Operation U-Go

Last updated
U Go offensive
Part of the Burma Campaign of the Second World War
The War in the Far East- the Burma Campaign 1941-1945 IND3378.jpg
The summit of Nippon Hill, east of Imphal, which was hotly contested during Operation U-Go
DateMarch 1944 – June 1944
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  British Empire

Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan

Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg William Slim
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Montagu Stopford
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Geoffry Scoones
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Renya Mutaguchi
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Masakazu Kawabe
1931 Flag of India.svg Subhas Chandra Bose
Strength
7 infantry divisions
1 tank brigade
2 infantry brigades
5 infantry divisions
1 tank regiment
84,280 men (excluding INA)
Casualties and losses
16,987–21,500 [1] [2] 15th, 31st, and 33rd Divisions:
12,443 killed
1,652 missing in action
8,407 dead from disease
Misc. Army Troops:
8,000 dead from all causes
Total:
30,502 dead,
23,003 hospitalized [3]

The U Go offensive, or Operation C (ウ号作戦 U Gō sakusen), 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 (then administered as part of Assam). 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.

Imperial Japanese Army Official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan, from 1868 to 1945

The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Manipur State in North-east India

Manipur is a state in northeastern India, with the city of Imphal as its capital. It is bounded by Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south, and Assam to the west; Burma (Myanmar) lies to its east. The state covers an area of 22,327 square kilometres (8,621 sq mi) and has a population of almost 3 million, including the Meitei, who are the majority group in the state, the Pangals or the Pangans, Kuki, and Naga people, who speak a variety of Sino-Tibetan languages. Manipur has been at the crossroads of Asian economic and cultural exchange for more than 2,500 years. It has long connected the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, China, Siberia, Micronesia and Polynesia, enabling migration of people, cultures, and religions.

Contents

Origins of the Japanese plan

In 1942, the Japanese Army had driven the British, Indian and Chinese troops out of Burma. When heavy monsoon rains stopped campaigning, the British and Indian troops had occupied Imphal, the capital of Manipur state. This lay in a plain astride one of the few practicable routes over the jungle-covered mountains which separated India and Burma. The Japanese commander in Burma, Lieutenant General Shōjirō Iida, was asked for his opinion on whether a renewed advance should be made into India after the rains ended. After conferring with his divisional commanders, Iida reported that it would be unwise to do so, because of the difficult terrain and supply problems.

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 sovereign country that existed between 1912 and 1949 in what is now the People's Republic of China. It was established in January 1912 after the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. The Republic's first president, Sun Yat-sen, served only briefly before handing over the position to Yuan Shikai, the leader of the Beiyang Army. Sun's party, the Kuomintang (KMT), then led by Song Jiaoren, won the parliamentary election held in December 1912. However, Song was assassinated shortly after and the Beiyang Army, led by Yuan, maintained full control of the Beiyang government. Between late 1915 and early 1916, Yuan Shikai was the self-proclaimed Emperor of China before abdicating due to popular unrest. After Yuan's death in 1916, the authority of the Beiyang government was further weakened by a brief restoration of the Qing dynasty. Cliques in the Beiyang Army claimed individual autonomy and clashed with each other during the ensuing Warlord Era.

British rule in Burma Historical time period

British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese wars through the creation of Burma as a Province of British India to the establishment of an independently administered colony, and finally independence. The region under British control was known as British Burma. Various portions of Burmese territories, including Arakan, Tenasserim were annexed by the British after their victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War; Lower Burma was annexed in 1852 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War. The annexed territories were designated the minor province, British Burma, of British India in 1862.

Monsoon seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea

Monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea. Usually, the term monsoon is used to refer to the rainy phase of a seasonally changing pattern, although technically there is also a dry phase. The term is sometimes incorrectly used for locally heavy but short-term rains, although these rains meet the dictionary definition of monsoon.

During the year and a half which followed, the Allies reconstructed the lines of communication to Assam, in north-east India. The United States Army (with large numbers of Indian labourers) constructed several airbases in Assam from which supplies were flown to the Nationalist Chinese government under Chiang Kai-shek and American airbases in China. [4] This air route, which crossed several mountain ranges, was known as the Hump. The Americans also began constructing the Ledo road, which they intended would form a land link from Assam to China.

