Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don't Miss this Documentary on WWII History, Part 2

Last 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. In the second half of this series, the atrocities of the Japanese soldiers were graphically described.

Episode 6, Pincer Movement – In this episode, the Chinese troops from India entered Burma and mounted a large scale offensive and scored a major victory. They over ran Japanese division command headquarters, and the Japanese incurred heavy casualties, more than twice as many as the Chinese side. This is unprecedented up to now. Chinese success can be attributed to better trained and better equipped soldiers. Just as critical was American air support. American planes provide air cover, detailed maps of the terrain via recon flights and timely drops of arms and supplies.

Episode 7, Victory at Myitkyina – While the battle in episode 6 was going on, General Stillwell conceived of a brilliant surprise attack to capture a strategic airfield at Myitkyina. The capture of the airfield would enable the Allies to fly in troops to the front line of battle. The surprise attack was successful but unfortunately the commanding General Frank Merrill (of the famed Merrill Marauders) made a terrible decision not to press on and take the town while the Allies had overwhelming numerical advantage and thus allowed the Japanese to send in reinforcements. It then took the Chinese troops another two months at great cost in casualty to finally capture the town of Myitkyina. This victory at Myitkyina marked the beginning of the end of the Japanese in Burma.

Episode 8, Stalemate at Nujiang River – While previous two episodes described the successes of forces under Stillwell’s command, this episode talked about the stalemate in southwestern Yunnan where the Japanese forces held on to the west bank while the Chinese were in the east bank. This stalemate lasted for two years. During this time, the Japanese troops committed all forms of atrocities against the local people in their territory. Besides usual gang rape of women, random killing and bayoneting, a particularly gruesome practice was described. The soldiers would bend a tall bamboo sapling and tied the entrails from the rectum of the victim and then watched in great entertainment when the bamboo snapped back and dangled the victim by the stretched out intestines. These activities were a deliberate attempt to dehumanize the Japanese soldiers so that they could become unfeeling fighting machine. Each soldier were given two coupons per week that entitled them to the services of comfort woman. The comfort women, mostly from the local villages, did not even have time to eat but must eat while servicing their clients. After the Americans re-equipped the Chinese, FDR began to push for offensive against the Japanese across the river. CKS reluctantly agreed but by then, in April of 1944, the rainy season was upon them.

Episode 9, Battle of Gaoligong Shan – Commander of the Yunnan based Chinese troops was General Wei Lihuang. He devised a pincer surprise attack on the Japanese via a small mountainous road, not used in generations. Alas his plans fell into Japanese hands and they were dug in and prepared. A bitter hard fought battle ensued. The difference that turned the tide was the minority people of those mountains. They willingly fought alongside, provided food and supplies and as porters for the supplies. The Japanese had no local support and were cut off. Afterwards, the Chinese found plenty of evidence that the Japanese resorted to eating human flesh, smoked, boiled and dried. They even found evidence of Japanese soldiers trapped in pillboxes having to eat the flesh of their fallen comrades.

Episode 10, Battle of Songshan – Having encountered heavy resistance in Gaoligong, General Wei and his staff changed their plans and moved their troops southward to attack Songshan, the highest point that looks down the Yunnan Burma Road. Again their intelligence proved faulty and the Chinese encountered heavy resistance from far more troops than anticipated. It took three months of hard fighting and a casualty of 7000 to finally secure the top of Songshan and about 1000 Japanese dead.

Episode 11, Capture of Tengchong – Capture of Tengchong was crucial to the allied plans to re-open the Burma Road and join forces with the Chinese troops from India. The capture did not come easy. The walls of Tengchong could not be breeched by regular gun fire. It took American bomber planes many runs to create openings for the Chinese soldiers. The wall was built during the Ming dynasty made from volcanic rocks.

Episode 12, Battle of Longling – Concurrent with the battles of Songshan and Tengchong, another part of the Expeditionary Forces were dispatched to capture Longling. Longling sat at the junction of the Yunnan Burma Road and the road to India and its capture would mean the reopening of the lifeline to China. The battle took 4 months and three major offensives before the Japanese troops were pounded into submission and totally annihilated. The victory was complete when the forces then moved south to Burma and joined the Chinese forces from India. January 1945 marked the end of Japan’s influence in Southeast Asia. The Chinese sent forces into Burma in 1942 and again in 1945 at great cost suffering casualty of nearly 100,000. They could not have won without the air cover provided by the American Air Force and the heavy artillery supplied by the Americans.

It was one of the highlights of US-China bilateral colloboration in WWII.

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