A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters
The Second World War was a watershed in world history. The European and Pacific theaters are well known, but there is a forgotten theater often referred to as the CBI (China-Burma -India) theater that is not so well-publicized. At that time military planners felt they needed a direct route from India to China so that military supplies could be transferred to the Chinese army fighting the Japanese. The war effort was to sustain the Nationalist army led by General Chang Kai Shek. This was the genesis of the road from India to China and was basically an American effort. The road was christened as Stillwell Road by General Chang.
The Ledo road from Assam
In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and occupied it driving the British-Indian forces out of Burma. The result was that the Burma Road was closed. There was an urgent need for a second road to carry supplies to China during the war. This was how the concept of the Ledo road came about. The Ledo road started from Ledo in Assam India and winded from the tea gardens to the jungles and mountains of northern Burma till it joined up with the Burma Road. The Ledo Road was the handiwork of U.S. Army Engineers and Indian labor from Assam.
The road was an engineering marvel and went over some of the toughest mountains and densest jungles existing anywhere. Add the heavy monsoon for 5months in a year and one can realize that the Ledo road was no ordinary engineering feat.
The man who commanded the building of the road was General Lewis A. Pick (1890-56) He commented that it was the toughest job ever given to U.S. Army Engineers in wartime. The road covered 1,079 miles from Ledo, India to Kunming, China, 470 miles "as the crow flies."
The construction of the road commenced on 16 December 1942 and continued unabated for 3 years. Finally, the Ledo road was declared operational on 20 May 1945. Though completed towards the fag end of the war it still transported an estimated 35,000 tons of supplies to China. The road ran 465 miles from Ledo in Assam ( India) to Mongyu, Burma, near Wanting, China.
Military planners did discuss the utility of the road compared to the airlift from Assam to Burma by elements of the USAF. But its importance was strategic and though not built to original specifications like a two-lane highway, it yet served a specific purpose. The road as it was built served as a combat highway and gave succor to a pipeline that ran parallel to it.
The Ledo Road and its construction is an American effort, but it was never given its due share of importance. This was because of the low priority of the CBI Theater. This sector was declared open on March 3, 1942, and is often referred to as the forgotten Theater of World War II.
Not many know that at the height of the war America had mobilized12, 300,000 Americans for the war effort. Out of this gigantic figure, only 250,000 (two percent) were assigned to the CBI theater. Thus it was inevitable that the CBI did not feature in the minds of the American people back home. But the 12,000 mile supply line was the longest in the war and also have the least priority
US servicemen though small in numbers did yeoman service in the CBI Theater. The Ledo road is a testimony to their indomitable courage. These men along with Indian and British troops tied up many Japanese divisions. The USAF also carried out a massive airlift over the hump; to China from Assam. The Ledo road was an adjunct to that supply airlift. Ledo was chosen because it was close to the northern terminus of a rail line which had a direct connection to the ports of Calcutta and Bombay. Construction of the Ledo Road was completed in early 1945.
The American role was to support China by providing war materials. The United States air forces the Flying Tigers fought the Japanese in the air over China and Burma and Army Air Forces flew supplies over the Hump( Himalayas) from India to China. US Army Engineers built the Ledo Road to open up the land supply route. It was a supreme engineering achievement.
What about the human and material cost? The total Ledo road fatalities were 1133 out of which 261 were from the engineering
The lead or Road is now history and very little of it remains in Burma. Portions of the road in India have been very well built by the Indian government but the road in Burma is in disuse and at many places, the jungle has reclaimed the road.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 12, 2020:
Nice of you to have commented and good to know that there is a Burma Road in Trivandrum.
thank you on June 12, 2020:
thank you sir ,there is a road in trivandrum called burma road in honour of workers my state who build it
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 11, 2020:
Thank you Liz for reading and commenting
Liz Westwood from UK on June 11, 2020:
My knowledge of this area in World War 2 is limited, so I have read your article with interest. It's interesting to see how nations worked together against the Japanese in this part of the world.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 10, 2020:
Thanks, Flourish, for commenting.
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 10, 2020:
I learn a lot about history by reading your excellent articles. Well researched as always.