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China-Burma-India Theater Overview

During the war, American troops fought in Europe and in the Pacific, but a relatively small contingent of soldiers were also committed to the lesser-known war in Southeast Asia and China. The combined US and Allied air and land forces operated in what became known as the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater.

In 1931, Japan took control of Manchuria, and in 1937, it invaded China. By 1939, Japan controlled the major ports and cities in China, including the capital of Nanking. As Japan moved into northern Indochina, it left China's access to the outside world confined to the Burma Road, which extended from Chungking to Lashio, Burma (also known today as Myanmar).1

With the war in Europe underway, China's European sympathizers could not initially offer assistance to the embattled country, so China appealed to the US for aid. Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US supported China in its war against Japan, supplying the country with materials and manpower.

When the US entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt considered China as a possible base of operations against Japan. He also saw it as an entry point for an invasion of Japan. Ensuring that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Regime remained in place would secure China as an ally in the war against Japan. President Roosevelt thus declared China's defense to be a vital part of America's defense. But China was also a growing foreign entity of considerable power and needed to be dealt with carefully.

Most of the combat in the CBI Theater ended up taking place in Japanese-occupied Burma. Allied forces, primarily Chinese, British, and Indian, engaged Japanese forces in Asia, away from US operations in the Pacific.2 The majority of America's involvement entailed the safe transport of war supplies to China. The Americans worked to secure northern Burma to ensure the flow of supplies to the Nationalist regime.3

The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was indispensable and extensively used in the CBI Theater. Beginning in November 1942, the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) sent their graduates to the CBI Theater to support air and ground combat. Not only did they work as interpreters and translators, but some also saw action on the battlefield. Nisei fought with British forces in southern Burma. Others worked behind enemy lines, using their language skills in combat and helping with radio intercept for units including the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Detachment 101, and the 10th Army Air Force. Some Nisei helped units with guerrilla operations. They worked in small teams, often dropped by parachute behind enemy lines. MIS Nisei also helped to man the Southeast Asia Translation and Interrogation Center (SEATIC) in New Delhi, India, and the Sino Translation and Interrogation Center (SINTIC) in Chungking, China. The MIS created propaganda at the Office of War Information (OWI) in Burma, and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Morale Operations Branch in Calcutta, India. They provided intelligence services at the OSS Detachment 202 in Kunming, OSS Detachment 203 in Chungking, and at Communist China Headquarters in Yenan.4 Also in China, they managed and interrogated thousands of Japanese POWs.

The MIS worked with the American command units, Merrill's Marauders and the MARS Task Force, the only dedicated American ground-fighting forces in the CBI Theater. By mid-1944, MISLS had sent some 150 Nisei graduates to the CBI Theater, where their skills were in demand to help the war effort.5

Burma
Kenji Yasui and Kari Yoneda with the Office of War Information psychological warfare team. Burma. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
L to R: Herbert Miyasaki, Howard Furumoto, Akiji Yoshimura. Northern Burma. May 1, 1944. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Footnotes

1Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stilwell's Mission to China (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1987), pp. 3-7, accessed January 18, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/009/9-1/CMH_Pub_9-1.pdf.

2Clayton R. Newell, "Burma, 1942: The US Army Campaigns of World War II," US Army Center of Military History, last updated October 3, 2003, accessed January 18, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/burma42/burma42.htm.

3"Special Operations in the China-Burma-India Theater," US Army Center of Military History, accessed January 15, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/70-42/70-425.html.

4Ted Tsukiyama, "The Nisei Intelligence War Against Japan," javadc.org, November 19, 2004, accessed on January 15, 2015, http://www.javadc.org/Nisei%20Intelligence%20War%20Against%20Japan.htm.

5James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), p. 127.

ORAL HISTORY CLIPS

NOTE: Can you please place this one somewhere near the paragraph that begins "Most of the combat in the CBI Theater ended up taking place in Japanese-occupied Burma."

967 Edwin Higashino
Starts on Tape Two, between 52 and 54 minute marks
Transcript
EDWIN HIGASHINO: And then when we were out in Burma, the headquarters is here, our intelligence group was always away, maybe mile or mile and a half away from headquarters. And from what we understand, if we get in trouble, we fly out first, because not enough interpreter translators, eh? So we were always away from main headquarters. And send our things... everyday we used to send to our headquarters. Well, we normally... when we finish our translation or interrogation, we used to sign our name, send it to headquarters, so they know it's from us. Until one operation, we found out, while the dumb jeep was going to headquarters, got captured by the Japanese. After that, we never sign our name, we just send it. But everyday we used to send, see.

NOTE: Can you please place this one somewhere near the paragraph that begins "The Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was indispensable and extensively used in the CBI Theater. Beginning in November 1942..."

663 Masaji Inoshita
Starts on Tape Four, between 16 and 18 minute marks
Transcript
MASAJI INOSHITA: And then we got on the ship again and we sailed to Ceylon, which... that's what it used to be called, Ceylon. And then Trincomalee Harbor, we spent almost a week translating documents for the Viceroy of India. But it was old stuff, it wasn't very valuable. And then we proceeded to Calcutta. In Calcutta, there was a big Army base there. But already the soldiers ahead of us had departed for the front line; they were up there to build the Ledo Road, and they were busy. And in this great big camp that must've held 15, 20,000 people, there was 20 of us in control of the camp, that's all that was left out of 20. And pretty soon the British army calls us, we became part of the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Command. We're moved to Delhi, India, into the heart of the city, three blocks from the finest place---of eating places in the world right there in the part of New Delhi. And each one of us is given a manservant. A manservant who wakes you up, brings you your hot tea or coffee as soon as you open your eyes.


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