Contents - Hirohito's War
26 Battle for China: FDR, Chiang, Mao, and ‘Vinegar Joe’
[January 1942–August 1945]
[Charts: 26.1, 26.2]
‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell’s Sticky Brief in China (p 734) Byzantine Allied Command Structures in Asia (p 735) Chiang Kai-shek’s Dilemma (p 736) Starvation in Henan Province (p 739) Stilwell’s Campaign to Undermine Chiang (p 740) Roosevelt, Chiang and China (p 743) Meiling and the Soong Family (p 746) Corruption at the Court of Chiang Kai-shek (p 748) Mao’s Brilliant Propaganda War (p 750) Mao’s Yanan Rectification Movement (p 752) The Military Strengthening of Mao and his Phoney War Against Japan (p 754) Lu Zhangcao: A Spy in Chiang’s Camp (p 755) Mao Gulls the US Vice-President (p 756) The Dixie Mission (p 756) Roosevelt Turns the Screws on Chiang (p 759) Roosevelt Sends a Cowboy (p 760) Vinegar Joe’s ‘Ultimatum Letter’ (p 761) Why the Kuomintang Armies were so Ineffective during the Pacific War (p 763) Stilwell’s Bitter Legacy (p 767)
‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell’s Sticky Brief in China: The brief given to Lieutenant-General Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell to keep China in the war after his appointment as Chiang Kai-shek’s Chief of Staff in January 1942 was, seemingly, simple. In reality it was anything but. As Marshall would later comment, of the assignments given to his commanders, General Stilwell’s was “one of the most difficult.”1
Although supportive of his friend Lieutenant-General Stilwell, Marshall’s focus and the strategy pursued both by him and his President was to defeat Hitler and secure ‘Europe First.’ The ‘Europe First’ policy was deeply hated by General MacArthur, by Admiral King, who loathed the English, and by Stilwell who was also an anglophobe. Whereas the Navy, less required in Europe, was able to commandeer resources for its Central Pacific strategy, and MacArthur was able to bully Washington, through the press, to secure sustainable supply for an American-Australian Army, Stilwell was more or less hung out to dry. Although China had been the casus belli between Japan and America, with regard to providing military support in the China Theater, Stilwell had to beg, borrow or steal troops.
Apart from the troops building the Ledo Road, the only frontline American troops under Stilwell’s command were recruited from the misfits and miscreants taken from the US Army stationed in America. The 3,000 troops of 5307th Composite Unit (codenamed GALAHAD), arrived in India on 31 October 1943 and were loosely modelled on the British Chindits, whose commander, Major-General Orde Wingate, helped train the American recruits in the arts of Long Range Penetration (LRP). 5307th Composite Unit was put under the command of Brigadier-General Frank Merrill, a former military attaché in Tokyo and intelligence officer under MacArthur; American journalists famously dubbed them Merrill’s Marauders.
As Chiang Kai-shek’s Chief of Staff, Stilwell only had nominal control of the Chinese armies. In his first Burma campaign, when the Chinese armies were pushed out of the country, Stilwell had found it almost impossible to exercise personal command over the 80,000 Chinese troops supposedly under his command. At Lashio in 1942, during the retreat from Burma, General Lin Wei effectively vetoed Stilwell’s orders or, as Lin Wei put it, he “exerted influence.”2 British Burma commander, Major-General ‘Bill’ Slim, pointed out, “Such was this ‘influence’ that no Chinese Army Commander would carry out an Alexander-Stilwell-Lo order unless it had been passed by him [Wei].”3