9 March – 1944 written from Dimapur

Those with modern military service will recall the tedium of being moved by military movers: absurdly long waits, no information, incomprehensible routes and your own chain of command helpless. It was the same in 1944. An OIC train could perhaps decide meal times but if parked in a siding for twelve hours in the hot sun, he was helpless. My own recent civilian journey to Dimapur by train was a luxurious 38 hours albeit in a rather confined top bunk. The troops would surely have been irritable on arrival. A great many would have arrive at Dimapur as reinforcements so without mates. I thought about this as I gave myself a lite day after my ‘long’ journey. Their journey took two weeks in many cases and by the time I felt ready stroll over to Burma Camp after my train journey, they were already fighting.

Dimapur, is still the end point of the Indian rail network. In 1944 it was also a vast depot area which required thousands on thousands of local civilian workers. Their presence was a major dilemma wherever they were. In the forward depots like Moreh they were needed to run the depot so frontline troops could be supplied. But they also had to be fed and in case of attack they were a defenceless, responsibility. At Imphal they were likewise needed but also represented mouths to feed. So their evacuation was logical but the timing difficult and particularly at Moreh they filled up the road back at a critical moment.

On the 9 March 1944 Japanese 33 Division in the south and had crossed the Chindwin and were moving at speed to try and cut off first 17 Indian Division but also 20th Division in the Kabaw Valley. Some Japanese battalions were making 15 km per day but of course partly because they were so lightly equipped, which in the end was fatal. Others were taking apart whole trucks back to their chassis to man handle them up slopes. One unit had 200 men with mules to operate just 4 small mountain guns. It was all a lot of effort for a limited effect at the far end.

The Allies, specifically Lt Gen Scoones, were not yet fully aware of the attack. Both 17 and 20 Division had been aggressively patrolling, as had the Japanese, so the early sightings of movements needed to be of large numbers and in lots of places to break the previous pattern. V force had made a report of Iapanese movement but at this point a Japanese offensive had yet to be confirmed.

It is easy to forget that nearly everyone in both lead Allied Divisions thought they were about to re invade Burma. Ie to move forward not back. Some of the commanders who did know about the plan to withdraw to Imphal were stung by accusations they had left Burma in a bit too much of a hurry in 1942. Sittang Bridge which was prematurely blown was a particular source of unease. (Indeed when in Japan in 2018 I met a veteran who had befriended an Indian soldier who had been left in the far bank. He was so underwhelmed he had joined the Japanese as an orderly and remained with them for months.)

So at this point Lt Gen Scoones was under orders to only pull back to Imphal once he was sure this was a major attack. Reputations were at stake.

Pretending to everyone including your own units that you are about to attack whilst actually planning to pull back, must have been a particular problem in the depots. Attacking troops have different needs from defending troops; attacker need fuel, and defenders wire and mines. Some reporting suggests the staff were indeed confused and moving items forward pending the attack, while others were moving the same items back in case the depot was abandoned.

It was about now that 2 Bn Border Regiment meet the Japanese. The Border regiment were the forward battalion of 20 Division in the Kabaw Valley. (The Divisional commander Maj Gen Gracey very much did not want to withdraw).

The Border Regiment had a standing patrol well forward which engaged the Japanese. It then emerged the Japanese had tanks, so over the next few days there was something of a hiatus. The Borders had no anti tank weapons and only the commanding officer had ever seen one. The record shows they did get some but when the time came the Japanese tanks were killed by Allied tanks.

2 Replies to “9 March – 1944 written from Dimapur”

  1. The railways were run in the main by the Anglo Indian section of the population with many of the station masters holding a great deal of authority which when exercised – because they could- would delay troop movements. That is until someone had the clever idea of giving them a commission into the army in the rank of Lieutenant. They thought this was great but of course it meant that they were subject to military law and discipline and as a consequence troop movements went a bit smoother


  2. When your book comes out Simon, please let me know. Myfather fought in Burma with the Lancashire Fusiliers. I am very interested in Burma. Regards Nick


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