Burma Campaign 1944

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Burma Campaign 1944
Part of the Pacific War during World War II
C47 releases rations near Myitkyina.jpg
A C-47 transport aircraft drops supplies by parachute to Allied troops in action against Japanese forces; a common event during the fighting in Burma and India during 1944.
DateJanuary – November 1944
Result Allied victory
Flag of the Republic of China.svg China
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States

Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan

Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
29,324 (British Commonwealth) 71,289 (Japanese) [1]

The fighting in the Burma Campaign in 1944 was among the most severe in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II. It took place along the borders between Burma and India, and Burma and China, and involved the British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces, against the forces of Imperial Japan and the Indian National Army. British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from the United Kingdom, British India and Africa.

Commonwealth of Nations Intergovernmental organisation

The Commonwealth of Nations, normally known as the Commonwealth, is a unique political association of 53 member states, nearly all of them former territories of the British Empire. The chief institutions of the organisation are the Commonwealth Secretariat, which focuses on intergovernmental aspects, and the Commonwealth Foundation, which focuses on non-governmental relations between member states.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Empire of Japan Empire in the Asia-Pacific region between 1868–1947

The Empire of Japan was the historical nation-state and great power that existed from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to the enactment of the 1947 constitution of modern Japan.


The Allies had overcome the logistic and organisational difficulties which had crippled their earlier efforts, and they were preparing to invade Japanese-occupied Burma at several widely separated points. The Japanese forestalled them by launching their own offensive into India, and this offensive became larger in scope than originally intended. By the end of the year, the Allies had achieved significant territorial gains only in one sector, the extreme north-east of Burma, but the Japanese attack on India had been defeated with very heavy casualties. This handicapped the Japanese attempts to defend Burma against renewed Allied offensives in the following year.

Rival plans

Allied plans

After the Japanese conquest of Burma in early 1942, the Allies had launched tentative counterattacks in late 1942 and early 1943, despite lack of preparation and resources. This resulted in a defeat in the coastal Arakan Province of Burma, and a questionable success in the first Chindit long-range raid into Burma (codenamed Operation Longcloth).

Japanese conquest of Burma

The Japanese conquest of Burma was the opening chapter of the Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II, which took place over four years from 1942 to 1945. During the first year of the campaign, the Japanese Army drove British Empire and Chinese forces out of Burma, then began the Japanese occupation of Burma and formed a nominally independent Burmese administrative government.

In August 1943 the Allies created South East Asia Command (SEAC), a new combined command responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre. Its Commander in Chief was Admiral Louis Mountbatten. This brought a new sense of purpose and in November, when SEAC took over responsibility for Burma, the newly formed British Fourteenth Army was ready to take the offensive. The substantial improvement in the effectiveness of the troops which Fourteenth Army inherited has been credited to its commander, Lieutenant General William Slim. He enforced the use of anti-malarial drugs as part of an emphasis on individual health, established realistic jungle warfare training, rebuilt the army's self-respect by winning easy small-scale victories and developed local military infrastructure. [2]

South East Asia Command (SEAC) was the body set up to be in overall charge of Allied operations in the South-East Asian Theatre during World War II.

Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma British statesman and naval officer

Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was a British Royal Navy officer and statesman, an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. During the Second World War, he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (1943–1946). He was the last Viceroy of India (1947) and the first Governor-General of independent India (1947–1948).

Fourteenth Army (United Kingdom)

The British Fourteenth Army was a multi-national force comprising units from Commonwealth countries during World War II. Many of its units were from the Indian Army as well as British units and there were also significant contributions from West and East African divisions within the British Army. It was often referred to as the "Forgotten Army" because its operations in the Burma Campaign were overlooked by the contemporary press, and remained more obscure than those of the corresponding formations in Europe for long after the war. For most of the Army's existence, it was commanded by Lieutenant-General William Slim.

Slim's efforts were aided by improvements to the Allied lines of communication. By October 1944, capacity on the North-East Indian Railways had been raised from 600 tons a day at the start of the war to 4,400 tons a day. The Allied Eastern Air Command, which consisted mainly of Royal Air Force squadrons but also several units of the Indian Air Force and bomber and transport units of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), had gained air superiority and this allowed the Allies to employ new tactics, relying upon air support and aerial resupply of troops.

