Sunday, May 4, 2014


1. The Basis of Planning during the Period June—November 1943.
Coincident with my appointment as Commander-in-Chief in India, the intention to set up a new South East Asia Command was announced. This Command was to relieve the India Command of responsibility for the conduct of operations against the Japanese in this theatre. Later, in August, Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten was appointed Supreme Allied Commander:

Although this would relieve me in due course of the planning and execution of future operations against the Japanese, there was much to be done during the intervening months, if continuity of effort was to be preserved until the new Command started to function and thereafter. During this time, therefore, at my Headquarters much work was done in the framing and examination of plans. These plans conformed with the decisions of the Washington and Quebec Conferences, and while at work on them I was in close touch with the Allied Chiefs of Staff.

Meanwhile, intensive training and preparation for the future continued in India. On the eastern frontier and along the lines of communication leading to it development proceeded so far as monsoon conditions would allow. The progress of these preparations and of work on the lines of communication is recorded in Pant III of this Despatch. Before describing the progress of planning it is necessary, however, to explain the overriding effect of the meagre resources of India and of the severely limited capacity of the lines of communication on any military operations undertaken on the eastern frontier.

Although these conditions may apply to any theatre of war they exerted a particularly serious influence in this theatre for the following reasons: —

Firstly, the original conception of the load to be placed on the lines of communications, though based on sound reasoning at the time, had proved to be too small.

Secondly, in addition to securing the purely military needs of the land and air forces engaged with the enemy, including the large demands of the air transport route to China, the lines of communication had to cope with heavy civilian requirements, such as those of the tea and jute industries, indispensable to the war effort of the Allied Nations.

Thirdly, the normal economic life of Assam and Eastern Bengal had also to be sustained and this entailed the transportation of large quantities of commodities over the railways, rivers and roads which constituted the lines of communication serving the China-Burma-India theatre of war.

This was the maintenance situation, and on the 7th August I issued an instruction to my Long Term Administrative Planning Committee to examine the problem. Any feasible short 'term measures for expansion were also to be examined, and an account of these as well as the results of the examination by the Long Term Planning Committee will be found in Part III. On the 17th August, my Quarter Master General's Staff (Transportation Directorate) produced two documents on the provision of Transportation Stores in India for 1944-45. The first of these documents described the foundations on which our administrative preparations for the operations of the South East Asia Command were built, whilst the second afforded some idea of the magnitude of the transportation problem involved.
In reading, therefore, the account of operational planning which follows and the record of'-administrative progress and development set out in Part III of this Despatch, the above facts require to be remembered as their influence affects all plans for operations based on India against the Japanese whether on the land, the sea or in the air.

2. Plans considered as the Result of the Washington Conference.
When I took over command, planning was proceeding on the limes laid down by the Washington Conference of May, 1943.

It had been decided at this Conference that priority should be given to increasing the air transportation route to China to a monthly capacity of 10,000 tons by the early autumn of 1943. Bracketed with this as a first priority was the development of air facilities in Assam with a view : —
    (a) To intensifying air operations against the Japanese in Burma.
    (b) To maintaining increased American air forces in China.
    (c) To keeping up the flow of airborne supplies in China.
Examination of this problem had been proceeding at India Command Headquarters, and an the 2nd July I came to the conclusion that, since priority was to be given to the air lift for China, the limitations of the Assam line of communications would not permit intensive land operations to be carried out. I considered the implications of this conclusion also in relation to the prospect of amphibious operations against Akyab, because I felt that the successful accomplishment of the latter was important for many reasons, including the need to raise the morale of the Army in India to the highest pitch. A summary of my recommendations was sent to the Chiefs of Staff on the 2nd July.

At this time it became clear that the capacity of the air transport route to China was already falling short of the target, and during July only 3,451 tons (as against a target figure of 7,000 tons) were actually delivered to China. The reason was the lack, as yet, of a comprehensive maintenance organisation and servicing facilities. The effect on our airfields of monsoon conditions was not a factor in the failure to reach the required tonnage.

