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Stilwell and Mountbatten in Burma: Allies at War, 1943-1944, by Jonathan Templin Ritter

Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2017. Pp. x, 216. Illus., maps, diagr., append., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 157441674X.

Clash of Egos in the CBI

In what is something of a dual biography of the two title characters and an operational history of events in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of operations, archivist Ritter takes on what was one of the most contentious command relationships in World War II. The Supreme Allied Commander for the Southeast Asia Theatre, the British aristocrat Lord Louis Mountbatten and his principal American subordinate, the rather unpolished, anti-British Joseph Stillwell (who was also for much of the period the supreme Chinese commander in the region), clashed repeatedly on numerous issues in the final year of the war in the CBI, which saw the expulsion of the Japanese from northeastern India, the liberation of Burma, and the rebirth of the Chinese Army.


Ritter gives us a good overview of the different backgrounds, characters, personalities, and experiences of these two men, which made for that testy relationship. That relationship complicated the coordination of British, American, and Chinese operations in Burma, which was environmentally perhaps the nastiest theatre in the war, and logistically nearly impossible to support.

Ritter does this rather well. He interweaves a smooth narrative of the earlier careers of the two men. Critical to the tension between the was their conflicting national goals, as Britain was committed to restoring and preserving the empire, while the United States looked to a decolonialized post-war world. The numerous ups and downs – mostly downs – of their relationship are explored, and although the two never became friends, at times they did manage to grudgingly appreciate each other’s abilities. Ritter carefully spends a good deal of his text explaining how the war in the CBI unfolded from December of 1941 through mid-1944, so we can understand the nature of the theatre operations and the extraordinary hardships under which their remarkably polyglot troops – over 30 different nationalities and ethnic groups were involved.

A volume in the UNT series “Modern Military Studies”, Stillwell and Mountbatten in Burma’ is an important book for those studying the Burma campaign, this will also prove useful reading for anyone interested in the dynamics of command.

 

Note: Stillwell and Mountbatten in Burma is also available as an e-book, ISBN978-1-57441-686-2, and in other e-formats.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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