The Arakan debacle added to the already long catalogue of disasters British arms had suffered since the outbreak of war with Japan.' It is difficult to disagree with Raymond Callahan that it was perhaps the 'worst managed British military effort of the war' and 'as bad as anything that had happened in Malaya and Burma,.2 Despite enjoying overwhelming numerical superiority at the beginning of the campaign, superior artillery and a monopoly in tanks, the first British offensive to free Burma had ended in dismal failure. 3 While losses had been relatively light morale plummeted in India Command, as stories grew in the telling about the invincibility of the IJA and the terrors of the jungle. Many serious weaknesses clearly still existed in the organisation, equipment and above all tactical training of British and Indian units. British tactical methods had also been inappropriate, combined arms tactics non-existent and inter-service co-operation negligible. Too often attacks had been on 'strict Staff College lines' and mounted on narrow fronts rather than exploiting the jungle that to most troops remained a forbidding environment.4 An attempt was quickly made to see some redeeming features, from this debacle, however, upon which further changes in the Army in India could be based. As Field Marshal Wavell later observed in his despatch: 'The greatest gain from the campaign was experience, of the enemy's methods and of our own defects in training and organisation. The serious loss was in prestige and morale.,5

The overall military position in the Far East was not all dark. Indeed, the BritishIndian Army in SE Asia had perhaps some grounds for optimism that partially dispersed the pall of gloom now shrouding India Command. Perhaps of greater significance for the regular army was the victory achieved in New Guinea by other Commonwealth troops that marked Japan's first real defeat on land. In New Guinea regular Australian troops had put the IJA to flight at Milne Bay, on the Kokoda Trail and later at Buna-Gona-Sanananda on the north coast of Papua. As Slim later observed in his rnemoirs: 'Of all the Allies it was Australian soldiers who broke the spell of Japanese invincibility of the Japanese Army.,6 Nearer to home the subsequently well-publicised operation carried out by Brigadier Orde Wingate's 77th Indian Infantry Brigade - the Chindits - in northern Burma attracted widespread attention. Although achieving nothing of strategic value, suffering heavy casualties (one third of the force deployed) and teaching nothing of specific tactical value to the regular army, it lifted morale and further helped dispel the myth of Japanese

invincibility.7 In the longer term, moreover. the Chindits also taught the Army in India further important general lessons about the strengths and linlitations of air supply in maintaining formations in the field, the conduct of jungle warfare and also Japanese fighting methods.x

Learning from Defeat: The Post-mortem The post-mortem begun at GHQ India and in Eastern Command into the lacklustre Arakan campaign, however, was the main focus of official attention and growing recriminations. Indeed, it raised serious doubts about the long-term planning and conduct of the war in the Far East. A fortnight after being appointed DMT MajorGeneral Temple Gurdon observed: 'We are miles behind planning operations with our training and time is all too short. ,9 For officers who had served at the 'sharp end' the low fighting effectiveness and morale of British and Indian troops was scandalous. A report on morale between February-April prepared by GHQ India added weight to these fears, warning that troops in Eastern Army were engaging in 'gloomy, alarmist, and defeatist talk' and that Japanese propaganda had induced desertions from some Indian units. lo Both the problenl and indeed its solution were clear. In a note written for GHQ in April 1943 Lieutenant-General Noel Irwin warned: 'The period remaining between now and the next cold weather is not long enough, having regard to the limited form of training which can be can4 ied out during the monsoons, to bring formations up to the standard adequate to fight the Jap with success.' II A search for scapegoats gained momentum once the monsoon ended active operations in Arakan. In a letter dated 8th May to the Deputy Cominander-in-Chief Irwin observed: ~Although the Commanders are far from being much good~ the cause unquestionably lies in the inability of troops to fight.' 12 In a letter dated 15th May 1943 addressed to all officers in Eastern Army down to company and equivalent level command, Irwin tried to explain why Eastern Army had been beaten, in which the inferiority of British and Indian infantry compared to the Japanese (due to poor training and 'absence of fanatical quality') and poor planning by junior and senior officers were explicitly identified as the Inain reasons for defeat. After outlining what had been achieved by specially trained troops in 77th Indian Infantry Brigade, Irwin stressed what could be learnt from defeat:

