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China Burma India Theater (CBI) (later IBT, or India-Burma theater) was the name used by the United States Army for its forces operating in conjunction with Allied air and land forces in China, Burma, and India during World War II. Well-known US units in this theater included the Flying Tigers, transport and bomber units flying the Hump, the 1st Air Commando Group, the engineers who built Ledo Roadmarker, and the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), otherwise known as Merrill's Marauders.

Allied Command structure

U.S. and Allied Land forces

US forces in the CBI were grouped together for administrative purposes under the command of General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell. However, unlike other combat theaters, for example the European Theater of Operations, the CBI was never a "theater of operations" and did not have an overall operational command structure. Initially U.S. land units were split between those who came under the operational command of the British India Command under General Sir Archibald Wavell, as the Commander-in-Chief in India, and those in China, which (technically at least) were commanded by Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, as the Supreme Allied Commander in China. However, Stilwell often broke the chain of command and communicated directly with the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on operational matters. This continued after the formation of the South East Asia Command (SEAC) and the appointment of Admiral Lord Mountbatten as Supreme Allied Commander.

When joint allied command was agreed upon, it was decided that the senior position should be held by a member of the British military because the British dominated Allied operations on the South-East Asian Theatre by weight of numbers (in much the same way as the US did in the Pacific Theater of Operations). Admiral Lord Mountbatten was appointed as the Supreme Allied Commander of South-East Asia forces in October 1943.

Gen. Stilwell, who also had operational command of the Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC), a US-Chinese formation, was to report in theory to Gen. George Giffard — commander of Eleventh Army Group — so that NCAC and the British Fourteenth Army, under the command of General William Slim, could be co-ordinated. However, in practice, Gen. Stillwell never agreed to this arrangement. Stilwell was able to do this because of his multiple positions within complex command structures, including especially his simultaneous positions of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, and Chief of Staff to Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. As SEAC's deputy leader, Stilwell was Giffard's superior, but as operational commander of NCAC, Giffard was Stilwell's superior. As the two men did not get on, this inevitably lead to conflict and confusion.

Eventually at a SEAC meeting to sort out the chain of command for NCAC, Stilwell astonished everyone by saying "I am prepared to come under General Slim's operational control until I get to Kamaingmarker". Although far from ideal,this compromise was accepted.

Although Gen. Stilwell was the control and co-ordinating point for all command activity in the theater, his assumption of personal direction of the advance of the Chinese Ledo forces into north Burma in late 1943 meant that he was often out of touch with both his own headquarters and with the over-all situation.

Not until late 1944, after Stilwell was recalled to Washington, was the chain of command clarified. His overall role, and the CBI command, was then split among three people: Lt Gen. Raymond Wheeler became Deputy Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia; Major-General Albert Wedemeyer became Chief of Staff to Chiang, and commander of US Forces, China Theater (USFCT). Lt Gen. Daniel Sultan was promoted, from deputy commander of CBI to commander of US Forces, India-Burma Theater (USFIBT) and commander of the NCAC. The 11th Army Group was redesignated Allied Land Forces South East Asia (ALFSEA), and NCAC was decisively placed under this formation. However, by the time the last phase of the Burma Campaign began in earnest, NCAC had become irrelevant, and it was dissolved in early 1945.

