The geographic circumstance that placed China across the Pacific Ocean from the United States, the history and culture that gave it some 400,000,000 industrious, clever, prolific people of an ancient civilization, and the disorders that vexed the Chinese land as its people sought to adapt themselves to the industrial ways and materialist culture of the West long combined to make China an object of peculiar interest and concern to the people and Government of the United States. Itself the outstanding example of revolt against European colonialism, the United States of America was sympathetic to the efforts of the Chinese to work out their destiny in their own way and supported them as the situation permitted.
The United States could not believe that the possession of modern industrial techniques by European states and the one Oriental nation successfully imitating them, Japan, conferred the right to dispose of the freedom and patrimony of Asia and considered that the long-range interests of the United States were best served by the support of Asiatic nationalism. As the twentieth century progressed, Asiatic nationalism began to rise ever closer to the flood stage. Large-scale fighting threatened Asia as Japan, the latecomer to industrialism, started to repeat, at China’s expense, the imperialist behavior of her Western tutors. Japan’s actions seemed contrary to the course and spirit of international political developments of the 1920’s; they threatened to upset the status quo in the Pacific in a manner dangerous to American security, and so the United States, fearing the ultimate menace, moved ever closer to open support of China, which was immediately menaced.
The history of Japanese efforts to establish a special position for the Japanese Empire in China is far too long to detail here. China’s markets and resources and the absence for many years of a strong central government seemed to the Japanese to offer natural and obvious opportunities, while the undisciplined troops of Chinese war lords on occasion subjected Japanese citizens to treatment of the sort to which, fifty years before, Japan’s western mentors had habitually responded by the dispatch of gunboats. So there were incidents, diplomatic notes, and diplomatic crises. Lending hope for the future, the period 1922-1930 after World War I brought forth liberal cabinets in Japan which signed treaties pledging their nation to allow China the chance to work out her destiny in her own way. Then came the Great Depression of the thirties. Japan’s overseas markets contracted and unrest grew. The most powerful voices of protest in Japan came from factions allied to, or even part of, the Japanese Army. These sought a remedy for Japan’s troubles at home in seizing the raw materials and monopolizing the markets of China and her northern possession, Manchuria.
The Japanese Army’s continental adventure began 18 September 1931 when a carefully staged incident near Mukden, Manchuria, offered the pretext under which the Japanese Army, while the Japanese Foreign Office offered polite regrets and promises that soon proved empty, soon overran all Manchuria. The United States was then under Republican administration. President Herbert C. Hoover was a man of peace, profoundly averse to the United States’ taking any course in the Pacific, in restraint of Japan, that might mean war. The rest of the Great Powers, for diverse reasons, were equally reluctant to undertake vigorous action.
Faced with a situation in which military and economic sanctions, by European powers or the United States or both, were out of the question, Mr. Hoover’s Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, suggested that the United States adopt a policy of not recognizing the legality of any changes in Asia that the Japanese might effect by force. To Mr. Stimson, announcement of the policy on 7 January 1932 was a reassertion of cherished American convictions and a notice to the Chinese that the United States would not condone violations of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The note had no discernible effect on the Japanese, but it placed on record for all to see that American and Japanese interests, as defined by the two governments, were clashing and identified Stimson as a firm opponent of Japanese aggression in the Far East.
Having separated Manchuria from China the Japanese found themselves faced by a Chinese boycott. One of the few means of retaliation open to China, the boycott was a severe blow to Japan’s trade in one of her principal markets. Chinese indignation was steadily rising and there were attacks on Japanese residents in China. The Japanese had occupied Manchuria on less provocation. On 28 January 1932 they landed an expeditionary force in Shanghai. Heavy fighting followed in which for the first time the Chinese gave a good account of themselves against the Japanese. World opinion, governmental and public, quickly hardened, and in May 1932 the Japanese withdrew their forces from Shanghai. An uneasy peace followed in Asia.
In the years that followed there were great changes in China and the United States. In the United States, the Democratic administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March 1933. In China, the Chinese gave the appearance of rapidly and steadily coalescing into a unified state. Their finances improved, their manufactures increased, and peace and stability gradually spread through the land as the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China, controlled by the Kuomintang Party under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, brought one after another of the war lords to heel and attracted more and more Chinese to its banner. By 1937 there was but one major dissident element, the Chinese Communists. Possessed of their own small army, they were compressed into the far northwest of China. Generalissimo Chiang was bitterly opposed to them and by one expedition after another had steadily whittled away their territory.
The Japanese did not watch the unification and progress of China with complacence. In the four and a half years from 1932 to summer 1937 there were incidents on China’s Manchurian and Mongolian frontiers; Japanese troop movements and maneuvers involved the Japanese garrisons, which treaty rights permitted in north China; Japanese naval landing parties went ashore at Hankow, Pakhoi, Tsingtao, and a suburb of Shanghai; and within Japan the forces favoring aggressive policies in Asia grew steadily in strength. The behavior of the Japanese toward China greatly irritated Chinese opinion, which was growing ever more nationalistic, and there was increasing popular pressure on the Chinese Government to resist Japan.
Japanese imperialists and Chinese Communists posed a grave problem for the Generalissimo. The resources of China’s new government did not permit him to deal with both simultaneously. The solution that he preferred, and that he sought to follow, was to crush the Communists while opposing Japan by diplomacy alone. This did not meet with general approval. Chinese opinion generally was outraged by the Japanese, and since the articulate elements in China were either sincerely nationalist or thought it politic to profess such sentiments, it may well be that many Chinese overrated their resources and underestimated their enemy’s. Be that as it may, in December 1936 a group of Chinese led by Marshal Chang Hsueh-liang kidnapped the Generalissimo. To their captive, they insisted that he lead both Nationalists and Communists into a United Front, which would stand firm against the Japanese. The Generalissimo won his freedom by agreeing, and honored his bargain. The next Japanese move meant large-scale hostilities.
