Second World War – Burma 1943-44
Sikhs in British Armed Forces : Second World War – Burma
Second Burma Campaign 1943-44
The 1st/11th Sikhs arrived at Dohazari by rail on the 12th of October and then marched some eighty-five miles to Tumbru, where they arrived five days later. On the next day the Battalion embarked in river craft and sailed down the Naf river to Bawli, where it joined the 7th Indian Division. Here the Battalion was allotted the role of Divisional Headquarters Battalion and was split up amongst the three brigades of the Division.
Before proceeding with a detailed account of the Battalion’s activities in the Arakan, it is necessary to explain very briefly the general situation at this time. During the monsoon both the British and the Japanese had been holding their forward positions very lightly and the actual number of troops on the ground at this time was small. A build-up was beginning to take place and the 7th Division was the first to arrive. Initial operations took the form of small unspectacular local advances with the intention of closing up on the Japanese forward positions north of the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road.
The Allied intention was to capture Akyab, the only port of any importance in the Arakan, by a combined sea and land attack. The XV Corps was to advance south in the Arakan with the 5th Indian Division on the right and the 7th Indian Division on the left.
During November the 5th Division arrived and took over the coastal sector north of Maungdaw, while the 7th Division crossed to the east of the Mayu Range to get into position for the coming offensive.
The area east of the range consisted of a tangled mass of jungle-covered hills intersected by stretches of flat rice fields, which were quite dry at this time of the year. The jungle was mostly thick bamboo and the hills were very steep and usually about a hundred to two hundred feet high. They provided ideal defensive positions and were very difficult to assault.
There was no lateral road across the Mayu Range to supply the Division, so a road was constructed by the divisional engineers through dense jungle over the thirteen-hundred-foot-high Ngakyedauk Pass. This was a remarkable feat of engineering, which enabled tanks, artillery and heavy transport to reach the Division. The pioneer platoon of the 1st/ 11th Sikhs was attached to the divisional sappers for work on the road and constructed some of the many bridges on the pass.
The Battalion was very unfortunate to lose its Adjutant, Captain P. J. Sheehan, who died of smallpox in Bawli Bazar in January. His place was taken by Captain P. T. Cunningham, who remained as Adjutant almost to the end of the war.
During January the Division started to line up for the offensive to eliminate all Japanese forces resisting north of the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road. Battalion Headquarters and “A” Company, under Major Lerwill, were with the 114th Brigade, east of the Kalapanzin river, and were given the task of showing strength in front of the strong; Japanese fortifications around Kyaukit, while the remainder of the Brigade ;prepared for the offensive. Patrols were active day and night and often penetrated deep into these defences. The official report says
” It is credit to this battalion that the Japs were sufficiently impressed with the exuberance of Sikhs to put them down as a full battalion.”
During this time “D” Company, under Major Workman, was detached on a special protective and reconnaissance role in the Eastern Yomas overlooking the left flank of the Division. This company, known as “Workcol,” isolated in these thick jungle hills, did excellent work and carried out many long-range patrols.
“B” Company, under Major Walker, and “C” Company, under Major Spink, were with the 33rd and 89th Brigades respectively. These companies carried out numerous successful patrols towards the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road and gained valuable information for the coming offensive.
During this time the Japanese command was preparing for its march on India which was to break the Allied forces on the Indo-Burma border and open the road to the plains of Assam and Bengal. In practice, this offensive fell into two distinct stages-first the Arakan offensive and second the drive through Manipur.
In the Arakan the Japanese plan was to encircle and destroy the 7th Division east of the Mayu Ridge, then cut the main line of communication behind the 5th Division in the coastal sector and drive it into the sea.
JAPANESE ARAKAN OFFENSIVE
On the night of the 3rd of February, when the 33rd and 114th Brigades were deploying for the attack on the enemy main forces covering Buthidaung, a Japanese force of several thousand men, with artillery, engineers and ancillary units, under the command of Colonel Tanahashi, moved round the left flank of the Division. There was much confused fighting in the rear areas and the 89th Brigade, in reserve, bore the brunt of the main Japanese thrust in the Linbabi area south of Taung Bazar. Here they delayed the Japanese advance and “C” Company was engaged in some bitter fighting, repulsing Japanese attacks on Brigade Headquarters. During this fighting, Lance-Naik Karnail Singh earned a posthumous Indian Order of Merit for great gallantry. When a large number of men in his platoon were either killed or wounded, he charged forward on his own and drove off a party of Japanese:, who were harassing the evacuation of the wounded, and thereby enabled all the casualties to be brought back safely. His body was found some time later surrounded by dead Japanese. Major Spink was one of the wounded and had a very lucky escape when his stretcher convoy was ambushed: his life was undoubtedly saved through the gallantry of his orderly, Sepoy Mehar Singh, who was awarded the Military Medal.
On the 6th of February Divisional Headquarters was overrun by the Japanese and after some very gallant fighting General Messervy, with most of his headquarters personnel,’withdrew to the divisional administrative area, which became known as the “Admin. Box.” Brigades were immediately called up by wireless and ordered to stand fast and form defensive boxes.
The 1st/ l lth Sikhs, less “B” and “C” Companies, were with the 114th Brigade in the Kwazon area and continued to hold more or less the same positions north of Kyaukit. “D” Company had been withdrawn from the Eastern Yomas and was holding a hill feature on the northern side of the brigade box.
On the west bank of the Kalapanzin river “B” Company was protecting the 33rd Brigade Headquarters, just east of Hill 182, while “C” Company formed a box with a company of the 7th/2nd Punjab Regiment to protect a field regiment and some anti-aircraft gunners at Awlanbyin.
On the 7th of February the Japanese captured the Ngakyedauk Pass and the siege began. This was a series of large and small battles for three weeks, when the Japanese did their utmost to hammer the Division into submission, but everywhere the troops stood firm, inflicting severe casualties on the enemy. Some of the most bitter fighting was seen around the Admin. Box, which was so gallantly held by Headquarters and administrative personnel. The Granthi, Naik Kartar Singh, with the “Granth Sahib,” was in the Admin. Box with the motor transport. The drivers played their part in the defence of the box, while the Granthi displayed considerable, gallantry while encouraging the men holding the front line. The Gurdwara harmonica was damaged by a bullet in the fighting and it was mended and is still in use in the Gurdwara.
The Japanese had not expected the Division to hold on and fight and had not appreciated that General Slim could maintain the Division by air. The first Dakota aircraft came over on the 11th of February and the Royal Air Force dropped supplies daily until the siege was raised, while small liaison aircraft, landing on rough airstrips in brigade areas, evacuated all the seriously wounded from the overcrowded field ambulances.