On the 18th July, ill fortune beset the line of communications to the Eastern Army in the form of a serious breach on the main line of the East Indian Railway and on the Grand Trunk Road, north-west of Calcutta. This Breach was caused by widespread floods resulting from the river Damodar bursting its banks and changing its course, and it came at a time when transportation on the line of communication was already in arrears owing to various unforeseen causes and also when demands on its, capacity were already increasing. It now began to be seen (as already recorded) that the long term development of the line of communications so far planned (which in any case could not be fully effective till the autumn of 1944) was going to be inadequate; and various measures for short term improvement were urgently considered. The situation in regard, to communications in North East India at this time and its relation to the various projected operations, was communicated to the Chiefs of Staff on the 13th August 1943.

3. Plans reconsidered as the Result of the Quebec Conference:
On the 25th August I received the decisions of the Quebec Conference in so far as they affected the India Command. In these the previous decision of the Washington Conference was modified in so far as it was now resolved to give first priority in our war effort in this theatre to the land and air operations which would be necessary to- establish land communication with China. It was also decided to continue to build up and increase the air routes and air supplies to China, and to develop the resources of that country in order: —
    (a) To enable her to continue her struggle against Japan.
    (b) To intensify operations against the Japanese.
    (c) To maintain increased U.S. armed forces in China.
Furthermore, while the possibilities of developing the air route to China to enable us to deploy all the heavy bomber and transport aircraft likely to be available for the South East Asia theatre and China in 1944-45, were to be studied, a directive to the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command mentioned an eventual monthly lift of 20,000 tons as a target for the air ferry to China. No specific date, however, was fixed for this.

I now examined the operational programme for the future, so far as this had been planned, in the light of the Quebec decisions. The paragraphs which follow deal consecutively, and under their appropriate headings, with the various projects examined. In each case the narrative embraces broadly the conclusions reached up to the time I handed over to the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command.

4. Plans for Land and Air Operations in Upper Burma.
Plans for operations in Upper Burma had been under examination for some time, and, as soon as the decisions of the .Quebec Conference were known, these. plans received priority of attention over other projects.

The resolve was to conduct vigorous and aggressive land and air operations at the end of the 1943 monsoon, from Assam into Burma via Ledo and Imiphal, and this was to be in step with an advance by Chinese Forces from Yunnan. The object was to contain as many, Japanese Forces as possible and to cover the air ferry route. It was to be an essential step towards the reopening of land communications with China by means of a road from Ledo via Myitkyina. The new road would connect with the existing road north of Lashio.

Here again it is necessary not to lose sight of the over riding factor of the extremely limited capacity of the Assam L. of C. It was only possible 'to plan operations for a force within the maintenance capacity of that artery. If the forces or scope of operations were to be increased, it could only 'be done at the expense of other demands on the L. of C., and in particular that of the air lift to China.

By the 7th September, I was able to give the Chiefs of Staff a summary of suggested plans for land and air operations in Upper Burma in 1943-44. Chinese operations should take place as already planned from Yunnan and Ledo. It was only in respect of the plan for the British Forces that alternatives existed, and in this, physical considerations limited the plans for an advance into Burma from the Imphal-Tiddim area to two possibilities: —
An advance to the area Kalewa-Kalemyo, and thence to Ye-U.

An operation for the capture of the Indaw area (with its airfields) by airborne assault, followed by an advance overland to consolidate the capture. This force would depend on air supply until the Chinese advance from the north opened a route for maintenance by land.
In both plans the use of long range penetration forces was included; tout more particularly did they figure in the second as a means to distract the enemy and disrupt his communications— thus reducing the hazards of the temporarily isolated force at Indaw.
Initially I favoured the first alternative, but the Chiefs of Staff inclined to the latter plan, stressing the following considerations: —
    (a) The importance of the early seizure of a locality directly enabling us to join hands with the Chinese advances from Ledo and Yunnan.
    (b) The element of surprise and the greater scope for employment of long range penetration groups.
    (c) Greater economy in lift on the Assam L. of C.
Further and more detailed examination was therefore made, and as a result, and in view of the weight attached to (a) above, I agreed that the second plan was preferable.

On the 27th September, I cabled to the Chiefs of Staff a report on the progress made to date, and the conclusions reached.

