Historical Record of the Engineer Section
Construction Service - Services of Supply
United States Army Forces in China-Burma-India
and United States Forces in India-Burma Theater
March 1942 - August 1944

  With the fall of RANGOON on 8 March 1942 the Japanese had accomplished their primary objective in BURMA by closing the BURMA ROAD. It became imperative that a new and practical supply line to CHUNGKING be opened if the UNITED STATES was going to fulfill the pledges to CHINA.

  All possible land routes to China were carefully considered. The north Afgan and Trans-Iranian routes, both utilizing Russia's Central Asian Railway, were overlong. Besides, they involved diplomatic negotiations too delicate to undertake - for Russia was not anxious to jeopardize the state of neutrality existing between her and Japan. The Manipur Road was ruled out for two reasons: part of Burma in which the Japanese were fast becoming strongly entrenched must be retaken before the road could be extended to the Chinese border; and the British had designated it as a military service road only, not open for the transportation of supplies.

  By April 1942, it was apparent that the only way to break through the enemy encirclement of central China was through the Hukawng and Mogaung Valleys of northern Burma. From Assam two potential routes originated at the village of Ledo, at the end of the Dibru-Sadiya Railway. The first of these was the Ledo Truck Route on which the British had begun work in February, 1942. This road was planned to follow the south bank of the Noa Dihing River through Kumki and Chaukan Pass to Langtao, approximately 15 miles below Putao (Fort Hertz). From here it could either take a course eastward into China or southward to Myitkyina, eventually linking with the Burma Road.

  The second route stemming from Ledo was called the Hukawng Valley "Peep Route" and later was officially known as the Ledo Road. Originally, it was intended that a jeep road be carved through the jungles, a road that could later be widened for two-way traffic and provide a potential railroad bed. A survey of this rugged, mountainous terrain had been made some years before. At this time Mr. Tseng Yang-fu, Director-General of the Yunnan-Burma Railway, was credited with reviving interest in the project. The route was planned to cross the Patkai Mountains to Shingbwiyang in northern Burma. From there it would head south to Maingkwan, Kamaing, Mogaung, and Myitkyina where an existing road connected with the Burma Road at Wanting on the China-Burma border.

  Chiang Kai-shek ordered the development of this route, and the approval of the Burmese and Indian authorities was secured. Major Russell in his report to Brig. General Magruder on 3 April 1942 stated that, viewing the project in the most optimistic light, the road as an all-weather supply route could not possibly be completed earlier than eight months to one year from the time it was begun. This prediction was made on the assumption that the monsoon would not retard the progress of construction, a possibility open to debate. At that time the distance between Ledo and Shingbwiyang was estimated at 70 miles. This was a serious miscalculation. The road eventually reached Shingbwiyang at the original mile mark of 117.

  Col. Russell A. Osmun, GSC, Lt. Col. Fabius H. Kohloss, CE, and three other officers conducted a route survey in April, 1942, at the request of General Wheeler. They reported that the British had abandoned the so-called Ledo Truck Route scheduled to go through Fort Hertz. All future efforts of Allied interests would be expended on the "Peep" or Hukawng Valley Route.

  The Chinese, not yet driven from northern Burma, had agreed to undertake construction of the road at Mogaung, working northward. The British, employing Indian laborers, would push the road from the south with the intention of meeting the Chinese halfway. But the promised Chinese labor never materialized. Before long the penetration of the Japanese into northern Burma ruled out any possibility of work being started at Mogaung. Meanwhile, the monsoon had arrived. The British were having great difficulty in getting rations and supplies to workers a few miles north of Ledo. They planned to use river boats and elephants to supplement more prosaic methods of transportation.

  In October General Stilwell and General Wavell met and decided that construction of the Ledo Road was to be solely an American responsibility, subject to the approval of the Generalissimo for the use of road-building machinery from Lend-Lease stores.

  On November 5, 1942, Capt. Rudolph W. Strobel, CE, USA, was ordered to Chungking to submit a plan for the construction of the Ledo Road for General Stilwell's approval. On that same day Col. John Arrowsmith, Maj. Robert Hirschfield, and Maj. James Sloat were ordered to Assam for the purpose of establishing a base at Ledo and to begin work on a road to Shingbwiyang.

  In mid-December at a joint British-American Chiefs of Staff meeting General Stilwell emphasized the fact that the Generalissimo was extremely anxious to open up communications between India and China. Toward this end Chungking felt that an effort should be made to initiate an advance upon Mogaung and Myitkyina from the Hukawng Valley. Coupled with a Chinese thrust from Yunnan toward Bhamo and possibly Lashio, this advance would be a concerted move toward opening a road.

