Patton Commanded 5th Army in Italy in 1945? TimeGhost making basic factual errors

Timeghost is making a lot of basic factual errors about Asia that don’t get caught. Errors as egregious as saying that Patton commanded the 5th army in Italy. Worse, Indy is using and quoting books who make this kind of error when he has better books available.

In the March 23rd episode, the thumbnail and a significant portion of the episode is devoted to a dispute about recalling Chinese forces from Burma.

The transcript goes like this:

*"Something I haven’t had time to get into before is this: back on February 23rd, Albert Wedemeyer, Chiang Kai-Shek’s CoS, backed Chiang when he demanded the return of all Chinese and American forces operating in Burma for the Northern Combat Area Command. This means Daniel Sultan’s X-Force and Sun Li-Jen’s Y-Force, who opened the Burma Road and have been hassling the Japanese and taking towns in the north of Burma lately. *

The direct consequence was that any chance of Slim using Sultan’s forces for the advance on Rangoon were gone, but even worse, Kimura could now withdraw all Japanese forces in the north for the campaign against Slim in Central and Southern Burma.

But a bigger deal was that Chiang also demanded that all his troops be flown out on planes of the American 10th Air Force. When you consider that 90% of 14th Army’s supplies come in by air, and 75% of that by the American planes, you can see what a disaster that would be for Slim.

*So Slim goes to Theater Commander Louis Mountbatten, he goes to PM Winston Churchill, and he goes to US Army CoS George Marshall, and Marshall says that those planes would not be recalled from Slim’s use until June 1st or the fall of Rangoon, whichever comes first. *

*Mountbatten decides he needs to go see Chiang, and during that visit both Wedemeyer and Ambassador Hurley make themselves scarce and visit Washington. *

Mountbatten asks Chiang why did he issue the order for the troop recall?

Chiang says he doesn’t want to see Chinese forces fighting south of Mandalay.
MB says that’s gonna make Slim’s job tougher, and Chiang says well, that’s your problem.

MB says, fine, then get your guys out of Burma ASAP because we’re not going to continue feeding them, and we’ll deal with Southeast Asia all by ourselves.”

Most of this is wrong and egregiously so.

Basic facts first. (Which are wrong)

General Sultan commands the Northern Combat Area Command, not X force. X force is subordinate and has kind of ceased to exist as an administrative unit. It is now the New First Army and the New Sixth Army.

Sun Li Ren does not command Y force. Y force is commanded by Wei Lihuang. Sun Li Ren is in command of the New First Army under Sultan.

This is super basic and can be looked up in “Time Runs out in the CBI” the official US history of the campaign published decades ago and free online.

These are not small formations. It is akin to saying the Fifth army in Italy was commanded by Patton (American commanders in Europe…who can tell 'em apart?)

Now for the larger conceptual problem.

Alber Wedermeyer, Chiang Kai Shek, Mountbatten, Slim and everyone else had agreed to start moving Chinese troops out of Burma back in November. Two divisions were moved in late December and early January, and the orders for the remaining Chinese forces (3 divisions) and the American MARS Task Force were to advance and take Lashio.

On February 23rd, the request is made to withdraw Chinese forces… but not instantly as the transcript implies and not without taking Lashio first. Which is done on March 7th.

The Japanese forces facing the Chinese, the 18th and the 56th Division, were ordered to withdraw back towards Mandalay on February 25th and January 23rd respectively. Chinese withdrawal in March or April or May will NOT affect Japanese troop deployment as the Japanese have already made the decision to put all their eggs in the Mandalay basket.

Furthermore, the agreement between Mountbatten and the US about planes in Burma is very clear about the priority. “The primary military object of the United States in the China and India-Burma Theaters is the continuance of aid to China
on a scale that will permit the fullest utilization of the area and resources of China for operations against the Japanese. United States resources are deployed in India-Burma to provide direct or indirect support for China.” (This is from the Joint Chiefs of staff in February 1945) The phrasing of the episode makes it sound like Chiang is making some random entitled demand to 10th Airforce planes… Those planes are there explicitly to support the Chinese. Mountbatten is the one “borrowing” them. (This is not said by Indy’s narration)

Chiang in his meeting with Mountbatten on March 9th also says that there is no set time table for Chinese withdrawal and that he won’t make one before Wedermeyer can be involved. What Mountbatten is worried about is not losing the ability to use Chinese troops to take Rangoon, he knows he won’t and has known that for a bit. He is worried about the uncertain time scale.

