Stilwell and Mountbatten in Burma
Allies at War, 1943-1944
Jonathan Templin Ritter
American Military Studies Series
Denton: University of North Texas Press
Hardcover. xiv+274 p. ISBN 978-1574416749. $29.95
Reviewed by Alan Jeffreys
Imperial War Museum, London
The book under review is a welcome volume as little academic writing on either General Joseph ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell or Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten and their role in the Burma campaign (modern-day Myanmar) has been published in recent times. The ‘forgotten’  war is still largely forgotten in the States but certainly not in Britain where historian Graham Dunlop has noted it ‘is anything but forgotten’.* Mountbatten was Supreme Allied Commander in South-East Asia with the role of retaking Burma, Malaya and Singapore after the disastrous defeats of 1942. Stilwell was deputy to Mountbatten, as well as the American commander in China and Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist Chinese President. As the author states neither is as well-known as their counterparts in the European and Pacific theatres such as Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery and MacArthur .
Stilwell was responsible for the defeat of the Japanese forces in North Burma and Mountbatten oversaw the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Army in South-East Asia. The two contrasting characters were never likely to get along, thus the volume clearly shows that the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ did not transfer as far as the China-Burma-India theatre (US term) and South-East Asia theatre (British term) commanded by Mountbatten based in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). The defeat of the Japanese forces in 1945 was ‘the longest and greatest land victory in the war against Japan’  to date.
The monograph, however, is heavily reliant on secondary sources. The author does refer to Stilwell’s diary but the biographical work of Theodore White and Barbara Tuchman is very much to the fore. Similarly Mountbatten’s papers are referenced in the annotated bibliography, but the ‘official’ biography by Philip Ziegler and the edited diary of the period are heavily used. This is a missed opportunity as the private papers of Stilwell and Mountbatten are available and a thorough reassessment is long overdue.
Similarly, the author has not always consulted the latest work on some of the related material. For example, he notes that the largest source of manpower was the Indian Army , referencing John Masters’ excellent memoir The Road Past Mandalay (1961) rather than the recent work of historians such as Daniel Marston and Tim Moreman that would be more appropriate in a university press series.
Nonetheless this is a useful book, as Jonathan Templer Ritter writes: ‘Both Stilwell and Mountbatten were great leaders who led their forces to victory against the Japanese in World War II. They both had their faults, but that should not obscure their achievements’. The author admirably achieves this by charting the wartime journeys of both leaders.
* Graham Dunlop, Military Economics, Culture and Logistics in the Burma Campaign, 1942-1945 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009), p. 5.
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