Photograph of Myitkyina airstrip in September 1944

U.S. Army. Via

Myitkyina (97.387E 25.371N) is located at the furthest limit of navigability of the Irrawady River.  This meant, in essence, that it was at the frontier of civilization in 1941.  Beyond lay the hostile northern Burma jungle.

Some of the finest jade mines in the world are located 70 miles to the west, at Hpa Kant (96.316E 25.616N).

Myitkyina Campaign. Myitkyina, with its airfield and railhead, was the key to northern Burma, and an overland route to China from India could not be opened until the town was taken. It became the objective of Chinese and American forces under Stilwell in the summer of 1944. 

Stilwell's Chinese forces consisted of the three divisions of the New China Army, which had been trained to American standards in India. Direct tactical command of these divisions was in the hands of the capable Sun Li-jen, himself a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. However, the advance was to be spearheaded by 5307 Composite Unit, better known to history as GALAHAD or as Merrill's Marauders. This unit was modeled after the Chindits and had a strength of about 3000 troops. Its role would be to outflank Japanese roadblocks holding up the Chinese advance. Stilwell's plan was to advance from Ledo across the Pangsau Pass into the inhospitable Hukawng Valley. From there he would advance to the railroad west of Myitkyina, at Mogaung (96.940E 25.303N), building a road behind him as he advanced. Once the Chinese were positioned to close on Myitkyina, GALAHAD would strike out to the south a distance of 150 miles (240 km) to disrupt Japanese rail communications. Ultimately Stilweel would join hands with a second Chinese force from Yunnan and restoring land communications with China. Wingate's men were to support Stilwell by operating deep in Japanese territory, disrupting rail communications in the Indaw area (96.142E 24.218N) and severing the lines of communication of the defending 18 and 56 Divisions.

Battles rarely go as planned. The advance was led by 38 Division (Sun), which was quickly surrounded by 56 Regiment. However, the well-trained Chinese formed a box defense and beat off repeated Japanese attacks, inflicting heavy casualties and forcing the Japanese to withdraw. Stilwell expected the Chinese to then resume the advance, but this was glacial, as Sun was under secret orders from Chiang to conserve his force at all costs. By 29 January the advance had come to a halt. At this point Stilwell committed GALAHAD, which drove the Japanese out of the Hukawng Valley by 5 March 1944. The Japanese defenders from 18 Division under Tanaka Shimishi ignored the slowly advancing Chinese and concentrated against the Marauders. The Marauders held their position for five days, until relieved by two of the Chinese divisions on 5 March 1944. The Japanese suffered heavily, but the Chinese division commanders allowed Tanaka to slip away, possibly because Chinese military tradition demanded that a cornered enemy be left an escape route. The same pattern -- Japanese troops cut off by the Marauders, but slipping away before the ponderous Chinese advance could smash the Japanese against the American anvil -- would be seen several more times in the campaign.

According to Asano Toyomi (in Peattie et al. 2011), 33 Army had its own team of cryptanalysts who broke Chinese messages and allowed the Japanese to anticipate almost every Allied move during the campaign.

By early April, with his main force still 100 miles from Myitkyina, Stilwell became concerned that the monsoon would bring his drive to a halt. He therefore took the gamble of sending the Marauders through the jungle-clad Kumon Range (97.18E 26.08N) to seize the town by surprise. By this time the Marauders had already suffered 50% casualties, but on May 16 the Marauders seized Myitkyina airfield against light opposition. Unfortunately, the Marauders were completely spent as a fighting force by this time, and priority on the airlift into the airfield was given to defense of the airfield itself. The two Japanese battalions from 114 Regiment in Myitkyina town were rapidly reinforced, numbering 3000 troops within a week and peaking at 4500.  Stilwell was reluctant to bring in any but American reinforcements, and the only Americans available were men still recuperating from wounds and a force of 2600 completely green troops that had just arrived in India; nevertheless, these were flown in in preference to the seasoned British 36 Division. The Japanese fought a stubborn defense under Major General Mizukami Genzu against the Chinese divisions when they arrived. A massive ground and air attack on 12 July 1944 made little headway. However, a renewed attack on the town on 3 August 1944 found a rearguard of just 187 sick men: Genzu had ordered the town evacuated, then taken his own life in order to literally comply with an order that "Major-General Mizakumi will defend Myitkyina to the death" (Allen 1984).

The capture of Myitkyina made possible the reopening of the Burma Road and the resupply of China by land and probably prompted the Allies to drop further consideration of CULVERIN, the planned invasion of Sumatra. Together with the collapse of the Imphal offensive and defeat in the Marianas, it brought an end to the Tojo cabinet. However, the reopening of the land supply route to China came too late in the war to allow much rebuilding of Chiang's shattered armies, which would have serious repercussions in the Chinese Civil War that followed.

Kuomintang order of battle, April 1944:

Chinese Forces in India (Stilwell)     

New 1 Army (Sun Li-jen; in Assam)

New 22 Division

New 30 Division

New 38 Division    

14 Division

50 Division

1 Tank Battalion

5307 Provisional Regiment (Merrill)
GALAHAD (Merrill's Marauders)
Expeditionary Forces (Wei)

11 Army Group (Sung)

2 Army (Wang)
76, New 9 and New 33 Divisions

6 Army (Huang)
2 Reserve and New 39 Divisions

71 Army (Chung)
87, 88 and New 28 Divisions

200 Division

20 Army Group (Liao Yao-shiang; in Yunnan)       "Y" Force

53 Army (Chou)
116 and 150 Divisions

54 Army (Chueh)
36 and 198 Divisions

8 Army (Ho) 1 Honor, 82, and 103 Divisions`

Japanese order of battle, April 1944:

33 Army (Hondo; in northeast Burma)

2 Division (Okazaki)
Did not arrive until 1944-10

18 Division (Tanaka)

53 Division (Takeda)

56 Division (Matsuyama; at Longling)     

24 Independent Mixed Brigade (Hayashi)      
Fought primarily against the Chindits

Rail connections


Road connections



Allen (1984)
Drea (2009)
Lewin (1976)
Peattie et al. (2011)

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