For the next three weeks the Japanese lost heavily and Tanahashi’s force was split into small scattered parties which were methodically reduced by offensive action from the defensive boxes and by troops of the 26th Division, who moved up from reserve in the north. During this period “A” Company carried out several successful ambushes, while a platoon infiltrated into the Kyaukit defences and occupied a Japanese forward position. “B” Company had their share of fighting with the 33rd Brigade and on the 20th of February carried out a particularly successful attack on a party of Japanese near Hill 182 overlooking Brigade Headquarters. The Sikhs went in with great dash under the inspired leadership of Subadar Gurcharan Singh and threw the Japanese out of their positions with the bayonet.
On the 23rd of February the Ngakyedauk Pass was opened, in co-operation with troops of the 5th Division who attacked from the west, and the siege was lifted. By the end of February the remnants of Tanahashi’s force had been mopped up.
General Sir William Slim, Commander of the Fourteenth Army, summed up this battle in the Arakan in these words
” The battle of the Arakan was the first occasion in this war on which a British force has withstood the full weight of a major Japanese offensive, held it, broken it, smashed it to little pieces and pursued it. Anybody who was in the 7th and 5th Indian Divisions and was there has something of which they can be very proud indeed.”
The following is an extract from a message sent by Mr. Winston Churchill to General Slim after this victory in the Arakan
” I congratulate the Fourteenth Army heartily upon the successful outcome of the series of fierce encounters with the Japanese in the Arakan. . . .”
At the same time, Admiral The Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia Command, issued an order of the day in which he said
” . . . The enemy . . . launched a major offensive in the Arakan in the hope of defeating you and sweeping you into India. You have met the onslaught with courage, confidence and resolution. Many of you were cut off and encircled, dependent on supplies dropped from aeroplanes. But everyone stood firm, . . . . Now, after bitter fighting in the jungles and in the skies, the Japanese attack has been smashed. The enemy forces which infiltrated into your rear have been destroyed or scattered. The threatened passes are clear; the roads are open. You have gained a complete victory. Your splendid spirit was clear to me when I visited you recently. Now that spirit, that tenacity, that courage, have been demonstrated to the enemy and to the world. I salute you.”
At the beginning of March the 1st /11th Sikhs were relieved of their role as Divisional Headquarters Battalion and allotted to the 33rd Brigade for the postponed offensive on Buthidaung. Everyone in the Battalion was delighted and felt that they would now have a chance of showing their worth and giving the Japanese a real beating. The men were all in great heart; their morale, which had always been high, soared; they were all very fit and they had great confidence in themselves. The weather at this time was good; nice sunny days, not too hot, while the nights were not as cold as they had been a month earlier.
The Battalion concentrated in Awlanbyin on the 29th of February and then moved to join the 25th Dragoons just south of the Admin. Box on the next day to carry out some tank training.
Lieutenant-Colonel Dinwiddie left the Battalion here to go and command the 114th Brigade, and Major P. G. Bamford, who was Second-in-Command, took over command.
Some very valuable training was carried out with the 25th Dragoons and preparations were completed for the coming offensive. This aimed at securing the eastern end of the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road, including Buthidaung, with the object of cutting off the enemy occupying their strong positions on the jungle hills, known as Massive and Able.
ATTACK ON POLAND AND RABBIT
The 1st/ 11th Sikhs were ordered to capture two hill features, Poland and Rabbit, on the night of the 6th of March. This was to be the first phase of a general advance by the 33rd Brigade to drive a wedge into enemy positions from which an assault on Buthidaung could be launched later.
Patrols were sent out on the evening of the 5th of March and reported the next morning that Poland and Rabbit were held by the enemy. Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford decided to attack with “B” and “C” Companies forward and to keep “A” and “D” Companies in reserve.
The Battalion set out at dusk on the 6th of March and moved through the rice fields, between the enemy strongholds of Massive and Able, to their forming up area just north of the main road. It was bright moonlight and the Sikhs arrived in plenty of time to form up for the attack. At 10.15 p.m. Major Brough led “C” Company forward across the road under a barrage from the Corps and Divisional artillery. The barrage lifted as the leading platoon commenced the assault. “C” Company went up the slopes of the hill with great dash and surprised a forward enemy post which withdrew in haste as the men charged. Without a pause the Sikhs dashed on and captured the Japanese main position at the top of the hill against slight opposition.
Major Brough sent his reserve platoon through to capture the enemy’s final position, but the leading section was held up as it moved along the top of the ridge. A second attack was put in and the men dashed forward shouting their “fatehs.” They were again held up by a medium machine gun firing at very close range and suffered some casualties. It was very difficult to locate the machine gun in the jungle at night, while it was impossible to move down the steep slopes to attack the position from a flank, so Major Brough decided to consolidate his gains and delay the final attack until the next morning. However, the enemy had taken such a knock that they withdrew before dawn. In this action Sepoy Sajjan Singh displayed great gallantry in crawling forward under extremely heavy enemy fire and bringing back several wounded men from within a few yards of the enemy’s machine gun. He was himself eventually wounded, but he refused to leave his section until the whole position was secured in the morning.
Meanwhile, “B” Company, under Major Walker, had advanced on the right of “C” Company, but the leading platoon had moved over too far to the west and was held up by impenetrable jungle. This delayed the advance of the remainder of the company and it was nearly an hour before patrols found a way through the jungle and “B” Company could move forward. The men had great difficulty in climbing up the slopes and in several places had to cut their way through the jungle. However, they met no opposition and secured the position soon after midnight, capturing two 47-mm. anti-tank guns and a considerable amount of minor equipment.
The remainder of the Battalion now moved forward and consolidated against the inevitable Japanese counter-attacks.
It was discovered in the morning that a Japanese headquarters had been located in the nullah between Poland and Rabbit and had been covered by positions on these two hills. It is believed that the enemy was surprised by the rapid advance on Poland, and, not suspecting an attack on Rabbit, failed to “stand to” in their positions on the latter when the artillery barrage lifted.
The, Sikhs’ position on Poland were shelled all the next day, but very few casualties were sustained, since the men had completed their trenches early in the day. The next night, as expected, the Japanese launched a series of counter-attacks on both Poland and Rabbit and were repulsed all along the front. The night was one that everyone in the Battalion will remember. It was amazingly still and a full moon was high in the sky as the Japanese attacked through the jungle. The men held their fire until the Japanese were close up and then gave a resounding “Bole so nihal, sat siri akal,” as they threw them back time after time. These shouts rang clearly through the jungle and echoed around the hills, while answering “fatehs” were periodically heard from men of the 4th/ 15th Punjab Regiment holding positions over on the left. The self-confidence of the Sikhs was most inspiring and no one could fail to have complete confidence in the men and to have pride to be serving with them. Before dawn the Japanese called off the attack and withdrew to their positions farther south.
