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The Arakan Campaign 1942-43, in Retrospective
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Col JK Achuthan (Retd.) | Date:24 May , 2024 0 Comments
Col JK Achuthan (Retd.)
8 GR was commissioned in June 1980. 


Field Marshal Archibald Wavell is credited with having said, “When things are going badly in Battle, the best tonic is to take one’s mind off one’s own Troubles by considering what a rotten time one’s Opponent must be having!”  No military leader during WW II had greater experience of having endured both success and failure in the Middle-East, North Africa and SE Asia Theatres, and yet retained the confidence of the political leadership in him. He ended up as the Cin C India, and later was appointed the Viceroy of India.

When Japan entered WW II, the ruthless efficiency of their military machine stunned the complacent British. Their Crown Colony of Hong Kong in mainland China was overrun in a mere 14 days. Later Malaya and Singapore were overrun in a campaign lasting 70 days.The whole of Burma was captured by the Japanese in four and halfmonths time. Churchill had then put the blame mainly on the poor fighting standard of Indian Troops, conveniently forgetting the fact that India was a low priority area for release of up-to-date war equipment, and that the Indian Army had been expanded five-fold in just a matter of two years. The priorities for the UK-US leadership was Defeat of Germany first, secondly keep China engaged in the War with Japan so that 30 Divisions of the Japanese Army remain tied down there, and lastly put up effective Resistance to the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific Theatre & Indo-Burma Theatre, and somehow build up a reliable two-way road through Northern Burma from Ledo (in Assam) through the Hukawng Valley – Myitkyina – Bhamo to Wanting (in Yunnan), to keep the Chinese adequately supplied.

It was during these trying times when war-production capability buildup in India was getting full attention, that India Command led by Wavell was contemplating limited Offensive Operations after the 1942 Monsoon season, which ends up in November. In North Burma, the Chindit Operation led by Brig Orde Wingate was planned. Ideally it should have coincided with a Main Offensive Operation for best effects, but the necessary road-building activity from Imphal upto the Chindwin River would not get completed till the 1944-45 Campaign season. Simultaneously many other logistics capacity building activities mainly involving new railways, bridges, roads, pipelines, airfields and vast supply dumps had to get established to sustain an offensive Force of 8 Divisions operating from Eastern Assam. The other Limited Offensive codenamed “OP CANNIBAL” that was planned, was the seizure of the strategic island-port of Akhyab at the mouth of the Kaladan River on the Arakan Coast in order to enhance the range of offensive air operations into Southern Burma, act as a stepping stone for the subsequent capture of Ramree Island Base during 1943-44 Campaign season for the same purpose, and generally help a major Offensive action into Southern Burma during the 1944-45 Campaign season. Thus originated the Plan for the “First Arakan Campaign” which was considered a sure ‘Victory’, in the gloomy War environment that existed for the British after their unacceptable loss of Burma in 1942.


Sketch 1

Topography of the Arakan Province

Arakan is a country of densely forested parallel hill ranges running from North to South, separated by narrow cultivated valleys filled with ricefields. These valleys are intersected by tidal creeks emanating from the rivers running through them, known as ‘Chaungs’. Such Chaungs also existed along the seacoast. The coastal strip from Maungdaw to the tip of the Mayu peninsula is 72 kms long which is nearly 3 kms wide in the Northern part and narrows down to a few hundred metres in the South, especially after Donbaik. Running through the middle of the Mayu peninsula from North to South is the precipitous Mayu Range rising upto 650 M. To the East of the Mayu peninsula is the Mayu River which is also called ‘Kalapanzin River’ in its upper reaches. The Mayu River valley is some 13-16 kms wide near Buthidaung, and it broadens to the South. To the East of the Mayu River valley are the main ‘Arakan Hill Tracts’ which separate the Arakan region from the Kaladan River valley.These densely forested hills rise upto 1000 M. Planning of operations had to keep in mind the tide tables, as the rivers and chaungs get affected for boat movement or for fording purposes. From mid-May to end-October, rain is unceasing, malaria rife, and the jungles infested with leeches. The campaign season is therefore restricted to the period between November to mid-May. The only road in this region was between Maungdaw and Buthidaung.The locals were Budhist “Moghs”, and some minority Muslim “Rohingyas” who were pro-British. 

