Burma, September 1944

In June 1944 the battles of Kohima and Imphal were a turning point in the war against the Japanese, driving them out of India and beginning their retreat across Burma. John Monro MC RA arrived in Burma in September 1944 and took command of 3 Battery, 28 Field Regt RA, 5th Indian Division, part of General Slim’s 14th Army, shown on the left of this map. Their mission was to drive the Japanese back and, ultimately, to retake Mandalay, in the centre of Burma.

Burma, October 1944, disposition of forces

28 Field Regt had seen action in Eritrea (Asmara), North Africa (Tobruk, El Alamein), Iran/Iraq, and arrived in north-east India in November 1943 at which time it was under the command of Lt Col RA Collins. In April 1944 it took part in the battle of Imphal and then supported the operations to clear the Tiddim Road. In September the regiment supported the 5th Indian Division to cross the Manipur River, capture the ‘chocolate staircase’, Tiddim, Vital Corner, Kennedy Peak, Fort White, the Stockades and Kalemyo. It was only supported by air supply, the lines of communication by road being abandoned. By Christmas 1944 the regiment was at rest at mile 84 on the Dimapur – Imphal Road, moving to Jorhat (further north, on the bank of the Brahmaputra River) in the first week of January.

From “Into Burma” published by the Director of PR, War Department, Government of India

Burma 1944, Kohima - Kalemyo
Burma 1944, Kohima – Kalemyo

“From Imphal the 5th Indian Division took up the chase down the 163 mile long Tiddim Road, known to all the footsloggers and tough transport drivers as “the worst road in Asia”. The feats of those days took on an epic quality. Tanks had to be winched up precipitous mud-clogged hillsides; in 65 miles the hard-working sappers built 2,000 feet of bridging. And before Tiddim could be entered the Division had to inch its way up the “Chocolate Staircase” where the nightmare red earth makes 40 hairpin bends in a climb of 3,000 feet.

Chocolate staircase, Burma 1944
The Chocolate Staircase, 11km of 40 hairpin bends on the Tiddim Rd

These tough fighting men entered Tiddim on the 14 October. But there was no respite, only a month of gruelling mountain warfare on and up the slopes of 8,000ft cloud-capped Kennedy Peak and through the wild hill country around Fort White.

Map of Tiddim - Kalemyo, Burma 1944
From Ball of Fire, by Antony Brett-James

In the third week of November the men of Kohima won through to the Kalemyo crossroads to link up with the Askaris of the 11th East African Division, who had made a lightning advance down the Kabaw Valley.

Thus was marked the first return step into Burma – contested inch by inch by a cunning enemy, impeded by natural obstacles, endangered by sickness and disease. This called for heroism, guile, improvisation, adaptability, patience and guts. Our men in Burma proved they are not lacking in those qualities. For the Japs disaster was complete. Ten thousand were killed as they made their painful exit from India; several towns and villages, notably Tamu (near Moreh), became charnel grounds for Jap soldiers who, worn out by the sickness and privations produced by a tortuous retreat in tough country during the monsoon, away from their bases and cut off from any kind of succour, died in hundreds where they collapsed by the roadside. Large stocks of guns and ammunition, with many motor vehicles and piles of miscellaneous war equipment, fell into our hands.”

From the Diary of 3 Battery, 28 Field Regt RA, 22 Sept – 22 Dec 1944

My grateful thanks to the CO of XIX RA who kindly allowed me access to this diary.

22 Sept – Major JH Monro MC RA assumed command of 3 Bty (BC = Battery Commander). Battery under strength due to illness so reorganised to combine with 5/57 Bty. Preparations to move over next few days.

26 Sept – Bty move south to milestone (MS) 100. Heavy rain, landslips. Eventually reach MS110.

28 Sept – move to MS126

29 Sept – cross the Manipur River by ferry – takes all evening.

30 Sept – continue forward but hampered by landslides

3 Oct – occupy position at Tualmalui

4 Oct – JHM ordered to relieve BC of 1 Fd Bty at HQ 1/17 Dogra

5 Oct – battle begins

7 Oct – JHM proceeds with HQ/17 Dogra from MS149 to MS157. Heavy fire and airstrikes.

9 Oct – JHM and Capt Spiller relieved by 1 Bty at 12.00.

10 – 17 Oct – heavy fighting/shelling

20 Oct – Tiddim taken. Shelling continues.

23 Oct – JHM moves forward to Dimlo to support 3/2 Punjab Battalion (Infantry). Japs 50 yds away and sniping day and night.

24 Oct – 30 Oct – heavy fire day and night

31 Oct – JHM moves up with 3/2 Punjabs. “Engaged at close quarters. Moved back so BC could register for air strikes”.

1-2 Nov – airstrikes. Vital Corner secured.

3 Nov – JHM moves forward to MS13 near Kennedy Peak (this is a 2700m high mountain that rises above other local peaks by 1500m).

5 – 8 Nov – battle at Kennedy Peak and Elephant (see Tiddim – Kalemyo map)

9 Nov – Fort White secured

11 Nov – Stockades 2 and 3 clear. Bty move forward but delayed several hours by road giving way under a tank which rolled several hundred feet down the mountain. Injured hauled up and new road dug.

12 Nov – more fighting, Japs occupy strong position overlooking road

15 Nov – wireless positions established at Nos 2 and 3 Stockades

18 – 20 Nov – bty move forward towards Kalemyo

20 – 25 Nov – maintenance

27 Nov – march 35 miles northwards to Yazagyo – delays due to heavy traffic and bad road

28 Nov – 70 miles onward to Moreh

29 Nov – 65 miles to Imphal – Pallel road

30 Nov – 57 miles to MS84 on Dimapur – Imphal Road (north of Imphal)

December – rest in this area

Dec 17 – inspection by Admiral Mountbatten

Dec 22 – inspection by General Slim