Chinese Expeditionary Force

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Chinese Expeditionary Force
Reunion of forces at Mongyu.jpg
Reunion of the Chinese Expeditionary Force and the Chinese Army in India (X Force and Y Force).
Active 1942–1945
Country  Republic of China
Branch  Republic of China Army
Type Expeditionary Force
Role Field operations in Burma and India
Disbanded 1945
Sun Li-jen
Du Yuming
Joseph Stilwell
Wei Lihuang

Chinese Expeditionary Force was the name of Chinese Army dispatched to Burma and India to support the Allied efforts against the Imperial Japanese Army during the Japanese invasion and occupation of Burma in the South-East Asian theatre of Second World War.


In July 1937, the Empire of Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China, and soon isolated the country from the rest of the world through conquest. Chinese resistance led by the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in Chongqing were heavily dependent on the supply line through Burma Road, which reopened in October 1940. The United States were shipping materials to support Chinese resistance by late 1941 as part of the Lend-Lease policy.[1] To cut off the Chinese supply line, the Imperial Japanese Army began to plan the invasion of Burma.[2]

In December 1941, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan was immediately followed by the invasion of British colonies of Malaya and Burma. The Second Sino-Japanese War consequently merges with the Second World War, and the China-Burma-India theatre was established with increasing American support.[3] The British Empire however was preoccupied with the war in European theatre, and was unable to divert any resources to protect their colonial interests, particular over British India. To secure Chinese participation in Burma against the Japanese, Britain and China signed a joint agreement in December 1941 on mutual defense of Burma Road. This agreement led to the creation of Sino-British alliance and the Chinese Expeditionary Force.[4][5]

First expedition (March – August 1942)[edit]

The Japanese invasion of Burma began in January 1942, and conducted a series of air raid over Rangoon, where headquarter of the Burma Corps of the British Indian Army was located.[6] To relieve Allied positions in Burma, the Chinese Expeditionary Force (CEF) was formed from the Fifth Army and the New Sixth Army, under the command of American Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell.[7][8] The CEF entered Burma in the middle of February 1942 and engaged with the Imperial Japanese Army at Toungoo. Stilwell arrived at the front on March 22, and the Chinese 200th Division held for twelve days against overpowering Japanese forces before retreating.[9][10] The setbacks against the Japanese Army escalated the tension between Stilwell and Chiang, as many Chinese commanders often refuse to carry out orders from Stilwell without approval from Chiang first.[11] The Japanese soon captured Rangoon in March and advanced toward the Burma Road.[12] The 1st Burma Division of the British Indian Army were encircled by the Japanese at the oil fields in the Battle of Yenangyaung on April 18, and the 38th Division led by Lieutenant General Sun Li-jen attempted to relieve them.[13]

Stilwell retreating from Burma to India, May 1942.

The Allied forces led by the British decided to evacuate from Burma after Lashio fell to the Japanese on April 29. In response, Stilwell ordered general retreat to India. Majority of the Fifth Army led by Du Yuming however attempted to retreat to Yunnan through primitive forests in Northern Burma. The units were decimated by Japanese ambush along with "malaria and dysentery".[14] suffered major losses. The failure of the first expedition led to the closure of the Burma Road. The Chinese war efforts had to rely on the Hump and the construction of the Ledo Road for logistical support.[15]

Second expedition (Early 1943 – March 1945)[edit]

Between 1942 and 1943, many Chinese soldiers were airlifted to from Chongqing to India and trained under American advisors. The X Force was incorporated into the New First Army, supported by American Special Forces in their field operations.[16] From early 1943 to later in the same year, the Chinese Army engaged in several conflicts with the Japanese Army while defending the construction of the Ledo Road. In October 1943, the New First Army managed to defeat the Japanese veteran 18th Division at Hukawng Valley.[17] To secure opening of the Ledo Road, the Chinese Army in India was retitled the Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC) and re-entered Burma in the spring of 1944.[18] The Chinese Army engaged and defeated the Japanese forces during various campaigns in Northern Burma and Western Yunnan and recaptured Myitkyina in August. The Allied success in these campaigns allowed the opening of the Ledo Road. By the time Myityina was captured however, the significance of the China-Burma-India theatre largely diminished due to Allied success in the Pacific theatre.[19]

To coordinate with the X Force, the Chinese Expeditionary Force in Yunnan known as the Y Force under the command of Wei Lihuang crossed the Salween River in April and launched an offensive against the Japanese Army.[20] By January 1945, the Y Force had captured the town of Wanting on the China-Burma border, and restored the control of land route from Burma to China. The first convoy via the newly opened Ledo-Burma Road successfully arrived in Kunming in February 1945.[21]


After returning to China, the American-equipped New First Army and the New Sixth Army went on and fought in the Chinese Civil War. They were both decimated by the Communist forces at the Liaoshen Campaign in Northeast China, and ceased to exist.[22]


Memorial for fallen Chinese soldiers from the Chinese Expeditionary Force was built in Tengchong, Yunnan.[23]



  1. ^ (Eastman, 1986, p. 145)
  2. ^ (Newell, 1995, p. 3)
  3. ^ (Eastman, 1986, p. 280)
  4. ^ (Wax, 2010, p. 17)
  5. ^ (Guyot-Réchard, 2017, p. 64)
  6. ^ (Guyot-Réchard, 2017, p. 61)
  7. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 202)
  8. ^ (Newell, 1995, p. 16)
  9. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 200)
  10. ^ (Newell, 1995, p. 18)
  11. ^ (Newell, 1995, p. 18)
  12. ^ (Newell, 1995, p. 16)
  13. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 203)
  14. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 205)
  15. ^ (MacGarrigle, 1996, p. 4)
  16. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 253)
  17. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 254)
  18. ^ (Dunlop, 2015, p. 3)
  19. ^ (MacGarrigle, 1996, p. 8)
  20. ^ (Taylor, 2009, p. 268)
  21. ^ (MacGarrigle, 1996, p. 8-10)
  22. ^ (Eastman, 1986, p. 296)
  23. ^ Tatlow, Didi Kirsten (October 19, 2011). "China Honors Its War Dead, but Quietly". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2017. 


  • Dunlop, Graham (2015). Military Economics, Culture and Logistics in the Burma Campaign, 1942–1945. New York: Routledge. 
  • Eastman, Lloyd E. (1986). The Nationalist Era in China, 1927–1949. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521385911. 
  • Guyot-Réchard, Bérénice (2017). Shadow States: India, China and the Himalayas, 1910–1962. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781316796894. 
  • MacGarrigle, George L. (1996). Central Burma. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History. 
  • Newell, C. R. (1995). Burma, 1942. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History. 
  • Taylor, Jay (2009). The Generalissimo. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674033388. 
  • Wax, Andrew (2010). Born in the Jungles of Burma. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 1443824550.