Sunday, May 4, 2014


22. My intention had been that during the winter the IV Corps (17th and 23rd Indian Divisions) should advance into Burma and establish itself on the Chindwin river between Kalewa and Sittaung. The only strategical objective of these operations was to assist the advance of the Chinese forces into Northern Burma (see paragraph 2 above) by engaging as many enemy troops as possible.

There were two possible routes leading towards the objective from the Imphal plain in Manipur over the high range into Burma. The road from Imphal by Palel to Tamu (in the Kabaw valley) had been constructed in 1942, from Palel to Tamu it was a single-way mountain road liable to frequent interruption in the rains; the distance from Imphal to Palel is 28 miles; and from Palel to Tanm 36 miles The other possible route was from Imphal by Bishenpur to Tiddim (145 miles), thence to Fort White and down into the Kabaw valley at Kalemyo; this route had certain obvious advantages in the approach to Kalemyo, since it was screened by hills to the east until close to Kalemyo, whereas an advance to Kalemyo from Tamu was exposed throughout to enemy attacks from across the Chindwin. General Irwin favoured the development of the Tiddim route and placed most of our limited road-making resources on it. A visit to the front early in February convinced me that our resources were quite insufficient to develop the lengthy Tiddim route in time, and that it was in fact unlikely that it could ever be made into a serviceable line of communication owing to the engineering difficulties. It seemed likely that the monsoon would find us with no reliable road into Burma at all. I therefore ordered the- diversion of our road-making effort to the improvement of the Tamu road, which was at least known to be practicable.

23. The lack of transport, of road-making material and of other administrative resources, which are referred to elsewhere in this despatch, made it necessary to postpone operations against Kalewa and Sittaung. When it was found that the Chinese troops in Yunnan had no intention of making a move, the strategical basis of our advance disappeared; and in the end operations in the Kabaw Valley were confined to strong offensive patrols.

24. Early in 1942, while operations in Burma were still being conducted, I had asked for the services of Lieut.-Colonel O. C. Wingate, D.S.O., who had served under my command in Palestine in 1938 and in Abyssinia in 1941, to organise guerilla activity in Burma. He arrived too late to effect anything in Burma; but on the withdrawal from Burma in May 1942 he put before me a proposal to tram a brigade for long-range penetration behind the enemy lines. The brigade was to have a special organisation and was to be independent of the normal lines of communication and to be supplied from the air. I approved Colonel Wingate's proposals, and placed him in command of a Brigade formed of the 13th Battalion of the King's Regiment, the 3/2nd Gurkha Rifles, 142nd Commando Company and 2nd Battalion of Burma Rifles. These were not picked units in any way, but were the only ones easily available at the time. The formation was known as 77th Indian Infantry Brigade and began jungle training in the Central Provinces in July 1942. Its original role in the reconquest of Burma was to penetrate into Central Burma at a time when both Upper and Lower Burma were being attacked by large forces. When our restricted resources permitted only a very limited advance in Upper Burma, I considered whether I should employ the Brigade at all during the winter of 1942-43. With a view, however, to giving the maximum possible assistance to the Chinese advance which was due to take place on March ist (see paragraph 2 above), I decided to use the Brigade in Upper Burma to cut the enemy line of communication to Mvitkyina and if possible also to Bhamo and Lashio. It was accordingly moved to Imphal early in 1943. At the beginning of February I learnt from General Stilwell that the Chinese in Yunnan had no intention of advancing. The operations of the 77th Brigade would thus have no support and no strategical purpose. I had therefore to decide whether it was wise to employ the Brigade at all. I went to Imphal and had a long discussion with Brigadier Wingate on the evening of February 6th, as a result of which I decided to let the operation continue, in order to gain experience of the working of these columns. I inspected the Brigade, which was organised into seven columns, on February 7th; and it began its move next day. Each column was self-contained with pack transport, and had machine-guns and mortars. There was no artillery, and supply was by local purchase and air.

25. The directive given to the Brigade was to enter Burma through the front held by the 4th Corps; to cut the main North and South railway line between Mandalay and Myitkyma; to harass the enemy in the Shwebo area; and then, if circumstances were favourable, to cross the Irrawaddy and cut the railway line Maymyo-Lashio.

