National Geographic : 1945 Jun
Stilwell Road-Land Route to China By NELSON GRANT TAYMAN * TODAY hundreds of trucks in steady procession are carrying the sinews of war over the Stilwell Road, the Ledo Burma Road which was renamed by Gen eralissimo Chiang Kai-shek in recognition of General Joseph W. Stilwell. These heavily laden trucks are dramatic proof of U. S. Army Engineers' resourceful ness. The town of Wanting, on the China Burma border, recaptured from the Japanese in January, 1944, may be likened to a beach head. It is China's "back door," opening wide the land route of invasion. The Stilwell Road, China's new lifeline, is a combination of the new Ledo Road, built by the U. S. Army Engineer Corps, and the Chinese-held portion of the old Burma Road. The Ledo Road links northern India and Yun nan Province with an all-weather highway for the first time in history. I had a part in its building, for I spent three months in Burma and China, determining the type and location of major bridges on both the Ledo and Burma Roads. Roads are indispensable to the network of communications and supply which is essential for a sustained offensive against the Japanese in China. Flying "the Hump" Before the Stilwell Road was opened, every ounce of fuel for the B-29's, equipment and supplies for our Army, and critical materials for Free China's 200 million fighting men and civilians had to be flown to their Chinese des tinations over one of the world's loftiest moun tain ranges. "The Hump" our aviators call this hazardous section of the route between India and China. Peaks towering 15,000 feet are common; many rise more than 17,000. To negotiate the crossing, planes frequently climb well over 16,000 feet. This air lift means costly transportation. A Liberator bomber, serving as an aerial "oil tanker," starts from an Indian base with four tons of gasoline. By the time it climbs skyward, crosses the Hump, and descends to its destination, it has only one ton of fuel available for delivery. Its motors eat up the other three making the round trip. Today a pipeline reaches far into Burma and soon will extend across that country into China. This pipeline now carries aviation gasoline from Indian ports directly to airbases near the China border. The story of its con struction through the jungle rivals in romance that of the Ledo Road (pages 692-694). When I was in Burma I saw the pipeline being built. C-47's flew the pipe into the jungle. I saw pumping stations going up along the line. U. S. Army Engineers con ceived this idea more than two years ago. Pipeline, pumping equipment, and engineer building methods have all been battle-tested in Africa, Italy, France, and the Pacific. Before the Japanese occupied Burma, sup plies for China from overseas were unloaded at Rangoon, sent northward by rail to Lashio, and then were transported to Kunming, Yun nan Province, over the Burma Road, China's lifeline.t With Burmese ports and the railhead at Lashio in Japanese hands and the Burma Road cut, a new route had to be mapped. So American supplies were unloaded at Cal cutta, sent by rail up the valley of the Brah maputra to numerous airfields, and then flown across the Hump. New Road Starts at Ledo The rail line from Calcutta ends seven miles east of Ledo, Assam, where the new Ledo Road begins. Crossing the Patkai Range into Burma, the highway pushes southward toward Mogaung, Myitkyina, and Bhamo (page 682). As fast as the jungle was cleared of Japs, U. S. Engineers extended the road, until it hooked up with the old Burma Road east of the Irrawaddy River. Together with the string of airfields which make possible the air supply route across the Hump, the Ledo and Burma Roads (now jointly called Stilwell Road) form the skeleton around which we are building the structure for large-scale operations.: I traveled with Lt. Col. George H. Taylor, of the War Plans Division, Office of the Chief of Engineers. We left the United States in January, 1944, flying by way of Brazil, Ascen sion Island, Africa, Arabia, the Arabian Sea, Karachi, New Delhi, Agra, Calcutta, and Chabua, one of the airports from which our flyers take off to cross the Hump. I could have continued on to Ledo by rail, * Mr. Tayman, bridge engineer, is attached to the Theater Branch, War Plans Division, Office of Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army. t See Map Supplement, "China," with this issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. $ See "Burma Road, Back Door to China," by Frank Outram and G. E . Fane, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1940; and "Burma: Where India and China Meet," by John LeRoy Christian, October, 1943.