Operation Alpha

This was the US plan to halt the ‘Ichi’ offensive of the Japanese forces toward the Chinese cities of Kunming and Chungking, the capital of Yunnan province and the Kuomintang nationalist capital respectively (November 1944).

The object of the Japanese offensive was to destroy a sizeable part of China’s defensive strength and at the same time secure overland routes to the Vietnam region of north-eastern Indo-China.

The Allied strategy in China was to support Chinese resistance and maintain the Chinese in the war, thus adding to the burden imposed on Japanese manpower and war-making resources. The effectiveness of Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation, however, had been reduced by the hostility between the Chinese nationalist and communist factions, each of which had as its first priority the maintenance or improvement of its position vis-à-vis the other party, and only as its second priority the prosecution of the war with the Japanese, and then only to prevent further catastrophic Japanese inroads rather than to expel the Japanese from China. This last was seen by each side largely as a task which would result of US successes in other theatres.

US advisers constantly urged the two factions to unite against the common enemy, but the influence of these advisers was undermined by the Allied inability to provide supplies in the quantities which had been promised.

‘Alpha’ sought to reinforce Chinese units in south-eastern China with two Chinese divisions from Burma and Lieutenant General Zhou Fu-cheng’s Chinese 53rd Army, already in Yunnan, all retrained and re-equipped for specific campaigns under US direction.

The Chinese nationalist leader, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, was ambivalent about the plan. Even so, the commander of the US China theatre, Major General Albert C. Wedemeyer, moved available supplies (delivered via the ‘over the Hump’ airlift from India across the eastern Himalayas) to the forces intended for ‘Alpha’. At the same time, Wedemeyer merged advisory and training staffs into a single unit, the Chinese Training and Combat Command, under Brigadier General Frank Dorn. Allied offensives in Burma and China in 1944 had been aimed at lifting the Japanese land blockade and reopening the overland supply route from Burma: the first road convoy reached Kunming on 4 February 1945.

The easing of the supply problem allowed Wedemeyer to push ahead with building the ‘Alpha’ Force into a proposed 36-division Chinese army by September 1945. The Japanese had their own plans, however, and on 8 April attacked in the direction of the US air base at Chihchiang as a preliminary to 'Ichi'. At first the Japanese forced back the Chinese forces but, reinforced by ‘new’ units from the ‘Alpha’ Force, the Chinese halted the Japanese by a time early in May, and by June had driven the Japanese back to their start line. 'Ichi' was the last Japanese strategic offensive in China, and soon after this the Japanese began to withdraw troops for the ‘Ketsu’ defence of the Japanese home islands and to consolidate along the Chinese coast, thereby opening the way for the Chinese forces to go over to the offensive.