This short paper has been put together to provide some information about Viscount Slim, and the Sikh forces that fought in the 14th Army during the infamous Burma Campaign. It has proven difficult to find the exact breakdown of the Sikh forces under Slims command in the timescale provided. The authoritative work on the subject (The Sikh Regiment In The Second World War, Colonel F.T.Birdwood (OBE)) is not freely available.
It is clear that the 1st Sikh battalion (aka 14th Sikh, Ferozpure Sikhs and King Georges Own) were there under Slims command. It appears as if the famous 2nd Sikh (15th Ludhiana) were also there. There were almost definitely more Sikh forces under his command, more time is required to track down the exact details. This paper represents the work done to date on this request.
“Finally, we that live on can never forget those comrades who in giving their lives gave so much that is good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice, may they rest in peace.
In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”
General Sir Frank Messervy KCSI, KBE, CB, DSO
The Sikhs during World War 2
As the allied nations stepped ever closer to a second global conflict, this time with the Imperial Japanese and the Germans, Sikh soldiers once again stepped forward as the mainstay of British Indian Army. Despite the rising voice of dissent by Indians for Independence, volunteer numbers were not at all effected. Sikhs still made up a disproportionate quantity of the forces that India gave to the war effort. Sikhs again fought on a number of fronts, where Sikh units were largely deployed.
India entered the war when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, without consulting Indian leaders, declared war against Germany on behalf of India. A sharply divided debate ensued and Indians split along the role that they should play in the war in the west. Traditionally Indian soldiers had played a lead role in Britain’s battles to date, however a significant number of nationalists disliked Britain taking their support for granted and a call for British commitment to independence was called before they could expect India’s cooperation in the war effort. The debate came to a culmination when Mahatma Gandhi launched the “Quit India” movement in August 1942.
There was widespread violence in many cities as the British quelled demonstrations in oppressive scenes that would finally lead to an end to British rule in India. However states like the Punjab from where the concentration of recruits into the British Indian Army came – looked on curiously at the events in Delhi. With only voluntary recruitment into the army, young Sikh men helped to swell the Indian Army from 189,000 at the start of the war to over 2.5 million at the end of the war. The Sikhs in the Punjab were to make a concerted demand for independence only after they had quelled the rise of fascism in the west. The war was seen as a veritable dharamyudha – War of Righteousness
“Yeats-Brown, writing of the Punjab during World War II, said: “Bracing cold in winter, staggering heat in summer, and a capricious rainfall that blesses the land or leaves it a desert; such are the conditions under which three-quarters of a million recruits are born and nurtured.” During World War II 300,000 Sikhs served in the army, almost all combatant arms.”
Those Indians that secretly supported the Germans, on the maxim that my enemy’s enemy is my friend were to wake up on the morning of 7 December 1941 shocked to hear the news that the Imperial Japanese Air Force had launched an attack on the American Navy at Pearl Harbor. As Japan entered the melee they stamped their dominance over most of South East Asia, driving colonial armies of the Dutch, French, and English out of Hong Kong, French Indo-china, the Philippines, Thailand, and Burma down to Singapore. The 11th Sikh Regiment was to play a major part in the war to route Japan from it’s hold in South East Asia. Ironically it was the British-led Sikh soldiers who had fought in the Anglo-Burmese wars of 1852 and 1886 and had helped to annex Burma to the British Empire.
By the eve of the Second World War, Sikhs had fought on the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Mesopotamia and the trenches of Flanders. By 1944, Sikh soldiers were well entrenched in the sweltering swamps of the Burmese Jungles. The Japanese better suited, and motivated were strongly pushing through Burma and had, by May 1944, pushed their combined forces to the eastern edges of India ready to proceed forward into the plains of India and westward to Calcutta. At the protracted and vital Battle of Kohima in Assam the 4th Battalion of the 15th Punjabi Regiment had experienced the resolute and sometimes suicidal methods of attack by the Japanese.
