Arakan

The land that is known as Arakan by the foreigners is called Rakhaing-pray by its own people, Rakhaing-thar (Arakanese) who were titled this name in honour of preservation on their national heritage and ethics or morality.

OPERATIONS IN ARAKAN.

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Sunday, May 4, 2014

3. The operations in Arakan had only a limited objective, the capture of the air-fields on Akyab island at the end of the Mayu peninsula. There is no practicable land route out of Arakan into Burma proper, from which it is separated by a range of steep, jungle-clad hills with no roads. Arakan itself is extremely difficult campaigning country with poor communications, much thick jungle and steep hills, and a wet and unhealthy climate. In the First Burmese War more than one hundred years previously it had been the scene of a British expedition, in which the force had been almost entirely destroyed by disease.

The capture of Akyab had been originally planned as a seaborne expedition, for which the 6th British Brigade of the 2nd Division had been specially trained and was to' form a landing force with the 29th British Brigade, which had taken part in the Madagascar operations. The role of the 141)1 Indian Division in this plan was a purely diversionary advance from Chittagong. Unfortunately, I was not provided with the necessary resources for the landing operations.* The 29th Brigade and their landing crews suffered from malaria in Madagascar and had to 'be sent to South Africa to recuperate. It became apparent that neither naval escorts, transports, landing craft, nor air forces to cover the landing would be available in sufficient numbers during the winter of 1942-43 to undertake the sea-borne expedition against Akyab; which had every prospect of success, if it could have been carried out at the end of 1942 or beginning of 1943, since the Japanese garrison was small and there were few defences on the island.

4. I was unwilling, however, to give up the attempt to capture Akyab, and considered that it might be possible by a rapid advance down the Arakan coast by the 14th Indian Division to reach the southern end of the Mayu peninsula (Foul Point) and thence launch a shortrange assault in the few landing craft available and in local vessels, by the 6th Brigade and part of the 14th Division. Speed in the advance was essential so as to reach Akyab before the Japanese could reinforce the island or strengthen the defences.

There were, however, serious obstacles to a rapid advance in the nature of the country and the communications. There were no road communications other than those we could make as we advanced, which entailed the bridging of numerous creeks. The forward echelons had to be organised on a pack transport basis, which caused difficulties in a formation which had been trained on a mechanised basis. Sea communications were hampered by the nature of the coast line, which offered no landing facilities except within the Naf and Mayu rivers; they could only be used as their mouths were secured by our advance. Supply by air was out of the question, owing to our lack of transport aircraft.

5. At the beginning of the campaign the enemy held Maungdaw and Buthidaung with a force estimated at two battalions with eight guns The initial advance of the 14th Division was delayed by the weather and administrative difficulties. The leading Brigade, the 123rd Indian Infantry Brigade, was about to attack the enemy positions, in the middle of December, 1942, when the enemy withdrew, and we occupied Maungdaw on December 16th and Buthidaung on December 17th. The. 14th Division followed up on a two-brigade front; the 47th Indian Infantry Brigade moving down the coast towards Foul Point, and the 123rd Brigade east of the Mayu river towards Rathedaung. By December 27th, the 47th Brigade had reached India, and a patrol actually rounded Foul Point and reached Magyichaung; by the same date the 123rd Brigade arrived opposite Rathedaung and a patrol reported it clear of the enemy, though this cannot have been correct. At this time it appeared that the Japanese did not intend to hold the Mayu peninsula. If the troops had been able to push on at once, the whole peninsula might have been secured,
6. There now occurred an unfortunate delay of some ten days, due to administrative difficulties. It may be that the urgency of the situation was not fully realised and that troops should have been pushed forward in spite of all difficulties to take advantage of the situation. But the brigades were operating at the end of a very tenuous line of communications of over 150 miles from railhead, and the weather was unfavourable, heavy rain making the road impassable.

When the advance was resumed on January 6th, the enemy had constructed strong defences in the Donbaik-Laungchaung area and at Rathedaung. The 47th Bngade attacked the Donbaik position on January 18th and 19th. The attack failed, mainly owing to the difficulty of locating enemy machine-guns and mortars in the jungle.

The 47th Brigade was now relieved by the 55th Indian Infantry Brigade, and preparations were made for a fresh assault with the aid of tanks This was made on February 1st and failed, two of the six tanks used being ditched and two knocked out by anti-tank fire. An attack on Rathedaung by 123rd Brigade on February 3rd also failed after some initial success. The 55th Brigade attacked Donbaik again on February 17th and again failed It was now relieved by the 71st Brigade of the 26th Indian Division. The intervals between the attacks were due entirely to difficulties of communications which made reinforcement and supply very slow. The long stretch of hastily constructed road was continually interrupted by rain; and supply by sea was hampered by the lack of vessels of suitable size and draught to enter the river and use the anchorages at Cox's Bazaar and Maungdaw; it even proved necessary to withdraw vessels of the R I N from minesweeping and patrol duties, to remove their guns, and use them as cargo ships.

