3-474 Memorandum for Admiral Leahy, January 4, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 4, 1943

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Admiral Leahy

January 4, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Chennault.

Concerning the President’s suggestion that we consider a separate air force of 100 planes for Chennault,1 the following is my analysis of the proposition:

Stilwell has long recognized the importance of an Air Task Force in China. At present Chennault has under his command in China one fighter group of four squadrons, with a total fighter strength of 76 planes, as well as a medium bombardment squadron of 12 planes.

This force is almost entirely dependent upon air supply by cargo planes of the India-China wing of the Air Transport Command. The capacity of this supply line is the factor that limits the size of an air force that can operate in China until a land route is established.

The limited offensive in Burma early this spring has for its objective the opening of land communication with China. Chennault’s force has been assigned a definite and highly important mission in this campaign, namely, to support Chiang Kai-Shek’s Yunnan force during its advance into Burma. The withdrawal of Chennault’s force for operations north of the Yangtze River or near the coastal regions against the Japanese would jeopardize Chinese operations from Yunnan against Burma. If, on the other hand, 100 additional planes with the necessary troops were dispatched from the U.S. for Chennault’s command such units should initially be committed to the Burma campaign in view of present limited U.S. air support for this operation. Stilwell has already urgently requested that his air force be augmented by three groups. This we have so far been unable to arrange.

The successful conclusion of the limited offensive operations in North Burma is an absolute requirement for a material expansion of U.S. air operations in China. All our means in that area should be concentrated on this effort. Our air bases in Northeastern Assam and in Yunnan must be made secure from Japanese attack. The Japs must be driven from their North Burma air bases to make the China-India Air Freight Route secure and to guarantee delivery of essential materials to our China air force as well as to China. This security can be achieved only by a United Nations combined ground and air offensive into Burma.

As soon as adequate lines of communication, including a land route, are established from India to China we propose to increase our air effort in China to the limit that those lines of communication can support. Our entire air force in the Asiatic Theater should ultimately be based in China.

The withdrawal of any of our limited means from the Burma operations at this time would in the end, lessen our chances for a real blow at the Japs in China.

Chennault has demonstrated great genius in his operations against the Japanese. He is the man I think to command our all-out air effort against Japan from China when the supply of the necessary force can be assured. Meanwhile, the difficulty in the matter is that he appears to disregard the actualities of the logistical problem which our responsible commander, Lt. General Stilwell, is struggling to master by the spring operation in Northern Burma.

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. Concerning the letter Brigadier General Claire L. Chennault had written to Wendell Willkie in regard to his aircraft needs, see note 2, Marshall Memorandum for the Secretary of War, December 14, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-449 [3: 481-83]. “Willkie delivered the letter to the President,” Chennault noted in his postwar memoirs. “He in turn forwarded it to the War Department where it created a major scandal.” (Chennault, Way of a Fighter, p. 216.)

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 502-503.

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