  By now the economic situation in China had become acute. Serious inflation had already occurred. Throughout the country there existed a discouraging shortage of arms and ammunition. This very shortage made the undertaking of any offensive action a serious affair. But the situation could be improved only by forging a supply route through from the outside world, and the Chinese expressed themselves as willing to risk the prodigious hazards involved in an attempt to do this.

  The British were of the opinion that the situation hinged on the answer to one question: Could a sizable force be maintained at Myitkyina during the monsoon rains? If so, then what was the earliest possible date by which an all-weather road could be pushed through to Myitkyina? General Wheeler, Chief of the American Services of Supply, was engaged at that time in making a survey of conditions in Ledo, and he would be expected to answer this last question upon his return.

  Having had experience with malaria and other diseases endemic to the monsoon-drenched jungles, the British were also interested in knowing if the Americans had made preparations for maintaining health among the large number of troops scheduled to arrive in Assam during the following March. General Stilwell was able to report that he expected some 1,400 medical personnel along with the engineers and sorely-needed road equipment. These medical units were estimated to be one general hospital and three evacuation hospitals.

  Three days later at another meeting the British had more to say about the building of the Ledo Road. Previous experience in road-building in the same area had convinced them that during the month of March only two effective working days weekly could be anticipated. They predicted that from April until the end of the monsoon in October all work would be halted because of the inordinate rainfall and the loss of efficiency among personnel due to sickness.

  The British believed that an all-weather road to Shingbwiyang could not possibly be constructed before the 1943 rains. Indeed, they doubted whether the American engineers would get as far as Pangsau Pass although, they admitted, these estimates were made without knowledge of the remarkable performance of modern American machinery. Lt. General N. M. S. Irwin said, "It will probably not be possible to make an all-weather motorable road through to Shingbwiyang before January or February 1944." He also felt certain that it was out of the question to get an all-weather route to Myitkyina by the end of the "next cold weather" (around March, 1944). In the light of later developments, it is interesting to note how accurate were his predictions.

  The 45th U.S. Engineer Regiment (GS) and the 823rd Engineer Aviation Battalion were assigned to Ledo for road construction operations, and Col. Arrowsmith was appointed Commanding Officer of Base Section Three in addition to his other duties, effective December, 1942.

  The British announced that the ITA (Indian Tea Association) would provide U.S. engineers with 8000 laborers for general road construction work. The use of Chinese coolies on the road had been considered and rejected, but in December agreements were reached to send an engineer regiment from China to help build the road. This regiment, scheduled to arrive early in January, was to be trained in American methods of construction.

  American engineers knew little about the geographic and climatic conditions that would be encountered in northern Assam. The boundaries of Base Section Three were clearly defined as follows.

  "Commencing at intersection of Burma border with Bay of Bengal, thence N along the Burma border to its intersection with the 95°25' E meridian, thence due N along the 95°25' E meridian to intersection with N. Digboi Creek (S of Chopatoli), thence NE following N. Digboi Creek to Digboi (25.7 - 27.4 - Digboi inclusive to Base Section No. 3), continuing NE along the unmetalled road to intersection with the 95°45' E meridian, thence due N along the 95°45' E meridian to Tibet, thence E along the Tibet border to E boundary of Burma, thence S along the E boundary of Burma to Bay of Bengal, thence along Burma coastline to starting point."

  The Headquarters area of Base Section Three was located in the northeastern tip of the Brahmaputra Valley. Here the Burhi Dihing Rover flows from the jungle-covered slopes of the Patkai Mountains which merge at this point with the Naga Hills. These hills, named after the primitive tribes which inhabit them, rise in ranges from 100 to 2000 feet south of the village of Ledo.

  The road would extend from the end of the existing road at Ledo (elevation 500'L) and over five ranges of the Patkais which rise to 4500' to Shingbwiyang (elevation 700'). The total distance of the mountain section of the road was now estimated to be 130 miles. The section was crossed by a steep, narrow trail over which thousands of refugees had fled into India during the retreat from Burma. Only native porters were able to negotiate the trail with any facility. However, it was to be used as a general alignment of the roadway with necessary deviations to be determined later by forward survey units.

  Although its mean temperature is moderate, Assam has periods of penetrating cold during the winter months, and is exceptionally humid the year round. During the height of the monsoon the heat is intense. Violent tropical showers and electrical storms occur frequently. The yearly rainfall ranging from a 140-inch average in the hills to 110 to 120 inches in the Ledo area. Monthly rainfall, computed by inches for the year of 1945 were as follows.

2.42 1.85 11.85 9.25 10.33 17.64 
19.04 21.7 13.84 3.29 .29 .21 

  In December the only machinery available for road building was the organizational equipment of the engineer units assigned to the Base. Plans carried to General Stilwell at Chungking contained a list of additional equipment with which the project must be implemented. This list had been taken to the United States by Lt. Col. H. Case Willcox, CE, who was to expedite shipment to the Theater.