British Plan of Operations 

On 21 Sep 1942, the fresh 14 Indian Infantry Division under Maj Gen Wilfrid Lloyd received orders to start moving towards the Mayu peninsula. This Division then consisted of the 47 Indian Infantry Brigade (Brig EH Blaker), 123Indian Infantry Brigade (Brig AV Hammond), 55 Indian Infantry Brigade (Brig JM Hunt) and 88 Indian Infantry Brigade (Brig LC Thomas). Providing air-support to 14 Div was the 224 Air Group with its Hq at Chittagong, which consisting of 6 x Fighter Squadrons & 2 x Light Bomber Sqns. Gen Lloyd immediately relieved 123 Brigade of the responsibility for the security of Chittagong area, and ordered it to move to Cox’s Bazar. Since the metre gauge railway line ended at Dohazari which was 32 kms to the South of Chittagong and further ahead the existing jeep track had been washed away at many places during the monsoon, Lloyd moved the Brigade by sea to Cox’s Bazar using two small coastal steamers. This Brigade with the help of the Division’s Engineers began to improve the track from Cox’s Bazar through Ukhia to Tumbru, which was at the head of the navigable portion of the Naf River. By the third week of October, this Brigade had established its 1/15 PUNJAB Battalion (now 15 PUNJAB of Pak Army) in the Tumbru-Bawli Bazar area and a second Battalion in the Ramu area. On 17 October, Hq Eastern Army ordered the Division to establish one Brigade in the Maungdaw-Buthidaung-Rathidaung area by 01 December 1943. By the end of November, 123 Brigade was in the Zeganbyin-Goppe Bazar-Bawli Bazar area. South of Cox’s Bazar, motor transport was used as far as Tumbru. Then onwards, only sampans (shallow bottomed local sail-boats) could be used up to Bawli Bazar and Teknaf. Forward of these places, logistics was based on mules and porters.


Sketch 2

While 14 Division was making its slow and arduous move southwards, the prospect of launching the proposed seaborne operation to seize Akhyab had been diminishing due to firstly the continued non-availability of amphibious resources, and secondly the inability of the British Air Force to achieve dominance over the skies of the Arakan region, due to shortage of aircraft. Initially 29 (I) British Infantry Brigade had been assigned for the attack on Akhyab, but this formation had not reached India on time as it had been diverted for the capture of Madagascar from the Vichy French, in order to secure the sea route to India. On 19 October, Gen Wavell tasked Eastern Army to carry out an overland advance down the Mayu peninsula to seize Akhyab. He released to Eastern Army these additional resources – 6 British Infantry Brigade Group, five motor launches, 72 landing crafts and three paddle-steamers.

Under the new Plan, the speed of the overland advance became of primary importance. Gen Lloyd therefore planned to attack the Japanese defensive positions at Maungdaw-Buthidaungon 02 December 1942, with 123 Infantry Brigade plus another Battalion ex 47 Infantry Brigade. But this Plan was overruled by Lt Gen Noel Irwin, the Eastern Army Commander who wanted better logistics and a two Brigades buildup to be completed first, to get assured success! This caused a delay of another fortnight, which ultimately was to derail the entire Offensive Plan.

On the Japanese side, they had been gradually reinforcing their garrison at Akhyab and by September,their 213 Infantry Regiment less a Battalion (ex 33 Div)under Col Kosuke Miyawaki was located there. In the middle of October, the IInd Battalion of 213 Regiment (II/213th Bn) under Lt Col Isagodahad been sent forward to occupy Buthidaung and Maungdaw. They arrived at Buthidaung on 23rd October and repulsed the forward patrols of 1/15 PUNJAB of 123 Infantry Brigade, reaching there. Thereafter this Jap Battalion firmed,in the Rathidaung-Tunnels-Maungdaw road area astride the Mayu Range. The Japanese also had a presence at Kyauktaw in the Kaladan River valley. But by mid-December, the Japanese had a rethink. They deemed it too risky to hold on to the Buthidaung-Maungdaw Outpost Positions with only a Battalion strength. So on 16 December 1942, they withdrew II/213 Battalion southwards to the Gwedauk-Kondan Line, on the western side of the Mayu River opposite Rathedaung. The Jap 5th Air Division, specifically the 4th& 7th Air Brigades provided air-support to their ground forces. These consisted of 150 odd aircraft. The Japanese Air Force held the initiative. To minimize losses, airfields within striking range of British bombers were used only as Advanced Landing Grounds.

On 10 December 1942, Gen Irwin had tasked 14 Div to occupy the Mayu peninsula, and Rathedaung across the Kaladan River by 15 Jan 1943. The advancing forces were to be supported logistically using a fair-weather Class 3 fair-weather road from Maungdaw, which the engineers under command of 14 Div were to construct up to ‘Foul Point’ at the end of the peninsula. By end Jan 43, 6th British Infantry Brigade which was then undergoing amphibious training in the Chittagong area, was tasked to launch the second-stage attack for the capture of Akhyab Island.

Sketch 3

On 22 December, Gen Lloyd ordered 47 Indian Infantry Brigade to advance South on both sides of the Mayu Range. 123 Indian Infantry Brigade (-) was tasked to simultaneously advance down the Eastern side of the Mayu River and capture Rathedaung. Its third Bn, 8 BALUCH (now 16 BALUCH) was to move across the hills from Taung Bazar to Kyauktaw on the Kaladan River, and there take under command Trip-Force (1st Tripura Rifles [now 6 ASSAM RIFLES], Indian State Forces, which had been incorporated into the ‘V’ Force for providing Early Warning 20-40 kms ahead in the jungles). This column was named ‘Soutcol’ after the name of the CO of 8 BALUCH.

