This Day in 1944 – The Chinese Capture Tengchong

Chinese soldiers sift amongst the wreckage of Tengchong's once-mighty stone wall after the battle.

Chinese soldiers sift amongst the wreckage of Tengchong’s once-mighty stone wall after the battle.

On September 14, 1944, the Chinese XXth Army Group finally captured Tengchong. After fifty-one days of siege, assault, and house-to-house fighting, Chinese soldiers pushed the Japanese into the walled city’s eastern corner. In the final days of the battle, the enemy soldiers ran out of food and ammunition. Several committed suicide and a group of about two hundred attempted to escape into the countryside. The majority of the almost two thousand Japanese troops fought to the death. It was the greatest triumph of the Chinese Expeditionary Force. It was a costly victory. The XXth Army Group lost 8,671 killed, including 1,234 officers. Colonel Li Yi, a regimental commander, died on the last day of the battle. He was one of the two highest ranking Chinese officers to die on the Salween Front.

This Day in 1944 – Dogfight over Baoshan

Four P-38 Lightnings from the 449th Fighter Squadron fly in a loose fingertip formation over China in World War II.

Four P-38 Lightnings from the 449th Fighter Squadron fly in a loose fingertip formation over China in World War II.

On September 8, 1944, twenty Japanese Ki-43 Oscars from the 64th Sentai attacked the airfield at Baoshan, China. Air Transport Command had been airlifting soldiers from the Chinese 200th Division to the field to reinforce the Chinese Expeditionary Force on the Salween Front. While most of the Japanese fighters strafed the field, Sergeant Toshimi Ikezawa broke formation and shot down an ATC C-47. The crew managed to crash-land, but one of the Chinese soldiers aboard died. Shortly after the Japanese attack began, four P-38 Lightnings from the 449th Fighter Squadron arrived overhead on their way to the front. Despite the five-to-one odds, Lieutenant Stuart Rea led his flight straight into the middle of the Japanese formation. He shot down one fighter on his first pass and damaged another on his second. One of the Oscars hit his right engine, but he was able to return to Yunnanyi. The timely intervention by the American fighters kept losses relatively light; ATC lost one C-47 in the air and two on the ground. The 200th Division lost two soldiers. The Japanese lost one fighter to the Lightnings. Four more crash-landed on their way back to Burma.

This Day in 1944 – The Japanese Counterattack at Longling

On September 5, 1944, the Japanese begin a counteroffensive at Longling. Though the Chinese XIth Army Group had surrounded the city, General Song Xilian could not be persuaded to attack. He continued to overestimate the strength of the enemy and told his superiors he needed more men. His inaction left the initiative to the Japanese. The Burma Area Army sent its 2nd Infantry Division, plus one regiment of the 49th Division, north to help the 56th restore its hold on the Burma Road. Twelve thousand soldiers crashed against the Chinese lines north of Longling. The Honorable 1st Division fought stubbornly to hold its ground, but without reinforcements, the situation appeared desperate.

This Day in 1944 – The Americans Blow the Top off Pine Mountain

On August 20, 1944, American engineers detonated two mines filled with six thousand pounds of explosives under Japanese positions on Songshan (Pine Mountain). The Japanese 113th Regiment, 56th Division, had thoroughly fortified the mountain, from which it could rain down artillery on the Burma Road. The Chinese 8th Army had been fighting to take it since the end of June, but the Japanese offered stiff resistance. Finally, with most of the Japanese trapped near the summit, American engineers suggested mining underneath. The explosion at 0905 hours on the twentieth buried alive at least forty-two Japanese soldiers and allowed the Chinese to resume their advance, though the battle continued until September 7.

American engineers detonate the mines under Japanese positions on Songshan. Hoover Institute.

American engineers detonate the mines under Japanese positions on Songshan. Hoover Institute.

This Day in 1944 – American Planes Bomb Tengchong

On August 2, 1944, American warplanes breached the walls of Tengchong. Six B-25s from the 22nd Bomb Squadron flew through the valley at tree-top level, sending their 1,000-pound bombs into the ancient stone wall. The bombs opened up five breaches, the largest of which was just over fifteen feet wide. Chinese troops charged forward, but the Japanese fought back savagely. It was days before the Chinese were able to move through into the city and months before they finally pushed out the Japanese.

B-25s bomb the fortress city of Tengchong

B-25s bomb the fortress city of Tengchong

This Day in 1944 – Chinese Troops take Laifengshan

On July 26, 1944, Chinese soldiers of the XXth Army Group attacked Laifengshan, a mountain rising five hundred feet above the southwest corner of Tengchong. The Japanese had stationed their artillery on the mountain, making its capture an essential prerequisite to action against the city. At 1200 hours on the twenty-sixth, the first of four waves of American fighters arrived overhead. Airplanes and artillery pounded Japanese positions. Demonstrating what they had learned in months of hard fighting, the Chinese advanced quickly in the wake of these attacks. They advanced as whole regiments instead of piecemeal. They did not stop to loot the dead. They reached the summit by nightfall and repelled a counterattack the next day. Brigadier General Dorn called it the best-coordinated attack of the entire Salween Campaign.