U.S. Army and Allied Air Forces

After consultation among the Allied governments, Air Command South-East Asia was formed in November 1943 to control all allied air forces in the theater, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse as Commander-in-chief. Under Peirse's deputy, USAAF Major General George E. Stratemeyer, Eastern Air Command (EAC) was organized in 1943 to control Allied air operations in Burma, with headquarters in Calcutta. Unlike the strained relations and confusion encountered in coordinating Allied ground force commands, air force operations in the CBI proceeded relatively smoothly. Relations improved even further after new U.S. military aid began arriving, together with capable USAAF officers such as Brigadier General William D. Old of CGI Troop Carrier Command, and Col. Philip Cochran and Col John R. Alison of the 1st Air Commando Group. Within Eastern Air Command, Air Marshal Sir John Baldwin commanded the Third Tactical Air Force, originally formed to provide close air support to the Fourteenth Army. Baldwin was later succeeded by Air Marshal Sir Alec Coryton. U.S. Brigadier-General Howard C. Davidson and later Air Commodore F. J. W. Mellersh commanded the Strategic Air Force. In the new command, various units of the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Tenth Army Air Force worked side-by-side. In the autumn of 1943 SEAAC had 48 R.A.F. and 17 U.S.A.A.F. squadrons; by the following May, the figures had risen to 64 and 28, respectively.

At Eastern Air Command, Gen. Stratemeyer had a status comparable to that of Stilwell. Coordinating the efforts of the various allied air components while maintaining relations with diverse command structures proved a daunting task. Part of Stratemeyer's command, the Tenth Air Force, had been integrated with the RAF Third Tactical Air Force in India in December 1943 and was tasked with a number of roles in support of a variety of allied forces. Another component, the USAAF Fourteenth Air Force in China, was actually under the jurisdiction of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek as theater commander. Although the China-Buma-India operations of the USAAF's Air Transport Command received its assignments of tonnage from Stratemeyer as Stilwell's deputy, organizational control of the ATC remained in Washington, D.C.

In the spring of 1944, with the arrival of command B-29's in the theater, another factor would be added to air force operations. XX Bomber Command of the Twentieth Air Force was tasked with the strategic bombing of Japan under Operation Matterhorn, and reported directly to the JCS in Washington, D.C. However, XX Bomber Command remained totally dependent on Eastern Air Command for supplies, bases, ground staff, and infrastructure support.

After a period of reshuffling, Eastern Air Command's air operations began to show results. In August 1944, Admiral Mountbatten noted in a press conference that EAC fighter missions had practically swept the Japa­nese air force from Burmese skies. Between the formation of SEAAC in November 1943, and the middle of August 1944, American and British forces operating in Burma destroyed or damaged more than 700 Japa­nese aircraft with a further 100 aircraft probably destroyed. This achievement considerably reduced dangers to Air Transport Command cargo planes flying in support of the Hump airlift operation. By May 1944, EAC resupply missions in support of the Allied ground offensive had carried 70,000 tons of supplies and transported a total of 93,000 men, including 25,500 casualties evacuated from the battle areas. These figures did not include tonnage flown in the Hump airlift missions to China.

USAAF Order Of Battle

Tenth Air Force

Transferred in 1944 to Fourteenth Air Force:

Fourteenth Air Force

  • Chinese-American Composite Wing (Provisional) (1943-1945)
    • 3rd Fighter Group (Provisional) (P-40, P-51)
    • 5th Fighter Group (Provisional) (P-40, P-51)
    • 1st Bombardment Group (Medium, Provisional) (B-25)

Twentieth Air Force
(Attached To CBI 1944-1945)

Twentieth Air Force XX Bomber Command (XX BC) combat elements moved in the summer of 1944 from the United States to Indiamarker where they engaged in very-long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombardment operations against Japanmarker, Formosamarker, Chinamarker, Indochina and Burmamarker. While in India, XX BC was supported logistically by Tenth Air Force and the India-China Division of the Air Transport Command. B-29 groups moved to West Field, Tinianmarker, in early 1945.


