4-213 Editorial Note on Southeast Asia Command, January 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 1, 1944

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Southeast Asia Command

January 1944

The Allied military effort in Burma was complicated by a confusing chain of command, which was staffed with strong personalities who were forced to work with slender resources in what many regarded as a secondary theater. The Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia Command, was Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who exercised command over Allied land, air, and naval forces in Burma. Mountbatten wrote to General Marshall on January 16, 1944, concerning a number of organizational matters in his theater. He reported to Marshall that the integration of British and American air forces in his theater had been accomplished and was producing positive results. He was favorably impressed with the U.S. 5307th Composite Regiment (Provisional), known as Merrill’s Marauders—”a grand lot, their morale is high and they are impatient for action”—and he told Marshall of his intention to assign the unit to Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell’s command. “In view of the fact that Stilwell requires this Regiment as a spearhead and not for true long range penetration work I have agreed to their being sent at once to join Stilwell’s Ledo Force.” Wingate was “most disappointed to lose them but the urgency of Stilwell’s request and the fact that the refusal of the Generalissimo to go ahead with the Yunnan advance deprives 5307 Regiment of its original allotted long range penetration role, made him feel justified in readily agreeing to their release.” (Mountbatten to Marshall, January 16, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

Mountbatten mentioned the “rather awkward situation” that had developed regarding Stilwell’s position in the present chain of command. Stilwell served as commanding general of the U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India theater and also as acting Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia Command, which placed him directly subordinate to Admiral Mountbatten; however, Stilwell was at the same time personally directing a force of two Chinese divisions in the field. This secondary responsibility made Stilwell a corps commander, reporting to Lieutenant General William J. Slim (commanding the British Fourteenth Army) and to General Sir George Giffard (commanding the British Eleventh Army Group). Yet in his capacity as Mountbatten’s deputy commander, Stilwell gave orders to both Giffard and Slim. Stilwell refused to serve under Giffard, an officer whom he did not respect, but he did agree to serve temporarily as a corps commander under Slim, whose military abilities Stilwell regarded highly. Mountbatten informed Marshall that he had agreed to this solution for the present and that Stilwell had authorized his deputy, Major General Daniel I. Sultan, to represent him at Mountbatten’s headquarters. “Fortunately Stilwell has authorised General Sultan to represent him at my meetings with my Commanders-in-Chief because Stilwell is now in the front line and entirely inaccessible. However, we all like Sultan a lot and his presence at CBI Headquarters has already had very good results,” wrote Mountbatten. He concluded by stating that difficulties with the Chinese government and the removal of much of his amphibious resources made the fulfillment of the offensive operations planned at the SEXTANT Conference temporarily impossible. (Ibid. Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1956] , pp. 5-6, 28-29.) General Marshall replied to Mountbatten in the following document (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-214 [4: 249-50].

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. 248-249.

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