Operation Ledo Striptease

This was the Chinese advance of Major General Shan Yu-feng’s New 22nd Division and Lieutenant General Sun Li-jen’s New 38th Division of the Chinese Army in India (‘X’ Force) in northern Burma from Ledo to Shingbwiyang (October 1943).

Ledo is a village in the Assam region of north-eastern India, and became important as the railhead for a road across the Pangsau Pass into the Hukawng valley of northern Burma and thence through Mytkyina to connect with the original Burma Road to China. Also known as the Stilwell Road, the Burma Road was conceived as the route by which supplies for the Chinese armies and the American air forces in China could be delivered. By the time the road was completed on 27 January 1945, however, it had become largely irrelevant as a result of US successes in the Pacific theatre.

Construction of the road began in earnest in late December 1942. The first sector, 103 miles (166 km) long, extended across the 4,500-ft (1370-m) summit of the Pangsau Pass to Shingbwiyang. The road reached the border with Burma, 43 miles from Ledo, on 28 February 1943, but then came to what was in effect a halt as a result of the intractable problems of delivering supplies and also the start of the monsoon: only 3 miles (4.8 km) were completed between the end of March and middle of August, Shingbwiyang was not reached until December 1943 and the connection into China was not completed until a time late in 1944. By then the 'Hump' airlift across the Himalayas had become massive, and the war ended before traffic along the Ledo Road could even start to rival the level delivered by the airlift.

The 'Ledo Striptease' undertaking was a preliminary move for the offensive against Myitkyina long planned by Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, the chief-of-staff of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, commander of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations and commander of the North Combat Area Command, and undertaken at the same time as ‘Thursday’, Major General O. C. Wingate’s 2nd Chindit Expedition.

The rationale of Stilwell’s planning was that the location of Lieutenant General Shinichi Tanaka’s 18th Division of Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi’s 15th Army, in the Hukawng valley to the north-west of Myitkyina, threatened the vital supply road being built in north-eastern India from Ledo into southern China, and that this threat could only be removed by the defeat of the 18th Division during an advance by the Chinese New 22nd and 38th Divisions to capture Myitkyina, whose loss would deprive the Japanese of their main base in the area.

The Chinese divisions reached Shingbwiyang by 30 October 1943 and pushed forward into the Hukawng valley during November before being checked by the 18th Division. The Chinese advance got under way again late in December but was then halted again in January 1944, resuming only after the arrival of Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill’s US 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), otherwise known as ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, which allowed the Chinese to pin the Japanese while the Americans launched outflanking movements, until Myitkyina fell with considerable Chindit assistance on 4 August.