To assist the main body to cross the River Chindwin (about Tonhe) and reach the railway some 150 miles distant without opposition, two of its Gurkha columns were sent to cross the river 50 miles to the South, and to co-operate with movements by the 23rd Division in that area, who were to simulate an attack on the enemy position at Kalewa. These two columns were to cross the river three days before the main body of the Brigade, and then, after moving south to attract the attention of the enemy, to move quickly to the east, cross the river Irrawaddy at Tagaung, and await the arrival of the main force an the mountains around Mongmit. Supply dropping for these columns during this period was to be by day so as to attract attention; otherwise the normal practice was to drop supplies by night.
So far as can be judged the deception was successful; at any rate the main body had crossed the Chindwin without opposition by the 18th February, and succeeded in reaching the railway unopposed.

Two columns fell out of the enterprise at an early stage. One of the two southerly columns was trapped in an ambush, broke up and returned to Assam in small parties; and one column of the main body, in a brush with some enemy, became scattered, lost much equipment and was cut off from the other columns; as this column had shown poor fighting qualities its commander decided to march it back to the Chindwin.

26. The main body reached the railway and successfully carried out a series of demolitions; four bridges were destroyed, the side of a gorge blasted to bring down thousands of tons of rock on the line, and the track was cut in 70 other places.

I had given Brigadier Wingate a free hand to decide whether after cutting the railway he returned TO Assam or crossed the Irrawaddy and raided further east. As one of the main objects of the expedition was to gain experience, he eventually decided to cross the Irrawaddy, largely in order to ascertain whether the equipment and methods of river crossing evolved during training were practical. The crossing of the Irrawaddy by the various widely separated columns was accomplished between March 9th and 18th.
27. Across the Irrawaddy the Brigade began to encounter difficulties. It was hot, water was not easy to find, and the health of men and animals began to suffer. There were more Japanese in the area than had been expected, and many M.T. tracks which gave the enemy mobility, hence it became difficult to arrange supply dropping. Eventually the operations against the Mandalay-Lashio railway were abandoned, and it was decided to recross the Irrawaddy and return to India. An attempt to cross the Irrawaddy at Inywa (south of Katha) was discovered by the enemy, and failed. The order was therefore given for the force to break up into Dispersal Groups—a manoeuvre which had been practised during training—and to cross the river on a very wide front and return to India independently. This was successfully done, most Groups reached the Chindwin in the area occupied by the 23rd Division near Sittaung; one column crossed it as far north as Tamanthi and went thence to Kohima; one marched due north and won out by Fort Hertz, one went east to Paoshan, was hospitably received by the Chinese Army and flown back to India by the Americans. The majority of the force had returned by the first week in June. The Brigade had spent four months inside territory occupied by the Japanese.

28. The enterprise had no strategic value, and about one-third of the force which entered Burma was lost. But the experience gained of operations of this type, in supply dropping from the air, and in jungle warfare and Japanese methods, was invaluable. The enemy was obviously surprised and at a loss, and found no effective means to counter the harassment of our columns. The operations showed the necessity for a very high standard of training and physical fitness in troops employed on such expeditions. In general, Brigadier Wingate's theories and leadership were fully vindicated. A detailed and frank account of the enterprise is given in his printed report of the operations. As soon as the expedition started, I had issued orders for the formation of another brigade (in Indian Infantry Brigade) on similar lines.

29. Early in 1942 the construction of a road from Ledo (in North-East Assam) towards Myitkyina in Upper Burma had been begun. Work had been interrupted by the evacuation of Burma and by the monsoon; but had been resumed in November. In December the Americans took over the construction, with the intention of eventually driving a supply route through to China. By June 20 roadhead had crossed the Paungsa Pass, 46 miles from Ledo. The nature of the country and the climate made the work extremely difficult. To protect the construction, the Americans employed a part of the Chinese troops who had been trained in India under American supervision (see paragraphs 15 and 16 of my Despatch on operations in the Eastern Theatre based in India, Mar.- Dec. 1942).*

30. I mentioned in my last Despatch* (paragraph 22) the reoccupation of Fort Hertz in the extreme north of Burma to support the operations of .the Kachin Levies towards Myitkyina. These levies, under Lieut.-Colonel Gamble, did most valuable work in harassing the Japanese forces in the Myitkyina area during the early part of 1943; so much so that they stung the enemy into retaliation. Early in March a considerable Japanese force advanced on Sumprabum, temporarily dispersed the levies, and seemed to threaten Fort Hertz.

There was a moment when it was represented to me that only a brigade could save Fort Hertz. There was no brigade available; the only means of communication with Fort Hertz were by air; and very few transport aircraft were available. I had one additional company flown in to Fort Hertz. The Japanese did not advance beyond Sumprabum and the levies soon recovered their morale.
* Published as a Supplement to The London Gazette on the 18th September, 1946. Operations in the Eastern Theatre based in India, Mar.- Dec. 1942
Post a Comment