Royal Air Force Aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. Following victory over the Central Powers in 1918 the RAF emerged as, at the time, the largest air force in the world. Since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history. In particular, it played a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.

United States Army Air Forces Aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force,or United States Army Air Force, was the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

SEAC had to accommodate several rival plans:

Andaman Islands archipelago in the Bay of Bengal

The Andaman Islands form an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal between India, to the west, and Myanmar, to the north and east. Most are part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Union Territory of India, while a small number in the north of the archipelago, including the Coco Islands, belong to Myanmar.

Rakhine State State in West coastal, Myanmar

Rakhine State is a state in Myanmar (Burma). Situated on the western coast, it is bordered by Chin State to the north, Magway Region, Bago Region and Ayeyarwady Region to the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest. It is located approximately between latitudes 17°30' north and 21°30' north and longitudes 92°10' east and 94°50' east. The Arakan Mountains, rising to 3,063 metres (10,049 ft) at Victoria Peak, separate Rakhine State from central Burma. Off the coast of Rakhine State there are some fairly large islands such as Cheduba and Myingun Island. Rakhine State has an area of 36,762 square kilometres (14,194 sq mi) and its capital is Sittwe.

The XV Corps was a corps-sized formation of the British Indian Army, which was formed in India during World War II. It took part in the Burma Campaign and was disbanded after the end of the war.

A section of the Ledo Road Ledo Burma Roads Assam-Burma-China.gif
A section of the Ledo Road
Republic of China (1912–1949) 1912–1949 country in Asia, when the Republic of China governed mainland China

The Republic of China (ROC), was a state in East Asia which controlled the Chinese mainland between 1912 and 1949. The state was established in January 1912 after the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. Its government fled to Taipei in 1949 due to the Kuomintang's defeat in the Chinese Civil War. The Republic of China's first president, Sun Yat-sen, served only briefly before handing over the position to Yuan Shikai, leader of the Beiyang Army. His party, then led by Song Jiaoren won the parliamentary election held in December 1912. Song Jiaoren was assassinated shortly after and the Beiyang Army led by Yuan Shikai maintained full control of the Beiyang government. Between late 1915 and early 1916, Yuan Shikai tried to reinstate the monarchy before abdicating due to popular unrest. After Yuan Shikai's death in 1916, members of cliques in the Beiyang Army claimed their autonomy and clashed with each other. During this period, the authority of the Beiyang government was weakened by a restoration of the Qing dynasty.

Chiang Kai-shek Chinese politician and military leader

Chiang Kai-shek, also known as Generalissimo Chiang or Chiang Chungcheng and romanized as Chiang Chieh-shih or Jiang Jieshi, was a Chinese politician and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death. He was recognized by much of the world as the head of the legitimate government of China until 1971, during which the United Nations passed Resolution 2758.

Chongqing Direct-administered Municipality in Peoples Republic of China

Chongqing, formerly romanized as Chungking, is a major city in southwest China. Administratively, it is one of China's four municipalities under the direct administration of central government, and the only such municipality in China located far away from the coast.

After protracted staff discussions within India and between the Allied staffs and commanders in London, Washington and Chungking, the Allied plans for 1944 were reduced to: the offensive by Stilwell's Chinese troops from Ledo; the Chindit operation in support of Stilwell; the renewed overland attack in Arakan; and a rather ill-defined offensive across the Chindwin River from Imphal in support of the other operations.

Japanese plans

About the same time that SEAC was established, the Japanese had created a new headquarters, Burma Area Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe. Its subordinate formations were the Japanese Fifteenth Army in the north and east of Burma and the Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army in the south and west.