5/8 PUNJAB (now 5 BALUCH) of 47 Bde advanced down the coast and reached Shinkhali by 31 December. 1 RAJPUT (now 4 GUARDS) of the same Bde moved southwards, East of the Mayu Range and reached the line Atet Nanra-Prinche, and probed towards Kondan by 31 December which they found occupied by the Japs.

10thLANCASHIRE was simultaneously ordered by 123 Bde to move by boat down the Mayu River to Zedidaung, and thence by the Ngasanbaw Chaung to Htizwe. On 27th December evening, the forward Company of the Battalion which tried to enter Rathedaung was repulsed by the Japs, who had reached the place just that morning! The Bn then firmed up in the hills North of Rathedaung. The Jap Bn there was the IInd Bn of the 213 Regiment (II/213 Bn), which had been ordered to move there from Kondan.

Due to administrative difficulties, the Units of 47 Bde was on Half-rations. Nevertheless, Gen Lloyd ordered 47 Bde to dislodge the Japs from the Kondan area. 1 RAJPUT was ordered to attack from the Thitkado side, while 1st INNISKILLINGS & 5/8 PUNJAB were ordered to cross the Mayu Range and attack. 1st INNISKILLINGS was ordered to capture Laungchaung and thereafter Thayetpin. 5/8 PUNJAB was ordered to capture Myinbu, and thereafter attack Kondan from the East, along the line of the Gwedauk Chaung. The lack of wireless sets within the Bde made coordination difficult. Kondan was however captured on 4th Jansince the Japs had evacuated it.

Gen Lloyd then ordered 47 Bde to continue its advance to Foul Point at the tip of the Mayu peninsula. Then happened a series of chance happenings which led to setbacks to the British Plans. Brig Blaker of 47 Bde ordered 1st INNISKILLINGS to leave Laungchang and return to the West of the Mayu Range, for further operations. 5/8 PUNJAB was ordered to move South from Kondan-Myinbu area and occupy Kalachaung, Magyichaung and Foul Point. The Inniskillings had hardly moved out of Laungchangon 5th Jan morning, when the Japs carried out a landing at the mouth of the Gwedauk Chaung, and occupied the place. As a consequence 5/8 PUNJAB was unable to proceed as planned and they had to firm in at Thayetpyin. Havaldar Parkash Singh of 5/8 PUNJAB gained the Victoria Cross on 5th Janduring the unsuccessful fighting for the occupation of Laungchaung. 5/8 PUNJAB was operating without any artillery support and without its Mortar Platoon, due to the ruggedness of the terrain. In the coastal area, 1st INNISKILLINGS though supported by a Field Battery & Mountain Battery, also failed to occupy Donbaik between 7-9 Jan, as a Company Group of IIIrd Battalion of 213 Regiment (III/213 Bn) of the Japs, had moved in there and put up a heroic resistance. The Inniskillings suffered over 100 casualties.  

123 Bde built up two Bns on the other side of the Mayu River, for the assault on Buthedaung.10th LANCASHIRE started the assault on 9th Jan 43 supported by two Mountain Batteries. The next day, 1/15 PUNJAB also joined in. But no headway could be made, due to determined Jap resistance and their immediate Counter-Attacks.

47 Bde made a second attempt to take Donbaik on 18 Jan 43, supported by 2 x Field Batteries, 1 x Mountain Battery and 1 x Machine Gun Company. 1st INNISKILLINGS was launched along the coastal strip. 1 RAJPUTS attacked from the Foot-Hills side. These attacks however were beaten back, and by 19th Jan evening the Units were pulled back about 1.8 kms North of Donbaik.A similar effort by 123 Bde on Buthedaung during the same period, also did not succeed.

What had happened was that Gen Iida (Jap 15th Army Cdr) had decided in early Jan 1943 to reinforce Arakan, and had ordered 55th Division (Lt Gen TakishiKoga) to move from the Toungoo-Prome area to Taungup, and thence along the coast to Akyab. The two Bns of the 213 Regiment holding the Akyab area, were also placed under his command. The third Bn of 213 Regiment which was at Pakokku, was moved across the Arakan Yoma to Paletwa in the Kaladan Valley. Till the time the reinforcements arrived, the two Bns of 213 Regiment North of Akhyab on either side of the Mayu River were ordered to stop the British Forces’ advance. 55th Div consisted of the 112th & 143rd Infantry Regiments. The 4th Air Brigade was allotted to support it, while The 7th Air Bde attacked the British Lines of Communications. This buildup could be achieved only by end Feb 43.

