In February 1942, Stilwell, promoted to temporary lieutenant general, received command of all U.S. Army forces in the China-Burma-India Theater, while also serving as chief of staff to Guomindang (GMD [Kuomintang, KMT], Nationalist) Chinese leader Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi [Chiang Kai-shek]. Charged with coordinating the efforts of Britain, China, and the United States against Japan, Stilwell was also responsible for preparing China for the planned Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands. When the Japanese captured Burma in the spring of 1942, Stilwell personally led an Allied column on a 140-mile march through the Burmese jungle to avoid capture. To prevent the collapse of China, Stilwell continued to resupply Jiang's forces, but the loss of the Burma Road forced the Americans to fly the needed matériel over the Himalayas, known as "the Hump."
Stilwell's belief that China's best hope for recapturing its territory from the Japanese was through the employment of Western-trained and equipped Chinese army forces brought him into direct conflict both with Jiang and Major General Claire Chennault, former commander of the American Volunteer Group ("Flying Tigers"). As commander of the Fourteenth Army Air Force and a firm proponent of airpower, Chennault believed his air force capable of defeating the Japanese without the assistance of significant ground forces; he continually argued that he should receive the bulk of supplies coming over the Himalayas. Jiang, worried that any forces used against the Japanese would not be available for his anticipated postwar conflict with the Chinese Communists, was more than willing to support Chennault's position. Throughout 1943 and 1944, tensions between Stilwell, Chennault, and Jiang mounted. Despite the demonstration of the potential of Chinese forces against the Japanese and the gains in Burma, highlighted by the capture of Myitkyina in August 1944, Stilwell was unable to convince Jiang to reform his army. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Jiang to place Stilwell (who had been promoted to temporary general in August 1944) in command of all Chinese forces, Jiang refused and then demanded Stilwell's relief. Unwilling to alienate Jiang, Roosevelt ordered Stilwell's return. On 18 October 1944, Lieutenant General Daniel Sultan replaced him.
After his relief, Stilwell received command of the Tenth Army, a command slated for the planned invasion of Japan. Following Japan's surrender and the inactivation of the Tenth Army, Stilwell returned to the United States and took command of the Sixth Army. Suffering from advanced stomach cancer, Stilwell died at the Presidio in San Francisco, California, on 12 October 1946. David M. Toczek
Prefer, Nathan. Vinegar Joe's War: Stilwell's Campaigns for Burma. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 2000.; Stilwell, Joseph. Stilwell's Personal File: China, Burma, India, 1942–1944. Edited by Riley Sunderland and Charles F. Romanus. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1976.; Tuchman, Barbara. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911–1945. New York: Macmillan, 1970.
David M. Toczek