The leading platoon was headed by Naik Gian Singh, recognizing the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of defeat, Gian Singh pushed forward with his men behind him. As the inevitable volley of shots from the Japanese foxholes burst from the bush, Gian Singh ordered his men to cover him, while single handedly he cleared foxhole after foxhole. Despite being severely wounded, in the arm he continued to push through the intense fire, completely routing the enemy, and clearing a strategically vital road. The Japanese were forced to retreat. An immediate call for a Victoria Cross, the highest order of gallantry in the British Army, was made which Gian Singh received on xxxxx.
Gian Singh’s conduct was unquestionably in the finest traditions of the l5th Punjab Regiment. His hero (from the same battalion) was lshar Singh VC, who in 1921, in fighting at the North West Frontier, whilst severely wounded himself, attacked the marauding afghans single-handedly with his Lewis gun and kept down enemy fire whilst a medical officer was attending the wounded. Sixteen days after Gian Singh’s remarkable act of bravery, Lieutenant Karamjeet Singh Judge, again of the 4th Battalion, eliminated 10 enemy bunkers and was mortally wounded while attacking a nest of three more. He was to become the third member of the 4th Battalion to be awarded the Victoria Cross. By the end of the war two more VCs were to be awarded to Sikh soldiers. Parkash Singh in three separate actions, each worthy of the title of supreme gallantry rescued stranded vehicles under intense fire. Again in Burma, Nand Singh of the famed 1st Sikh battalion was fittingly awarded the VC after leading an attack on heavily armed Japanese trenches on a knife edge hill, he single handedly cleared and captured three enemy trenches which allowed the rest of the unit to forge forward to gain a unanticipated victory.
The India of the 1940’s was ruled by a generation of British who had remained largely in a Victorian timewarp. The American servicemen serving in the Burma campaign were to bring an familiar attitude toward the frosty Anglo- Indian relationship. They swept aside the social formalities based on colour and caste that the British had used so efficaciously in their successful divide and rule policy. The unceremonious Americans created a new generation of Britishers that would finally warm to the concept of a free India. There was a feeling that with the destruction of the axis powers that fall of colonial power in India would finally end.
“A remarkable people, the Sikhs, with their Ten Prophets, five distinguishing marks, and their baptismal rite of water stirred with steel; a people who have made history, and will make it again.”
Martial India, F. Yeats-Brown, 1945.
The Burma Campaign
As the Allies gradually received reinforcements, the RAF and the 10th AF were able to win air superiority over the Japanese in Burma and medium bombers and fighter bombers undertook energetic campaigns against enemy river traffic, bridges, and railroads. In March 1944, Allied transport aircraft saved a large British force along the Indian border near Imphal by flying in more than 10,000 reinforcements and more than 20,000 tons of supplies after the force had been encircled during a Japanese offensive.
In the same month, Allied troop carrier units and an AAF air commando group carried out a daring operation far behind enemy lines in central Burma. Using gliders and C-47’s, they landed soound forces, supported by the 10th AF and RAF combat and cargo aircraft captured Mandalay in March 1945 and Rangoon in May, as they drove the remnants of the Japanese forcme 9,000 British “Chindit” raiders under Major General Orde Wingate, 1,300 pack animals, and 254 tons of supplies and airfield construction equipment. Such long-range penetration ground forces, supplied entirely by air, struck at vital enemy communications and supply lines, keeping the Japanese forces in Burma off balance.
To the north, American-trained Chinese troops and American guerrillas under Brigadier General Frank D. Merrill, sustained mainly by airdrops, seized the airfield at Myitkyina in northern Burma in May 1944 and reopened the Burma Road to China in January 1945. However, the total tonnage brought over the road by truck until the end of the war did not equal that flown over the Hump in a single month. Anglo-Indian gres from Burma.
