Steele: Our job with Japan (1943)

The Pittsburgh Press (April 4, 1943)

Screenshot 2022-04-04 125930
Screenshot 2022-04-04 130008
Allied forces must retake the Burma Road and rebuild the Burma-China railway in order to come to grips with the Japanese on a great scale. The Allies have blasted part of the Burma Road – and it may take a year to rebuild it when – and if – it is retaken.

Reconquest of Burma a tough job

By A. T. Steele

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the first article in the series.

It’s no secret – but it’s a fact few Americans seem to realize – that a grim, heartbreaking phase of preparation still lies ahead of us before we can take the offensive on a major scale against the continental strongholds of the Japanese Army in Burma and China.

The difficulties our Anglo-Indian allies have run into in this drive against the Burmese port of Akyab – a pinpoint on the map of Asia – show what I mean. That action is, in effect, a laboratory experiment preliminary to the much bigger operation of the future. It has already taught us valuable, if painful, lessons.

The seesaw Akyab battle has demonstrated that the reconquest of Burma, which is the only key to the relief of blockaded China, will be more difficult than some Allied observers had thought.

It has shown that the Japanese are powerfully entrenched, that they cannot be rooted out without smashing superiority in armament, and that they have no intention of giving up any of the invaded territory without a struggle.

Snipers everywhere

The British-Indian force started the Akyab push with marked superiority of numbers but this advantage was quickly nullified by atrocious problems of transportation and supply through dense jungles and mazes of interlocking waterways. Snipers were everywhere – at front, side and rear.

The advance slowed up to a standstill when heavy Japanese reinforcements were brought in and began counterattacking. The British have, however, attained one important end. They have neutralized Akyab as an advance base for Japanese raids on Calcutta and other important centers in eastern India. Japanese bombers must fly farther to reach these bases, and with less protection.

The big show in Burma will require more planes, more shipping and more heavy arms than are now available for that theater. Allied military men in Asia are impatiently awaiting the successful completion of Allied offensive operations in Africa. They are hopeful, but by no means certain, that the expulsion of the Axis from Africa will release enough shipping and enough material to make an all-out offensive in Burma practical.

Helped Egypt

They are, at least, sure that once the African problem is solved, the flow of materials to Asia will increase. Africa has cost us heavily in Asia. It is well known that on various occasions in the past, military supplies en route to Burma and China have been diverted to Egypt and Libya to meet critical emergencies. Sidetracked American airplanes earmarked for India helped, for instance, to save Cairo, and participated in the subsequent drive on Tripoli.

But don’t think for a minute that Allied generals in India and China are just sitting out there twiddling their thumbs. In India, recruits for the Indian Army are still being enlisted at the rate of more than 60,000 monthly. Better than one million Indians are under arms.

Great numbers of the more-experienced Indian troops are stationed in the Middle East and Africa, where they have proved their mettle. Much is expected of the hundreds of thousands of raw soldiers and officers taken into the Indian Army since Pearl Harbor. But as a large proportion of them have been drawn from the non-martial races, and as they have yet to be tested in the fire of battle, it is not possible, now, to assess their fighting qualities.

Highway built

Besides recruiting and intensive training of Indian troops in jungle warfare, other important preparatory steps are being taken in India for the big push. Military highways are being built through the buffer or roadless forests and mountains on the Burma-India frontier, behind which the Japanese have established their forward defenses. This means that when the order is given to march, it will be possible for the Allies to move up troops and supplies swiftly to the line, at least, of the present front. Moreover, the network of new airdromes in eastern India is being constantly improved, enlarged and added to.

Of course, Burma is still 1,000 miles from the main force of the Japanese Army, far to the North, in China and Manchuria. But it is an outer gateway we will probably have to crash if we are to come to grips with the Japanese enemy on his home grounds and if we are to give China the effective material help she had earned and desperately needs.

There is only one other better avenue of attack against the Japanese Army, and that is through Siberia. If, after Hitler’s downfall, the Russians join us in the Far Eastern conflict, the smashing of Japanese military power will be greatly accelerated. We could then strike Japan at the seat of her strength. We could invade Manchuria. Without Manchuria – continental base for the Japanese Army and source of most of Japan’s basic raw materials – Japan could not go on.

Russia uncertain

But who can be certain that the Soviet Union will enter the Pacific War, even when Germany collapses? We can hope, but we cannot be sure. Our strategy cannot be based on possibilities. It has to be founded on certainties.

There is an element among Allied military men which refuses to take China very seriously. This group feels that the reconquest of Burma is not an urgent problem and that our help to China need only be of a token nature until the main job of crushing Hitlerism is completed. This is not, incidentally, the view of Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, commander of U.S. Army forces in China, Burma and India. Gen. Stilwell is itching to get on with the job of recapturing Burma as soon as it is practical to attempt it.

The dry season in Burma is nearing its end, and the chances for any effective action in the short period remaining are very slim indeed. The monsoon rains will then probably paralyze the Burma front until October, when another dry season will set in.

Just a beginning

The reconquest of Burma will only be the beginning of the solution of the problem of striking at the Japanese arm. The task of repairing and restoring traffic on the Burma Road will itself be a formidable one. Parts of the road, blasted away to impede the Japanese advance, will have to be rebuilt. Big bridges will have to be reconstructed. This will all take time.

And the opening of the Burma Road alone will not solve China’s supply problem. It will be necessary to complete the Burma-China railway, which was 40% finished when the Japanese invaded Burma. This will take six months to a year – perhaps more. The Burma Road and Railway, together, would greatly relieve the strain on China and would make it possible for us greatly to intensify our aerial and military pressure on the Japanese Army, but they would not carry sufficient tonnage, for the final knockout offensive.

Before that is possible, the Allies will be obliged to open other channels of supply into China. However, the restoration of the Burma Road will facilitate enormously the recapture of Indochina and perhaps a port or two in South China, which could be used as subsidiary lines of entry.

Then, and not until then, will we be ready for the real big show, to deliver a truly decisive blow.


Imho, this guy was pretty far off from what US command though was needed. Seems he wants to liberate all of Asia while we were thinking shortest route to level Japan. China was never going to get the heavy logistical support it needed because that was earmarked for Germany.


Which China?

Also how does it take them an year to remake the Burma Road?

1 Like

Chiang’s China, though Steele had become more lenient on Red China by this time.

Remake or retake? Because for the latter, you might have to wait a while.

1 Like

It was retake… Dang it… my eyes have betrayed me!

