This month, China’s CCTV presented a fascinating 12-part documentary series on a part of WWII not particularly well known in the West--namely, the Burma Theater. The presentation was in English, very factual and professionally done, absent of any propaganda. The program gave impartial rendering of the roles of Chiang Kai-shek, General Joe Stillwell, General Sun Liren and many others. The one nation that did not come out very well was UK. They were portrayed as arrogant, treacherous and had no stomach for battle.
Episode 1, Arduous expedition – By 1941, the Burma Road was the only lifeline to the outside world remaining for China. CKS recognized the strategic importance and sent an expeditionary troops of 100,000 to fight alongside the British. Undermanned and underequipped, the troops fought the Japanese to a standstill for 12 days at Toungoo until the Brits unilaterally withdrew, thus exposing the flanks to the Japanese and leaving the Chinese surrounded and cut-off. The Chinese under the command of Dai Anlan managed an orderly withdraw with a casualty of under 2000 compared to 5000 of the Japanese. The Japanese occupied an empty town and the Japanese general ordered the burial of all the Chinese dead with honors for their bravery.
Episode 2, Rescuing the Brits – The Brits plus the Chinese soldiers had the Japanese outnumbered, but the Brits ran until they were trapped by a pincer movement and it remained for the Chinese to come to their rescue again. About 800 of Sun Liren’s crack troops rescued the 7000 British troops, dying because of lack of drinking water. For this act of bravery, General Sun was awarded the medal of the highest honor by the British government. The actual general in command was Liu Fangwu who was to go unrecognized until much later when Margaret Thatcher visited the U.S. and personally thanked him. Despite this rescue, The Brits still had their own agenda which was not to defend Burma. They withdrew towards India without telling the Chinese and blew the Mandalay Bridge behind them and thus cut off the Chinese retreat back to China. The Chinese was to pay dearly when the Japanese used stealth to go behind the Chinese and cut off their retreat to China.
Episode 3, Ordeal on Savage Mountain – While the Brits withdrew to India, CKS did not want the Chinese to follow suit for fear of losing the command to the Brits. Du Yuming obeyed and order his command to retreat northward across primordial forest called Savage Mountain (野人山) where most his troops were decimated by disease and starvation. A fallen soldier was nearly instantly turned into skeletons by leeches, ants and others that crawl in the jungles. The 200th Division commanded by Dai fought rear guard action and were the last to leave. Dai was wounded and died and his body was carried all the way back to China by his followers. Sun Liren did not heed Du’s orders, reasoning the primordial forest was deadly to his troops. Instead his troops marched southward, caught the Japanese by surprise and broke through and then headed westward into India. The Brit commanding general ordered Sun’s troops to stand down and disarm at the border. Sun threaten to fight into India. Just in time, the general of the Brit troops rescued in Burma rushed to see the commanding general to tell him that his British troops were no match for Sun’s and it was no way to pay back for the heroic rescue. Of the 100,000 Chinese troops sent into Burma, only about 30,000 survived.
Episode 4, Recuperating in India – Sun’s 38th Division virtually intact became the core fighting force resting in Ramgarh. The remnants of 22nd Division that straggled out of Savage Mountain joined. General Stillwell finally had an opportunity to build a fighting force directly under his command and he equipped and trained the two divisions with the best weaponry possible. Sun also asked CKS to send him new recruits to fill the ranks of his army and CKS responded by sending patriotic students as recruits. The British was responsible for provisioning the troops. For the first time, the Chinese soldiers had two sets of boots, two underwear, two pairs of thick socks and two pairs of thin socks, etc. Sun with the help of American trainers taught his troops not only how to fight, but how to swim with pack, to climb mountain and walk in jungles. He was getting the two divisions ready to engage the Japanese with trained and toughened soldiers better equipped to fight than the Japanese. The American objective in Burma was to tied down the Japanese troops, the Chinese to keep the lifeline open while the Brits had interest in Burma only to the extent it would keep the Japanese from invading India.
Episode 5, Counter attack begins – Finally the counter attack by the Chinese troops from India to northern Burma began in this episode. The Chinese soldiers were entirely different from those that fought earlier when they along with the Brits were defeated by the Japanese and had to retreat to India. These were physically fit, well trained and well equipped. This was the beginning of the turning of the tide. They were to face the crack Japanese troops that fought in Shanghai, participated in the Nanking massacre and occupied Singapore despite greatly outnumbered by the British troops stationed there, troops that had no stomach for fighting. At the Cairo Conference CKS thought he got Churchill's agreement to commit the British troops to the joint counter attack. Few days later, Churchill reneged and decided not to join in the battle.