China’s military problems were not new to the War Department. Military attachés and the recent air mission to China (17 May-6 June 1941) of Brigadier General Henry B. Clagett, commanding the Philippine Department Air Force, reported on those problems. Other officers, including General Marshall, had served in China with the tiny garrisons that the United States maintained there as a symbol of its support of Chinese nationalism against the several European and Asiatic imperialisms. Twenty-eight officers had been in China (1923-37) as language students. There was, therefore, a group of men in the War Department well able to interpret press dispatches from China and to appraise Chinese requests for aid.
[NOTE SO-73S: During Currie’s mission to Chungking, the Generalissimo had requested that a high-ranking air officer come to China. Mr. Roosevelt approved the request. Seeing that Soong’s program of air power in China was obviously going to claim a large share of American resources, Marshall sent Clagett to China. Clagett’s report of the Chinese Air Force and its installations in Rpt, Clagett to Marshall, 12 Jun 41, sub: Air Mission to China. AG (AMMISCA) 336.2.]
The difficulties that arose in processing Chinese requests for lend-lease arms suggested to several officers that the War Department take some positive action to improve the handling of lend-lease by China. The current military attaché in Chungking, Lt. Colonel William Mayer, recommended on 15 June 1941 that his successor be a general officer charged with advising and assisting the Generalissimo. He observed that both Joseph W. Stilwell and John Magruder had attained general officer’s rank, had been attachés in China, and so either would be qualified. On 16 June G-4, War Department General Staff, suggested a lend-lease mission of Army personnel.
Memoranda began to pass back and forth, from which these arguments for the dispatch of a mission emerged: (1) preliminary plans and moves for aid to China had not been meshed with the over-all lend-lease program, with strategic estimates, or with national policy; (2) Soong’s strategic goals would be more easily reached if American personnel, acting with China’s leaders, could advise and assist the Chinese; (3) since China Defense Supplies had no competent military advice, it had asked for far more equipment (and brought pressure to bear to get it) than the Chinese could use or even transport to China; (4) China’s history provided many instances of the waste of foreign loans and gifts; (5) the work of the German Military Mission, which had greatly assisted the Generalissimo’s rise to power, could be excelled by American officers profiting by the Germans’ experiences; (6) the American Volunteer Group and its logistical problems were not receiving proper attention; (7) if war came, a basis for Sino-American military co-operation would have been laid.
Further support for the mission came from the foreign scene. Knowledge that if war came the British Military Attaché to China, Major General L. E. Dennys, would emerge as chief of a military mission sponsoring guerrilla and RAF activities suggested an American mission. The fear that the Soviet Union might be defeated also expedited the formation of an American mission to China as a reassuring diplomatic gesture; for the Chinese feared Russian collapse would release Japanese troops in Manchuria for adventures elsewhere. On 3 July 1941 General Marshall approved the American Military Mission to China (its short title, AMMISCA, will be used hereafter). Eight days later the Acting Chief of Staff, G-2, Brigadier General Sherman Miles, wrote a personal letter to Brigadier General John Magruder, commanding Fort Devens, Mass., to inform him he was being considered to head a lend-lease mission to China, which in the event of war would be “the liaison for strategic planning and cooperation with our ally, China.” Magruder reported to Washington soon after and began his studies of the China problem.
As was noted previously, the Joint Board paper approved by the President on 23 July called for a military mission to China, which thus put the final seal on the project, and the bureaucratic struggle to write the directive, fix the jurisdiction, and prescribe the composition of AMMISCA began. There were long discussions with the State Department, which wanted the mission to be controlled by the new American Ambassador to China, Mr. Clarence E. Gauss. The War Department carried its point with the contention that AMMISCA was “operational” in the highest sense, so that Magruder was merely attached to the Embassy to assure what was called “the coordinating jurisdiction of the Ambassador.”
AMMISCA Receives Its Orders
The Chinese were told of AMMISCA’s coming on 20 August 1941, four days before the British Prime Minister, Mr. Winston S. Churchill, revealed that conversations were under way between the American and Japanese Governments on the gravest issues of Pacific diplomacy. The question of Magruder’s directive became an immediate issue. For a while it was felt that Magruder should be authorized to conduct staff talks with the Chinese on co-operation between the two Allied Powers should war arise in the Pacific between America and Japan. If adopted, this provision would have helped fill one of the gaps in prewar planning, but it was never authorized. When the issue came to a head in November, the War Department told Magruder to express no opinions of his own on the employment of U.S. Forces in China, nor to discuss any Chinese proposals, but simply to transmit the latter to Washington.
[NOTE CSOS-786-A: Magruder’s planning papers in AMMISCA Folder 1. (B)As a Foreign Service officer at Shanghai, Gauss had had long experience in dealing with the Chinese. As it worked out, Gauss had no control over AMMISCA, which, since the latter appeared to control lend-lease aid, created a situation not lost on the observant Chinese. Gauss was Ambassador to China until November 1944. (C)The exchange of planning papers is in AMMISCA Folder 1.]
The orders given General Magruder faithfully reflected the growing War Department convictions about China. He was told to: (1) Advise and assist the Chinese Government in all phases of procurement, transport, and maintenance of materials, equipment, and munitions requisite to the prosecution of its military effort. (2) Advise and assist the Chinese Government in the training of Chinese personnel in the use and maintenance of materials, equipment, and munitions supplied as defense aid material by the United States. (3) When requested, assist personnel of other Departments of the [United States] Government in carrying out their respective duties in furtherance of the objectives of the
Lend-Lease Act pertaining to China. (4) Assist the Chinese Government in obtaining prompt and co-ordinated administrative action by the United States authorities necessary to insure the orderly flow of materials and munitions from lend-lease agencies to the Chinese military forces. (5) Explore the vital port, road, and railroad facilities with a view to the establishment and maintenance of an adequate line of communications.
