By Becky Appledorn With the 60th anniversary of D-Day in the forefront of people’s minds it is important to remember another front in World War II. Sometimes referred to as the “forgotten theater” of the war, the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater played an integral part in the victory of the Allies in the Pacific. Even before Pearl Harbor, when the United States entered the war, President Roosevelt knew the success of the Allies depended greatly on whether or not China could remain in the war and continue to fight the Japanese. The primary American goal in CBI was to keep the Chinese actively involved in the Allied war effort, thereby tying down Japanese forces that would otherwise be deployed against Allied forces in the Pacific. The Japanese quickly tried to destroy all of China’s army and blockade its ports and rivers. After ten long years of fighting, the Japanese gained a major advantage because the Chinese lacked modern military equipment and strategies. CBI was important to the overall war effort due to early plans to base air and naval forces in China for an eventual assault on Japan. Units like Merrill’s Marauders, the Flying Tigers and men such as Joseph Stilwell, Claire Chennault, and Orde Wingate led the Allied mission to success, but were rarely mentioned in the papers back home.
Beginning of American Involvement in the War
In 1941, President Roosevelt issued a secret executive order to organize a volunteer group charged with helping the Chinese to defend their capital from the air. The volunteer group was called the American Volunteer Group (AVG) and consisted of 74 pilots and 20 planes. The AVG fought as civilians; the Chinese government paid them $500 for each Japanese aircraft they shot down. The commander of the division was Texas native Claire C. Chennault, Air Advisor to China. The AVG’s, later known as the Flying Tigers, were responsible for shooting down the first Japanese aircraft, and became immediate heroes in the United States. Even though the Flying Tigers fought for only six months, they were responsible for shooting down 286 enemy planes. After the U.S. joined the war, the Flying Tigers became part of the 10th Air Force, and continued to defend China from the Japanese.