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 5, 1943)

Stilwell, Chennault lead Americans in Asia conflict

By A. T. Steele

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the second article in the series.

A Yank and a Southerner are America’s two outstanding military men in continental Asia, and both are as tough as salty as they come. Each in his own way, Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell and Brig. Gen. Claire L. Chennault are making ready for the still-far-off big push. Given the tools, it would be hard to find two men better fitted for delousing Burma and China of the noxious Japanese invaders.

China, under Chiang Kai-shek, and India, under Sir Archibald P. Wavell, have the armies. The Americans have the Air Force. But the U.S. Army’s role in China, Burma and India is more than just knocking Zeros out of the air and bombing Japanese bases.

Our Army is doing a tremendous job of supply. It is also helping to equip and train a model Chinese military force in India which is expected to demonstrate that the Chinese, when properly armed, can hit as hard and as effectively as any other fighting force.

The day may possibly come when it will be necessary for the United States to send big armies to India and China to help the British and the Chinese to complete their job of expelling the Japanese from continental Asia. How much American military assistance will be needed depends to a very large extent on how effectively China is able to utilize her enormous manpower. Six years of war have sapped China’s military strength. But Gen. Stilwell, for one, is convinced that once China’s lifelines are restored that strength can be refreshed, revived and directed in such a way that China’s vast armies will become a very powerful offensive factor.

Proud of camp

“Uncle Joe” Stilwell’s pride and joy is a camp, “somewhere in India,” where a unit of Chinese troops is being groomed, with American equipment and under American and Chinese instructors, to show what the Chinese can do when given half a chance. This detachment, consisting partly of Chinese soldiers who retreated from Burma with Stilwell, has been outfitted and armed almost entirely with American materials. You’d never recognize them for the same men who staggered out of the jungle a year ago.

They have made astonishing gains in weight and general physical well-being. They are as delighted as children with their new weapons and keep them in immaculate order. What’s most important, they have responded remarkably to instruction and have made a record on the target range and on the maneuvering grounds which compares favorably with that of any modern army after a similar period of training.

Gen. Chiang Kai-shek has promised that when the reconquest of Burma begins, the Chinese will take an active military role. They will attack not only from China, but also from China. It is then that this experimental Chinese force in India will have an opportunity to show what Chinese soldiers can do when, for once, they can face the enemy with decent odds. It has been possible to divert to this Chinese Expeditionary Force some part of the Lend-Lease materials which have been piled up in the India bottleneck awaiting shipment to China.

India a base

Generally speaking, India has been a bigger base of American military activity than China. This is natural, for not only is India much more easily supplied, but it is also the logical base for the main push against Burma – most important Allied chore in continental Asia. For our air offensive, however, which is steadily growing in power and which must be pushed regardless of delays in the Burma campaign, China offers the only suitable bases from which we can strike deep into the vitals of the Japanese Empire.

Until recently, our Air Force in China, Burma and India was under a combined command, with Brig. Gen. Clayton Bissell as its head. Now our small China airwing has been made a separate air force – the 14th – under Chennault. This is good news for it means greater harmony in a place where it was badly needed. The outspoken differences of view between the Chennault and Bissell camps had long been a cause of anxiety to detached observers who recognized the special abilities of both these officers, but felt the need of better understanding between their adherents. Both Chennault and Bissell remain, of course, under the general command of Lt. Gen. Stilwell.

Proof of talent

Chennault, a rugged, weather-beaten oak of a man, has long been and still is one of the outstanding air theorists in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some of his tactical theories are so revolutionary that they do not set well with more orthodox minds. But among his own subordinates Chennault is idolized almost to the point of worship. His record as commander of the old “Flying Tigers,” and more recently, of the China Air Task Force, provides convincing proof of his talents.

During his early years in the Army Air Corps, when flying was still in its infancy, Chennault delighted in tearing up out-of-date theories and devising new ones. His specialty was pursuit flying. He had the annoying habit (to the older heads) of thinking years ahead. He was an admirer of Billy Mitchell. He wrote a manual on pursuit flying. He devised a new system of gunnery. He was a most vocal advocate of teamwork in pursuit flying long before it had been developed to its present technique. While he was stationed with the Army Air Corps in Hawaii, he began thinking out his theories on air-raid warning networks which were later applied with great success in China.

Watched Japanese

After he was invalided out of the Army, Chennault came to China as an aeronautical adviser to the Chinese government. For years he remained there, helping to train Chinese pilots and studying Japanese tactics. He spent hundreds of hours, during Japanese air raids, watching Japanese aerial maneuvers through his binoculars. He rarely bothered to go into a dugout. The result was that when Chennault took over command of the American Volunteer Corps (the “Flying Tigers”) he was able to tell his men exactly how the Japanese would behave and to instruct his pilots in a revolutionary method of dealing with them.

Chennault came back into the U.S. Army as a brigadier general when the Flying Tigers gave way to the China Air Task Force. He has been handicapped by insufficient planes, but has done wonders with the small force at his command. Chennault’s theory is that the Japanese are using China as a training ground for pilots destined for the South Pacific. He believes that given enough fighter planes he could cripple Japanese air operations in the South and that given still more planes he could knock the Japanese Air Force into a cocked hat.

If Chennault has any weakness, it is his softheartedness. He is lenient to a fault.

It would be unfair to Uncle Joe Stilwell’s boys in China and India to pass up the great job they are doing in ferrying strategic supplies to China over the Himalayan “hump.” A share of this traffic between India and China is handled by the Chinese National Aviation Corporation, a Sino-American concern; but the bulk of it is carried in Army transports, with Army pilots.

Deserve praise

These young transport fliers, who are increasing in numbers as more and more transport planes go into service, have not had half the recognition they deserve. They’re performing a task less glamorous but no less dangerous than that of the men who drop bombs on Japanese bases – and it has to be done almost every day of the year, regardless of conditions. Their hazards are not only Japanese Zeros – for they often skirt the Japanese lines in northern Burma – but also foul weather, mountains higher than Mt. McKinley, fierce winds that toss you scores of miles off course, and frequent icy conditions that push down transport to dangerously low altitudes at the very peak of their climb.

The roll of Americans who have died fighting the elements over the humps a lengthening one. Bad weather and blind crashes into mountainsides are usually responsible. Several fliers had had narrow squeaks from the Japanese.

There is the pilot, for instance, who lost his way and was forced to land in a river bed behind the Japanese lines. He finally got his bearings and took off, just in time to get a bird’s-eye view of a Japanese patrol beating its way toward the spot where his plane had been.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 6, 1943)

Bombing Tokyo is task for the future

By A. T. Steele

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the third article in the series.

