately futile, but Japanese casualties and the lengthening logistical tail of the Japanese divisions brought operations to a halt in January 1945. The Japanese generals in China cautioned Tokyo that they could not advance far enough to capture the bases of the new B-29s, which had a range of 4,000 miles.
The strategic bombing champions, however, had already concluded that an enlarged Matterhorn was too tall a challenge. With the decline of Fourteenth Air Force and military support of Chiang Kai-shek, operations in the China-Burma-India theater, divided into the Southeast Asia and Chinese theaters in 1944, reverted to a British Commonwealth effort to restore the British Empire, a goal the United States failed to support with any enthusiasm. The war with Japan would be won elsewhere.