By chance or design, the new commander of Fifteenth Army, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi, had played a major part in many recent Japanese triumphs. He had for example been the officer immediately concerned in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, which started hostilities between Japan and China, and stated his belief that it was his destiny to win the war for Japan. [5] He was keen to mount an offensive against India. Burma Area Army originally quashed this idea, but Mutaguchi's persistent advocacy won over officers at Southern Expeditionary Army Group at Singapore, the HQ of all Japanese forces in southern Asia. Finally, Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo approved Mutaguchi's plan. Officers who opposed Mutaguchi's plans were transferred or sidelined. [6] Neither Kawabe, nor Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, the commander in chief of Southern Expeditionary Army Group, were given any opportunity to veto Mutaguchi's plan, or to control the operation once it had started.

The Japanese were influenced to an unknown degree by Subhas Chandra Bose, commander of the Indian National Army. This was composed largely of Indian soldiers who had been captured in Malaya or Singapore, and some Tamil labourers living in Malaya. At Bose's instigation, a substantial contingent of the INA joined in this Chalo Delhi ("March on Delhi"). Both Bose and Mutaguchi emphasised the advantages which would be gained by a successful attack into India. With misgivings on the part of several of Mutaguchi's superiors and subordinates, Operation U-Go was launched. [7]

Northern front

Stilwell's operations in North Burma North Burma Operations.jpg
Stilwell's operations in North Burma

Stilwell's forces, the Northern Combat Area Command, initially consisted of two American-equipped Chinese divisions, with a Chinese-manned M3 Light Tank battalion and an American long-range penetration brigade known after its commander as "Merrill's Marauders". Three Chinese divisions were later flown from Yunnan to Ledo to reinforce Stilwell.

In October 1943 the Chinese 38th Division, led by Sun Li-jen, began to advance from Ledo towards Shinbwiyang, while American engineers and Indian labourers extended the Ledo Road behind them. The Japanese 18th Division advanced to the Chindwin to stop them, but found itself outmatched. Whenever the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions ran into Japanese strong points, the Marauders were used to outflank Japanese positions by going through the jungle. A technique which had served the Japanese so well earlier in the war before the Allies had learnt the arts of jungle warfare was now being used against them. At Walawbum, for example, if the Chinese 38th Division had been a little swifter and linked up with the Marauders it could have encircled the Japanese 18th Division.

Not only were the Japanese driven back, but the Allies were able to use the trace of the track the Japanese had constructed to supply 18th Division, to speed their construction of the Ledo Road.

Second Chindit Expedition

In Operation Thursday the Chindits were to support Stilwell's advance by interdicting Japanese supply lines in the region of Indaw. On 5 February 1944, Brigadier Bernard Fergusson's 16th Brigade set out from Ledo, on foot. They crossed exceptionally difficult terrain which the Japanese had not guarded, and penetrated the Japanese rear areas. In early March, three other brigades were flown into landing zones behind Japanese lines by the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group, from where they established strongholds on most of the Japanese road and rail links to their northern front. Over the next two and a half months the Chindits were involved in many very heavy contacts with the Japanese.

Brigadier Michael Calvert's 77th Brigade successfully defended one of the landing zones, codenamed "Broadway", and established a road and railway block at Mawlu, north of Indaw. This position, codenamed the "White City", was successfully held for several weeks. Not all communications to the Japanese northern front were blocked, as only a single Chindit battalion operated against the road from Bhamo to Myitkyina, beyond the range of effective Allied air support.

On 24 March, Fergusson's brigade attempted to capture the airfield at Indaw but was repulsed, following which the exhausted brigade was withdrawn to India. On the same day, Wingate, the commander of the Chindits, was killed in an aircrash. His replacement was Brigadier Joe Lentaigne, formerly the commander of the 111th Brigade, one of the Chindit formations.

On 17 May, overall control of the Chindits was transferred from Slim's Fourteenth Army to Stilwell's NCAC. The Chindits evacuated "Broadway" and the "White City", and moved from the Japanese rear areas to new bases closer to Stilwell's front. They were given additional tasks for which they were not equipped. At the same time, the Japanese replaced the scratch "Take Force" which had been trying to defend their rear areas with the newly formed headquarters of the Japanese Thirty-Third Army, and deployed 53rd Division against the Chindits.