Line of communication

A line of communication is the route that connects an operating military unit with its supply base. Supplies and reinforcements are transported along the line of communication. Therefore, a secure and open line of communication is vital for any military force to continue to operate effectively. Prior to the advent of the use of telegraph and radio in warfare, lines of communication were also the routes used by despatch riders on horseback and runners to convey and deliver orders and battle updates to and from unit commanders and headquarters. Thus, a unit whose lines of communication were compromised was vulnerable to becoming isolated and defeated, as the means for requesting reinforcements and resupply is lost. The standard military abbreviation is LOC, or SLOC for Sea line of communication or ALOC for air line of communication.

Assam State in northeast India

Assam is a state in northeastern India, situated south of the eastern Himalayas along the Brahmaputra and Barak River valleys. Assam covers an area of 78,438 km2 (30,285 sq mi). The state is bordered by Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh to the north; Nagaland and Manipur to the east; Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh to the south; and West Bengal to the west via the Siliguri Corridor, a 22 kilometres (14 mi) strip of land that connects the state to the rest of India.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

In mid-1943, the Japanese command in Burma had been reorganised. General Iida was posted back to Japan and a new headquarters, Burma Area Army, was created under Lieutenant-General Masakasu Kawabe. One of its subordinate formations, responsible for the central part of the front facing Imphal and Assam, was the Fifteenth Army, whose new commander was Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi.

Renya Mutaguchi Japanese military officer

Renya Mutaguchi was a Japanese military officer, lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II and field commander of the IJA forces during the Battle of Imphal.

From the moment he took command, Mutaguchi forcefully advocated an invasion of India. Rather than seeking a mere tactical victory, he planned to exploit the capture of Imphal by advancing to the Brahmaputra River valley, thereby cutting the Allied supply lines to their front in northern Burma, and to the airfields supplying the Nationalist Chinese. His motives for doing so appear to be complex. In late 1942, when he was consulted by Lieutenant General Iida about the advisability of continuing the Japanese advance, he had been particularly vocal in his opposition, as the terrain appeared to be too difficult and the logistic problems seemed impossible to overcome. He had thought at the time that this plan originated at a local level, but was ashamed of his earlier caution when he found that Imperial Army HQ had originally advocated it. [5]

Brahmaputra River River in China, India, and Bangladesh

The Brahmaputra is one of the major rivers of Asia, a trans-boundary river which flows through China, India and Bangladesh. As such, it is known by various names in the region: Assamese: লুইত luit[luɪt], ব্ৰহ্মপুত্ৰ নৈ Brohmoputro noi, ব্ৰহ্মপুত্ৰ নদ Brohmoputro[bɹɔɦmɔputɹɔ]; Sanskrit: ब्रह्मपुत्र, IAST: Brahmaputra; Tibetan: ཡར་ཀླུངས་གཙང་པོ་, Wylie: yar klung gtsang po Yarlung Tsangpo; simplified Chinese: 布拉马普特拉河; traditional Chinese: 布拉馬普特拉河; pinyin: Bùlāmǎpǔtèlā Hé. It is also called Tsangpo-Brahmaputra. The Manas River, which runs through Bhutan, joins it at Jogighopa, in India. It is the ninth largest river in the world by discharge, and the 15th longest.

By design or chance, Mutaguchi had played a major part in several Japanese victories, ever since the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937. He believed it was his destiny to win the decisive battle of the war for Japan. Mutaguchi was also goaded by the first Chindit long-range penetration expedition launched by the British under Orde Wingate early in 1943. Wingate's troops had traversed terrain which Mutaguchi had earlier claimed would be impassable to the Japanese 18th Division which he commanded at the time. [5] The Allies had widely publicised the successful aspects of Wingate's expedition while concealing their losses to disease and exhaustion, misleading Mutaguchi and some of his staff as to the difficulties they would later face.

Orde Wingate British Army General

Orde Charles Wingate & Two Bars was a senior British Army officer, known for his creation of the Chindit deep-penetration missions in Japanese-held territory during the Burma Campaign of World War II.

