Hutchinson's Pictorial History of the War, Series 24 No.1

HUTCHINSONS PICTORIAL HISTORY of Ihe WAR BATTLE F RON TIN BURMA by Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Jouberl, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. Think of Burma as a three-sided box with no lid to it and open towards the south. The sides o f the box arc three mountain ranges varying from 9,000 feet to over 20,000 feet high, and mostly covered with dense jungle. The Japanese are based on the flat bottom o f the box with all the convenience of overworking easy country. We are hanging preca­riously onto the outside. Before we can get into the box all our gear has to be hauled up to the top and balanced on its edges. With this picture in your mind I want you to realise the tremendous ad­vantage the Japanese pos­sess in holding Central and Southern Burma. All their military organisation lies in- easy country well supplied with good com­munications. The Chinese and ourselves, fighting to get into Burma, have to cross the mountains which are such a formidable obstacle to our advance. All communications with Burma before the war were by sea from the south. Thus there are no roads through the mountains except those which have been built recently to serve military needs. The Brahmaputra valley, through which runs the main Assam line of communications, is practically a dead end. The coastal road from Chittagong to Arakan comes to a stop at Foul Point, which is the end o f theM ayu peninsula. What the 14th Army and the American-trained Chinese forces are being asked to do is to climb into the box by fighting their throughway some o f the most difficult country in the world served by the poorest o f communications against an enemy who has every physical advantage in his favour. From the northern front to Arakan in the Bay of Bengal is 700 miles as the crow flies, but well over 1,000 miles as a man walks or as the mule scrambles. Thus the Burma front is nearly as long as the Russian front, and is very much worse served with communications. The number o f troops on either side employed in Burma is, o f course, only a fraction o f those on the Russian front, and cannot possibly form a continuous defensive line. As a matter o f fact there are only three districts where large-scale fight in? is ongoing between formed bodies of troops. The first is in the north where General Stil- w ellis in command of Chinese and American troops the second is in the west around Im phal where a British corps is defending its positions against Japa­nese attacks and lastly there is the Arakan front. The whole is one front under the commando f Admiral Mountbatten ,and its strategy is one. But in between these three positions is avast area where scattered patrols are the only form o f defence on either side. It is the existence of these undefended regions which last year made possible General W ingates expedition, into the heart o f Burma. Troops who are prepared to face great physical difficulties and force their throughway dense jungles and up and down precipitous moun­tain sides can, within certain limits, go any­where they please. These limits arc set by the weight and power o f the equipment they can carry and the amount o f food which they can take with them or with which they can be supplied. W ingates columns last year did a wonderful job, but their equipment was insufficiently powerful to enable them to abe serious danger to the Japanese, and their supplies o f food and ammunition, which came mainly by air, were limited by the number o f transport aircraft available. The Japanese arc faced by exactly the same problem. There is nothing to prevent them,as they did last year and again this year, from carrying out wide outflanking movements round our positions and incoming across our communications. They can do this if they travel light and if they are prepared themselves to starve. They starve because they lack transport aircraft to keep them supplied. You may ask why these outflanking movements cannot be spotted by air reconnaissance. I have overflown some o f this country myself and can only describe it to you as looking like patterned moss or cauliflower heads painted green-grey, so close arc the tree-tops and so dense the jungle. You can fly for 100 miles without seeing a clearing or a sign o f human habitation. I have been told that a column o f troops could pass within 500 OIL TANK ABLAZE A single shot from a 75-mm. cannon of a 10th Air Force B-25 bomber set fire to this 500,000-gallon oil tank on the Sittang River in Burma.
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