The 111th Brigade, now commanded by John Masters, tried to establish another road and rail block codenamed "Blackpool" near Hopin, but were forced to retreat after 17 days of battle. The monsoon had broken, making movement difficult and preventing the other Chindit formations reinforcing Masters's brigade. Calvert's 77th Brigade captured Mogaung after a siege which ended on 27 June, but at the cost of 50 percent casualties.

By July, it was clear that the Chindits were exhausted by continuous marching and fighting under heavy monsoon rains, and were withdrawn. By the end of the campaign the Chindits had lost 1,396 killed and 2,434 wounded. Over half the remainder had to be hospitalised with a special diet afterwards. The British 36th Division was transferred from the Arakan to Stilwell's command to replace the Chindits.

Yunnan Front

The Salween Campaign, 1944 The Salween campaign - 11 May-30 June 1944.jpg
The Salween Campaign, 1944

The Chinese forces on the Yunnan front mounted an attack starting in the second half of April, with nearly 40,000 troops crossing the Salween River on a 200-mile (320 km) front. Within a few days some twelve Chinese Divisions, totalling 72,000 men under the command of General Wei Lihuang, were attacking the Japanese 56th Division. The Japanese forces in the North were now fighting on two fronts, against the Allies from the North West and the Nationalist Chinese from the North East.

The Chinese Yunnan offensive was hampered by the monsoon rains and lack of air support, but succeeded in surrounding the garrison of Tengchung at the end of May. (It held out before being annihilated in late September.) After overcoming determined Japanese resistance (in which the Japanese were helped when Chinese plans and codes fell into their hands by chance), the Chinese captured Lungling at the end of August. At this point, the Japanese moved reinforcements (amounting to a further division in strength) to Yunnan and counter-attacked, temporarily halting the Chinese advance. [8]

Siege of Myitkyina

While the Japanese offensive on the Central Front was being waged, Stilwell's forces continued to make gains. On 19 May, the Chinese 22nd and 38th Divisions encircled Kamaing. Two days before, on 17 May, Merrill's forces captured the airfield at Myitkyina after a march across the Kumon Bum Mountains which nearly crippled the already weary Marauders. [9] If Chinese troops from Ledo had been flown in that afternoon to attack the town immediately they could have overwhelmed the small garrison, but support and logistic units were flown in first and the opportunity to capture the town easily was lost, as Japanese reinforcements arrived in the town.

The resulting prolonged siege was not very well directed and cost the allies many men, particularly amongst the Marauders who were kept in the line for reasons of American prestige, and among the Chindits who were forced to remain in the field to disrupt Japanese relief attempts far longer than had been planned. However, because of the deteriorating situation on the other fronts, the Japanese never regained the initiative on the Northern Front.

The long siege also resulted in heavy Japanese losses. When the airfield was captured, the Japanese in the town at first intended to fight a delaying action only, aided by the monsoon rains. On 10 June, Major General Genzo Mizukami, who had been sent with reinforcements and placed in charge of the garrison, was ordered personally to "Defend Myitkyina to the death". The Japanese dug in and repelled several Chinese attacks. Further resistance appeared hopeless by the end of July. Mizukami evacuated the survivors of the garrison before fulfilling the letter of his orders by taking his own life inside the defended perimeter. Myitkyina was finally captured on 3 August. [10]

The capture of Myitkyina marked the end of the initial phase of Stilwell's campaign. It was the largest seizure of Japanese-held territory to date in the Burma campaign. The airfield at Myitkyina became a vital link in the air route over the Hump.

Southern front 1943/44

In Arakan, XV Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Philip Christison, renewed the advance on the Mayu peninsula. Ranges of steep hills channelled the advance into three attacks; by 5th Indian Division along the coast, 7th Indian Division along the Kalapanzin River and 81st (West Africa) Division along the Kaladan River. The 5th Indian Division captured the small port of Maungdaw on 9 January 1944. The Corps then prepared to capture two disused railway tunnels which linked Maungdaw with the Kalapanzin valley. However, the Japanese struck first. A strong force from the Japanese 55th Division infiltrated Allied lines to attack the 7th Indian Division from the rear, overrunning the divisional HQ.