Japanese planning process

Between 24 June and 27 June 1943, a planning conference was held in Rangoon. Mutaguchi's Chief of Staff, Major General Todai Kunomura, presented Mutaguchi's plan, but was brusquely overruled. The staff of Burma Area Army objected to Kunomura pre-empting their own limited plans to push the Japanese forward defensive lines a short distance into the mountainous frontier with India. [6]

Mutaguchi's plan was nevertheless examined. Lieutenant General Eitaro Naka, (Burma Area Army's Chief of Staff), Major General Masazumi Inada, (the Vice Chief of Staff of Southern Expeditionary Army Group) and even Lieutenant General Gonpachi Kondo from Imperial General Headquarters all pointed out tactical and logistical weaknesses in Mutaguchi's plan. However, Lieutenant General Kawabe did not expressly forbid Mutaguchi to carry out his ideas. [7]

At subsequent exercises at Fifteenth Army's headquarters in Maymyo and at Southern Expeditionary Army Group's headquarters in Singapore, Lieutenant General Naka appeared to have been won over to Mutaguchi's ideas. Lieutenant General Inada was still opposed, but put forward to Kunomura and Major Iwaichi Fujiwara (one of Mutaguchi's staff officers) the apparently frivolous idea of attacking into the Chinese province of Yunnan instead. However, Inada was removed from Southern Expeditionary Army on 11 October 1943, after being made the scapegoat for failures to comply with an agreement to cede territories to Thailand which, under Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram, was allied to Japan. [8]

After another map exercise in Singapore on 23 December 1943, Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi (Commander in Chief of Southern Expeditionary Army Group) approved the plan. Inada's replacement, Lieutenant General Kitsuju Ayabe, was despatched to Imperial Army HQ to gain approval. Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō gave final sanction after questioning a staff officer over aspects of the plan from his bath. [9]

Once this decision was taken, neither Lieutenant General Kawabe nor Field Marshal Terauchi were given any opportunity to call off Mutaguchi's attack, codenamed U-GO or Operation C (ウ号作戦), nor to exercise much control over it once it was launched.

Azad Hind influence

To some extent, Mutaguchi and Tojo were influenced by Subhas Chandra Bose, who led the Azad Hind, a movement which was dedicated to freeing India from British rule. Bose was also commander in chief of the movement's armed forces, the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA). The INA was composed mainly of former prisoners of war from the British Indian Army who had been captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore, and Indian expatriates in South East Asia who had decided to join the nationalist movement.

Bose was eager for the INA to participate in any invasion of India, and persuaded several Japanese that a victory such as Mutaguchi anticipated would lead to the collapse of British rule in India. The idea that their western boundary would be controlled by a more friendly government was attractive to the Japanese. It would also have been consistent with the idea that Japanese expansion into Asia was part of an effort to support Asian government of Asia and counter western colonialism. [10] [11]

Japanese plans

Imphal and Kohima Campaign Kohima.jpg
Imphal and Kohima Campaign

The Allies were preparing to take the offensive themselves in early 1944. The Indian XV Corps was advancing in the coastal Arakan Province, while the British IV Corps had pushed two Indian infantry divisions almost to the Chindwin River at Tamu and Tiddim. These two divisions were widely separated and vulnerable to being isolated.

The Japanese planned that a division from the Twenty-Eighth Army would launch a diversionary attack in the Arakan, codenamed Ha Go, in the first week of February. This would attract Allied reserves from Assam, and also create the impression that the Japanese intended to attack Bengal through Chittagong.

In the centre, Mutaguchi's Fifteenth Army would launch the main attack into Manipur in the first week in March, aiming to capture Imphal and Kohima, scattering British forces and forestalling any offensive movements against Burma. [12] [13] In detail, the Fifteenth Army plans were:

At the insistence of Bose, two brigades from the Indian National Army were also assigned to the attacks on Imphal from the south and east. The Japanese had originally intended using the INA as auxiliaries to their forces only, for reconnaissance and propaganda. [14]

The staff at Burma Area Army had originally thought this plan too risky. They believed it was unwise to separate the attacking forces so widely, but several officers who were vocal in their opposition were transferred. [15] Mutaguchi's divisional commanders were also pessimistic. They thought that Mutaguchi was gambling too heavily on gaining early success to solve supply problems. Some of them thought him a "blockhead", or reckless.

Allied plans

In early 1944, the Allied formations in Assam and Arakan were part of the British Fourteenth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General William Slim. Over the preceding year, since the failure of an earlier offensive in the Arakan, he and his predecessor, General George Giffard, had been striving to improve the health, training and morale of the British and Indian units of the army. Through improvements in the lines of communication, better administration in the rear areas, and above all, better supply of fresh rations and medicines, these efforts had been successful. The Allies had also developed methods to counter the standard Japanese tactics of outflanking and isolating formations. In particular, they would increasingly depend upon aircraft to supply cut-off units. The Japanese had not anticipated this, and their attacks would be thwarted several times.