“It was a dramatic scene, amazingly still, with a full moon high in the sky, as the Japanese were working their way forward through the jungle to the attack. The Sikhs held their fire till the Japanese were close up, and then gave a resounding ‘Jo bole so nihal, sat siri akal’, as they drew them back time after time.
“The shouts rang clearly through the jungle and echoed ‘round 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 the Japanese could make no headway. Before dawn they withdrew back to their positions further south.”
The Sikh Regiment in the Second World War, Colonel F.T. Birdwood OBE
The Kohima Epitaph
In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in Burma, swept through the Naga hills, invaded India, and fell upon Imphal and Kohima. Confidently the Japanese planned to press toward the India Plains. The Allies in the CBI Theater faced a disaster of monumental proportions unless the enemy was stopped. A crucial battle ensued at Kohima where some 2,500 British Empire troops came under siege. They fought a formidable Japanese force numbering 15,000 soldiers supported by 10,000 ammunition laden oxen. For weeks the belligerents sparred in bloody artillery duels interrupted only by hand to hand skirmishes and bayonet attacks. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten back. They withdrew from Kohima. Japan’s dominance in northern Burma had begun its crumble. Understandingly, the determination and gallantry shown by allied troops in the Kohima siege was quick to become the subject of poem, song, and legend.
Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1,378 grave markers, is the famous Kohima Memorial with its historic inscription:
“When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For your tomorrow
We gave our today”
Kohima Epitaph Instructions concerning the Kohima Epitaph: The Royal British Legion Handbook for Ceremonial and Services, page 59, states that the Kohima Epitaph can be included in Remembrance services following the Last Post, Silence and Reveille. The Kohima Epitaph is included in the Festival of Remembrance religious service at the Royal Albert Hall. The National Chairman recommends that whenever possible the Kohima Epitaph should be included in Remembrance Services organized by local authorities or by the Royal British Legion. This is a decision made with the agreement of all parties involved. It would be appropriate to invite a veteran of a Far East War Association, such as the Burma Star, to say the Kohima Epitaph at the service. It is the Chairman’s wish that relationships with all ex-Service associations are maintained and promoted for the benefit of the ex-Service community as a whole.
12 March 1944, Burma Campaign : “India Hill is a knife-edged ridge with steep tree-clad slopes. The Japanese were holding deep trenches and fox-holes, well hidden and impossible to spot at any distance. The supporting tank therefore searched the whole area for several minutes while the platoon moved up to the assault, with Naik Nand Singh’s section in the lead.
“The only possible approach onto the hill followed a narrow track leading up to the enemy position. Along this track Naik Nand Singh lead his section. Reaching the crest the section came under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and every man was knocked over, either killed or wounded. Nonetheless, Naik Nand Singh dashed forward alone under intense fire at point blank range. He was wounded by grenade as he neared the first Japanese trench. Without hesitating he went on, captured the trench, and killed the two occupants with the bayonet.
“Not far away was another trench. Under continuous heavy fire, Naik Nand Singh jumped up and charged it. He was again wounded by a grenade and knocked down, but he got up and hurled himself into the trench, again killing both occupants with the bayonet. He moved on again, and captured a third trench, still single-handed.
“With the capture of this third trench, enemy fire died away. Naik Nand Singh’s encounter had taken little time, and the remainder of the platoon, checked for the moment by the sudden heavy fire opened on it as it reached the crest, now moved up and captured the remainder of the position, killing with bayonet and grenade thirty seven out of the forty Japanese who were holding it.
“Naik Nand Singh’s part in this brilliant little action, his splendid resolution and utter disregard for his own life were fittingly recognised by the award of the Victoria Cross.”
The Sikh Regiment In The Second World War, Colonel F.T.Birdwood (OBE)
About Viscount Slim
Field Marshall Viscount Slim was referred to by Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten, who was Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia, as “the finest general World War II produced”. After the war he was head of the Imperial General Staff, Britain’s top military post, from 1948 to 1952, and was governor general of Australia from 1952 to 1960. This article is reprinted from a 1945 issue of Phoenix. the South East Asia Command magazine.