Unlike previous occasions on which this had happened, the Allied forces stood firm against the attack, and supplies were dropped to them by parachute. In the Battle of the Admin Box from 5 February to 23 February, the Japanese concentrated on XV Corps' Administrative Area, defended mainly by service troops, but they were unable to deal with tanks supporting the defenders. Troops from 5th Indian Division broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the defenders of the box. Although battle casualties were approximately equal, the overall result was a heavy Japanese defeat. Their infiltration and encirclement tactics had failed to panic Allied troops, and as the Japanese were unable to capture enemy supplies, they themselves starved.

Two fresh Allied divisions (the 26th Indian Division and the British 36th Division) took over the front in the Mayu peninsula and resumed the offensive. However, XV Corps's offensive wound down over the next few weeks, as the Allies concentrated their resources, particularly transport aircraft, on the Central Front. After capturing the railway tunnels and some hills which dominated the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road, XV Corps halted during the monsoon. Some ground in the malarial Kalapanzin valley was given up to reduce losses to disease, and Japanese counter-attacks forced the isolated 81st (West Africa) Division to retreat up the Kaladan Valley.

Central front

Imphal and Kohima Campaign Kohima.jpg
Imphal and Kohima Campaign

At Imphal, IV Corps under Lieutenant-General Geoffrey Scoones had pushed forward two divisions to the Chindwin River. One division was in reserve at Imphal. There were indications that a major Japanese offensive was building, and Slim and Scoones planned to withdraw and force the Japanese to fight at the end of impossibly long and difficult supply lines. However, they misjudged the date on which the Japanese were to attack, and the strength they would use against some objectives.

The main body of the Japanese Fifteenth Army, consisting of the 33rd Division, 15th Division and the brigade-sized "Yamamoto Force", planned to cut off and destroy the forward divisions of IV Corps before capturing Imphal. The 31st Division would meanwhile isolate Imphal by capturing Kohima. Mutaguchi intended to exploit this victory by capturing the strategic city of Dimapur, in the Brahmaputra River valley. If this could be achieved, his army would be through the mountainous border region and the whole of North East India would be open to attack. Units of the Indian National Army were to take part in the offensive and raise rebellion in India. The capture of the Dimapur railhead would also sever the land communications to the airbases used to supply the Chinese via the "Hump", and cut off supplies to General Stilwell's forces fighting on the Northern Front.

Preliminary battles

The Japanese began crossing the Chindwin River on 8 March. Scoones only gave his forward divisions orders to withdraw to Imphal on 13 March. The 20th Indian Division withdrew from Tamu without difficulty, but the 17th Indian Division was cut off at Tiddim by the Japanese 33rd Division. From 18 March to 25 March, the 17th Division was able to fight its way back through four Japanese road blocks, thanks to air re-supply by the RAF and U.S Troop Carrier Command crews in their Douglas C-47 Skytrains, and assistance from Scoones's reserve, the 23rd Indian Division. The two divisions reached the Imphal plain on 4 April.

British soldiers search through long grass for Japanese snipers while covered by a Bren gun team The War in the Far East- the Burma Campaign 1941-1945 IND3479.jpg
British soldiers search through long grass for Japanese snipers while covered by a Bren gun team

Meanwhile, Imphal had been left vulnerable to the Japanese 15th Division. The only force left covering the northern approaches to the base, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, was roughly handled at the Battle of Sangshak and forced to withdraw by a regiment from the Japanese 31st Division on its way to Kohima. However, the diversionary attack launched by Japanese 55th division in Arakan had already been defeated, and in late March Slim was able to move the battle-hardened 5th Indian Division, with all its artillery, jeeps, mules and other materiel, by air from Arakan to the Central Front. The move was completed in only eleven days. The division's HQ and two brigades went to Imphal, the other brigade (the 161st Indian Infantry Brigade) went to Dimapur from where it sent a detachment to Kohima.


