Burma Campaign – 1944 Invasion of India

CASE STUDY CONCEPT: Bold Strategies Cannot Succeed without Suitable Supply Chains

Imagine you are the officer in charge of logistics for the Japanese invasion of India in the spring of 1944 toward the end of World War II. You are supporting four divisions attacking from Burma across some of the most forbidding jungle and mountainous terrain in the world. The strategy is to overwhelm opposing British and Indian forces and drive deep into India. It is a bold move, and the campaign started out well enough. Japanese soldiers attacked bravely and tenaciously, but within a few weeks they got bogged down in fighting around two British bases. And keeping them supplied has become a challenge.

Now British and American counterattacks have happened in a different part of Burma, and suddenly more supplies are needed there to support a Japanese division fighting against those counterattacks. This is not what you had planned for. But then no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. You need to find a new way forward.

The outcome of this campaign was decided in large part by the Allied and Japanese supply chains and their respective abilities to deliver the food, fuel and ammunition needed by their fighting units. In this case study we explore what the Japanese supply chain looked like and how it worked. The structure of the Japanese supply chain as the campaign began is shown in the screenshot below.

U-Go scr1a(click on screenshot to see larger image)

The main point of entry for Japanese supplies into Burma was the port of Rangoon (1) (Burma is now known as Myanmar and Rangoon is now called Yangon). From Rangoon, there were two main arteries for transporting supplies. One was the Irrawaddy River where barges could move supplies some 2,600 km (1,600 miles) north to the large Japanese air base at Myitkyina (3) (pronounced “Me-chin-aw”). The other main artery was the rail line that ran north from Rangoon to Myitkyina. About midway between Rangoon and Myitkyina , at a point where the railway crosses the Irrawaddy, was a major supply depot at Mandalay (2). Branching out from Mandalay were roads that headed west and north toward the Indian border.

Supplies could be moved in bulk by rail and river barge from Rangoon to Mandalay. But beyond Mandalay it became complicated. From Mandalay supplies were transported by truck, rail and river barge to the various Japanese supply depots that supported the offensive. From these depots there was extensive use made of donkeys and mules to transport supplies across mountainous and jungle terrain to reach the Japanese divisions fighting British forces. The Japanese also made some use of transport aircraft flying from their airbase at Myitkyina to airdrop supplies to fighting units.

You will have the opportunity to redesign your supply chain to see if you can better meet the changing needs of the Japanese invading force. In working through this case study you will gain an understanding of the impact of logistics on military campaigns. Bold strategy calling for troops to attack in unexpected places is a good way to start a campaign. But unless that strategy can be supported with adequate supplies, it will not go well (Napoleon once said “An army marches on its stomach”).

Plans of Attack and Counterattack

The Japanese plan called for crossing the northwest border of Burma to invade the eastern Indian state of Assam. The orange arrows in the screenshot below show where the Japanese attacks occurred, and the red circles show the location of the British bases they needed to capture. The blue lines show the supply chain network that the Japanese used to support these attacks.

Four divisions with their supplies and equipment would make their way through dense jungles and mountainous terrain for distances of 100 km (60 miles) or more. After crossing this terrain, these divisions were to surprise and quickly capture the British bases at Imphal (4A) and Kohima (4B). Once that was accomplished, the Japanese army would push on into India. And it would get needed food and fuel from captured British and Indian stockpiles that it found there. The attack would be launched in early March and victory had to be achieved by the end of April before the monsoon rains came. Once the rains started, the movement of supplies would become even more challenging as rivers overflowed and the many dirt roads and jungle paths turned into deep mud.

In the months before the offensive, Japanese supplies were stockpiled in forward storage depots marked by the three triangles. The southernmost depot was located at a point where the main road crossed the Chindwin River. From there trucks and river barges could be used to move supplies forward as the offensive began. The two northern storage depots however, relied on mule trains to move their supplies forward to the fighting units because there were no roads through the jungle and mountainous terrain in front of them.

u-go scr2(click on screenshot to see larger image)

The campaign launched on schedule in early March, and initially it made good progress. But by late March the British and Indians had withdrawn into their fortified bases and were resisting fiercely. The Japanese army continued to attack but made little progress. Even though the Japanese surrounded these bases, the British and Indian troops could rely on airdrops to provide them with the supplies they needed. This was possible because of the large numbers of British and American transport planes available, and because the Japanese air force did not have the capability to intercept and prevent those airdrops.

Then, in early May as the monsoon rains came on, British and American troops launched attacks of their own to disrupt the Japanese supply lines and force the Japanese to react to protect their air base at Myitkyina. British commandos (known as Chindits) set up a base called the “Blackpool Block” (5A) on a series of hills that overlooked the rail line that supplied Myitkyina. This allowed them to use artillery to cut that rail line. American troops (known as Merrill’s Marauders) moved down the Ledo Road from the north (5B) to attack the Japanese airbase. And again, these British and American troops were largely supplied by airdrops.

