The MARS Force and the Burma Road
While the Chinese divisions in north Burma had been pushing the Japanese out of the upper reaches of the Shweli valley and so off the trace of the almost completed ground line of communications to China, the moment had been approaching when the small American force in Burma was to receive its greatest test. It was given the mission of striking across the lower end of the Shweli valley to the old Burma Road and hastening the advance of the Chinese forces against the Japanese still on the upper trace of that road. The significance of this mission was that as long as substantially intact and battleworthy Japanese forces remained in north central Burma neither the operation of the new Ledo Road nor the flank and rear of the British forces now driving deep into Burma could be secured. Nor could the three American-trained Chinese divisions in Burma and the MARS Force be released to reinforce Wedemeyer. It was believed that the MARS Task Force, acting as a goad on the flank of the Japanese line of communications, could make a significant contribution to victory, while its performance would show whether the lessons of the GALAHAD experiment in long-range penetration warfare. had been learned.
Though pushing the Japanese off the trace of the Burma Road tended to overshadow events elsewhere, it was only part of a larger operation, CAPITAL. Phase II of CAPITAL called for taking the general line Thabeikkyin-MogokMongmit-Lashio by mid-February 1945; operations looking directly toward the completion of that mission had been under way simultaneously with those to clear the road. Sultan's current plan called for the forces under his command to swing east like a closing gate. To the north, this maneuver had pushed the Japanese off the trace of the road to China, but the rest of the swing was still to be made. MARs Task Force, the Chinese 30th Division, and the Chinese 114th Regiment had still to move east and cut the Burma Road below the Namhkam-Wanting area, the Chinese 50th Division had to take Lashio, and the British 36th Division had to cross the Burma