On the 8th of March the 1st/11th Sikhs were warned to carry out an attack on the Japanese positions in the jungle hills, known as Astride, covering the western approaches to Buthidaung, so that the 4th/8th Gurkha Rifles and the 25th Dragoons could then pass through and capture the town the next day. The attack was not to take place before the 12th of March, so that the Battalion would have plenty of time to obtain details of the enemy’s dispositions and to carry out diversions towards the south. “A” Company, now under the command of Major Thomas, was therefore sent to occupy a position west of Htinsbabyin, with the support of a squadron of tanks of the 25th Dragoons. No opposition was met, but the tanks were held up by marshy ground about half a mile north of Dongyaung, so “A” Company occupied a strong position on the ridge while the tanks withdrew into reserve. ,On the 9th of March “A” Company was ordered to move forward and occupy the southern end of the ridge overlooking Htinsbabyin, while “D” Company, under Captain Redding, was sent to raid enemy dumps in the Dongyaung area.
“A” Company moved south along the ridge, but the leading platoon met with very stiff resistance when moving forward to seize the objective. Major Thomas immediately launched an attack and the leading platoon captured three enemy posts in some fierce close-in fighting before being held up by several light machine guns firing at point-blank range. “A” Company sustained a number of casualties and Major Thomas wisely decided to consolidate his gains and not attack this strong position again until artillery support could be arranged. The leading section commander, Naik Naranjan Singh, displayed great dash and determination. Although he was wounded early on, he continued to lead his section forward and carried the first two enemy trenches at the point of the bayonet in spite of heavy fire from several light machine guns. Although all but two men of his section were killed or wounded, Naik Naranjan Singh assaulted the third trench up a precipitous slope and killed all the enemy with grenades. By this time one of his companions was killed and the other wounded, but Naik Naranjan Singh continued to hold the enemy trench until the remainder of the company had consolidated and he was ordered to withdraw. In this action Sepoy Mukhtiar Singh won a posthumous Indian Order of Merit for great gallantry; he was last seen charging the remaining enemy post on his own, firing his Bren from his hip, and killing four or five of the enemy.
“D” Company gained complete surprise. They moved behind the enemy’s forward positions and destroyed three dumps without opposition. The company returned in the evening, having successfully completed its task without suffering any casualties.
While “A” and “D” Companies had been operating in the south, a number of Sikh reconnaissance patrols had been active along the whole front. A small patrol of four men was ordered to find out if the enemy was occupying a position south of Poland. This patrol set out in bright moonlight on the 8th of March and when it had gone about a mile it observed a party of forty Japanese moving north towards Poland. The patrol immediately took cover, but it was spotted by the enemy, who moved out to outflank the Sikhs, leaving their grenade discharger in a central position to cover their advance.
Sepoy Charan Singh crept silently .forward on his own until he was only a few yards from the grenade party. He then leapt at the Japanese with the discharger and killed him with one thrust of his bayonet. The other two grenadiers gave a piercing shriek, got up and fled. This bold move completely surprised the whole Japanese party, who turned about and retired hastily towards their own positions. On the same night a patrol, led by Havildar Bachan Singh (Brown), moved out to the Astride position. It moved right up close to the Japanese trenches and collected very valuable information. It reported that the enemy were busy digging and constructing bunkers along the whole of the Astride position and had several posts in the vicinity of the main road.
As a result of this patrol report, General Messervy came forward during the afternoon of the 9th of March to advance the time of the attack, while the artillery and Royal Air Force were ordered to harass the Astride position, in order to try to delay the construction of the Japanese defences.
General Messervy explained that there were two alternatives: to attack that night with tired troops and without reconnaissance, or to attack a better established enemy the next morning. Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford decided to attack the next day, since “A” and “D” Companies would be rested and some divebombers, all the Corps artillery and a squadron of tanks would be available to support the attack.
The Sikhs immediately prepared for the attack. “A” Company was relieved by a company of the 4th/15th Punjabis at Htinsbabyin and arrived back at 8 p.m. for some well-earned sleep.
ATTACK ON ASTRIDE
The Sikhs moved to the forming-up area behind West Finger before light on the 11th of March and Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford issued verbal orders for the attack from the forward slopes of this ridge at 6.30 a.m. A squadron of Lee tanks had been detailed from the 25th Dragoons and these joined the Battalion about half an hour later.
The forward troops were again “B” and “C” Companies. This time “B” Company was to be on the left to capture the hills north of the road while “C” Company on the right was to capture those to the south. On capturing Astride, the Sikhs had been ordered to secure the road, so that the 25th Dragoons and the 4th/8th Gurkha Rifles could pass through and capture Buthidaung at first light the next morning. “A” and “D” Companies were therefore ordered to be prepared to pass through and secure the eastern end of the Astride position as soon as the forward companies had captured their objectives.
When company commanders were just finishing their orders to their platoon commanders the bombers came over and gave a fine display of dive-bombing, dropping all their bombs in the target area. They were followed about an hour later by fighters, who strafed the whole area.
At about 10 a.m. the enemy observed the Sikhs’ mortars getting into position and shelled and mortared the ridge from behind the Astride position. At this time both leading companies were moving forward to their assembly areas and the Sikhs suffered some casualties. Immediate and accurate counter-battery fire was put down and the enemy fire slackened considerably.
At 10.15 a.m. the artillery commenced laying smoke screens on the left flank and in front of the objective, and mortars and medium machine guns opened fire, while the tanks moved forward according to plan. The smoke screen put down for the tanks effectively stopped any further interference by enemy artillery fire and by 10.30 a.m. tanks and assaulting companies were formed up on the start line ready for the attack.
The Corps artillery now opened up on the objective, putting down a concentration so intense that the attacking infantry had to lie flat on their faces on the start line to avoid splinters from the barrage five hundred yards distant. Even so, two or three men were hit. The smoke and dust from the barrage mingled with that from the original screen and from the undergrowth on the objective which was now ablaze. The objective itself and the fields beneath it were soon obliterated by drifting clouds of smoke. In all, over seven thousand shells were fired on a front of some five hundred yards.
After ten minutes the artillery lifted and the leading companies advanced, the tanks moving forward with the leading troops. Although the objective was invisible, direction was easy to maintain and the forward elements of the attack were soon at the foot of their respective; objectives. During the advance across the open the machine-gun overhead covering fire from both the tanks and guns firing from West Finger was intense and continuous. The noise was deafening, completely obliterating the sound of the tanks and even the artillery barrage, now coming in rear of the Astride position. The moral effect of this covering fire and of the tanks moving steadily forward, both on the enemy and on our own troops, cannot be overemphasized.
Cheering and shouting “fatehs,” the men now commenced the assault, while the leading tank halted only when it reached the mouth of the defile twenty yards from a deep anti-tank ditch and a minefield. The overwhelming concentration of fire and the sight of the rapid and determined advance of the Sikhs and tanks were too much for the Japanese, who offered only slight resistance before retiring in disorder from the defences which they had so carefully prepared.
