The Stilwell or Ledo Road

The Ledo Road or Stillwell Road is a 1,079 miles (1736 km) long road built during during the World War II by General Joseph Stilwell of the U.S. Army from Ledo, Assam, India to Kunming, Yunnan, China.

The primary objective of constructing this road was to maintain the supply line to China, from Ledo Railhead in Assam, during the World War II. During the early part of 1942, the country of Burma was occupied by the Japanese troops and they cut off all forms of road communication to China. The British troops, on the other hand, retreated to Assam.

In order to recover Burma and continue the supply line to China, a joint command called the South East Asiatic Command with British, America and China was formed in Assam. General Joseph W. Stilwell was the Deputy Supreme Commander of the project with the additional responsibilities of providing supplies to the Chinese forces of General Issimo Shiang Kaishek. This prompted the General to lay out the plan for the construction of the Stillwell road.

The Ledo road connects railhead at Ledo (Assam, India) to Mong-Yu road junction where it joined the Burma Road. The road was built by 15,000 American soldiers (60 percent of whom were African-Americans) and 35,000 local workers at a cost of US$150 million. As most of Burma was in Japanese hands it was not possible to acquire information as to the topography, soils, and river behaviour before construction started. This information had to be acquired as the road was constructed. Work continued through 1944 in late December it was opened for the transport of logistics. As the road was built, two 10 cm (4 inch) fuel pipe lines were laid side by side so that fuel for the supply vehicles could be piped instead of trucked along the road. The entire road was full of Steep gradients, hairpin curves and sheer drops of 200 feet (60 m), all surrounded by a thick rain forest.

In late 1944, barely two years after Stilwell accepted responsibility for building the Ledo Road; it connected to the Burma Road though some sections of the road beyond Myitkyina at Hukawng Valley were under repair due to heavy monsoon rains. It became a highway stretching from Assam, India to Kunming, China 1,079 miles (1736 km) length. On 12 January 1945, the first convoy of 113 vehicles, led by General Pick, departed from Ledo; they reached Kunming, China on 4 February 1945.

Even after the end of the World War II, Stillwell road was kept open for civilians and tourists with a Central Excise and Land Customs Post. However, due to the adverse environmental conditions like heavy landslides, the road became inaccessible for tourists and travellers and was handed over first to the Assam Government and later to the NEC. Due to its unique history, people all around the world come to visit the road and get a feel of the colonial era.

Many political leaders’ of various North Eastern States of India believe that free trade with Southeast Asian countries would be possible only with the reopening of the Stilwell Road which is the gateway to Southeast Asia. It is believed that reopening the road would reduce transportation cost between China and India by more than 30 per cent, and makes it a production hub for Myanmarese and Western Chinese markets.

Photography: Manash Pratim Gogoi .

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