The Japanese responded by sending another of their divisions to attack the British and American forces. This put further demands on the Japanese supply chain just as it was struggling to deliver enough supplies to the four divisions attacking the British bases at Imphal and Kohima.

Estimates of Supply and Demand

This model aggregates the hundreds of individual products needed by an army into three general categories – Food, Fuel, and Ammunition. There is also a fourth product which is produced by the fighting units. That product is killed and wounded soldiers. The supply chain supporting the Japanese campaign in Burma needs to deliver enough products to meet demand and also evacuate the killed and wounded soldiers.

The supply chain model is built using certain estimates about demand for food, fuel and ammunition by the Japanese divisions. The model estimates daily demand for a Japanese infantry division in combat to be: 200 tons of food; 100 tons of fuel; and 300 tons of ammunition (see footnotes at end for further information about estimates). These estimates are easily changed by adjusting the product demand numbers for any given Japanese division. A division’s daily production number for killed and wounded soldiers can also be adjusted.

Products standard case or container sizes are defined for each of the products used in the model. Review the price, weight and size numbers by clicking on the products in the edit screen. You can change any of these numbers if you have better information.

Facilities – The attacking Japanese units are defined as four facilities: 31st Div; 15th Div; 33rd Div / INA Div; and 18th Div. These facilities represent the main supply depots of those divisions. From there supplies would filter out to the individual combat units. This model does not include further detail on that final leg of the supply chain. There is also another Japanese division, the 55th Div which is in garrison in the south of Burma. All facilities in the Japanese supply chain are defined and placed as accurately as possible. Click on these facilities in the edit screen to review or change their locations and numbers.

Product demand at a facility is determined by the type of facility it is and by the number of vehicles based at that facility. Demand numbers for an infantry division are noted above. The demand for fuel and food needed by vehicles and crews assigned to a given facility are shown as demand for those products at that facility.

Vehicles and Routes – five basic types of vehicles are defined in this model: rail freight cars; river barges; medium trucks; cargo planes; and mules. Vehicle speeds and fuel usage are set to reflect the conditions of the route (road or river or jungle path) the vehicle is using. Routes traveled by vehicles are laid out carefully so distances on these route are as accurate as possible.

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Mental Models and Learning from Simulations

As head of logistics for this campaign, you get out your map and aerial reconnaissance photos, and  begin drawing in the positions of various army units and their supply needs. You are creating a model of the situation to help you understand what is happening (situational awareness). In addition to the information about your own supply chain, you also put in your best estimates concerning the British supply chain. You locate the two airbases from which British and American cargo planes are making airdrops of supplies to their troops and you estimate their troops’ demand for supplies.

When your model is created, you run a simulation to see what is likely to happen. You can see the results in the screenshots below. Two points of failure appear after eight days. You are unable to deliver enough food to the 31st Division attacking Kohima, and you are not able to deliver enough fuel to the 18th Division fighting against the counterattacks.

What will you do to fix this?

u-go scr3(click on screenshot to see larger image)

In thinking about what to do, you zoom in on the map to investigate the situations where the two supply chain failures occurred. You switch from the map view to the satellite view to get a better picture of the land and its implications for supply chain operations. The screenshot below shows the situation where the 31st Div has run out of food.

When you click on the supply depot supporting the 31st Div you see it has enough food on-hand, but it isn’t able to move enough food forward to meet demand. The squiggly green line going west across the mountains and jungle is the route your mule trains use to deliver supplies to the 31st Div. And the straight green line is the route followed by some of your cargo airplanes that have been airdropping supplies to 31st. Div. How can you get more supplies delivered more quickly to this division?

u-go scr4(click on screenshot to see larger image)

Then you look at the situation around the 18th Div defending the Myitkyina airbase (see screenshot below). Three things become clear right away. First of all, since the 18th Div is shifting from stationary garrison duties to an active combat role, it will certainly be needing more fuel to move its men and equipment, and more ammunition in order to attack the newly appeared British and American forces.

And second, you must keep the rail supply line to Myitkyina open if you are going to get adequate supplies moved up from Mandalay. You can move supplies by river barge but that is much slower and speed is of the essence right now. The screenshot shows how close the new British base is (red circle) to the rail line (shown in light blue). You tell the commander of the 18th Div that the British base has to be neutralized. And you promise you will deliver the extra fuel and ammunition he needs to do it.

u-go scr5(click on screenshot to see larger image)

The third thing you see is that there are a limited number of vehicles to move supplies. You are going to have to shift vehicles around; move vehicles from routes that are delivering more supplies than are needed and re-assign them to other routes where increased deliveries are required. There are some additional trucks, rail cars, barges, airplanes and mules that can found beyond what you already have, but the utmost efficiency of use for vehicles will be needed.

