Ledo Road

The Ledo Road, (from Ledo, Assam, India to Kunming, Yunnan, China) was built during World War II so that the Western Allies could supply the Chinese as an alternative to the Burma Road which had been cut by the Japanese in 1942. It was renamed the Stilwell Road (named after General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell of the U.S. Army)) in early 1945 at the suggestion of Chiang Kai-shek. After Rangoon was captured by the Japanese and before the Ledo Road was finished, the majority of supplies to the Chinese were delivered via airlift over the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains known as the Hump.

In the nineteenth century British railway builders had surveyed the Pangsau Pass, which is 3,727 feet (1,136 meters) high on the India-Burma border, on the Patkai crest, above Nampong, Arunachal Pradesh (then part of Assam). They concluded that a track could be pushed through to Burma and down the Hukawng Valley. Although the proposal was dropped, the British prospected the Patkai Range for a road from Assam into northern Burma. British engineers had surveyed the route for a road for the first eighty miles. After the British had been pushed back out of most of Burma by the Japanese, building this road became a priority for the United States.

Building the Ledo Road

On the December 1 1942, British General Sir Archibald Wavell, the supreme commander of the Far Eastern Theatre, agreed with American General Stilwell to make the Ledo Road an American NCAC operation. The Ledo Road was intended to be the primary supply route to China, and was built under the direction of General Stilwell from the railhead at Ledo (Assam, India) [ [http://www.google.com/maps?q=27.300000%2C+95.733330 location of Ledo] ] to Bhamo on the Burma Road so that supplies could reach the railhead at Mogaung. Stilwell's staff estimated that the Ledo Road route would supply 65,000 tons of supplies per month, greatly surpassing tonnage then being airlifted over the Hump to China.Sherry, Mark D., "China Defensive 1942-1945", U.S. Army Center of Military History, CBI Background. Chapter: " [http://www.cbi-history.com/part_xii_china_def.html China Defensive] "] General Claire Lee Chennault, the USAAF Fourteenth Air Force commander, thought the projected tonnage levels were overly optimistic, and doubted that such an extended network of trails through difficult jungle could ever match the amount of supplies that could be delivered with modern cargo transport aircraft.Xu, [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mpSkIrOCrQkC&printsec=frontcover&sig=ACfU3U2p7aviAU-v41uerU1XWf-uSLlcgw#PPA191,M1 p. 191] ]

The road was built by 15,000 American soldiers (60% of whom were African-Americans) and 35,000 local workers at a cost of US$150 Million. 1,100 Americans died during the construction, as well as many more locals. As most of Burma was in Japanese hands it was not possible to acquire information as to the topography, soils, and river behaviour before construction started. This information had to be acquired as the road was constructed.

General Stilwell had organized a 'Service of Supply' (SOS) under the command of Major General Raymond A. Wheeler, a high profile US Army Engineer and assigned him to look after the construction of the Ledo Road. Major General Wheeler in turn, assigned responsibility of base commander for the road construction to Colonel John C. Arrowsmith. Later, he was replaced by Colonel Lewis A. Pick, an expert US Army engineer.

Work started on the first 103 mile (166 km) section of the road in December 1942, followed a steep, narrow trail through territory from Ledo, across the Patkai Range through the Pangsau Pass, nicknamed "Hell Pass" for its difficulty, and down to Shingbwiyang, Burma. Sometimes rising as high as 4,500 feet (1400 m), the road required the removal of earth at the rate of 100,000 cubic feet per mile (1800 m³/km). Steep gradients, hairpin curves and sheer drops of 200 feet (60 m), all surrounded by a thick rain forest was the norm for this first section. The first bulldozer reached Shingbwiyang on 27 December 1943, three days ahead of schedule.

