The Saga of Burma Corps.
Burma Corps was in the process of writing a rather gutsy and heroic page in the annals of the history of the British Armed Forces. It was not involved in stunning strategic victories or in vain glorious last stands. Instead it was forging a whole new meaning to the words grit, determination and tenacity.
It started the war at Rangoon and was tasked with the impossible mission of defending a massive country that was largely comprised of Jungle terrain with very few troops, most of which were of a low and dubious quality. Japan launched her attack at Pegu a few weeks after capturing Moulmein and quickly advanced on Rangoon. Burma Corps by that time had largely moved north towards Shwebo. From there Corps HQ directed and controlled the Battle of Burma, a rather one sided affair if one takes into account the superiority of Japan on land and in the air. By mid 1942 Burma Corps and what was left of her units were holes up at Bhamo trading blows with several Thai Army units. Sterling efforts by American and British transport planes, ably protected by RAF Hurricane units, kept Burma Corps supplied and someone at Japanese Imperial Army HQ must ahve got quite fed up eith these hungry, malaria ridden British troops and sent a number of brigades to deal with them.
Burma Corps was pushed West into the jungle and it hacked its way towards the banks of the Irrawady. It then split its forces into two main groups. One,including the main Corps HQ and its strongest fighting unit (16th Indian Brigade) was to cross to the North of Shwebo, while a smaller group was to cross further up river. Corps HQ knew that once across the river the anonimity of the jungle would be lost as good and main lines of communication and supply run across its axis of advance. The plus side was that every step forward was a step closer to India. Supply drops increased in intensity and more and more Hurricanes provided support, including one memorable day when a whole squadron of Ki-51’s was blown out of the sky.
The river was crossed safely and it seemed the Japanese had been caught on the hop. Further orders were immediately issued to march straight to the Chindwin, the last barrier before India. The tired and exhausted troops mustered themselves once again and their Odyssey continued. At this junction the IJA realised what was up when supply trains and resupply river convoys were reported missing or found ransacked. Aerial recon from India detected troop movements from Mandalay and from Myitkyina trying to cut off the route of escape. The Northern Group had a more difficult route than the Southern Group and as it crossed the river it was spotted by advanced elements of the Japanese 8th Division, coming from the North East. It barely had time to dog in before it was routed north into the jungles by the Chindwin’s banks. It suffered heavy casualties, an unfair reward for its bravery and tenacity but such is war. We still wait to see if Burma Corps makes the safety of India and succour at Home…