Sketch 4

Lloyd ordered a Third Attempt to take Donbaik & Rathedaung. 55 Bde (-) was ordered to replace 47 Bde on the Mayu peninsula. 5/8 PUNJAB & 1 RAJPUT of 47 Bde which were at Laungchaung and Indin respectively, were also placed under 55 Bde. The third Bn of 55 Bde viz 8 RAJPUTANA RIFLES was allotted to 123 Bde. 8 x Valentine Tanks were also allotted to 55 Bde. 55 Bde’s attack on Donbaik started on 1st Feb, and 123 Bde’s attack on Rathedaung started on 3rd Feb. These attacks too were beaten back, by the stubborn Japanese resistance. 123 Bde had to pull back to the Northern part of West Hill-Temple Hill line. The inherent superiority and merits of the Japanese Army’s ‘Infantry Bn Organisation’, became evident to all discerning professionals, while Gen Wavell seethed as the prospect of capture of Akhyab before the Monsoon season vanished!

He therefore revised the Plan. He wanted at least the Mayu peninsula to be cleared of the Japs. So he released both the 6 Bde (previously allotted for the amphibious operation for the capture of Akhyab) & 71 Bde of 26 Indian Inf Div, to 14 Inf Div. Gen Lloyd then made a Fourth Attempt to capture Donbaik on 18 Feb, using 55 Inf Bde which was given four Bns for this task.

(Note: Unit Attacks marked above, are of a subsequent Operation)
Sketch 5

1st INNISKILLINGS attacking down the coast occupied the line of the FDL Chaung up to ‘M-17’ Post and also sent a Company into the ‘Wooded Village’ area. 2/1 PUNJAB (now 2 PUNJAB of Pak Army), which attacked from the left of 1st INNISKILLINGS could not make any progress and suffered about 130 casualties. 1 RAJPUT, which was the Reserve Bn for 2/1 PUNJAB, resumed the Attack in the afternoon, but it also could not make any progress. 1 DOGRA which was protecting the Flank in the Foot-Hills area was not committed, to cater for any surprise action by the Japs.

Gen Lloyd ordered on 20 Feb, 71st Bde to relieve 55th Bde. 47th Bde was tasked to take over the responsibility for the area from the crest of the Mayu Range up to the Mayu River. Gen Wavell ordered on 26 Feb that 6 Bde & 71 Bde should be employed on a simultaneous attack to capture Donbaik, and 47 Bde to capture Laungchaung. These deliberate attacks were planned to start by15 March.But the Japs forestalled these Plans by a Counter-Offensive, East of the Mayu River.

The Japanese Counter Offensive 

The Japanese concentration of 55th Div at Akhyab had almost got completed by end Feb. Gen Koga planned to secure the Kaladan Valley first. In the Second Phase, British Forces East of the Mayu River were to be defeated at Rathedaung, helped by a Flanking Attack across the hills, from the Kaladan Valley side. In the Third Phase, the Mayu River and the Mayu Range were to be crossed and Indin occupied, thus cutting off the three Brigades-sized British Forces focused on capturing Donbaik & Laungchaung. To achieve this, Gen Koga regrouped his Division into four columns:-

(a)     ‘Kawashima’ (K) Column Bn(-), to defend Akhyab Island Base.

(b) ‘Uno’ (U) Column’  Three Bns less a Coy, to hold Donbaik & Longchaung areas.

(c) ‘Tanahashi (T) Column’ Two Bns and a Mountain Artillery Regiment. To attack British Forces North of Rathedaung on 7th March.

(d) ‘Miyawaki (M) Column’ Bn (+) and Mountain Artillery Bn. Concentrate at Banyo by 6th March, then advance to secure the Kaladan Valley and link up with I/213 Regiment at Kaladan. Thereafter, cross the Arakan Yoma by the Awrama Track to Mrawchaung, and make contact with the Tanahashi Column.

When the Eastern Bank of the Mayu River had been secured, The Tanahashi Column reinforced with a Bn ex Uno Column & Bn ex Miyawaki Column, was to cross the Mayu River and move on to Indin. Uno Column was to simultaneously advance North from Donbaik.

Reports reached 123 Bde on 25 Feb from ‘V’ Force and local inhabitants, that the Japs intended to launch an offensive. As a consequence, 1/15 PUNJAB got withdrawn from North of Rathedaung to the line Sabahta Chaung-Kyauktan. On night 03/04 March the rest of the Bde was withdrawn to the line of Ngasanbaw Chaungin the Htizwe-Kyauktan area, while also covering the track via Awrama to the Kaladan Valley. While Gen Wavell continued berating his subordinate commanders to get on with the act of clearing the Mayu peninsula of the Japs, the ‘M’ Column attacked the 8 BALUCH Company at Kanzauk on 7th March, then infiltrated and occupied the High Ground between it and Apaukwa. All attempts by the Bn with the full support of 224 Group RAF on 8th March failed to dislodge the Japs. Gen Lloyd then ordered the evacuation of 8 BALUCH up the Yo Chaung to Buthidaung, and its Company at Kanzauk, through Awrama to Htizwe. 2/1 PUNJAB from 55 Bde was also sent to reinforce the Htizwe Bridgehead, held by 123 Bde.

