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British 11th Army Group

From Academic Kids

The British 11th Army Group was the main British Army force in Southeast Asia. It was activated in November 1943 upon the formation of South East Asia Command (SEAC). Its commander was General George Giffard, who had formally been Commander-in-Chief West Africa Command and Commander, Indian Eastern Army. Its main subordinate formations were Fourteenth Army and the Ceylon Army. Its headquarters was situated in New Dehli, eventually moving to Ceylon. It would have been logical for 11th Army Group to have the Northern Combat Area Command under its control as well, so that the whole front in Burma would have been under a single commander, but General Joseph Stilwell the NCAC operational commander, (who was also Deputy Supreme Commander South East Asia and therefor Giffard's superior,) refused to serve under Giffard's command.

During the advance to be made in Northern combat area from Ledo to Myitkyina to cover the building of the Ledo Road, it was essential that this attack was co-ordinated with the attacks further south to prevent the Japanese concentrating large numbers of reserves for a counter attack on any one front.

The initial idea was that as General Stilwell would be commanding several Chinese divisions which would attack out of India from the West and with the large but amorphous Yunnan armies attacking out of China from the East, he would be commanding a large army. So his command should be placed under 11th Army Group at the same level as the Fourteenth. The attacks could then be co-ordinated at Army Group level.

Stilwell, however bitterly resisted it,...To watch Stilwell, when hard pressed, shift his opposition from one of the several strong-points he held by virtue of his numerous Allied, American and Chinese offices, to another was a lesson in mobile offensive-defence.[1]

In a meeting to solve the problem of command, Stilwell, under intense pressure from the Supreme Allied Commander of SEAC Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten astonished everyone by saying "I am prepared to come under General Slim's [officer commanding Fourteenth Army] operational control until I get to Kamaing"[1]. Rather than sack him, Mountbatten reluctantly agreed to this, but it was a dangerous compromise. It created a complicated chain of command where Slim theoretically had to report to two different commanders. Giffard for Fourteenth Army actions and Mountbatten for Stilwell's formations. Under a general less gifted than Slim this could have caused serious problems if Slim had not been able to command Stilwell at an operational level with out disagreement (which given vinegar Joe's proven track record was more than likely). But at an operational level Slim was able to work with Stilwell and "this illogical command set-up worked surprisingly well".[1]

Allied Land Forces South East Asia

11th Army Group remained a in existence until 12 November 1944. It was redesignated Allied Land Forces South East Asia, still under SEAC. Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese succeeded Giffard in command. 11th Army Group was redesignated because it was felt that an inter-Allied command was better than the purely British headquarters that 11th Army Group was. Command problems with General Joseph Stilwell and his interactions with the Joint Chiefs of Staff had precipitated the change. It was made just after Stilwell was recalled to the U.S. and Lieutenant General Daniel Sultan became commander of the U.S. Forces, India-Burma Theater (USFIBT) and commander of NCAC.

References

  1. "Defeat into Victory" by Field Marshall Sir William Slim. (page 205-207)

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