The building of this section allowed much-needed supplies to flow to the troops engaged in attacking the Japanese 18th Division, which was defending the Northern area of Burma with their strongest forces around the towns of Kamaing, Mogaung and Myitkyina. Before the Ledo road reached Shingbwiyang, Allied troops (the majority of whom were American-trained Chinese Divisions of the X Force) had been totally dependent on supplies flown in over the Patkai Range. As the Japanese were forced to retreat south so the Ledo road was extended. This was made considerably easier from Shingbwiyang by the presence of a fair weather road built by the Japanese, and the Ledo road generally followed the Japanese trace. As the road was built, two 10 cm (4 inch) fuel pipe lines were laid side by side so that fuel for the supply vehicles could be piped instead of trucked along the road.

After the initial section to Shingbwiyang, more sections followed: Warazup, Myitkyina and Bhamo, 372 miles (600 km) from Ledo. At that point the road joined a spur of the old Burma road and although improvements to further sections followed the road was passable. The spur passed through Namkham 439 miles (558 km) from Ledo and finally at the Mong-Yu road junction, 465 miles (748 km) from Ledo, the Ledo road met the Burma road. To get to the Mong-Yu junction the Ledo road had to span 10 major rivers and 155 secondary streams, averaging one bridge every 2.8 miles (4.5 km). For the first convoys, if they turned right, they were on their way to Lashio 100 miles (160 km) to the South through Japanese-occupied Burma, if they turned left Wanting lay 60 miles (100 km) to the North just over the China-Burma border. However, by late 1944, the road still did not reach China; by this time, tonnage airlifted over the Hump to China had significantly expanded with the arrival of more modern transport aircraft.

In late 1944, barely two years after Stilwell accepted responsibility for building the Ledo Road, it connected to the Burma Road though some sections of the road beyond Myitkyina at Hukawng Valley were under repair due to heavy monsoon rains, and it became a highway stretching from Assam, India to Kunming, China 1,079 miles (1736 km) length. On January 12 1945, the first convoy of 113 vehicles, led by General Pick, departed from Ledo; they reached Kunming, China on February 4 1945. In the six months following its opening, trucks carried 129,000 tons of supplies from India to China.American Embassy in China, " [http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/ww2operationaloutline.html U.S. Embassy Marks 60th Anniversary of Ledo Road] ", U.S. Embassy Press Briefing and Release, February 2, 2005] Twenty-six thousand trucks that carried the cargo (one-way) were handed over to the Chinese. However, as General Chennault had predicted, supplies carried over the Ledo Road at no time approached tonnage levels of supplies airlifted monthly into China via the Hump.Schoenherr Steven," [http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/WW2Timeline/Pacific06b.html The Burma Front] ", [http://www.sandiego.edu/history/ History Department at the University of San Diego] ] In the month of July 1945, the last full month before the end of the war, 71,000 tons of supplies were flown over the Hump, compared to only 6,000 tons using the Ledo Road; the airlift operation continued in operation until the end of the war, with a total tonnage of 650,000 tons compared to 147,00 for the Ledo Road. By the time supplies were flowing over the Ledo Road in large quantities, operations in other theaters had shaped the course of the war against Japan.

There was a mile sign at the start of the Ledo Road with the following information [Staff. [http://tinsukia.nic.in/subpages/stilwell.html The Stilwell Road] , [http://tinsukia.nic.in/index.asp District Administration,Tinsukia (Assam)] , Cites Sri Surendra Baruah, Margherita, Retrieved 2008-10-01] [Weidenburner. [http://ledoroad.home.comcast.net/Ledo_Signs.html Ledo Road Signs] ]
align="center" | Kunming || align="center" | 1079

When flying over the Hukawng Valley during the monsoon, Mountbatten asked his staff what was the name of the river below them. An American officer replied, "That's not a river, it's the Ledo Road." [Moser, [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JCV6AAAAIAAJ&q=That's+not+a+river,+it's+the+Ledo+Road&pgis=1 p. 139] ]

American Army units assigned to the Ledo Road

The units initially assigned to the initial section were: [Staff. [http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=1522 EAB in China-Burma-India] , [http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/questions/topic.asp?id=1366 National Museum of the U.S. Air Force] , Retrieved 2008-10-01]
* 45th Engineer General Service Regiment (An African-American Unit)
* 823rd Aviation Engineer Battalion (EAB) (An African-American Unit)In 1943 they were joined by:
* 848th EAB (An African-American Unit)
* 849th EAB (An African-American Unit)
* 858th EAB (An African-American Unit)
* 1883rd EAB (An African-American Unit)

Work continued through 1944 in late December it was opened for the transport of logistics. In January 1945, four of the black EABs (along with three white battalions) continued working on the now renamed "Stilwell Road", improving and widening it.

