||Prime Minister Churchill
||Field Marshal Dill
||Field Marshal Wavell
||Admiral of the Fleet Pound
|Lieutenant General Stilwell
|Lieutenant General McNarney
||Air Chief Marshal Portal
|Major General Chennault
||Air Chief Marshal Peirse
||Lieutenant General Ismay
||Brigadier General Deane
Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
May 14, 1943, 2 p.m.
The President said that this Conference had been called to talk about the local situation in the India-Burma-China Theater because that area presented problems which were extremely difficult. The United Nations were now on dead-center with regard to operations in that area. The thought on the subject must be simplified. He said the problem should be divided into two main subdivisions: first, operations to be carried out forthwith and, second, operations to be carried out at the end of the present monsoon season. The two should not be confused. Preparations for operations in November and December of 1943 must certainly start now, but preparations for operations to be carried out forthwith must be rushed.
The President indicated that China is now in a dangerous political condition. The United Nations could not let China go to pieces. It should be remembered, when discussing demands of the Generalissimo, that he was the head of the Army and of the State. It was imperative that the United Nations not be put in the position of being responsible in any way for the collapse of China. It was no longer possible to simply tell China to take what she was given. There must be active cooperation on the part of the United Nations. An attitude of It can’t be done could not be tolerated because it was certain that something must be done. He said there would have to be a 1943 affirmative.
The Prime Minister said that there must be a 1943 and a 1944 affirmative.
The President then asked those present to express their convictions freely on the subject of China and asked the Prime Minister to present his views.
The Prime Minister said he felt that the President had put the case very clearly. He himself had once been keen on action of the ANAKIM type and two years ago had written a memorandum on the subject, a copy of which he had given to Admiral King at Casablanca, in which he had proposed an operation through Rangoon on Bangkok. A decision had been made at Casablanca that ANAKIM was to be mounted. Accordingly, Field Marshal Wavell had prepared a plan which was in his opinion the best method for accomplishing the recapture of Burma. The Prime Minister said he now gathered that Field Marshal Wavell considered the outlook for the accomplishment of this plan to be bleak, but he still held it feasible if and when the necessary material was provided.
The Prime Minister said that operations in Burma so far had not been effective. However, they had taught lessons. He said when he looked at Field Marshal Wavell’s plan, in the light of results to date, he did not like the looks of it. He questioned the value of trying to retake Burma now, and asked if it could not be bypassed. If so, would not the construction and defense of airfields be sufficient to insure a flow of supplies into China? The question was how to construct these airfields quickly and to insure their protection. He said that, for himself, he had little inclination to go to swampy jungles in which operations could be conducted for only five months of the year, country infested with malaria, where modern equipment could not be used. The idea of making four attacks from the sea, to say nothing of the advance up the Rangoon River to Rangoon, subject to attack from shore defenses of various kinds, did not present a favorable outlook. All of these factors, together with the long lines of communications, made the prospects for ANAKIM, as now planned, extremely gloomy, a view that was shared by his military advisers.
The Prime Minister indicated that he could not see how operations in the swamps of Burma would help the Chinese. The factor that had turned him against the plan, more than any other, was that only 20,000 tons could be transported over the Burma Road, and then only in early 1945, even though ANAKIM were completely successful. He questioned what would happen to the Chinese in the interval. He felt that the above considerations indicated that there should be a passionate development of air transport into China, and the buildup of air forces in China, as the objectives for 1943.
The Prime Minister then turned the discussion to 1944. He indicated an Asiatic TORCH should be sought. A blow should be struck where it could be accomplished with complete surprise. It would, of necessity, have to be an operation which would attract enemy reaction and thus take the pressure off China and the South Pacific. He suggested the possibility of seizing the northern tip of Sumatra. It would be much better to baffle the enemy by surprise than to continue with the development of the obvious.
The President said that in the TORCH operation the objective had been to drive the Axis forces out of Africa, or at least to form a junction between Generals Alexander and Montgomery in the East and General Eisenhower’s forces in the West. Our objectives in China should be: first, to save China and keep it going and, second, to continue to increase the rate of attrition on Japan in ships and airplanes. He said that until now the United Nations have met with considerable success in their battle of attrition against Japan, but the pace would have to be stepped up. He then asked Field Marshal Wavell to express his views on the Burma and ANAKIM operation.