Magruder was further instructed to negotiate only with the Generalissimo, and to refrain from dealings with the war lords and cliques. Diplomatically, the dispatch of AMMISCA may be classed with other measures taken at this time as warnings or deterrents to Japan, such as the oil embargo, stern notes, and the reinforcement of the Philippines. Though AMMISCA was primarily intended to see to it that lend-lease aid was effectively applied, the Joint Board was well aware that it had great, possibly dramatic, potentialities since the ultimate objective of all this was “Chinese military self-sufficiency.” Magruder told Marshall that “implementation in China of this policy in counterbalancing Japanese military capacity, if successfully carried out, can be measured militarily in terms of army corps.”
During the first two weeks of September, AMMISCA took hold among the swarming bureaus of Washington. It had two functional subgroups, one to operate in China and on the line of communications up from Rangoon, and the other in Washington to deal with China Defense Supplies, the Treasury, the rest of the War Department, and other government agencies. Magruder also received approval of his plan to form groups of specialists who would go to China from time to time “in connection with vital road and railroad problems, training in new equipment as it is made available, motor and armament maintenance problems, etc.”
Before he left for Chungking, Magruder was quickly initiated into the problems of his new role. The composition of his staff was affected by the Generalissimo’s desire, expressed through Soong, that certain technicians be included. This was an opportunity to acquire valuable experience for the War Department, which therefore sent several reserve officers to cope with technical problems peculiar to the Orient. Magruder also found that the Chinese expected him to have great weight in War Department discussions of lend-lease arms. When Mr. Soong complained to Colonel William J. Donovan, Co-ordinator of Information, that the United States was not keeping its promises to China, the matter was promptly referred to Magruder. In suggesting an answer, Magruder told Marshall that “since the will of Chiang Kai-shek almost alone fixes the will of the Chinese people, the morale of this leader should be supported in every practicable way.” He asked Marshall to approve shipment of matériel for two battalions of field artillery, to accelerate the delivery of 144 P-43 fighters, to arrange for immediate procurement of the thirty-three Lockheed Hudsons, and to ship ordnance and ammunition for the American Volunteer Group at once. This time Marshall’s reaction was immediate and favorable, for the War Department released its first shipment of ammunition to the Chinese as August 1941 ended. The release of yet more aid was an imminent prospect and China’s lend-lease funds were scheduled for a sharp increase in the planning for a second lend-lease appropriation bill (later passed in October 1941).
On 13 September 1941 the first group of AMMISCA personnel flew to Chungking via Manila and Hong Kong. Before their arrival, the Japanese forces in China opened a drive on Changsha. This offensive brought new appeals for aid from the Generalissimo, for any Japanese activity forced him to expend some of his carefully husbanded stocks. Japanese extremists, on their side, could persuade themselves further that Washington was merely trying to gain time before attacking them, because Magruder stopped at Manila on 3–4 October to confer with senior American and visiting British officers from Singapore. Moreover, Japanese agents at Rangoon could count every ton of aid going over the docks.
General Magruder’s arrival in Chungking coincided with the ceremonies commemorating Double Ten Day (10 October), the thirtieth anniversary of the Chinese Republic, and enthusiasm for AMMISCA’s arrival was unconcealed. Though the Generalissimo was absent from Chungking when AMMISCA arrived, and for a fortnight more, Magruder lost no time in going to work. Officers were assigned to five major projects: communications, aviation, military supply, arsenals, and military training. Their work deployed some of them along the line of communications from Rangoon north, sent some to observe the front at I-chang and on the Yunnan-Indochina border, and retained the rest around Chungking. Magruder told his officers these duties would involve work in widely separated areas, often out of touch with Chungking, so that they would have to show initiative and good judgment.
Under no circumstances were AMMISCA officers to exceed their authority by negotiating or making commitments to British and Chinese officials or American agencies until such matters had been approved through diplomatic channels. They were reminded that they could hardly hope to change characteristics which the centuries had implanted in the Chinese, that AMMISCA’s “effectiveness will depend not on our efforts to change or reform the Chinese, but upon our ability to put our advice and aid in such forms as to make it practical.”
The Chinese Army, Fall 1941
The state and nature of the Chinese Army in the fall of 1941 were no surprise to Magruder and many of his staff who had served in China before. From personal observations Magruder’s staff were able to bring their recollections up to date and to send back to the War Department a series of reports on the Chinese Army. From military attaché reports of the twenties and thirties, from the reports of AMMISCA officers, and from the reports of observers who saw the Chinese Army at first hand, the War Department received the impression of a heterogeneous force that had considerable potentialities but that was not yet an effective, well-trained, well-disciplined army.
During the 1930’s, newborn Chinese nationalism and recurrent waves of anti-Japanese sentiment brought a number of war lords to the Generalissimo’s Nationalist banners. There was a brief United Front period when the Chinese Communists recognized the Generalissimo’s leadership in resisting the Japanese.
The result was a coalition army but not a unified national force as Westerners conceived an army to be. Its German-trained divisions and those of the more progressive and capable war lords would be classed as mediocre by Western standards. These divisions numbered perhaps forty in all, but were understrength, lacked heavy equipment, and were widely dispersed. The balance of the Chinese “divisions” were in reality large bands of lightly armed and poorly trained men, whose allegiance enabled their commanders to dominate the peasantry. These troops were not in contact with the Japanese, and could not have been maintained in battle against them. The greatest asset of the Chinese Army was the hardihood and valor of the peasant soldier, fighting in defense of the familiar things of his province. Its greatest liability was the failure of its war lord commanders to see their soldiers as anything more than counters in the unending game of Chinese politics.