The General stood on an ammunition box. Facing him in a green amphitheatre of the low hills that ring Palel Plain, sat or squatted the British officers and sergeants of the 11th East African Division. They were then new to the Burma Front and were moving into the line the next day. The General removed his battered slouch hat, which the Gurkhas wear and which has become the headgear of the 14th Army. “Take a good look at my mug,” he advised. “Not that I consider it to be an oil painting. But I am the Army Commander and you had better be able to recognize me – if only to say “Look out, the old b . . . . is coming round”.
Lieutenant-General Sir William Slim, KCB, CB, DSO, MC (“Bill”) is 53, burly, grey and going a bit bald. His mug is large and weatherbeaten, with a broad nose, jutting jaw, and twinkling hazel eyes. He looks like a well-to-do West Country farmer, and could be one. For he has energy and patience and, above all, the man has common sense. However, so far Slim has not farmed. He started life as a junior clerk, once he was a school teacher, and then he became the foreman of a testing gang in a Midland engineering works. For the next 30 years Slim was a soldier.
He began at the bottom of the ladder as a Territorial private. August 4, 1914, found him at Summer camp with his regiment. The Territorials were at once embodied in the Regular Army, and Slim got his first stripe as lance-corporal. A few weeks later he was a private again, the only demotion that this Lieutenant-General has suffered.
It was a sweltering, dusty day and the regiment plodded on its twenty-mile route march down an endless Yorkshire lane. At that time British troops still marched in fours, so that Lance-Corporal Slim, as he swung along by the side of his men, made the fifth in the file, which brought him very close to the roadside. There were cottages there and an old lady stood at the garden gate.
“I can see her yet,” Slim reminisces. “she was a beautiful old lady with her hair neatly parted in the middle and wearing a black print dress. In her hand she held a beautiful jug, and on the top of that jug was a beautiful foam, indicating that it contained beer. She was offering it to the soldier boys.”
The Lance-Corporal took one pace to the side and grasped the jug. As he did, the column was halted with a roar. The Colonel, who rode a horse at its head, had glanced back. Slim was hailed before him and “busted” on the spot. The Colonel bellowed “Had we been in France you would have been shot.” Slim confides, “I thought he was a damned old fool – and he was. I lost my stripe, but he lost his army.” In truth he did, in France in March 1918. Bill soon got his stripe back.
Now in this corner of Palel Plain, one of India’s bloodiest battlefields and the scene of one of his greatest victories, Slim tells the officers and men of the 11th Division, “I have commanded every kind of formation from a section upwards to this army, which happens to be the largest single one in the world.” (At that time, Slim had under his command half a million troops.) “I tell you this simply that you shall realize I know what I am talking about. I understand the British soldier because I have been one, and I have learned about the Japanese soldier because I have been beaten by him. I have been kicked by this enemy in the place where it hurts, and all the way from Rangoon to India where I had to dust-off my pants. Now, gentlemen, we are kicking our Japanese neighbors back to Rangoon.”
Slim commanded the rearguard of the army that retreated from Burma in 1942. He is proud of that. His men marched and fought for a hundred days and nights and across a thousand miles. But this retreat was no Dunkirk. Says Slim “We brought our weapons out with us, and we carried our wounded, too. Dog-tired soldiers, hardly able to put one foot in front of another, would stagger along for hours carrying or holding up a wounded comrade. When at last they reached India over those terrible jungle mountains they did not go back to an island fortress and to their own people where they could rest and refit. The Army of Burma sank down on the frontier of India, dead beat and in rags. But, they fought here all through the downpour of the monsoon, and they saved India until a great new Army – which is this one – could be built up to take the offensive once again. In those days, if anyone had gone to me with a single piece of good news I would have burst out crying. Nobody ever did.”