  By the first of January, 1943 the 823rd Engineers, picking up where the British left off on the route toward Fort Hertz, had cut five miles of point on the Road. Point operations moved ahead more rapidly when a substantial amount of the battalion's heavy equipment arrived during the month of January. In addition to working the Road head, operators were also engaged in widening and grading. The 45th Engineers built the main Road from Mile 0 to Mile 4, and were busy operating gravel pits and crushers, logging, transporting gasoline and supplying rations to labor camps.

  The Road head was pushed at the expense of access road and maintenance operations, for it was deemed advisable to make as much forward progress as possible before the monsoon rains. Rough jungle terrain and the instability of the soil - which is a loose, sandy loam covered by a thin layer of humus - limited the work to one Road head. But whenever feasible, additional headings were made by moving equipment forward along stream beds and trails.

  With the growing need for men to clear the trace and to act as porters, the Americans took over the groups of Indian laborers then working for the CRE (Corps of Royal Engineers). Request for additional workers were made to the British authorities. Native labor was much in demand for construction and malarial control work, clearing and widening the Road, unloading goods and storing them in warehouses.

  These laborers came from all over India, and were classified as follows: Indian Pioneer Units which were military organizations; Indian Tea Association units (ITA); Indian State Labor Units (ISLU); Civilian Transport Corps; Chinese Service Regiment (CSR); local tea-garden and muster-roll workers and contract labor.

  At first these groups were not registered in the Base, and were responsible only to various organizations fortunate enough to get their services. It was a case of "catch-as-catch-can." Any organization lucky and quick enough to "acquire" laborers got its work done.

  The majority of these workers were adept in the use of the khodalie or hoe, and the dah, a knife with a long straight blade. In addition to daily wages, which varied from 11 annas for the Pioneers to Rs.2/4 for the ITA groups, they were given rations and quarters with the exception of the muster-roll labor. Although their labor accomplished a useful purpose, it was never wholly satisfactory. Most of the men were untrained, and the term of their contract ran only from three to six months. At the expiration of these contracts the men usually returned to their homes, thereby necessitating the hiring of new and untrained workers. Often labor contracts stipulated that men be stationed at high altitudes to which they were accustomed, as in the case of the Nepalese porters from Darjooling. This created a problem in placing the workers conveniently where they could be most useful.

  In the beginning equipment used on the Road consisted of organizational equipment of the 45th Engineer Regiment and that belonging to the 823rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, and road rollers, graders, rock crushers, air compressors, and small tools available from CDS (China Defense Supply) stocks. This was later augmented by equipment brought in by other units.

  By the 20th of January 1943 road construction was being carried on 24 hours of the day. The Americans had undertaken to build a "metalled, two-way highway" to join the Burma Road, and there was work to be done.

  The average progress was three-quarters of a mile per day of an all-weather, single-track roadway with passing places. Constantly delaying the engineers was the shortage of equipment. Only a very small stock of repair parts was available. Experience during the light rains that normally occur around Christmas had convinced the engineers that all machines would be out of operation with the advent of the monsoon.

  Landslides up the Road often marooned trucks from one to two weeks. Bridges washed out, and porters were hired to carry cargo across the swollen streams to trucks waiting on the other side to move supplies forward.

  During the month of February the Road head was pushed with gratifying speed. On February 28th at 1700 hours the lead bulldozer "broke the tape" and, as Col. Ferdinand J. Tate of the 823rd Engineer Aviation Battalion fired his revolver, crossed at mile 43.3 into enemy-held BURMA. A formal Retreat parade with flags and bugles was held by the officers and enlisted men of those engineering units stationed at this point.

  By now the Road head was beyond practicable supply distances. Equipment was put to work on the mountain section beyond mile 34 to widen the Road and slope the banks. This procedure continued until a porter system could be organized to carry fuel and oil to leading equipment.

  In March the 10th Chinese Regiment was flown into India from Kunming and immediately put to work building jeep trails, constructing log bridges, and assisting American engineers on the Road. Also at this time a large number of new organizations arrived in the Base transported overseas by the U.S.S. Monticello which docked at Bombay on the third day of the month. Among these were the medical units of which General Stilwell had spoken to the British, units badly needed to maintain the health of troops which was being threatened by the approaching malaria season. With these came one engineer depot company, one quartermaster truck regiment, one engineer maintenance company, and three ordnance units, all of which were vitally important to pushing road operations forward.

  By the end of March the lead bulldozer had reached approximately mile 47.3. During this month heavy rains impeded work on the Road. Little progress forward was made because work crews were forced to concentrate on maintaining that portion of Road already cut, and to keep it open for traffic. A large Japanese scouting party was reported beyond the point of the Road on March 31st. Patrols were sent out by the 823rd Engineers. Encountering none of the enemy, these patrols returned in a few weeks.

