The Allied invasion of northern Burma is one of the more neglected battles of the Second World War, but it was a successful multinational campaign that opened up a new land route to China, as well as having an impact on the more famous campaigns further to the south.
The Japanese invasion of Burma had cut the 'Burma Road' to China, leaving the air route across the Himalayas as the only route for Allied supplies heading for China. Re-establishing a land route to China became a major element of American policy, as the early plans for the defeat of Japan were based around a major land and air campaign in China. The task of retaking northern Burma was given to General Stilwell, who commanded a multinational American, Chinese and British Empire force, operating at the far end of a long line of communication. This campaign doesn't often get much attention in British histories, which focus on the Chindits, the Japanese attacks on Imphal and Kohima, and Slim's successful invasion of southern and central Burma.
This account of Stilwell's campaign pays full credit to the multinational nature of his army. Stilwell had a mix of Chinese, American and British Empire forces under his command, and the Myitkyina campaign used all three (although I hadn't realised Stilwell's famous Anglophobia went so far that he refused to use a full British division in the campaign). His Chinese troops fell into two rough categories. The best were troops that retreated into India after the fall of Burma, where they were given more modern equipment and training (and restored to good health). Later in the campaign reinforcements were sent directly from China, and lacked the advantages of their colleagues. The British contribution was largely limited to the Chindits, who after the death of Orde Wingate were misused as regular infantry, and suffered very heavy losses during the campaign. Stilwell's approach was also criticized by some of his own officers, but it should be remembered that he did lead his army to a notable victory in very difficult circumstances.
It is nice to have a book that focuses on this campaign in its own right, rather than as a preliminary to Slim's conquests further south in Burma or as a footnote to the Chindit's operations.
Author: Jon Diamond