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Memorandum for the President
March 15, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: Air development in Burma.
There is now taking place in upper Burma a unique military operation. It is a test of the employment of air power after the manner of sea power, that is, selecting a landing point, convoying the troops to it, supplying them and protecting them in at least their initial occupation of it. Kenney did something of this sort in preparation for the occupation of the Markham Valley west of Lae.1
Following discussions in Quebec with Brigadier Wingate of the British Army, it was decided that if the British would authorize him to organize three or four long range penetration groups (LRPG’s) a similar group would be organized by the U.S. Army, composed of volunteers trained for jungle warfare, a large percentage of whom would have had experience in actual jungle fighting.
Later here in Washington, Mountbatten appealed to me to see if something could not be done to provide a means of evacuating the wounded of these LRP groups since the abandonment of the wounded which had been necessary the previous year presented the most depressing morale aspect.
General Arnold and I then took up with him the proposition of organizing a special Air Force to be part and parcel of Wingate’s force. Arnold organized this force, its special characteristic being the employment of planes capable of landing in very restricted areas.
Under Colonel Philip Cochran the 1st Air Commando Force of some 200 planes was organized and trained. This includes fighters, bombers, transport planes, gliders and a large number of puddle jumpers of several types. This force was carefully organized and trained here in the States, a special effort being made to develop facility in landing gliders in rough and unknown terrain at night. It was sent to India and there trained with the LRP groups, awakening great enthusiasm on the part of Wingate. Our principal trouble was to prevent its being broken up to meet the special requests of various commanders who would have liked to use a piece of it.
On March 5th this Air Commando Force transported at night American engineers and British LRPG men to the vicinity of Kawdaw, approximately 160 miles in the rear of the Japanese line. The gliders had to be taken through at about 12,000 feet; several broke loose, 15 were returned to their starting point and there were other accidents. However, the main force made a successful landing at night. An air strip 300 by 5000 feet was developed in less than 24 hours by our Engineers and by March 10th 8,000 men and 1400 mules, [and] antiaircraft, radar warning equipment, etc., were established, also U.S. P-51’s and P-38’s.
In preparation for this move a heavy attack was made on Japanese airfields by the U.S. fighter and bomber planes of the Commando Force just referred to. It was estimated that they destroyed on the ground in one day over 20% of the Japanese aircraft in Burma.2
Immediately upon effecting the landing referred to another field was developed 60 miles to the south. Supplies had steadily been going in at night.
We therefore have a sizeable force of highly trained volunteers with air, antiaircraft, radar and supply backing established in the rear of the Japanese lines in close proximity to the principal line of communications to the units on the Salween and Chindwin Rivers and in such a position that no more than three Japanese regiments could be brought into action against this force for quite a period of time.
There is a further and most important factor in the present situation: so far as we can tell the Japanese have no knowledge of the movement, and even when the destructive interruption of communications commences—which it probably already has—they for quite a long time will probably not have any knowledge of the size of the force and of its solid establishment. Unless some untoward event occurs, and assuming that the British press on south and that Stilwell’s Chinese troops keep up their good work, we may find a somewhat different situation in north Burma rapidly developing.
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. Lieutenant General George C. Kenney’s use of paratroops and mobile air supply units dropping supplies in the Nadzab area in September 1943 is discussed in Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Pacific: Guadalcanal to Saipan, August 1942 to July 1944, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), pp. 184-86.
2. On March 12 Major General George E. Stratemeyer had sent an account of the operations of Air commando Force Number 1 and Troop Carrier Command, noting that “Wingate is very pleased with the show.” (Stratemeyer to Arnold, March 12, 1944, In Log, pp. 106-7, 115, NA/RG 165 [OPD Message Log].) He also praised the work of the 900th Airborne Aviation Engineer Company. For information on this unit’s exploits, see Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., Services Around the World, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Dress, 1958), p. 301. For further developments regarding Wingate’s LRPG, see Marshall to Stilwell, April 26, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-371 [4: 436-37].
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. 343-344.