  • Early 1942 Stilwell was promoted to lieutenant general and tasked with establishing the CBI.
  • February 25, 1942 Stilwell arrived in India by which time Singaporemarker and Burmamarker had both been invaded by the Japanese Army.
  • March 10, 1942 Stilwell is named Chief of Staff of Allied armies in the Chinese theatre of operations.
  • March 19, 1942 Stilwell’s command in China is extended to include the Chinese 5th and 6th Armies operating in Burma after Chiang Kai-Shek gave his permission.
  • March 20, 1942 Chinese troops under Stilwell engage Japanese forces along the Sittang River in Burma.
  • April 9, 1942 Claire Chennault inducted into U.S. Army as a colonel, bringing the AVG Flying Tigers squadrons under Stilwell's authority.
  • May 2, 1942 The commander of Allied forces in Burma, General Harold Alexander, ordered a general retreat to India. Instead of flying out, Stilwell remained with his troops and began a long retreat to India.
  • May 24, 1942 Stilwell arrived in Delhi. Most of his Chinese troops had deserted and gone back to China.
  • New Delhi and Ramgarh became the main training centre for Chinese troops in India. Chiang Kai-Shek gave Stilwell command of what was left of the 22nd and 38th Divisions of the Chinese Army.
  • December 1, 1942 British General Sir Archibald Wavell, as Allied Supreme Commander South East Asia, agreed with Stilwell to make the Ledo Roadmarker an American operation.
  • August 1943 US President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the creation of a US jungle commando unit, similar to the Chindits, to be commanded by Major General Frank Merrill.
  • December 21 Stilwell assumed direct control of operations to capture Myitkyinamarker, having built up forces for an offensive in Northern Burma.
  • February 24, 1944 Merrill's Marauders, attacked the Japanese 18th Division in Burma. This action enabled Stilwell to gain control of the Hakawing Valley.
  • May 17, 1944 British general Slim in command of the Burma Campaign handed control of the Chindits to Stilwell.
  • May 17, 1944 Chinese troops, with the help of Merrill's Mauraders, captured Myitkina airfield.
  • August 3, 1944 Myitkina fell to the Allies. The Mauraders had advanced 750 miles and fought in five major engagements and 32 skirmishes with the Japanese Army. They lost 700 men, only 1,300 Marauders reached their objective and of these, 679 had to be hospitalized. This included General Merrill who had suffered a second-heart attack before going down with malaria.
  • Some time before August 27, 1944, Mountbatten supreme allied commander (SEAC) ordered General Stilwell to evacuate all the wounded Chindits.
  • During 1944 the Japanese in Operation Ichi-Go overran US air bases in eastern China. Chiang Kai-Shek blamed Stilwell for the Japanese success, and pressed the US high command to recall him.
  • October 1944 Roosevelt recalled Stilwell, whose role was split (as was the CBI):
    • Lieutenant General Raymond Wheeler became Deputy Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia.
    • Major General Albert Wedemeyer became Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-shek and commander of the U.S. Forces, China Theater (USFCT).
    • Lieutenant General Daniel Sultan was promoted from deputy commander to became commander of US Forces India-Burma Theater (USFIBT) and commander of the Northern Combat Area Command
  • January 12, 1945, the first convoy over the Ledo Roadmarker of 113 vehicles led by General Pick from Ledomarker reached Kunmingmarker, China on February 4, 1945. Over the next seven months 35,000 tons of supplies in 5,000 vehicles were carried along it.

See also


  1. Chapter XIX: The Second Front and the Secondary War The CBI: January-May 1944. The Mounting of the B-29 Offensive See Maurice Matloff References Page 442
  2. Roll of Honour, Britain At War, The Air Forces In Burma
  3. Masters, John, The Road Past Mandalay, Bantam Press (1979), pp. 146-148, 308-309
  4. Roll of Honour, Britain At War, The Air Forces In Burma
  5. Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation: Overseas Commands - Iraq, India and the Far East
  6. Mountbatten, Admiral Lord Louis, Address to the Press, August 1944
  7. Mountbatten, Admiral Lord Louis, Address to the Press, August 1944


  • Maurice Matloff Strategic planning for coalition warfare 1943-1944 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 53-61477, First Printed 1959-CMH Pub 1-4.
  • Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat Into Victory is a first hand account by the British commander.

Further reading


  • Jon Latimer, Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray, 2004.
  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • Julian Thompson The Imperial War Museum Book of War Behind Enemy Lines. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1998.


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