Chinese troops hold a Japanese pillbox captured on Laifengshan.

Chinese troops hold a Japanese pillbox captured on Laifengshan.

This Day in 1944 – The CEF Captures Yingdun Mountain

The Japanese 113th Regiment under the command of Major Kanemitsu Keijiro transformed Songshan into a multi-peaked mountain fortress, with trenches, pillboxes, caves, tunnels, and fortified artillery positions. The Americans called it “the Gibraltar of the Burma Road,” because it appeared unassailable. Yet on June 17, 1944, the Chinese New 28th and New 39th Divisions attacked en masse to take Yingdun, the peak at the southeast corner. Surprise and bold action led to victory. However, capturing the rest of Songshan did not prove as easy and the attack ground to a halt. As they had at Longling, the Chinese settled down to a lengthy siege.

Songshan, or "Pine Mountain," as viewed for the north. Yingdun was the peak at the southeast corner - Author's Photo

Songshan, or “Pine Mountain,” as viewed for the north. Yingdun was the peak at the southeast corner – Author’s Photo

This Day in 1944 – The CEF Breaks Through to Longling

On June 8, 1944, the Chinese 71st Army broke through the Japanese defenses around Longling, the largest city along the Burma Road on the west side of the Salween River. Marshal Wei Lihuang recognized an opportunity when the Japanese shifted most of their forces north to oppose the XXth Army Group in the Gaoligong Mountains. He poured reinforcements across the Salween south of the road. Major General Song Xilian, commander of the XIth Army Group, personally led the attack that broke through Longling’s outer defenses and captured three-quarters of the city on the eighth. Unfortunately, though Song was personally brave, he was a terrible military leader. A Japanese relief column fought its way back into the city on June 16. With only 1,500 troops, they pushed over ten thousand Chinese from Longling. Only the emergency intervention of two squadrons of 14th Air Force B-25s kept it from becoming a total rout. The reverse marked a dramatic loss of momentum for the campaign. Marshal Wei could not replace Song for political reasons, nor could he convince him to make another attempt on the city. The Chinese settled down to a lengthy siege.

An aerial view of Longling during an American bombing raid.

An aerial view of Longling during an American bombing raid.

This Day in 1944 – 27th Troop Carrier Squadron Begins Airdrops on the Salween Front

On May 28, 1944, the 27th Troop Carrier Squadron began airdropping supplies to Chinese troops on the Salween Front. The 27th was a C-47 squadron with hard-won experience supporting British irregulars and Allied armies in Burma. Their transfer to the 14th Air Force in China brought a new dimension to the campaign in southwest China. Supplied from the air, Chinese troops could abandon conventional supply lines. Instead of meeting the well-trained and experienced Japanese head-to-head, they could infiltrate the front, cut-off the Japanese supply, then reduce enemy strongpoints by siege and assault. Difficult terrain and volatile weather made for challenging flying. Nonetheless, the 27th launched a transport every fifteen minutes throughout the daytime to supply the Chinese troops. The aircrew could soon find any drop zone or town, “as easily as we could find the corner drug store.”  By the end of the campaign in January 1945, the squadron had flown 4,952 sorties, delivering over ten thousand tons of supplies.

A C-47 drops supplies to Chinese troops on the Salween Front (Hoover Institution)

A C-47 drops supplies to Chinese troops on the Salween Front (Hoover Institution)

This Day in 1944 – “End Run” Captures the Airfield near Myitkyina

On May 17, 1944, Stilwell’s End Run Task Force captured the airfield at Pamati, two miles west of Myitkyina. They had marched 112 miles in twenty days, through dense, hostile jungle and over the six-thousand-foot Kumon Range. Each of the three columns lost anywhere from one quarter to one half of their mules and horses to falls or exhaustion in the precipitous terrain. Most of the men were sick with dysentery, typhus, malaria, or other tropical diseases. On the morning of May 17, Colonel Hunter, commander of the column known as “H Force,” ordered his men forward. They swept out of the forested hills and onto the airfield and nearby ferry terminal. Within half an hour the field was in Allied hands and less than an hour after that, it was ready to receive an aerial caravan of reinforcements. The attack was a stunning success. Unfortunately, the troops were exhausted, reinforcements were slow in coming, and Stilwell provided little direction for follow-up action. As a result, the town of Myitkyina remained in Japanese hands for almost three more months. What began as a brilliant surprise attack bogged down into a lengthy siege.

A C-47 lands on the airfield near Myitkyina after its capture by Allied troops. Unfortunately, the town itself remained in enemy hands for three more months.

A C-47 lands on the airfield near Myitkyina after its capture by Allied troops. Unfortunately, the town itself remained in enemy hands for three more months.