On 8 July 1937 Japanese troops attacked a Chinese garrison near Peiping, in north China. At first a local incident, it spread as the Japanese manifested an aggressive, intransigent attitude, while the Chinese, having already lost Manchuria and seen their control of north China whittled away, showed no disposition to yield further. Military operations on the grand scale were soon under way with the national forces supporting the provincial troops who were first involved. The Nationalist Government of the Republic of China had tried to create a modern army, for only thus could it continue to dominate China’s factions and provinces and hope to resist further Japanese encroachments on Chinese territory.
For military advice and martial gear the Kuomintang had turned to Germany, Italy, and Russia, not to the United States, whose Army in the thirties was unimpressive. By 1937 the skilled and highly regarded German Military Mission (1928-38) had brought about thirty divisions, loyal to Chiang Kai-shek, to a standard of efficiency never before known in China. These troops fought in the defense of the lower Yangtze valley, but by 1939 the Japanese possessed the lines of communications, the seaports, and the key cities of China, including the capital, Nanking.
As the Chinese fell back into the interior, the Chinese and sympathetic observers released accounts to the Western world claiming that the Chinese had lost only because they lacked modern arms. Neither the German Mission, which had trained and advised the best Chinese divisions, nor Colonel Joseph W. Stilwell, the American Military Attaché (1935-39), agreed with the press releases. According to their reports, the Chinese committed basic military errors: neglect of fundamental principles of strategy and tactics; improper use of supporting weapons; indifference to military intelligence; inability to adopt sound command and staff procedures; failure to establish a communications net; and failure to keep vehicles and weapons in operating condition.
After the capture of Canton and Hankow in October 1938, the Japanese paused to consolidate their positions. The Chinese seized the opportunity to raise a series of obstacles ahead of the river lines and mountain barriers of west and south China. Roads were trenched, railways dismantled, bridges removed, ferry sites destroyed, and mountain passes barricaded to give the Chinese a buffer from fifty to one hundred miles wide. Walled towns attracted remnants of the national divisions and housed makeshift arsenals. Chungking became the seat of the Generalissimo’s wartime government. A stalemate settled over the vast front, broken by sporadic Japanese forays to disperse Chinese troop concentrations and, in 1939, by two abortive Chinese offensives which could not gain enough momentum. Both sides engaged in diplomatic maneuvering, with each other and with possible allies. Nationalist China sought closer ties with Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Japan drew closer to heavily armed and increasingly aggressive Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, the Axis Powers. Opportunities for Japanese aggrandizement in Asia at the expense of European colonial powers developed steadily as war clouds in Europe gathered. In China, the Japanese reorganized their twenty-three divisions and twenty independent mixed brigades on a garrison basis in order to free mobile troops for service elsewhere. In March 1940 the Japanese installed Wang Ching-wei’s puppet regime in Nanking, but his defection from the Nationalist cause had no decisive result.
China Seeks U.S. Aid
War in Europe after September 1939 made it unlikely that European powers friendly to China could spare arms and technical assistance, so the Chinese Government approached the United States, whose sympathy for it was openly manifested by government and people alike, though not on a scale to commit the United States to intervention in the Sino-Japanese conflict. In two loans the American Export-Import Bank lent the Chinese-owned Universal Trading Corporation $45,000,000, its use restricted to purchase of civilian supplies.
Following the occupation of Poland by German and Russian armies in September 1939 there was a period of undeclared truce in Europe, called at the time the “phony war.” War was real enough at sea, but on land, save in Finland where the Russians struck to extend their borders, there was quiet.
Then on 9 April 1940, without warning, the Germans attacked Norway and Denmark. The long training and preparation of the Germans carried all before them, and the campaign in Norway was obviously in its final stages when on 10 May 1940 the Germans struck again, this time against Holland, Belgium, and France, the first two of them declared neutrals. Being then at the peak of their power, the German Army and Air Force overran France and the Low Countries in six weeks. The British Expeditionary Force, plus a considerable number of Frenchmen, was successfully withdrawn through Dunkerque harbor, but this deliverance, though hopeful for the future, could not obscure the fact that Adolf Hitler’s Germany was master of Europe from the Pyrenees to North Cape, from the Atlantic to the Polish marshes, on the far side of which Russia stood in strange, uneasy partnership. Italy joined Germany in the closing days of the fight, and there seemed every prospect that Japan might soon do the same and seize the chance of taking French, British, and Dutch possessions in Asia. Britain stood alone, and the United States had to make decisions of the utmost gravity.
In June 1940 Mr. T. V. Soong [NOTE CBI-55K-5] visited the United States to ask for arms and more credits. Two factors weighed heavily in favor of a loan to China for arms. U.S. sympathy lay with China’s cause and American planners, in appraising the possibility and probable course of a conflict with Japan, recognized the advantages for the United States in having China’s manpower and geographic position as an aid. However, the United States was most anxious not to provoke Japan to ally herself with Germany since that alliance would further jeopardize England’s already desperate position. Moreover, since Germany had just overrun western Europe to the English Channel, the United States itself seemed in danger, and the American munitions stock was not great enough to provide for China after American needs were met and after the United States supported Great Britain, whose plight seemed most directly to affect the United States. Furthermore, it was not feasible to diminish the U.S. stockpile in order to send supplies to China since matériel previously sent was not reaching the fronts because lines of communications were inadequate for forwarding it.
[NOTE CBI-55K-5: Mr. Soong, brother-in-law of the Generalissimo, received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1915. Following graduate work at Columbia, he returned to China. Showing great aptitude for finance, Soong became Minister of Finance in the Sun Yat-sen regime in Canton in 1925. From 1930 to 1933 he was governor of the Central Bank of China. Soong then became chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Bank of China. Shortly after the beginning of war in the Pacific on 23 December 1941, he became Minister of Foreign Affairs.]