  The first week of April found work on the Road head temporarily halted, because of severe damage caused by the rains. The 823rd Engineers, who had been working on the point, directed their energies to grading and widening operations. Various detachments of the 330th Engineer Regiment arrived in Ledo during April and May. From then on these engineers were closely allied to the progress of the Road. One company was engaged in point operations, others were widening and grading the road, installing culverts, and operating quarries.

  On the 11th of May the 823rd Engineers stopped all widening operations and the entire organization was employed in gravelling the road until the end of the month. Because of the weather work on the Road head was at a stand-still. From that time on men from the 823rd maintained the Road from mile 4 to mile 37. The inclement weather and constant need for maintaining the existing Road prevented any progress in pushing the point until July.

  At a meeting between General Stilwell and Churchill at this time the Prime Minister asked if the General accepted the estimate that the Burma Road could not be built before the middle of 1945. General Stilwell replied that he believed the Burma Road should be operating by the middle of 1944.

  When the Ledo Road project was first considered, many thought it would be impossible because of the region's high malarial rate. This disease is hyperendemic throughout the area, and is predominantly of the malignant tertain variety, with cerebral malaria frequent and blackwater fever not uncommon. Nevertheless, a control program was instituted by two Malaria Control Units activated in Base Section #3 from local hospital personnel. This control proved so effective that throughout the year the malarial rate never exceeded six percent.

  The program involved two major regions: the Base Area extending to the Tirap River bridge, and the forward area. There were two problems in each region: mosquito control and the protection of personnel from the bites of infected mosquitoes. Personnel protection was handled by education and discipline in the use of bed-nets, protective clothing, and mosquito repellants. Units were held responsible for their own spraying programs, and for malaria discipline within their own organization. Many held formations at dusk, during which all personnel tucked trousers into their socks, rolled sleeves to the wrist, and applied repellent to the face, neck and hands.

  These formations came to be known as "Skat Calls." Organized mosquito-proofing of domestic quarters with burlap and netting was started in September 1943.

  A ground reconnaissance revealed a great number of swamps, seepages, foothill rivulets, nullahs, and small streams. With the help of the 8th Antimalaria Unit of the India Army, drainage projects were begun. The area to be controlled was divided into zones, each with an enlisted supervisor to see that all ditching and oiling of streams, seepage spots and other breeding waters were systematically accomplished. Labor gangs were kept constantly busy keeping ditches open and clean, free of grass and debris. A similar program was undertaken in the forward areas, although in general the American troops in the hills had a lower malarial rate that those in the Base because there were no large groups of natives to act as sources of infection.

  During the month of June there was no progress on the Road head. Personnel of the 330th Engineers on Special Duty reported to the Base and were busy erecting camps, getting equipment unloaded and ready to operate. On the 25th of June Col. Arrowsmith was promoted to Brigadier General. The Ledo Road program had been retarded about three months by the diversion of engineer troops and equipment from Road work to expedite Airfield construction in Assam, to handle air-freight and to unload railway cars. All of this work involved the constant maintenance of access roads. It was felt that only by an immediate shipment of additional engineer troops to Base Section #3 could this loss of time be regained.

  Some progress on the Road was made in July, and by the end of the month the lead bulldozer was at mile 49.75. Experience had shown that supply by pack animal and porter was not feasible. The Chinese infantry forces in the advance areas must be supplied by air-drop until the Road reached Shingbwiyang. Despite the rains, crews engaged in pushing the Road head moved forward. Damage caused by the torrential showers was so widespread that all traffic was halted on the advance sections of the Road.

  By the middle of August the lead bulldozer had reached mile 50.7. Widening and grading operations were fairly complete to mile 45.5 and metalling had been finished to mile 38.7. Foot troops were able to move up the Road as far as mile 50.7. The Road was negotiable for jeeps during dry weather to mile 49.0, during wet weather only to mile 42. During this month all Road maintenance and improvement operations were turned over to other organizations in order that the 330th Engineers might push the point with all possible speed. On the 28th of August three bulldozers were started over the Refugee Trail from Nawng Yang (mile 47.25) in an effort to reach Namlip (mile 70.5). The purpose of this was to start additional points working in both directions from Namlip.

