Sunday, April 3, 2011

STILWELL ROAD, Story of the Ledo Lifeline - WW2 Publication

Can you recognize the river shown below ;-) Probably you may say is this river or something else now that I have done some editing on original photo taken in late 40s. Well, if you view such landscape 30000 feet above the ground, you will have no doubt that it is indeed a river rather an intriguing and mysterious one :-)

No wonder, that was the same thought Lord Mountbatten had when flying over the Hukawng Valley during the monsoon on a visit to Gen. Stilwell. He asked his staff the name of the river below. An American officer accomanied him replied, "That's not a river, it's the Ledo Road."

Ledo Road was not the way it is shown above in the photograph then. The water covered the road, and some surveyors considered this to be proof of their perspicacity when they had said of the Ledo Road project: " It is impossible."

This post is about the booklet prepared by The Office of Public Relations, USF in IBT (India Burma Theater), Advance Section, APO 689, in conjunction with the Information and Education Division, IBT called STILWELL ROAD - Story of the Ledo Lifeline.

The publication was planned and written by S/Sgt. C. M. Buchanan and Sgt. John R. McDowell while layout, illustrations and map was done by Cpl. Sydney Kotler. All photographs were provided by men of the 164th Signal Photo Company. It was printed at the Indian Press Ltd, Calcutta, India.

The booklet is all about construction of one of the engineering marvels of the world, the 1079 mile Stilwell Road which encompasses two separate projects. First, the 507 mile Ledo Road from Ledo, Assam to Wanting, China. Secondly, the Burma Road from this point to Kunming, a distance of 960 kilometers. Both the section were renamed as the Stilwell Road (named after General Vinegar Joe Stilwell of the U.S. Army) in early 1945 at the suggestion of Chiang Kai-shek.

On March 8, 1942, the invading Jap armies captured Rangoon, closed the last overland supply route to China and surged northward to eventually overrun all of Burma. General Joseph W. Stilwell, lacking the men and equipment to offer suitable resistance, was forced to retreat. It is then that he made his famous statement, "I claim we took a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it's humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find what caused it, go back and retake it."

It was obvious that a new supply artery would have to be opened if America was to carry out her commitments to China. And in order to open a road, the Japs would have to be driven back.

The first step in the plan was formulated in October 1942, when Gen. Stilwell and the supreme commander of the Far Eastern Theatre, Lord Wavell (then Gen. Wavell) met and decided the construction of a road from the railhead at Ledo would be an American responsibility (NCAC Operation). Plans were drawn up hastily and submitted to Stilwell on November 5, 1942. On December 1 the advance contingent of Americans arrived in Ledo and thus was started a project visualized by Uncle Joe Stilwell as the only means of driving the Japs from Burma and re-establishing land communications with blockaded China.

The booklet starts with interesting note on how when everyone who worked on Ledo Road were asked what did you see in India, they replied how focused they were on their task which was building the Ledo Road and what all they conquered to make it happen.

It then starts with the introduction of the booklet:

This booklet has been prepared to give you some worthwhile information about the Stilwell Road. It tells about the places to be seen along the great military supply line, about the customs and religions of the people who inhabit this remote corner of the world, and about the part played by the men who pushed through the greatest engineering project ever undertaken in time of war.

The opening of a land route and pipeline, to maintain a constant flow of supplies to China, has been the Number One job of the India-Burma Theater of Operations. Planned and visioned by General Joseph W. Stilwell, the gigantic project was carried to a speedy completion through the combined efforts, leadership and ability of Lt. General Dan I. Sultan, Commanding General of the India-Burma Theater, Major General W. E. R. Covell, Commanding General, Services Of Supply, IBT, and Major General Lewis A. Pick, Commanding General of the Ledo Road project, with the superb teamwork of thousands of American officers and enlisted men, plus the help of soldiers and peoples of our allies.....

Continuing its journey through routes of Stilwell Road and milestones, the booklet captures major landmarks on the road with its historical background and significance. How the towns were captured and men fought all the way against Japanese on route to let IBT section construct the road behind them.

The booklet then touches the history, religion and customs of inhabitant of the region through which the road was built to let its readers familiarize with them.

It covers how the road was built and the people from various department making it happen such as Signals, Medics, Pipeline, GIs, Burma Road Engineers, Coolies, local inhabitants, Air Force, Railroads to name a few.

Just to give you idea of this mammoth road project. It is said that prodigious quantities of earth were moved by the white and colored engineers in building the Ledo Road. An Average of 50,000 cubic yards of earth were handled in the first 270 miles, totaling 13,500,000 cubic yards. With this much dirt, it would be possible to build a solid earthen wall three feet wide and ten feet high from New York to San Francisco.

The booklet ends with the bravery and stories of the American, British, Chinese, Indians and Kachins soldiers whose contribution in letting it happen and re-capturing Burma is unforgettable.

You can read the complete book here. I have scanned all the pages of book for my readers convenience.

Documentary about the construction of the Stilwell Road, narrated by none other than Former US President Ronald Reagan from YouTube:

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