Page 107 - The Rifles Bugle Autumn 2019
P. 107

The trees are still young on Garrison Hill
This year marks 75 years since the British and Indian soldiers fought and died alongside each other fighting the Japanese during the Battles of Kohima and Imphal. The siege of Imphal lasted from mid-March until Mid-July 1944, with the Battle of Kohima lasting from 4 April to 22 June of the same year. Together, they are estimated to have resulted in around 55,000 Japanese casualties and deaths, and 12,500 Allied.
It is said that these two actions were the turning point of Allied success in WWII. The Japanese had pushed the Allies out of modern-day Myanmar, then Burma, in 1942, and were reinforcing from the South and East for the invasion of India. The Japanese had superior airpower, manpower and far more experience in jungle warfare than the Allied troops. All that stood in the way of the Japanese were the comparatively small British and Indian Forces in Imphal, and a largely administrative garrison at the strategically significant Kohima Ridge.
It was one of the most remarkable victories for the Allies during the entirety of WWII. Against the odds, individual acts of heroism, determination, dedication and astounding leadership halted the Japanese advance west. Yet the 14th Army remains too often overlooked by popular history.
It was a privilege to visit these battlefields in Imphal and Kohima in April of this year, 75 years on from the actions, to pay respects to the soldiers of our antecedent regiments who fought and died there: 1st Battalion the Royal Berskhire Regiment, 2nd Battalion the Dorsetshire Regiment and 2nd Battalion the Durham Light Infantry at Kohima, and 1st Battalion
the Devonshire Regiment at Imphal.
The Battle of Kohima was
particularly striking. Almost 4,000
British and Indian soldiers lost
their lives during this Battle, of
which a large part was fought
over the Deputy Commissioner’s
tennis court, which was situated
to the North East of Garrison Hill.
Japanese and Allied forces were
able to reach each other’s positions on either side of the court with a well-thrown grenade. The destruction to Garrison Hill and surrounding areas was so great, that barely anything remained standing. One of the few trees still present was a cherry tree to the east of the court, still there to this day, in which a well-positioned Japanese sniper managed to cause significant difficulties for the Allied troops.
2nd Battalion the Dorsetshire Regiment, alongside other British and Indian units, were heavily involved in holding this area of ground around the Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow, and were also involved in much of the fierce hand-to-hand combat that occurred when a Lee Grant tank, man-handled up the steep
hill, was able to smash over the top to give the edge to the Allied troops to cross the tennis court.
Local Indian civilians were instrumental in the battle, particularly in the removal of the wounded from the battlefield. In the small mountain village of Jotsoma to the North West of Kohima we met villagers, amongst them two veterans between the ages of 95 and 100 who had fought alongside the British during these decisive battles. They told stories of other men from the local villages who had stretchered wounded Allied troops off the battlefields under heavy fire; of men, women and children who gave the Allies vital information on the movement of Japanese units in the area; and, despite beatings, torture and executions, never gave away any information regarding the Allies to the Japanese. Many of those civilians who helped the British on the battle- field refused all payment after the actions.
Meeting the dignitaries, governors and civilians in the different areas and villages in the states of Nagaland and Manipur, where Kohima and Imphal respectively sit, it was plain that all are still, rightfully, incredibly proud of the part that they played in these battles. They are keen to tell the stories of their contributions, the hardship that befell them as a result, and how they have recovered and blossomed in the 75 years since. The success that the Allied forces saw during the Battles of Kohima and Imphal were down to the leadership, courage and resolve shown by the officers and soldiers, however it was also down to the selfless support shown by the locals. It rather proves the theory that one must win the support of the local population before one can hope to win any long-term positive outcome in the areas that
they call home.
These two battles stopped Japan in its tracks on its move west, and enabled the British and
American forces to continue the resupply of Chinese forces, which were also fighting Japan to the North. To this day, it remains the largest defeat on land ever for the Japanese Army.
Although the fighting that occurred in Burma andNorthEasternIndiaarenotaswell-knownas the European campaigns, Field Marshal Slim’s 14th Army is not forgotten by the descendant regiments of those units that sacrificed so much. The cemetery for the Battle of Kohima lies in the exact spot where the fighting occurred in April and June of 1944, and, on the Kohima epitaph, just below the tennis court that is now permanently marked out in concreted lines, read words that we all know and recite at
countless memorial ceremonies:
2Lt James Deeny

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