3-137 Memorandum for Field Marshal Sir John Dill, March 19, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 19, 1942

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Field Marshal Sir John Dill

March 19, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear Dill:

The following from General Stilwell, presumably in Lashio, was received early this morning. I quote it to you with reference to the communication from your PM which the President received yesterday (copy attached)1 I have to prepare a reply for the President and I am not quite clear as to what should be said. It appears to me that the situation can be and probably is being met by cooperation between Stilwell and Alexander. The important thing at the moment is that Stilwell provides in himself a possible means of cooperation, whereas a Chinese commander probably would make the situation impossible for General Alexander. Until Stilwell can prevail upon the Generalissimo, I doubt if the arrangement can be bettered.

Please have in mind in this matter that Stilwell himself is not only an immensely capable and remarkably resourceful individual, but he is not in any degree a “pusher” for himself, and he possibly understands more of how to do business with the Chinese, particularly in regard to military matters, than any other individual in this country.

I quote his message:

“To Lashio, March 11 and took command of Fifth and Sixth Armies. To Maymyo, March 12. British general headquarters arrived March 13. Conferred with Governor, General Alexander and staff. Arranged for supply and maintenance by British of Chinese troops. Chinese have no services except sketchy medical and signal units, and very little transport. Ammunition scanty. The three divisions of Sixth Army are in position in Taunggyi-Kentung area. One division of Fifth Army at Toungoo. Other two divisions of Fifth Army on Chinese border by direction of Generalissimo until all questions of supply and command are settled. Have urgently recommended release of divisions on border so as to put them in support north of Toungoo.

British have complied with all supply requirements. Command question not settled. I have instructions to take no orders from British. Can cooperate if Generalissimo is willing to operate on that basis. General plan is defense of Toungoo-Prome line. British now north of Tharawaddy about 12,000 strong. No reinforcements in sight. Rough estimate of Chinese strength 50,000. Not yet checked. Japs estimated at more than two divisions. If oil wells north of Prome are lost situation will be very serious. Early build up of air force in India essential. It must be remembered that communications with India except by air no longer exist and will be out until a trickle can start down Menipur Road, perhaps in 2 months.”2

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Office of the Chief of Staff (OCS), 381 China, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. Upon arriving in China, Stilwell reorganized all United States troops into “American Army Forces, China, Burma, and India,” with headquarters at Chungking. China Theater Commander Chiang Kai-shek accepted Stilwell as chief of his joint staff and implied that Stilwell would command Chinese troops in Burma. With these troops, Stilwell hoped to defend China’s supply route across northern Burma. But the British, primarily concerned with the defense of India, wanted command over all Allied forces in Burma. In a message that Churchill revealed to Roosevelt on March 18, General Sir Harold Alexander, commanding general of the Burma Army, conveyed his displeasure with Stilwell’s presence. Alarmed, Alexander reported that Chiang, through Stilwell, had halted the reinforcement of the Toungoo-Prome line, in the face of a possible Japanese drive into central Burma. Alexander had temporarily commanded the Chinese troops, established a supply service for them, with a liaison net extending to the division level. He felt that Stilwell could not easily duplicate this organization. (Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Mission to China, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1953], pp. 93-96; Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, ed. Warren F. Kimball, 3 vols. [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984], 1: 417-18.)

2. Dill replied that he had just heard from Stilwell that cooperation with Alexander had been arranged; he recommended continuing the command status. In his draft of Roosevelt’s reply for Churchill, Eisenhower wrote that Stilwell had ordered Chinese troops into the line and had requested reinforcements. He assured the prime minister that Stilwell would be more cooperative than any Chinese commander in Burma. In the final draft, Marshall inserted Dill’s recommendations on command, and Roosevelt sent the message on March 19 without alteration. (Dill to Marshall, n.d., and Stimson Memorandum for the President, March 19,1942, NA/ RG 165 [OPD, Exec. 10, Item 61]; Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 1: 422-23.) Chiang refused to reinforce Stilwell in Burma.

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. 140-141.

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