He tells another story. One day he entered a jungle glade in a tank. In front of him stood a group of soldiers, in their midst the eternal Tommy. Assuming an optimism which he did not feel, Slim jumped out of the tank and approached them. “Gentlemen!” he said (which is the nice way that British generals sometimes address their troops) “Things might be worse!”
“‘Ow could they be worse?” inquired the Tommy.
“Well, it could rain” said Slim, lightly. He adds “And within quarter of an hour it did.”
The General who had been fighting the Japanese for more than three years tells this young division what the enemy soldier is like, and how to beat him. He dissects the anatomy of the Japanese Army, its strategy, tactics, and supply. He explains its strength and puts a sure finger on its weakness. He analyses, also, the British soldier. “Of course, at root he is no better than any other soldier. Almost all soldiers are fundamentally the same. Germans, Russians, Frenchmen, perhaps even Italians. But the British Tommy generally manages to go on five minutes longer than his opposite number. You have to get that minutes overtime out of your men. And, the only way to get it is by giving them the whole of your own time and thought and care. If you do this. they will never let you down.”
Officers are there to lead
Then Slim relates at one critical point in the retreat in a jungle clearing he came across a unit which was in a bad way. “I took one look at them and thought “My God, they’re worse than I supposed.” then I saw why. I walked round the corner of that clearing and I saw officers making themselves a bivouac. They were just as exhausted as their men, but that isn’t my point. Officers are there to lead. I tell you, therefore, as officers, that you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done those things. If you will do this for them, they will follow you to the end of the world. And, if you do not, I will break you.”
The General stepped down from the ammunition box and replaced his hat. The division rose as one man, and cheered him. A few weeks later, these troops were to cross the frontier river at the point Slim had led his indomitable, ragged rearguard three years before. They dug up the tank guns which the old army had buried there when they abandoned their tanks, and they used those guns to blast open the road to Mandalay.
The spirit which Slim breathed into that division, on that blue, sunny morning in Palel inspires the whole of the 14th Army. His victorious host has now marched back a thousand miles, planted its battle flags on the citadel of Manadalay and above the capitol city of Rangoon, killing 100,00 Japanese on the way. Their achievement must be attributed in large degree to the character of their Commander. Slim does not court popularity, and he hates publicity. But he inspires trust. The man cares deeply for his troops, and they are well aware that their well-being is his permanent priority. The 14th Army has never been out of his mind since that day nearly two years ago when Mountbatten appointed him to the command. Of the Mountbatten-Slim partnership history will record that it was one of the rock foundations of our Jungle Victory.
Slim talks little and swears less, but one day at Army Headquarters the roof lifted when he received a demand that mules should be installed in concrete floor stables in a training camp, well in the rear. “My men are sleeping on earth, and often on something worse. What’s good enough for British soldiers is good enough for mules of any nationality.” Slim set his Army hard tasks, but none have been beyond their power. After the great battles of Imphal and Kohima, where five Japanese divisions were destroyed, Slim called on his exhausted soldiers to carry on relentless, final pursuit. “So great were the dividends that could accrue,” he confesses, “that I asked for the impossible – and got it!”
Slim affirms “that the fighting capacity of every unit is based upon the faith of soldiers in their leaders; that discipline begins with the officer and spreads downward from him to the soldier; that genuine comradeship in arms is achieved when all ranks do more than is required of them. “There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers,” is what Napoleon said, and though that great man uttered some foolish phrases, this is not one.”
“What has a soldier got? asks Slim, and answers it himself. “He has got his country, but that is far away. In battle, the soldier has only his sense of duty, and his sense of shame. These are the things which make men go on fighting even though terror grips their heart. Every soldier, therefore, must be instilled with pride in his unit and in himself, and to do this he must be treated with justice and respect.”
