Battle of Myitkyina file photo

Battle of Myitkyina

10 Mar 1944 - 3 Aug 1944

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

In Mar 1944, Colonel Charles Hunter of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), more popularly known as the Merrill's Marauders, led a combined force consisted of the 150th Chinese Regiment, the First Marauder Regiment, the 3rd Company Animal Transport Regiment, and part of the 22nd Division artillery against the village of Lazu, 35 miles from Myitkyina, Burma. They arrived at Lazu on 10 Mar, and immediately started to make plans to assault Myitkyina. Hunter was notified that his force, known as H Force, was to be the leading assault group, while Colonel Kinnison was to protect his east flank and Colonel McGee's M Force was to protect the west flank.

On 3 Apr 1944, American General Joseph Stilwell met with his British counterparts to learn their strategic objectives. British leaders Louis Mountbatten and General William Slim affirmed Stilwell that he should not worry about the possibility of a British withdrawal in Burma in order to better defend against the Japanese expedition into India, for that they were confident of the eventual victory at Imphal and Kohima. In a surprising move, Slim turned over the command of the guerrilla Chindits over to Stilwell to better coordinate the combined efforts of the Chindits and Merrill's Marauders. It was a move that Major General Orde Wingate, the former commander of the Chindits, probably would not have approved had he not have perished on 24 Mar in an air crash. In hindsight this move reflected the lack of communications between the top leaders Mountbatten and Stilwell. While Mountbatten's intentions were to give Stilwell the responsibilities of conducting a disruptive campaign and leave the actual liberation of Burma operation to the British troops, it also showed that Stilwell's campaign to take Myitkyina was not communicated to Mountbatten. When queried by Prime Minister Winston Churchill about the recent American movement against the city, Mountbatten could only respond by saying he only incidentally heard about this plan, and noted he would write Stilwell to inform the American general that the British were not prepared to reinforce Myitkyina to hold the city after a successful American campaign while a majority of British troops were held up at Imphal and Kohima. It was rather unclear why Mountbatten appeared to be uninformed of this move in Stilwell's campaign, especially when considerable numbers of British personnel were involved in the actual operation.

Late Apr 1944, Chiang Kaishek held up his end of the bargain with SEAC and launched an attack with 40,000 men from Yunnan under the command of General Huang Weili. Within the next few days, the number grew to 72,000, overpowering the Japanese forces in northern Burma. On 17 May 1944, Merrill's Marauders led the way for a Chinese-American combined force and attacked Myitkyina; however, lack of coordination between Merrill's Marauders and the stronger regulars behind them gave the Japanese an opportunity to reinforce the town, making the attack on Myitkyina a long campaign. While Myitkyina was besieged, the Japanese troops under the command of Mutaguchi on the extended campaign at Imphal and Kohima in India began to withdraw back into India. As the Japanese withdrew, British Lieutenant General Geoffrey Scoones gave chase and destroyed many demoralized Japanese units. Attacks from various directions outflanked the Japanese 15th Division, and territory west of the Chindwin River near the Burma-India border was regained. The siege at Imphal and Kohima were declared broken early in Jul 1944 with the largest defeat in Japanese thus far in the war. 55,000 casualties were suffered by the Japanese forces, with the majority to non-combat causes of starvation, exhaustion, and disease. In comparison, the Allied troops suffered 17,500 casualties. Mutaguchi was relieved of his command after this defeat, succeeded by Hyotaro Kimura.

At Myitkyina, flawed American intelligence seriously underestimated the number of Japanese soldiers at Myitkyina. At peak time during the battle the Japanese forces totaled about 4,600 men, but the American estimate was a quarter of that quantity. The Japanese, similarly, could not estimate the number of the attackers, though they made the opposite mistake of grossly overestimating the size of the Allied forces. The result was a flawed campaign from both sides. While the Americans took on risks by making rapid moves against an enemy that was stronger than they had estimated, the Japanese fought unnecessarily conservatively and had forgone many opportunities of counteroffensives for believing that the Allied forces were much larger.