Two blows fell hard on Chinese morale with the advent of autumn. The first was the entrance of the Japanese into northern Indochina on 23 September, by agreement with the Government of Unoccupied France. Then, four days later, Japan, Germany, and Italy signed a pact whose wording suggested they would join in offensive action against the British Commonwealth and the United States. To encourage the dejected Chinese, the United States gave a third credit of $25,000,000 to China. But the loan did not answer China’s pleas for arms, and in October the Chinese renewed their requests. They were spurred on by the fact that the Japanese occupation of northern Indochina closed the Yunnan-Indochina Railway, leaving the Burma Road, which extended from Chungking to the terminus of the Burma Railways, Lashio, Burma, as China’s sole supply link with the outside world. The Burma Road, though maladministration and corruption had reduced its inherently low capacity, now had great symbolic value as China’s last tie with freedom. That summer the sorely tried British had closed the Lashio terminal for three months to placate the Japanese. Although the Burma Road was reopened on 10 October 1940, the Chinese and British saw the events of September bringing the Japanese ever closer to it, and there was little Britain could do to keep the Japanese out of Burma.
On 18 October 1940 the Generalissimo described his problems and made his proposals to the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. Nelson T. Johnson. The Generalissimo admitted that the Japanese blockade had weakened China’s economy and hurt public morale. The Chinese Communists were taking advantage of the situation, and by his own admission the Generalissimo feared them more than he feared the Japanese. (It must be recalled that this was the era of the Russo-German nonaggression pact of 1939, and that the Russian and German Foreign Ministers were soon to meet and debate the parceling out of the Middle East.) The Generalissimo was anxious lest the Japanese seize Singapore or cut the Burma Road. Before either of these disasters, China must have economic aid plus numbers of U.S. aircraft manned by American volunteers.
Unless this aid came soon, China might collapse. If it came in time, the internal situation would be restored and the Japanese forestalled. The aircraft would also permit the Generalissimo to effect a “fundamental solution” of the Pacific problem by destroying the Japanese Navy in its bases.8 Proposed a month before British carrier aircraft attacked the Italian Navy at Taranto, the Generalissimo’s plan might indeed have been the fundamental solution, but in the irony of history it was the Japanese who attempted the method at Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Johnson considered this a time for decision and urged the State Department to effective action to uphold the U.S. position in the Far East. The Department’s reply on 23 October was guarded in tone. It reassured the Generalissimo by observing that both Singapore and the Burma Road appeared safe for the present, and went on to describe Chinese and American interests as parallel, even though the traditional U. S. policy was one of shunning alliances.
It concluded with the statement that the U.S. Government would continue to study the matter to see what could be done within the framework of existing law. Every reader of the press knew that the United States had found it legally possible to ship large quantities of arms to the British, and therefore, although the Generalissimo did not say so specifically, he impressed Ambassador Johnson as being pleased with the American reply. He asked the American envoy to convey his deep gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the American note of 23 October, the Chinese closed their ears to offers of mediation from Japan’s ally, Germany.
The fear of the Chinese Communists that the Generalissimo communicated to Ambassador Johnson may have reflected awareness of a widening breach between the Nationalists and Communists, which became evident a few months later in January 1941. No outsider could hope to untangle the rights and wrongs of the incident that marked the end of the United Front, but in January 1941 the Nationalists and the Communist New 4th Army clashed. When the battle ended, the New 4th Army headquarters staff were dead or captive, together with their troops. Thereafter, many Nationalist divisions were deployed against the Communists, who, for their part, were quite willing to join in fratricidal war. This meant that the Generalissimo had another factor to consider in the shifting political balances within China.
In November 1940 the Generalissimo sent a mission under Major General Mao Pang-Tzu, Director of the Operations Division, Chinese Air Force, to the United States. With him was an American citizen, Captain Claire L. Chennault (USA-Ret.), who had been an articulate and forceful advocate of fighter aviation vis-à-vis the bomber and a daring and skillful pilot. After his retirement from the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1937 for physical disability, Chennault had gone to China, where he had won the confidence and affection of the Chinese. As one of their technical advisers he had become a colonel in their Air Force. Studying Japanese equipment, tactics, and military potential, Chennault had devised a plan to defeat Japan with a small air force, operating under a tactical system designed by him to exploit the relative strengths and weaknesses of American and Japanese aircraft and pilots.
Since 1937 the Chinese had been discussing with two other Americans the possibility of using their influence and business organizations in placing American air power in China. Mr. William D. Pawley and Lieutenant Commander Bruce Leighton (USNR-Ret.) were asked by Soong and Mao to co-operate in giving air support to the Chinese.
The Mao mission presented its request on 25 November 1940 to the President’s Liaison Committee, the civilian agency co-ordinating foreign arms purchases in the United States. The Chinese wanted 500 combat planes delivered to China in 1941. They also wanted crews to fly them since, despite the efforts of successive European and American air missions, the Chinese had been unable to train a body of pilots. One hundred and fifty basic trainers and ten transports would complete a small but balanced air force. Twenty percent spare parts were requested, plus matériel to build 14 major airfields and 122 landing strips, and ammunition and ordnance requirements for one year’s operation.
Concurrently with Mao’s aircraft proposal came a Chinese bid for $30,000,000 worth of ground force matériel. This first bid was on a scale appropriate to the equipping of thirty Chinese divisions. Extension of a $100,000,000 credit on 1 December 1940 became the first step toward initiating military aid for China. Of the total sum, 25 percent could be used to purchase arms. Obviously this amount was insufficient to finance either Mao’s aircraft program or the Chinese bid for ground force matériel. Nor was the U.S. Army able to find facilities to manufacture the caliber of weapons which the Chinese requested. The Chinese were also told that the U.S. Army had no authority to sell ordnance from its own stocks to China.
