By Michael Hickey
Neither side wanted this fight at the start, but there were many remarkable feats of arms as the war progressed. Michael Hickey describes the highs and lows of the campaign, the personalities involved, and the effect it had on East-West politics once World War Two was over.
The campaign in which Allied forces defeated
the Japanese in
'The raid at
These needs fired the strategic thinking of
belligerent politicians and service chiefs in
The raid at
Despite this, Japanese plans elsewhere worked
beyond expectation. Hong Kong and Indo-China fell to them without difficulty,
but the greatest triumphs occurred on the Malay peninsula
The Japanese completed their triumphs by overrunning the Dutch East Indies, spreading out into the western Pacific by capturing numerous island bases, and threatening the security of Australia.
British and Indian troops in action, 80 miles south of
There were two reasons for the
Japanese invasion of
'The troops were raw, lacked combat experience, and were inadequately trained ...'
Furthermore, possession of
He ordered his commanders, against their better judgement, to defend well forward. They, however, were aware, as he was not, of the deficiencies of their commands. The troops were raw, lacked combat experience, and were inadequately trained and equipped to take on the aggressive and bold invaders.
Apart from two experienced light tank regiments and an infantry battalion
brought in from the
Operating a scorched-earth policy as it went, Burcorps,
now under command of Lieutenant General William Slim, fell back up the
There followed many months of stalemate, as both sides tried to probe each
other's strengths and weaknesses. Wavell, anxious to
re-assert British military influence and raise depressed morale, ordered an
advance into the Arakan, the coastal region of
'Although now outnumbered, the Japanese fought with ferocious courage ...'
Things were only lightened by the propaganda value of Brigadier Orde Wingate's first Chindit expedition. In this the Allies enjoyed some success in using guerrilla tactics against the Japanese, despite incurring heavy losses, thus proving that British troops could take on the Japanese in the jungle.
In 1943 the Allied High Command was overhauled, and Wavell was replaced by the charismatic Lord Louis Mountbatten. His influence obtained much needed air support for what now became the 14th Army, particularly in the field of transport aircraft, and re-supply by air became the norm for the forward troops.
Slim, now in command of 14th Army, imbued his command with a new spirit. Units were encouraged to sit tight, relying on air-dropped supplies, and hold their ground when attacked, instead of dispersing as formerly.
The Japanese, aware that the defenders had gained strength, resolved to end
the campaign at a blow with an assault into
Between March and July 1944 fierce battles raged on both fronts. Although now outnumbered, the Japanese fought with ferocious courage; all ranks of 14th Army knew that their ticket home depended on total destruction of their enemy and this is exactly how it transpired. Fighting every inch, the Japanese recoiled from the hills and back across the River Chindwin, harassed by Wingate's second Chindit expedition.
Wingate unfortunately did not live to see this outcome. He perished in a plane crash as the expedition began, and as American troops were advancing from the north with (somewhat unreliable) Chinese Nationalist forces. Bereft of his dynamic leadership the expedition became semi-static, although there were some remarkable feats of arms as the numerous Chindit columns fought deep in the Japanese rear areas, in their endeavours to realise Wingate's concept of 'a hand in the enemy's bowels'.
Field Marshal Sir William Slim ©
Early in 1945, 14th Army
continued to advance, no longer in the jungle but in the open plains of upper
Mountbatten gratified his ambition by staging an elaborate victory parade,
at which he took the salute in
Slim, the architect of this great victory, was not present at Mountbatten's parade. Mountbatten had decided that 14th Army's great commander was tired and needed a rest, and therefore replaced him at the moment of his great triumph.
'... Slim ... having been knocked out of the ring at the beginning, got back in and beat his opponent flat.'
This was unfortunate, as Slim was the only British general in World War Two who had fought against an enemy 'First Eleven' throughout, and who, having been knocked out of the ring at the beginning, got back in and beat his opponent flat. His removal from command of the army he had forged had a calamitous effect on the morale of his men.
Churchill had initially opposed his appointment to command 14th Army, considering him a 'sepoy general' (Slim had made his military home in the 6th Gurkhas). But his personal account of the campaign, Defeat into Victory, will long endure as a military classic. It is modestly written, but reveals the humanity of this truly great soldier, as well as his professional ability - both qualities that explain why his men loved him as much as they did.
San ... was assassinated in
Despite the outstanding performance of the 14th Army, comprising as it did
Indian, African and British formations, much British face had been lost in the
Then Aung San's Burmese National Army changed
sides and gave valuable service to the 14th Army in the final stages of the
campaign. The British returned to
The political scene in the country has remained unstable ever since, due to the impositions of ruthless military governments. The incompetence of these, in matters of national economy, is matched only by the strength of their repression of all opposition.
Aung San's daughter Aung
San Suu Kyi, continues to oppose the regime, offering some hope for the
people of this ancient country.