Slim says that when he was in civvie street he saw men who were fathers of families cringing before a deputy-assistant-under-manager who had the power to throw them out of their jobs without any other reason than their own ill-temper or personal dislike. “That, at any rate, can’t happen in the Army,” he declares. “You don’t have to cringe in the Army, though it’s true some incorrigible cringers do. In the Army you don’t have to go out to dinner with a man if you can’t stand the sight of him.”
This soldier looks at the poor Indian coolie, and he feels and expresses a sincere pity for him. He would like to give that fellow a square meal and after that a square deal, but above all to create in him the manhood to stand up and get it for himself. “You see people pushing these poor Indian coolies around,” he says grimly, “Well, they wouldn’t push around the fighting soldiers of the Indian Army. Nobody would shove them off the pavement without getting hurt.”
A soldier “by mistake”
Slim’s military career was accidental. He fought as an officer in the Royal Warwicks at the Dardanelles, where he was severely wounded leading his company. He was discharged from the Army as being unfit for further service, but by some undivulged method he reappeared in the battle line in Mespotamia a year later. There he gained his Military Cross for gallantry in action. When the war ended it was by a toss of the coin that he decided to remain in the Army. He wanted to be a journalist. He thinks it is harder to be a good journalist than to be a good general.
It seems probable, however, that Slim is both, for the 14th Army know that he writes either poems, short stories or Who-Dun-It murder serials. The latter bet is the favourite, for the general is a great reader of murder thrillers. They take his mind off the war. Slim writes under a pseudonym, though nobody has ever been able to discover which one. Questioned, he answers with a grin that he agrees with Dr. Johnson’s remark, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
For 20 years between the wars he was a Gurkha officer, as so many of the 14th Army’s fighting generals were. Indeed, for a time, they were known on the front as the “Mongol Conspiracy.” Slim loves the Gurkhas, whose language he speaks. His favourite stories are of Gurkhas. He tells of the paratroopers who were to jump at 300 feet. As they had never jumped before, their havildar asked if they might go a little nearer the ground for their first jump. He was told that this was impossible because the parachutes would not have time to open. “Oh,” said the Gurkha, “so we get parachutes, eh?”
One day at Delhi under the walls of the Red Fort drums beat, Punjabi pipes skirled and the flags fluttered proudly from the mast-head. A great body of troops was on parade and the Viceroy had come to present Victoria Crosses to four Gurkhas – or to their widows. One of these Gurkha heroes had no widow, so his father trudged to Delhi from the far State of Nepal in the northern mountains where the Gurkhas live, to receive his dead son’s supreme honour.
This Gurkha was himself a veteran of Slim’s old regiment, and promptly on meeting his old comrades he had got himself full of rum. He could hardly stand up when Slim ran him to earth. “Be a good soldier, Johnny” Slim urged him. “Don’t get dead drunk before the big show tomorrow.” The Gurkha promised, but to make the matter secure the general had him locked up for the night. Somebody thought it would be a good idea if he ate a few mints, and put a large bottle of these in his cell. Morning came, and the Gurkha had recovered. Also he had swallowed every mint in a faithful effort to do the right thing.
Slim says “I’m not sure the rum didn’t smell sweeter. However, the old Gurkha proudly paraded and was awarded his boy’s Victoria Cross by the Viceroy. Half an hour after the show was over he was chock full of rum again.”
Favourite of Slim’s tales of these wonderful little fighters from the Himalayas is that of the Gurkha who met a Japanese in No Man’s Land. Jap and Gurkha decided to have it out in a duel, each using his own chosen steel. The Jap swiped at his opponent with his two handed sword, which the Gurkha avoided. Then, the Gurkha slashed with his kukri, the broad, curved knife which is his traditional weapon. “So, you missed, eh?” jeered the Jap. “You just sneeze,” said the Gurkha, “and see what happens to your head.”