With $25,000,000 available, Mao’s aircraft requests fared better. On 4 December Dr. Stanley K. Hornbeck of the State Department hinted that military aid to China would start with aircraft and that no objection would be raised to the American volunteer scheme. On 19 December 1940 Mr. Roosevelt approved military aid for China and asked the State, War, Navy, and Treasury Departments to find ways of implementing a program.
Fearing Japan’s intentions since the Japanese sank the USS Panay in December 1937, the Navy Department closely studied the Mao proposals. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, assisted by his aide, Captain Morton L. Deyo (USN), discussed both the strategic implications and the Chinese ability to use and maintain 500 modern aircraft with Mr. Pawley and Commander Leighton. Both had had years of experience in selling transport and combat aircraft to the Chinese Government. Having served on the U.S. Navy’s Yangtze River patrol, Commander Leighton had acquired a deep appreciation of the strategic importance of China-based air power to deter further Japanese aggression, but he was quick to point out its limitations in the hands of the Chinese. He insisted that American technicians would have to assist in all phases of the 500-plane air force scheme, otherwise there would be failures and waste. Though proceeding with caution, Mr. Knox soon became a leading advocate of aircraft and volunteers for the Chinese Air Force.
Unfortunately, the Mao program conflicted with American and British requirements, whose high priorities were to keep this matériel from China until June 1942. The thought behind aid to China was to keep the Japanese fully occupied there beginning in the last six months of 1941, not twelve months later, and the time lag suggested this could not be done. The size of the program was quite acceptable, for the policy then was to accept foreign orders which would lead to enlargement of the U.S. munitions plant. The initial step in resolving priority conflicts was the agreement of the British purchasing mission to let the Chinese have 100 P-40B’s allocated to Britain, if the Chinese in turn would yield their priority rights to 100 later model fighters. The British assumed responsibility for completing the armament of the P-40’s. In their haste to get fighters, the Chinese agreed and accepted the first thirty-six P-40’s without essential combat gear.
While the various bureaus worked on these proposals, which Chennault had prepared with expert care, Mr. Soong and his Chinese colleagues laid before the President a scheme to bomb Japan from Chinese bases with B-17’s manned by American volunteers. This proposal won considerable attention, unlike the Generalissimo’s proposal to sink the Japanese fleet. General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said it had the approval of the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and his colleague, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau. Appearing at the War Department with that august support, the plan underwent a more searching examination, during which it appeared that the Chinese had already expended a group of Martin bombers without result by operating them without fighter cover or antiaircraft support, just as they proposed to operate the B-17’s. Trained American crews were as scarce as B-17’s. Permitting them to volunteer would greatly handicap the Army Air Corps’ expansion program. Moreover, because it was most difficult to ship spare parts to airfields within bombing range of Japan, maintenance problems for the B-17’s would be insoluble. Although the War Department did not grant the request for B-17’s and volunteer crews, the discussions showed that at this early date the Department entertained the idea of containing Japan by putting air power into China.
Origins of Lend-Lease Aid for China
After the purchase of 100 P-40’s, the Chinese were in need of more credits to complete the Mao air program and to contract for matériel for the Chinese Army. Early in January 1941 the War Department told the Chinese to await developments on both of their projects since the American aid program was about to undergo a profound change. Because of the pending exhaustion of British dollar resources, President Roosevelt in December proposed the device of removing the “dollar sign” by lending or leasing arms to Great Britain or any other nation whose defense was thought vital to American security. Lend-lease was a tremendous weapon in the bloodless struggle then under way between the United States on the one hand and Germany and Italy on the other, because it put the prodigious resources and industry of the United States behind Great Britain and China.
The Lend-Lease bill went before Congress on 6 January 1941. In comparison with Great Britain, China played a very minor role in the planning of lend-lease legislation. One reason was that, apart from the Mao program, Washington had little specific, itemized information as to what China’s overall needs were, for Soong’s staff had offered only vague generalities. The British, on the other hand, had presented concrete programs on which the estimate of the first lend-lease appropriation was based. A second reason lay in the fact that, though the War Department wanted Japan to be contained in China, the British Commonwealth with its vast holdings in the Orient was considered to have a predominant interest in maintaining China as a belligerent. The Commonwealth would have received U.S. approval of any reasonable program of transfers to China.
At this point the Generalissimo asked that Dr. Lauchlin Currie, one of the President’s administrative assistants, be sent to China to examine the military and economic situation. Dr. Currie subsequently visited China from 28 January to 11 March 1941. Without, it would seem, having actually explored the scope and degree of completion of the various projects presented to him by the Chinese, Currie returned to tell the President that in anticipation of increased U.S. support the Generalissimo was rushing completion of airfields for B-17’s, making plans to centralize administrative control of the Burma Road, and assembling troops at strategic points to receive American weapons. Currie also presented Chinese requests for technicians, advisers, and further credits for currency stabilization.
The President signed the Lend-Lease Act on 11 March 1941. On 31 March Soong presented China’s requirements to Major General James H. Burns, Executive Officer of the Division of Defense Aid Reports, the forerunner of the Office of Lend-Lease Administration. This and subsequent Chinese requests were considered in the light of the availability of matériel and of the already formulated policy of making the major American effort in the Atlantic or European area.
Soong’s first request for supplies and services fell under seven heads, but close analysis revealed it centered about three related projects. These were:
- An enlargement of the Mao-Chennault proposals, calling for a modern air force of 1,000 aircraft, with American training and technical help.
- Arms which, if issued on the basis of organization finally presented by the Chinese in March 1942, would equip thirty divisions.
- An efficient line of communications between China and friendly powers, with:
- A narrow-gauge railway from Yunnan to the Burma Railways.
- A highway from Sadiya, India, across north Burma to China.
- Trucks, repair shops, and resurfacing for the Burma Road.
- Transport aircraft to supplement the road and railways.
