J.C.S. Files: Paraphrase of Telegram

The Commander in Chief, India ( Auchinleck ) to the British Chiefs of Staff 1

most secret
most immediate

65566/COS. Following from General Auchinleck for Chiefs of Staff:

[Page 436]

Program of planning for operations from India:

On receipt of decisions of Washington Conference2 a first appreciation of the possibility of carrying out the tasks allotted to this Command was produced.
Salient point in this was that while requirements were in the neighborhood of 4,300 tons a day, theoretical maximum we could hope for was a lift into Assam of 3,400 tons a day. It seemed at the time that requirements for the operations could probably be reduced to this figure.
The two months which have followed have revealed in the first place increased requirements. This is mainly due to the continuance into October, November and December of engineer stores for Airfield Program which has first priority and must be met in full. Airfield Program and connected activities have resulted in an increase of personnel in Assam for which no allowance had been made. Further, we had reckoned on using some of the oil production for our own requirements, but the Americans now ask for the total output which means we must import more petrol and lubricants into Assam than we had anticipated.
While requirements have increased lift which we can count on getting has been reduced. In the first place the figure of 3,400 included no margin for contingencies which must be reckoned at absolute minimum of 15 per cent. Secondly, the stepping up of the previous lift which was only about 1700–1800 does not take effect until mid-September and in the meantime arrears are accumulating of essential stores which must be lifted. Shortage of locomotives will not be made good until October. Greatest factor, however, in reducing figure has been breaches near Burdwan owing to floods on the Damodar River subsequent breach at Ghatsila and floods at Parhatipur.
Result of factors in Paras. 3 and 4 above is that we are faced with a total deficiency of lift into Assam of about 128,000 tons by 1st March. If reductions are made to the limit which we consider possible in tonnages allotted for our own purposes and to the Americans this deficiency can be reduced but not by more than 20,000 tons in total which leaves a daily deficiency of about 600 tons for six months.
Problem is thus in first place whether L of C can be stepped up still further and secondly if no increase possible in L of C how reduction in requirements can be effected.
Whole question discussed today with Benthall, Member in Chargé War Transport Department and with American Generals Ferris and Bissell.
Majority of improvements to L of C into Assam are long term projects which cannot help our immediate problem such as doubling railway lines, building increased River Fleet, and increasing capacity of River Ports. Much of this is already in hand but will not be effective before October 1944. Proposals for short term improvement are as follows:—
Increasing number of train paths by improving the operation of the railway system through supervision by Military personnel, and by relaxing certain precautions thus taking risks which would not be acceptable in normal times. War Transport Department is immediately starting inquiry into possibility of this. Representative of Wheeler will be associated with inquiry and also Representative of Transportation Directorate.
Immediate increase in locomotive and rolling stock on Bengal and Assam Railway from other parts of India to be replaced by fresh stock from U.S.A. on arrival. War Transportation Department is inquiring into possibility.
Quickening of turn round on river by installation of navigational lights and of night running. We are inquiring into this.
Flying Stores for China from Calcutta into Assam Airfields. This can only be done with help of additional aircraft from U.S.A.
While we may be able to achieve some improvement by these methods or by a combination of them and are doing all we can to do so, I feel it is probable that an over-all deficiency will remain. The L of C into Assam has never fulfilled expectations and this must be borne in mind. Possibility must, therefore, be faced of having to call off either the advance from Ledo or the advance from Imphal or both.
If we call off the former, and the Road Construction project, troops required for defensive would probably be not more than one infantry brigade which was all we had there before the Americans took over this area. This would effect a saving of between four and five hundred tons a day. If we call off the latter we should still need two divisions forward for defensive purposes, with one division in reserve. This would mean a saving of only about two hundred tons a day. Thus if we remain on the defensive on both fronts saving effected would be six or seven hundred tons a day against anticipated deficiency of about six hundred tons a day. We should then be able to meet fully demands of air ferry route and later in the season when construction of airfields is reduced, while capacity of L of C is increased by fresh stock from U.S.A. and completion of pipelines, we should have a growing capacity to spare for increased lift to China.
