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Myitkyina was a vital objective in the Allied re-conquest of Burma in 1943–44 Following the disastrous retreat from Burma in April 1942, China had become isolated from re-supply except for the dangerous air route for US transports over the Himalaya Mountains. The Burma Road, which ran from Lashio (south of Myitkyina) through the mountains to Kunming was closed as a supply route from Rangoon after the Japanese conquest. Without military assistance, China would be forced to surrender and Imperial Japanese Army forces could be diverted to other Pacific war zones.

Myitkyina lies at the junction of the Mogaung and Hukawng valleys and provided a strategically significant base for Japanese fighters in that it forced US aircraft to take alternative routes, which increased their fuel consumption and cut the payload. Also, the air route itself was narrow and its saturation with transports was nearing. This supply nightmare would persist as long as Myitkyina remained in Japanese hands. With Myitkyina in Allied possession the transports would be able to use a much wider, more southerly air route.

In 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) ordered American Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell to commence a land operation to capture northern Burma in order to remedy the problems of the air route and establish overland communications with China, with Myitkyina one of the main targets of the operation.

To get to Myitkyina, Stilwell would have to move his Chinese and American troops south down the long corridor of the Hukawng valley and across the Jambu Bum ridge into the Mogaung valley. The southern exit from the Mogaung valley is within easy march of Myitkyina and the Irrawaddy valley. The principal barrier between Stilwell and Myitkyina was the three skilled veteran regiments of the Japanese 18th Division, under the competent leadership of General Tanaka.

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