Sketch 6

Simultaneously the ‘T’ Column attacked 123 Bde, North of Rathedaung. Before the dawn of 7th March, the Japs landed West of Hkananggyi, and occupied the High Ground North of Kanbyin, where 10th LANCASHIRE was located. By the 8th, the Japs had wrested the Sabahta Chaung area from 8 RAJ RIF. The Hill South of Nawlagyaw was also attacked and taken from 1/15 PUNJAB. Two Companies of 10th LANCASHIRE were then shifted from Kanbyin East to Ywathit-Mouth of Thaungdara Chaung area, as a precautionary measure. 2/1 PUNJAB relieved the battle-weary 1/15 PUNJAB on 10 March at Htizwe. The Japs then occupied Mrawchaung on 12 March thereby cutting the Awrama Track. 55 BdeHq took over operational control of ‘Mayu River East’ Sector from 123 BdeHq on 13 March. The 10th LANCASHIRE were pulled back from Ywathit to the Northern Bank of the Thaungdara Chaung.55th& 123 Bdes were put under a Special ‘Mayforce’ Hq under Brig Curtis, and this became operational by 19 March. Gen Lloyd also reinforced Mayforce at Buthidaung with 71 Bde(-) on 14 March, from the Donbaik area. 1st LINCOLNSHIRE got grouped with 6 Bde for the proposed Fifth Attack on Donbaik.

At dawn on the 14th, the Japs’ III/112 Bn launched an attack on Kyauktan from the North East. On 15th morning, the Japs secured a Bridgehead across the Thaungdara Chaungnear its Mouth, and dominated the road from Thaungdara to Htizwe. Due to increased pressure on Kyauktan from the direction South West of Nawlagyaw, it had to be abandoned on the night 15/16 by 2/1 PUNJAB, who then reinforced 10th LANCANSHIRE at Htizwe. This limited Bridge head helped to evacuate 55 Bde to the Taungmaw-Zedidaung area, 19 kms to the North. May force HQ ordered 71 Bdeon 19 March to take up the defensive along the Aungtha Chaung line, East of Zedidaung. Gen Lloyd ordered Trip-Force on 19 March to evacuate the upper reaches of the Kaladan River and fall back to the railhead at Dohazari.

The fresh 6 Bde consisting of its own four Bns supplemented by 1st LINCOLNSHIRE ex 71 Indian Bde & 5/8 PUNJAB ex 47 Indian Bdeand supported by two field regiments started its attack on 18th March early morning onto Donbaik, firstly Westwards from Shepherd’s Crook along the FDL Chaung and secondly Southwards from the Knobs area to Wadi Junction and North & South Promontories. But by then, the Japanese had deployed a full Regiment to defend the Donbaik-Laungchaung area. By the 19th, 6Bde suffered over 300 casualties without making any gain.

Gen Koga then gave no respite to the harried British Forces in the Arakans. He planned as follows to destroy the British Forces present in the toe of the Mayu peninsula, by cutting off their communications in the Indin area:-

(a) ‘M’ Column to contain the British Forces known to be in Zedidaung area.

(b) ‘T’ Column to cross the Mayu River on 24/25 March night between Prindaw and Thamihlaywa and move on to Indin, supported by the 5th Air Division. This Column was to deploy a Bn in the area of Praingdaung for Flank Protection. It was also to detach a Bn to cross the Mayu Range from Adwinbyin, and cut off the British communications North of Gyindaw.

(c) ‘U’ Column was to advance from Donbaik-Laungchaung area, and assist in the destruction of the trapped British Forces South of Indin.

Gen Lloyd read correctly the Japanese intentions. He ordered 47Bde from Thayetpin area, to attack the ‘T’ Column from the South. 4 British Bde was ordered to attack Southwards from Hparabyin Area on the 27th. But by then the Japs had occupied the crest of the Mayu Range at West of AtetNanra, thereby cutting off 47 Bde’s communications with Kyaukpandu. All attacks between 26-28 March to dislodge the Japs failed. On 29th afternoon, Lloyd ordered 47 Bde to withdraw to the West of Mayu Range and join up with 6 Bde, which was to fall back to Kodingauk. 

Gen Irwin, the Eastern Army Commander sacked Gen Lloyd from the command of 14th Indian Division as he viewed this withdrawal order of the 29th March to be incorrect, and replaced him with Maj Gen Cyril Lomax who was GOC 26 Indian Division. The Japs attacked Thayetpyin in strength on 1st Apr and forced 1st RAJPUT of 47 Bde to fall back to Thitkado. Gen Lomax took over command of 14 Div on 3rd Apr. Gen Irwin’s intention was to hold the Monsoon Deployment Forward Positions line at Gyindaw-Tyaungmaw, by 15 April. But this planning became invalid as the Japs occupied the ‘Point 251’ Feature North of Indin on the 3rd, and established a Road-Block at the Bridge over the Chaung there, thus cutting off 6 & 47 Bdes. This Block could not be dislodged. Gen Lomax was forced to ignore Gen Irwin’s Directive for a ‘gradual withdrawal’, and he ordered 6 Bde to concentrate in the Indin Area on 4/5 April, and clear the Track to Sinoh in order to maintain contact with the hard-pressed 47 Bde. 4 Bde was ordered to the Gyindaw area, with Hparabyin being held by a Bn (6 SIKHS). 47 Bde was to concentrate in Sinoh Area in preparation for withdrawal, West of the Mayu Range.