In the bombardment of questions which assails anyone who has just returned to the United States from China, there is one query, which recurs with monotonous regularity:

Why aren’t we bombing Japan?

Looking at a map, where Japan and China seem almost to touch, it does appear that hitting at Japanese cities from our bases in China should offer no insuperable difficulties. But to the men on the spot, where the distances are measured in hundreds of miles instead of inches, where supply problems are agonizing and where big airdromes are few and vulnerable, the task of striking deep into Japan’s vitals looms up for what it is – a job of truly formidable dimensions.

There is, however, a silver lining to this dilemma. Preparations for heavier and more frequent bombing of important Japanese bases are going forward. During the coming months, our Air Force will range farther and plunge deeper into the core of Japanese military and naval power than ever before. The promise has been made to China, and it will be kept, despite impressive obstacles.

Task is tough

Unless carriers are used – and we have few to risk for such a purpose – the bombing of Japanese bases is, first of all, a problem of supply. For long-range bombing of this kind, you must have heavy bombers, or medium bombers especially equipped for long-distance flying. These bombers, when they can be spared from other more urgent fronts, have to be flown 15,000 miles before they even reach their base of operation.

All gasoline, all personnel and all maintenance equipment required to keep these huge craft frying have to be flown into China from India, which is the nearest point that can be reached by ship and train. Most bombs also have to be carried by air into China, often for distances as great as 1,000 or 1,500 miles, to reach only the points from which the bombing missions can begin. Chinese arsenals produce limited quantities of light and medium bombs, but cannot begin to supply the needs of any large-scale bombing offensive.

In the second place, bombing Japanese bases is a problem of distance. There are Chinese troops within 900 miles of Tokyo, but that doesn’t mean that there are suitable airdromes that close to the enemy capital. Any attempt to construct such facilities in guerrilla areas behind the Japanese lines would inevitably provoke attack from Japanese ground forces which could reach and wipe out such installations with ease. The most advanced Chinese airfields capable of accommodating heavy bombers are still well over 1,000 miles from Tokyo.

Air Forces small

There are, of course, many Japanese bases closer at hand with can be bombed with ease and with damaging effect if we can get the planes to China in sufficient quantities to do the job. Our present Air Force in China is much smaller than most Americans suppose. Because of this and because of supply difficulties, it has had to limit its operations to nearby objectives. The effective attacks on Hong Kong, Canton and Haiphong and the damaging raids on Japanese shipping are only a sample of what American pilots will be doing in China when they get the tools to work with.

The longest American raid out of China, so far, was the attack on the Kailan coal mines, in extreme northern China. It failed of its purpose – the destruction of the powerhouse controlling the mines – but as a morale booster, its effect on the Chinese in occupied regions was electric.

Many fine targets lie within less than 1,000 miles from Chinese bases. Japanese bases on the island of Formosa and Japanese installations in Nanking, Shanghai, Tientsin and Peking are within easy flight. Manchuria, the great continental base of the Japanese Army, is also within practical range. The day will certainly come when U.S. bombers will be striking regularly at such major bases at Dairen and Mukden.

In Manchuria and North China are situated some of Japan’s biggest mines and largest industries. That area is Japan’s major source of iron. The biggest coal mine in the Japanese Empire is only a few miles from Mukden. Near Mukden, too, are arsenals and aircraft factories. In western Japan, inside the practical radius of flight for heavy bombers, are such centers of industry and shipping as Nagasaki and Shimonoseki.

Expensive raid

The Doolittle raid on Tokyo, though highly successful, was expensive and demonstrated what a tough job of planning and execution such a project involves. But it has been done once and can be done again. I wonder if it generally realized what a terrible vengeance was exacted by the Japanese Army for that American raid on the Japanese capital. The vengeance was wreaked not on the Americans but on the Chinese.

It was as a direct result of the Tokyo raid that the Japs launched their offensive last summer in Chekiang Province, eastern China, which must rank as one of the bloodiest and most barbaric chapters of the whole China War. Their object was to capture and destroy Chinese airdromes which they believe the American pilots had tried to reach and from which future raids on Tokyo might have been possible.

The Japs pillaged and burned neatly every town and village in their path. They raped indiscriminately. They turned their horses to graze on the peasants’ crops and ruined what was left. They carried off or destroyed stores of food and grain. They made bonfires of farming implements. They killed recklessly.

In the course of their advance, they subjected undefended cities to incessant and murderous bombardment, for no other purpose, apparently, than to show their spite against the men who had dared to fly over the palace of the Emperor. The city of Lishui, site of one of the airports from which Tokyo could have been raided, was bombed for 21 consecutive days, until more than 60% of its buildings have been laid flat. Once they had captured their airdromes, the Japs cut them to pieces with long deep parallel trenches, for which, of course, they used press gangs of Chinese peasants and villagers. Then they withdrew. Not for many months will East China recover from that orgy of vengeful destruction.

Numerical weakness

Obviously, one of the Japanese aims was so to terrorize the Chinese population that they would resist any effort to reestablish bomber bases in their territory. Similar tactics have been employed in Southeast China, where there has been much indiscriminate Japanese bombing, accompanied by leaflet raids in which the people were warned, in effect, that:

This is what happens to Chinese who give help to American pilots.

But the Chinese are not easily intimidated.

Free China has numerous airdromes, scattered over her whole area, but very few of these are large enough or sufficiently well equipped to serve as bases for heavy bombing operations. That’s another reason why the bombing offensive against Japan has been slow in starting.

Moreover, unless sufficient fighter planes are made available to protect these fields, they are vulnerable. The more bases there are, the better will be the opportunity of playing hide-and-seek with the numerically superior enemy. Because of our numerical weakness in the China skies, our Air Force there has had no other choice but to adapt hit-and-run guerrilla tactics.

When Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Force, went to Chungking to report to Gen. Chiang Kai-shek on Casablanca, he was able to study American air problems there at first hand. Gen. Arnold promised China that the volume of airdrome supplies would be stepped up, that more airplanes would be sent and that bombing operations would be intensified. These promises are on the way to fulfillment, though world strategy, with its emphasis on Europe, puts limitations on the amount of help that can be assigned to China at this stage of the war.


Excellent analyses of the question to bomb or not to bomb :bomb: Japan at this point in the war. Meanwhile the B-29s birds :eagle: are hatching :hatching_chick: Statesside for test flights :smiling_imp:


The Pittsburgh Press (April 7, 1943)

Chinese fight Japs minus guns and food

By A. T. Steele

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the fourth article in the series.

