China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater During World War 2

exhibit section showing artifacts and photos
Japanese caricature - showing FDR with a crutch carrying Chiang Kai-shek on his back, 1943. One of the
captions is translated "Roosevelt's Crying Face."
Photograph - leaders of China, Britain, and the U.S. at the Cairo Conference, 1943
Letter and Translation (copies) - from Chiang Kai-shek to FDR, 1942
Photographs - Mao Zedong addressing his followers in 1944
Letters (copies) - between Mao Zedong and FDR, 1945
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York

 

By 1941 the only overland access to China was from India over the Himalayas on the hairpin mountain curves of the Burma Road. Japan controlled this route, so supplies to the Chinese army had to be flown in by a dangerous route known as "the Hump." It took years of bitter fighting in hellish terrain before the Allies were able to reclaim the Burma Road.

Even after the efforts of The Flying Tigers, all of Southeast Asia was under Japanese control by the time America officially entered the war. Chiang Kai-shek's forces - busy fighting the Communists - failed to stop the Japanese advance in Burma, and lost the one remaining overland supply route to China, the Burma Road. The Allies had to take to the skies over the Himalayan Mountains to supply Chiang's army.

The Americans were primarily in charge of the air campaign, under the command of General Joseph Stilwell US, British, and Chinese troops battled in the humid overgrown jungles, or cold mountain plains at the top of the world. All the military forces in Burma faced difficult logistics, colonial troubles in Burma and India, impossible terrain and monsoon rains, as well as tigers, snakes and the Japanese.

The CBI Theater became the "forgotten campaign" of the war's history. The Allies finally re-opened the Burma Road in 1945, but it took the explosion of two atomic bombs before Japan formally surrendered. The war ended, but problems in China and Asia remained.

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exhibit section showing artifacts and photos
Letter of Resignation (copy) - resigning from the Marines to join the AVG, 1941.
White Silk Scarf - embroidered with the insignia of the 23rd Fighter Group, 14th US Air Force.
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York

Booklet - "Americans Valiant and Glorious" about The Flying Tigers.
Memo (copy) - from Claire Chennault to General Stilwell, listing enemy vs. AVG aircraft losses, 1942.
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford, California
 

The Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group)

Even before Pearl Harbor was bombed, 100 US pilots and 200 groundcrew were recruited for a secret air force under the command of General Claire Chennault. The purpose of this force was to battle the Japanese in China and Burma. They were called the American Volunteer Group, or AVG for short. Technically, the AVG was contracted by a US firm, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Co., which in turn was under contract to the Chinese government.

Outnumbered as much as 8 to 1, they lived under primitive conditions, suffered shortages of food and military supplies, and held their planes together by determination and resourcefulness. They compiled an unparalleled combat record, destroying 650 enemy aircraft while suffering minimal losses.

Flying P-40 Tomahawks they were forever branded "The Flying Tigers" because of their aircraft's distinctive shark's mouth paint scheme. In 1942, they were incorporated into the 23rd Pursuit Group of the 14th US Air Force to continue their battle against the Japanese.

 

 

exhibit section showing artifacts and photos
Telegram (copy) - from Roosevelt to Churchill regarding Chiang Kai-shek and Stilwell, 1942
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Par, New York

"Notes for the Generalissimo" (copy) - from Stilwell to Chiang Kai-shek, 1942
Handbook - for American Troops in China, "Here's How" c. 1940s
Wrist Watch - belonged to Stilwell, c. 1940s
Cap - belonged to Stilwell, c. 1940s
Four-star pin - awarded to General Stilwell, 1945
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford, California

The Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Command, General Joseph Stilwell, was in charge of all US, Chinese, and British forces. It was a thankless job. President Roosevelt supported a Burma theater, but only with limited supplies. Stilwell's plan to train Chinese ground troops was opposed by General Claire Chennault who wanted to use US airpower, by Chiang Kai-shek who wanted direct command of the Chinese army in Burma, and by the British who wanted men and supplies diverted to "Europe-first."

By 1943, Stilwell was able to start his "GALAHAD" offensive. His attempts to introduce reform into the Chinese Army offended Chiang, however, whom Stilwell privately called "the peanut." Chiang's revenge was to convince FDR to recall Stilwell to the US In 1945, General Stilwell was replaced, but not before Roosevelt presented him with his fourth star as a Major General.

 

 

exhibit section showing artifacts and photos

In 1943, almost 3,000 American soldiers volunteered for a mission, code-named "GALAHAD," to sneak behind enemy lines and cause havoc. Nicknamed Merrill's Marauders after its leader, Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the Marauders marched 1,000 miles over the Himalayan Mountains into Burma. The hard-hitting foot soldiers disrupted Japanese supply and communication lines and eventually captured the only all-weather airfield in Northern Burma. At the end of their campaign, the Marauders suffered from tropical diseases, exhaustion, and malnutrition - or as the tags on their battered uniforms said, "A.O.E." (accumulation of everything).

The unit was consolidated with the 475th Infantry in 1944. During their campaigns the Marauders were described as "apparently forgotten, frequently lost, occasionally mutinous, and almost always magnificent!"

Patch - with the insignia of Merrill's Marauders
--Artifact on loan, courtesy of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford, California

   


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