The Stilwell Road

December 1942 saw the beginning of one of the most herculean tasks accomplished by the U.S. Army during the Second World War—the building of the Stilwell Road. In the spring of 1942, the main supply road into China, known as the Burma Road, was cut off. Attempts to supply China from then on were limited to “The Hump,” a dangerous air route across the eastern Himalayas. In order to reopen the land route to China, General Joseph Stilwell, the commander of the China-Burma-India Theater, called for the construction of a new road that connected the railhead at Ledo in Assam, India to the old Burma Road at the Mong-Yu junction near Wanting, Yunnan in China.

More than 15,000 American soldiers and 35,000 local workers labored to construct a road that passed through extremely difficult terrain. The road traversed high mountains and deep gorges. Steep gradients, hairpin curves and sheer drops were commonplace. As the road was built in conjunction with the Allied offensive to retake Burma, builders occasionally came under fire from enemy forces. By the time the road was completed, $150 million had been spent and 1,100 American lives were lost.

On January 12, 1945, the first convoy of 113 vehicles departed from Ledo. It arrived in Kunming on February 4, 1945. In the months that followed, 26,000 trucks carried 129,000 tons of supplies from India to China.