In terms of formal structure, the Generalissimo, presiding over the National Military Council, commanded this coalition army. He maintained this command by seeing to it that, so far as Chinese domestic politics permitted, only men loyal to himself held positions of consequence. Loyalty to the Generalissimo rather than success in battle was the secret of a brilliant military career in China. The Chinese Army was deployed over twelve war areas and received orders through the Generalissimo’s Chief of Staff, General Ho Ying-chin, working with the National Military Council. What effective fighting China had done since 1939 had been done within one particular war area at a time. In most cases, war area boundaries conformed to the ancient provincial boundaries. Often the war area commander doubled as provincial governor and exercised both military and political control. In the rear of each war area were a few of the Generalissimo’s loyal divisions to guarantee the fidelity of the war area commander.
This decentralized regional defense system was primarily intended to keep the Japanese from ending the war with one blow. It also tended to keep dissident or traitorous elements (puppets) from taking advantage of a military crisis to seize control of an unoccupied area. The system had two major drawbacks. The wide dispersion of the better troops left the Generalissimo no mass of maneuver. And, the creation of twelve war area commanders with military and political power resulted in the creation of as many semi-independent satraps. Under these circumstances, the Generalissimo’s greatest contribution to China’s war of resistance lay not in his military skill, but rather in his political talents in keeping the war area commanders loyal to China.
Each war area commander recruited, trained, and partially equipped his own men. If a Japanese foray threatened more than one war area, the National Military Council tried to co-ordinate the efforts of the menaced war areas. Consequently, a species of coalition warfare, involving all the attendant difficulties that the United Nations met in their attempts to wage it on the global scale, was to be met within China. Japanese expeditions often moved along war area boundaries, strongly suggesting that they were taking advantage of Chinese politics to cause their opponents the maximum of political embarrassment.
On paper, the Chinese division included all the arms and services it needed to make it a self-sufficient combat team. Division strength was nominally 9,529, but divisions averaged from six to seven thousand, some of them, of course, far understrength. Aside from lacking competent and trained commanders and staff officers and having only the rudiments of a supply system, the Chinese division had no artillery and was understrength in heavy weapons and rifles. The 800-odd pieces of Chinese artillery, a heterogeneous assortment from the arsenals of Europe and Japan, were hoarded by the war area commanders and the Generalissimo, to be doled out a piece at a time on great occasions. Their employment was extremely inefficient. For artillery support the division relied on its trench mortars, of which it had eighteen to thirty.
On paper the division had 324 light and heavy machine guns (7.92-mm.) but the average was 200, of which 36 were heavy. China had perhaps 1,000,000 rifles. Its arsenals could make field artillery, mortars, machine guns, and rifles plus ammunition, but the general shortage of nonferrous metals and explosives kept output to a trickle. Added to the general concept of the division as the personal property of its commander and to the inherent thrift of the Chinese, this shortage of matériel for 300-odd divisions made the Chinese extremely reluctant to use or expend any item of equipment.
That the division was its commander’s property affected all Chinese tactics and strategy. The division was a military and political asset, not to be expended, for no replacements of men or matériel would be forthcoming. American observers believed that the divisional commander who lost one third of his men lost one third of his power and income. Consequently, though there were shining and valiant exceptions, most Chinese commanders would not dream of leading their troops as would their Japanese opponents, who, with their men, thought dying for the Emperor the goal of a soldier’s life. Moreover, Americans who worked closely with Chinese divisions discovered that in those units, which they had no reason to consider atypical, the soldier’s pay was among the perquisites of the commander. It was therefore to the commander’s interest to keep his unit somewhat understrength.
The location of divisions in the Chinese order of battle does not suggest that China had traded space for time. The Chinese divisions had not retired into western China there to mass and wait the arrival of arms from the West. Instead, the greater part had fallen back from the big cities and railway lines into the countryside, while the Japanese flowed round and past them. Nor had the Generalissimo concentrated any of his better troops in areas where they might hope to receive U.S. arms. Had there been a plan to receive such help and then prepare for a great effort to drive the Japanese into the sea, the chosen troops would have been designated and a portion of them would be in training centers eagerly waiting the arms and instructors. On the contrary, years passed before the Chinese finally settled on the divisions they wanted to re-equip, while the American experience with training centers for Chinese troops in China paralleled that of the man who led his horse to water, but could not make it drink.
The nomenclature of units in the Chinese Army resembled the Japanese system rather than the American. The Chinese used the now familiar triangular (three-regiment) division, but had no army corps. Instead, they had armies, each consisting of three divisions plus army troops. Three Chinese “armies” in turn made a “group army,” which was analogous to the American army. Thus the Chinese built their Army up by dividing each successive higher echelon by three —three regiments to a division, three divisions to an army, and three armies to a group army. Most Chinese war areas had three group armies.
China had about 3,819,000 men under arms. Of these, 2,919,000 were formed into 246 divisions classed by the Chinese as “front-line” troops, plus 44 “brigades” (a term loosely applied to men organized on military lines). In rear areas were another 70 divisions plus 3 brigades, or 900,000 more. Except for the Generalissimo’s personal troops, estimated at about 30 divisions, the loyalties of China’s troops lay with their war area commanders. The whole tangled structure of Chinese politics, culture, and society was reflected in the question of what troops would obey whom under what set of circumstances. Loyalty being a conditional virtue in most men, only an observer gifted with clairvoyance could state with accuracy that such and such a division would obey the orders of Chungking under all circumstances. Thus, the Chinese Ministry of War would not attempt to order certain Yunnanese and Szechwanese divisions to leave their native provinces. On another occasion, a very senior general officer of the Chinese Government bitterly protested giving lend-lease to the troops of a certain war area commander, of unchallenged loyalty to Chinese nationalism and the Allied cause, at a time when those troops were hotly engaged with the Japanese. The war area commander was then out of favor in Chungking, and only a very few insiders would have known why.
Staff and command procedures were peculiar to the Chinese Army. Orders given through a staff officer meant nothing. Orders had to come from the commander personally, and, if written, bear his seal or chop. Transport was not something to be carefully provided for in advance but was commandeered, often at gun point, or else was an object of barter and diplomatic negotiation between the commanders. Diversion of transport to haul loot and commanders’ personal property was one of the more noticeable abuses.
