ABSTRACT

The 14th Anny was justifiably immensely proud of its achievements by late June 1944. A cOlnbination of inspired leadership, new fighting methods, greater availability of modern arms, equipment and alnmunition and lastly a radical overhaul of training in India Command and 14th ArnlY had paid enormous dividends. British Commonwealth officers and men had delnolished the lnyth of Japanese invincibility and shown they were capable of operating deep in the jungle, which was no longer a source of unreasoning fear to troops now highly trained and psychologic-ally and physically accustomed to live, lnove and fight within its confines. I As Slim proudly wrote on 3rd June 1944: "We have proved to our own satisfaction and to the discolnfiture of the Jap, that, man for man, the British, Indian and Gurkha soldier is more than a nlatch for him. We have inflicted the first defeats that the Jap has ever suffered at the hands of a British Force.':~ In large part victory was attributable to Slinl' s deliberate policy of fighting on ground of his choosing where at last the quantitative and qualitative superiority of British artillery, tanks and aircraft was exploited with deadly effect in some of the bloodiest, bitterest attritional fighting of the Second World War. 3 Exploiting air supply and transportation had also featured in his planning. The vast nUll1ber of Japanese dead, destroyed vehicles and abandoned guns left littering the battlefield provided graphic testinlony to Fifteenth Anny's Inassive defeat. In Slilll' S own words:

I think \ve can say that we really have beaten the pants off the little yello\v beasts. We have picked up 50J)OO dead and there are a good Inany 1110re than that and \ve have got l110st of the guns, tanks and l\1.T. they brought \\lith theln. We have also got 600 prisoners, \vhich doesn't sound a lot to you chaps but is the rnost anybody has ever taken of the Jap. The little swine still fights till you kill hinl, and that of course is \vhat Inakes fighting hirn so difficult. plus the country and the cliI11ate.~

In itself capturing half-starved japanese pri~oner~ acte'J as a tl1assive fillip to nlorale.-" ,~ report prepared b:: lhe I-fQ of 2nd Division in l11id-·19--l---l-concluded:

ofSecond 'By far the greatest weapon which had held by the Division, is a universal feeling, now prevalent, that the British soldier can, will and always does, beat the Jap.,6

The 'butcher's bill' suffered by 14th Army from enemy action and disease had not been light. By the time fighting ended in Arakan in June 15th Indian Corps had lost 7,951 men. 7 By the end of the Imphal-Kohima campaign 14th Army had incurred just under 16,700 casualties a quarter of which were suffered at Kohima.8 Major inroads had been made into the fighting strength of British and Indian units, especially rifle companies bearing the main strain of jungle fighting. As Major-General Douglas Gracey informed Slim on 20th July 1944: 'We found our Ceylon training of the very greatest value, and it is hard when one realises how very few are left, who did it.,9 Although serious this disparity between those suffered by British forces and the IJA were staggering. Exact figures are impossible to ascertain, although it appears just over 50,000 Japanese troops died in battle or from disease, exhaustion and exposure during their pell-mell retreat. 10 It is estimated by Japanese historians that 78 per cent of 15th Division, 67 per cent of 31 st Division and 84 per cent of 33rd Division became casualties. I I

The fighting had been an exhausting, debilitating and traumatic experience for all concerned. While 33rd Indian Corps continued its pursuit of the Japanese down the Kabaw Valley and Tiddim Road the vast majority of the battered, bruised and bloodied British formations in Assam badly needed an opportunity to recover their fighting efficiency. Similarly 15th Indian Corps badly required rest and settled down into monsoon positions in Arakan before the rains broke. 12

No proper relief of formations had been possible while the fighting raged. Indeed, since 14th Army had quickly swallowed up available reserves in India Command the cupboard was bare in terms of trained reserve manpower. The pressure had begun to tell on all ranks. By June 1944 some of 14th Army's divisions had been in continuous action for up to 28 months and badly needed rest, recuperation and retraining. 13 By June 1944 26th Indian Division, for example, had served east of the Ri ver Brahmaputra under combat conditions largely without interruption for two years. 14 Tinle and rest was vitally needed for recover from widespread exhaustion, sickness and general debilitation. A break from fighting was also badly needed to absorb and familiarise reinforcements with unit standing orders and battle drills, as well as providing an opportunity to absorb the latest lessons about fighting in the jungle against the Japanese, devise solutions to new tactical problems and practice thein during training. IS

The Process of Learning Lessons A large part of the continued effectiveness of 14th ArnlY and the no\\/ extensive training organisation functioning in India Conlnland was dependent on the flow of accurate. tirnely and relevant infornlation about the latest lessons learnt at the front line. Experience from other theatres of war needed assirTIilation. lTIOreOVer, especially that from SWPA \vhere a succession of British and Indian service

officers had been sent during 1943-44 to study the latest Australian fighting and training methods. A party of 50 British and Indian service officers~ for example, arrived back to India in 1944 who were as planned either returned to units~ appointed instructors at GHQ India schools or else were detailed as lecturers to units in India and SEAC to pass on what they had learnt from the AMF in New Guinea. 16

This process of learning new lessons and identifying mistakes Iuade by British and Indian troops, for inclusion in new MTPs, AITM and training instructions had been an ongoing one throughout the fighting in Arakan and around ImphalKohima. On 7th April 1944 the HQ of 7th Indian Division instructed its units to collate recent tactical lessons and experience: "After seven Iuonths in continuous contact with the JAPS, the Div has acquired a wealth of very valuable experience. It is our duty now, whilst ops of the past months are still fresh in our minds to examine this experience in fullest detail and draw all the true lessons from it.' It specifically, directed that commanders report any remarks on or modifications in the principles laid down in training manuals, AITMs, Corps and divisional operation and training notes, regarding patrolling, ambushes, night operations, the attack, defensive use of MMGs, artillery and air SUppOI1. 17 Major-General John Grover, GOC 2nd British Division, began a similar exercise on 20th May 1944 in recognition that valuable new tactical lessons were being learnt. As he directed:

In the course of our present experience of active operations, a great many valuable lessons are being learned in every encounter with the enemy. Many of these lessons have already been brought to notice in the course of training, but are not always remembered in the heat of battle; others may be new to us. It is of the first importance that all brigades and units in the Division should have advantage of the lessons acquired by others through stern experience. I therefore wish all units to prepare brief accounts of the engagements in which they have taken part, as soon as they can conveniently do so after the actual action, as a first hand record which constructive lessons can be drawn and passed on. I g

Unsurprisingly in the heat of battle, however. little progress was ll1ade. The vital importance of passing on the latest lessons learnt was recognised at

the HQ of 14th Army, which regularly forwarded reports of interest about recent fighting along with lessons learnt to its own fonnations, 11th ArnlY Group, SEAC and onwards to the DMT and Director of Infantry ~ and training establishments in India Command (including the training divisions, the Staff College and the new Tactical Training Centre).llJ Three types of reports dealing with fighting methods were prepared by 14th Anuy: a weekly letter sUluIuarising operations together with any lessons learnt, a series of detailed reports on recent operations (including Inaps and aerial photographs) and also a periodic denli -official Iiaison letter. 20 They were well received in India. As Temple Gurdon observed of the weekly letter: "Many thanks for the reports both on operations and the general lessons fronl the operations. These are invaluable to us. both in order to give us new ideas and

also to confirm the ideas which we l1lay have already formed from other Eastern fronts. <~I

The 14th Army also received a steady stream of visits from senior officers from India Command, including the Director of Infantry and DMT and observers from the training staff at 11 th Army Group, to witness at first hand the latest tactical developments, who inturn also provided further information about jungle fighting for formations undergoing instruction and training establishments. This included the GOCs of both training divisions and 52nd Training Brigade, who toured reinforcement camps and carried out liaison visits to various fighting units in July 1944.22 The 14th Army, moreover, actively encouraged the attachment of officers from uncommitted formations to front line units engaged with the enemy to gain first-hand operational experience and profit from the wisdom of others that would in turn be passed on to their men. In March 1944, for exaInple, officers from 33rd Indian Corps, 11th (East African) Di vision and 44th Indian Armoured Division, understudied officers in 14th Army in Assam, while observers from 19th Indian Division were attached to units in Arakan between MarchApril 1944.23

Lastly, a constant rearward flow of sick, wounded and exhausted officers and NCOs provided a further conduit for information about jungle fighting and badly needed combat-experienced instructors for training establishments. Most returned to regimental centres to recuperate after hospitalisation and then passed on their personal experience of jungle fighting, partially addressing earlier complaints from front line cas about the quality of reinforcements. 24 Posting senior officers, returning for rest and recuperation, to training establishments acted as further important channel for information about jungle fighting. In June 1944, for example, Brigadier Hugh Collingridge, formerly GOC 37th Indian Infantry Brigade, took up the appointment of Commandant of the Staff College at Quetta after 27 months service on the Assam-B urma frontier. 25

Learning Lessons The war-torn fighting divisions in 14th Army that went into reserve either returned to India or else settled into hurriedly built caInps in Assam or Arakan. On 31 st July 1944 the HQ of 4th Corps closed down and left for Ranchi for a period of rest and retraining and 17th Indian Light Division followed suit soon after. 26 Similarly 23rd Indian Di vision also left for Shillong following two years and three months on duty in the jungle.27 Since the line of communications to India was so bad the remainder remained in Assam. Both the 7th and 2nd Division settled into camps near Kohirna and Maram on the KohiInaImphal road, while 20th Indian Division concentrated at Wangjing south of Inlphal Plain. 28

The cOl1lmanders and staff of British and Indian formations had at last had time to carefully digest recent cOInbat experience and prepare a series of detailed reports providing the lnain source of most up-to-date authoritative guidance about the lessons of the recent fighting, upon which l1luch later training was based, detailing

lessons learnt about the IJA and Commonwealth organisation, equiplnent and fighting methods. The 5th Indian Division had already led the way with its own careful analysis of its experience fighting in Arakan during the winter of 1943-44.29 Experience gained by 17th Indian Light Division from May 1943July 1944, for example, was contained in one report prepared in July 1944 intended primarily for its own units. 3o Similarly Major-General Douglas Gracey's Battle Instructions jor Jungle Fighting, prepared by the HQ of 23rd Indian Division in September 1944, discussed in general the advance to contact, the attack and lastly defence. This paper, issued on a scale of six copies per battalion and equivalent, began:

Our doctrine has proved to be sound but we have learnt many lessons ... The fact that these instructions contain a good many criticisms must not be taken to mean that the division did not fight well or very well. During the whole five months we did not suffer a single defeat. We never lost any ground we intended to hold, and we never failed to take our objective in attack, though not always at the first time of asking. There cannot, there, have been much wrong with our doctrine or training, but don't think we have nothing to learn. We have plenty. Better training and Inethods would have saved many casualties. 31

In his report on the final phases of the fighting in Arakan, Major-General Cyril Lomax, GOC 26th Indian Division, directed:

The object of publishing these lessons is to direct future trg on lines which will ensure that our tps are mentally, physically and tactically fit to beat the enemy individually and collectively wherever and whenever he may be encountered. They will therefore be studied in great detail and elaborated as necessary by subordinate comds.32