On arrival on its objective “B” Company saw large bodies of the enemy streaming south in front of Buthidaung. A forward observation officer had accompanied company headquarters and the enemy was therefore engaged promptly and with good results. Buthidaung itself was also shelled and was soon blazing merrily, whilst the ground strafe by fighters about half an hour later also met with success.
At 11 a.m. the first objectives were in British hands and “A” and “D” Companies immediately passed through and secured their objectives without meeting the enemy, who had fled. Strong fighting patrols were sent out and all companies immediately consolidated the position to secure the road.
Patrols pushed far ahead, but no enemy parties were encountered and they entered Buthidaung without opposition. It was therefore decided to exploit success and send two platoons on tanks to Kanbyin away on the right flank and move on Buthidaung from the south. This party was delayed until 2 p.m. by anti-tank mines, but set out in great spirits. It moved about five miles south and then turned up a track towards Buthidaung, but the enemy had pulled right back and the Sikhs, riding on tanks, entered Buthidaung without seeing any enemy.
Unfortunately, one tank near Boomerang, a small hill on the northern outskirts of the town, struck a mine. Although the tank was damaged and could not be repaired that evening, no casualties were suffered. One platoon therefore had to stay out to protect the tank during the night, while the remainder returned to the Battalion position.
Before dark the Battalion was firmly established on Astride and the tanks withdrew safely to Tank valley.
This was a much bigger success than had been expected. The enemy had been surprised and thrown out of a strong position. They had run from the bayonets of the Sikhs and left Buthidaung to be captured without a fight. In view of this success the move of the Gurkhas was accelerated and they passed through Astride at about 10.30 p.m., taking up positions securing the southern exits from Buthidaung.
During the night there was much enemy activity and “C” Company south of the road encountered numerous parties trying to infiltrate into their former positions. The enemy attempts to recapture the hill features south of the road were very half-hearted and were easily driven back. However, the next morning a Japanese platoon was reported to have dug in on India Hill, which was overlooking the road.
Since the Battalion was able to hold only the more important hill features along the road, it had been decided to leave India Hill unoccupied until Subadar Mehar Singh’s platoon returned from pirotecting the disabled tank on Boomerang. Consequently the enemy had no difficulty in reoccupying it during the night.
The 25th Dragoons were now passing through the position and it was essential therefore to recapture India Hill immediately, before all their transport arrived.
ATTACK ON INDIA HILL
Gallantry of Naik Nand Singh, Victoria Cross Winner
” C” Company was detailed to carry out the attack and Major Brough was ordered to waste no time. As he dashed. away from Battalion Headquarters he met Subadar Mehar Singh and his platoon returning, after being relieved on Boomerang by the Gurkhas, so he immediately took them along to do the attack on India Hill. This feature was too close to “C” Company’s position to allow artillery or mortars to support the attack, so Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford managed to get a Lee tank from the 25th Dragoons to cover the platoon forward.
India Hill was a knife-edged ridge, with steep, jungle-clad slopes. The enemy was holding some deep trenches and fox-holes which were well concealed and impossible to see in the jungle. The tank therefore harassed the whole area for several minutes, while the platoon moved up to assault the position, with a section under Naik Nand Singh in the lead.
Naik Nand Singh led his section forward along a narrow track leading up to the enemy position. This was the only possible approach on to the hill. Reaching the crest, they came under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and every man in the section went down, being either killed or wounded. Nevertheless, Naik Nand Singh dashed forward alone under intense fire at point-blank range. As he was approaching the nearest Japanese trench he was wounded by a grenade, but without hesitating he went on and captured the trench, killing both occupants with his bayonet. Naik Nand Singh, seeing another trench a short distance away, jumped up and dashed towards the second trench in spite of the continuous fire from the enemy. He was again wounded by a grenade and knocked down, but he got up and hurled himself into the trench, killing both occupants with his bayonet. He moved on again for a third time and captured a third trench all on his own. As soon as he had captured the third trench the fire on the remainder of the platoon ceased and they were able to move forward and capture the remainder of the position, killing with bayonet and grenade thirty-seven out of the forty Japanese who were holding the position.
It was due to Naik Nand Singh’s gallantry and determination that the Japanese position was captured so rapidly with so little cost of life and that the whole enemy party were destroyed almost to a man. For his gallantry and complete disregard for his own life in this action Naik Nand Singh was awarded the Victoria Cross.
On the 20th of March the Battalion was withdrawn from the Buthidaung area and given a protective role in the old Admin. Box, situated at the bottom of the now-famous Ngakyedauk Pass.
Early on the morning of the 25th of March a party of Japanese was reported in the hills overlooking the eastern entrance of the Admin. Box and the Battalion was ordered to drive the enemy off. Two platoons of “A” Company and one platoon of “B” Company were detailed for this task.
Patrols moved out at 8 a.m. and reported the enemy to be some one hundred strong and well dug in, in tunnelled positions. Three separate attacks were put in by the Sikhs supported by one tank and a very limited amount of artillery, and, although severe casualties were inflicted on the enemy, only two out of three enemy localities were captured. Jemadar Didar Singh showed great bravery during the second attack, personally leading his platoon forward under heavy enemy machine-gun and grenade fire. He could be seen dashing forward, all on his own, time after time, hurling grenades at a Japanese machine-gun post. He was killed in this action, but he was awarded a posthumous Indian Order of Merit for his outstanding gallantry. Sepoy Mohan Singh was also quite outstanding throughout this attack. He was with the leading section, which was soon pinned to the ground by enemy light-automatic fire. He crawled forward on his own right close up to the enemy trenches and threw grenades at the machine guns holding up his platoon. When his supply of grenades was exhausted he crawled back for a further supply and then moved forward again to continue his bombardment. It was later learned that Sepoy Mohan Singh had killed over ten of the enemy on his own.
By nightfall the enemy were still occupying a few of their bunkers, and it was decided to leave a platoon of “A” Company to hold the captured trenches alongside the enemy overnight. The next morning the enemy were found to have evacuated their position, having suffered heavy casualties and leaving some fifty bodies behind.
On the 2nd of April the Battalion again moved to the east bank of the Kalapanzin river to hold the hill features around Kwazon Ridge to assist the 114th Brigade in that area. Whilst in this area Major Thomas was unfortunately killed by enemy shell fire when taking over a position from the 4th/ 14th Punjab Regiment.
On the night of the 7th of April, having covered the withdrawal of the 114th Brigade to Awlanbyin, the Battalion withdrew northwards to a reserve area on the west bank of the Kalapanzin opposite Taung Bazar and joined the 89th Brigade, to which the Battalion had now been permanently allotted.