7. By this time it became obvious that the Japanese had been reinforced and had probably the whole of one division on the Arakan front. Strong defences had now been made on Akyab island I discussed the situation with General Irwin, commanding the Eastern Army. It seemed improbable that the Mayu peninsula, could be cleared in time to deliver the assault on Akyab before monsoon conditions, which appear about the middle of March, made landing hazardous, and it was obvious that the enemy had by now made full preparations to defend all landing places. General Irwin recommended that we should prepare defensive positions and give up the attempt to clear the Mayu peninsula. I refused to accept this recommendation and to take up a defensive attitude without first obtaining a marked success over the enemy, so that the troops should be confident of their ability to beat the Japanese. I directed General Irwin to use the 6th Brigade (British) of four battalions, which had been held at Chittagong in readiness for the attack on Akyab, to assault the Donbaik position in conjunction with the 71st Indian Brigade. My intention was that the attack should be delivered in great strength and depth with the object of swamping the Japanese positions.

8. Meanwhile the Japanese began a counter offensive, directed in the first instance against our eastern flank on the Kaladan river. Twosmall columns had moved into the Kaladan valley at the time of our advance on Rathedaung. One column, consisting of a battalion of Indian infantry from the 123rd Brigade, moved from the Mayu valley by a track across the hills into the Kaladan valley; the other, consisting of two companies of Tripura Rifles (State Forces), came down the valley from the north. Our forces had occupied Kyauktaw by the time of the Japaneseattack. The enemy appears partly to have come up the Kaladan river from Akyab and, partly to have infiltrated through the hills from Pakokku on the Irrawaddy. They employed their usual enveloping tactics against communications and forced the battalion of the 123rd Brigade to withdraw westward across the hills with some loss, and the Tripura Rifles to retreat northwards up the valley. The enemy followed up this success by crossing the hills and attacking the communications of 123rd Brigade opposite Rathedaung. After some heavy fighting, the 123rd Brigade, which had been closely engaged for three months, was relieved by the 55th Brigade and withdrew to Buthidaung.

9. The attack of the 6th Brigade on the Donbaik position took place on March 18th and failed. The troops succeeded in advancing some distance into the enemy defences, but were unable to deal with the enemy's underground strong points, which remained in action behind our forward troops; while the enemy guns, mortars and machine-guns, concealed in the jungle, carried on firing on our troops which had penetrated the line quite regardless of their own troops which were still holding out. Our forward troops were eventually all killed or compelled to withdraw. The attack was made with great dash and determination but was not carried out in the strength or depth that I had considered necessary to overrun the enemy position. The losses of the attacking troops were heavy, especially in officers.

10. Meanwhile the 55th Brigade opposite Rathedaung was attacked in flank and rear and cut off from Buthidaung on March 17th. By a counter-attack and with the assistance of yist Brigade it succeeded in extricating itself from a dangerous position but lost some equipment and a considerable number of animals East of the Mayu river we were now forced back to a position covering Buthidaung.

The enemy then began similar infiltration tactics against our troops west of the Mayu range, and at India on April 5th overran the headquarters of the 6th Brigade. There was heavy fighting here, and severe casualties were inflicted on the enemy in counter-attacks; but by the middle of April we had withdrawn on this flank to positions covering Maungdaw.
11. By the end of March, the 26th Division had taken over the .greater part of the front, most of the 14th Division being withdrawn further north to rest. Some of the troops were tired and many units were weak through battle casualties and disease; reinforcements took some time to settle down to the abnormal conditions of jungle fighting. But in view of our command of the air I still hoped we could regain the initiative. I accordingly issued the instructions to Eastern Army which are given in Appendix B. They were to the effect that positions to cover the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road, the Maungdaw air-field and the mouth of the Naf river were to be held for the monsoon period in as great depth as possible, and that we were meanwhile to regain the initiative by offensive action on both sides of the Mayu river.

12. Shortly afterwards, in the middle of April, I was summoned to the United Kingdom to discuss plans for the winter of 1943-44 (see paragraph 46 below). During the first three months of 1943 I had visited the Eastern front on a number of occasions and had kept in close personal touch with Commanders and operations. During the remainder of the period under review, I was in the United Kingdom or U.S.A. and in touch only by long-range telegraph reports.

13. We failed to regain the initiative, and in fact lost our positions at Maungdaw and Buthidaung. Japanese forces continued their infiltration tactics through the thick jungle along the spine of the Mayu ridge; and by early May established themselves with a strength of at least two battalions on the road between Maungdaw and Buthidaung and destroyed a bridge. All attempts to dislodge them failed, so that it was necessary, on May 7th, to withdraw the force from Buthidaung by the Ngakyedauk Pass to the west of the Mayu ridge south of Bawli Bazaar. The movement was carried out without interference by the enemy; but a quantity of transport which could not be removed had to be destroyed.

