From Sgt. Major Mitchell's memoirs
The japanese invasion of Burma in 1942 cut the supply routs to China. Myitkyina, Burma was a hugely important base for Japan. It had two airports or air fields, a rail and highway as well as river for boat traffic.
From the air fields, they were able to greatly curtail the flow of supplies by air between India and China. All land traffic was halted with the fall of Burma into Japanese hands.
The air supply route was much more dangerous because of weather conditions and it was a longer route, too. Because of these difficulties, ground troops were needed in Burma to cause confusion among the Japanese troops, and to capture the coveted Myitkyina.
Merrill's Marauders overran Myitkyina in mid-May, 1944. However, the strength of the unit was in sad disarray. They were weak from marching many miles through the jungles and over the mountains, from having lost many men to the enemy but more to the disease-carrying insects... fevers, malaria, typhus, dysentery and the like which debilitated the unit. The long march, the jungle and combat had taken a heavy toll on the men.
The airstrip was taken, but the city was not. The Unit did not have the strength to take the town. Two Chinese units were moved in to take the town, but ended up mistaking each other for the enemy and therefore battled each other, not taking the town. The enemy took advantage of the conditions and brought reinforcements into the battle, causing much concern.
Reinforcements were desparately needed, or lose the Myitkyina. Everything had to come in by air, because Myitkyina was hundreds of miles behind Japanese lines. This battle became the largest scale battle to be fought in Burma by the American troops, lasting three months during the monsoon weather. Losses were high on both sides of the line.
The first responsibility was to defend Myitkyina air strip and secondly to take the city. In Mitchell's Battalion, the losses were great. Company G, 2nd Battalion was caught in an ambush and more than 200 men were killed and only 17 escaped the ambush to report back what happened. One of the survivors had been shot through the face and left for dead. He managed to crawl back through the enemy to friendly territory, but he didn't look human. His face was covered in maggots. The medical officer said the maggots had saved his life by eating all the infection which would have killed him. The man did survive, and in fact was returned to the unit months later with his jaw wired with instructions to be fed soft diet. He was evacuated on the next transport to the rear area.
One of the worst things, other than the Company G ambush, was when some of the brass in the rear felt that the stalemat we were involved in could be broken by sending in B-25 bomber planes and bomb at high altitude, 5,000 feet, which they did. The bombs were dropped short and as many hit us as hit the enemy! We lost lots of men, over a hundred. It was a horrible experience trying to dig out men covered in their fox holes, blue from suffocation, body parts everywhere, wounded and dying everywhere. Several weeks later, the same planes came back again, gave us warning ahead of time, therefore, we could move our lines back 100 yards. The B-25 bombers came in again and hit our lines causing may more casualties. No one ever admitted responsibility or offered any reason or any "sorry about that". We never again had bombing by B-25s, thank goodness.
Our air support was by fighter bomber planes. The old P-r0s did an outstanding support job. They would fly in ver low dropping 250 pound bombs or the napome bombs, belly tanks which were filled with a liquid mixture that would ignite, covering a large area with flaming liquid, going into bunkers, fox holes and trenche, very frightening even to us. The P-40s also came in low, strafe the enemy positions with 50 caliber machine guns. We never lost any men from this type of air support.
Part 4 The Battle Rages is here.