While the Allied forces in Imphal were cut off and besieged, the Japanese 31st Division, consisting of 20,000 men under Lieutenant-General Kotoku Sato, advanced up the Imphal–Dimapur road. Instead of isolating the small garrison at Kohima and pressing on with his main force to Dimapur, Sato chose to concentrate on capturing the hill station. The Japanese records indicate that Sato (and Mutaguchi's other divisional commanders) had severe misgivings about Fifteenth Army's plan. In particular, they thought the logistic gambles were reckless, and were unwilling to drive on objectives they thought unattainable.

The Battle of Kohima started on 6 April when the Japanese isolated the garrison and tried to dislodge the defenders from their hill top redoubts. Fighting was very heavy around the bungalow and tennis court of the Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills. This phase of the battle is often referred to as the Battle of the Tennis Court and was the "high-water mark" of the Japanese attack. On 18 April, the 161st Indian Brigade relieved the defenders, but the battle was not over as the Japanese dug in and defended the positions they had captured.

A new Allied formation HQ, the XXXIII Corps under Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford, took over operations on this front. The British 2nd Division began a counter-offensive and by 15 May, they had prised the Japanese off Kohima Ridge itself, although the Japanese still held dominating positions north and south of the Ridge. More Allied troops were arriving at Kohima. The 7th Indian Division followed 5th Indian Division from the Arakan, an Indian motor infantry brigade reinforced 2nd Division and a brigade diverted from the Chindit operation cut Japanese 31st Division's supply lines. XXXIII Corps renewed its offensive in the middle of May.


Men of the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, part of the 80th Indian Infantry Brigade of the 20th Indian Infantry Division, with Japanese flags captured at Nippon Ridge during the Battle of Imphal-Kohima. The Second World War 1939 - 1945- the War in the Far East 1941 - 1945 IND3383.jpg
Men of the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, part of the 80th Indian Infantry Brigade of the 20th Indian Infantry Division, with Japanese flags captured at Nippon Ridge during the Battle of Imphal-Kohima.

The Battle of Imphal went badly for the Japanese during April, as their attacks from several directions on the Imphal plain failed to break the Allied defensive ring. The fighting took place in three main sectors. The Japanese 15th Division's attacks from the north were broken when infantry from the 5th Indian Division and M3 Lee tanks recaptured a vital hill at Nungshigum, which overlooked the main airstrip at Imphal, on 13 April. Fighting between Yamamoto Force and the reduced 20th Indian Division swayed back and forth through the hills on either side of the main Imphal-Tamu road throughout the month. The Japanese 33rd Division was slow to throw in its main attack from the south but there was severe fighting around the village of Bishenpur for several weeks.

At the start of May, Slim and Scoones began a counter-offensive against the Japanese 15th Division north of Imphal. Progress was slow. The monsoon had broken, making movement very difficult. Also, IV Corps was suffering some shortages. Although rations and reinforcements were delivered to Imphal by air, artillery ammunition was running short. However, the Japanese were at the end of their endurance. Neither their 31st Division nor 15th Division had received adequate supplies since the offensive began, and during the rains, disease rapidly spread among the starving Japanese troops.

Lieutenant-General Sato had notified Mutaguchi that his division would withdraw from Kohima at the end of May if it were not supplied. In spite of orders to hold on, Sato did indeed begin to retreat, although an independent detachment from his division continued to fight delaying actions along the Imphal Road. Meanwhile, the units of 15th Division were wandering away from their positions to forage for supplies. Its commander, Lieutenant-General Masafumi Yamauchi (who was mortally ill), was dismissed but this could not affect matters. The leading British and Indian troops of IV Corps and XXXIII Corps met at Milestone 109 on the Dimapur-Imphal road on 22 June, and the siege of Imphal was raised.

Mutaguchi (and Kawabe) nevertheless continued to order renewed attacks. 33rd Division (under a new forceful commander, Lieutenant-General Nobuo Tanaka), and Yamamoto Force made repeated efforts south of Imphal, but by the end of June they had suffered so many casualties both from battle and disease that they were unable to make any progress. The Allies had in the meantime cleared large numbers of starving and disordered Japanese troops in and around Ukhrul (near Sangshak) north of Imphal. The Japanese Imphal operation was finally broken off early in July, and they retreated painfully to the Chindwin River.


