Why, with Merrill's Marauders riddled with disease and fatigue, were they given the mission to attack Myitkyina? Story inside.
by Al Hemingway
Why, with the Marauders riddled with disease and fatigue, were they given the mission to attack Myitkyina? Stilwell and Merrill had to be aware that the unit was decimated. Galahad was originally designed to be a hit-and-run unit and to harass the enemy in his own backyard. Instead, the Marauders had fought pitched battles with the enemy, many times without air or artillery support.
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The reason Stilwell kept Galahad in the field was simple: the Marauders were the only U.S. ground combat unit in the CBI Theater. In Merrill’s Marauders: Combined Operations in Northern Burma in 1944, historian Gary Bjorge writes, “Stilwell had no choice but to use the 5307th to execute End Run because the nature of the forces he commanded made it necessary for Americans to lead the Myitkyina task force. The Chinese were not trained for long-distance cross-country maneuver through the jungle. They also lacked the aggressiveness for such an undertaking. Moreover, any attempt by Stilwell to send a Chinese force alone against Myitkyina would certainly have been opposed by Chiang K’ai-shek as being too risky. To ensure full, effective participation by the Chinese and the Kachins, the force moving on Myitkyina had to be a combined force under American command.”
This logic may be true. However, to the emaciated foot soldier of Merrill’s Marauders it meant little. Being the lone ground combat force in the entire CBI area had its downside. They felt they had been lied to and misled. They were promised rest and recuperation, and now they were ordered into another major battle. Despite the anger and bitterness, there was never any doubt in their minds that they could handle the mission, even in their horrible condition.
As Dr. Hopkins relates in Spearhead, “Above all, the Marauders were disgusted by the failure of Generals Merrill and Stilwell to meet them in small groups or as a unit to express some gratitude to them and their dead and seriously wounded or sick comrades. The Stilwell way was to forget that the Marauders had ever existed as a unit. This great volunteer outfit, with its gallant men and officers and its fantastic esprit de corps, was to disappear without written history, colors, insignia, or future.”
Vinegar Joe Offends Everyone
The Marauders were not the only ones to dislike Stilwell. Because of his acid tongue, he made few friends in the high command as well. “Vinegar Joe,” as Stilwell was called, could speak fluent Chinese but seriously lacked any tact or diplomacy when dealing with his peers. He frequently circumvented the chain of command and went directly to the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff). This angered Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was in charge of all operational matters in the CBI Theater.
Stilwell also did not like Orde Wingate, and he penned in his diary, “What’s the matter with our people? After a long struggle, we get a handful of U.S. troops, and by God, they tell us they are to operate under Wingate! We don’t know enough to handle them, but that exhibitionist does! And what has he done? Made an abortive jaunt to Katha, got caught E. of the Irrawaddy (River) and come out with a loss of 40 percent—net result, cut the RR that our people had already cut (by air attacks). Now he’s an expert. This is enough to discourage Christ.”
While planning End Run, Stilwell did not tell Lord Mountbatten about the operation. He did confide in General William Slim but asked him to keep silent about the operation. Stilwell felt that British security was shabby. When word reached Mountbatten and Prime Minister Winston Churchill that the airstrip had been taken, they were furious that they had not been informed. Stilwell was elated and put in his diary in capital letters: “WILL THIS BURN UP THE LIMEYS!”
The assault on Myitkynia, which had begun so auspiciously, would turn into a quagmire. Even the determination and fighting spirit of the Marauders were not enough to seize the town. Even Stilwell saw this and wrote, “Galahad is just shot.”
Despite the terrible hardships the Marauders had to face, they never complained. They had overcome tremendous obstacles to perform their duty. As Hopkins wrote, “Their ability to ignore disease, constant fatigue, poor food, obvious lack of appreciation, death, and wounds—while forging ahead again and again into hostile territory and more battles—will continue to deserve the honor of future generations.”