We cannot close our eyes to the fact that the Japanese blockade is slowly draining China’s military and economic strength and that real relief is not yet in sight.

Though the flow of airborne supplies to China has nearly doubled in volume during the past few months, the Chinese are not receiving sufficient materials to maintain even the status quo. It would take a fleet of airplanes much bigger than is now flying the Himalayas to enable China just to hold her own.

Under the circumstances, there is little reason to hope that China can take the offensive on anything like an important scale until the Allies have reopened a satisfactory overland line of supply. That is still some time off. The best that can be done, in the meantime, is to nourish China to the maximum degree possible with the largest number of transport and combat planes that can be spared for that theater. An air offensive is possible even from a blockaded China.

Just a dribble

The materials which the Chinese Army is receiving from us by air consists chiefly of raw materials for Chinese arsenals and specialized equipment like radio sets and instruments. In the line of finished war materials, like firearms, ammunition and armament, the Chinese are getting considerably more from the Japanese than they are from their allies. Every so often, puppet Chinese forces surrender en masse to the Chungking government, bringing their Japanese equipment with them.

Since Pearl Harbor, the Japanese have withdrawn several divisions of troops from China, though their garrisons in that country still total well over 600,000 men. Against this, the Chinese have disposed an army of more than 4 million soldiers, with others in reserve. In view of this disparity, some people ask why the Chinese do not take the offensive. They do not remember that the Chinese are equipped only with rifles, machine guns, hand grenades and very limited quantities of artillery. They are practically without tanks or big guns. They are woefully short of motor transport and are lacking parts and fuel to maintain properly what they have. Their air force is small – much too small for sustained offensive action on a large scale.

Food shortage

Another distressing aspect of the Chinese military picture is that undernourishment is slowly undermining the vitality of many of China’s best divisions. An army cannot march and fight with full efficiency on a diet of rice. And yet that, with an inadequate addition of vegetables, is about all that most Chinese soldiers ever see. Meat, for the soldier, is a great rarity. Nutritional ailments and diseases like malaria are epidemic. Such deficiencies as these have never been uncommon in China, but they have been seriously aggravated by the blockade.

Of course, it is impossible to generalize about the Chinese Army. There are among China’s divisions a number of crack units which are fully equipped and well fed. They are in the minority. It is doubtless true, too, that China, with reasonable foresight, has laid away certain reserves of war materials and fuel as an insurance against possible emergencies in the future. This is a precaution which any country would take under the circumstances. The Chinese are willing to draw on these reserves for an offensive action that will get them somewhere, such, for instance, as a drive on Burma in collaboration with the Allies.

But they see no point in dissipating their precious – and very limited – stocks of operations of an indecisive nature. It would be easy for them to shoot away in a few days as much as they are receiving from us in a month. Something, they point out, has to be held back with which to defend the country against further Japanese invasions, should they come.

Drive costly

The most important offensive action which the Chinese have attempted since Pearl Harbor was the drive against the Mid-Yangtze port of Ichang. In the process, they paid a terrible price. Nothing could better illustrate the difficulties that blockade has imposed on the Chinese Army.

Ichang is a key point straddling the main supply line between Central and West China. If the Chinese could gain permanent possession of Ichang, their food problem would be considerably improved, for it would then be possible to ship rice and other products from Central China, where there is sometimes a surplus, to West China, where there is sometimes a shortage. Present connections between the two areas are roundabout and tenuous.

Displaying great gallantry, the Chinese captured Ichang from an enemy force inferior in numbers but vastly superior in equipment. It gave a momentary thrill in inspiration to the whole country, for China had waited long for victories. But it did not last long. The Japanese, favored by excellent lines of communication and unlimited reserves of armament, brought up reinforcements. They deluged the Chinese defenders with aerial bombs.

Officers killed

They bombarded them with gas shells. They brought up tanks and gunboats. The Chinese, after a brief but tenacious resistance against this mechanized onslaught, to which they could offer no barrier but flesh and blood, were obliged to withdraw. But not all of them came back. Most had died. A Chinese general told me afterward that this brief and bloody offensive effort had cost:

We used two divisions [between 10 and 15,000 men] in that action. All officers above the rank of regimental commander were killed. 60% of all battalion commanders were killed. All that was left to those two divisions were 2,000 men. Our losses were more than 10–1 in relation to Japanese losses. Do you wonder, after that, why we hesitate to take the offensive against such terrific odds?

Human life is cheap in China, but not so cheap that Chinese commanders are anxious to risk their under-armed manpower in suicidal maneuvers against a foe armed to the teeth with everything that modern science can produce.

Hidden arsenals

Hidden away in the fastnesses of West China are a number of small but excellently equipped arsenals. American military men who have visited them speak highly of the efficiency with which they are run. These plants are producing rifles, machine guns, ammunition, trench mortars, bombs, grenades and an occasional small artillery piece. They are able to provide a considerable part of China’s needs in the line of small arms – but by no means all of it. The shortage of raw materials is so acute that not all of even these plants are working at full capacity. Much of the Lend-Lease stuff which is being flown into China consists of materials for these arsenals.

Generally speaking, the military situation in China has been stagnant since Pearl Harbor. The Japanese have launched several fierce offensives of a limited nature, but generally for the purpose of breaking up concentrations of Chinese troops rather than to acquire new territory. The Japs have also vigorously pushed “mopping-up” operations in the guerrilla regions behind their lines, with only indifferent results. While the danger is ever-present, there is yet no indication that the enemy is preparing for any attempt at a knockout offensive in China. He has too much urgent business elsewhere.

There are those who criticize the Chungking generals because they have deployed a part of their crack forces along the frontier of the territory controlled by the Chinese Red Army. Whether the strength so immobilized would materially alter the strategic picture in Asia if it were stationed elsewhere is, however, very doubtful. There are others who ask why Chinese guerrillas are not more active. The Chinese reply that problems of supply and coordination are excruciatingly difficult. Moreover, they come back with the question:

What is the record of Allied guerrillas in Burma and in Africa? Is it any better than ours?

Maybe they have something there.

1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (April 8, 1943)

Money ruin faces China if blockade isn’t broken

By A. T. Steele

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the fifth article in the series.

As the senior victim of Japanese aggression, blockaded China is increasingly resentful of what she considers United Nations neglect of her acute problems.