Meanwhile, “D” Company had been operating on its own in the jungle hills known as “Massive,” to contain the remnants of a Japanese force still holding out. They had one or two minor patrol encounters with the enemy, but returned to the Battalion on the 10th of April after handing over to troops of the 26th Indian Division.
In Taung the Battalion was employed in digging defences and building bamboo huts for the monsoon, but “B” and “D” Companies held. positions on the northern end of Long Ridge and Bogiyaung respectively to cover Taung Bazar. Both these companies were spasmodically attacked by enemy raiding parties and harassed by enemy artillery, but all attacks were beaten off with losses to the enemy, while the Battalion casualties were negligible.
Major-General Savory, now Director of Infantry at General Headquarters in Delhi, in a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford at Taung Bazar, wrote
” You will be interested to hear that I went to a cocktail party with the Commander-in-Chief yesterday and he told me that my old battalion was now making a great name for itself in Burma. General Gifford was also at the party and he made a point of coming over to tell me how well you had all been doing in the recent fighting in the Arakan.”
On the 26th of April, when the Battalion was waiting to return to India for rest and refit, orders were received to proceed to Imphal with the 89th Brigade to join temporarily the 5th Indian Division, whose third brigade was cut off in Kohima by the Japanese in their drive through Manipur.
On the 27th of April the 1st/ 11th Sikhs left Taung for Bawli, which was riverhead for the forward areas in the Arakan. The rifle companies marched over the Goppe Pass while the remainder of the Battalion, with the baggage, went in lorries via the Ngakyedauk Pass.
The next day the Battalion, with all the mules, embarked on river craft and arrived at Tumbru in the afternoon. Here the men had their evening meal before moving off in lorries for Dohazari. The Battalion arrived at dawn on the 29th of April and was accommodated in the transit camp, This was real luxury, as no one had slept under a roof for many months.
The 1st/ 11th Sikhs remained three days in Dohazari and the men had a good rest and a chance to clean up. Drill parades were carried out each morning and the men were all in great heart.
On the 2nd of May, after holding an “Ardasa” thanksgiving service, the Battalion marched to the station with pipes playing and arrived at Sylhet by train early on the 3rd of May to fly to Imphal.
The Sikhs camped for the night on the side of the airstrip and prepared for the flight the next day.
In the early morning of the 4th of May aircraft loads were laid out on the edge of the airfield and the men paraded alongside their loads. The first aircraft left at about 11 a.m. and the flight to Imphal was uneventful and lasted an hour. The Battalion, with jeeps and baggage, was in its concentration area, a camp of bamboo huts some twelve miles north of Imphal, by 4 p.m. without mishap.
The mules arrived by air a few days later, while the motor transport moved by road to Dimapur, where it remained until the Kohima-Imphal road was cleared many weeks later.
At this time the Japanese were investing Imphal. The enemy columns which had swept northwards from Burma had been halted on the roads into the Imphal Plain by the 20th and 23rd Indian Divisions, while the columns which had swung north from the Chindwin river were at last held at Kohima and Kanglatongbi after seizing a large section of the famous Manipur road.
At Kanglatongbi the Manipur road debouches on to the Imphal Plain. After all its hectic twists and turns, its hairpin bends, its fantastic climbs and descents, the road comes smoothly down the valley of the Imphal Turel, a mountain torrent. The hills on either side get lower, and the valley opens out. A driver after this exhausting one hundred and twenty miles’ journey from Dimapur feels that the worst is over. He is nearly home.
The Japanese were holding the village of Kanglatongbi and also the ridge running away to the east on the other side of the Turel. They had reached the limit of their advance, although they did not yet realize it. From the tops of the hills they could see Imphal, their promised land. They were beginning to get hungry, for their plans to capture the British food supplies had not yet succeeded. They were not disheartened and they were determined not to be driven back.
On the 6th of May the 1st/11th Sikhs took over Saingmai Hill from the 1st / 3rd Gurkha Rifles and Saingmai village from the West Yorkshire Regiment. These were the forward positions facing the enemy at Kanglatongbi.
The map can give but little idea of the country. Practically the whole of the area, except for the rice fields on the Imphal Plain, is covered with jungle. , Nothing of the ground can be seen from the air; from above it looks lovely, somewhat like a huge bed of parsley. The hills are steep and cut by numerous deep nullahs. Even the few open stretches in the valleys are often covered with tall elephant grass studded with scattered trees. Visibility was so limited that fighting by day had many of the characteristics of night fighting.
Kanglatongbi was held by the enemy in strength. Patrols had located the Japanese in positions all along the top of the ridge eastwards from the village, so any large outflanking movement was almost impossible. A direct break-through up the road would be dangerous while the ridge was held. So Major-General Briggs, commanding the 5th Indian Division, decided to clear the western end of the dominating ridge while also forcing his way up the road. This would turn the flank of the enemy farther east and force a withdrawal to the hills north of Ekban Ekwan.
The 89th Indian Infantry Brigade was given the task of capturing the ridge from its western extremity by the Turel near by as fat as the tiny village of Tingsal, some three miles east of Kanglatongbi. On the right were the 4th / 8th Gurkha Rifles; on the left the 2nd Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The Sikhs, less “A” Company, of which more anon, were in reserve. The attack was to start at dawn on the 15th of May, and orders were issued on the 11th of May so that there should be ample time for the preparation of plans.
“A” Company was given a role in the main attack. It had to pass through the enemy forward localities and seize the ridge between Tingsal and Ekwan behind the enemy’s line. The company would then be astride the track along which all supplies to the enemy units on the right had to go. Once in position the company was given three tasks. The first was to divert Japanese attention from the main attack; the second was to prevent any attempt at an enemy withdrawal; and the third was to make contact with the Gurkhas on the Japanese positions. The company’s position would be precarious, with an exceedingly doubtful line for reinforcement or supply, for it would be between the Japanese forward positions and their reserve units.
On the 1 st of June the Battalion moved out on the first stage of its journey to the Iril valley, where it was to take over positions held by the 3rd/9th Jats.
The first night was spent at Imphal and the next day the Battalion moved up the Iril valley in pouring rain. The men had to march ten miles, most of. which was knee-deep in mud. The Battalion arrived in the 3rd/9th Jats’ area in the afternoon and bivouacked for the night in the valley south of Wakan.
On the 3rd of June the Battalion took over positions from the Jats, who were holding hill features on a ten-thousand-yard front in very mountainous country. These positions were on the left flank of the Japanese main positions and prevented the enemy from moving down the Iril valley to Imphal. The. Battalion was located on the hill feature of Wakan, while “A” and “D” Companies were some three miles farther north on high hills around Point 4364 and were containing the enemy on their main positions on Everest, the highest of the Japanese strongholds.
