A trusted protégé of Chiang Kai-shek, Tu was a graduate of the first cadet class at the Whampoa Military Academy. During WWII he commanded the Nationalist Fifth Army in the Burma Campaign under Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell.
After the war, Tu helped strengthen the Nationalist position in the Southwest and was then transferred to the Northeast Theatre to consolidate Kuomintang control. For most of the Civil War, he served as a field commander in Manchuria and Northeast China.
He was captured during the Huai-hai debacle and held in Communist prisons until his pardon in 1959.