  On 1 September personnel of the 823rd Engineer Aviation Battalion began work on a landing strip adjacent to the Road at approximately mile 7.5, a project undertaken for the Ledo Sector, Combat Headquarters. By the 5th of September the lead bulldozer had reached mile 53.04. Widening and grading operations had advanced to mile 47 and metalling was complete to mile 42.28. Culverts had been installed to mile 47.40. During this month three new organizations whose activities were directly concerned with pushing the Road arrived in the Base. These were: the 349th Engineer Aviation Battalion, the 1883rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, and the 382nd Engineer Aviation Battalion. The 900th Engineer Company A/B, which also came during September, was put to work early in November developing an airfield at Shingbwiyang. On November 15th the 900th Engineers were assigned to the 10th Air Force and were no longer under the jurisdiction of Services of Supply.

  All through September incessant rains continued to hold up progress on the Road. The supply situation became acute. Due to a shortage of porters, and because the trace was impassable to vehicles at times forward units were in danger of running out of rations and fuel. Point progress slowed perceptibly. Men were wet all the time. Dozers were lost over banks when trace shelves gave way. Dozers were buried in slides. Fortunately, no personnel was seriously injured. The movement of replacing dozers was retarded by slides and clearing operations. Rainfall for the month in this section of the Road was 23.55 inches. Approximately 7.8 miles of dozer trace were cut.

  In October General Arrowsmith was relieved of duty and on the 17th of the month Col. Lewis A. Pick was appointed Commanding Officer of Base Section #3 and assumed command of all the SOS forces at work on the Ledo Road. Col. Pick had a sound engineering background. Prior to coming to this theater he was District Engineer for the Missouri River Division, Omaha, Nebraska. He was the originator of the "Pick Plan" for Missouri River flood control. The dry season was at hand, but it would be interesting to see how he applied his theories on to the flood waters of the monsoon which would be on him within a few months.

  On October 5th the three bulldozers that started from Nawng Yang on the 28th of August reached Namlip over the Refugee Trail. The successful completion of this extremely difficult task aided materially in achieving the ultimate goal. By the 22nd of the month the rains were finally over, and the point advanced with speed. The end of the month found the lead bulldozer at mile 60.14. There was, however, no progress in road operations such as widening and clearing.

  Meanwhile, civilian experts in Washington had made a detailed study of the possibility of a number of 4" and 6" pipelines in the CBI Theater with two purposes in mind: first, to increase Line of Communications tonnage to Assam by pipeline delivery of gasoline from Calcutta to Assam; secondly, for the delivery of aviation gasoline from India to China. When it became apparent that all of Burma could not possibly be recaptured in 1944, pipeline plans were developed for a 4" invasion weight line from Upper Assam to Kunming over the Hump via Fort Hertz. But by November 1943 the tactical situation appeared to indicate that military operations would clear the line Mogaung-Myitkyina during the spring of 1944. The Fort Hertz pipeline route was abandoned in favor of a route along the Ledo Road. During this month the 76th Engineer Light Ponton Company arrived in the Base and undertook pipeline construction with the assistance of Indian laborers.

  Three other organizations, all contributing largely to the forward progress of the Road, also arrived at this time: the 45th QM Regiment, the 209th Engineer Combat Battalion, and the 1905th Engineer Aviation Battalion. The 30th of November found the lead bulldozer at mile 82.53, approximately twelve miles south of Namlip. Initial clearing of trace, for the width of the roadway only, was completed to mile 75. Dry weather favored road construction and point operations. The lead bulldozer moved ahead so rapidly that the 2nd Battalion of the 330th Engineers fell in behind the point companies for trace improvement, widening and road clearance. On the 15th of November a new trace was started at mile 82 to eliminate excess grades. Point progress averaged three-quarters of a mile daily during this month.

  Meanwhile, Maj. Hirshfield, Executive Officer of Base Section #3, had been promoted to Lt. Col. On the 28th of November he was assigned the job of establishing a sub-depot at Shingbwiyang. His orders from Col. Pick were to set up a depot which would be ready to handle the first convoy of trucks that would follow on the heels of the engineers with supplies for General Stilwell's troops, now battering Japanese resistance in the Hukawng Valley.

  With Lt. Jerrod G. Blanchard and Lt. George A. Smith to assist him, Col. Hirshfield went forward. The sixteen enlisted men assigned to them began making detailed maps of the entire Shingbwiyang area in order that appropriate sites might be located for the organization that would come later. They were entirely dependent upon air-drop for supplies. By the 27th of December when the lead bulldozer broke through the last stretch of mountainous jungles into Shingbwiyang, the depot was already taking concrete form. Streets were cut, camp areas cleared. When, sometime in January, the first convoy pulled into Shingbwiyang after the long haul up the Ledo Road, advanced parties of the various depot units were ready to handle supplies.

  The weather during December 1943 continued to be excellent. Dozers worked day and night, and by the middle of the month the daily average of trace cut was almost one mile. By year's end there were four airfields used in conjunction with the Road. These fields played an important part in the forward movement of supplies and the evacuation of patients from combat zones. On Thanksgiving Day 1943, the first patient had been evacuated from Burma by plane to an American hospital in Assam.