The maintenance of this huge mass was a fearful drain on the Chinese economy. The number of Chinese divisions was more than three times as many divisions as the United States had in the field in 1945. A veritable flood of lend-lease equipment, in hundreds of thousands of tons every year, would have been needed to arm 316 divisions and 47 brigades, after they had been taught how to use and maintain it. A small amount, spread over all these units with a nice eye to face and patronage, would have been spread so thin as to have no effect on the situation. Thus, 1,080 75-mm. howitzers would give a modest artillery complement, not far below Japanese standards, to thirty divisions. Spread evenly over 316 divisions it would amount to about three new pieces for each division, which would leave each unit only nominally less ineffective than before.
From 19 October to 10 November 1941, two of AMMISCA’s officers inspected the I and V War Areas, which swung north and east of Chungking in a broad arc across the natural avenues of a Japanese approach to Chungking.
These officers reported: V. CONCLUSIONS:
- The training in the artillery is very poor. A certain amount of technique is taught in the schools regarding indirect fire, but in actual practice the greater use is in direct fire, with axial methods for indirect fire being used where an obstacle provides protection for the guns.
- The officer personnel in batteries is poor. How poor is difficult to visualize without seeing. In the battery specially selected for our inspection at Laolokow [Lao-ho-kou] the battery commander was not of a very high order or intelligence. He was barefooted except for sandals. It would probably be very difficult to teach modern artillery methods to men of this type.
- The entire military system, being built on personal loyalty, prevents it being possible to train artillery officers and send them to units indiscriminately as we do in the States.
- There is very little activity along the front. Either side could probably push in a salient at any point they thought it profitable to do so. No contact between Chinese and Japanese troops at the front was observed.
- The interest of the Chinese towards any aggressive action appears to be quite negligible, regardless of their statements that all they need is airplanes, tanks, and artillery in order to drive the aggressor from their shores.
- The small amount of artillery available in the past has resulted in artillery not being present in most divisions, but being held centrally under army or higher control.
- The maintenance of motor transport is very faulty and makes the use of mechanized units a matter of doubtful advisability.106
The Generalissimo Warns of Peril
Shortly after General Magruder and his staff arrived at Chungking the Chinese through AMMISCA warned of an imminent Japanese attack on Kunming and asked for more arms in accents of urgency that caused grave concern on the highest levels in Washington. The President, the State Department, and the Joint Board were all involved in deciding how the United States should act, while in Chungking Magruder was drawn into those discussions of strategy and policy which his directive had sought to prevent. The Generalissimo’s warnings seem in retrospect to have originated before Magruder reached Chungking.
In the fall of 1941 the Chinese made two requests for an emergency issue of arms. Neither was related to the initial Soong requests of March 1941. In the first, the Generalissimo asked Soong to arrange a complete revision of existing lend-lease delivery schedules, saying that he needed 1,000 antiaircraft guns by 31 October, and a number of pack howitzers by the end of the year. The Generalissimo explained he wanted these weapons for the central China front. Moreover, he was greatly disappointed that the 13-ton tanks “originally promised us” could not be shipped in the near future. With the supply line so congested, it was manifestly impossible to have these weapons in China by 31 October, but the request was promptly forwarded to the War Department, which had to explain that the munitions stockpile would permit only 61 howitzers and 285 .50-caliber machine guns to go by the end of 1941.
The War Department’s reply distressed Currie, who wrote Hopkins on 6 October: “Aside from 500 Bren guns with ammunition which I got from Canada, we haven’t shipped one gun yet to China on Lend-Lease.” The Generalissimo’s plea brought results. The outcome was that almost a year after the Chinese first asked for arms, China Defense Supplies shipped the first weapons for the Chinese Army on the SS Tulsa on 22 October. The cargo was a most valuable one, with 48 75-mm. howitzers, 11,000 Thompson submachine guns, 500 more Bren guns, 100 .50-caliber machine guns, ample ammunition, and 35 scout cars. Sent at a time when American forces in the Philippines were soon to enter battle with obsolete 2.95-inch howitzers, vintage of ’98, the shipment was a real sacrifice.
The Generalissimo’s first request may have been a testing of the American position, for he promptly followed it by sounding the alarm in the strongest manner. The Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek welcomed Magruder and AMMISCA to Chungking at a conference on 27 October 1941. Magruder presented his five-point program for the Generalissimo’s consideration. The Chinese leader was satisfied with Magruder’s approach to the issues but singled out aviation for the top priority, for he was expecting early arrival of the promised lend-lease aircraft. The Generalissimo proposed that AMMISCA assume control of and develop the AVG, even at the cost of separating it from the Chinese Air Force. Before Magruder could comment on these points the Generalissimo introduced grave issues of high policy into the conference.
The Chinese Government feared that Japanese troops from Indochina were about to attack Yunnan Province and seize Kunming. This action would close the Burma Road and destroy China’s last link with the outside world. Actually, the seeming threat was but part of a Japanese cover plan to draw attention from projected operations elsewhere. To meet this disturbing prospect the Generalissimo asked that air support be detached from the RAF at Singapore, and that Anglo-American diplomatic pressure be placed on the Japanese.
Magruder concurred in the Generalissimo’s views and sent them on to Washington, where they resulted in grave concern during October-November 1941. The Generalissimo and Magruder met again on 31 October, and the Chinese leader again stressed his fear of a Japanese drive on Kunming. Magruder sent these warnings as well to Washington. His radios asked for guidance, saying that, as far as the U.S. effort in China was concerned, the heart of the matter was the Generalissimo’s intention of using the AVG, without regard to its state of training and equipment, against the Japanese if they should attack Yunnan. Thus, despite the precautions of those who drew up Magruder’s directive, the Chinese had immediately involved him in a discussion of major points of U.S. Pacific policy.