Views on the construction the road

Winston Churchill called the project "an immense, laborious task, unlikely to be finished until the need for it has passed".

The British Field Marshal William Slim who commanded the British Fourteenth Army in India/Burma wrote of the Ledo Road:

Post World War II

After Burma was liberated, the road fell into gradual disrepair. The last recorded vehicular journey from Ledo to Myitkyina and beyond (but not to China) was the Oxford-Cambridge Overland Expedition which in 1955 drove from London to Singapore and back. For many years, travel into the region was highly restricted because of an active insurgency against the Government of India. Because of continuous clashes between insurgents (which India believed were seeking shelter in Burma) and the Indian Armed Forces, India imposed harsh restrictions between 1962 and the mid 1990s on travel into Burma which also applied to all outsiders. Beginning in the 1990s, Mike Jenkins made a number of attempts to reach the road (cf Jenkins' article in OUTSIDE magazine cited below in external links). He had any number of difficulties with the government of Burma. In particular, the Burmese government at the time of his travels was fanatically suspicious of any professional writer or journalist.

Other and more recent attempts to travel the road have met with different results. The expedition book written by Tim Slessor reported that bridges were down in the section between Pangsau Pass and Shingbwiyang. At present the Nampong-Pangsau Pass section is passable in 4WD vehicles. The road on the Burmese side is reportedly fit for vehicular traffic. Donovan Webster reached Shingbwiyang on wheels in 2001, and in mid-2005 veterans of the Burma Star Association were invited to join a 'down memory lane' trip to Shingbwiyang organised by a politically well connected travel agent. None of these groups which successfully travelled the road made any comment on the political or human rights situation on Burma afterward. Burmese from Pangsau village saunter nonchalantly across Pangsau Pass down to Nampong in India for marketing, for the border is open despite the presence of insurgents on both sides. There are Assam Rifles and Burma Army posts at Nampong and Pangsau respectively. But the rules for locals in these border areas do not necessarly apply to westerners. The governments of both countries keep careful watch on the presence of westerners in the border areas and the land border is officially closed. Those who cross without permission risk arrest or problems with smugglers/insurgents in the area.

Reconstruction in Modern Burma

In recent years, the Burmese government has focused on the reconstruction of the Ledo Road as an alternative to the existing Lashio-Kunming Burma Road. The Chinese government completed construction of the Myitkyina-Kambaiti section in 2007 and the Rangoon based Yuzana company is constructing the section between Myitkyina and Tanai. Staff. [http://www.kachinnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=351:residents-homes-on-ledo-road-to-move-back-20-feet&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50 Resident's homes on Ledo Road to move back 20 feet] , [http://www.kachinnews.com Kachin News Group (KNG)] , 7 August 2008 ] [Human Rights Documentation Unit, [http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs5/HRDU2007.pdf Burma Human Rights Yearbook 2007] , National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, September 2008. p. 214]

ee also

* Northeast Indian Railways during World War II. The Allies had problems supplying the depots at Ledo with all the logistics needed by the Northern Front and the Chinese National Army.
* South-East Asian Theatre of World War II
* South East Asia Command
* Changlang
* The Stilwell Road (movie)