“I want to keep a few friends”
Slim has an animosity towards the Japanese based on an intense dislike of all their society stands for. “The Jap is not an animal,” he says, “there is nothing splendid in him. He is part of an insect horde with all its power and horror.” Slim also dislikes airplanes, and cats, which he believes give him asthma. (But he is perhaps the most air-minded, and certainly one of the most air-using generals in the British Army. His light aircraft takes him everywhere through fire and storm and darkness over his vast jungle front.) He is a modest man. He does not consider himself to be a Napoleon. “A general’s job is simply to make fewer mistakes than the other fellow. I try hard not to make too many mistakes.” Asked why he would not project his own personality upon the 14th Army in the flamboyant way that some modern generals have practiced, Slim replied briefly, “I want to keep a few friends in the Army after the war. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to shout the odds about the Fourteenth. Its own deeds will surely get its glory.”
The fact is that Slim is a commander of superb perception and foresight. He backed Wingate at the time when that romantic and now almost legendary figure was very far from being accepted in official quarters. With Mountbatten, Slim saw that in Wingate’s theory of having no line of communication winding along the jungle path and of bringing in supplies instead through the roof of the sky, lay the real key to mobility in the Jungle War.
Of Wingate himself he wrote in a penetrating tribute when he had been killed. “He was truly dynamic. When Wingate was around, something had to shift.” On Wingate’s experimental raids which set down columns of troops far in the Japanese rear, Slim built up a technique of air-land supply which has revolutionized the campaign in Burma, enabling whole armies to march through trackless terrain entirely provisioned and munitioned by aircraft. On this pattern, Slim has won his victories. It will be the model of future wars wherever vast spaces pose the problem of logistics, which is the science of moving and supplying armies.
Slim talks in a frank, direct manner and with insight into men’s motives. Though his personal attractiveness and transparent honesty of purpose induces goodwill, it is probable that he never unburdened his heart to any man on earth. That belongs only to his beautiful wife.
Probably the central pillars in this rock-like character are his own determined honesty and a loathing of humbug in any shape. In the decisive battles of Imphal and Kohima (1944) Slim deliberately chose to let the Japanese cross the frontier and invade Imphal plain. Thus, the enemy would be fighting at the end of a long and tenuous line of communication across mountain jungle and with a flooded river at his back; nor did he possess an air supply such as ours. In the plain itself Slim had massed artillery, armour, and infantry to receive the invaders. He had stocked it up with food and ammunition, flown out 30,000 non-combatants and flown in 30,000 combat troops, a decisive item which the Mountbatten-Slim firm insisted on in face of every difficulty. Slim ordered his outpost divisions also to concentrate there for the coming battle.
He won a smashing victory. But in a factual memoir of the campaign he pointed out himself that he had made two mistakes. (1) He recalled his forward troops rather late, so that they had to fight their way in. (2) He miscalculated both the speed and strength of the Japanese attack on Kohima. Neither error was fatal to his main strategical plan, and in both cases was covered by the hard-fighting quality of his troops. One of his officers asked, therefore, “Why bring these things up?” Slim replied, “Because that is the truth, and the men who fought there know it.”
He demands of his officers absolute loyalty to the Army and duty. Placed himself in difficult or painful circumstances, he has faithfully asked not what is smart or expedient, but what is right? And, then, he has it done without flinching, and without regret. He applies only one test to those who serve the 14th Army and that is: does this man do his job? If so, he is OK with the general, whether he likes him or not. If the man does not do his job, he goes!
Slim has a daughter and a son, who is a cadet at Dehra Dun, India’s West Point. When he came home on leave last year, the general had him up to the 14th Army Headquarters to act as his clerk. Young Slim is learning life as the Old Man did – the hard and splendid way!
The Burma Star Association
The Burma Star Association was founded in 1951 by Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten, Field Marshal the Viscount Slim and other British Veterans of the Burma Campaigns. Admiral Mountbatten had been CinC of the Allied Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) with the late General Joseph C. “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell as Deputy CinC. Stillwell was also the Commander of the U.S. China-Burma-India Theater of Operations and Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-sheck for all Chinese forces in the CBI. Then General William Slim Commanded the British XIV Army in India and Burma.