On 05/06 April night, a Jap Bn attacked Indin from the East, and another Bn simultaneously infiltrated into Indin from the North. 6 Bde HQ was overrun. Though the Japs were driven out on 6th morning, Gen Lomax ordered 6 Bde to withdraw to Kyaukpandu. 1st BERKSHIRE of 6 Bde successfully withdrew from South of Ywathit to Kyaukpandu on 06/07 night. But the trapped 47 Bde had to abandon all its equipment and break out in Company Groups to Kyakpandu, between 08-14 April. It ceased to exist as a fighting force. Gen Koga in one month’s time thus succeeded in inflicting a serious defeat on a much superior British Force, which had embarked on an ill-planned offensive in the Arakans six months back – to boost the morale of British Arms in the India-Burma Theatre! Gen Koigathen proceeded to inflict further humiliation to the British,ahead of the Monsoons without making any pause,by continuing his Offensive as follows:-

  • I/112 Regiment (1st Bn, 112 Infantry Regiment) to follow up the retreating British Forces along the coast, and apply pressure.
  • Concentrate both the ‘U’ & ‘T’ Columns (each of three Bns, now) between the Mayu Range and Mayu River by 25th March, and relentlessly press the British Forces to retreat. Follow thisup by the capture of Buthidaung and the Tunnels Area, and then seizure of Maungdaw.
  • Employ the ‘M’ Column to contain the British Forces operating East of the Mayu River. Then advance and seize Taung Bazar.
  • Complete all Operations by mid-May, before the onset of the pre-Monsoon rains.

Gen Lomax sensed that the Japs would next attempt to capture the Maungdaw-Buthidaung line before the monsoons broke, and he had received Early Warning to this effect from ‘V’ Force and escaped Prisoners of War. He therefore withdrew 6 Bde to the Dilpara-Kingyaung area on 10/11 April. On 13 April, 4 Bde was moved to the Lambaguna-Godusara area. He then ordered May-Force to assume responsibility for the area West of the Mayu River,up to the crest of the Mayu Range. 71 Bde was ordered to the line of the Saingdin Chaung. 55 Bde took up defences in the Hparabyin Area, East of the Mayu Range.

On the 14th April, a clear “Chain of Command” was established as XV Indian Corps under the experienced and realistic Lt Gen W J Slim was made responsible for the Arakan Ops. Slim found that the morale of the Troops was generallylow and many Units had a high proportion of raw Recruits. So he was in no mood to launch any operations which did not have a realistic chance of getting success. Slim appreciated that the Main Effort of the Japs would be to capture the Tunnels Area by attacking from East of the Mayu Range, and thereafter capture Maungdaw before the outbreak of Monsoons. To prevent this from happening, in addition to the four Bdes that 26 Div had (viz 4th, 6th, 55th & 71st), he moved 36 Indian Bde too from Cox’s Bazar to Maungdaw by 23 April, and placed it under 26 Div. Gen Lomax thought it prudent to withdraw 55 Bdeon the 21st April from the Hparbyin Area to the general line of  Kanthe-Seinnyinbya. Across the Mayu Range to its West, was the 4 Bde.

On the 23rd April, a Bn strong Jap Column was detected moving North along the Foothills near ‘Point 318’, East of Lambaguna. To counter this, Lomax ordered 4 Bde to occupy the Foothills, East of Godusara, up to ‘Point 1102’ (included). 6 Bde was ordered to send a Bn to the Kingyaung area. On the 24th & 25th, Japs’ attacks on 55 Bde in the Kanthe Area were repulsed. On the 25th, a Jap Column was reported advancing Northwards along the crest of the Mayu Range towards ‘Point 1102’. 7/15 PUNJAB of 4 Bde did not succeed in occupying ‘Point 1213’. Air attacks on the 28th also failed to give results. On the 29th, the Japs occupied ‘Point 318’ in 4 Bde’s Area. Lomax ordered 36 Bde ex Maungdaw to move up behind 55th Bde in readiness to launch an attack on the High Ground, North-West of Hparabyin, from the Kanthe side on 1st May. However reconnaissance revealed that the Japs were in strength there, and 36 Bde was then withdrawn into Reserve to the Letwedet Area.

But the Japs changed their Plan. Having failed to break through the Kanthe Position on 24 & 25 April, they decided to advance along an ‘elephant track’ which ran along the crest of the Mayu Range, and sandwich themselves between the British Troops on either side of the Mayu Range by occupying the ‘Point 1102’ & ‘Point 1440’ area using the ‘T’ Column (112th Regt), and ‘Point 302’ & ‘Point 297’ using the ‘U’ Column (143rd Regt), and then speedily send a Bn ex the ‘T’ Column on 2nd May to seize ‘Point 551’ area, which commanded the Maungdaw-Buthidaung road, East of the Tunnels.