  On the 13th of December completion of the Kumkidu airstrip located just beyond Tagap (mile 88.8) was begun. A break of 50 feet was filled and packed to extend the landing strip from 800 to 1200 feet. The entire strip was then graded. On the 16th of December the 382nd Engineers began working on a landing strip in Ledo, located at approximately mile -1.75. Twelve days later the first "cub" plane landed on this field, and from then on it was in constant use, later being extended and widened to accommodate transport planes. At Shingbwiyang, the 900th Engineer Company A/D had completed work on the field to a point where transports were able to land in large numbers.

  On the 18th of December mile 106 was reached. Supplies were being carried forward by truck and jeep. The point was rapidly approaching dangerous territory, and at certain spots equipment could be seen by the enemy from the Hukawng Valley ahead. Extra precautions were taken, and the engineers maintain a constant vigil as the work went on. Dozers were pushed over the Refugee Trail to Salt Springs at mile 112, and to Shingbwiyang at mile 117 in order to form two points working northward and one working south. (Subsequently, cut-offs reduced the number of miles between Ledo and Shingbwiyang to 102, and periodically other mile points along the Road were altered for the same reason).

  December 27th found the immediate objective accomplished: the building of a military road to Shingbwiyang, four days prior to the anticipated date of 1 January 1944. Two dozers, working north and south, closed the remaining gap of 2700 feet at 1121 hours, meeting at mile 114.5 to link Shingbwiyang with Ledo.

  In fifty-seven days 54 miles of trace had been cut. During the next three weeks grading operations were carried up to mile 110. Final grading was completed to mile 74. Cut-offs, additional bridging and improved base and sub-base were keeping maintenance troops busy. These operations were to insure a better road, approximately 27 feet wide, shoulder to shoulder, with a maximum grade of 10 percent and a minimum radius curvature of 50 feet.

  Extension of the Road head was resumed 26 January 1944. By the close of the month construction of the 200-foot wide flight strip at Shingbwiyang was transferred to the road forces. Equipment for clearing and metalling the runway had been moved in, and the strip was now usable for a distance of 3000 ft. Another 1500 feet would be added before it was finished. Almost 1500 native laborers were employed in developing this flight strip which was considered vitally important as a transfer point for road and airborne traffic. In an interview at New Delhi on 30 January 1944 General Stilwell praised the Ledo engineers for "continuing to do the impossible."

  It had now been decided that the Road would follow the existing jeep trail from Shingbwiyang to Ningham Sakan, 15 miles southeast. Approximately halfway to Ningham Sakan the Road would cross the Tasik River where several million yards of gravel would be available for use on the Road to the north. Despite delays due to rainfall averaging 0.3 inches daily for the last week of January, Col. Pick felt certain that a two-way gravel road would be completed to Shingbwiyang by February 15, as promised to General Stilwell.

  Engineer Division No. 2 charged with the construction, operation and maintenance of pipeline in Base Section Three (besides various operations in Advance Section No. 2) was activated 1 February 1944. Col. Pick was appointed Division Engineer, Engineer Division No. 2, in addition to his duties as Commanding Officer of Base Section No. 3, and his headquarters were set up at Ledo. Engineer District No. 22 under the supervision of Col. Kenneth MacIsaac, was also activated on 1 February 1944, and charged with the construction, operation and maintenance of pipeline projects assigned to Engineer Division No. 2.

  As the Chinese forces slowly pushed the Japs farther south in the Hukawng Valley the Road crept forward. By the 15th of March convoys were moving regularly between Ledo and Shingbwiyang. The sub-grade had been completed for approximately 105 miles, and 78 miles of Road had been metalled. The survey party was beyond Yupang Ga, east of the Tarung River, and a much needed flight strip had been built under enemy fire at Taipha Ga. Forward in the Hukawng Valley two jeep trails had been built for the use of combat troops.

  At Shingbwiyang the 497th Engineer Heavy Shop Company, comprised mostly of former employees of the Caterpillar Company, had established "Little Peoria." As a typical example of the subsidiary units that made progress on the Road possible, it is interesting to consider the activities of this shop briefly. Its primary function was to repair and rebuild the heavy machinery used by the engineers. The men of this organization displayed remarkable ingenuity in carrying out their duties. Since no concrete was available, they set their heavy precision machine tools on wood beams, a method never attempted in the States. The sheet metal buildings in which the outfit was housed has to be transported up the Ledo Road by truck. Having no foundry and being without metal stock, the men built up worn parts by welding, then turned down the parts to standard size on machine tools. By one such skilful operation, a vital bearing required on a D-7 bulldozer was made from a salvaged D-4 bearing. In less than three months the salvage section of this unit retrieved 14,000 parts secured from "cats," graders, tractors, and tanks which had been wrecked or junked along the Road.