Question now arises whether the land operation in Arakan, Cudgel and the assault on Akyab should be carried out without operations [Page 438] in North at the same time. We should carry out raids and simulate activity by all means in our power in order to induce Japanese to believe that we were contemplating an offensive in the North. I consider therefore that it is unlikely that they would appreciate that we had abandoned the Imphal advance in time to enable them to alter the dispositions of their land forces substantially before the monsoon. As far as land forces are concerned, therefore, containing effect would be approximately the same as that of the Imphal advance. Unlikely however that a similar containing effect would be exerted in case of Air Forces. On balance I do not think abandonment of the land and air operations in Northern Burma should rule [out] Arakan operations and Akyab.
I do however consider that Akyab should not be attempted without the land operations in Arakan. Examination of the L of C required for the latter reveals that this also is insufficient for full requirements. Bottleneck is Chittagong. Everything possible is being done to increase capacity here by extension of wharfage use of country craft at improvised jetties etc. but it appears unlikely that it will ever be possible to carry out both the raising to heavy bomber standard of the Eastern Bengal Group of airfields before next monsoon and the Arakan operation.
The A.O.C.-in-C. points out that if these airfields are not completed to heavy bomber standard in the winter of 1943–44 they will not be ready for operations either this year or in 1944–45. They are needed at once for deeper penetration in Burma. They would be essential for increased air offensive over Burma and particularly were it decided to carry out at a later date an airborne attack on Mandalay or Rangoon and they may also be required for supplying Allied Air Forces in China. I am not in a position to assess the relative probabilities of these operations.
I am in doubt as to whether priority given at Trident 3 to air operations means that preparations for air operations mentioned above should take absolute precedence over land operations which I have been instructed to carry out this winter. But if Akyab is to take place this winter I consider that Arakan operations must have precedence over raising the standard of these airfields.
It remains to consider whether, if Akyab is unavoidably delayed, the Arakan operations should be given priority over the raising of the standard of Eastern Bengal airfields. I think that the Arakan [Page 439] operations might be successful by themselves and that we should have a fair chance of capturing Akyab overland. Setting aside any nonmilitary reasons for its capture main military reasons are:
containing effect on Japanese forces in Burma and particularly Air Forces.
possession of a more advanced airfield. These must be weighed against completion of airfields in Eastern Bengal.
We should maintain continuous air offensive against Burma and in particular Akyab whether amphibious operations were postponed or not. Japanese would remain in uncertainty until weather had deteriorated to such an extent as to make it difficult for them to move large forces. Consider therefore containing effect is likely to be the same in either case.
Regarding airfields A.O.C.-in-C. would prefer raising Eastern Bengal airfield to heavy bomber standard to acquiring new airfields at Akyab.
In these circumstances therefore there would be little military advantage in taking Akyab beyond raising morale and killing Japanese. Do not consider this would justify failure to raise standard of airfields. If therefore Akyab were abandoned I should recommend that the Arakan operations also should be abandoned and priority given to airfields.
Fully appreciate anxiety which exists to start large-scale offensive operations against Burma this coming winter. The course of planning for even the limited operations intended in Northern Burma has brought me to the conclusion that best military course would be to avoid such operations and to concentrate on supply to China by air, at the same time increasing and conserving strength of India and preparing resources for large scale amphibious operations against Malaya next winter. Preparation for these would enable us to bring training of troops to high standard. If they were definitely decided on for 1944—45 it would be desirable to divert resources earmarked for Akyab to taking Andamans in the late spring of 1944. We are urgently examining the possibility of this and will signal results to you.
Americans are examining effect of changed situation on their plans in more detail and I cannot send final recommendations until results of War Transport Departments inquiry regarding railways is known but it seems desirable to let you know probabilities at once.
This signal has been discussed with and agreed to by C.-in-C. Eastern Fleet who is in Delhi and A.O.C.-in-C.

  1. This paraphrase was circulated as the enclosure to C.C.S. 305, August 14, 1943, with a covering note by the Secretaries of the Combined Chiefs of Staff to the effect that it had been referred to an ad hoc committee for study and report. Concerning the appointment of this committee, see post, p. 862.
  2. See ante, p. 369.
  3. See ante, p. 369.