The chief features of the plan at this stage were as follows. The Indaw airfields were to be seized by parachute troops, and thereafter a division (less one brigade) was to be flown in in seven days. A third brigade group with mules and jeeps was to advance overland from Imphal to Indaw. This was to be coupled with a limited offensive/defensive operation southwards from Taimu, as well as with the Chinese advances from Ledo and Yunnan on Myitkyina, Bhamo, and Lashio. Offensive operations in Arakan were also to be timed to take place so as to have the maximum distracting effect on the enemy. Finally (and of great importance) the advance of the 'main forces towards their objectives was to be preceded and assisted by long range penetration forces.

The plan involved the use of transport aircraft on a very large scale. It was thought that this would amount to between 18 and 23 squadrons, depending on the treatment found necessary for the surface of the Indaw airfields. The Chiefs of Staff, however, cabled on the 7th October that provision of aircraft on this scale was quite out of the question, and that a total of 151 transport aircraft (six squadrons) was all that were likely to be available.

Accordingly, the matter was further examined, and on the 13th October I sent the Chiefs of Staff a modified plan, which, while not so satisfactory as the original, nevertheless appeared to be feasible.
The main modifications were: —
    (a) Fighter squadrons would be located at Indaw during the dry weather only.
    (b) The original air landing force of one division, less one brigade, would be flown in over a fortnight instead of a week.
    (c) The parachute force would be retained, in order to strengthen the garrison, until the operational situation permitted it to be flown out.
    (d) The delivery of engineer stores would be spread over a longer period by commencing delivery earlier.
Even with these modifications, however, the requirements of transport aircraft, while much less than they were in the original plan, were still greatly in excess of 151. In fact, 290 would be required in the worst case, and 263 in the best case—i.e., 12 and n squadrons respectively, as against 23 (maximum) in the old plan.

I continued to look for means to make further reductions in the requirement of troop aircraft, but any such reductions could only be small unless the plan was still further radically altered. It became clear that, unless the additional aircraft could be provided, the capture of ilndaw should not be attempted, and I suggested as a means to augment the supply that some aircraft might be made available from the ferry route.

As regards the enemy forces that might be disposed to meet our offensive operations in the Burma Theatre, a summary in regard to the situation in November, 1943, is given in Part II "Operations and Intelligence “.

Briefly, there were five Japanese Divisions. The bulk of one (55th) was in Arakan; one (33rd) was in the Chin Hills; one held the Mawlaik Homalin area; and two (18th and 56th) covered the area of North Burma to the Salween.

5. Plans for Operations on the Arakan Coast.
At the Washington Conference of 12th to 25th May, 1943, it was resolved to capture Akyab and Raimree Island (by an amphibious operation; also, possibly, to exploit any success gained. This was part of the general pattern of offensive operations in the South- East Asia Theatre, and plans were being formulated accordingly. It will be remembered, however, that at this time first priority on our resources was still allocated to the air ferry to China.
In my view the success of the attack on Akyab was of great importance both from the point of view of the Army and public in India, and of public opinion in Europe, America and China. The island was already strongly fortified and formidable. I considered two assault brigades would be necessary in the first flight, and a third, loaded with its own assault shipping and craft, as a follow-up. Three to four (land based) fighter squadrons would be required over Akyab during daylight, and convoys would be protected by carrier-borne aircraft.

Additional to the above plan, I considered that to .ensure success we should operate offensively by land down the Arakan coast with up to two divisions. One long range penetration group would operate in the Kaladan River area.

A further important reason for this land advance was the capture of the Maungdaw airfield. With this in our hands shore-based fighter support could be given to the amphibious attack on Akyab.

As regards Ramree Island, unless separate shipping for an assault on this locality was to be allotted, this would either have to be taken by a surprise attack immediately after the capture of Akyab, or the attack would have to be postponed to a date three to four months later and then carried out by two assault brigade groups and one built-up division.
Fuller details of these plans including estimates of possible Japanese strength in Akyab and Arakan were cabled to the Chiefs of Staff on the 2nd July, 1943.