Mountbatten does go up the chain of command and get an agreement to defer the movement US planes to June 1st or the Fall of Rangoon, but again there isn’t a spiteful, “We refuse to supply you.”

To add to all of this, there is no mention of what is going on in China at this time which is causing Wedermeyer and Chiang to want the Chinese forces back as soon as possible.

I think Indy Neidell used a bad book to write this part. “The Burma Campaign,” by Frank McLynn. This is a shame, because there are better books available.

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Oh my goodness. You’re not the only one who noticed errors – I’ve commented on some of the errors before (I wish I had done that more, come to think of it).

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Errors as egregious as saying that Patton commanded the 5th army in Italy.
I am curious when you heard Indy say this in an episode because I never heard him say that. Now after checking quickly on Wikipedia (I know hold the groans) you are right that the name of the formations had changed my the time of episodes you are speaking of. But Indy could be using old names of units to keep it easy for people who do not know much about Burma. Of course I do agree they should point that out in a upcoming video.

I think Indy Neidell used a bad book to write this part. “The Burma Campaign,” by Frank McLynn. This is a shame, because there are better books available.
I have read parts of this book and have no problem with it, of course I am no expert on the Burma campaign. You do know that Indy uses other sources for the Burma Campaign besides this one right? He just as used this one for quotes, which we the audience gets to see as a source.

Indy never said Patton commanded 5th Army in Italy. Because that is Europe and Timeghost is much more careful about errors in that theater.

Y force had 15 divisions and was operating from China proper into Burma. It was 175,000 men.

X Force was the 5 Chinese divisions trained in India and Merril’s Marauders, later the MARS Task Force. It got changed to being the New First and New Sixth Army in late 1944 along with the MARS Task Force. Sun Li Ren was commander of the 38th division, (one of the original divisions that retreated to India) and later promoted to command the New First Army.

Northern Combat Area Command was the command unit that american and Chinese forces in Burma operated under, placing them subordinate to Mountbatten.

The point is that putting Sun Li ren in charge of Y force is a huge messup.

Akin to putting Patton in charge of 5th Army in Italy. But it slides because the Burma China isn’t as well known.

Also, the entire 5 month Salween campaign, which would involve the 175,000 troops of Y force and would have vicious fortified battles that would predict the Japanese defense of such places as Peleliu and Okinawa, was covered in a sentence and a half.

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What are the problems with that book?


It has a lot of basic facts wrong.

I am pasting a review from the Edinburgh university press. (Scroll to the final paragraph for the tldr.)

Frank McLynn’s aim, as stated in his preface, is to ‘tell the story of the [Burma] campaign through the biography of four larger-than-life personalities: William Slim, Louis Mountbatten, Orde Wingate and Joseph Stillwell’. These are the key players but, of course, others, notably Chiang Kai Shek and Wavell, feature large as well. McLynn deliberately avoids a blow-by-blow account of the campaign but, to quote the summary on the front fly-leaf, the book: ‘shows with new clarity how the plans, designs and strategies of generals and politicians were translated into hideous reality for the soldiers on the ground’. That ‘new clarity’, sadly, is not altogether obvious.

McLynn’s approach is undoubtedly imaginative, ambitious and not entirely unsuccessful. The stories of the key players are interwoven skilfully, negotiating the complex and frequently acrimonious political and strategic manoeuvrings that characterised the higher direction of the campaign. However, because he has chosen larger-than-life figures he has settled upon four who are already the subject of extensive biographical work, and there is no shortage of other books analysing the interplay between politics, strategy, operations and tactics in the Burma Campaign. This is evidenced by McLynn’s copious annotation, almost all of which refers to well-known secondary sources. His book undoubtedly serves as a sort of potted version of this previous work but too many mistakes undermine its credibility and value. The reader also needs a sound existing knowledge of the Burma Campaign to understand the book properly, not least because the inter-twined biographical approach demands significant bounds forwards and backwards in the sequential narrative, and these are not always explained clearly. Moreover, all too often, the reader is led through a series of place names which appear on none of the book’s few maps, making the story difficult to follow.