The Chinese reasons for doing so seem clear. Immediately after the disclosure on 24 August 1941 that Japanese-American diplomatic conversations of the greatest importance to the peace of the Pacific were under way, the Generalissimo had taken diplomatic action to defend China’s interests. He told the President that China’s failure to win an ally had given the Chinese a feeling of isolation. The Generalissimo suggested that Mr. Roosevelt take the initiative in arranging either of two alternatives: (1) the Soviet Union and Great Britain propose an alliance to China; (2) the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands Indies include China in their discussions. This latter was a clear reference to the staff talks that the latter three powers had conducted intermittently since January 1941. The President did not accept either of the alternatives, but sought to reassure the Generalissimo by announcing AMMISCA’s creation. The Generalissimo was not told that Magruder was forbidden to engage in staff talks; very likely he assumed that was one major reason why Magruder was in Chungking. The Generalissimo could also remember the success of his recent plea for arms.
The Generalissimo’s conversations with Magruder were followed shortly by a note that came from T. V. Soong, giving China’s requirements in munitions if Yunnan was to be held. Mr. Roosevelt gave the Generalissimo’s note to Secretary of State Hull, and Soong’s note went to Hopkins. Conferences followed between the State, War, and Navy Departments, and in the Joint Board. The radios from AMMISCA and the Chinese notes received the most earnest and searching examination.
The War Plans Division of the War Department, at Marshall’s request, examined the problem posed by the Chinese and concluded that aid for Kunming could come only from the Royal Air Force at Singapore or the American air garrison of Manila. The latter would weaken Manila and risk war with Japan; “no involvement should be risked which would lessen the main effort against Germany,” G-2, War Department General Staff, strongly doubted the likelihood of a Japanese attack on Kunming. The Joint Board met on 3 November and reaffirmed the desire and the necessity of avoiding Pacific commitments so as to concentrate on the Atlantic. A note embodying the views of the military went to the State Department, which shortly after thanked the services for their “lucid” analysis, saying that AMMISCA had caused the State Department more worry than was necessary.
[NOTE CB-121: (1) Memo for Record, Col C. W. Bundy, Chief, Plans Gp, WPD, 1 Nov 41, sub: Immediate
Aid to China. Bk A (1941), OPD Exec 8. (2) Memo for Record, Bundy, 2 Nov 41, sub: Notes on Conf with Mr. Currie at State Dept, 1245, 1 Nov 41. Bk A (1941), OPD Exec 8. (3) Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll reminded the Joint Board of the decision to make a major effort in the Atlantic and pointed out that a major effort in the western Pacific, or a shift of the major effort to that ocean to rescue China would force a tremendous shift of merchant ship tonnage. Statement of Ingersoll before the JB, 3 Nov 41. Bk A (1941), OPD Exec 8. (4) Dr. Hornbeck called General Marshall on the evening of 4 November 1941. Memo, Marshall for Gerow, 5 Nov 41. Bk A (1941), OPD Exec 8.]
Roosevelt had asked the Chief of Naval Operations and Chief of Staff for their views on the AMMISCA and Chinese messages. Their reply denned the highest service views on aid to China on the eve of Pearl Harbor. On 4 November Stark and Marshall told the President that they did not think the United States would be justified in undertaking an offensive war against Japan to keep her from cutting the Burma Road and taking Kunming. “The only existing plans for war against Japan in the Far East are to conduct a defensive war, in co-operation with the British and Dutch . . . .” By mid-December 1941, there would be added U.S. strength in the Philippines, but even so, until February or March 1942, intervention against Japan, save in defense of the Philippines or Malaya, would be futile. Military counteraction against Japan should follow only if Japan attacked the United States, the Netherlands Indies, or British Commonwealth, or moved into west or south Thailand, or Timor.
The Atlantic First policy should be adhered to. With respect to the AMMISCA and Chinese notes, they recommended that no U.S. armed forces be sent to China; that reinforcement and equipment of the AVG be expedited; that aid to China be accelerated; and that no ultimatum be sent to Japan. The State Department thoroughly approved of these views.
Meanwhile, Churchill had received a similar appeal from the Generalissimo and, fearing that the Japanese might “drift” into war, suggested on 5 November that another strong warning be sent from Britain and the United States. Churchill observed that the policy of gaining time had worked so far, “but our joint embargo is steadily forcing the Japanese to decisions for peace or war.”
Soong appealed directly to Roosevelt on 8 November, asking that the U.S. Navy release one-third of its dive bombers to China, to be delivered to the Philippines by aircraft carrier and ferried from there to China. On arrival there they would be manned by Chennault’s pilots. Soong’s proposal was another indication that the Chinese found it very difficult to understand the organizing, training, and equipping of military units. On the eve of Pearl Harbor they were proposing to deprive the U.S. Navy’s carrier air groups of their most effective weapon and themselves of what proved the best fighter group in Asia, to produce an extemporized and untrained dive-bomber unit which would then be sent into battle without fighter cover. With this scheme went a restatement of Chinese ordnance requirements without whose satisfaction, Soong stated, the Chinese could not hope to resist a Japanese attack on Kunming. The President and Hopkins sent Soong’s note to the War Department.
Marshall and Stimson personally reviewed the ordnance situation and found the cupboard almost bare. In effect, Soong was told that he would have to be content with what was already earmarked for China, plus some 2.95-inch howitzers and 3-inch antiaircraft guns that would be rushed from the Philippines when their replacements arrived. The Generalissimo was reminded through Soong that twenty-four nations in all were clamoring for lend-lease aid, and that the United States, in addition, had its own forces to equip. The best the United States could do in response to Soong’s appeal was to speed the flow of lend-lease aid and facilitate the building-up of the American Volunteer Group. Soong was further informed that the United States was reinforcing the Philippines, whose garrison, with the Pacific Fleet, would be a significant factor in the situation.
