How Large Was The Chinese Army In Burma

World War II saw a clash between forces of the Allied nations and the Axis powers, including the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, and the British Empire. But perhaps the most significant of these conflicts took place in the East Asian country of Burma, where the Chinese army and the imperial Japanese army fought one of the longest and most costly campaigns of the war. In an attempt to gain control of Burma, both sides sustained significant losses, but how large was the Chinese army compared to the Japanese in this historic confrontation?

Historians debate the actual number of troops involved in the Burma campaign. Estimates vary from between two and four million for the Chinese army, and between three and five million for the Japanese forces. Of the Chinese troops, most belonged to the nationalist Kuomintang’s 8th Route Army, while the remainder were spread across several smaller units and militia. The Japanese troops were composed mainly of the six divisions of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 15th Army, as well as several other regional military units.

It was a brutal campaign, with both sides facing tremendous hardship and privation. The oppressive jungle environment of Burma took a heavy toll on all combatants, and due to the difficult terrain, access to food and hospitals for wounded soldiers was severely limited. The Chinese forces suffered heavy losses during the battle, particularly in their assault on the city of Myitkyina. Despite their enormous casualties, the Chinese forces did manage to occupy Myitkyina and other strategic strongholds, forcing the Japanese to retreat and paving the way for the eventual Allied victory in Burma.

Despite the disparity in numbers, the Chinese army managed to defeat the Japanese and drive them out of the country. This outcome was due to a variety of factors, including the Chinese forces’ effective guerrilla tactics and the strong support of the Burmese resistance movement, as well as the Chinese government’s strong commitment to providing resources for the soldiers on the ground.

The battle for Burma had immediate and far-reaching impacts on the region, particularly for the Chinese forces. Following the Japanese defeat, the Chinese army was strengthened and empowered and ended the war as one of the most powerful military forces in the world. That reputation has held to this day, as the People’s Liberation Army is one of the largest armies in the world with over two million personnel.

Urban Warfare

The Chinese army had never faced the scale of urban warfare they encountered in Burma, but they adapted quickly to the challenge. First, they took advantage of the city’s unique environment to implement a variety of effective guerrilla tactics. For example, they established small teams to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations in order to gain intelligence on the enemy’s activities and locations. This enabled the Chinese forces to stay one step ahead of the Japanese in their movement and counter-attacks.

The Chinese also used the city’s infrastructure to their advantage, taking control of key roads and bridges and using them to block the Japanese forces’ advances. They also used underground sewers and tunnels to avoid the Japanese and sneak up on them from behind. As the Japanese forces were largely unfamiliar with the terrain, this meant that the Chinese had a significant advantage in their urban warfare tactics.

Supply Lines

Access to crucial supplies was critical for the Chinese army’s success in Burma. In order to maintain a steady stream of resources, the Chinese relied heavily on the support of the Burmese people. Burmese citizens not only provided food and medical aid for the troops, but became essential in helping with intelligence gathering and logistical support. As a result, the Burmese people and their support was one of the key factors in the Chinese army’s eventual victory.

The Chinese also relied on long supply lines extending all the way back to China. During this campaign the Chinese mobilized their forward supply units and established warehouses and depots near the frontline, which enabled swift and reliable resupply of ammunition and other supplies. This enabled the Chinese forces to maintain their momentum and keep fighting while the Japanese troops ran out of supplies and resources.

Air Force

The Chinese air force also played an important role in the battle for Burma. The Chinese War Ministry had sent over 3,000 aircraft to the region, and these measures helped strengthen their position in the region. The Chinese air force used several tactics to great effect, including close air support, reconnaissance and bombing operations. This helped to gain an advantage over the Japanese, who had limited air capabilities in comparison.

The Chinese air force also engaged in a number of daring air raids against Japanese targets in Burma. These raids were instrumental in further weakening Japanese forces in the region and ultimately hastening their retreat from the country.


The Chinese forces fought hard during the campaign in Burma, but they wouldn’t have been able to do so without the proper preparation. The Chinese government had provided thorough training to the troops, equipping them with the necessary skills to survive in such a challenging environment. This included training on jungle warfare and guerrilla tactics, as well as physical training to help them prepare for the tough conditions.

The Chinese forces also received intensive training on the weapons they would be using in the conflict, including machine guns and rifles. These techniques enabled the Chinese to swiftly adapt to the Japanese’s tactics and outmaneuver them on the battlefield.


Like all military campaigns, success in Burma was largely due to having a well-crafted strategy. The Chinese strategy was based on the concept of indirect warfare, which focused on using guerrilla tactics to gain an advantage over the better-equipped and more powerful Japanese forces. This involved using the terrain to their advantage, as well as a combination of small-scale guerrilla tactics and large-scale conventional warfare. This allowed the Chinese troops to use their superior knowledge of the terrain and their familiarity with the region to defeat the Japanese.

What’s more, the Chinese army also implemented a strategy of psychological warfare against the Japanese troops. This included propaganda campaigns designed to sow discord among the Japanese troops, as well as instill a sense of fear and demoralization. Such tactics proved to be effective, and ultimately had a significant effect on the Japanese forces in Burma.


In addition to their own troops, the Chinese army also enlisted the help of several Communist and Nationalist forces in the area. These forces included the Burmese Communist Army, the Chinese Expeditionary Force, as well as various other ethnic militia units. These alliances allowed the Chinese to bolster their forces, further weakening the Japanese and speeding up their retreat.

Furthermore, a number of foreign nations also lent their support to the Chinese forces. This included the support of the United States in the form of financial aid, as well as access to their industrial capacity. This enabled the Chinese forces to replenish their supply lines and maintain the continuity of the campaign.


In conclusion, the Chinese army had a significant presence in Burma during World War II, and although outnumbered by the Japanese forces, they were able to gain a decisive victory thanks to a combination of effective strategy, tactics, and training. Additionally, their allies and partners played an essential role in ensuring their victory, particularly in providing vital supplies and support to the struggling Chinese forces.

Letha Wimmer is a military expert with more than a decade of direct experience in the U.S. Army and National Guard. She specializes in researching and writing about the world's armies and their capabilities, equipment, capabilities, strategies, organizations, and operations. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation from Middle Tennessee State University as well as an Aerial Firefighting Certificate and numerous other advanced aviation certifications. She also enjoys traveling to distant lands to gain firsthand knowledge about their military forces and has written extensively for various websites on the subject.

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