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Support for the WWII Online Exhibit is provided in part through a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and The Century Fund.

 

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WW II War Front - China-Burma-India Theatre  

Although the Japanese invaded China in 1931, Japan’s all-out assault on the Far East started simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  By the end of 1942 most of Burma, including the all-important Burma Road, which served as the primary supply route for China, had fallen to Japan.  The Allies retreated to India.  Until U.S. troops could complete a new road, an arduous task that took more than 2 years, the Allies airlifted thousands of tons of supplies every month from India to China.  The air route “over the hump” crossed the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas —a series of ridges that rise rapidly from just above sea level to over 10,000 feet.  Storms, turbulence, ice, and rain all complicated one of the most dangerous routes assigned to air transport.

Wendall Phillips, who later settled in the Lehigh Valley, was a member of the Army Air Force’s Air Transport Command assigned to China in late 1944.  He remembers that, “many flights were all over China…supplying gasoline, fifty-five gallon drums of gasoline….  Or flying Chinese troops back to India for training….We would go and air drop supplies to the troops that were so involved in the jungles of Burma….Flying the ‘hump’ is…the worst flying conditions in the world….We lost, oh, way over a thousand airplanes in our outfit alone.   The ‘hump’ is the Himalaya Mountains…We had to fly at lower elevations through ravines and through crevasses every time that we could make the hump.  We did it in bad weather, we did it on instruments, we did it in good weather, we did it every day.  We had to do it every day.  The monsoon season, it would rain twenty inches of rain in twenty-four hours….  We would get winds, one hundred fifty mile an hour winds… If it fit in the airplane we took it.  Whether they thought you could get off the ground with it or not, didn’t matter….We hauled jeeps and trucks, and we hauled guns, and we hauled ammunition; we hauled mules.”

By 1944 the Allies were ready to launch a campaign in Burma, retaking key areas.  1945 saw the completion of both the Ledo-Burma Road and the Allied campaign to retake Burma.  In China, too, the tide turned against Japan.  By spring, Japanese forces were so isolated that they engaged in only sporadic fighting during the last months of the war.  The Japanese surrender on V-J Day finally ended the longest campaign of the war.

   


Burma Road