In mid-November, General Marshall prepared a reply to Magruder’s queries of 28 and 31 October. An exchange of memoranda in July 1941 with the State Department on a lend-lease training program for Chinese airmen influenced Marshall’s answer that the Chinese would have to decide when the AVG was to be used. At that time General Marshall, who had experience of Chinese methods and temperament, proposed to Currie that as a quid pro quo the United States receive certain guarantees from the Chinese regarding the command and staff functions of the Americans with the AVG, and that Magruder have the responsibility of fixing the date the AVG entered combat. Such a proposal was an attempt by Marshall to use lend-lease as a bargaining device toward gaining greater efficiency and a degree of self-help from the Chinese. The State Department and Currie had demurred, the latter writing, “In view of the dependence by China upon us for continued aid, it is not anticipated that any difficulty of non-co-operation will be experienced.”
AMMISCA’s Appraisal of the Thirty Division Program
Among the orders Magruder took with him to Chungking was one to report as soon as possible on the Chinese capabilities for offensive action in 1941. From surveys of China’s twenty arsenals, from observer reports of the central China and Indochina border fronts, and from studies of Chinese service schools, Magruder concluded that, if the Chinese were given arms and were willing to use them effectively, a considerable number of divisions could execute diversions or even substantial local offensives. Subsequent events showed that the War Department concurred.
But on what basis were these arms to be distributed? Soong’s programs of March 1941 had implied thirty divisions, but final confirmation did not come until 17 November when Major General Yu Ta-wei, head of the Chinese ordnance departments, told Lieutenant Colonel Arcadi Gluckman of AMMISCA that for some time the National Military Council had planned to create thirty kung chen tui (or assault-on-fortified-position) divisions. Ten thousand strong, the new units were to be organized into ten armies and located in strategic defensive positions.
At the same time, General Yu stated that twelve divisions had been designated and the remainder were under consideration. General Yu told Gluckman that Chinese arsenals could furnish rifles for the thirty divisions plus many of their infantry weapons, but that powder and metals for ammunition were nonexistent in China. He claimed that most of the 800-odd pieces of field artillery were being distributed among the twelve divisions, but that spare parts and ammunition for them, especially for those brought from the Soviet Union, were almost exhausted. This plan was still tentative, for the Generalissimo had not yet approved it.
[NOTE CA-132132SW: Memo, Gluckman for Magruder, 17 Nov 41, sub: Ord Equipment for Thirty Assault Divs. AG (AMMISCA) 319.1. Magruder’s first indorsement was dated 7 March 1942. The long delay reflects the fact that Chinese Government agencies in Chungking did not until then come to a very tentative agreement on the Thirty Division Program’s various aspects, such as the choice of the divisions to be re-equipped.]
Realizing that Soong had already submitted most of General Yu’s needs for procurement, Magruder radioed Stimson that little more could be done on matériel until the Thirty Division Program had the Generalissimo’s unqualified approval. For future guidance of the War Department Magruder recommended that ground force matériel be released to the Chinese on the following priorities: (a) arsenal metals, explosives, and machinery; (b) finished small arms ammunition; (c) infantry weapons; (d) organic division artillery; (e) corps artillery. Furthermore, he urged the War Department to remove the Chinese supply agencies in Washington from the lend-lease field.
AMMISCA learned too that the Generalissimo contemplated establishing two training centers, one near Kunming, the other near Kweiyang where cadres of the thirty divisions might learn to use lend-lease arms. During October and November 1941, however, the National Military Council hesitated to locate the centers or name their commanders. Despite this procrastination, Magruder asked AMMISCA’s Washington office to dispatch “task force specialists” to aid the Chinese in setting up tank, infantry, and artillery schools. These requirements were being studied when war came.
Before Pearl Harbor, AMMISCA personnel expressed two differing views on China. Familiar with China, Magruder was neither surprised nor depressed by the contrast between Chinese propaganda in the United States and Chinese action in China. By estimating what might still be done by tactfully applying American technique, Magruder reported to the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff in tones of mild optimism regarding the creation of an effective Chinese Army. Magruder considered he was not there to describe or expose China to his superiors, many of whom had served in China, but rather to aid China in helping itself.
Nevertheless, many of Magruder’s assistants were surprised and disillusioned by what they saw in China. As these officers traveled about China, visited Chinese headquarters, chatted with Chinese officers, and inspected Chinese establishments they saw for themselves the manner in which the Chinese were resisting Japan. Inevitably, they appraised the Chinese war effort as would professional soldiers, and their letters began to flow back to friends in the War Department and to families at home couched in terms of angry disillusion. Typical of many such was a report to General Magruder by Lieutenant Colonel George W. Sliney, summing up the impressions of his inspection trips in October and November: The following general impressions were gained through conversations with Chinese officers and by observations of conditions of front-line activity and of training, during my visits to the 1st, 5th, and 8th War Areas, to the Training Center at Cha Tso, and to the Field Artillery School at Tuyin. Such matters are not subject to proof, but should receive consideration in deciding any Allied plan of action.
(a) Several Chinese officers have stated to me that they believed China might be able to win this war without further fighting. They expected international diplomatic pressure to force Japan out of China. I feel that this attitude combined with many months of inactive defense has created a non-aggressive attitude in the soldiers that will take time to overcome. (b) The general idea in the United States that China has fought Japan to a standstill, and has had many glorious victories, is a delusion. Japan has generally been able to push forward any place she wanted to. She has stopped mostly because of the fact that a certain number of troops can safely hold only a certain number of miles of front without allowing dangerous holes to exist in it. The will to fight an aggressive action does not yet exist in the Chinese Army. If the Government of the United States is counting on such intent it should be cautioned against being too sure of any large-scale offensive action at present. This attitude is being changed by diplomatic persuasion from without, but it will require well-directed propaganda from within to give the proper mental attitude to the soldiers who are to do the fighting. (c) Many small things all pointing in the same direction have caused me to have a feeling, stronger than a suspicion, that the desire of the Chinese for more modern materiel was not, before December 8th, for the purpose of pressing the war against Japan, but was to make the Central Government safe against insurrection after diplomatic pressure by other nations had forced Japan out of China. (d) The method of employment of artillery by the Chinese is very inefficient due to the poor standard of education of the officer personnel. In releasing American artillery to the Chinese this fact should be considered, as well as the relative likelihood of its actually being employed by the United States or by China.