A number of things have contributed to this unhappy outlook of Chinese public opinion, among them delays in the reopening of the Burma Road, the greater attention being devoted to other Allied fronts, the failure of China to obtain a place of full equality on Allied war councils and, above all, the steady deterioration in China’s economic position.

This concern is growingly reflected in Chinese newspaper editorials. It is only thinly disguised in the utterances of some Chinese officials. But to get a real earful, it is necessary to go to China and talk to the people there who are taking it on the chin.

Yet the Chinese are neither desperate nor thinking of compromise with the enemy. As far as Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, at least, is concerned, compromise is unthinkable. And, incidentally, the Generalissimo’s prestige and influence in China are greater today than ever before. His popularity has grown, rather than diminished, as China’s problems have multiplied. It is as strong in the occupied as in the unoccupied regions. There have been times when some of those under Chiang have wavered, but he himself has never budged in his determination. His unifying influence is a fact of much importance in the China situation.

China weaker

There are real hazards, however, in postponing too long the relief of blockaded China. Despite his prestige, Gen. Chiang, like Canute, is powerless to exact obedience from the sea. The tide which threatens China today is mainly an economic one. The economic crisis created by the Japanese blockade has already brought serious dislocations and will bring more as it continues. Notwithstanding such material help as we are sending China by air, the country is likely to become weaker with every month that the blockade remains unbroken.

China’s economic woes are legion. Topping the list are the twin evils of shortages and high prices. The cost of living has multiplied fabulously. Prices range from 40 to 80 times higher than in 1937 and the ascent continues. The currency issue has reached astronomical figures, and a sizable fraction of the precious space in airplanes going to China has to be devoted to bales of banknotes.

Transport and distribution are painful problems. As in most countries at war, hoarding and profiteering have been unhealthful influences, which even occasional executions have not checked.

The economic crisis has brought a steady decline in the standard of living of a people whose standard was already among the lowest. It is no exaggeration to say that over 90% of the people of China are living in poorer circumstances than the poorest 10% of the population of the United States.

Inflation hurts

Inflation hits hardest at people with fixed incomes, and this is especially true in China where the small but important salaried element have suffered out of proportion with the mass of the people. Salaries and wages, except in a minority of cases, have not begun to keep pace with the rising price level. Junior government officials, professors and teachers – many of them possessing degrees from leading American universities – have gone through a trying ordeal of privation. In some places, as in much-bombed Chungking, many of them are living in flimsy, mud-walled, thatched-roofed huts, without heat in either their offices or homes during the chill winter months.

Although such people receive a small rice allowance in addition to their meager salaries, undernourishment is steadily undermining their vitality. The children of these people are in an even worse way. Milk is fantastically high-priced and out of reach of most. Malnutrition is extremely common among children. Medicines are so scarce and so high-priced that they have to be bought by the pill and by the gram rather than by the box or by the bottle. In numerous instances, teachers and office workers have been obliged to sell their possessions one by one to obtain enough money to keep body and soul together.

Farmers fare fairly

If China’s whole population were hit as hard as these wage-earners, the country’s plight would be desperate indeed. But fortunately for China, the great mass of her population (about 80%) live on the farms. The peasants as a whole have not fared badly despite heavier taxation and rising living costs, for they have received benefit from higher crop prices. Nor have the merchants suffered, nor, for the most part, the coolies.

The foundation of China’s rather primitive economy is food. China has had severe famines in isolated regions during the last year, mainly in Honan and in the coastal areas devastated by Japanese attack, but over most of Free China, the crops were fair. Nature, however, is tricky. One year of bad crops over the country as a whole could provoke disastrous consequences, especially if continuance of the blockade made outside relief impossible.

The big shortages in Free China are munitions of all kinds, manufactured goods of all kinds, transport facilities of all kinds and of course medicines of all kinds. Arsenals, cotton mills and factories transferred to West China from the coast during the hostilities are meeting a percentage of the country’s needs, but not a very big percentage. According to official statistics, 639 factories have been moved piece by piece to new locations in West China, since the war began, to supplement the few industries already there.

Output increases

Free China’s output of cotton yard has increased four times, wheat flour two-and-a-half times, coal two times. Today, articles are made in West China which were never manufactured in that region before – such things as electric wire, military telephones, lamps, alcohol, gasoline, diesel oil, generators and industrial instruments. The difficulty is that though supply is still far short of demand, the production on most items cannot be increased much more, because no more machinery is available.

To ease the terrific supply problem, the Chinese have had to encourage importation of Japanese textiles and other essential goods from occupied China and Indochina. But this source is likely to dry up, as the Japs, too, are running very short on materials. Infinitesimal quantities of goods, mainly textiles, are coming across Tibet from India, by caravan. It is doubtful whether this route will ever become very important. China is receiving almost nothing from Russia. There is a possibility that a roundabout overland line of supply can be opened from the United States to China by way of Chinese Turkestan. But that route would also be restricted in its capacity.

Collapse predicted

How long China can go on like this is a question that has had experts and pseudo-experts guessing for the past five years. The Chinese government has tried a great variety of measures to combat the economic crisis and while they may have slowed up the process of deterioration, they have not stopped it. Economic collapse in China has been often predicted, during those years, but the Chinese, for all their woes, have kept plugging along.

The psychological factor is too often overlooked. America’s entry into the war and relief from bombing have had a very stimulating effect on Chinese confidence and morale. As long as the general military picture remains in our favor, as long as China remains sure of Allied victory, as long as crops in China are good, the long-suffering Chinese people will be able to put up with considerably more punishment. It looks as though they are going to have to. There is now little hope that any major effort can be made to lift the siege of China until after the monsoons. They will end in October. There is no certainty how long it will take, even then, for the Allies to launch an all-out show in Burma.

With some help, China can struggle on for many months, but predictions on China’s condition after another year of blockade have to be made with fingers crossed.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 9, 1943)

Tensions with Russia

By A. T. Steele

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the sixth article in the series.

Spring has come to Asia and with it the seasonal rumors of impending Japanese attack on the Soviet Union. They are the same old stories that turn up every spring and autumn with clock-like regularity. And this season’s crop sound no more convincing than those which have gone before.

Russia and Japan may some day go to war, but it’s hard to believe that the time is near at hand. Japan, to be sure, would gain enormously from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet it would achieve nothing but grief were it to strike until and unless it were sure that by so doing it could knock Russia quickly out of the war. The impressive reserve power displayed by the Red Army in its winter offensive must have gone far to discourage the Japs from any idea that Russia was ripe for the kill.