Field Marshal Wavell said that he had had the Burma campaign and Burma constantly in mind for two years. He considered it to be the most important pivot in the war against Japan. After war had been declared, it became impossible to defend Burma once the United Nations had lost control of the seas. He had been thinking of the reconquest of that country ever since. He said he was convinced that a reconquest could not be accomplished by land operations alone but must be combined with amphibious operations and naval action. He had always realized the political effect that the loss of Burma had on China and also upon India. The moral effect on both countries was also of extreme importance.
Field Marshal Wavell said that the more he had planned for reconquest the more difficult it had become. Communications to northeast India, which must be a base for land operations, are extremely difficult. They are dependent upon a railroad which has small capacity and is often out of operation for long periods. Airfields must have metal or concrete surfaces. To illustrate the difficulties in communications, he said that his troops at Manipur had never been on full rations during the last monsoon period because of the effect of rain on the roads. Current operations have shown that the Japanese have good troops for defensive fighting, whereas the Indian forces, accustomed to the open plains, require intensive training for this type of warfare.
Field Marshal Wavell said that when he was asked to produce a plan to conquer Burma in the next dry season, he had had prepared what he thought was the best plan possible. Even so, it was a hazardous one and difficult of accomplishment. He felt it had a reasonable chance of success if his troops were fully trained and equipped. The plan required a considerable increase of supplies which had to be sent to the theater at once. It was necessary that 180,000 tons per month be sent to India. Actually, in March and April only 65,000 and 70,000 tons respectively had been shipped. He felt that therefore the operation could not start in November as originally planned. Unless the operation could start in November, it could not succeed in the coming dry season. It would be necessary to get land-based air cover on the Arakan coast first, then capture Rangoon, while, at the same time, conducting operations in the north with British and Chinese troops. The Chinese forces from the north and the British-Indian forces from the south would then attempt to form a junction. After that it would be necessary to repair the railroads and bring supplies in through Rangoon and ship them north in order to start repair of the Burma Road. His administrative experts had informed him that the road could not be fully opened to traffic until the middle of 1945.
The Field Marshal indicated that relief to China would therefore not be effective until 1945, but that the moral effect, on the other hand, would be considerable at once to both China and India. If success was assured, it would be worth hazarding the losses. He said, however, that an unsuccessful expedition would be much worse than none at all.
Field Marshal Wavell said that his Planners had been examining alternatives. He said that, in the long run, it was probable that more supplies could be sent into China by air alone in the next 18 months than would be the case if the air transport was required to use much of its capacity for operations leading to the construction of the Burma Road.
The possibility of using troops in the India Theater for some other operation was being examined. An effort was being made to determine the effect of creating a break or landing somewhere in the semicircle from Burma through the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Java. Possible objectives were Bangkok via the Kra Isthmus, northern Sumatra, and Malaya, or the Sunda Straits. Bangkok was considered to be impracticable because there was no adequate port or routes across the Kra Isthmus. Sunda Straits was an attractive objective because it threatens the Palembang oil fields. This, however, was not possible within the resources available. An operation which did appear to be promising was one which would seize three or four airfields in northern Sumatra and from there drive on into the Malayan Peninsula at Penang, where there were four or five additional airfields. The object of such an expedition would be to place large air forces in Sumatra and Malaya from where they could attack Bangkok, Singapore, the Palembang oil fields, and Japanese shipping. If it were possible to place strong air forces on northern Sumatra and protect them, a bad situation would be created for the Japanese and cause them considerable air losses. The expedition would probably require about the same forces as would be required by ANAKIM. It would have the advantage that the operation would not be dependent on the monsoon. It would be an expensive operation in aircraft because of the distance from air bases and it would also require considerable shipping. The proposed operation, if feasible, however, would cause considerable attrition to Japanese air power and shipping. The Japanese would have to react to the United Nations’ operations and this would bring on air battles. Considerable further study would be required before an opinion could be given as to the possibility of the operation.
In reply to a question by the Prime Minister, the Field Marshal said the operation proposed could not take place until 1944.