In May, the 14th Evacuation Hospital was moved forward to the general area with the primary duty of caring for the sick and wounded Marauders. The hospital staff recorded that

many of them were seriously ill and they were so tired, dirty, and hungry that they looked more dead than alive. They suffered from exhaustion, malnutrition, typhus, malaria, amebic dysentery, jungle sores, and many other diseases resulting from months of hardship in the tropical jungle.

The harsh conditions the Marauders fought in were made worse by their constant fighting in the jungles without adequate rest and recuperation. Colonel Hunter made a report of complaint to General Stilwell noting that his men had been overworked even at the face of a lack of promotion and decoration (except for Purple Hearts for those wounded). Even promises that they would not be used as spearheads for Chinese troops were broken, as shown by the current campaign at Myitkyina. Nevertheless, the Marauders stayed in the campaign, and fought on valiantly.

On 3 Jun 1944 the 42nd and the 150th Chinese Regiments made an attack on the town, only to be pushed back by the Japanese after heavy casualties. Though starting to have a sense that the Japanese garrison was stronger than expected, the Allied command still believed that the town was only defended by fewer than 1,000 Japanese troops. Over the next month, a battle of attrition wore down both sides, with exhaustion and disease claiming a significant portion of casualties. The first signs that the Japanese were starting to lose the battle of attrition appeared in the last week of July when Kachin rangers operating in Detachment 101 found Japanese field hospital patients being floated on rafts downstream by hospital staff, in hope that they would be received by Japanese garrisons down the river. Even the natives were reporting that the Japanese were starting to hire them to make rafts and build booby traps. Rumors were also being spread by means of captured Japanese prisoners of war that a small number of key officers at Myitkyina had committed ritual suicide. The suspicions of a upcoming victory began to actually materialize only a couple of days later, on 26 Jul, when the American 3rd Battalion of the Marauders made a significant gain by capturing the northern air field at Myitkyina. Over the next week, Japanese resistance was noticeably weaker. On or about 1 Aug, General Mizukami committed suicide after seeing the main part of his army safely withdrawing from the area. Before he did so, however, he ordered for those wounded that could not be evacuated efficiently to stay behind as rear guard and hold the town as long as they could.

On 3 Aug 1944, Myitkyina was finally captured, restoring use of the key airfields there. At its conclusion, the Allied command totaled its casualties, and the number ran high. 972 Chinese were killed and 3,184 were wounded; after adding the 188 sick who were evacuated earlier, the Chinese suffered a total of 4,344 casualties. The Americans suffered 272 killed, 955 wounded, and 980 evacuated for sickness; the American casualties totaled 2,207. The Japanese suffered 790 killed, 1,180 wounded, and 187 captured; Colonel Maruyama was able to escape.

The capture of Mogaung by the Chindits on 26 Jun in Operation Thursday and the capture of Myitkyina on 3 Aug meant that the Japanese were now driven out of northern Burma. American engineers were immediately sent in to build a new road through the Hukawng and Mogaung valleys through Kamaing to Myitkyina, and plans were start to be put together to repair the road from Myitkyina to Bhamo to the south, where the Allies hoped to pick up the Burma Road.

After a short time to regroup, Allied forces pushed south again. Japanese strategy in Burma from this point forward changed drastically toward the defensive, abandoning the notion of maintaining a northern flank to threaten China's supply situation. The Japanese forces in Burma saw a change in personnel as well. After the failures of 1944, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi was relieved, replaced by Lieutenant General Shibachi Katamura, formerly of the Japanese 54th Infantry Division. The Burma Area Army saw a new commander in Lieutenant General Kimura Hyotaro, formerly of the Ordnance Administration Headquarters in Tokyo.

