The Second World War was watershed in world history. The European and Pacific theaters are well known, but there is a forgotten theater often referred to as the CBI (China-Burma –India) theater that is not so well publicized.
The Japanese occupied Manchuria in 1931. Sporadic fighting was replaced by full scale operations in 1937. Chinese ports were blockaded and China needed another source for supplies. This resulted in the Burma Road being built from Kunming, China to a railhead at Lashio, Burma in 1938.
In 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma and occupied it driving the British-Indian forces out of Burma. The result was that the Burma Road was closed. There was an urgent need for a second road to carry supplies to China during the war. This was how the concept of the Ledo road came about. The Ledo road started from Ledo in Assam India and winded from the tea gardens to the jungles and mountains of northern Burma till it joined up with the Burma Road
The Ledo Road was the handiwork of U.S. Army Engineers and Indian labor from Assam.
The road was an engineering marvel and went over some of the toughest mountains and densest jungles existing anywhere. Add the heavy monsoon for 5 months in a year and one can realize that the Ledo road was no ordinary engineering feat.
The man who commanded the building of the road was General Lewis A. Pick (1890-56) He commented that it was the toughest job ever given to U.S. Army Engineers in wartime.
The construction of the road commenced on 16 December 1942 and continued unabated for 3 years. Finally the Ledo road was declared operational on 20 May 1945. Though completed towards the fag end of the war it still transported an estimated 35,000 tons of supplies to China. The road ran 465 miles from Ledo in Assam ( India) to Mongyu, Burma, near Wanting, China.
Military planners did discuss the utility of the road compared to the air lift from Assam to Burma by elements of the USAF. But its importance was strategic and though not built to original specifications like a two lane highway, it yet served a specific purpose. The road as it was built served as a combat highway and gave succor to a pipe line that ran parallel to it.
The Ledo road and its construction is basically an American effort, but it was never given its due share of importance. This was because of the low priority of the CBI Theater. This sector was declared open in March 3, 1942 and is often referred to as the Forgotten Theater of World War II.
Not many know that at the height of the war America had mobilized 12,300,000 Americans for the war effort. Out of this gigantic figure only 250,000 (two percent) were assigned to the CBI theater. Thus it was inevitable that the CBI did not feature in the minds of the American people back home. But the 12,000 mile supply line was the longest in the war and also having the least priority
US service men though small in numbers did yeoman service in the CBI Theater. The Ledo road is a testimony to their indomitable courage. These men along with Indian and British troops tied up many Japanese divisions. The USAF also carried out a massive airlift ‘over the hump” to China from Assam. The Ledo road was an adjunct to that supply lift. . Ledo was chosen because it was close to the northern terminus of a rail line which had direct CONNECTION to the ports of Calcutta and Bombay. Construction of the Ledo Road was completed in early 1945.
The American role was to support China by providing war materials. The United States air forces theFlying Tigers fought the Japanese in the air over China and Burma and Army Air Forces flew suppliesOver the Hump from India to China. US Army Engineers built the Ledo Road to open up the land supply route. It was a supreme engineering achievement.
What about the human and material cost? The total Ledo road fatalities were 1133 out of which 261 were from the engineering regiments. The road cost $148,910 million at that time