Editor's note: This is taken directly from Ray Mitchell's memoirs...
Why were we there?
The war in China, Burma, and India was the result of the Japanese cutting all supply lines into China. There had been fighting in China since 1937 with several million troops there. The Japanese had taken every port that could be used to import supplies except Burma.
Supplies that came into Burma through Rangoon and other ports were moved by rail, trucks and river boats up to where the Japanese invaded in 1942, running the British and Chinese troops back into India. Burma, as well as India, was British territory and had been British controlled for many years. The loss of Burma left only one source of supplies to China from the USA, which was to fly supplies from India into China over the Himalayan mountains, better known as The Hump. The flight over the Hump was treacherous, very high, snow covered, and the mountain peaks were often covered by clouds. Add to that the frequent bad weather and Japanese planes and you've got a hugely dangerous mix.
The Japanese had fighter planes based in Myitkyina, Burma that could intercept the transports going over the lower, safer part of the Hump. Thia forced pilots to fly further north into higher, and more dangerous mountains. These conditions caused so much loss of life, supplies and planes the route was often called The Aluminum Trail because of all the crashes along the trail. There were a few that had made the trip numerous times, but they had a rough time of it.
The USA needed to supply the Chinese in order to keep them fighting the Japanese. That would keep millions of Japanese occupied with China and out of the Pacific War, plus it would keep the Japanese using up valuable supplies in the China campaign.
Presient Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met and decided to try and retake Burma. The Birtish wanted this because it was their colony and the USA wanted it to make it easier to get more supplies to China. The British wanted more American supplies for their forces in India so that they could retake Burma.
So, the call for volunteers went out to all the Army camps and posts throughout the States and out laying bases in Central America.
"Wanted: Volunteers for a dangerous, hazardous mission in jungle warfare"
There was no mention of where the volunteers would be sent, only that it was for jungle warfare and that it was dangerous. The call was answered by men from many backgrounds, as well as many places. This was ground work for the Units that later became the 5307th Composite Unit Provisional, better known as Merrill's Marauders. Pages have now been written in history books about this unit and their exploits in their march through Burma.
The battle for Burma involved many different Army units such as the Air Corp, Quartermaster, Medical Units, Transportation and the like. All were needed to complete this daunting task. The US Army Engineers did an almost impossible task of building roads across Burma to reach the Burma Road; and in building an oil pipeline from India to China across Burma. They worked through the dry season and through the monsoon seasons to make a road a reality.
When the Infantry was able to clear the Burma Road, their job in Burma was over. Those that were left, either went to China or to India. The group that I was with ended up in China.
Sgt/Maj Ray F. Mitchell
Part 3 Myitkyina Campaign Sgt. Major Ray. Mitchell is here