Sources:
Frank McLynn, The Burma Campaign
Nathan Prefer, Vinegar Joe's War
Wikipedia

Battle of Myitkyina Timeline

15 Mar 1944 Joseph Stilwell ordered the Chinese 22nd Division to attack the ridge of Jambu Bum in northern Burma.
19 Mar 1944 Chinese 66th Regiment captured Jambu Bum ridge in northern Burma, about 140 kilometers northwest of Myitkyina.
28 Mar 1944 Japanese troops counterattacked Chinese troops near Jambu Bum ridge, Burma.
28 Apr 1944 A force of 4,000 Chinese troops, 1,400 American troops (Merrill's Marauders), and 600 Kachin scouts began marching for Myitkyina, Burma.
15 May 1944 The Chinese-American-Kachin force outside of Myitkyina, Burma transmitted the code phrase "strawberry sundae", signifying that it was in position to strike the Japanese-occupied city.
17 May 1944 American, Chinese, and Kachin troops began the assault on Myitkyina, Burma. The attack began at 1000 hours, and by 1050 the airfield was captured.
18 May 1944 Joseph Stilwell arrived at the Myitkyina airfield in Burma just a day after the airfield was captured, congratulating Frank Merrill in advance for the capture of the rest of the city, which he believed would be achieved within days. Later on the same day, Merrill dispatched a Chinese unit to attack the city; the attack was called off when two Chinese battalions mistakenly engaged each other in a fierce firefight.
19 May 1944 Three Chinese battalions attacked each other in confusion while assaulting Myitkyina, Burma.
26 Jun 1944 Brigadier-General Theodore F. Weasels took over command of the Myitkyina Task Force from the sick Brigadier-General Boatner following another bout of malaria.
3 Aug 1944 A two-month siege by US and Chinese forces at Myitkyina in Burma finally succeeded in capturing it.

Photographs

Frank Merrill, Sun Liren, Chun Lee at Naubum, Burma, Apr 1944Men of the US Army 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) Spent 75-mm howitzer shells piling up outside the besieged city Myitkyina, Burma, mid-1944; note M1 carriage

Maps

Map of situation in India and Burma, Nov 1943-May 1944Map depicting the movement of Allied H, K, and M forces toward Myitkyina, Burma, 28 Apr to 16 May 1944Map depicting the arrival of Allied H, K, and M forces at Myitkyina, Burma, 17-19 May 1944




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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Cleve Archibald says:
    14 Oct 2006 04:19:56 PM

    This a search to idetify Caribbean countries whose citizens made up Merrils Marauders in operation Galahad in the libaration of Burma (1943-1944.

    Thank you,
    Cleve
  2. Anonymous says:
    4 Sep 2007 05:24:40 PM

    This is a fine report despite minor typosgrammar errors. It would have been excellent if it had maps! Without maps, it is really hard to grasp the story.
  3. Alan Chanter says:
    14 Jan 2008 02:56:25 AM

    At 1000hrs on the 17th May 1944, under cover of an attack being made by the 150th Regiument of the Chinese 50th Division, Galahads 1st Battalion slipped over the Irrawady by ferry, and within an hour had surprised and captured the nearby airstrip. Stilwell, in typical unco-operative fashion, then took it upon himself to order up reinforcements without first consulting the Supreme Commander (Mountbatten). The latter to his credit did sent a congratulatory message to the tactless Stilwell, but Churchill was utterly enraged when he learnt, not only of Stilwells blatant act of insubordination, but that, in fact, the important town had not been captured at all (as Stilwell was now boasting) only that the now utterly shattered Galahad Force held just a meagre bridgehead across the river. A situation that would now require substantial resources, to maintain the siege of the town, which might have been better employed in accordance with Allied Forces plans elsewhere.
  4. Alan Chanter says:
    15 Jan 2008 04:44:24 AM

    The first Allied formation to actually enter the town of Myitkyina was the 72nd Brigade (6th Bn,The South Wales Borderers, 9th Bn, The Royal Sussex Regiment, 10th Bn,The Gloucestershire Regiment) of 36th Infantry Division (the only British Division in Theatre operating under American Command).
  5. sean says:
    17 Sep 2008 08:33:38 PM

