World War II Pacific Strategic Bombing Campaign--Air Bases in China (1943-44)

Figure 1.--The small Nationalist Air Force was largely destoyed by the Japanese in the first months of the War (1937). For 4 years, Japanese fighters and bombers ranged over China virtually unopposed. Beginning with the American AVG Flying Tigers (December 1941), this beegn to change. AMerican fighters and bombers began to arive in numbers over the Hump, both for American air groups and a revived Chinese Air Force. China could not build aircraft, they could build air fields. Few airfields of any importance existed in the rugged mountainous ares of southwestern China to which the Nationalist Army retreated and the Japanese were unable to persue in strength. And the airfield needed for the new B-29s to bomb Japan, required long improved runways. The Nationalists mobilized a massive workforce to build these airfields, often mostly women and children--including young chilren. And they built airfields the old-fashioned way--by hand without heavy equipment. Military historians might tend to dismiss the efforts of these boys and the Chimese people in general, but it is undeniable that theoughout the Pacific war, the great bulk of the Imperial Japanese Army in China rather than fighting the Pacific War with America. Photographer: Sergeant Marvin Lawrence who was a photographer attached to the ATC (Air Transport Command) and served in China, Burma, and India (CBI).

To launch a strategic bombing campaign aginst Japan, airfields were needed--airfiels with long runways. America provided the planes equipmen, and aircrews. The Chinese built the forward airfields. The Chinese began building new airfields for the bombers. Matterhorn was initially commanded by Hap Arnold--from Wahington. China was chosen because in early 1944 with the new airfields built by the Chinese, it had the only airfields within range of the Japanese Home Islands. As it turned out, only the airfields in central China around Chengdu were used by the B-29s. Other airfield built at considerable effort in southeastern China were ultimately seized by the Japanese as part of the Ichi-go offensive. Chengdu was too far inland for the Japanese to attack. It was, however, a Pyrrhic victory. Matterhorn was an illconceived operation. The logistical effort required to fly the vast quantity of supplies over the Hump needed fora massive strategic bombing operaton severly limited the attacks that could be staged against the Japanese. The major effort would come from the Marianasa and the B-29s based in India would ultimately be shifted to the Marianas. Supplying the Marianas was a reltively straightforward operation. Supply ships could sail directly from U.S. Pacific ports.


Advance Army Air Forces personnel arrived in India to prepare for the B-29 operations (December 1943). Their assignment was to to organize the building of the extended airfields needed by the B-29s in India and China. Heavy equipment could be used in India. Thousands of Indians labored to construct four permanent bases in eastern India around Kharagpur. At the same tim, 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the northeast, across the formidable Himalayan mountains, an incredible work force of 350,000 Chinese workers. Asmen were mostly in the Army, nuch of the workforce was women and children. They set about building four forward staging bases in western China around Chengdu. Little or no heavy equipment was available for this effort as flying it in was iposible. Chengdu was formerly romanized as Chengtu which is the name appearing in many World War II histories. It is the provincial capital of Sichuan province in southwest China. (Looking a the map it looks like central China, but this is only with Tibet included. Southwest is more correct if just China proper is considered. Chengdu was a city of ancient origins. Today is a huge modern city in Western China with some 14 million people. It is one of the most important economic, finance, commerce, culture, transportation, and communication centers in Western China. At the time of the war it was much less developed, but food was available. It is located on a fertile Chengdu Plain, known as the "Country of Heaven" / "The Land of Abundance". China built four forward air bases arong Chengdu for the American B-29s to stage B-29 bombers from from India for attacks on the Home Islands. Chengdu was far enough west in mountaneous terraine to make it difficult for the Japanese to get to them. The mountains are why Chengdu is prime panda territory. It soon became apparent, however, that flying the fuel, bombs, and spares needed to support the forward bases in China over the Hump was a much more difficult undertaking than originally understood. B-29 raids on Japan using these bases continued for months (February 1945), but on a much lower level than had been planned. The B-29s hit Japanese targets on the Home Islands as well as Formosa, and Manchuria. The B-29s were moved from India in February 1945 to the then fully developed bases in the Marianas Islands. This ended American use of these Chinese forward bases.
Hsinching (A-1): This was the forward base for the 40th Bombardment Group based in Chakulia. India.
Kiunglai/Qionglai (A-5): The 462d Bombardment Group It was known by the Americans as Kiunglai/Kuinglai/Chiung-Lai. The B-29s operated from Piardoba, India. The 462d conducted the first mission agaist Japan (June 15) at the time the invaion of Saipan was commencing. It was the first American assault on the Home Islands since the Doolittle raid in 1942.
Kwanghn (A-3): This was the forward base for the 444th Bombardment Group based in Dudhkund, India.
Pengshan (A-7): This was the forward base for the 468th Bombardment Group based in Kalaikunda, India.


Gen. Arnold reassigned the XX Bomber Command to Gen Curtis LeMay who had been involved with the ight Air Force in Britain. LeMay soon gained the support of none other than Mao Zedong, the Communist leader also fighting the Japanese. Mao from Yenan controlled enormous areas in the northern and northwest China. Mao hoping to get American aid, provided assistance to downed airmen and even permitted LeMay to install a radio relay station at Yenan. Mao constructed an emergency landing field at Yenan for the B-29s. LeMay wrote, "General Mao offered to build airdromes for us up in the north. "He told me, ‘I can construct any number you wish.’ I replied that frankly we couldn’t supply the ones we already had, down there in Chengtu [Chengdu]." [Matterhorn Missions]

Southeastern China

Chiang wanted to shift the crack army divisions that the Unitd states had hlped build up Burma to eastern China to defend the the air bases built for the American bombers which he thought might bing a speedy end to the War. General Chennault supported that strategy, but Stilwell who had oversaw thetrining and eqquipping of thedivusions was admently opposed. He was intent on reetering Burma with the British and reponing the Burma Road.


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Created: 1:53 AM 6/10/2015
Last updated: 1:53 AM 6/10/2015