The President pointed out that there were many naval problems involved in the capture of Rangoon. He questioned whether sufficient carriers could be made available.
Admiral Somerville said that the Rangoon operation was not attractive. Even to seize the airfields on the Arakan coast would require carriers standing off from one to three weeks, which was too long against Japanese land-based air attack. Seizure of Rangoon was not feasible unless it could be covered to some extent by land-based aircraft from the Arakan coast.
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound indicated that carriers could not be made available until they could be released from the Mediterranean.
Admiral Somerville said that the naval approach to Rangoon was narrow and could be easily defended. He doubted if the operation was feasible from the naval point of view.
Air Chief Marshal Peirse said that, from an airman’s point of view, air development appeared to meet the requirements, which were
a. to defeat the enemy air forces;
b. to assure military aid to China; and
c. to bring support in the form of supplies at the earliest date.
One thing was essential and that was that we should have adequate air forces operating from India to neutralize Japanese air forces which might interfere with the air route. He pointed out that it had become clear that the development of land operations through Assam into China and development of the facilities required both for the Royal Air Force and the American Ferry Command were mutually antagonistic. He continued that, in his opinion, if all the effort was put into building up the air forces operating under General Chennault and the air transport into China, much more could be done than is at present planned. He felt that the tonnage over the air transport route to China could be considerably increased. He further considered that, for the defense of this air route, it was not necessary to reconquer Burmese territory, provided that Allied Air Forces were adequate for the neutralization of the enemy air forces.
Referring to ANAKIM, Air Chief Marshal Peirse said that he had never considered the plan to be sound since the sea-borne expedition and the landings could not be supported by land-based aircraft. The plan was based on the assumption that the enemy might have 300 to 350 aircraft and that of these, 100 might attack any landing operation. Clearly the defense which one or two carriers could oppose would be quite inadequate to a scale of attack of this order.
The President asked how many airports there were in the area from Assam to Chittagong.
Air Chief Marshal Peirse said that at the present moment he was operating 14 squadrons from forward airdromes between northeast Assam and Chittagong, exclusive of those used by the American Air Force.
The President asked if the runways were long enough for bombers.
Air Chief Marshal Peirse replied that there were six airfields with hard runways from which medium and heavy bombers could operate. For the most part, heavy bombers operated from airfields further back. He said that the plan to capture Sumatra has considerable merit because it extends our air cover eastward and interferes with the Japanese shipping lanes. The radius of bomber aircraft operating from Malaya to northern Sumatra will extend far enough to meet that of bombers operating through southern China. He considered that air operations undertaken from Malaya in conjunction with offensive air operations undertaken from China would be bound to draw considerable enemy air forces into these areas to oppose them. Such air forces the enemy could ill spare.
General Stilwell said that the weight of opinion was apparently against him. To his mind China represented a base which the United Nations wanted. They wanted it both for its geographic position and for the use of Chinese manpower. He felt that ultimately the United Nations must meet the Japanese Army on the mainland of Asia. If China were allowed to fall now, it would be a long road back before the United Nations would be in a position to meet Japan on Chinese soil. He said that to keep China in the war it was essential to retain control of Yunnan.
General Stilwell said that he had been worried for a long time over the possibilities of a Japanese attack against Kunming, particularly one from the south. The Japanese have the forces available in Indo China to make such an attack. He said that if we are to hold Yunnan, ground forces must be trained to do it, and they must be Chinese forces.
General Stilwell said that there are now 32 divisions in training which will be available for the defense of Yunnan. At the present time they have a strength of about 8,100. However, it is planned to inactivate one out of each three divisions so as to bring the remainder to a total strength of 10,000 each. This will result in 22 divisions being available as soon as their equipment is received and the others will be brought up to strength later. He felt that if this force could be trained and equipped, it would be capable of defending Yunnan Province. Sufficient equipment would be available if 10,000 tons capacity were utilized for this purpose over the air transport route between now and September.
