13 March 1944- The Order to withdraw

Main Events

Heavy engagement with 20 Div in the Kabaw Valley.

17 Division south of Imphal are engaged from the front but also in depth and thus in danger of being cut off.

Lt Gen Scoones, Commander of 4 Corps in Imphal, gives the order to withdraw. (Imphal was really his battle)


Scoones decision to withdraw in accordance with Slim’s previously published concept of operations, is widely debated. Some said he gave the order too late. Well after the war, when Slim and Scoones debated this, they both agreed they had left it a bit late. Scoones however took the responsibility from Slim who rather strangely had claimed it was his error. I think post war Scoones felt a bit patronised by Slim.

The more controversial delay was at Divisional level. Cowan in 17 Div took 18 hours to pass on the order to withdraw although in his book, Slim defended Cowan. I have not time -racked all the original documents but such a major reorientation of a division from advance to withdraw could well have taken that amount of time, especially as they were not well prepared.

However, Gracey in 20 Div flatly refused to come back to Imphal. I found documents in Japan showing just how close 20 Div came to being cut off as well. The 17 Div delay I can understand. 20 Div was an avoidable muddle. Slim probably should have banged heads together.

The Kukis are the local tribe in the southern area of Imphal. Kohima is mostly Naga. I went the very remote Kuki village of Mombi to assess the only route that connected each of the 33 Japanese Div axis, the so called Mombi track. Not many history folk make it there probably because there was no fighting there.

Long story follows but the question is ‘Did the labour taken from India in WW1 get paid properly and if they were killed did they get pensions?’ I suspect not.

So the Kuki were hostile to the British following a war between about 1917 and 1921. The cause was too many Kuki were taken to France as labour in WW1 and nearly all did not come back. The Kuki felt enslaved (their word). Slaves are by definition forced and not paid. Not sure about the ‘forced’ element but they may very well have not been paid. The established Indian Army regiments had very efficient systems for paying pensions for those killed. It seems less likely such system existed for casually recruited, temporary workers from very remote areas, with no regimental structure. (There is a history PhD there for someone). Thus, the Kuki’s attitude to the Japanese arrival in the south was probably different to the Naga around Kohima. The latter were on the whole helpful to the British. Hemant Katoche covers this in his book.

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