Scattered through the request were indications of the strategy behind them, which suggested a Chinese hope that the air force would protect China’s airfields and cities and their approaches. With these secure, the lines of communications to them could operate efficiently. Expanded lines of supply would then support the newly equipped divisions, some of whose requirements would be supplied from China’s arsenals. Soong believed that a revitalized Chinese Army could not only hold key defensive points, thereby forcing Japan to keep troops in China, but could ultimately assume the offensive. He estimated that with adequate lend-lease aid these strategic aims might be achieved in two years’ time.
On his return from Chungking, Dr. Currie had received from Mr. Harry L. Hopkins, the President’s confidential adviser, the task of expediting Chinese lend-lease aid. Currie found Soong’s program faring badly in the initial confusion of setting up lend-lease machinery. Powerful impetus toward expediting aid to China came from the signature on 13 April of the Russo-Japanese neutrality pact, which stunned the Chinese. The Chinese had found the USSR willing to sell them small quantities of arms, and now this source had dried up. So the Generalissimo again appealed for help, while Washington was eager to find means to offset the pact’s effect on world public opinion.
Dr. Currie rushed Mr. Soong’s program to the War Department, where it received searching analysis. The consensus at the Department was that the Chinese were not prepared to take full advantage of the Lend-Lease Act because they did not know what they needed. Requirements for ordnance and aircraft were in specific quantities and understandably identified, but engineering and medical requirements were in “general statements . . . to be followed by detailed information as soon as available.” For the Yunnan-Burma Railway they asked 30,000 tons of rails but omitted specifications. In asking for trucks, Soong gave elaborately worked out tables, all on the basis of 4-ton trucks, which were not available in quantity in the United States and which would have torn the unimproved Chinese roads to pieces. The spare parts problem for these vehicles was met by the simple request for some, with no estimate based on operating experience as to what quantity might be needed. To be sure, the program promised “future details” on these matters, but this was March 1941 and Soong had been asking aid ever since the previous June. Every day of delay in giving the specifications meant a day of delay in procurement, while the general air of vagueness and unreality about these requirements made an unfavorable impression on the War Department.
On 22 April the War Department gave Currie a preliminary report on Soong’s program and a list of matériel which if available could be supplied to China without interfering to any appreciable extent with U.S. Army and British programs. Scarcity of trucks and road-building machinery forced Currie to cut the list, and the President earmarked $45,100,000 to initiate China’s lend-lease program. Since funds were available, Soong’s initial requisition on 1 May (as against a requirement) for 300 2½-ton trucks was speedily approved by Mr. Roosevelt on 6 May. Within a fortnight this first lend-lease equipment left New York bound for Rangoon, Burma. Meanwhile, the War Department completed its estimate of availability, dollar costs, and shipping data for the whole Soong program. This study laid the basis of all Chinese lend-lease programing before Pearl Harbor. Singling out ordnance items, Currie secured War Department and presidential approval for funds to start the ground force project. Currie learned that the War Department’s approval of funds for the production of any item on a Chinese program did not make its delivery to China a sacred commitment. The War Department emphasized that emergencies might force shifting priorities when the weapons were ready for distribution.
By late spring 1941 an additional $100,000,000 of lend-lease funds was divided between Soong’s communications and air force projects. Since he had been given little hope that ordnance and communications items would be available for China in any quantity before mid-1942, Currie concentrated his efforts on a more promising air program. Putting Air Power in China: The AVG and Currie’s Lend-Lease Program; Two air programs were clearly emerging from the original Chinese 500-plane proposal by the early spring of 1941. The availability of 100 Curtiss P-40B’s in January and February 1941 afforded an opportunity that Chennault and Soong had exploited, with powerful and essential aid from the services.
Soong’s aim was to rush the organization of a fighter group for earliest possible service in China. Currie, on the other hand, was eager to secure lend-lease funds to fill a larger long-range air program, which, if successful, would have created a potent Chinese Air Force. While both programs developed concurrently, the P-40 project outdistanced its lend-lease counterpart in the period before Pearl Harbor.
On 15 February 1941, General Marshall told the Acting Secretary of State, Mr. Sumner Welles, that a man had been found who was willing to take a chance on recruiting pilots for the P-40B’s in spite of existing neutrality legislation. This was the same Mr. Pawley who had been conferring with Secretary Knox since December 1940 on a volunteer scheme. Two months later Pawley signed a nonprofit contract with Soong to equip, supply, and operate the American Volunteer Group (AVG), as it was to be known. Under the contract, Colonel Chennault bore the un-martial title of supervisor. To insure co-ordination between the different branches of the organization setting up the AVG, the contract required Chennault to maintain close liaison with Pawley’s organization in the Far East and in New York.
Although the AVG was not supported by lend-lease funds, the War and Navy Departments, giving effect to the President’s policy, were soon involved. Both services extended facilities to Pawley’s recruiting agents and released pilots and crews for service in China’s Air Force. Pawley’s agents toured Air Corps and Navy training fields everywhere save in Hawaii and the Philippines, offering big salaries and hinting of bonuses for victories confirmed. Administrative and technical staffs were complete on 9 August, but pilot recruiting was not complete for another month. There were 101 pilot volunteers, 63 from the Navy and 38 from the Army, each with a one-year contract dating from the time the volunteer reached the Far East. Overseas movement began on 9 June with the first pilots sailing later on a Dutch vessel escorted through the Japanese mandate islands by American warships. Though contrary to the neutrality laws, the escort was considered by Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, to be essential to U.S. support of China.
Having signed a contract with Soong on 15 April 1941 to secure volunteers for the 100 P-40’s (which had already been put on board ship for Rangoon), Mr. Pawley sent his brother Edward to Chungking to check the preparations the Chinese had promised to make to receive the American Volunteer Group in China. Edward Pawley reported that the Chinese had not begun their preparations to receive the volunteers. Consequently, Pawley told his brother to ask the British military authorities in Burma for training facilities. At Lashio, Mr. Edward Pawley was so fortunate as to encounter Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the British commander-in-chief in the Far East, who numbered the defense of Burma among his many responsibilities. Sir Robert was most helpful, and obtained permission of the British War Office to offer facilities at Toungoo and Magwe to the American Volunteer Group.