In the meantime, however, further and more detailed examination of the project for operations on this coast was taking place, and I found it necessary to amend my views. On the 22nd July, therefore, I cabled to the Chiefs of Staff a revised plan. The salient points of this were as fallows: —
    (a) In view of the special difficulties of an assault on Akyab, the following would be required:—
      Three assault brigades.
      One follow-up brigade.
      One floating reserve .brigade.
The following shipping and craft would be required in addition to that allotted or
already asked for: —
      Three Landing Ships Infantry, each with
      twelve Landing Craft Assault and crews.
      Six Landing Craft Infantry (Large), complete with crews.
      Twenty-one Landing Craft Tank (Support), complete with crews.
    (b) It was clear from the above that we should not have sufficient resources to assault both Aykab and Ramree simultaneously.
Moreover, if Ramree was strongly held, this would require two assault brigades, and the interval between the assaults could not foe less than 3 months; e.g., if Akyab was assaulted on the 1st January, the assault on Ramree could not be before the 1st April, and probably later. This would be very near the monsoon, and the practicability of the operation was doubtful.
    (c) A surprise attack consisting of a quick follow through /by one brigade group from Akyab could not be done. The only possibility, therefore, of opposition at Ramree was expected to be slight, would be to use the shipping again of the Akyab assault troops to embark one fresh brigade group from east coast ports of India for an assault about a month after the Akyab assault. With the resources available, this brigade group could not be fully trained, but it would be possible to have it ready trained and waiting, if the additional craft and shipping demanded could be made available.

    (d) The garrison of Ramree would have to be one division during the monsoon, plus a large force of naval craft to watch the approaches to the island, lit was unlikely that we would be able to construct an all weather airfield before the monsoon broke.
    The possession of Ramree island would: —
      (i) Give depth to air defence,
      (ii) Help air operations against Burma, Malaya and Sumatra.
      (iii) Constitute a threat to Taungup which 'might contain enemy forces.
At this stage of planning the flood breach on the main East Indian Railway line upset our calculations. It was seen that, as a result of this calamity, land operations in Arakan were likely to be delayed, and the assault on Akyab might therefore have to be postponed to mid-February. On the i3th August I considered a suggestion that had been submitted to me by my Force Commanders that the plan for the attack on Akyab should be by means of '' staggered assaults ". I directed that an alternative plan should be framed embodying this principle.

The decisions of the Quebec Conference were now received on the 26th August. In so far as operations on the Arakan coast were concerned, preparations were to continue for an amphibious operation in the spring of 1944. Pending a decision on the particular operation to be carried out, the scale of these preparations was to be of the order of those contemplated at Washington for the capture of Akyab and Ramree. This and other operations in the South East Asia Theatre were to be considered in their relation to one another. In the meantime I had come to the conclusion that the capture of Ramree Island was not essential in connection with the other operations contemplated for the coming dry 'season of 1943-44. The reasons for this (which did not apply to Akyab) were cabled to the Chiefs of Staff on the 29th August, 1943.
They were as follows: —
    (a) Ramree Island was not considered essential for other operations in 1943-44. It was only valuable in conjunction with other movements further down the coast.
    (b) There was no time to complete an airstrip to all weather standard.
    (c) The above was not applicable to Akyab which would be of greater assistance to obtain air superiority.
    (d) In view of the decision to break ,up the 70th Division to form long range penetration forces, there would only be five assault brigades in India (i.e., the 2nd and 36th Divisions). All these were required for Akyab.
On the other-hand the military advantages of the capture of Akyab alone (and contrasted with Ramree) were definite. I cabled them to the Chiefs of Staff on the 4th September.
They were:—.
    (a) The removal of the Japanese threat to Chittagong.
    (b) The number of troops required for the North of Akyalb would be reduced, as also the maintenance tonnages.
    (c) We would gain advanced airfields for attacks on enemy communications in Burma.
    (d) The air warning system would be improved.
    (e) An attack on Akyab would force the Japanese Air Force to fight.
Further examination of the Akyab and Arakan operations by my staff and force commanders continued. It was' established that the personnel lift would not be less than 50,000, and the Chiefs of Staff were advised accordingly.

They agreed to make personnel ships available for 50,000; but asked that efforts be made to confine the lift to this figure,- as shipping for more could only be provided at the expense of other operations.

6. Plans for the Recapture of the Andaman Islands.
The principal value of these islands to us would be in connection with operations further south towards Sumatra and Malaya. In particular, the facilities their possession would afford for photographic reconnaissance and intelligence was a factor that might even make their capture an essential preliminary to other operations, either in this direction or towards the Burma coast. A summary of the situation regarding intelligence and photographic reconnaissance, and the influence thereon of being able to use the Andamans, was cabled to the Chiefs of Staff on the 11th October, 1943.

