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Imphal-kohima 1942, India and Burma Part One

The battle of Imphal-Kohima 1942 ,India and Burma part one.

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A Japanese Foreign Office Official said when refering to the Imphal-Kohima battle ‘ Most of the force perished in battle and later of starvation. The disaster at Imphal was perhaps the worst of it’s kind yet chronicled in the annals of war’. KASE TOSHIKAZU.

The last sentance is an exaggeration and although the final knockout blow was to come the following year at MEIKTILLA in central Burma . The fact remains the defeat at Imphal was the greatest on land the Japanese had suffered in their history. But first where are Imphal and Kohima ? . This is a question that not many inside India and certainly a few outside could have answered in prewar days. What were the events that brought about this great battle which made these two out of the way places household names, at least in India and the Far East?. Four hundred miles as the crow flies north-east of Calcutta lies MANIPUR state on the eastern borders of ASSAM ,with Imphal it’s capital. Standing in an open healthy fertile plains of 700 square miles,2,500 feet above sea level and 70 miles from the India-Burma frontier by way of a track through the mountains to TAMU in KABAW VALLEY. Along which the British and Indian soldiers retreated in 1942. Surrounded on all sides by jungle covered mountains rizing in places to 8,000 feet.

Adequate for the concentration of troops airfields dumps of supplies of all natures hospitals and workshops necessary for operation on a large scale. It suffered grave disadvantages from the fact that the rail communications from India were inadequate to meet the demands of a large force. 140 miles long and 12 foot wide the road forward from railhead in (DIMAPUR) to Imphal had been built largely for Bullock carts and for only modicum of motor transport through gorges up and down hairpin bends and along the sides of mountains. Liable to be cut off for days by landslides and in places one-way it was a dangerous and precarious main line of communication. However by late 1943 by dint of superhuman efforts on the part of India Command the staff of Lieutenant-General W.J. Slim  the Fourteenth Army the engineers imported and locl labour and medical officers (for malaria was rife) such progress had been made with the lines of communication as to enable the IV corps  of Lieutendant -General G.A.P. Scoones to be made up to a total of 3 Indian Divisions – the 17th,20th,23rd and the 254th Tank Brigade.

At least two of the six airfields were approaching all weather standard (during the monsoon  May- October the earth strips were unusable). 90miles north of Imphal and almost 50miles from DIMAPUR stands the capital NAGALAND with KOHIMA at the summit of a pass between mountians 8,000 to 10,000 feet high and at a point where the road turns south to IMPHAL. At the time the battle took place it was the headquarters of the district commissioner administering the loyal and courageous NAGAS.

What of the Japanese? . In January 1942 when their 15th Army invaded Burma that country was entirely unprepared. By May the Allies had been driven out , the British to Imphal and the Indian and Chinese to China. Thus permitting the Japanese to occupy the whole country up to the Banks of the River Chindwin to the Chinese frontier in the North and to ARAKAN on the Bay of Bengal.

I hope everyone like this story a let me know what you think of it.

George T Saviel

22 November 2010

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