    Hello, if anyone knows any veterans from the marauders, I would be interested in interviewing them for a history project. I can be contacted at siegfried1313@hotmail.com
  6. My Cousin was KIA at Myitkyina with 5307th says:
    12 Feb 2009 08:30:08 AM

    Seeking any info on battle and units. My cousin reported to 5307th on 1 Jun 44 and KIA 28 Jun 44 battle for Myitkyina. He was a replacement leaving Hampton Roads, VA POE 20 Apr 44 I believe on the the Wm. Mann. Any details appreciated arrived Bombay (record not clear). Thanks Vin
  7. Day says:
    15 Jan 2011 04:30:32 PM

    My father was a flight engineer on one of the 1st C-47s to land at Myitkyina. He said the **** were shooting knee morters at them.
    If anyone has info about the 1st planes that flew in, please e-mail me.
  8. Jacqulyn Meyers VanderHoff says:
    23 Aug 2011 10:22:47 PM

    Seeking info on my Uncle, PFC Donald D. Meyers. Type o on the 5307 list spelled his name Mayers. He was a Merrill's Marauder 2nd Battalion Company "E" Blue Combat Team Serial # 16050907 this # is on his certificate for his Bronze Medal & his daughter Paula Meyers Carter, Has his medals, certificate, & patch. He survived the war & we believe he wasn't injured, (no Purple Heart.) If at all possible to know what his assignments were, what weapons he handled, if he was in all 5 of the major battles, or was he one of the many who got sick & had to be evacuated. Are there any public medical records documenting any illnesses. I don't know how many of the 200 survivors are left, (he died on Dec. 1, 1985& he never spoke of the war or what he did)) or if they check your site. Thank You for any help.
  9. Joe A. Watson says:
    18 Jun 2012 08:32:25 AM

    My late dad's 209th Engineer Combat Battalion (along with the 336th) was deployed to Myitkyina on May 24, 1944. He served as a medic. As have others here, I have been unable to reconstruct much of a record of his service. In 1973, at a National Archives St. Louis facility, 80% of U.S. Army service records related to the years 1912-through-1963 were destroyed by fire ... including those we family members would need.
    http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/fire-1973.html
  10. Robert says:
    17 Aug 2012 10:29:43 AM

    Joe A. Watson,

    Obviously, you did not share your father's name.
    I am involved with a nephew of a former member of the 475th Infantry Regiment
    in the process to receive full recognition towards combat service.
    Did your late dad receive full recognition? Please email me.

    Robert
    Robersabel@aol.com

  11. Anonymous says:
    9 Jan 2013 09:46:53 PM

    It must be monsoon 1942. We retreated from Rangoon to Waingmaw, a village across the River Irrawaddy and Myitkyina. Ir was training heavily one morning and suddenly a huge truck stopped by the front of our rented house on the Bhamo-Myitkyina main highway. My dad and eldest brother waved to the 2 young Brits signalling to ask them to come in for coffee and for a rest from the rains. To make the story short, the Brits said they were on their way to Myitkyina to catch a (probably the last)flight to India and that if they don't return here, please take the bundle of books they handled to my dad to deliver to any British Embassy or consulate in China if we made it there. We did reach Kunming, Yunnan province, and my dad did deliver the "books" to the Brit consulate/embassy. My dad and eldest brother are deceased now and I have been wondering all these past (70)years who were those Brits, are they still alive and where are they or their close relatives now. Perhaps the Brit Govt may have information for me before I leave this earth too. Thank you very much.
    Dick.
  12. Dick says:
    11 Jan 2013 11:54:44 AM

    I wrote the foregoing comment No.11 and would appreciate any relevant information. I may be reached at tmaw@sbcglobal.net
    Thanks much.
    Dick
  13. Dick says:
    11 Jan 2013 03:12:50 PM