As to Soviet policy, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that Moscow has no intention of opening a new front in Asia as long as the Red Army is preoccupied with Hitler – unless, of course, the Japs show positive aggressive intentions. Once again. The Russians and Japanese have renewed their fishing agreement for another year. This fits right in with the coldly realistic policy of the two powers and means little one way or the other. Had it not been signed, there would have been real cause for surprise, and the significance might have been great indeed.

Alarming prospect

Because of recent evidences of Russo-Japanese cooperating, there is a school which envisages the alarming prospect of Russia and Japan joining hands and going down the garden path together at the expense of the Anglo-Chinese-American war effort in the Pacific. Such conjectures can be given a semblance of reasonableness on the basis of long-range power politics, but they are dwarfed by a mass of evidence, historical and otherwise, which show up Russia and Japan for what they are – rival powers separated by a wide, deep chasm of differences. The bridge that links them is convenient but shaky, like most temporary structures.

There is, perhaps, one thing that could conceivably bring Russia closer to Japan. That is if the mistrust of Russia, which is so evident among some sections of the American public, grows into open hostility. Anti-Bolshevik suspicion is deeper in the United States than in any country I have visited.

While stressing moral considerations, it minimizes the cold, hard, all-important truth that Russia’s downfall would complicate enormously our problem of winning the war, not only in Europe but in Asia. A Soviet collapse would certainly prolong the war, perhaps by years, and possibly rob us of the absolute victory which we have set as our goal.

Whether the Soviet Union, after the defeat of Hitler, will choose to enter the Pacific War on our side, is something else again. You can amass plenty of logic on either side, but very few facts that prove anything. When I left China, I was laying even money that the Russians would be drawn in after the European phase was over. However, since coming home and seeing the state of mind of some Americans toward Russia, I have given up gambling.

Japs in Manchuria

Despite rumors of Russo-Japanese animosity, there is no indication that the Japanese have withdrawn a single soldier from the huge garrison which they maintain in areas adjacent to the Soviet frontier. In Manchuria, Japan has kept and is still keeping the most powerful concentration of military strength in the Japanese Empire – the elite of its troops, the best of its equipment.

The strategic proximity of Soviet bases to the heart of Japan is still as glaring a menace to Japanese security as it has ever been. The ideological gulf between Bolshevism and Shintoism is still as impassable as it has ever been. Moreover, in my 10 months in Russia, I found a whispered resentment against Japanese militarism as bitter as that which exists in the United States. And it is just as strong among Red Army officers and men as among the people.

Nor is it conceivable that the Japanese Army could be easily purged of the intense anti-communist indoctrination to which it has been exposed for years. The facts, of course, may have no influence whatever on Russia’s continued neutrality in the Pacific, if she chooses for practical reasons to remain neutral. But they made unconvincing the fears of those who suspect Moscow of adopting a deliberate policy designed to make Japan stronger at our expense.

China, too!

In China too, the enigma of Russia and its policies looms large. Only there, it is more immediate and direct, for the Soviet Union has a long land frontier on China. The problem of putting Sino-Soviet relations on a sound and lasting basis is complicated by differences between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Parties, by the special status of such border regions as Outer Mongolia and Sinkiang and by uncertainty as to Russia’s post-war aspirations in Asia, of which Moscow has said little.

In Far Western Sinkiang, where Russian influence was considerable, Gen. Chiang Kai-shek has recently scored the first stroke in what may prove to be an important political coup. The chronic impasse between the ruling Chinese party, the Kuomintang, and the minority Chinese party, the communists, is still far from a fundamental solution. On the main immediate issue, the two parties are agreed; that is, resistance to Japan.

But each party is carrying on resistance in its own way, with its own armies and in its own territory. Though neither party has renounced the articles of cooperation by which they established a joint front against Japan, the only real connection is a loose liaison through resident emissaries.

Gen. Chiang’s policy has been unification of China by political means, if possible, but by military pressure, if necessary, when other means fail. Once, during the past year, a dissident group in the backwoods of Kweichow Province raised the banner of revolt. The uprising, small in scale, was apparently plotted and provoked by agents of the Japanese puppet, Wang Ching-wei, who took advantage of the economic crisis to fan popular resentment. The trouble was quickly and easily suppressed.


The Pittsburgh Press (April 10, 1943)

Crisis in India reservoir of bitterness

By A. T. Steele

Screenshot 2022-04-09 223738
India is a real problem for the Allies, especially with Japan watching every move and likely to pounce on that troubled and divided country at any moment. This map shows how the various races and religions split India into small segments of strife.

Almost a year before Pearl Harbor, Arch Steele, of the Chicago Daily News foreign staff, took a trip into Japan and dug up startling facts about Tokyo’s plans against the United States. Then, to avoid censorship, he slipped back into China, and filed his now-famous series on “Japan Takes Aim.”

Since then, Mr. Steele’s accurate and uninterrupted war coverage has carried him into many battle zones – including Russia’s. And now – back in the United States for the first time in four years – he has written a fact-filled series on the task that faces us before we can come to final grips with Japan. The following is the last article in the series.

In the previous six articles, Mr. Steele discussed the difficulties facing the United Nations in the Far East. China, he pointed out, cannot last much longer unless she gets help on a large scale. She is near to economic collapse. He also said that Russia and Japan probably wouldn’t go to war against each other soon because the Japanese will not strike unless they are certain that the Reds will fold up quickly. That, he asserts, is not likely to happen.

Despite his 21-day fast, Mohandas K. Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement continues to lose ground in India, though the great and complex political issues which provoked it are no nearer solution than ever before.

With the indestructible Mr. Gandhi slowly regaining his weight and strength, tension has eased. But there has been no draining off of the huge reservoir of public bitterness built up in India by the events of the past six months.

If anything, the fast has shown how bleak are the prospects for the duration of the war, of any kind of a political situation which would bring the people of India wholeheartedly into the United Nations’ war effort.

Gandhi, who has referred to fasting as the “finest weapon” in his armory, doubtless hoped that his three weeks’ ordeal would reinvigorate his disheartened legions. The effect, while noticeable, was surely below expectations.

The British police had no difficulty in maintaining control. Nevertheless, Gandhi’s supporters claim gains. They point out that the fast brought the Indian problem back into the world spotlight and that Gandhi has won new prestige among the Indian masses. Once again, Gandhi has fooled the doctors, who said that his old body could not stand that much punishment. Millions of Hindus are convinced anew that Gandhi is favored by the gods – perhaps actually one of them. Gandhi-ites also claim that popular bitterness against the British has increased because of British refusal to release Gandhi unconditionally when he lay at death’s door.