From various intelligence sources, Slim and Lieutenant General Geoffry Scoones (commanding Indian IV Corps) had learned of the general intentions of the Japanese to launch an offensive, although they did not have specific information on the Japanese objectives and were to be surprised several times when the Japanese did launch their attacks. Rather than anticipate the Japanese by attacking across the Chindwin, or trying to defend the line of the river itself, Slim intended to exploit the known Japanese logistical weaknesses by withdrawing into Imphal to fight a defensive battle where the Japanese would be unable to supply their troops. [16]

Ha Go

The diversionary Japanese attack in Arakan began on 5 February. A force from the Japanese 55th Division infiltrated the lines of Indian XV Corps to overrun an Indian divisional headquarters and isolate the Corps' forward divisions. When they tried to press their attacks against a hastily fortified administrative area known as the "Admin Box", they found that Allied aircraft dropped supplies to the garrison, while the Japanese themselves were cut off from their supply sources and starved. British and Indian tanks and infantry broke through a hill pass to relieve the defenders of the Box. The badly supplied and starving Japanese forces were forced to withdraw. [17]

U Go

Imphal

The main U Go offensive began on 6 March 1944. Slim and Scoones had given their forward divisions orders to withdraw too late. The 20th Indian Division withdrew safely, but the 17th Indian Division was cut off and forced to fight its way back into the Imphal plain. Scoones was forced to commit almost all his reserves to help the 17th Division. Because the diversionary offensive in the Arakan had already failed, the Allies were able to fly a division (including its artillery and front-line transport) from the Arakan front to Imphal, in time to prevent the Japanese 15th Division overrunning Imphal from the north.

During April, the Japanese attacks against the defences at the edge of the Imphal plain were all held. In May, IV Corps began a counter-offensive, pushing northward to link up with a relieving force fighting its way southward from Kohima. Although the Allied progress was slow, the Japanese 15th Division was forced to withdraw through lack of supply, and the Allies reopened the Kohima-Imphal road on 22 June, ending the siege (although the Japanese continued to mount attacks from the south and east of Imphal).

Kohima

The battle of Kohima took place in two stages. From 3 to 16 April 1944, the Japanese 31st Division attempted to capture Kohima ridge, a feature which dominated the road from Dimapur to Imphal on which IV Corps at Imphal depended for supply. On 16 April the small British force at Kohima was relieved, and from 18 April to 16 May the newly arrived Indian XXXIII Corps counter-attacked to drive the Japanese from the positions they had captured. At this point, with the Japanese starving, Lieutenant General Kōtoku Satō ordered his division to withdraw. Although a detachment continued to fight rearguard actions to block the road, XXXIII Corps drove south to link up with the defenders of Imphal on 22 June.

Retreat

Mutaguchi continued to order fresh attacks, but by late June it was clear that the starving and disease-ridden Japanese formations were in no state to obey. When he realised that none of his formations were obeying his orders for a renewed attack, Mutaguchi finally ordered the offensive to be broken off on 3 July. The Japanese, reduced in many cases to a rabble, fell back to the Chindwin, abandoning their artillery, transport, and soldiers too sick to walk.

Impact

The Japanese defeats at Kohima and Imphal were the largest up until that time. The British and Indian forces had lost around 16,987 men, dead, missing and wounded. [2] The Japanese suffered 60,643 casualties, including 13,376 dead. [2] Most of these losses were the result of starvation, disease and exhaustion.

The defeat resulted in sweeping changes in command within the Japanese Army in Burma. Mutaguchi sacked all his division commanders during the operation, before being sacked himself on 30 August. Kawabe, whose health was broken, was also dismissed. Many of the senior staff officers at the headquarters of Fifteenth Army and Burma Area Army were also transferred to divisional or regimental commands. [18]

Notes

  1. Allen (1984), p.643
  2. 1 2 3 Allen (1984), p. 638
  3. JM-134 pp. 164 Retrieved 5/19/16
  4. Lebra 1977 , p. 20
  5. 1 2 Allen (1984), pp.152–153
  6. Allen (1984), p.158
  7. Allen (1984), pp.159–160
  8. Allen (1984), pp.164–165
  9. Allen (1984), p.166
  10. Syonan Sinbun, 26 January 1943
  11. Lebra, 1977, p. 20
  12. Fay 1993 , p. 281
  13. Fay 1993 , p. 265
  14. Allen (1984), p.170
  15. Allen, (1984), pp.159–162
  16. Allen (1984), p.155
  17. Fay 1993 , p. 264
  18. Allen (1984), p.386

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References

Further reading