It is recommended that the above ideas be considered by the American Military Mission in making plans, and be presented to the War Department for consideration in connection with other available opinion in planning any War Department action in this hemisphere.
AMMISCA, Lend-Lease, and the Line of Communications (Lashio Road)
Following his initial conferences with the Generalissimo, Magruder flew between Chungking, Kunming, Lashio, Rangoon, and Singapore, acting as trouble shooter for his five projects. His chief concern, however, was the line of communications to Kunming, since all AMMISCA’s projects depended on a flow of matériel from the port of Rangoon, up the Burma railway and highway to Lashio, and then over the road to China. This problem of the line of communications was to vex all Magruder’s successors as it vexed him; in many ways it was the principal problem of the American effort in China, Burma, and India.
Like the Chinese Army, the port of Rangoon and the Burma Road had been fully described in reports from U.S. representatives in Burma and Yunnan. By fall 1941 local American representatives believed that the Burma Road was the worst logistical bottleneck in aid to China. There were physical limitations because it was not an all-weather highway and so suffered during the monsoon rains. Communications along its length were woefully inadequate. There were sanitary limitations because it passed through a malarial belt. Since the road’s 715 miles were the last route over which goods could move to a starving Chinese economy, the Burma Road was the center of interest to speculators and traders, and a battleground for politics—national and local, Burmese, Chinese, and British.
Attempting to control the road’s traffic, the Generalissimo had piled agency on agency, over which his cousin, General Yu Fei-peng, presided. Summarizing this situation, a military attaché report of August 1941 remarked: The foreigner who surveys the Road is inclined to jump to the conclusion that a competent man, backed by the Generalissimo, can administer it efficiently without much difficulty. He forgets that the Generalissimo is not the absolute dictator of China, and that even if he himself were to devote all of his time to the efficient administration of the Road, he might not be able to overcome the myriad difficulties which would face him in the way of vested interests, political intrigues, distrust, jealousy, and even enmity of important subordinates, and above all, the general inability of the Chinese efficiently to administer anything through centralized control.
Surveying the problem, lend-lease officials in Washington learned that British traffic figures for Lashio were greater than Chinese border figures at Wanting, which in turn were 50 percent more than at Kunming. The unmistakable inference was that goods brought over what was then termed by the press “China’s life line” were simply vanishing into the countryside for private profit. Customs figures indicated that, in May 1941, 25 percent of the tonnage arriving at Kunming was yarn and piece goods, 27 percent military goods and metals, and 39 percent was spare parts and gasoline exclusive of what the trucks carried for their own use. The last was a most important item, for trucks had to carry their own fuel. As a result, one estimate was that to lay down 5,000 tons at Chungking, 14,000 had to leave Lashio. When it is recalled that Chungking in turn was many hundreds of miles from the Chinese lines, which meant a further immense effort to move supplies eastward, it can be seen that the road was hardly China’s life-line. But it offered the hope that under competent and honest management it might be made to carry 30,000 tons a month of ordnance, nonferrous metals, explosives, and gasoline, as against a trickle of oil and cloth for the bazaars, and a few arms for the war lords’ praetorian guards.
In August of 1941 Mr. David G. Arnstein and two associates prepared a report for the Generalissimo (copies sent to Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hopkins) which summarized the impressions made on them by an inspection of the Burma Road and the Chinese agencies operating on it. Arnstein reported that no less than sixteen Chinese agencies operated on the Burma Road. All were heavily overstaffed with inexperienced executives, their relatives, hangers-on, and so forth. No central authority regulated traffic or controlled drivers. Trucks were overloaded, recklessly driven, and given no systematic maintenance. Vehicles moved in convoys of fifteen to twenty-five, which would all halt when one truck was stopped for repairs or to have its papers checked. Lucrative private trucking crowded the road as speculators in Rangoon bought trucks, loaded them with bazaar goods, and after two or three trips sold them in Kunming at a great profit. The profits of private trade and employment made government drivers quit unless they too could smuggle goods and passengers into China. Arnstein’s report, which the Generalissimo carried about with him for some days, and by which he was most impressed, recommended sweeping changes, including the significant one that arms have priority over consumer goods and that a foreigner be appointed to run the road with full powers. Putting the final seal on his work by declining such a post, Arnstein then left China.
The port of Rangoon itself was no bottleneck, but administrative difficulties in Rangoon wasted time. Customs regulations were sources of infinite difficulty, for the transit of lend-lease supplies and of goods bought by the Chinese with pre-lend-lease credits involved importing and re-exporting. The semiautonomous Government of Burma had a 1-percent transit tax on all items bound for China which of course included lend-lease aid. Arnstein’s report, and later communications from AMMISCA, directed such attention to this tax on the American effort to support China and divert the Japanese from Malaya and the Netherlands Indies that the British Foreign Office finally announced Great Britain would assume the tax burden by giving the Burmese an equivalent subsidy.
The formalities of compliance with customs and the transit tax were time wasting. For example, each vehicle assembled had in effect to be checked into Burma at Rangoon and checked out again at the border. Chinese and Burmese Government agencies were suspicious of each other and filled the ears of AMMISCA personnel with tales of what they suffered at the hands of their opposite numbers. All this tended to slow the movement of goods through Burma.
