Stilwell's conflict with Chiang

Sep 2016
48
France
I'm only beginning to read a bit about the Chinese front during WW2 and there seems to be very different narratives.

From an American point of view, which we mostly get from Stilwell's assertions, the KMT was just a big corrupted mess that was unwilling to actually fight the Japanese.
But recently, some studies paint Chiang Kai-shek more favourably, taking into account his political situation in China.

With hindsight, who was in the right? Was Stilwell correct to concentrate on Burma? Or was Chennaiult right when he wanted to develop the Chinese air force and the airlift?

I tend to think Stilwell was a complete idiot, but perhaps I'm wrong on that one.
 
Sep 2012
1,222
Tarkington, Texas
Chennault was the idiot. He sold Chiang on airpower. To have airpower you need airbases. He persuaded the Army Air Forces to build airbases in unoccupied China so they could bomb Japan. As soon as the Japanese Army realized this, they invaded East China and took all the new air bases. Chiang and all his cronies benefitted from the construction (graft) and then proved unable to stop the Japanese.

The Nationalist Chinese were a favorite of FDR. He wanted them to survive, but was vulnerable to Chiang and his in-laws. Chiang and the various Chinese War Lord allies of his had over 300 poorly equipped Infantry Divisions. The best of these were about the size of American Regiments. The commanders stole rations and pay when they were not selling equipment and fuel.

Stilwell had his foibles. He hated the British and he hated Chiang and his friends. He was chosen to go to China because he spoke Chinese and had served in China in the 30's. How many of the American Generals could have retreated North through Burma and then turned West and marched across a Jungle and Mountain Range?

Pruitt
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
5,006
Dispargum
Chiang and the other Chinese generals were applying the teachings of Sun Tzu who at the time was unknown in America. Sun Tzu's military philosophy is to minimize casualties. Stilwell and other American observers interpreted Chinese actions as cowardice. A little more cultural awareness would have been useful.
 
  • Like
Reactions: andyferdinard
Dec 2013
389
Arkansas
I'm only beginning to read a bit about the Chinese front during WW2 and there seems to be very different narratives.

From an American point of view, which we mostly get from Stilwell's assertions, the KMT was just a big corrupted mess that was unwilling to actually fight the Japanese.
But recently, some studies paint Chiang Kai-shek more favourably, taking into account his political situation in China.

With hindsight, who was in the right? Was Stilwell correct to concentrate on Burma? Or was Chennaiult right when he wanted to develop the Chinese air force and the airlift?

I tend to think Stilwell was a complete idiot, but perhaps I'm wrong on that one.
I agree with you about Stilwell. I've read that one of the problems many Americans had with Chiang Kai-shek was that he didn't speak English. The general feeling being that if the alliance with the Americans was that important to him he would've learned.
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,863
Florania
Chiang and the other Chinese generals were applying the teachings of Sun Tzu who at the time was unknown in America. Sun Tzu's military philosophy is to minimize casualties. Stilwell and other American observers interpreted Chinese actions as cowardice. A little more cultural awareness would have been useful.
Many people try to compare Sun Tzu with Carl Von Clausewitz.
Due to the shorter length, I have read Sun Tzu a few times and never truly handled Carl Von Clausewitz.
 
Nov 2019
338
United States
Actually I think that Stillwell was correct that Chiang didn't want to carry the heavy load against Japan, Chiang always figured the USA and the rest of the Allies would finish Japan off. In the meanwhile he wanted to build up his military just as Mao was doing for the inevitable Civil War that would follow the end of WW2 and the occupation by Japan of Manchuria, Korea and the coast of China proper.
 

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,863
Florania
Actually I think that Stillwell was correct that Chiang didn't want to carry the heavy load against Japan, Chiang always figured the USA and the rest of the Allies would finish Japan off. In the meanwhile he wanted to build up his military just as Mao was doing for the inevitable Civil War that would follow the end of WW2 and the occupation by Japan of Manchuria, Korea and the coast of China proper.
In spite of massive statistical and qualitative advantages, Chiang lost all of mainland China to CCP, and we should testify
the fact that the ROC never controlled all of mainland China.
 
Sep 2016
48
France
Actually I think that Stillwell was correct that Chiang didn't want to carry the heavy load against Japan, Chiang always figured the USA and the rest of the Allies would finish Japan off.
He certainly thought like that in 1942, but to be fair, the KMT did bear the brunt of the war up until this point. Chiang had already lost the richest chinese towns and his best units. The allies were very clear about the fact the chinese front wasn't a priority and Stilwell was wasting, for strategic reasons, some important chinese units in Burma. Chiang might have been cynical, but this was completly rational.
 
Oct 2015
1,008
Virginia
The objective Stilwell's campaign in Burma was to re-open the Burma Road, the only practical method of bringing allied lend-lease supplies into China... The training, equipment and combat experience (not to mention feeding, clothing, pay and medical care) provided to the Nationalist troops in India showed what Chinese troops could do if properly commanded. Hardly "wasted".

Stilwell and Chiang clashed because they were essentially at cross purposes. Stilwell was there to help win the war by creating a Chinese army that could actively engage the Japanese - he had no other interest. Chiang's objective was to stay in power vis a vis the other interests within the KMT, and to enhance his (and China's) position in the postwar world (and prepare for the inevitable final struggle with the Communists).

These objectives did not always correspond. (and "pruitt" is on the mark about Chennault, who was also insubordinate)
 
Last edited:
Sep 2016
48
France
The objective Stilwell's campaign in Burma was to re-open the Burma Road, the only practical method of bringing allied lend-lease supplies into China... The training, equipment and combat experience (not to mention feeding, clothing, pay and medical care) provided to the Nationalist troops in India showed what Chinese troops could do if properly commanded. Hardly "wasted".
Defending Burma was reasonable and Chiang was favourable to the idea of an airlift from Assam. It was Stilwell who foolishly attacked without air support or enough intelligence on the ennemy forces. The Chinese lost part of their best forces while Stilwell was fleeing, abandonning more than 100 000 chinese soldiers. He did it again in 1944 when he showed little concern for the chinese losses. Taking all that into account, I find it hard to blame Chiang for not wanting to commit more men in Burma. Perhaps these soldiers woud have been more useful during the operation Ichi-Go.

Stilwell was there to help win the war by creating a Chinese army that could actively engage the Japanese - he had no other interest.
He still was involved in politics, was planning on sending arms to the CCP and was seriously thinking about replacing Chiang, whatever that could possibly mean.