Imphal 75 Years setting the Scene

It is 75 years since The Battle of Imphal . On this day 6 March 1944 the following important things had happened (or not happened)

The Japanese diversionary attack in Arkan,  to the south,  had failed. Not only had it not defeated in-place Allies but it had failed to draw major reserves from Imphal which had been its main goal. There was very little reaction to this failure on the Japanese side and certainly no pause. They also failed to note the very different behaviour of the Allies by staying put and fighting when surrounded. This was a major intelligence failure since it was clear to see and it probably should have impacted the optimistic Japanese Imphal planning assumptions. It did not.

In the middle of March Slim did perhaps his most brilliant act of foresight and generalship. He started the process, even before the Japanese had attacked, of lobbying to get 5th Division flown from the Arakan to the Imphal front. It was this act, in my view, which meant that Imphal was at risk for only the last few weeks of March 1944. Once 5th Division arrived the result was never in much doubt. Many will contest this and of course most of the fighting happened in April, May and June.  Japanese veterans community are bitter about much. That Imphal took place at all, (but I think the alternatives were impossible), that it was poorly planned ( certainly true) and that it went on long after the Generals knew it had failed. (True)

By the 6th March it was clear to Slim and Scoones on the Allied side that a major Japanese offensive on Imphal was imminent. Nevertheless, the order to the two Divisions in contact, 17th and 20th, remained to  re-invade Burma. The plans to withdraw and fight near Imphal were issued but were heavily caveated and only known to battalion commander and above. British Divisions were not yet in a defence posture, or mindset. This much was understandable but it led to a major and avoidable error on the part of Slim and Scoones but I will not elaborate here or at least not now.

Finally India. One the one hand it was a source of almost infinite resources when compared to the Japanese. The British had developed a decent defence production capacity around Calcutta. There were many Indians who might still be recruited to the Army. There were regiments and formations that were yet to be deployed to the Imphal front and training infrastructure to create more of them. There was plenty of food in India as a whole but of course tragically little in Bengal. There was a railway network in place.

On the other hand, the Japanese believed that India was in turmoil, Gandhi was in an out of jail, riots were common and it was clear the British were going to have to give up India. This was all true. So the Japanese believed, the Indian Army would not fight and victory at Imphal would be easy. This was emphatically not true and never was likely. The Indian Army came from Northern India, and now Pakistan and Nepal. Pushtoons, Punjabis, Sikhs and especially Gurkhas who were loyal to their regiments and via pensions and patronage, did well out of the Raj in general.  Fight they most certainly did.



Authors Note

I am in Delhi and about to once again visit the Battlefield of Imphal on what will be exactly the 75 year anniversary. This time I will travel there by train (38 hours) and go on into the Kabaw Valley in Northern Burma, mainly to find the Japanese river crossing points across the Chindwin.  I see this as an analysis history ie not a narrative as such. The latter has been well done by many others. I have spent many weeks in Japan met and interviewed veterans and their families, spent time in archives. Thus, I hope I  bring some new Japanese perspectives to the story but also make some new analysis connections.

After some 4 years of research there is now a framework to this analysis. Over the next 4 weeks, when the internet allows,  I will share snippets and thoughts. Please respond, argue, contest since I know there is lots of expertise out there. My book is half done and such comments can only help.


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