How Supplies Flow through this Supply Chain

A good way to start forming a picture of how your supply chain is working is to understand the flow of products. Where are they building up and where are they running out? The screenshots below show on-hand inventory levels for important points in your supply chain. The first three facilities shown below are the main depots at Rangoon, Mandalay and Myitkyina.

Tier 1

Supplies are building up in Rangoon and dropping in Mandalay; you need to move more products to Mandalay. The saw-tooth pattern of supplies in Myitkyina is because supplies do not arrive every day, they arrive every three or four days by rail or barge and during the time between arrivals, the on-hand amounts get drawn down to meet daily demands.

Tier 2

Then you look at the three facilities (shown above) that are the three forward depots where supplies were stockpiled to support the invasion of India. Kalewa Depot supports the 33rd and the INA Divs. It’s on-hand supplies are trending downward. Homalin Depot supports the 15th Div, and Hta Man Thi Depot supports the 31st Div. Supplies at both depots are holding steady.

And finally, you look at how well supplies from these forward depots are being moved up to meet the demands of the combat divisions.

Tier 3

You see the 33rd and INA Divs are getting enough supplies, maybe even a bit too much. And numbers of wounded or killed soldiers are building up so more need to be evacuated. You note that the 15th Div is getting more ammunition than it needs. The 31st Div just ran out of food, and you see it is about to run out of fuel and ammunition as well. Also the on-hand numbers of wounded and killed soldiers is building up there.

Rebalancing Vehicles and Routes

Vehicles move products between facilities to meet demand, and routes are the paths they follow to make those deliveries. The amount of products that can be delivered are affected by the number and carrying capacity of the vehicles, the speed of the vehicles and the frequency with which vehicles depart on their routes. Here are specifications for the carrying capacity of the vehicles you have available:

River Barge 220 m3 20,000 kg
Rail Freight Car 110 m3 50,000 kg
Medium Truck 40 m3 4,500 kg (about 5 US Tons)
Mule / Donkey 1.5 m3 60 kg
Cargo Plane 150 m3 2,500 kg

See the vehicle information in the model by clicking on facilities and the vehicles assigned to those facilities. Look at the number of vehicles assigned and the routes they travel to deliver products. Look for areas where you can re-assign vehicles and adjust the mix of products delivered so as to better meet demand. And look for areas where vehicles could depart on their routes more frequently. But remember, the more frequently vehicles depart, the more wear and tear occurs and the more likely there will be vehicle breakdowns and missed deliveries.

Experience has shown you that when using airdrops of supplies from cargo planes, only about half of the dropped supplies actually reach the intended troops. So you reduce the cargo capacity of the cargo planes by half to reflect that finding (this will impose logic checks in the model to prevent delivering more supplies than the vehicle can now carry).

Rangoon 20 Barges 4,400 m3 / 400,000 kg 12 hrs
60 Rail Cars 6,600 m3 / 4,320,000 kg 72 hrs
Mandalay 20 Barges 4,400 m3 / 400,000 kg 6 hrs
20 Rail Cars 2,200 m3 / 1,440,000 kg 48 hrs
100 Trucks 6,000 m3 / 450,000 kg 48 hrs
Myitkyina 10 Cargo Planes 750 m3 / 12,500 kg 72 hrs
Kalewa Depot 20 Barges 4,400 m3 / 400,000 kg 48 hrs
200 Trucks Grp1 6,000 m3 / 900,000 kg 24 hrs
200 Trucks Grp2 6,000 m3 / 900,000 kg 24 hrs
Homalin Depot 25 Trucks 150 m3 / 112,500 kg 48 hrs
400 Mules 600 m3 / 24,000 kg 24 hrs
Hta Man Thi Depot 600 Mules 900 m3 / 36,000 kg 24 hrs
15th Div 400 Mules 600 m3 / 24,000 kg 24 hrs

(one US ton equals about 900 kg)

Since you are working in a war zone, there are air raids from British and American fighter planes. At times they catch your vehicle convoys and destroy some of the vehicles. There are also attacks on your supply chain from enemy commando units. If you want to assume that 10 or 20 percent of vehicles get destroyed, you can model that assumption by reducing the cargo capacity of your vehicles by 10 or 20 percent (this will require you to reduce product delivery quantities for those vehicles). Start by assuming that all vehicles will get through. That may deliver enough supplies. Then test out different assumptions for the number of vehicles destroyed and see what happens.

The overall amount of supplies being imported into Rangoon cannot be increased in the next 30 days, so you have to work with what you already have coming into Rangoon. The Rangoon depot shows these imports for the next 30 days as daily production numbers for food, fuel and ammunition. It also shows evacuation of wounded and killed troops from Rangoon as demand.

There are some additional vehicles of various types that can be found and put into service in your supply chain. The table below shows this information.

