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THE STILWELL ROAD

THE STILWELL ROAD A HISTORICAL REVIEW

During the World War-II Japan occupied Burma in early part of 1942. The British troops retreated to Assam. The Japanese cut-off road communication to China and isolated it. The Japanese were moving towards the North.

With a view to recover Burma by the British and the defence of China and maintaining the supply line to Chinese Nationalist Forces, a joint Command, namely, South East Asiatic Command with British, America and China was hurriedly formed in Assam under the Supreme Command of Admiral Lord Luis Mountbatten with his headquarters at Singapore and General Joseph W. Stilwell as Deputy Supreme Commander. General Stilwell was American President Roosevelt's special representative. His advance headquarters was at Taipha on the Chindwin in Hukawang valley of Myanmar beyond the Patkai. The rear headquarters was at Shillong. He was entrusted with additional responsibilities of the American commitment of supplies to the Chinese Nationalist Forces of General Issimo Shiang Kaishek which prompted the General to plan the road. Further, General Stilwell was commanding General of China, Burma, India and Chief of the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in India with responsibility to maintain direct liaison between the Chinese and the United States Forces. In order to maintain the supply line to China from Ledo Rail head in Assam, the road was planned in February, 1942 initially from Mogaung on the Myitkyina Railway on the Irrawadi river in the Kachin State of Myanmar (Burma).

Aerial view of Stilwell Road

The project was initially named Ledo Road. There was already a road for light vehicular traffic from Burma rail head of Lashi to Kunming in the Yunan Province of China hurriedly built in 1938 when the Japanese were troubling China. From Kunming, there was a railway to the New Nationalist Capital of Chungking. There was also railway construction between Myitkyina and Mogaung and Myitkyina-Lashio. At the same time Myitkyina air field had to be cleared from the Japanese. This was done by forming two specially trained Forces known as American-Kachin Rangers and Chindit Forces. They located harassed, attacked, killed the Japanese and blew-up their camps and pushed them towards Mandalay. Thus the line was cleared facilitating construction of the road.

From the Administrative point of view, a Political Officer was found to be most essential for the tribal area. A post of Political Officer for Rangpang area, then known, covering the present Changlang district and the Tirap Transferred Area was created by the Assam Government with headquarters at Margherita. Mr. Lambert IPS, ARP Officer Jorhat was posted in Feb 1942,Mr.E.T.D.Lambert was actively involved in the planning and construction of the road. He was on special duty for six months.

A portain of Katcha Ledo Road(Later Stilwell Road just after making and through

Then Mr. G.E.D. Walker, Assistant Political Officer, Sadiya frontier Tract) was posted as Political Officer. Another Officer involved was Md. Imdad Ali, IPS, from Assam, as Assistant Political Oficer. The route was surveyed by Air and Ground. According to the plan and approved by the General Headquarters, the road was to be taken along the Diyun river to Chukan Pass and then to Mogaung, The Diyun is the upper course of the Buri-Dihing and NoaDihing rivers. The road work was started accordingly from this side and Miao in two parts. But the Political Officer while submitting the plan suggested an alternative via the then existing bridle path from Ledo to Shimbwiyang, about 171Km in Hukawang valley through the Pangsau-Pass and then to Mogaung, which would have been easier and time saving. The General Headquarters subsequently reconsidered the suggestion and approved it. The work at Miao was then ceased and the labour-force diverted to Nampong. The labour force of about 1,200 was all tribal(s) from present Siang, Lohit of Arunachal and some Garos, Semas and Pnars. They were under the command of 9th Platoon 2nd Assam Rifles commanded by Jamadar Ratna Bahadur Limbu under the control of the Political Officer. 10,000 Chinese and Kachins were working from the other side starting from Yunan-Burma Railway construction. Simultaneously, pre-fabricated Hamilton iron bridges, two in each, over the streams and small rivers were also built. Another road i.e. the present Highway No 38 which does not form part of the Stilwell Road, but linking it was also built simultaneously, as there was no road communication to Ledo at that time.


The road work starting from April, 1942 with a length of 1,079 miles, i.e. about 1,736 Km was completed and through by October, 1944 within a record time of two and a half years. The road connected all important places between Ledo and Kunming numbering ten particularly beyond the border from Shimbwiyang onwards. Out of the entire length of the road of 36 miles, i.e. 57 Km fall in India, 646 miles, i.e. 1,040 Km fall in Myanmar and the rest 397 miles. i.e. about 639 in China,

A view of Stilwell road with in and out Hamilton iron bridges over river Namchik(21 mile)

Though the work was first started from this side by the Civil authority under the direct supervision of the Political Officer, later in December it was taken over by the Arerican Engineers for quicker progress. Though the road was originally named Ledo Road, it was later dedicated to the memory of General Stilwell for his dedicated service to be remembered for ever.

After the war the road was continued to be maintained by the Political Officer and then by the CPWD, NEFA from zero mile to the border and kept open for civilian purpose including tourists with a Central Excise and Land customs Post at Nampong. Similarly, the Myanmar Government; but later abandoned it. The road became impossible for vehicular traffic due to heavy land slides. The portion between the zero mile and Jairampur - 23 Kim falling in Assam jurisdiction was handed over to Assam Government some years back for maintenance who in turn handed it over to NEC. But NEC did not pay attention to it and now the portion is worn out.

StilWell Road, Zero Point, Map in miles

The Arunachal portion up to the border, about 36 Km, is still continued to be maintained particularly up to Nampong from Administrative and Security point of view, Nampong being an Administrative center with several establishments including Assam rifles Bn. Hqs.. At Jairampur bus services also regularly ply up to Nampong. But owing to insurgent activities the border was sealed by out Government several years back barring movement of civilians including the tribal(s) living on the border causing hindrance in their cultural relations and village economy by way of better system of trade with their counterparts.


Source: Sri Surendra Baruah.
Margherita