The British countered these moves by ordering on 2nd May,on the Western Side – 7/15 PUNJAB of 4 Bde to the Point 1213-Point 1102 Area, 1 SCOTS of 6 Bde into the Kingyaung-Point 1440-Point 1443 Area; on the Eastern Side – 55 Bde; and on the Northern Side – 71 Bde. 10 LANCASHIRE of 71 Bde held the Tunnels Area with a Company at Point 551, 2/8 PUNJAB held the area of Sinoh East-Sinoh West covering the Kin Chaung and Ale Chaung, 1st LINCOLNS at Buthedaung with a Company at Saingdin Chaung, and 9/15 PUNJAB in Reserve. But the Japanese offensive had been launched speedily, and was relentless. Before the British could dig down and coordinate their defences, the Japanese captured the whole of Point 302-Point 297 Ridge and the crest of the Mayu Range between Point 1102-Point 1213, by 2nd May evening. Then they quickly exploited and captured Point 1440 & Point 375 by the 3rd May morning. Point 551 was also taken by that evening. A fierce Counter Attack was launched by 36 Bde on 4th May to dislodge the Japs from Point 551 Area, and this resulted in a ‘stalemate’. On 4th May, another Jap column crossed the Buthidaung Road at ‘Milestone 4’ and burned the wooden bridge across the Letwedet Chaung.That night, Lomax was forced to order the withdrawal of 55 Bde to the Ngakyedauk Pass Area, after destroying all its transport. This was achieved on 6/7 May night. 36 Bde fought a ‘Rearguard Action’ in the Letwedet Area on 7th May, and withdrew to Ngakyedauk Pass, where it relieved 55 Bde. Gen Slim then also released 23 Bde of British 70 Div which was at Chittagong, to 26 Div.

On 8th May, Gen Lomax redisposed his Division for the defence of Maungdaw Area as follows:-

  • 4 & 6 Bdes in the Coastal Area.
  • 71 Bde in the Tunnels Area.
  • 36 Bde in the Ngakyedauk Pass Area.
  • 55 Bde in Reserve at the Razabil Area.
  • 23 Bdeat Bawli Bazar-Goppe Bazar-Taung Bazar Area.

On Gen Slim’s suggestion the Army Cdr, Gen Irwin agreed on 8th May for the evacuation of Troops from the Maungdaw Area as it could be easily isolated. He ordered the Line Nhila-Bawli Bazar-Goppe Bazar-Taung Bazar to be held during the oncoming Monsoon Season, when no significant operations could be conducted. Maungdaw was abandoned on 11 May, when ‘V’ Force reported that a strong Jap attack was building up. Much of stores having value to the Japs got left behind. Actually, the Japs had their own logistics difficulties. They could occupy Maungdaw only by the 14th May, using Ist Bn of 112 Regiment (I/112 Bn). Buthidaung was occupied by the Japs on 9th May. Gen Koga decided to halt his offensive and take up defensive positions on the general Line Buthidaung-Maungdaw, in view of the approaching Monsoons. He disposed 143 Regiment in the Buthidaung Area, 112 Regiment in the Maungdaw Area, and withdrew the rest of his Division to Akhyab. The British deployed 4 Bde in Taung Bazar-Goppe Bazar Area, 36 Bde along the Bawli Bazar-Maungdaw road, and 71 BdeatNhila covering the Teknaf peninsula &Naf River. Rest of the Brigades were withdrawn to India-proper for re-equipping and re-training.

This Arakan Operation which culminated in mid-May1943 saw the ‘nadir’ of the reputation of British-Indian Arms during WW II.In contrast, Brig Orde Wingate’s 77 Chindit Bde which had returned from across the Chindwin River in Company-strength Escape Groups during May 1943 after operating for three months in the rear of the Jap Forces, earned the adulation of all!