When the first contingent of volunteers arrived on 28 July, they were promptly sent to a recently completed Royal Air Force (RAF) airdrome in the midst of a pestilent jungle six miles from Toungoo. This airfield was turned over to the AVG by London for full combat training with the proviso that the Burmese airfields would not be used as a base to attack the Japanese, for Britain was anxious to avoid war with Japan. Administrative difficulties with the British and Burmese civil authorities resulted from the arrangement.
Having been forbidden to use American armed guards or to employ the Burmese as guards, the AVG felt its security jeopardized and was finally able to obtain Gurkha guards. The AVG could make no additions or changes in airfield construction without the official permission of the RAF. The position of the American volunteers training in Burma was anomalous, for the AVG was part of the Chinese Air Force, and, until war between the United States and Japan broke out, they had no official connection with the United States Army Air Forces.
At Toungoo the volunteers for three squadrons of P-40’s were trained in Chennault’s system of tactics, which was based on years of study and observation of the Japanese Air Force. Chennault’s men used a two-ship element, always flying and fighting in pairs, diving in, making a quick pass, and then breaking away, thus exploiting the superior diving speed of the P-40 and refusing the turning combat for which the frail, maneuverable, Japanese aircraft were designed. Gunnery was stressed, that the brief contact might be lethal. As a unit, the AVG was trained to break up the Japanese formations, confront their pilots with unexpected situations, and exploit the resulting confusion.
The training in these tactics took a heavy toll of the planes, which were badly in need of proper and complete equipment. In the haste to obtain fighters, the P-40’s had been accepted without necessary equipment and spare parts, on the understanding that the British would release guns and ammunition from their lend-lease stocks. This division of responsibility produced much debate in the days ahead, with the principal Chinese purchasing and supply agency, China Defense Supplies, Inc., arguing that if the British could not equip the aircraft the War Department had to.50 The latter was not eager to be charged with support of a fighter group so far from U.S. bases, and was further embarrassed by the current grave shortage of .30- and .50-caliber ammunition. Though the War Department approved the concept of keeping the Japanese contained in China, when faced with the concrete problem of creating and supporting the AVG some of its senior members had misgivings.
Fully admitting that the details of logistical support made “the whole thing so confusing” and convinced that the sober facts of inadequate ordnance and signal equipment had not been brought to Mr. Roosevelt’s attention, Secretary of War Stimson refused to entertain any claim that the Department was not responsible for the AVG. “Unfortunately, it is,” was his comment. Ultimately, Currie had to take the matter to the President with the pertinent remark that if the fighters were sent to China without ammunition, there would be an international scandal and the rest of the lend-lease program might as well be forgotten. The President ordered the release of ammunition, and 1,500,000 rounds came from Army stocks. Spare parts were just as hard to find, for the factory no longer made many of them for the outmoded P-40B. The larger question of the War Department’s relation to the AVG was not settled before war commenced.
Though involved in the effort to rush creation of a fighter group Dr. Currie was also at work on his larger program. After considering U.S. aircraft production figures and bearing in mind that China received but $53,000,000 for aircraft out of the first lend-lease allocations, Currie outlined his program on 28 May 1941.52 To supplement the AVG’s 100 fighters, he arranged with the British to release 144 Vultee P-48’s. At the Republic aviation plant he found 125 P-43’s. In addition he located 66 Lockheed and Douglas bombers under British contract for which the RAF lacked pilots. These he proposed to obtain by transfer from the British. Placing his program before Secretary Knox, Currie argued: “If this program were adopted China would possess, in early 1942, a respectable air force, judged by Far Eastern standards, which should be sufficient to (a) protect strategic points, (b) permit local army offensive action, (c) permit the bombing of Japanese air bases and supply dumps in China and Indo-China, and the bombing of coastal and river transport, and (d) permit occasional incendiary bombing of Japan.” Currie set 31 October 1941 as the date for the completion of the program, and claimed that such a force would be “a powerful means to check a Japanese attack on Singapore and the South Seas.” Studying these proposals, the highest joint service echelon, the Joint Board, raised no objections to their strategic concepts.
The Indochina Crisis and Aid to China
During the winter of 1940-1941 the greatest military events took place on the shores of the Mediterranean. The German armies placed ever more men opposite the Russian frontier, but in the Mediterranean only their air arm was active. There the Germans had to support Fascist Italy, which in fall 1940 proved incapable of overrunning Greece and in December 1940 lost its military reputation at the hands of General Sir Archibald P. Wavell, the British commander in the Middle East. This German air support was not enough, while the German southern flank opposite Russia needed strengthening. Germans in various guises moved into the Balkans in ever greater numbers. The Yugoslav people in March 1941 revolted against an attempt to bring them into the German camp as a satellite. It was the first spontaneous popular defiance of Germany’s “new order” in Europe.
The Germans could not let the challenge pass. By a great feat of rapid planning and logistical improvisation they so quickly altered their dispositions in the Balkans that on 6 April 1941 they could attack Yugoslavia and Greece. The events of spring 1940 were repeated as the perfectly equipped, splendidly trained German veterans overran the Yugoslavs who tried to defend their borders, while the inability of the Greeks to withdraw their best troops from Albania made futile Wavell’s attempts to support the Greeks with a small air contingent and a task force of some 60,000 men, of whom about 33,000 came from Australia and New Zealand. The evacuation under the blows of the Germans, whose air superiority could not be disputed in the campaign’s later phases, was a painful experience.