*Baruah, Sri Surendra. " [http://tinsukia.nic.in/subpages/stilwell.html The Stilwell Road a historical review] " on [http://tinsukia.nic.in/index.asp the website] of Tinsukia District in India.
* [http://changlang.nic.in/aboutus.html Hindah, Radhe] . (NIC Changlang District Unit), [http://changlang.nic.in/stilwell.html A profile of Changlang District: Stilwell Road] , the website of the Changlang District in India. ( [http://www.geocities.com/nicchg/stilwell.html a mirror] ) A History of the road and the proposed reopening as International Highway.
*Moser, Don (1978). "China, Burma", India Time-Life Books
*Slim, William "Defeat into Victory", ISBN 1568490771. Chapter XII: The Northern Front
*Staff. " [http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=1522 US Mil In China-Burma-India] " on the website of the National Museum of the United States Air Force
* [http://ledoroad.home.comcast.net/Ledo_About.html Weidenburner, Carl Warren] . " [http://ledoroad.home.comcast.net/Ledo_Signs.html Ledo Road Signs] "
*Xu, Guangqiu. "War Wings: The United States and Chinese Military Aviation, 1929-1949", Greenwood Publishing Group (2001), ISBN 0313320047, 9780313320040

Further reading

*Allen, Louis. "Burma: The Longest War 1941-1945", Cassell; New edition (2000) ISBN 1842122606.
*Cochrane, S. " [http://www.chindit.net/stillwell.html Stilwell's Road] " [http://www.chindit.net www.chindit.net] (1999-2003)
*Gardener, S. Neal, " [http://gardnerworld.com/cbi/ledo_road.htm A facsimile of the Ex-CBI Roundup July, 1954 Issue, pg 20. Also additional photos of unit patches] " website [http://gardnerworld.com/cbi/cbihome.htm CBI GardenerWorld]
*Jenkins, Mark " [http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200310/200310_burma_1.html The Ghost Road] " [http://outside.away.com/outside/toc/200310.html Outside Magazine] October 2003
*Khaund, Surajit. " [http://www.mizzima.com/archives/news-in-2005/news-in-mar/28-March05-19.htm Kalam urged to reopen Stillwell Road to Reach Burma] " Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com) March 28, 2005. "Guwahati: Pursuing to reach the Burma market in the wake of improved bilateral relation, Indian Minister of state for external Affairs Bijay Krishna Handique has submitted a memorandum to President APJ Abdul Kalam for reopening of the famous Stilwell Road which connects India, Burma and China" ( [http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/BNI2005-03-30.htm backup site] )
* [http://cbi-theater.home.comcast.net/lifeledo/life-ledo.html The Ledo Road; "Pick's Pike" follows Stilwell's advance in Burma] Adapted for the internet from Life Magazine August 14, 1944 issue. (One of many facsimiles of original documents about the CBI on the Website of [http://cbi-theater.home.comcast.net/menu/cbi_home.html cbi-theater.home.comcast.net] by Weidenburner,Karl Warren)
* [http://www.myanmar.gov.mm/myanmartimes/no99/myanmartimes5-99/Timeouts/2.htm A war-time engineering miracle] ( [http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs3/MT099.htm backup] ) in The Myanmar Times Vol. 5, No. 99, January 21 - 27, 2002
*McRae, Jr., Bennie J. [http://www.coax.net/people/lwf/858TH.HTM 858th Engineer Aviation Battalion] LWF PUBLICATIONS
*Latimer Jon, "Burma: The Forgotten War", John Murray, (2004). ISBN 0719565766. Chapter 13: 'Stilwell in the North'
*Reagan, Ronald (narraor). "Stilwell Road (1945)" A 51 minute documentary that, describes why and how the Ledo Road was built.
*Slessor, Tim (1957) . "First Overland", Signal Books Ltd (2005), ISBN 1904955142.
*Tun, Khaing " [http://www.cbiexpeditions.com/html_pages/Ledo%20Road/index.htm Recent photos of Ledo Road] " website of [http://www.cbiexpeditions.com/ CBI Expeditions]
*Webster, Donovan. "The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War" by ; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US), Hardback (2003), ISBN 0-374-11740-3 also Pan (UK), Paperback (2005), ISBN 0-330-42703-2
*Weidenburner, Carl Warren. " [http://ledoroad.home.comcast.net The Ledo Road] "
*Weidenburner, Carl Warren. " [http://ledoroad.home.comcast.net/Ledo_Mileposts.html Mile posts and time line] "

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