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Published on 12 Aug 2008
By 1938 Japan had gained control of the Chinese coastline occupying the major cities and driving the remaining Nationalist and Communist forces into the western provinces of the country.
Organised Chinese resistance from that time became dependent on American aid and supplies reaching the Chinese via the overland supply route through Burma, known as the Burma Road.
The Japanese invasion of Burma in December of 1941 was primarily intended to strangle weakening Chinese resistance by capturing the western end of the Burma Road.
Reinforcing their offensive in the early months of 1942 the Japanese drove British and Chinese forces in steady retreat through central Burma towards the Indian frontier, capturing Rangoon in March and cutting the Burma Road by the end of April.
The road was to remain closed from this time until February 1945. Supplies to the Chinese were transported by air from airfields in India across the towering Himalayas to Kunming in China. The air route to Kunming was to become known as the Aluminium Trail because of the litter of crashed aircraft that marked its way through the mountains.
Throughout these years the reconquest of Burma was to take a lower priority than other theatres of the war, but in India preparations were made for an Allied counter-offensive in 1944. Lord Louis Mountbatten became Supreme Commander in South-east Asia. General Stillwell, his deputy, was appointed to train and command Chinese troops in India.
By 1944 the Allies had established air superiority in the region, and footholds in Northern Burma.
To forestall the inevitable Allied offensive the Japanese launched a pre-emptive strike across the Burmese border into North-East India. The offensive lasted from February through to July. When the Japanese finally withdrew, their armies had been decimated in the fighting. The door to Burma stood wide open.
By January of 1945 the Allies had reopened the Burma Road, and by May had recaptured Rangoon.