  The first week in April found the Hukawng Valley opened beyond Shadazup, mile 192, as a result of successful tactical operations. Trucks were now able to travel as far south as Walawbum along the combat trail which led from Ningham Sakan to Tingkawk Sakan. The survey party and lead bulldozer were approximately 50 miles southeast of Shingbwiyang at mile 133. Final grading had been completed to mile 124, and the Road had been metalled to mile 96, and from 104 to 120. The new Road trace followed the higher slopes of the Tanai Valley to the east of the combat supply road. Meanwhile, a flight strip had been built at Walawbum. Work continued on the elimination of sharp curves and replacement of one-way bridges in the first section of the Road where rains had caused bad slides which temporarily halted Road traffic.

  Lt. Col. Donald L. Jarrett and Lt. Col. Warren George were in charge of road maintenance in the Patkai Mountain sector of the Road. It was there that the greatest percentage of landslides, bridge and culvert washouts occurred to bedevil the lives of the engineers. This was no ordinary maintenance job. Bridges were constantly succumbing to the fury of flash floods. The mountain streams had gradients varying from 3 inches per 100 feet to 12 inches per 100 feet. During a cloudburst they rose as much as 3 feet in 15 minutes. The current in these streams was from 10 to 12 miles per hour in the dry season, and from 15 to 18 miles per hour during the rains. Monsoon storms brought walls of water and tons of debris hurtling downstream against bridge pilings. Logs 60 to 80 feet in length were tossed about like straws in the furious current.

  At many places sheer walls of earth and rock towered over the roadway. At these points slides are an ever-present menace. Worst of those was the Tincha rockslide. Here rocks weighing as much as 12,000 pounds had thundered down into the roadbed. Before this slide was finally brought under control it had blocked the Road more than 30 times in two months.

  By May 5th convoys were moving south from Shingbwiyang over the newly metalled "Refugee Trail" or combat road into Tingkawk Sakan. The main road had been metalled to mile 109, closing the uncompleted gap around mile 100. Final grading had been completed through mile 148; and the lead bulldozer was five miles south of Shadazup at mile 184; three miles north of the survey party. An all-weather airfield was under construction at Tingkawk Sakan, as the advancing tactical troops had already outgrown the airfields at Taipah Ga and Walawbum.

  Road Headquarters had moved to Tingkawk Sakan where an advance sub-base had been established by Services of Supply. In contrast to the nine foot trail, devoid of drainage, used by the Japanese prior to their being pushed out of the valley, the new road south of Shingbwiyang averaged more than 40 feet in width, shoulder to shoulder. It was possible to average better than 20 miles per hour for the first 100 miles of the completed roadway.

  General Pick (Pick was promoted to Brig. Gen. 9 March 1944 with rank from 21 February 1944) was making every effort to push the completed road across the valley to Tingkawk Sakan, although the imminent monsoon rains must inevitably create innumerable obstacles to construction progress. However, the 1880th Engineer Aviation Battalion was expected in the theater late in May, and the personnel of this organization would help greatly in reducing the strain on the already over-taxed road-building and maintenance crews.

  During the month of May, 1944, a planning conference on the Ledo Road took place. The new project under discussion was the construction of the Road from Myitkyina to Wanting. The question of routes for this section of the Road had been carefully gone into by Maj. General T. G. Hearn several months before. General Hearn made it clear that immediately upon occupation of northern Burma by Allied forces, the establishment of land communications with Assam would be the first consideration and of primary importance. The existing Burma Road, with certain modifications between Kunming and the Salween River, would naturally be one of the main links in the line. It would, of course, be necessary to extend the Burma Road to meet that being built from Assam.

  There were two possible routes for this purpose: one via Lungling, Tengchung, and Myitkyina; the other through Lungling, Bhamo, and Myitkyina. Of these two routes the first was considered preferable from both the standpoint of distance involved and the time that would be required to build it. The distance from Lungling to Myitkyina was 200 miles, and it was reported that the enemy had completed a two-track road from Lungling to Tengchung, and a one-track road extending southeast from Myitkyina.

  The second route was approximately 344 miles in length. According to information received, the section from Mu-se to Myitkyina was a narrow, one-track unimproved road. Although of less importance then the route via Tengchung, this road could very easily become a principal artery connecting Myitkyina and Bhamo with the Mitu Road, the old Yunnan-Burma railroad right-of-way.

  The Mitu Road would be highly useful as a line of communication for the military operations of the Chinese Expeditionary Forces and to supplement the Burma Road from the railroad at Lashio, from the navigation head at Bhamo, and from the Ledo Road at Myitkyina.