General Stilwell indicated that it was absolutely essential to open land communications to China. Even though the initial supplies were small, they would have a tremendous moral effect on China and munitions thus transported would be used to build up a second group of 30 divisions which had been promised by the Generalissimo. He said that under this program, there would ultimately be a force capable of fighting the Japanese. If supplies for these ground forces were not sent at once, it would be impossible to train and equip the Chinese Yunnan forces and the Chinese Army would disappear. He admitted that if all supplies were devoted to building up the Chinese Air Forces, it would have an effect on the Japanese shipping lanes, and it would be a shot in the arm to Chinese morale, but he felt that it would not lead to decisive results. He said as soon as the buildup of American forces begins to sting the Japanese too much, they will launch an attack from Indo China to capture the Kunming Area. If that proved to be the case, the eastern terminal of the air route would disappear and China would be out of the war. It was imperative, therefore, that Yunnan Province be defended and the only way this could be accomplished was by the build-up of Chinese Ground Forces.
The President said that he had never accepted such a low tonnage figure for the air route, that it must be divided up between Air and Ground equipment. Why should not sufficient be conveyed for both?
General Stilwell said that up to the present, 3,400 tons had been the maximum conveyed in any one month. Increased quantities were certainly possible on paper, but it must always be remembered that we were fighting the conditions of the country, the monsoon, and inadequate airfields, and there was always the danger that the Japanese would interfere with the route.
Field Marshal Wavell said that there was no great danger to the Assam airfields from land attack. The warning system was reasonably adequate, giving 13 minutes warning.
General Stilwell thought that the warning system required improvement. He thought that all possible steps had already been taken by Field Marshal Wavell to speed up the development of the airfields. Labor had already been switched from the Ledo Road.
In response to an inquiry by the President, General Stilwell said that his requirements for the Chinese Army in Yunnan were 2,000 tons a month in the next five months; and General Chennault said that he required 4,700 tons a month for four months, and after that 7,000 tons a month.
The President suggested that the immediate objective for the air route should therefore be 7,000 tons a month.
In further discussion, it was pointed out that the plan was already to achieve 10,000 tons per month by November, though something might be done to speed up matters so as to try to achieve 7,000 tons a month by July.
General Stilwell said that the only way of getting large quantities of material into China was by road. We might, by a great effort, achieve 10,000 tons by air, but a land route would ultimately be essential.
The President said that it must be borne in mind that the Generalissimo was head of the State, as well as Commander in Chief. General Stilwell and General Chennault were thus hi a sense under him when they were in his territory. It was difficult from the psychological point of view to tell the Generalissimo that we thought things should be done in some manner different from his ideas.
General Chennault agreed that it was necessary to listen to what the Generalissimo said. His own plan was first to use his air forces to protect the terminal base in Yunnan, and then to operate from another area farther east from which Japanese shipping could be attacked in the Hong Kong-Formosa area. He doubted whether the Japanese could advance across-country and capture Yunnan. They had never yet succeeded in such an operation. They had always advanced up rivers which they used for their line of communication, and the traffic on the rivers was thus open to air attack. The Generalissimo certainly feared an attack up the Yangtze, but quite a small force, say two Fighter squadrons and one Bomber squadron, would be enough to prevent such an advance.
The Prime Minister suggested that if all efforts now concentrating on the Ledo Road and on supporting the troops in Burma were concentrated on developing the airfields, the progress might be more rapid, and the higher tonnage might be achieved earlier.
Field Marshal Wavell said that a certain amount of resources might be saved from the Ledo Road, though it was in itself of some importance for improving the warning system. Airfields already had first priority.
General Marshall said that several steel mats for airfields were on their way, and General Wheeler’s demand for two or three more Engineer Battalions was under examination. It might be possible to supply these from the Middle East.
The President inquired what would be the effect on the Generalissimo if Operation ANAKIM were not carried out.
General Stillwell said that the effect was unpredictable, but there was no doubt that the Generalissimo was relying on the operation.
General Chennault said that the Generalissimo always wanted definite commitments on dates and size of forces. He believed that if 7,000 tons a month were flown in the Generalissimo would be satisfied.
Field Marshal Dill pointed out that the Generalissimo knew about the plan for 10,000 tons a month, and was expecting this to be carried out in addition to ANAKIM. A 7,000-ton project would thus not be anything new to him.