The attempted invasion of India was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history. They had suffered 55,000 casualties, including 13,500 dead. Most of these losses were the result of disease, malnutrition and exhaustion. The Allies suffered 17,500 casualties. Mutaguchi was relieved of his command and left Burma for Singapore in disgrace. Sato refused to commit Seppuku (hara-kiri) when handed a sword by Colonel Shumei Kinoshita, insisting that the defeat had not been his doing. [11] He was examined by doctors who stated that his mental health was such that he could not be court-martialled, probably under pressure from Kawabe and Terauchi, who did not wish a public scandal.

Jeep transport on the Tiddim Road during the monsoon The War in the Far East- the Burma Campaign 1941-1945 IND4058.jpg
Jeep transport on the Tiddim Road during the monsoon

From August to November, Fourteenth Army pursued the Japanese to the Chindwin River despite heavy monsoon rains. While the newly arrived 11th East Africa Division advanced down the Kabaw Valley from Tamu and improved the road behind them, the 5th Indian Division advanced along the mountainous Tiddim road. As Fourteenth Army planned to use only the Kabaw Valley route for supply during the next season's campaign, the Tiddim Road (which included evocatively named stretches such as the "Chocolate Staircase") was allowed to fall into ruin behind the 5th Division, which was supplied entirely by parachute drops. An improvised light formation, the Lushai Brigade, was used to interrupt the lines of communication of the Japanese defending the road. By the end of November, Kalewa (an important river port on the Chindwin) had been recaptured, and several bridgeheads had been established on the east bank of the Chindwin.

Slim and his Corps commanders (Scoones, Christison and Stopford) were knighted in front of Scottish, Gurkha and Punjab regiments by the viceroy Lord Wavell in a ceremony at Imphal in December.


  1. not counting casualties fighting against Chinese / American forces
  2. Keegan, pp.243-255
  3. Slim, p.218
  4. McLynn, pp.265-266
  5. Allen, p.154
  6. Allen, pp.164-165
  7. Allen, pp. 157-170
  8. Slim, pp.270-271
  9. Allen, pp.364-365
  10. Allen, pp.381-385
  11. Moser, p.157

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The Ledo Road was an overland connection between India and China, built during World War II to enable the Western Allies to deliver supplies to China, to aid the war effort against Japan — as an alternative to the Burma Road became required, once that had been cut-off by the Japanese in 1942. It was renamed the Stilwell Road, after General Joseph Stilwell of the U.S. Army, in early 1945 at the suggestion of Chiang Kai-shek. It passes through the Burmese towns of Shingbwiyang, Myitkyina and Bhamo in Kachin state.

Battle of Kohima battle

The Battle of Kohima was the turning point of the Japanese U Go offensive into India in 1944 during the Second World War. The battle was fought in three stages from 4 April to 22 June 1944 around the town of Kohima in Nagaland in northeast India. From 3 to 16 April, the Japanese attempted to capture Kohima ridge, a feature which dominated the road by which the besieged British and Indian troops of IV Corps at Imphal were supplied. By mid-April, the small British and Indian force at Kohima was relieved. From 18 April to 13 May, British and Indian reinforcements counter-attacked to drive the Japanese from the positions they had captured. The Japanese abandoned the ridge at this point but continued to block the Kohima–Imphal road. From 16 May to 22 June, the British and Indian troops pursued the retreating Japanese and reopened the road. The battle ended on 22 June when British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 109, ending the Siege of Imphal.

Battle of Imphal battle fought in 1944

The Battle of Imphal took place in the region around the city of Imphal, the capital of the state of Manipur in northeast India from March until July 1944. Japanese armies attempted to destroy the Allied forces at Imphal and invade India, but were driven back into Burma with heavy losses. Together with the simultaneous Battle of Kohima on the road by which the encircled Allied forces at Imphal were relieved, the battle was the turning point of the Burma Campaign, part of the South-East Asian Theatre of the Second World War. The defeat at Kohima and Imphal was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history, with many of the Japanese deaths resulting from starvation, disease and exhaustion suffered during their retreat.