A further important consideration was the denial of the Andainans to the enemy as a useful forward base for refuelling submarines. At the same time, the fact that operations against the Andamans involved certain risks was not lost sight of, and it was fully realised that their possession might prove a liability as well as an asset Lying within a semi-circle of enemy air centres, the airfield in the Andamans might be difficult to operate in the face of enemy bombing, and there was thus a risk of our troops being left without air support. Moreover, though the islands might not be difficult to capture, the reinforcement of isolated forces there might 'be a constant drain on our resources.

On the 13th August, I suggested to the Chiefs of Staff that if an assault on Malaya was definitely decided on for 1944-45, it would be desirable to divert resources from the capture of Akyab to the capture of the Andamans in the spring of 1944. By the 4th September an outline plan had been prepared which showed that the operation, could be undertaken, subject to certain modifications, with the forces needed for the assault on Akyab.
This proposal, however, being inter-related with plans for the amphibious operations was still undecided when responsibility passed to the South East Asia Command.

7. Plans for Operations against Sumatra and Malaya.
After the Washington Conference in May, 1943, an outline plan was prepared for the capture of North Sumatra. This was to be immediately followed by a landing near Penang, with the object of reconquering the Malay Peninsula. The Chiefs of Staff accepted this as a basis for more detailed staff study, which commenced at my Headquarters accordingly. In the meantime the Quebec Conference called for a study of: — ~
    (a) Operations against Northern Sumatra for the spring of 1944
    (b) Operations through the Malacca Straits and Malaya for the direct capture of Singapore.
With regard to the first, the conclusions reached were that the forces would be far in excess of those required for the capture of Akyab; and that isolated long range penetration operations, without the support of main .forces could not achieve the capture of Sumatra. Regarding the second, this was at first scheduled for as early a date as might be practicable, but was subsequently deferred to the end of 1944 or early in 1945. Both these projects now took priority in consideration over the dual operation that was earlier >being examined and was still under examination in November.

8. Moulmein and the Isthmus of Kra.
A study of possible operations through the Moulmem area or Kra lsthmus in the direction of Bangkok, was commenced as a result of the decisions of the Quebec Conference. A target date for the late spring of 1944 was given. Preliminary examination however was not very favourable.

9. A Bomber Offensive on Japan from China (American Plan).
Early in September, I received information from Washington of an air plan for a bomber offensive to accelerate the defeat of Japan, which had been prepared at Quebec (by the American Air Planning Staff.

The general idea was to bomb Japan itself with a bomber force built up at Changsha. This force was to be maintained by a fleet of transport aircraft based on Calcutta, with a staging area at Kunming.

I cabled to Washington on the 8th September my comments on this plan, making clear the obstacles to it. The scheme postulated an increase in capacity of the port of Calcutta that was more extensive than anything previously envisaged. There were no administrative or constructional plans in existence for any such major port development. The idea also demanded the development of 45 airfields in the Calcutta area, for which suitable sites (near existing communications) could not be found in the time, and the petrol lift was beyond the capacity of existing transportation facilities.

Later in September, I received from American H.Q. in ,New Delhi their reactions to the above Quebec Air Plan They agreed with me that the original plan was administratively unsound, and put forward an alternative scheme for bombing Japan with aircraft based partly on Calcutta and partly in China. The effect of this would be that India would have to prepare seven airfields by August, 1944.

On examining this alternative plan, the conclusion was reached that it also could not be achieved by the date given. Moreover, a special P.O.L. port on the Hooghly would be required, and the port capacity of Calcutta itself would have to be increased. I ordered a reconnaissance of the various possibilities of this plan to see how much could be done.
10. Future Operations Southwards from North Burma for the Reconquest of the Country.
The Quebec Conference decisions received on the 26th August included instructions to study future plans for these operations. The possible date was to be November, 1944, and examination was put in hand on the following assumptions: —
    (a) That land and air operations for the capture of Upper Burma would be launched in mid-February, 1944.
    (b) That offensive operations would be carried out on the Arakan coast in the spring of 1944.
    (c) That we capture either Akyab or North Sumatra in the spring of 1944.
    (d) That an airborne and other forms of attack on Rangoon would be included.
Plans for this major enterprise were still in process of being examined when operational planning was taken over by the South East Asia Command.
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