The British, for their part, feel that they have scored an important moral victory and that their strong-hand policy has been vindicated. They have shown the Congress Party this time that they will not be coerced into making concessions.

Moreover, they believe their position has been strengthened through the deflation of tenacious Indian hopes that the United Nations might intervene at the critical moment. Some Indians had expected much from William Phillips, President Roosevelt’s personal emissary to India. Now they know that the Phillips appointment does not connote any marked change in American policy toward India.

No police problem

Gandhi’s movement will doubtless drag on, in a furtive, underground way, until the old man should decide to call it off – if ever. As long as Gandhi lives, no other man in India has the power to halt it completely. Yet, while the movement is still a thorn in the British side, it is no longer a critical police problem. The bloody, widespread disorders of half a year ago have given way to sporadic bombings, sabotage and non-violent demonstrations on a not very important scale. The British and Indian police have done an effective

It is hard to see how the Gandhi rebellion could be successfully resuscitated in any strength except in one of two ways. If, for instance, the Japanese should invade, or attempt to invade India, the British would be placed with the choice of appeasing the Indian people or of coping with a morale problem just as serious as that which cost them so dearly in Burma. British leaders have been confident, however, that the Japanese would not attack India. Doubtless, this conviction has been partly responsible for the firm line they have taken. There is another possibility which could perhaps stir up the Indians again. That is a Gandhian fast to the death. Even that would probably bring no change in British policy. British police now feel sure of their ability to handle any situation that might arise.

Several deterrents

There are many reasons why Gandhi’s movement has diminished in vitality. Prompt and vigorous police suppression and the arrest of all important Congress leaders after the August meeting in Bombay dealt a terrific blow to the revolt before it had even got well started. Then, too, there were thousands of thinking Indians who, while wholly sympathetic with Gandhi’s demand for independence, felt that the Congress resolution was too strongly couched and that this was no time for a rebellion which might seriously impede the Allied war effort.

Much had been expected from the United Nations. The lack of response from the United States and other countries discouraged many Indian nationalists. Another deterrent to sincere disciples of Gandhi’s non-violent doctrines was the bloody nature of the rioting and the bloody way in which it was put down. Gandhi had anticipated much support from Indian officeholders and soldiers of the Indian Army, thousands of whom are enthusiastic sympathizers with Gandhi’s cause. But reluctance to risk well-paying jobs and, in some cases, doubt as to the wisdom of civil disobedience at this time prevented them from joining in any numbers. The uncompromising opposition of the all-Indian Muslim League, which also demands independence, but on its own terms, also helped stall the movement. Except in isolated cases, the big Muslim minority (about 90,000,000) has remained coolly aloof.

Jap propaganda

The rebellion began when India seemed threatened with invasion, but British victories in Africa and the halting of the Japanese in Burma removed this threat almost overnight. This changed the views of many Indians on the probable outcome of the wear and did much to strengthen the British hand. Unquestionably, it was Gandhi’s intention to so dislocate the Indian war effort at a critical moment that the British would have to yield. Yet in the great mass of material that the British have published on the recent trouble, there is no evidence of any connection between the Congress Party leadership and the Japanese.

I am convinced that the majority of Congress leaders were sympathetic to the Allied cause. Acute distrust of Britain’s promises for the future and acute dissatisfaction over the Cripps plan, combined with the feeling that there would never be a better opportunity to force the British hand, led them to demand immediate freedom. There is of course a pro-Axis minority in India which exults over every Allied setback and swallows whole the propaganda focused on India from Japanese and German broadcasting stations. As for the impoverished masses, they are depressed and disinterested but easily whipped up to any point of view exploited by their popular leaders so long as it offers promises of more rice and fewer taxes.

The Muslim League is adamant in its demand for Pakistan (Muslim self-determination) and the Congress leaders are in jail. A large section of Indian opinion, including many who do not endorse Gandhi’s recent actions, believe that the old man has undergone a change of heart and that his release might facilitate a settlement. The British are unconvinced.

There is no doubt about Indian bitterness. I have encountered it everywhere in that country and among all races and sects. It stems partly from the inflexible British attitude (London refuses to budge from the Cripps offer) and partly from the fact that India has been drawn into a war which is being fought in the name of freedom though it remains a subject state.

The British say:

We can do nothing until the political parties compose their differences.

The Muslims say:

We can do nothing until Gandhi recognizes Pakistan.

Gandhi’s Congress Party says:

We can do nothing until the British show more willingness to compromise.

American correspondents, trying to make sense out of this hopeless muddle, say, simply, “Oh, Lord!”


Well… Rice is a staple food in the southern region and wheat is a staple food in the northern regions of India. The reason for that… is monsoon. The monsoon is the winds carrying the rains to various parts of India. The monsoon advances and retreats… so it does not stay in the North for a long time… but for the south it does. Rice consumes a lot of water just to be grown… this is not feasible in the North because of the small number of months the monsoon stays there… So they turn to something that does not consume a lot of water and can be used a staple food and that staple food is Wheat.

A personal gripe of mine with the map is why is Nepal in British Commissionerships? They had soldiers serving in the British and the Indian armies (still do) but how does that make them part of British Commissionerships.

Well… yes. To give you an idea of how the provinces are split… 11 of them are directly under british rule, bombay, madras, bengal, calcutta, bihar, assam, united provinces, central provinces,sind, northwestern Frontier Province, Orissa (I have doubts on this one). The rest of the provinces(princely states) which numbered 562 (and had a combined population of a 100 million) remained under the rule of it’s rulers. The size of the provinces could vary from small villages to enormous territories such as Hyderabad whose ruler was Muslim though majority of his subject were Hindu (spoilers : this would become important after Indian independence) and was also reputedly the world’s richest and meanest man. If I remember correct he gave the British 20 Spitfires and the British thanked him with one captured Messerschmidt.

The princely states were allowed to have their own state troops, govern their land but for matters such as foreign affairs and defence those tasks were delegated to the British.

So the Raj’s administration is paper thin. Spoilers for the future… the Raj’s administration really begins to break down near the end of January 1947 (the cracks have been exposed already by the Bengal Famine which despite a certain person’s book saying that it was Churchil’s doing, was really the Raj’s administration fault).