We must learn individually to be better soldiers than the Japs. We must know our weapons and guard thein with our lives. We must learn the jungle and the hill. We must learn not to fear loneliness, danger of capture or shortage of food. Training therefore Inust be intense and tinle, I hope, will be available for this. 13

The urgent need for intensive basic and specialised traInIng was widely acknowledged by senior British officers, especially for the predominant arm in jungle warfare. As the GOC of 15th Indian Corps had already noted on 18th April: 'We are fighting an army in which the best Olen go into the Infantry, and

we shan't make much progress until we follow suit.,J4 Work had already begun to do so. At GHQ India the training system had undergone careful examination during the spring, during which proposals for forming training divisions was first mooted. Perhaps the most worrying part of the entire operation was the poor quality of the British and infantry battalions. As Major-General Gurdon wryly observed on 25th May 1943: 'The standard of training of recruits and reinforcements has been disgracefully low ... I keep on insisting that unless we take our chance in putting our house in order now, we shall never get another chance ... What we want is quality and not quantity and in order to achieve the former we lTIUst be ruthless about cutting down the latter.' 15 First and foremost basic military skills and standards of training needed improvement. As one serving in 7th Indian Division who had visited Arakan later wrote: 'We must not again be outnumbered in individually trained tps. The minor trg of tps going into action against the Japs must be of the highest order. Skill with all weapons, incl grenades, camouflage, digging, bayonet fighting etc etc Also minor leading - patrols, ambushes, siting trenches, fire control and so on.' 16 Several problems encountered in Arakan were directly related to an almost instinctive fear of the jungle displayed by many troops. As Brigadier Geoffrey Bull, commanding 71 st Indian Infantry Brigade, noted at the end of May: 'Tps must be taught, and with all sincerity, that the jungle is their best friend. It provides the best cover from ground and air. It offers the best concealed approaches. Tps must be taught that the labour of getting through jungle is more than compensated for by the advantages of its protection.,J 7 Much still needed to be learnt by Con1monwealth troops about minor tactics, jungle craft and Japanese tactical methods that called into question the relevance of training and experience gained in other theatres of war. An observer from 70th Division noted after visiting Arakan:

It is not enough for us to rest on our Middle East laurels however well deserved they may be - those days should only be regarded as a starting point in efficiency for only 100% trained tps and I mean IOOCff, will defeat the JAPANESE in ARAKAN or in any other theatre of operations. IX

The fallout fron1 Arakan spread further. with news of the final defeats reaching Field Marshal Wavell while attending the Anglo-An1erican TRIDENT conference at Washington. As the full extent of the debacle becan1e known it exposed hiln to stinging rebukes frolll Winston Churchill who described it as "one of the nlost disappointing and indeed discreditable \vhich had occurred during the course of the war.' IlJ Despite his dogged defence of the Indian Arn1Y and his plans. the ComITIander-in-Chief \vas \vell aware that things \vere not \Nell in India C0111111and. In a letter to the CIGS dated 22nd May he candidly adlnitted: "I kne\\' the difficulties and dangers, since I \vas enlploying troops not fully trained or of best quality. These troops had been intended and trained for the defence of Bengal up to the autun1n. 'vVe have found \\'eakness in the present Indian Anny \vhich \Vc kne\v to exist o\ving to the great expansion. but \vhich are n10re pronounced than \ve realised. We shall do our best to relnedy thenl .. ~(j ;.\ction had already been

taken. Six days earlier Wavell had instructed General Sir Alan Hal1ley, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief at New Delhi, that immediate 'steps should be taken to profit by the lessons learnt froln the Arakan and Chindit operations, so that the Indian Army could meet the Japanese on equal terms when operations resumed in the dry weather of 1943--44' .21