4-492 To General Joseph W. Stilwell, August 31, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: August 31, 1944

Subject: World War II

To General Joseph W. Stilwell

August 31, 1944 Radio No. WAR-89892 Washington, D.C.


To General Stilwell for his eye only from General Marshall.1

When CKS [Chiang Kai-shek] puts into effect his agreement to place you in command of all forces in China a number of changes in the India-Burma-China setup appear to be desirable. In the first place I think it highly important that you enter on this new command with as few involvements as possible. Your relations with CKS at best will be difficult in the delicate process of reconstituting the China forces. Therefore so far as practicable of arrangement, all irritating matters such as Lend-Lease, hump tonnage, et cetera, should ostensibly be divorced from your immediate direction, but managed to your satisfaction through the agency of the JCS or otherwise within the control of the War Department. From our point of view here the following setup appears to be indicated:

The IBC U.S. theater to be divided into an India-Burma theater and a China theater, you to command the latter through a deputy in a manner similar to Eisenhower’s command of the British theater through General Lee as his deputy.2 Wheeler to command the India-Burma theater. He also to be our designee as deputy Supreme Commander with Mountbatten, but to have a deputy in immediate representation for theater affairs. Wheeler would have included in his theater responsibilities all administrative and training matters pertaining to the Chinese at Ramgarh and elsewhere in the theater. He would be required to manage this to meet your desires, to be implemented if that proved necessary by orders from the JCS.

The Chinese combat troops and related formations as well as U.S. and British attached units in the Ledo Road—Mogaung—Myitkyina area to be commanded by Sultan operating directly under Mountbatten rather than under the British ground commander. The co-ordination between this force and the Salween forces to be accomplished by agreement between you as commander of the China theater and Mountbatten as commander of the India-Burma theater. Orders from the CCS would probably be necessary from time to time to meet differences of view between you and Mountbatten. There is the possibility, maybe the probability, that an early junction might be effected between the Salween forces and the Ledo Road forces;3 in that event a new command adjustment would be required, possibly Sultan commanding. In this last case we would have a complicated problem presented by this sizeable Chinese force including American and British detachments, operating under Mountbatten, or the reverse situation which would involve British units operating directly under your command and yet in British territory. Just how this complication might best be met I don’t see at the moment.

All military forces operating in China would be under your command, ground and air, regardless of nationality, except the VLR [B-29] bombers. Reinforcement of air from the 10th Air Force or vice versa would have to be directed by the JCS.

The C.G. [Commanding General] of the New India-Burma theater would have the mission of the logistical support of Allied Forces in China as well as the support of the Chinese-American forces in Burma. In addition he would of course have the complicated problem of coordinating U.S. and British affairs in India and SEAC.

If Wheeler should go to theater command as well as deputy supreme command a PAO [Primary Action Officer] vacancy is created in SEAC which the British may attempt to fill with one of their people. Do you think a British officer in this position is now acceptable? If not who would be your suggestion to replace Wheeler? How about Covell?4

The British may press for a deputy Supreme Commander who has no other job but that. If we acceded to that demand who should be our India-Burma theater commander and who should be our deputy Supreme Commander for SEAC?

As to Lend-Lease, it is the President’s desire that you be removed from this embarrassing relationship with the Generalissimo. At the same time your desires can be enforced by the Chiefs of Staff. What do you think about transferring your present Lend-Lease representative to the Staff of the Commander of the India-Burma theater?

Regarding hump tonnage: That would be under the direction of the Commander of the U.S.-India-Burma theater. The policy as to allocations would be determined as at present by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff. The detailed breakdown would be determined by the expression of your desires to the Commander of the India-Burma theater. Where this proved insufficient the JCS can intervene.

As in the past most of the foregoing is an irregular arrangement, but between the Government of India, the SEAC, the hump problem, the Chinese Ledo Road force, the Generalissimo’s position and personality and your dominating mission to save the military situation in China, nothing less than a most complicated setup will meet the various requirements of the situation. Please let me have as quickly as possible both your comments and your concrete recommendations.5

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

Document Format: Typed radio message.

1. Authorship of this document has been ascribed to Major General Thomas T. Handy (see Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1956], p. 419) because on the version transmitted by and stored in the records of the Pentagon’s Classified Message Center file his name is given as originator. Marshall’s dictation to his private secretary, Mona K. Nason, is recorded in her shorthand notebook, however. (Notebook 108/7, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Shorthand Notebooks].) It seems likely that Marshall sent his draft to the Operations Division for comment—as he normally did in such cases—changes were made in O.P.D., and the final version was sent to the Classified Message Center where they ascribed authorship to the head of O.P.D.; this was a common occurrence.

2. In January 1944, Eisenhower had simplified the administration of the United States forces under his command by consolidating the headquarters in Britain of the European Theater of Operations, United States Army (E.T.O.U.S.A.), and the headquarters of Services of Supply; the enlarged headquarters kept the E.T.O.U.S.A. name. Lieutenant General John C. H. Lee, formerly commanding general of the Services of Supply, was made deputy theater commander for supply and administration and became the de facto head of E.T.O.U.S.A.; Eisenhower was its nominal commander. (Pogue, Supreme Command, p. 74.)

3. It had been clear to Allied planners since Burma was lost in early 1942 that “were Myitkyina in Allied hands, the Ledo Road and its companion pipelines could link with the prewar communications net of North Burma, Myitkyina would become a great supply center, and the end of China’s blockade would be at hand.” Stilwell’s efforts to capture Myitkyina by driving southeast from Ledo in Assam had begun in October 1943 and ended in victory on August 3, 1944. Under prodding from President Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek agreed in mid-April 1944 to attack with his seventy-two-thousand-man Y-Force across the Salween River into Burma east of Myitkyina. The idea was that a junction of the Y-Force and Stilwell’s forces south of the Myitkyina-Bhamo line would free the proposed route of the Ledo Road, which U.S. engineers had been building south from Ledo since late 1942 and which aimed to connect with the old Burma Road at Wanting, on the Burma-China border. Y-Force had launched its attack on May 11 but soon bogged down. (Romanus and Sunderland, Stilwell’s Command Problems, pp. 121 [quote], 328-33.)

4. Brigadier General William E. R. Covell had been head of Services of Supply in the theater since November 1943. In October 1944, his responsibilities were changed to include only the India-Burma Theater; the following month, he was promoted to major general.

5. Stilwell replied that he did not like the proposed command arrangements; they would be more complicated than what existed. Moreover, he believed that if he lost control of lend-lease, he would be reporting to Chiang “with an empty satchel. . . . It does not make any difference who administers lend-lease because the Chinese will expect me to be able to influence it. The basic question is whether or not we will make good, and this will be very important in Chinese eyes. In brief, Sultan can handle everything except lend-lease and I will be blamed for that anyway. . . . I should welcome a more definite and less complicated mission. Your proposal accomplishes this as far as I am concerned, but I believe it weakens our position here generally. If you leave the present set-up in India, I can go to China with very little on my mind. If I can get definite guidance on how far we are prepared to go with lend-lease I can do better than if I shrug my shoulders and tell them someone else is responsible.” (Stilwell to Marshall, Radio No. CRA-12616, September 2, 1944, quoted ibid., p. 419.) For more on the command issue, see Marshall to Stilwell, September 4, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-496 [4: 570-72].

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. 563-566.

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