4-251 Editorial Note on Future Allied Strategy in Southeast Asia

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Future Allied Strategy in Southeast Asia

January-February 1944

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Command, authorized in early 1944 the dispatch of a mission to London and Washington (code-named AXIOM) headed by his deputy chief of staff, Major General Albert C. Wedemeyer, to present his headquarters’ views on future strategy. Mountbatten’s staff thought it inadvisable to continue large-scale commitment of ground troops to Burma, particularly in light of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s reluctance to maintain Chinese operations supportive of the Allied campaign in North Burma. Mountbatten’s staff considered it more productive to launch a campaign into Sumatra, in the Netherlands Indies, with the ultimate objective of securing a major port on the Chinese coast. This operation would require additional resources, perhaps not available until the defeat of Germany. It would mean a suspension of active Allied operations in the Southeast Asia Command until the fall of 1944 or the spring of 1945. These operations (code-named CULVERIN) dovetailed with long-range British political objectives such as the reoccupation of Malaya, particularly Singapore, and the insurance of British military participation in final Pacific operations against Japan.

Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Command and commanding general of U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India theater, was informed by his deputy, Major General Daniel I. Sultan, of Admiral Mountbatten’s intentions regarding future Allied strategy in Southeast Asia and of his organizing a military mission to Washington to present his position. Stilwell’s strategic views were completely at variance with Mountbatten’s. Sultan suggested to Stilwell that he send a military mission to Washington also to present his views of future strategy. Stilwell did so, under the leadership of Brigadier General Haydon L. Boatner (U.S.M.A., 1924), commanding general of combat troops in the Ledo Sector. Stilwell had presented his views to Mountbatten at a conference held on January 31, 1944. Stilwell believed that the Allies retained a certain obligation to the Chinese government and that a continued Allied campaign in Burma was necessary. The value of possessing a major port on the Chinese coast was unquestioned, but Stilwell believed that it could be secured with an advance of Chinese ground troops. Stilwell argued that basing all operational considerations upon a future campaign into the Netherlands Indies, while terminating the existing Burma campaign, was fundamentally in error. In addition, Stilwell pointed out, the adoption of Mountbatten’s plan would relieve military pressure on the Japanese in Southeast Asia for six months.

Stilwell failed to inform Mountbatten that he also had sent a military mission to Washington to present his views regarding future Allied strategy for Southeast Asia. Stilwell considered he was within his rights to send such a mission, because in his capacity as commanding general of U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India theater he reported directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. Mountbatten believed that since Stilwell was his subordinate, in his capacity as deputy supreme commander of Southeast Asia, Stilwell was demonstrating disloyalty in communicating with Washington directly and violating proper chain of command procedures. (Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, pp. 160-63; Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, pp. 435-39.) Meanwhile, Stilwell’s representatives had arrived in Washington.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 298-299.

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