After Greece surrendered on 24 April 1941, the Germans organized an airborne attack on the island of Crete. The Germans began their operation on 20 May and after a week’s hard fighting had another victory, for Crete was theirs. But the triumph, though technically of great interest, was as costly to the Germans as to the Allies for the German airborne units which took part were thoroughly shaken up and the Germans never tried to duplicate Crete. Much of the burden of Crete’s defense was borne by Dominion troops; their losses in Crete and Greece had effect on the policies of their governments. Then the German divisions moved back north and east, leaving garrisons in the Balkans. In May and June they rejoined the principal German forces, which for months past had been quietly gathering along the Russian frontier.
The Russians were alarmed; the Germans, enigmatic. The Russians attempted various forms of appeasement, but the Germans were bent on their project and crossed the Soviet frontier on 22 June 1941. Like Napoleon, Hitler had turned his back on the Channel and was marching to Moscow. It appeared certain that the German armies would be occupied for some weeks to come. A few even hoped the Russians might last out the winter.
About 4 July 1941 British and American intelligence agencies became aware that the Japanese were on the verge of a major move. The United States had broken the Japanese diplomatic code, and so the President and Cabinet in early July had the full revelation of how Japan would react to the situation created by the German attack on Russia on 22 June 1941. They learned that Japan would not attack Russia, but would try to end the undeclared war in China and prepare for a southward advance, toward the oil and rubber of British Malaya and the Netherlands Indies. As a first step, Japan would occupy southern French Indochina and Thailand, even at the risk of war with Great Britain and the United States. This was alarming news, for the British might not survive the loss of their Far Eastern possessions. Furthermore, the motorized American economy, now pledged to support Britain’s cause, depended on Malayan rubber.
The Japanese steps were soberly and earnestly debated by the President, his Cabinet, and at the highest service levels during July’s summer heat. An oil embargo, striking at the weakest spot in the Japanese economy, was proposed, but Admiral Stark and General Marshall opposed it, warning that it might mean war, for such an embargo would offer Japan the somber choice of surrender or striking for the oil of the Indies. Diplomatic warnings over the next few days failed to stop the Japanese, and the United States was confronted with Japanese occupation of southern French Indochina on 21 July 1941. Following as it did on the seizure of northern Indochina in September 1940 and Hainan in February 1939, the Japanese advance southward was an ominous step.
The American reaction was strong and culminated in a decisive step that set a time limit within which the Pacific problem would inevitably be brought to the crisis stage and which would greatly affect any long-range program of aid to China. On 23 July the President approved a Joint Board paper which recommended that the United States equip, man, and maintain the 500-plane Chinese Air Force proposed by Currie. The paper suggested that this force embark on a vigorous program to be climaxed by the bombing of Japan in November 1941. Joint Board Paper 355 also defined the strategy behind aid to China: “The continuation of active military operations by the Chinese is highly desirable as a deterrent to the extension of Japanese military and naval operations to the South.”
The general concept of giving China lend-lease aid, as distinguished from any specific program that might be submitted, was approved because at this time in Washington there was a myth and a hope about China. An ardent, articulate, and adroit Sinophile faction claimed that the Chinese were courageously and competently resisting the Japanese and needed only arms to drive them into the sea. The services were too well informed to share that belief, but they hoped that if the Chinese were rearmed, reorganized, and trained they might cause the Japanese such concern as to bar any adventures in the South Seas. So the myth and the hope converged, and lend-lease aid to China found increased support in high places.
A presidential proclamation calling the armed forces of the Philippine Commonwealth into the service of the United States was issued, and Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur became head of a new army command in the Far East. Plans were set in motion to reinforce the Philippines. General Marshall and Admiral Stark believed it was understood that economic sanctions would not go beyond the licensing of Japanese trade, to control all exports to Japan. On 26 July an order was issued from the summer White House at Hyde Park freezing Japanese assets. Press and public hailed it as an “oil embargo,” and when no licenses for the purchase of oil were ever issued to the Japanese under the executive order, it became in effect the decisive step of embargo, setting about a twelve-month limit within which the Japanese would have to reach an understanding with the United States or attack the Netherlands Indies.
The Joint Board recommendations approved by the President on 23 July were that (a) 269 fighters and 66 bombers be furnished for “effective action against Japanese military and naval forces operating in China and in neighboring countries and waters“; (b) the United States provide means to train Chinese to fly and maintain these aircraft; (c) the United States send a military mission to China to advise the Chinese on the proper use of the large amount of arms being furnished by the United States. Aircraft allocations were left subject to U.S. and British requirements; most of them would have to be transferred from British allocations. Thus, the Joint Board accepted Currie’s aircraft program.
Immediately after the President’s approval of these recommendations, Soong and Pawley initiated plans for a second American Volunteer Group, based on American concepts of a light bombardment unit, with American pilots for the thirty-three Lockheed Hudson bombers and Chinese pilots for the thirty-three Douglas. Hiring began on 1 November, but Pawley had difficulty in finding trained bombardiers. On 21 November forty-nine ground personnel for the second AVG left for China. The outbreak of the war stranded them in Australia.
In November and December 1941 there was a distinct possibility that the AVG might become an Anglo-American organization. Following a warning from the British Ambassador to China on 31 October 1941 that the situation in China was very grave, Air Chief Marshal Brooke-Popham’s headquarters began preparations to place a volunteer fighter squadron and, if possible, some bombers in China to operate with the American Volunteer Group. William D. Pawley strongly urged the British project and cooperated in the logistical preparations.
[NOTE CBI-112A] (1) In the margin of a draft manuscript of this chapter, Admiral Stark wrote: “. . . statement about oil is correct—but I understood at the time—it was not an oil embargo though it ultimately did develop into it.” HIS 330.14 CBI 1950. (2) In commenting on a draft manuscript for this portion of the text, Admiral Stark and Captain Kittredge, Joint Chiefs of Staff Historical Section, outlined the following Joint Board recommendations of 25 July 1941 which the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations thought had been approved by the President:
“1 A Presidential proclamation calling the Philippine forces in U.S. service, with the appointment of General MacArthur as Commanding General of a new army command, ‘U.S. Army Forces in the Far East’ (USAFFE) with proposals for immediate strengthening of U.S. forces in the Philippines.