On the 4th of June Brigadier Crowther visited the Battalion and ordered the Sikhs to make every effort to infiltrate on to the Everest positions. A direct assault was quite out of the question, since the Battalion was out of range of artillery fire and the positions were exceptionally strong and were held by a high proportion of machine guns. The 9th Brigade had previously carried out numerous attacks with strong artillery support during the past month and had suffered heavy casualties without meeting with any success.
Patrols, therefore, were sent out day and night to pin-point the Japanese positions on Everest. They all reported the positions strongly held and all confirmed that infiltration would be difficult and costly. On the 5th of June a patrol behind the enemy lines reported that the enemy was occupying the village of Nurathen on the Japanese line of supply from the north. The patrol stated that there was considerable movement in the village during the night. A Japanese headquarters was believed to be in the village and it was therefore decided to abandon the plan of infiltration on to Everest and to send a company to raid Nurathen and then take up a position on the enemy supply line. “D” Company moved out from Point 4364 at 10 p.m. on the 6th of June with nearly a full moon. They had to move down a very steep track for fifteen hundred feet to the valley below and then through marshy country for about three miles to the village. Just south of the village the forward platoon encountered an enemy post at the foot of a spur commanding the approaches to the village. The platoon immediately rushed the post, which it overran, killing ten Japanese. This small action unfortunately put all the enemy in the vicinity on the alert and the company was not able to get into the village. Major Workman therefore decided to move up a hill overlooking the enemy supply line north of the village. Here they prepared a strong position and sent out patrols to harass the enemy. There was considerable patrol activity during the next few days and enemy parties moving in the area were engaged day and night.
On the 8th of June a patrol went north from “D” Company’s position and discovered that the enemy had withdrawn temporarily from Point 5417, which was their main stronghold in the next line of defences The patrol immediately occupied the position and sent back information to the company. A platoon was at once dispatched to reinforce the patrol, but in the meantime the enemy, who
had evidently gone back to a hutted village for food without leaving a sentry on the position, started to return. The patrol immediately engaged them and inflicted a number of casualties on the enemy, who withdrew. Several minutes later the patrol, which was only four strong, was attacked by some sixty Japanese, whom it held off for nearly twenty minutes. The patrol, however, ran out of ammunition and was almost overrun. It was forced to withdraw just as the leading troops of the reinforcing platoon were approaching the position. The platoon attempted tb retake the position, but it had been reinforced. The Sikhs suffered several casualties, including Major Workman and Subadar Bishen Singh, who were wounded, and found that they were opposed by superior numbers, so they had to return to the company position.
It was most disappointing, since the capture of this hill feature would have forced the enemy to withdraw from the main road without further delay. Nevertheless, the patrol had inflicted considerable casualties on the enemy in their very gallant stand. During this time other patrols had been into Nurathen village, and, finding no sign of the enemy headquarters, it was decided that the village was used by the enemy as a staging point. “D” Company in their position denied the use of this route to the enemy, who lost many casualties in the area. The enemy made no effort to throw “D” Company out of their position, and this was the first indication that the enemy probably lacked reserves in this area.
On the 11th of June increased activity was reported in the enemy rear areas and on the 12th of June a patrol reported that all the Everest positions had been evacuated by the enemy. These were immediately occupied by “C” Company under Major Redding. This was the second time since the Battalion had been in the Imphal area that the Japanese had been forced to withdraw through infiltration tactics into their rearward areas.
The 1st/11th. Sikhs continued to operate on the right flank of the Division in the upper reaches of the Iril valley. Although there were several jeep tracks in this area, these were now impassable on account of the heavy rain. The Battalion therefore had to be supplied entirely by mules. By the 14th of June this was also found to be impossible and it was decided to commence supplying the Battalion by air. During this period considerable; patrolling had been carried out and a route round the enemy left flank was discovered.
Accordingly, on the 21st of June the Brigade Commander ordered the Battalion to move to a position on the main Japanese supply line from Kangpopki, his advance base on the main road, to his main base at Ukhrul. Battalion headquarters, with “A” and “D” Companies, moved off on the 22nd of June and had an entirely uneventful march to the village of Aishan. The Battalion was fortunate in having a few fine days during this period and was able to take up and prepare a strong position just east of the village in fine weather.
On the 22nd of June the Kohima road was cleared and the troops from the 2nd Division advancing south from Kohima joined up with the 5th Indian Division. At long last the siege had been lifted.
On the 23rd of June a patrol from “A” Company contacted a party of the enemy moving east. The enemy, however, was in considerable strength and the patrol was forced to withdraw. The Japanese followed up and unexpectedly encountered the forward platoon of “D” Company. They made several attempts to force the Sikhs back, but they were repulsed with losses each time. The enemy therefore took up a position on high ground some four hundred yards farther west. This was unfortunately on the Sikhs’ line of supply and so, although the Battalion had cut off the Japanese, it was now itself also completely cut off. The next morning “C” Company, which was moving forward to reinforce the Battalion at Aishan, was held up by the enemy. The next night the Japanese, who were estimated to be three hundred strong with artillery and machine guns, made a few half-hearted attempts to throw the Battalion back and, having suffered several casualties, dispersed in small parties to the north. This action had denied the enemy his best line of withdrawal and forced him to withdraw over very much more difficult country to the north. The Sikhs lost only one man killed and four wounded in this action, but nine mules were killed by Japanese machine, guns during the attack on the final night.
PURSUIT TO UKHRUL
By the end of June the Japanese offensive had not only been effectively stopped but their main forces had been utterly defeated on all sectors of the Imphal front and the enemy were withdrawing to the Burma border.
The monsoon had set in and the troops in the forward areas were fighting in appalling conditions. Previously in Burma the heavy rains at this time of year had always brought operations to almost a standstill, but General Slim, the Fourteenth Army Commander, was not going to allow the weather to interfere with his plans this year and he was determined to exploit his successes and keep the Japanese on the run.
The unmetalled roads along which the divisions were operating were by now almost impassable to motor transport and there was no hope of supplying the forward troops by mule or jeep far from the main roads. However, the R.A.F. once again came to the Army’s assistance and, in spite of all the risks and dangers of flying at this time of the year, they readily agreed to do everything possible to deliver supplies to the forward divisions throughout the monsoon.
The 23rd Indian Division, therefore, pressed on down the Tamu road, while the 5th Indian Division was switched over to the southern front to pursue the retreating Japanese towards Tiddim. The only Japanese still holding out were those on the Ukhrul road, some twenty miles from Imphal, in front of the 20th Division. This force held on grimly to its positions to cover the withdrawal of the remnants of the Japanese forces in the north.
As soon as the Manipur road was open the 89th Brigade returned to the 7th Indian Division, which had been ordered to pursue the Japanese retreating through Ukhrul.