    I am confused. Some reports stated that Myitkyina was recaptured by Gen. Stilwell while others reported that it was Gen Daniel I. Sultan. I have a photo showing my dad presenting a banner (only days after the liberation of Myitkyina)to a U.S. General, whom I believe to be General Sultan, according to the Chinese letters embroidered in the banner. Could any American WWII/CBI veterans/heroes please give me the correct answer? I was only 13/14 in Calcutta, India, during that time.
    Thank you very much and God Bless.
    Dick
  14. Rex Matts says:
    28 Feb 2013 06:34:36 PM

    My brother was a mule skinner with the 5307th. He would never talk about the Marauders. He died five years ago. I did talk with his long time friend who served with him from the mule traing at Camp Carson till they were both discharged, They both came home health and unharmed. I asked his frined what was the worst experience. He said the cold when they crossed the high mountains because they only had jungle clothes.
  15. Branthafer says:
    12 Mar 2013 10:54:44 AM

    My Father-In-Law, Floyd B. Branthafer, served in Burma as a Merrills Marauder and married into the family for over 30 yrs never knew he was a Marauder.I knew he was in the service but he never spoke of any details.His Sons say they never remember him telling war stories or telling them he was a Marauder.Other family Veterans would mention the circumstances of Floyds service in Burma as " a bad deal", and other negative terms.Floyd past away 2 yrs. ago and before his death started talking about his time in service and told us he rescued a baby bear whose mother had been killed. He said he took care of it until he had to leave and someone else took it to find a home. He talked of going to India and Israel[?] and we didnt know if he always had his facts in order.Some family members have done research to try to verify some of the things he told us.If anyone knew Floyd in Asia or elsewhere we would be happy to hear from you or yours and would like to know of any books or information about his time in service. Thanking you in advance.
  16. Barbara says:
    20 Aug 2013 11:13:04 AM

    Hello, I am writing a historical fiction novel and have read about all the documents out there (by Marauders, Chindits, Stilwell's diary, Hunter's debriefing, army military history plus any web sites tied to the construction of the road, Marauders, or Mars Task force. I'm looking for a survivor from any branch that served in that area to interview. Please contact me at bejhawk@gmail.com. Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.
  17. Mal Cooper says:
    21 Dec 2013 08:43:23 PM

    In 1967-68 My co-workers and I went into the mountains to build a house for a friend. Ralph Pina, Whom I had been working with for 7-8 years said He hadn't spent a nite otside since the war. He told us He had been with Merrils Mauaders and gave us quite a story of His service. He was, I think 17 or 18 years old at the time. He was wounded in the ankle by rifle fire while bringing amunition to His comrades. He never recieved a Purple Heart. He told us many of the men had minor wounds and just comntinued on "You couldn't leave" He said. If anyone knew Ralph I would love to hear about His sevice in Burma. He never spoke of His time in service after that week. He is on the "Pass in Review' List of Merrils Mauraders.
  18. Stephanie says:
    27 Dec 2013 10:49:42 PM

    My granfather, James Yaboni (32105963) served in Merrill's Mauraders Company "E". If anyone has any information regarding that, please email me @luvsnyr@gmail.com. He passed away in 1998 at 80 years old and never really spoke about his time in WWII. The only story I recall him telling were about a monkey they had trained to play a drum.
  19. Anonymous says:
    20 Apr 2014 06:49:45 PM

    To Mal Cooper,
    I am Ralph Pina's daughter. Just this past year my mom gave me his service record, a book chronicling Merrill's Marauders mission with notes my dad hand wrote in the margin. I would love to hear from you. 28zana@gmail.com

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Participants:
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Related Book:
» The Burma Campaign: Disaster into Triumph 1942-45


Battle of Myitkyina Photo Gallery
Frank Merrill, Sun Liren, Chun Lee at Naubum, Burma, Apr 1944
See all 3 photographs of Battle of Myitkyina



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