14. The enemy continued to infiltrate against our communications; and it was finally decided to take up positions further north, abandoning Maungdaw, although it had been developed as an advanced base since its capture in December, and its loss involved the destruction of considerable quantities of stores. An attempt might have been made to hold and maintain it by means of the Naf river; but in view of the tired state of the troops and their lack of jungle training the attempt was, not judged advisable. By the start of the monsoon, our forces in Arakan were back approximately in the positions from which the advance had begun five months earlier. The enemy, who was also obviously suffering from maintenance difficulties, withdrew to the Maungdaw-Buthidaung line which he had held at the beginning of operations. This ended active operations in Arakan except for small patrol enterprises.

On May 20th I decided to replace Lieut.-General N. M. S. Irwin, Commander of the Eastern Army who had been for some time suffering from ill-health, by General Sir George Giffard.
15. The result of these Arakan operations was undoubtedly disappointing. But they must be viewed in their proper perspective. They were represented in some quarters as an " invasion of Burma ". Actually, as already stated, they had one objective only, Akyab island, and I should not have committed troops deeply into the unhealthy Arakan jungles had I had available the naval and air forces, landing craft and transports for a seaborne assault on the island.* When it became, obvious that these would not be forthcoming, I took the risk, sooner than keep my troops standing idle, of trying to reach Akyab by an overland advance. a I was well aware of the difficulties and dangers, and that the troops I was employing were not fully trained or equipped; they had been organised and trained up to the autumn for the defence of Bengal.

16. When these operations were initiated, I had been informed by General Stilwell that the Chinese Armies in Yunnan would advance into Upper Burma in force early in 1943, and I had intended that the IV Corps from Assam should advance in co-operation with them. I had therefore reason to suppose that the Japanese in Upper Burma would he fully occupied and unlikely to move reinforcements to Arakan. Actually, the Chinese made no move; and the IV Corps, owing to administrative difficulties was unable to be as active as I had hoped. The Japanese were therefore able to reinforce Akyab and Arakan from Upper Burma.

17. That Japanese defences, skilfully prepared and concealed, and held to the last, are difficult to overcome without considerable superiority of numbers and equipment and good training has been abundantly shown in the fighting in New Guinea and elsewhere in the S-W. Pacific, and in the actions which have taken place this spring on the Burma frontier. We had never the necessarysuperiority in these respects to assault positions such as Donbaik and Rathedaung; and our tactics were not always appropriate, owing to inexperience. The enemy counter-offensive was skilfully planned and executed; and their mobility and infiltration tactics in the jungle are undoubtedly difficult to counter. It was not possible to feed by air troops which had been cut off from their base by these tactics, owing to the lack of transport aeroplanes.

18. In the initial advance the troops of the 14th Division fought boldly and well It was only in the latter stages of the fighting, after several months continuous engagement in an unhealthy climate and under the discouragement of failure that there was any deterioration in the endurance and fighting capacity of the troops.

19. Strategically, we failed to reach Akyab and finished in the same positions from which we had started, but the capture of Akyab by an overland expedition was always in the nature of a gamble. We suffered some 2,500 battle casualties and probably inflicted at least as heavy losses on the enemy. The greatest gain from the campaign was experience, of the enemy's methods and of our own defects in training and organisation. The serious loss was in prestige and morale.

On balance I shall certainly never regret that I ordered the campaign to take place in spite of lack of resources.
Notes:
* The landings in North Africa and later in Sicily (November, 1942—July, 1943) took higher priority and there were insufficient resources for both operations (Note by the War Office )

III. SUPPORT BY R.I.N. AND R.A.F.
20. Launches and coastal craft of the Royal Indian Navy played a considerable part in these operations, both along the coast and in the Naf and Mayu rivers, and showed much enterprise in a number of small 'actions, of which the following are examples. On January 27th a launch on patrol in the Mayu river rammed and sank a large launch full of enemy troops, at least fifty of whom were killed. On the night of February 21st-22nd Coastal craft landed a raiding party at Myebon, about sixty miles south-east of Akyab, which inflicted casualties, destroyed stores, and re-embarked without loss. On February 26th motor launches on patrol north of Ramree Island intercepted two Japanese motor launches, sank one and damaged the other, inflicting at least 50 casualties on the enemy.

21. The R.A.F. gave invaluable aid to the Army during these operations, both by attacks on enemy positions in close support and by attacks on other targets in forward areas, such as boats on the rivers or transport on the tracks and roads. The action of the R.A.F. is described in greater detail in paragraphs 32 to 36.

http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/ww2/London_Gazette/Burma_January_to_June_1943/html/body_part_ii.htm

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