On leaving the 5th Indian Division, General Briggs, in a letter to LieutenantColonel Bamford, wrote
” I was sorry not to be able to see you to say good-bye and to thank you for the great assistance you and your battalion have given this division in the last operations. The spirit and dash shown by you all has been magnificent and you have certainly taken every advantage offered you to defeat the Jap.”
The 33rd Brigade was already moving south towards Ukhrul, so the 89th Brigade was ordered to move immediately across country to Ukhrul and Sangshak to cut off the Japanese withdrawals from the Manipur road and to threaten the rear of those farther south in front of the 20th Division.
The 89th Brigade, with animal transport and much-reduced baggage, was to move along the track from Kangpopki through Aishan, Chawai, Mollen, Leishan and Toinem. Two days’ rations were carried, while an air-drop was being arranged every second day.
The Brigade Commander decided to march in three groups with a day’s march between each group. The 1 st / 11 th Sikhs were in the lead with Advanced Brigade Headquarters and the 62nd Field Company, while the Gurkhas were in Group II with a mountain battery and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in Group III.
On the 26th of June Brigade Headquarters and the 62nd Field Company, with additional mules for the Sikhs, left Kangpopki at 8 a.m. The 2nd Division was moving forward to clear Hill 5247 and operations along the track slightly delayed the column, which arrived at Aishan at about 6 o’clock in the evening. On the next day Group I moved out from Aishan, but the river, four miles farther east, was in spate and could not be crossed until the sappers constructed a bridge. This took the whole day, so the group camped for the night on the bank of the river.
On the 28th of June the Battalion had a very long and tiring march over rough and mountainous country and went into bivouac in the evening a mile west of Leishan. “B” and H.Q. Companies, who had been left behind in the Iril valley, rejoined the Battalion as it passed through Chowai.
On the 29th of June the Battalion had another very strenuous march to Toinem over even more difficult country, and at times in pouring rain. The Brigade had now crossed some four mountain ranges, so Brigadier Crowther decided that the 1 st / 11 th Sikhs should rest for a day at Toinem before moving on to Ukhrul.
While the Battalion rested the next day two patrols were sent out, one to reconnoitre the route to Ukhrul and the other to raid a Japanese party reported to be in the village of Pharong. The reconnaissance patrol returned in the evening and reported that the track to Ukhrul was not correctly marked on the map and it went through a very steep ravine and over a high pass two miles west of the town. The other patrol, under Major Redding, met very stiff resistance on approaching the objective, and, although numerous casualties were inflicted on the enemy, it was not able to clear the village. It was later learnt that the local inhabitants had warned the Japanese of the approach of this patrol.
On the 1 st of July the 1st /11th Sikhs set out at first light to seize the pass and, if possible, push on to Ukhrul itself. “B” Company, under Subadar Indar Singh, was in the lead and by midday the company moved into the ravine leading to the top of the pass without encountering the enemy. However, towards the far end of the ravine the leading scouts were suddenly engaged by some Japanese, who were holding a position astride the track. Although “B” Company surprised and overran a small post, the Sikhs could not dislodge the enemy holding the pass. The jungle was very thick in this area and it was quite impossible to ascertain the extent of the enemy positions or the lie of the ground.
In order to try to secure the pass before dark, “A” Company was sent to capture the high ground to the north, while “D” Company under Subadar Hazara Singh moved out to seize the high ground to the south. Both these companies experienced great difficulty in moving through the thick jungle and up the steep slopes in pouring rain. However, they reached their objectives without encountering any opposition and had outflanked the, enemy holding the pass. Patrols were sent out and were soon back reporting that about eighty of the enemy were holding a position covering a track junction on the pass. It was now getting dark, so the Sikhs consolidated on the high ground while fighting patrols were sent out to cut the enemy line of withdrawal to Ukhrul.
It continued to pour with rain and the Sikhs spent a miserable night in the open. Patrols met no opposition at the eastern end of the pass, but they confirmed that the enemy were still in position around the track junction at daylight. Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford therefore decided to attack immediately from the east and capture the position from the rear. Just as final arrangements were being made for the attack, a Japanese party, from a position farther south counter-attacked “D” Company and enabled their comrades to withdraw from the pass during the fighting. The counter-attack made no progress and the Japanese soon gave up and withdrew right back to Ukhrul, leaving the Sikhs in control of the pass. “C” Company immediately followed up and seized the col leading to Ukhrul.
Brigade Headquarters and the 4th / 8th Gurkhas arrived at the top of the pass at 11 a.m. and Brigadier Crowther came forward to reconnoitre. He was able to get a very good view of Ukhrul and the country in between and he decided to form a base with the 1 st / 11 th Sikhs, Brigade Headquarters and the mountain battery astride the pass, while the Gurkhas moved forward to occupy Ukhrul.
The air-drop which had been arranged for the whole Brigade group did not materialize owing to rain and cloud, which prevented the supply aircraft flying low in the Troubal valley.
At first light on the 3rd of July the Gurkhas moved forward. They met considerable initial success by taking the enemy completely by surprise and soon captured the south-east corner of Ukhrul. However, the enemy were holding strongly – prepared positions in the old fort in the southern part of the town and, a track junction farther north. The Gurkhas made great efforts to capture these strong points, but they could not make any further progress. Aircraft again were not able to drop supplies on account of low clouds over the whole area, so rations were almost exhausted and everyone was now getting very hungry.
On the next day the King’s Own Scottish Borderers moved forward round the southern edge of the town, but they were’also held up by small enemy posts in and around the old fort. This was most unfortunate, as now two battalions were committed in Ukhrul, while the Sikhs had to remain on the pass to protect Brigade Headquarters, the guns and the field ambulance. This was necessary, since the 33rd Brigade had reported that four hundred Japanese were moving south from Ngainu farther north. It was still appalling weather and no air-drop was possible, so stocks of rations were completely exhausted. However, on the 5th of July the weather cleared. Much-needed supplies were successfully dropped throughout the afternoon and everyone had his first good meal for several days in the evening.
During the next few days the Gurkhas and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers made further efforts to find a way round the Japanese positions, but without success, while Sikh patrols moving north from the pass ambushed several small parties of Japanese withdrawing south.
On the 6th of July the enemy brought up some artillery south of Ukhrul and shelled Brigade Headquarters and the Sikhs intermittently for two days, but luckily very few casualties were sustained.
On the 8th of July the enemy shelled the Gurkhas in Ukhrul and at the same time evacuated their positions north of the town. The Gurkhas immediately pushed forward and made contact with the 33rd Brigade at about 12 noon. During the afternoon the enemy again shelled the Gurkhas and their rearguards withdrew from the fort area, leaving the town to be occupied by the Gurkhas.