The major physical bottleneck in the Burma line of communications was the Gokteik gorge between Mandalay and Lashio. There the Burma Railways climb 3,000 feet in twenty-seven miles, about half the distance at a grade of 1 foot in every 25. Trains had to be broken into sections and hauled by hill climbing locomotives. Because of this, and because the Burma Railways also had to serve the needs of the Burmese economy, Burmese rail officials could promise the Chinese but 550 tons a day to be laid down at Lashio in November. Deliveries in that month suggested the performance would not match the promise. There was also a road from Mandalay to Lashio; it, too, had a very limited capacity, thanks to one particularly bad stretch.
The result of this maladministration and limited capacity was a massive congestion of the line of communications to China. Lend-lease material was pouring into Burma via Rangoon far faster than it moved up the Burma Road from Lashio. At Lashio it was added to a stockpile of arms and raw materials purchased by the Chinese with credits granted earlier. In July 1941, of the 79,000 tons of Chinese goods stored in Rangoon, only 22,000 tons were truckable.
At that month’s rate of moving goods, eight months would have been needed to clear the stockpile, yet more was coming in constantly. At the end of the rail line, Lashio, 30,000 tons were stored, a four month’s backlog. Soong’s March 1941 lend-lease program had faced the line of communications problem. The program included trucks, road-building matériel, spare parts, and maintenance facilities for the Burma Road, and matériel for the projected narrow-gauge Yunnan-Burma Railway. This latter would have made a dramatic improvement in the situation could it have been completed. Currie had laid the scheme before the President, and the Chinese Government had presented it to British authority, which had been interested in such a railway since 1938. Both the British and the President approved the idea, and the Chinese began their section in April 1941. Lend-lease funds introduced an American interest, and the War Department sent Major John E. Ausland, a former official of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, to Burma. The Government of Burma assigned Sir John Rowland as Director of Construction and the Chinese provided the services of Brigadier General Tseng Yang-fu, Vice-Commissioner of Communications. Though their responsibilities cut across international lines, the triumvirate co-operated in a wholehearted fashion.
By September 1941 the Office of the Chief of Engineers had 90 percent of the required equipment and supplies for the Yunnan-Burma Railway on order. The War Department bought an abandoned 125-mile stretch of narrow-gauge line from the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and began dismantling it for shipment to Burma. Shipments of supplies for the line increased as autumn wore on. But greater familiarity with the terrain and with the project began to reveal discouraging obstacles. The War Department found that procurement of diesel locomotives and rolling stock would delay the project until late in 1942. Meanwhile, Major Ausland’s report suggested that bridging the Salween River and completing certain tunnels in Yunnan would also delay the railway until the winter of 1942-43.
In addition to these problems, Ausland reported that the British feared the monsoon rains would make the Yunnan-Burma Railway a six-year effort. There was also a problem of health, for the 200,000 conscripted Yunnanese laborers were working in areas where a deadly form of malaria was endemic. To alleviate this, Currie and Hopkins sent a Public Health commission to aid in mosquito control. When war came, shipments of railway matériel for Burma ceased; shipments en route were diverted to India, where they found use in other transportation projects in support of China.
Surveying this often depressing scene, AMMISCA urged the War Department to send matériel and experts to increase Burma Road capacity. The Department did its best to comply. General Motors was given a contract to assemble trucks in Rangoon. Forty-five technicians left on 10 November to help with supply and maintenance problems. Within the United States, warehouse facilities were expanded to speed movement of lend-lease to shipside. In November 14,561 tons left Newport News, Virginia, and more was piling up to await shipping space. But these measures were at best palliatives, and AMMISCA warned that tighter controls over lend-lease purchases would have to be established and maintained until all Chinese stockpiles in Burma had been cut to more manageable proportions. In October 1941 more goods moved from Lashio to China than arrived from Rangoon. This was not, however, all lend-lease aid, most of which was held in Rangoon by the congested lines of communication.
Recommendations to Washington on the logistics problem were made on 12 November and had conclusive effects when the Chinese lend-lease program was appraised after Pearl Harbor. AMMISCA suggested that there be no more purchasing or shipping of goods for China until the Burma stockpile was inventoried to see what was actually at hand. When purchasing was resumed, AMMISCA suggested it should not be done by Chinese agencies in Washington, which were ignorant of the real supply situation in China, but by the War Department in accord with AMMISCA recommendations. Other suggestions were that ship sailings from Newport News be staggered to avoid choking Rangoon with undeliverable goods; that title to lend-lease be kept in U.S. hands until it was actually delivered to the Chinese in China, so that it should not be the object of squabbles and corruption among outside parties; and that, as a matter of policy, goods procurable locally should not be sent on lend-lease, so as to end, among several other objectionable practices, that of sending lead to one of the world’s greatest sources of nonferrous metals.
As November passed into December, and the Japanese task force drew closer to Pearl Harbor, the status of the American effort to aid China was:
- A clearly defined concept of the reasons for giving arms to China had been framed by the military and approved by the President.
- The War Department had weighed its resources against world-wide demands on them, and had programed a series of shipments to China on which to base procurement. (Table 3 includes 1941 shipments.)
- In framing this program the War Department had implicitly accepted the Chinese proposals to (a) create a modern Chinese Air Force, (b) institute and maintain an efficient line of communications into China, and (c) arm thirty divisions.
- A military mission had been sent to China to aid the Chinese in asking for and using American matériel and services.
There was, however, one gap in this program. There was no planning to meet the effect of war in the Pacific by a combined Sino-American effort. Such staff talks had been held between British and Americans, but there had been none between Chinese and Americans. Partly as a result of this, Magruder had no directive as to what his mission would be were war to result from the current Japanese-American crisis in the Pacific.
SOURCE: Stilwell’s Mission to China: BY: Charles F. Romanus & Riley Sunderland (United state Army Center of Military History)