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For the 72 Million

Burma in World War II

Burma was separated from India in 1935, but remained a British colony. Far away from the European War, Burma was the scene of frantic building during 1941. A long and difficult construction marked the construction of the Burma Road, which winded through mountains and valleys from Lashio, Burma to Kunming, China. The 700 mile road was in service for the Allies from 1938 until the Japanese conquered Lashio in April 1942. The Burma Road was closed.

Japanese Landings in Burma commenced on December 8, 1941, the first day of the war. An independent Burmese army that was agitating for Burmese independence accompanied Japanese troops. The Allies under General Joseph Stilwell fell back to India, where resistance was organized for both China, India and Burma.

The Chindits, a specially trained jungle fighting force under United Kingdom General Ord Wingate, was dropped into Burma in 1943. They attacked Japanese supply lines and were sustained by gliders. The fighting was bitter, and most of the Chindits, as they were called, suffered either battle wounds or disease. A similar American unit, Merrill’s Marauders, named after their commander, Frank Merrill, followed the Chindits into the jungle in 1943. Merrill had several heart attacks during the campaign and his men suffered the same heavy casualties, but were more heavily supplied by air.

Meanwhile, a puppet government was set up in the capital, Rangoon. In August 1943 the Japanese granted nominal independence and Burmese leaders were sent to Tokyo to study. Japanese became the second language. However, large sections of the population did not support the government, and a strong guerrilla campaign was mounted against the government and the Japanese. Burmese independence leader Bao Maw was excited by the Japanese success, and hoped for full Burmese independence. While he was encouraged by the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, he became disillusioned by the repeated abuses of Burmese laborers. He came to believe that Burma had exchanged one set of colonial masters for another. Aung San, the commander of the Japanese-trained Burmese Independence Army, joined the Allies in March 1945 after his troops were poorly treated by the Japanese.

As Rangoon was on the verge of being reoccupied in early 1945, the pro-Japanese collaboration government fled to Tokyo. Soon afterward the entire country was occupied by the British, who ruled Burma as a colony until 1947.

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