General Joseph W. Stilwell

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered the Second World War. In early 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched General Joseph Stilwell to China to advise the Chinese and coordinate Allied forces in the region. Among American generals, Stilwell was already known as an experienced China hand. Before the war, he had served three tours of duty in China, where he became fluent in Chinese. After arriving in Chongqing, Stilwell was assigned to be Chiang Kai-shek’s Chief of Staff, the commander of American forces in the China-Burma-India Theater, and the sole controller of American Lend-Lease material bound for China.

Soon afterward, Stilwell faced the first test of his leadership. Ever since Japan’s capture of China’s eastern coastal cities following the outbreak of war in 1937, China had relied on the “Burma Road” – stretching from Burma’s coastal city of Rangoon inland to Kunming in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province – for foreign military aid. In January 1942, Japan invaded British-controlled Burma and cut off the Burma Road. Following the fall of Burma, Stilwell set up a training center in Ramgarh, India. Here, American instructors re-equipped and re-trained Chinese soldiers for a campaign to retake Burma and reopen supply lines to China. Tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers graduated from the training center. These soldiers became known as the X Force. In 1944, Stilwell’s X Force launched an assault to retake Burma in conjunction with elements of the British Army as well as Chinese forces from Yunnan. Following months of heavy fighting, Allied armies re-opened the supply route to China in early 1945. However, Stilwell would not be there to see the mission succeed. After clashing with the Chinese government over strategy, he was recalled by President Roosevelt in October 1944.