The Brigade Commander then decided to move on and before dawn on the 9th of July the Sikhs set out across country to Humpum. On reporting this area clear the Battalion was ordered to push on towards Sangshak. The Sikhs encountered a few Japanese stragglers, but met no organized resistance and bivouacked for the night a few miles south of Humpum.
On the next day the Battalion again moved off early, but the leading platoon of “A” Company was held up by an enemy rearguard covering the bridge over the river in the valley south of Sangshak. A second platoon was immediately sent to cross the river farther west. It had some difficulty in crossing, but eventually got over to the other side and attacked the enemy from the rear, killing six Japanese and forcing the remainder to withdraw eastwards. The Battalion now pushed on and passed through a very strong Japanese position on the col between Shangshak and Semshang. This position had only recently been evacuated by the Japanese, who had left six 105-mm. guns, a 4-inch mortar, twelve lorries and much minor equipment behind. There were a number of stragglers in this area and it took a considerable time to search the position and the Sikhs did not arrive in Sangshak until after dark. The leading company was engaged as it entered the village, but the Japanese offered only slight resistance and withdrew as soon as the men advanced to take the position.
Sangshak had been the scene of some bitter fighting when a parachute battalion had borne the brunt of the Japanese offensive a few months earlier. The village was now in a foul condition; it had been burnt to the ground in the fighting and the Japanese had made no attempt to bury the dead or dispose of abandoned equipment. The Battalion spent an uncomfortable night amid the ruins and filth and the men had a busy time clearing up the area the next day.
Patrols were pushed down towards the Imphal road and reported that the Japanese had withdrawn and the way to Imphal was clear. The next day jeep ambulances came forward to evacuate the sick and wounded, who had. been carried along with the field ambulance since leaving Kangpopki.
From the 11th to the 19th of July the Battalion remained in Sangshak and patrolled far and wide without encountering any formed body of Japanese. On the 14th of July General Messervy came forward and established an advanced headquarters in Sangshak for three days. The men were all very pleased to see him and his presence in the forward area so soon after the road was open was much appreciated. Major Adams and twelve men contracted scrub typhus while in Sangshak and were evacuated to hospital in Imphal. This disease was very prevalent at this time and was taking a large toll among the troops. In spite of great efforts by doctors and the provision of additional nurses, Major Adams and eight men died in hospital. This was a sad blow at the end of this phase of operations just as the Battalion was about to go back for rest and refit. Major Adams heard a few days before he died that he had been awarded the Military Cross for the part he played in the Ekban battle.
On the 19th of July troops from the 2nd Division started to arrive in the area and take over from the 89th Brigade, which was at long last being given a rest. On the next day the Battalion marched twenty-one miles down the road towards Imphal and bivouacked for the night at the eighteenth milestone. The road was ankle-deep in mud, so the men had a very tiring march out of action. After resting for a couple of days the Battalion moved by motor transport to its rest area in Kohima:
The Brigade was located in a delightful area some five miles out of the town. The Sikhs were accommodated in a tented camp and the men were able to make themselves comfortable for the first time for many months. The Battalion had been in contact with the enemy continuously for ten months. The men had stood up to the prolonged fighting in appalling weather with short rations exceptionally well. The wonderful spirit of the Sikhs could not have been higher right up to the last. A large number, however, were very debilitated and there was a great deal of diarrhoea throughout the Battalion. The men had stuck it out to the end, but they now needed careful attention, good food and rest.
On the 8th of August General Sir George Giffard, Commander-in-Chief, 11th Army Group, visited the Battalion and congratulated the men on the fine part they had played in the recent operations.
Shortly after arriving in Kohima two large parties went off for a month’s leave while a draft of some two hundred men arrived from the 15th Battalion, which was being disbanded.
Owing to the bracing climate and excellent rations in Kohima, the men were soon fit and well. New clothing and equipment were issued and the Battalion was ready to start training in October. This was soon in full swing and much valuable training was carried out during the next two and a half months.
In the early morning of the 19th of October Brigadier Dinwiddie and Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford, with a representative party from the Battalion, set out from Kohima to Imphal to fly to Delhi, to attend an investiture by His Excellency Field-Marshal Lord Wavell. The Royal Air Force had very kindly detailed a special plane to fly the party to Delhi and back in order that they might witness the ceremony, at which Naik Nand Singh was to be invested with the Victoria Cross. The investiture took place outside the Red Fort in Delhi and Naik Nand Singh was presented with the Victoria Cross by Lord Wavell, with three other recipients, before a large gathering, including General Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief, India, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander, South-East Asia, General Sir George Giffard, Commander-in-Chief, 11th Army Group, and General Sir William Slim, Commander, Fourteenth Army.
After the presentation of medals the Viceroy, accompanied by General Auchinleck, inspected the parade, which consisted of the troops in Delhi Area and a guard of honour from each of the regiments to which the Victoria Cross recipients belonged. After the inspection the parade marched past and all senior officers witnessing the ceremony were introduced to the Victoria Cross holders.
Since the 1st /11th Sikhs were in an operational area, the guard of honour was provided by the Regimental Centre, but was commanded by Major Brough, with Subadars Bachan Singh and Bishen Singh as his,Viceroy’s commissioned officers. It was a most impressive ceremony and it was very fortunate that a party could attend from the Battalion, even though it was in an operational area. Two days later the party flew back to Imphal and rejoined the Battalion in Kohima.
At this time Brigadier J. G. Smythe, Military Correspondent of the London Times, who won the Victoria Cross with the 15th Sikhs in France in the First World War, selected the 1st/ 11th Sikhs and published the record of their fighting in the Arakan and Manipur in the Sunday Times to disprove the criticisms in certain uninformed circles in the United States concerning the fighting of Indian soldiers in the war. Brigadier Smythe, in an article published in 1946, wrote:
” The reason I selected the 14th as an example to quote to America was the tremendously high opinion I had heard of them from a very distinguished British battalion which fought alongside of them-and I think that is the praise any unit would prize more than any other and which is most likely to be well deserved.”
In November Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford left the Battalion to take up a staff appointment in the United States, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton was posted in his place.
While in Kohima the Sikhs constructed a very fine Gurdwara and were able to celebrate the birthdays of Guru Nanak Singh and Guru Govind Singh in the traditional manner, when all the Sikhs in the Division were the guests of the Battalion throughout the celebrations.
The 1st/ 11th Sikhs were very pleased that Major-General H. J. M. Cursetjee, who was the Medical Officer with the Battalion in Gallipoli in the First World War, was able to visit them on the 24th of December and stay with them over Christmas.
All preparations for the next campaign were complete by December and the Battalion was once again ready for action. The men were in good heart and fit. They had enjoyed their time in Kohima and had had an opportunity to play games and to get to know other units in the Division.
Source:The Sikh Regiment – Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Bamford, D.S.O