For the average soldier, sailor, Airman or Marine, Coast Guardsman too, the big picture was perhaps not always foremost on their minds in the daily duties to be performed. Most if not all knew the US was in a global conflict against totalitarian forces; they knew fighting and dying was present in every theater of operations. For those assigned to the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater, it may have seemed they went the longest way to the most obscure theater of military operations on the planet. The question they may well have asked was “Why the CBI?”

Emblem of American Forces in the CBI Theater during World War II (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Emblem of American Forces in the CBI Theater during World War II. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

In looking back at this time, for United States forces in the CBI theater, air forces played the predominant role in the area, as only limited numbers of American ground forces were sent there. Manpower for the Allied side of the ground war largely came from China, Britain and its Empire, including India. In this regard, the Redhawks were part of a key American air contribution to the forces in theater.

Consolidated B-24D-25-CO Liberator of 308th Bomb Group passes  P-40K Warhawks of 23rd Fighter Group on its way to attack Japanese targets, circa 1943 (Courtesy WWII Multimedia Database)

Consolidated B-24D-25-CO Liberator of 308th Bomb Group (H) passes P-40K Warhawks of 23rd Fighter Group on its way to attack Japanese targets, circa 1943. (Courtesy WWII Multimedia Database)

As the Redhawks set sail from the US in April 1944 on their way to the CBI theater, Japan remained mired in combat in China with over a million men committed to the fighting. The Japanese effort in China was nearly into its 7th year, and was one of the reasons Imperial Japan began the war in the Pacific in December, 1941. To the south of China, Japanese forces in Burma protected the flank of their territorial conquests and sources of raw materials in Southeast Asia which they were determined to protect.

Imperial Japan's Empire in 1942 (Courtesy   )

Imperial Japan’s Empire in 1942. (Courtesy )

Keeping China in the war was an Allied goal, not so much for China to take offensive action against Japan as much as to keep a million Japanese soldiers already engaged in operations on the Asian mainland there, and not in other places in the Pacific. Helping keep China in the war was a daunting effort due to the growing logistical challenge in theater. Without the Burma Road, lost in 1942 when the Japanese invaded Burma, all supplies had to be flown over the Himalaya Mountains into China. Even if the US wanted to introduce combat troops into China, the supply situation could not sustain them.

Allied lines of communication in Southeast Asia, 1942-43.  The Hump is shown at far right. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Allied lines of communication in Southeast Asia, 1942-43. The Hump is shown at far right, represented by the aircraft symbol along the line from eastern India to western China. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Airpower offered a way to field combat power in China to use against the Japanese with a relatively small personnel commitment. But all the bombs, fuel and supplies still had to be flown over. Even with this constraint, as the US 14th Air Force, Chennault’s Flying Tigers, modestly built up air strength in China, it began to inflict painful wounds on the Japanese, including their shipping bringing vital supplies back to the Home Islands from Southeast Asia.

A B-25 comes off its attack on a Japanese vessel in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, possibly during the big 14th Air Force air raid of 16 October 1944.   (Courtesy Eugene T. Wozniak Collection)

A B-25 comes off its attack on a Japanese vessel in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, possibly during the big 14th Air Force air raid of 16 October 1944. (Courtesy Eugene T. Wozniak Collection, 341st Bomb Group (M), 491st Bomb Squadron)

The US also decided to send the new Boeing B-29 Superfortress to China to initiate a strategic bombing campaign against Japan, Operation Matterhorn. But the logistical challenge was becoming acute, and Allied forces in India built up force and made plans to go back into Burma to open a new overland supply line to China (the Ledo Road), as well as to begin the effort to liberate occupied territories in Southeast Asia such as Burma, Malaya and Singapore.

Princess Patsy, a B-29 taking off the Army's huge new plane, the Boeing B-29 bomber, is seen taking off for a flight. China. (Courtesy Al Schutte Collection, 40th Bomb Group)

“Princess Patsy,” a Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber,
is seen taking off on a mission from a base in China. (Courtesy Al Schutte Collection, 40th Bomb Group (VH))

Imperial Japan realized the dangers of China-based airpower as well as a new supply line running from India through Burma and on to China. Consequently, it planned some major operations to pre-empt these Allied threats. Two large scale Imperial Japanese Army offensives began in the spring of 1944.

Operation U-Go, an offensive aimed at Kohima and Imphal in India, to disrupt Allied buildup for the invasion of Burma, and perhaps spark a revolt in India against Great Britain’s rule. A smaller and related offensive, Operation Ha-Go involving some 15,000 troops, took place earlier to the south in February, 1944, as an effort to try and draw Allied troops away from Kohima and Imphal areas. The U-Go offensive, with elements three infantry divisions (with some other smaller units, approximately 85,000 troops), began in March, 1944, and continued into July, 1944.

Map depicting area of Japanese Operation U-Go, 1944.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Map depicting area of Japanese Operation U-Go, 1944. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Operation Ichi-Go, an offensive aimed at 14th Air Force air bases in southern China as well as opening up a new line of communications (railroad) to Japanese forces and places in Indochina, which was important as a potential source of supplies given all the air and submarine attacks on Japanese shipping in the Western Pacific. It began in March, 1944, and lasted until December 1944. It was the largest Japanese ground offensive of the Second World War, involving over 620,000 troops. A follow-up operation against the Chinese capital at Chungking was planned if Ichi-Go was successful.

Map depicting the area of Japanese Operation Ichi-Go, in China, 1944. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Map depicting the area of Japanese Operation Ichi-Go, in China, 1944. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

These two major offensive operations by the Japanese in the CBI were perhaps overshadowed by reports of Allied successes in other theaters of operations, Italy, Normandy in Europe, the invasion of the Marianas, etc. But for those in the CBI the Japanese attacks were dire threats.

Essentially, the Redhawks arrived in India just after all hell had broken loose in the CBI. The photo intelligence collection which they were to accomplish would be vital to Allied efforts to defend and then to attack and push back these aggressive Japanese forces, as well as keep as many of the one million Japanese soldiers on the Asian continent as possible.

And had the war continued beyond August, 1945, and an invasion of Japan been made, Operation Downfall, there is little doubt the Redhawks would have continued their vital photo reconnaissance mission for the duration of the war in the Pacific. Their workload may even have increased, given the nascent plans to bring many new US air units into theater for the final battles of the war.

 

The emblem of the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

The emblem of the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II. (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

References

Mayer, S.L., Editor, “The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan, 1894 – 1945,” Bison Books, London, 1984.

“Operation U-Go,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_U-Go

“Operation Ha-Go,” aka Battle of the Admin Box, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Admin_Box

“Operation Ichi-Go,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ichi-Go

“War Department TM-E 30-480, Technical Manual Handbook on Japanese Military Forces, 15 September 1944, Chapter III, Field Organization,” accessed at: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/Japan/IJA/HB/HB-3.html

A Collection of 40th Bomb Group Photos, accessed at: http://www.40thbombgroup.org/Schutte2.htm

Life and Times of the 341st Bomb Group, collection of Eugene T. Wozniak, accessed at: http://www.usaaf-in-cbi.com/341st_web/intel/sqd_491/mmn_etw2_491.htm

“China Burma India Theater,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Burma_India_Theater

“The Hump,” Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hump

Map of Japanese Empire, 1942, at: http://jb-hdnp.org/Sarver/Maps/WC/wc21_japempirem.jpg

B-24D Liberator of 308th Bomb Group Passes P-40Ks of 23rd Fighter Group, image accessed at: http://www.worldwar2database.com/gallery/wwii1048

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