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Originally the Burma Road was built by the Chinese during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945) and was completed in 1938. Its ends were at the Burmese railhead of Lashio to Kunming, China and was about 700 mi (1,130 km) long and constructed through rough mountain country. It was used to transport war supplies landed at Rangoon and shipped by railroad to Lashio. This traffic increased in importance to China after the Japanese took effective control of the Chinese coast and of Indochina. The Ledo Road (later called the Stilwell Road after Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell) from Ledo, India, into Burma was begun in Dec., 1942. In 1944 the Ledo Road reached Myitkyina and was joined to the Burma Road. The road was finished 7 months prior to the end of the war.

During the road's construction U.S. pilots flew dangerous supply missions from Chabua, India to Kunming, China. Using the C-46 Commando, the largest and heaviest twin-engine transport in use by the U.S. Air Force. It was nicknamed Dumbo after Walt Disney's flying elephant and was quite prone to problems. But it was the lifeline to China for most of the war climbing over the Hump (The pilots' nickname for the Himalayas.).

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