“2 Approval of the program for aid to China, including the CAF [Chinese Air Force] project, the AVG program, the supply of further ordnance material for the 30 division program, and the sending of a U.S. military mission.
“3 Approval of proposals for release of munitions for Russia, including items from the Army and Navy and future production previously allocated to the U.S. and British forces.
“4 Maintenance of the closing of the Panama Canal to Japanese ships, with provision for co-operation with British and Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific for reduction of shipments to Japan.
“5 No general embargo on Japan, but introduction of a licensing system for exports, assuring U.S. control of all shipments to Japan.”]
The aircraft procurement recommended by the board went more slowly. When the complicated details of transferring aircraft from British to Chinese allocations had been completed and Currie had been rescued from the embarrassment caused by his having promised aircraft to China before the British consented to release them, it appeared that deliveries could not start until November 1941 and would not be complete until April 1942.66 So went another hope of containing the Japanese in 1941.
The Thirty Division Program
Mr. T. V. Soong’s requirements of 31 March for artillery and arsenal materials clearly implied a plan to rearm thirty divisions. He gave priority to thirty battalions of 75-mm. pack howitzers, with 2,000 rounds per piece, and thirty battalions of 37-mm. antitank guns, with 1,500 rounds each. The War Department understood this artillery was organic to the Chinese division, but Mr. Soong did not elaborate the point. Lower priority went to thirty battalions of 105-mm. and eight battalions of 155-mm. howitzers, with ammunition. For the Chinese infantry, Soong asked 15,000 7.92-mm. machine guns with 500,000,000 rounds of ammunition. China had perhaps 200 obsolete tanks, and Soong wanted 360 light tanks and 400 scout cars to replace them.
As the War Department studied Soong’s proposals, it found there was little that it could spare from existing stocks or current production. However, if the President was to allocate $184,000,000 from lend-lease funds, future production might meet China’s ordnance needs by mid-1942. In mid-May 1941 the Secretary of War agreed with Dr. Currie that the Chinese might begin their rearmament with $50,000,000 of lend-lease funds and that $23,000,000 worth could be from U.S. Army stockpiles or current production. From the latter sources the War Department hoped to find before mid-1942: 144 75-mm. guns, 235 75-mm. howitzers, 265 scout cars less armament, 360 light tanks with machine guns, and 1,000 ¼-ton trucks (jeeps). Ammunition would be included. Additional lend-lease funds were set aside for an arsenal program and signal, engineering, and medical items.
In May 1941 the Chinese purchasing and supply authority in the United States, China Defense Supplies, began to present its detailed requisitions against the approved thirty division program.69 Although China Defense Supplies’ officials could call on War Department personnel to assist them in preparing these requisitions, complaints soon arose that these Chinese agents not only had no idea of what was actually needed for war in China but were ignorant of the inherent limitations and qualities of the weapons desired. One example was the story of the Chinese requisition for 50,000 .30-caliber rifles, M1917-A (Enfield), with bayonets, scabbards, and accessories. The War Department had some on hand in mid-194l, though 1,000,000 had already gone to Britain. The weapon compared very well with the standard Japanese piece, and the Chinese and their sympathizers represented their need for arms as desperate. The War Department considered making these rifles available to the Chinese even before their request was received, though there was no .30-caliber ammunition immediately available. On 17 June Soong bid for 50,000 Enfield rifles, but when a sample was delivered to his ordnance expert the latter said “it would jeopardize his reputation” to send the Enfields to China and demanded 50,000 Garand semiautomatics. Supply of the Garand was quite inadequate for the U.S. Army at this time, and none were available.
There was the further problem of finding enough ammunition for this weapon, with its high rate of fire. Later the War Department learned in confidence that the Chinese were negotiating with a small New York manufacturer to convert the Enfields into semiautomatics, a difficult and most un-satisfactory operation. Still later, China Defense Supplies urged that the 50,000 rifles be sent to China, there to be converted to 7.92-mm., a task which would have absorbed the energies of the Chinese arsenals for months on end. In February 1942, after some had been shipped to Great Britain and others issued to the state militias, the War Department still had 20,000.70 These Enfields went to India and ultimately were used by the Chinese to retake north Burma.
In their requisitions for tanks, the Chinese again revealed ignorance of what was possible for operations in China. Soong asked for the standard U.S. light tank, a 13-ton model. Since it was pointed out repeatedly that this tank could not cross the majority of bridges in China and Burma, Chinese insistence on the 13-ton type until as late as November 1941 typified something that appeared over and over again—Chinese demands for the biggest and newest equipment regardless of availability or practicality. The story of the Marmon-Herrington 7-ton tanks was very like that of the Enfields. The tank was in production, it was available in quantity, and it could be used on the primitive Chinese road net. The Chinese objected to its armament of one .50- and two .30-caliber machine guns and demanded it carry three .30-caliber machine guns, a flame thrower, and a 37-mm. antitank gun, an impossible problem in design and production on a 7-ton chassis. When the Chinese had been persuaded to accept the standard armament, it then developed there was a shortage of .50-caliber machine guns, so Marmon-Herrington was told to use three .30-caliber pieces. When the tanks began coming off the assembly line in December 1941, it was found the turrets would not permit replacing the .30’s with .50’s when the latter became available. The Chinese at once charged bad faith and refused to take delivery. Excited tempers were cooled when arrangements were made at London to supply the Chinese with 1,200 Bren gun carriers from British and Canadian production in place of the tanks, which the United States accepted and used for guarding airfields. Such action by China Defense Supplies resulted in increased and irresistible pressure within the War and Treasury Departments to secure a greater measure of control over the whole process of rearming the Chinese Army.
SOURCE: Stilwell’s Mission to China: BY: Charles F. Romanus & Riley Sunderland (United state Army Center of Military History)