The Stilwell Road aka the Ledo Road was built during World War II by an army of 15,000 American soldiers and 35,000 locals under the expert supervision of General Vinegar Joe Stilwell.
The road stretches from Ledo in Assam across 1079 miles to Kunming in China. The construction of this mammoth project was estimated to be around USD 150 million and the road was used by the Western Allies to supply to the Chinese when the Japanese Army had cut the Burma road. By occupying Burma, the Japanese had not only gained access to the vast resources of teak and rubber, but they had closed the Burma Road, 700 miles of dirt highway that represented China’s last overland link with the outside world. The reopening of an overland route to China would be the major American goal, indeed obsession, in the theater throughout the campaign especially after the defeat at Pearl Harbor that enabled the Imperial Japanese Army to extend their empire from Wake Island in the Pacific to Malaya and Singapore in South East Asia.
Here, the Allies would face one of the most inhospitable areas for military operations in the world. For the Americans, the theater not only covered a vast area, but it was also the end of a 12,000 mile supply line. The areas where the Allies would campaign was characterized by extremely rugged terrain with few roads and other communications, conditions which would favor the defense and reduce the Allies’ advantage in numbers. Northern and central Burma, where they would conduct the bulk of their operations, had steep, densely wooded mountain ranges cut by streams. The Allies would need to scale precipitous ranges along the border to reach one of Burma’s three great river valleys – the Chidwin, the Irrawaddy, or the Salween – in order to move south into the heart of Burma. They could also expect their advance to be slowed by monsoon, near-constant rains which would last for two to three months, anytime after April. Leeches, flies, ticks, and other insects, along with diseases as malaria, dysentery, and typhus, added to the soldier’s miseries. Keeping in mind all these the Americans resolved to go ahead with the task of constructing this mammoth project and the construction started in December 1942 across the dense terrain of the Patkai range through the Pangsau Pass aka “the Hell Pass (for the difficulty of the terrain)” into Shingbwiyang in Burma. The terrain was outrageous as it rose high upto 4,500 feet (1400m) along with steep gradients, hairpin curves and drops upto 200 feet (60 m).
Although the British Engineers had initially surveyed the route for a road (first 80 miles) the credit of building the Stilwell Road (Ledo Road) goes to General Stilwell which was under the American NAC operation. This road was to complement the airlift operations to China over the Eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains aka “the Hump”. American Engineers in late 1942 began to construct a road meant to restore China’s land communication with the outside world. It was the Americans, more than any of the other Allies, who wanted to open the road to China, and they pushed the enterprise the hardest. Taking over the project from the British in October 1942, they began construction from Ledo in December with the goal of arriving at the Burmese city of Shingbwiyang, 103 miles from Ledo by June, 1943.
General Stilwell and his army of men completed the stretch of 1079 miles (1736 km) within 2 years under the most treacherous conditions and this is what makes this road “an Epitome of an American Engineering Marvel”. And this was done more than 70 years ago ago when the world didn’t have the expertise of today’s technology.
Although, there was a flip side to this feat as more than 1100 American soldiers and many more locals had to lose their lives in the construction of the Western Allies march to crush the Japanese.
Jungleideas welcomes you to India’s North East to relive the memories of the Second World War at the Stilwell Road – Ledo (India) to Kunming (China) – the Epitome of an American Engineering Marvel, the States of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Incredible India!