General Stilwell said that the Generalissimo felt that he had been himself concerned in the making of the ANAKIM plan, and was committed to it. He expected the operation to be carried out as planned. If it were not, he would feel deserted. Operations against Sumatra or Malaya would have no bearing on the opening of the Burma Road, and would thus greatly prolong the period during which no steps were being taken to reopen it. The Chinese were suspicious of the British, and it would be necessary for the British to prove to them that they were in earnest. The effect of the cancellation of ANAKIM would be very bad on the Chinese people, and the development of the air supply route would not be regarded as an adequate substitute.
The Prime Minister said that he was not prepared to undertake something foolish purely in order to placate the Chinese. He was not prepared to make war that way. He would do anything that was sensible to help the Chinese in exactly the same way as he would do anything that was sensible to help the Russians; but he did not see any particular value in carrying out costly operations to no purpose.
Admiral King said that the Burma Road was a symbol to the Chinese, and operations in Burma would make them feel that at any rate the reopening was on the way.
The President suggested that a possible alternative solution would be to make use of the forces designed for ANAKIM for an advance towards China, opening the Road as the advance progressed.
Field Marshal Wavell said that this possibility had been carefully studied. The question was how could a force advancing in this manner be sustained? The railhead in Assam was already overloaded. Beyond that there were 200 miles of hill road already completed. Then came 80 miles of partly made hill road to a point still west of the Chindwin River. After that point there was no all-weather road at all in Upper Burma north of Mandalay. The Japanese had built a dry-weather road towards the Chin hills, but it was separated from the end of our road by 120 miles. We should have to build 250 miles of all-weather road in 4/5 months – an engineering effort entirely beyond the capacity of the line of communication through Assam to support. Upper Burma was the most malarial country in the world, and if operations were continued there in the rainy season, 25% casualties per month must be expected. It might be better to go down to Mandalay, rather than to try to go due east, but after we got to Mandalay, we should then be trying to maintain our forces over 300 miles of road of which 150 miles were not all-weather. We could not possibly meet the Japanese on even terms as they would have behind them the railway, the road, and the river. He did not think it would be possible to cut their line of communication decisively by air.
General Stilwell, in reply to a question by the President, said that he agreed with Field Marshal Wavell that an attack on Rangoon would be very hazardous. He thought it might be better to go in through Bassein.
Admiral Somerville observed that an attack on Bassein was open to the same objection, that for two or three weeks air support would have to be provided by carriers.
The Prime Minister, reverting to General Stilwell’s statement about the attitude of the Chinese, said that he was sorry to hear that the Chinese were suspicious of the British. The British had asked nothing of the Chinese and were prepared to do anything that would really contribute to their safety. He was not prepared, however, to undertake months of unprofitable operations in order to remove the unfounded suspicions of the Chinese. The United States would realize that it was not a question of saving the expenditure of British blood. The British were perfectly prepared to fight in true brotherhood with their Allies.
General Stilwell explained that it was only because China was essential ultimately as a base that it was so necessary to undertake operations to open the way thereto.
The Prime Minister said that he was not at present convinced that this was so. However, he saw no reason openly to abandon the operation at present. He thought that moves in preparation should continue provided they did not hamper the development of the air route. Further study would be necessary before a decision could be taken on the actual operation to be carried out.
The President said that he thought the two objectives should be to get 7,000 tons a month by air into China by July; and, secondly, to open land communication with China. It was for the Military advisers to suggest the best way in which the latter objective could be carried out.
Admiral Leahy thought that the task for the staffs was to find out the most promising operation to open the way to China irrespective of any agreement actually to carry it out in the immediate future.
General Marshall urged that no suggestion be made to the Generalissimo that 7,000 tons per month was the target as this would appear to the latter as a reduction from the 10,000 tons per month which he knows to be the objective. He said that in the development of ANAKIM, RAVENOUS had been the first approach. Field Marshal Wavell had objected to RAVENOUS as being unsound for supply reasons, Sir Alan Brooke had objected because of the insecurity of the south flank, and the Generalissimo had objected because it was not coupled with naval action. Finally, ANAKIM in its present form had been agreed upon by all. This was now considered to be impracticable. He said that the plan proposed by General Stilwell was new in many of its features and should be thoroughly explored.