McLynn’s approach to the featured individuals tends to be unbalanced. Slim, it seems, can do almost no wrong (possibly true), while Mountbatten and Wavell (not one of the four main figures but one whose position in the book is close to central), among others, appear unable to do anything right (not true). Mountbatten, for all his faults, had important qualities that go unremarked, not least his energy and ability to draw the British and Americans into an effective alliance in South East Asia, where their wartime relationships were at their most fraught and resources always in short supply. McLynn’s relentless demolition of Wavell omits, among other things, any allowance for his having to pick up one poisoned chalice after another throughout the war, repeatedly being expected to achieve the impossible with inadequate resources. The approach to Stillwell’s shortcomings and qualities is better balanced, and Stillwell’s fractured relationship with the impossible Chiang Kai Shek is dealt with comprehensively. Wingate’s inclusion as one of the key figures is intriguing. He was, without doubt, ‘larger-than-life’, and his plans, designs and strategies were certainly translated into hideous reality for his soldiers. However, for all his apparent influence and high political contacts, he was, in fact, a relatively low level tactical commander with far less actual strategic effect on the conduct of the campaign than Mountbatten, Stillwell or Slim.

In trying to negotiate the political and strategic maelstrom swirling around the key players at the top, and then relate it to events at the front, the book omits, understates or misrepresents some important issues. To give a few examples: at the strategic level, insufficient attention is given to the parlous state of India’s economy and lack of preparedness to counter the unexpected threat that faced her after the loss of Burma in 1942. The book then takes a long time to make clear that, regardless of British aspirations to regain her empire, as far as allied policy was concerned, re-opening an overland supply route to China was the sole purpose of all further fighting in Burma. These two facts, probably more than any other, dictated the pace and direction of the campaign, and they need to hit the reader right between the eyes early on. Instead, they dribble out.

Later, the formation of SEAC is treated almost flippantly as little more than one of ‘Churchill’s wild ideas’. It was, instead, the sensible product of serious strategic debate at the highest level to draw allied operations together and relieve India Command of responsibility for conducting external operations whilst the latter was trying to cope with intractable internal problems. SEAC undoubtedly had its flaws but it also had legitimate and directed responsibilities, both in and extending way beyond Burma, which are almost written off as Mountbatten’s flights of fancy.

At the operational and tactical level, there is no mention of how Wingate’s second Chindit expedition into the enemy’s rear area risked unhinging Slim’s plan to draw the Japanese to a decisive battle at Imphal in 1944 by diverting them from falling into the trap. There is no comprehensive cost/gain analysis of the Chindit operations taking up significant resources which would otherwise have been available for 14th Army’s main effort.

Later, in dealing with the recapture of Burma in 1945, McLynn gives insufficient credit to SEAC for its higher coordination of the 14th Army’s advance with the parallel amphibious operations on the Arakan coast, without which Slim’s famous crossing of the Irrawaddy and dash to Rangoon could not have taken place. The landing by the 26th Division at Rangoon just before the 14th Army reached the city is presented almost as some sort of Machiavellian scheme by Mountbatten and Leese to steal the limelight from Slim. In fact, Slim himself asked Mountbatten to prepare the landing in case the 14th Army should be held up by the monsoon, which, in the event, it was. The ‘race to Rangoon’ was between the advancing British and the rains; not between Slim and Mountbatten. These are just some examples; there are many others.

Throughout the book, a series of small but irritating and often quite important factual errors, along with several instances of misspelling, poor construction and text editing, undermine the credibility of the work, but there is nothing to be gained by enumerating them. In short, this book is bold and imaginative in its approach to the Burma Campaign but it is too flawed to have true authority.


Perchance, do you know the name of the previous 2 books? I tried searching them up and google always redirected me to “Time runs out in the CBI”.

Stilwell’s mission to China and Stilwell’s command problems are the first two.

They are a bit too pro Stilwell, but they are very detailed. That said they arent nearly as bad or one dimensional as Frank McLynns book which was used in the episode

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Well… for the Burma theater Indy has mostly relied on that book. So… I don’t think that episode is the only problem.