Our main progress is that we have found the battlefield at Witok and received 3 items of art that will help us tell the story. The art includes Japanese troops driving cattle, Dakotas dropping supplies, and General Slim making parachutes from Jute. We are also now working with Japanese translators and thus getting many new insights.
As of May 2017 the follow are the main areas of progress:
- We have received 3 of the 25 pieces of art we commissioned.
- Slim cutting jute sacks into parachutes. One of the big doctrinal changes Slim achieved with 14th Army was that units would not withdraw when surrounded. He laconically observed that when the Japanese got behind an Anglo Indian unit it was not that unit which was surrounded, but the Japanese! His instructions to Anglo-Indian units were to stay put and be supplied from the air. However, he did not have enough silk for parachutes and so thought to use jute. To convince his staff he was at one point found, kneeling like a tailor, in his bungalow cutting up jute sacks to make parachutes.
- A picture of Japanese soldiers resting. We are trying hard to humanise the Japanese soldier away from popular fanatical caricatures. There is much interesting to uncover. For example, there was draft dodging the Japanese Army. There is considerable interest in Japanese academic circles in how Shintoism was co-opted by the state in 30s and then applied to these soldiers.
- Japanese herding cattle. Lt Gen Mutaguchi sought to emulate Gengis Khan, who he quoted, by driving cattle on the hoof as part of his supply plan. He even had cattle training to which he would take visitors, in an effort to convince them it would work. It did not and most cattle died well short of where they could have been usefully consumed. The troops were dismayed at the plan. The Jungle paths were small, there were unruly mules who often broke free and this combined with reluctant cattle led to inevitable chaos.
- We have found and visited the battlefield at Witok which is now in Myanmar. This was the first major battle the Infantry Group of 33 Japanese Division had with 2Bn Border Regiment.
- We have opened some very useful lines of discussion with 10th Gurkha. 4/10 Gurkha feature heavily in our bit of the story.
- A number of attempts to build a digital representation of the battlefield have led to patchy results. We are about to try a new technical approach.
- Most exciting of all is that we now have a decent and dedicated Japanese Language research capacity which is allowing us to access both new and old Japanese material. Some of it are personal papers and some more recent historical analysis of The Battle of Imphal.
I am very satisfied with momentum and progress but less with the amount of actual output we have created. There is a danger we become, as it were, The Battle of Imphal helpdesk getting ever wiser about the battle in case anyone calls!! This is entirely and criticism of self but: Not good. We need output.