The Task given to 14 Indian Infantry Division in Oct 1942 was to reach the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Area in order to draw Jap Troops away from Akhyab, while consequently a seaborne attack was to be launched on that island by a fully trained amphibious Force. But this amphibious Force (29 (I) British Infantry Bde Gp) got diverted enroute for the capture of Vichy French-held Madagascar. Gen Wavell decided to go ahead with an overland advance across the densely forested and mountainous terrain down the Mayu Peninsula, which did not even have a road for ensuring logistics support. Therefore, Maungdaw was planned to be captured early and developed into a Base for landing supplies by sea. But Gen Irwin, the Eastern Army Cdr then intervened and delayed the operation by two weeks in order to over-ensure logistics for the four Bns that had been built up in the Zeganbyin-Taung Bazar area by end Nov 1942, and also increase the Force level there to two Bdes strength. This helped the Japs to withdraw and fight at a place of their own choosing, down the Mayu Peninsula. To make matters worse, GHQ Delhi could not make the required shipping available to quicken the build-up at Maungdaw. The detection of the presence of Japs in Kondan area across the Mayu Range made Gen Lloyd cautious, and instead of masking it and heading fast for the capture of Foul Point at the end of the Mayu Peninsula for developing the threat on Akhyab, he did the mistake of trying to remove the threat from his Eastern Flank first, thus losing precious time for the swift capture of Donbaik before it could be occupied/reinforced by the Japs. Then the rot started. The British Forces which attacked both Rathedaung (East of the Mayu River) & Donbaik were comparatively raw, and could not match the fighting skills of the Japs who were in well dug-up defences. Employment of tanks was not done in close coordination with the Infantry, and so neither Arm benefited. Gen Koiga, the Jap 55 Div Cdr carefully avoided any Frontal Attacks. Capitalising on the freedom of using both the Mayu River & Kaladan River for troop movements and logistics, he manouvred the Bdes of 14 Indian Infantry Div and later of 26 Indian Infantry Div out of their positions, by deep and wide outflanking attacks aimed at their supply-lines. Gen Irwin under pressure from Gen Wavell, kept on ordering repeated attacks on the Donbaik Position, in spite of knowing well that it was constantly getting reinforced by the Japs as their troops started arriving at Akhyab. Had a timely withdrawal of the British Forces from the Donbaik-Laungchang Area taken place in the Third Week of March as advocated by Gen Lloyd, a strong Reserve could have been created and an effective blow could have been given to the pursing Japs who were stretched thin due to logistics difficulties. Gen Lomax on assuming command averted disaster by extricating 6 Bde by the Beach Road from the Donbaik Area, although 47 Bde became in-operational as it lost all its heavy weapons, mules, ammunition reserve and equipment. The morale of both Indian Troops & British Troops suffered badly thereafter. The initiative then passed into Japanese hands. The tenuous lines of communication had lesser impact on the Japanese as their design of battle was always emerging as successful. The six weeks ending on 18 Feb 43 saw intense fighting for the unsuccessful attempts to capture Donbaik & Rathedaung. By 18 March, it had become clear that the decision to hold the ground gained on the Mayu Peninsula was tactically and administratively incorrect, and would only end up giving advantage to the Japs. By 11 May 1943, the British Forces were hurled back to the Line, from where they had started on 02 October 1942!

The First Arakan Campaign brought about significant changes in the Indian Army. An ‘Infantry Reforms Committee’ was ordered, and its Report was implemented in Aug 1943, which were:-

    • The salary of the Infantry Soldier was doubled.
    • Infantry Arm had the first choice for meritorious Recruits & Officers.
    • Infantry Bn Organization got revised and strengthened, to include self-sufficient Rifle Company Groups having necessary supporting weapons, transport and administrative details.
    • No Infantry Unit was to be inducted into the Burma Theatre without first undergoing thorough jungle warfare training for a month. Reinforcements were to be led by NCOs, and had to follow the same procedure. 14 & 36 Indian Infantry Divs were converted into Training Divisions.
    • Strict hygiene and medical protocols were implemented, to minimize non-battle casualties.
    • India Command was stripped of all operational responsibilities in the East, and a separate South East Asia Command was set up by end August 1943 under Vice Admiral Mountbatten to progress the War against Japan.The reliable Gen Auchinleck replaced Gen Wavell as C in C India.
    • Though the RAF had flown nearly 5000 sorties in support of the land operations in Arakan, and also mounted nearly 700 air-defence sorties, these were not found to be effective. The Air Support to the Ground Forces capabilities were drastically overhauled and upgraded. ‘Hurricane’ fighters and ‘Vengeance’ light bombers having night-ops capability were rushed to India. Two ‘Forward Air Controller’ Detachments were authorized per Infantry Brigade, in addition to the Ground Liaison Detachment and ‘Tentacle’ communication link with the supporting Air Base.

The Japanese on their part came to the conclusion that they would not be able to defeat such British Offensives if they stood on the defensive. They therefore started preparations for launching of a Counter-Offensive into India during early 1944. Some seven divisions were to be made available for this planned Operation ‘U-Go’. So ‘Burma Area Army HQ’ was set up at Rangoon on 27 March 1943 under Lt Gen M Kawabe, and 15th Army HQ was moved up to Maymyo.


  1. The War Against Japan, Vol II by Maj Gen S Woodburn Kirby;British Crown Stationery Office, London, 1959.
  2. Burma: The Longest Warby Louis Allen; Dent Publishing, London, 1984. 
  3. Burma: The Forgotten War byJon Latimer;John Murray,London, 2004.
  4. Defeat Into Victoryby William Slim; David McKay, New York, 1961.
  5. The Jungle, Japanese and the British Commonwealth Armies at War, 1941-45: Fighting Methods, Doctrine and Training for Jungle Warfare,by TimMoreman;Frank Crass,New York, 2005. 
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