The provinces also had a gun salute system in place. The higher the number of guns, the more the amount of respect you were given. (will update it when I find the exact page detailing it)

Well… True… Linlithgow quickly jailed the congress leadership as they had launched the Quit India Movement in August (when things were not going well for the allies) and also because it proved to be a nuisance in the British war effort when they were increasing the Indian Army size from 175,000 to over 2 Million (all volunteers). The congress being jailed is a kind of a blessing for Jinnah as he can consolidate the position of the Muslim League.

So how did the War Economy help India? Well… again taking notes from Barney White-Spunner’s book Partition (Yes… I know I am quoting him a lot as that it the only book I have read on India’s partition).

Indian economy received a huge boost from the war economy, resulting higher employment and wages. India’s war effort proved to be exception and however much criticism Wavell, Auchinleck (the C-in-C) and Lintithgow earned from the subsequent events, the effort that put the 14th Army into the field so that it could drive the Japanese out of Burma and lead to their ultimate defeat should never be estimated.

Although he gives no numbers or tables to support that claim.

No… there is no connection now. But… the person leading the INA was part of the congress. In the 30s … there is rift among the Congress on how to gain Independence, some advocate for peaceful means, while others like Subash Chandra Bose want violent means. The congress doesn’t like violent means. So… he leaves Congress and when the war breaks out, goes and asks Hitler for support… Hitler denies him help, he then goes and asks the Japanese for support, which he gets. The Japanese offensive into India fails where the INA support them(Spoilers! Sorry). He dies in a plane crash while escaping to Japan near Taiwan… although there are theories that he somehow survived.

(A small amount of details have been left out… will be added as I find the information regarding it in the book)


I’m interested. :slight_smile: Write 'em all here. :+1:


Further information from The Shadow of the great game. The untold story of India’s partition by Narendra Singh Sarila (who is this guy? Well… he was the ADC to Mountbatten… the last Viceroy of India).

India was divided into eleven provinces, ruled directly by the British, and 350 princely states controlled indirectly. By 1939, each British province had an elected legislature (on 14 per franchise) and the leader of the majority party ran the government and was called chief minister. The British governors of these provinces had the power to dismiss the ministries and assume control. The chief secretaries in the provinces were mostly British members of the Indian Civil Services (ICS).

At the time Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, even though the Central Government in Delhi was in the viceroy’s hands, the Congress Party ministries were running the governments in 8 out of the eleven British provinces of India and were the foremost partners of Britain in governing the country. They exercises authority over three-fourths of the population of British India and the territories they governed included the British-built port cities of Madras and Bombay, the old Mughal capital of Agra, the ancient cities of Banaras ( now called Varanasi) and Patliputra (now called Patna), Lucknow, Ahmedabad and Nagpur and the Pathan stronghold of Peshawar on the Indian side of the Khyber pass (the Northwestern frontier province) from where the British had played the Great Game to restrain Russian penetration into Central Asia.

The nationalists (aka the Congress) had taken over power in the aforementioned provinces after their triumph in the provincial elections of 1937 held under the new constitution for an All-India Federation introduced in 1935. This federal scheme provided for self-government at the provincial level and a bicameral legislature at the Centre in which both the eleven British provinces and the 350 provinces of the princely states would be represented. The scheme was launched the consent of Jinnah and the Muslim league. In the Federal legislature the princes nominees- none elected, all appointed - were to occupy 110 out of 260 seats in the Upper Chamber and 125 out of 375 seats in the Lower House. Since the elected representatives from British India would belong to various, mutually, antagonistic, political parties, the princes’ "battalions’, if they remained united could hold the key to the formation and running of the Central government.

The irony of the situation was that within two months of the outbreak of the Second World War, the Congress party had given up all its gains by resigning from the governments in the provinces. The reasons given by the Congress Party for this grave step were that India had been dragged into the war with any consultation with its elected representatives and that their demand for a declaration about India’s freedom after the war and for associating them in some manner or the other with the Central Government in the meantime had been rejected. If the aim of the exercise was pressurize the British to grant more power to the nationalist forthwith, the result was rather different than anticipated.

Their resignations reduced the British dependence on the Congress party to mobilize Indian resource for the war and made it less necessary for them accommodate the party’s demands. In other words, the resignations reduced the nationalists’ bargaining power with the British authorities. Further, the Congress Party’s abdication created a political vacuum in the country that gave an opportunity to the Muslim League, defeated in the election, to stage a comeback through the back door, by making promises to Britain to cooperate in the war effort. Moreover, it created doubts about the nationalists’ commitment to the fight against Hitler and prejudiced opinion against them.

V.P.Menon, the distinguished (his words not mine) civil servant and adviser on constitution reforms to three viceroys - Linlithgow, Wavell, Mountbatten - in his book The Transfer of Power in India says:

By resigning the Congress Party showed a lamentable political wisdom. There was little chance of its being being put out of office: The British Government would surely have hesitated to incur the odium of dismissing Ministries, which had the overwhelming support of the people. Nor could it have resisted a unanimous demand for a change at the centre, a demand which would been all the more irresistible after the entry of Japan into the war. In any case, it is clear that but for the resignation of the Congress Ministries, Jinnah and the Muslim League would have never attained the position they did.

1 Like

Excerpt taken from The Shadow of the Great Game (p40).

Subash Chandra Bose, a rising star from Bengal and Nehru’s rival in the Congress Party, also supported the policy of opposing Britain. To him, ‘Britain’s difficultly was India’s opportunity’. For some years now, he had opposing the Mahatma’s policy of non-violent non-cooperation as one that unlikely to yield results and was spoiling to mobilize the masses for a no-holds-barred violent struggle to overthrow British Power.

A graduate of Cambridge University, like Nehru, Bose was heir to the more revolution traditions of Bengal. On his very first meeting with Gandhi (he uses Gandhiji, the -ji suffix is used for giving respect to a person… just like -san in japanese) in 1921, he had declared that Gandhi (he uses Mahatma here) ‘showed a deplorable lack of clarity in his political aims.’ Bose’s popularity amongst the youth was rising. In 1938, to everyone’s surprise, he won the presidentship of the Congress party defeating the candidate favoured by by Gandhi (Nehru). Gandhi had to work hard to reverse this party decision in the electoral contest the following year. He did so by pushing the equally charismatic, plus hard working and devoted Nehru, to the forefront.

In March 1940 Bose formed his own group, the Forward Bloc, and in July 1940 parted company with the Congress Party. Bose, as a result of his subsequent activites perhaps contributed more, in the 1940s, to demoralise the British and break their will to remain in India, than the Congress party. However, he also contributed to the deepening of the distrust between Britishers and Indians.