The Burma Road

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The Burma Road : The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II
by Donovan Webster

This is the hardcover edition. Other editions:
audio cassette cassette (abridged)
CD (abridged)


Book Description

The harrowing story of one of the greatest chapters of World War II---the building and defense of the Burma Road

The Burma Road tells the extraordinary story of the China-Burma-India theater of operations during World War II. As the Imperial Japanese Army swept across China and South Asia at the war's outset--closing all of China's seaports--more than 200,000 Chinese laborers embarked on a seemingly impossible task: to cut a seven-hundred-mile overland route--which would be called the Burma Road--from the southwest Chinese city of Kunming to Lashio, Burma. But with the fall of Burma in early 1942, the Burma Road was severed, and it became the task of the newly arrived American General Stilwell to re-open it, while, at the same time, keeping China supplied by air-lift from India and simultaneously driving the Japanese out of Burma as the first step of the Allied offensive toward Japan.
In gripping prose, Donovan Webster follows the breathtaking adventures of the American "Hump" pilots who flew hair-raising missions over the Himalayas to make food-drops in China; tells the true story of the mission that inspired the famous film The Bridge on the River Kwai; and recounts the grueling jungle operations of Merrill's Marauders and the British Chindit Brigades. Interspersed with vivid portraits of the American General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, the exceedingly eccentric British General Orde Wingate, and the mercurial Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, The Burma Road vividly re-creates the sprawling, sometimes hilarious, often harrowing, and still largely unknown stories of one of the greatest chapters of World War II.

About the Author

Donovan Webster was a senior editor for Outside and now writes for National Geographic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of Aftermath: The Remnants of War. He lives with his family in Virginia.

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HistoryWiz Review

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by Hugh Brainard
A must-read for any history buff of World War II - the story of the struggle to keep China open through the Burma Road. While the allies' "grand strategy" for defeating Japan through China changed, there was still a need to keep China in the war. General Stilwell did his part in spite of obstacles like General Chiang Kai-Shek and Col. Chennault of Flying Tigers fame. Both Chiang Kai-Shek and Chennault, for different reasons, opposed "Vinegar Joe Stilwell." Chiang wanted more control and more "Lend Lease." Chennault wanted more aircraft and thought he could chase the Japanese out of China with air power.

Donovan Webster shows clearly the daunting task Stilwell had. The "grand strategy" changed from defeating Japan through China to Island hopping the Pacific to Japan. But there still was a need to keep China fighting and that required "Lend Lease" supplies to Chiang. This was an enormous undertaking, from the United States to India to China. To make matters worse, Chiang did not trust his generals (warlords), so he withheld supplies to his generals. If this was not frustrating enough, Chiang did not like Stilwell and was constantly trying to get him replaced. The book tells about many of Stilwell's problems, not the least of which was driving the Japanese out of Burma.

A well documented and well-written book.

Other Editorial Reviews

From Booklist
Mountainous and malarial, northern Burma is terrible terrain for war, but the Allies resolved to fight there to keep China in World War II. The effort's executant, American general Joseph Stilwell, occupies center stage of Webster's chronicle, which benefits from the author's visits to battle sites and remnants of a supply road. Applying concrete visualization of the mud, leeches, and heat of tropical combat, Webster renders the misery experienced by soldiers on both Japanese and Allied sides, blending them with the tactical details of the war's ebb and flood in Burma. These flow into Webster's accounts of Merrill's Marauders, Wingate's Chindits, Chennault's Flying Tigers, and other such colorful objects of Eric Sevareid's and Theodore White's reportage, all under Stilwell's nominal control, as was, on paper but infrequently in fact, the military of Chiang Kai-shek. Stilwell's headaches running such a sprawling theater, while previously researched by Barbara Tuchman (Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, 1970), are ably integrated by Webster into the infantryman's viewpoint: the result is a high-quality overview. Gilbert Taylor
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Men's Health
"Webster tells the story in eyebrow-searing detail. Look for this to be the next Band of Brothers."

Kirkus Reviews
"Brings a light hand and solid storytelling skills to his task."

"Thoroughly researched...Webster paints this tough, bizarre world vividly."

Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
"A high-quality overview."

"In World War II, Japan sealed parts of China. Nothing could get in or out. Disaster loomed. In The Burma Road—a gripping recounting of those dark days—Donovan Webster tells us the harrowing and heroic story of how China survived."
–James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers

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