  Originally the Chinese were set up for the job of building a road from Myitkyina to Wanting, but by May, 1944, it seemed doubtful if they would undertake it. It was planned that the Road, when built, would be placed in operation before the completion of the bridges. By using the ponton equipment already in the theater, ferries could be established where streams were not fordable. However, ferries could not operate during the rainy season on the Salween, Irrawaddy, or Mekong Rivers as the rises, in some instances, amounted to as much as 90 feet.

  Because of the tactical situation, the units engaged in construction on the Road were being called upon to maintain supply roads to the units actively engaged with the Japanese. They were also building airfields in the advance areas. Four battalions were required to keep open the road between Ledo and Shingbwiyang. General Wheeler had stated that an engineer battalion could build approximately three-quarters of a mile of road a day. It is conceded that it was possible to construct a trail that would get supplies through at that rate, or to break point at that speed under favorable conditions. But it had been found through experience that 0.2 miles per day was a reasonable figure for building a finished road. However the problem of constructing a road between Myitkyina and Wanting would not have to be coped with before the fall of Myitkyina.

  By June the rainfall, averaging almost one inch per day, was seriously impeding the forward progress of the Road. Convoys were still able to get through to Shingbwiyang from Ledo, although slides which temporarily halted traffic were still frequent. The supply trail south from Shingbwiyang through Walawbum was flooded in many sections, and negotiable only with great difficulty.

  Final grading now extended to Tingkawk Sakan (mile 164) and metalling was completed almost to the Tawang River (mile 138). A critical shortage in the supply of gravel existed. The swift-flowing, dangerous waters of the Tanai River, whose bed provided the only supply of gravel for the forward areas, halted all gravelling operations at the river until the monsoon floods had abated. Due to rainfall averaging 1.27 inches per day, the Road across the flats north of Tingkawk Sakan was blocked. Corduroy and planking were placed on shoulders to open the road. Traffic was held at Namyang four days of the week ending June 24th. Still, during June 1944, 5200 tons of supplies were convoyed up the Road to the supply head at Shingbwiyang.

  A month later the situation was much the same. The tactical situation and heavy rains had held the survey party and road trace at a standstill. From the 1st to the 25th of June, 37 inches of rain had fallen at Tagap, 34½ inches at Shingbwiyang, 22 inches at Loglai, and 14½ at Tingkawk Sakan. More than 15 inches fell at Shingbwiyang during a three day period. Maintenance of roads and bridges was now the major problem.

  Final clearing and grading operations had, toward the end of July, advanced to mile 165, and surfacing had been extended 7 miles during the month. The runway at Shingbwiyang was being lengthened, and the Tingkawk Sakan and Warazup airstrips were each 75 percent complete including construction of operating facilities.

  The condition of flood that existed on the Combat Road, north and south of Maingkwan, necessitated the evacuation of ordnance vehicles and engineer equipment from that area. Gravelling had been delayed on the main road because of the softness of the road bed. This condition was being met by placing corduroy and planking from the gravel head at mile 154 to the Namphyek River at mile 158. Bridges over the Tasik River (mile 108), Takyet River (mile 116) and Lamung River (mile 143) were undermined, and crews were put to work reconstructing them. The washed-out foundation cribbing on the steel bridges over the Tarung and Tawang Rivers was being rebuilt.

  By the 4th of August, the day following the fall of Myitkyina, the Road was open from Ledo to the Tanai River (mile 145.98) and from Tingkawk Sakan (mile 164) to Warazup (mile 191) with three ponton ferries operating in the latter stretch. Very little progress had been made in gravelling the Road because of the condition of the sub-grade. The construction of the corduroy timber section north of the Namphyek River (mile 158) had progressed satisfactorily. The 10th Chinese Engineer Regiment had laid six miles of corduroy, and spiked three miles.

  A causeway, for one-way traffic, was being constructed across the marsh land between mile points 151.65 and 153.5. Piling had been driven for 1.2 miles, and approximately three-quarters of a mile of deck was in place.

  The Takyet (mile 115) and Lamung (mile 143) timber bridges had been reconstructed, and one-way traffic bridges had been built at the Tasik (mile 108) and Hkawnglaw Rivers (mile 175). The H-29 bridge over the Tarung River had been overhauled and strengthened, and reconstruction of the Tawang River bridge was 80 percent complete. After an unusually heavy rain during the latter part of July, the Tawang rose ten feet in ten hours without seriously interrupting operations. Every effort would be made during August to open the Road from Ledo to Warazup.

 Click here to visit The Ledo Road website
Historical Record of the Engineer Section
Construction Service - Services of Supply
United States Army Forces in China-Burma-India
and United States Forces in India-Burma Theater

Document shared by Graham Thompson

Copyright © 2010 Carl W. Weidenburner