V Force was a reconnaissance, intelligence-gathering and guerrilla organisation established by the British against Japanese forces during the Burma Campaign in World War II.

Montagu Stopford British Army general

General Sir Montagu George North Stopford was a senior British Army officer who fought during both World War I and World War II. The latter he served in with distinction, commanding XXXIII Indian Corps in the Far East, where he served under Field Marshal Sir William Slim, and played a significant role in the Burma Campaign, specifically during the Battle of Kohima in mid-1944.

Kōtoku Satō was a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II.

Battle of Meiktila and Mandalay Engagements near the end of the Burma Campaign during WWII

The concurrent Battle of Meiktila and Battle of Mandalay were decisive engagements near the end of the Burma Campaign. Collectively, they are sometimes referred to as the Battle of Central Burma. Despite logistical difficulties, the Allies were able to deploy large armoured and mechanised forces in Central Burma, and also possessed air supremacy. Most of the Japanese forces in Burma were destroyed during the battles, allowing the Allies to later recapture the capital, Rangoon, and reoccupy most of the country with little organised opposition.

33rd Division (Imperial Japanese Army) division

The 33rd Division was an infantry division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call sign was the Bow Division. The 33rd Division was raised in Utsunomiya, Tochigi prefecture, simultaneously with 32nd, 34th, 35th, 36th and 37th Divisions. Its headquarters were initially in Sendai. It was raised from conscripts largely from the northern Kantō prefectures of Tochigi, Ibaraki and Gunma.

The 31st Division was an infantry division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call sign was the Furious Division. The 31st Division was raised during World War II in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 22, 1943, out of Kawaguchi Detachment and parts of the 13th, 40th and 116th divisions. The 31st division was initially assigned to 15th army.

The Battles and Operations involving the Indian National Army during World War II were all fought in the South-East Asian theatre. These range from the earliest deployments of the INA's preceding units in espionage during Malayan Campaign in 1942, through the more substantial commitments during the Japanese Ha Go and U Go offensives in the Upper Burma and Manipur region, to the defensive battles during the Allied Burma Campaign. The INA's brother unit in Europe, the Indische Legion did not see any substantial deployment although some were engaged in Atlantic wall duties, special operations in Persia and Afghanistan, and later a small deployment in Italy. The INA was not considered a significant military threat. However, it was deemed a significant strategic threat especially to the Indian Army, with Wavell describing it as a target of prime importance.

Operation U-Go

The U Go offensive, or Operation C, was the Japanese offensive launched in March 1944 against forces of the British Empire in the northeast Indian regions of Manipur and the Naga Hills. Aimed at the Brahmaputra valley, through the two towns of Imphal and Kohima, the offensive along with the overlapping Ha Go offensive was one of the last major Japanese offensives during the Second World War. The offensive culminated in the Battles of Imphal and Kohima, where the Japanese and their allies were first held and then pushed back.

Burma Campaign 1942–43 part of the Pacific War during World War II

The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II took place over four years from 1942 to 1945. During the first year of the campaign, the Imperial Japanese Army with aid from Burmese insurgents had driven British forces and Chinese forces out of Burma, and occupied most of the country. From May to December 1942, most active campaigning ceased as the monsoon rains made tactical movement almost impossible in the forested and mountainous border between India and Burma, and both the Allies and Japanese faced severe logistical constraints.

Fifteenth Army (Japan)

The Japanese 15th Army was an army of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. It was involved in the invasion of Burma in December 1941 and served in that country for most of its war service.

Burma Campaign 1944–45

The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II was fought primarily by British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces against the forces of Imperial Japan, who were assisted to some degree by Thailand, the Burmese Independence Army and the Indian National Army. The British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from the United Kingdom, British India and Africa.

The British Indian XXXIII Corps was a corps-sized formation of the Indian Army during World War II. It was disbanded and the headquarters was recreated as an Army headquarters in 1945.


Further reading