River Barges 60 15
Rail Freight Cars 73 50
Trucks 725 80
Mules 1,400 4,800
Cargo Planes 10 5

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YOUR CHALLENGE — Create a supply chain to support this campaign for the next 30 – 60 days

Here are some questions to consider and some issues to explore as you work with this case study:

  • What vehicles will you re-assign from one route to another to improve overall delivery of supplies?
  • What assumptions do you use for percentages of vehicles destroyed on different routes? What happens if percentages of destroyed vehicles are 50 percent higher than you estimate?
  • Identify the greatest risks facing your supply chain operations and show what you can do to manage those risks.
  • What numbers and kinds of vehicles do you need to make this supply chain work for the next 30 – 60 days?
  • How much can you do with the supply chain resources that are currently available?
  • Create a model of a supply chain that meets the needs of the fighting divisions. Then compare its products, facilities, vehicles and routes requirements with the resources currently available in those areas.
  • How will you make your findings and recommendations clear and concise in your presentation to the campaign commander? 

TIP: Save backup copies of your supply chain model from time to time as you make changes. Click “Save” button next to your model in Account Management screen. Then if a change doesn’t work out, you can restore from a saved copy.

For ideas on how to expand this supply chain see “Tips for Building Supply Chain Models” for useful techniques. There are also useful ideas to be found in the section “Reducing Inventory and Operating Costs

What are the recommendations you will make to the Japanese general in charge of this campaign? Back up your findings and recommendations with a short report using screenshots and data from simulation results to illustrate your main points.

For added realism, do a live presentation of findings and recommendations to your instructor and your classmates. Your instructor is the commanding general and your classmates are other officers on the general’s staff. Use your model and run simulations to show them what you recommend and answer their questions.


MISSION REPORTING TEMPLATE — There is reporting template with an operations report and a performance dashboard for analyzing your simulation data. The template is built for a 15-day period. You can import your simulation data after trimming it for 15 days (scroll down to bottom of Analyzing Simulation Data). The operations report shows facility and product detail, and the dashboard shows where the best opportunities are for improvement. You can download a copy of the mission reporting template here.

The reporting template is set up for the Nepal Earthquake DR supply chain, but look at how the reports read the simulation data and you will see how to change the spreadsheet as needed to accommodate this case study.

To share your changes and improvements to this model (json file) with other SCM Globe users see “Download and Share Supply Chain Models


Research done on the daily requirements of an Allied infantry division during World War II yielded an estimate of 650 US tons per day, of which 124 tons would be fuel. Here is the link “Supplying the Armies: Rations; POL; and Coal” – http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Logistics2/USA-E-Logistics2-7.html

Here is a discussion of fuel consumption of Allied divisions and an estimate of 650 tons of supplies needed per day – http://www.ww2f.com/topic/50169-fuel-consumption-of-allied-divisions/

This model assumes Japanese divisions required somewhat less than Allied divisions, maybe about 8 – 10 percent less. That is how we arrived at 600 tons of supplies per day to support a Japanese infantry division in combat.

Location of specific Japanese and British units and information about supply chain operations was found in the book Japan’s Last Bid for Victory: The Invasion of India 1944, by Robert Lyman, 2011, The Praetorian Press, Barnsley, UK – http://www.amazon.com/JAPANS-LAST-BID-FOR-VICTORY/dp/1848845421

Part of the Japanese supply chain to support operations in Burma was the Burma Railway built by the Japanese in 1942 and 1943 to move supplies and troops from Thailand to Burma. This railway provided a connection between existing rail lines in the two countries. It was built with the forced labor of about 60,000 Allied prisoners of war and 180,000 conscripted local workers. This is the railroad whose construction is depicted in the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai”. Some 20 percent of the workforce died due to harsh working conditions and lack of food and medical care. Once in operation, the railroad did not live up to expectations. It failed to deliver the quantities of supplies and troops that had been hoped for. Read more in the Wikipedia article “Burma Railway” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burma_Railway. This rail line is not shown in the case study and  supplies it did deliver are recorded as part of the daily production amounts shown at the Rangoon Depot (this depot doesn’t actually produce supplies, but production amounts are used to represent amounts delivered by rail from Thailand and by Japanese cargo ships arriving in Rangoon harbor).

The supply chain supporting this campaign became increasingly strained as the months went by. During this time people in charge of logistics were unable to find ways to deliver the amount of supplies needed (but they could not see the big picture nor acquire the “situational awareness” available to you, so you might find improvement opportunities they did not see). The general commanding this campaign could not (or perhaps would not) understand the seriousness of the logistics situation as the campaign progressed. The result was one of the largest defeats ever suffered by the Japanese Army. Most of the Japanese losses were the result of starvation, disease and exhaustion from lack of supplies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_U-Go).


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