Following the total defeat of Japanese Imperial forces in Southeast Asia General Slim is said to have told his troops: “When you go home don’t worry about what to tell your loved ones and friends about service in Asia. No one will know where you were, or where it is if you do. You are, and will remain ‘The Forgotten Army.’” Nevertheless occasional reunions were held by various units (UK) in England and the China-Burma-India Veterans Association was formed in the U.S. It was not until a reunion in 1950 however, that at the instigation of Admiral Montbatten the Burma Star Organization was formed, open to all UK WWII veterans who were holders of the UK Burma Star or the Pacific Star with the “Burma” clasp. Branches were authorized and today number some 180, mostly in the UK but also in Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, etc. Admiral Mountbatten became the first patron, an honor held until his death by assassination in 1979. Current Royal Patron is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The first president was Field Marshal the Viscount Slim upon whose death was succeeded by his son, Colonel the Viscount Slim.
“I have never met a despondent Sikh in the front line. In a hospital in the rear he will moan dreadfully over a small wound, but in a fight he will go on to his last breath, and die laughing at the thought of Paradise, with the battle-cry of Khalsa ji ki jai as he falls.
“This very cry, a friend told me, came over a field telephone in the Arakan when a Sikh signal-havildar had been cut off beyond hope of rescue. The line remained alive. The havildar described to my friend how the Japanese were creeping up. A pause, then he came back to say that he had killed a skirmisher, but that now his ammunition was exhausted. “There’s not much time, Sahib. I’ll break the telephone before they get me. Victory to the Holy Brotherhood!” They found him dead beside an enemy he had brained with the butt of his Sten.
“A remarkable people, the Sikhs, with their Ten Prophets, five distinguishing marks, and their baptismal rite of water stirred with steel; a people who have made history, and will make it again.”
“Every man in this magnificant battalion of the Indian State Forces [1st Patiala Regiment] stands 5 foot 11 inches, or over: they are the finest lot of Sikhs I have ever seen, and that is saying much. At the last All-Indian Olympic Meeting they won nine athletic contests out of twelve. Their commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Balwant Singh, is a veteran who has won a great reputation in this campaign; and although he is nearer sixty than fifty he can still march forty miles in twenty-four hours with his men, and enjoy it. Every officer in his battalion is a Sikh. In discipline, turn-out, and fighting efficiency the 1st Patialas have earned the unstinted admiration of all their comrades in the division.”
Martial India, F. Yeats-Brown, 1945.
Extract from a speech made by Admiral of the Fleet, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma at a clebration of the 500th Birthday Anniversary of Guru Nanak at Grosvenor House in Park Lane in December, 1969:
“I would like to talk about the 15th Century in India when Guru Nanak was born. This was a dark period when the Indians were divided among themselves and demoralised. They worshipped many Gods and were shackled by superstitions. Then Guru Nanak came and proclaimed: “There is but one God, whose name is true – the Creator, devoid of fear and enmity, immortal, unborn, self-existent, great and bountiful” – What a wonderful creed to preach. The Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, founded in 1699 the Khalsa. 147 years later new Regiments were raised from the remnants of the Khalsa who were given the title of the 14th Ferozepore Sikhs and the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs.”
The Siege: A Story From Kohima
Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in WWII, 1939-45: Reconquest of Burma
An Infantry Company In Arakan and Kohima
Viscount Wm. Slim
Defeat Into Victory
Burma: The Longest War 1941-1945
The Ledo Road: General Joseph W. Stilwell’s Highway to China
Slim as a Military Commander
Rangoon to Kohima
Burma Victory: Imphal, Kohima and the Chindit Issue, March 1944 to May 1945
The Unforgettable Army: Slim’s XIVth Army in Burma