Burma Campaign 1944

Burma Campaign 1944

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict = Burma Campaign 1944
partof = the Pacific War during World War II

caption = Geography of Burma
date = January – November 1944
place = Burma
result = Allied victory
casus =
territory =
combatant1 =

flagicon|United Kingdom|size=20px United Kingdom
flagicon|India|British|size=20px British India
flagicon|Republic of China|size=20px Republic of China

combatant2 =
flag|Empire of Japan|size=20px

commander1 =
flagicon|United Kingdom|size=20px Louis Mountbatten
flagicon|United Kingdom|size=20px William Slim
flagicon|Republic of China|size=20px Chiang Kai-Shek
flagicon|United States|1912|size=20px Joseph Stilwell

commander2 =
flagicon|Empire of Japan|size=20px Masakazu Kawabe
flagicon|Empire of Japan|size=20px Renya Mutaguchi

strength1 =

strength2 =
strength2 =
casualties1 =
29,324 (British Commonwealth)

casualties2 =
71,289 (Japanese) [not counting casualties fighting against Chinese / American forces]

The fighting in the Burma Campaign in 1944 was among the severest in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II. It took place along the borders between Burma and India, and Burma and China, and involved the British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces, against the forces of the Empire of Japan and the Indian National Army. British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from the United Kingdom, British India and Africa.

The Allies had overcome the logistic and organisational difficulties which had crippled their earlier efforts, and they were preparing to invade Japanese-occupied Burma at several widely separated points. The Japanese forestalled them by launching their own offensive into India, and this offensive became larger in scope than originally intended. By the end of the year, the Allies had achieved significant territorial gains only in one sector, the extreme north-east of Burma, but the Japanese attack on India suffered a decisive defeat, which crippled their attempts to defend Burma against renewed Allied offensives in the following year.

Rival plans

Allied plans

In August 1943 the Allies created South East Asia Command (SEAC) a new combined command responsible for the South-East Asian Theatre. This brought a new sense of purpose and in November, when SEAC took over responsibility for Burma, the British Fourteenth Army was ready to take the offensive. This substantial turnaround in Fourteenth Army's effectiveness has been credited to its commander, Lieutenant General William Slim. He enforced the use of anti-malarial drugs as part of an emphasis on individual health, established realistic jungle warfare training, rebuilt the army's self-respect by winning easy victories and developed local military infrastructure [Keegan (ed) References pp 243-255]

Slim's efforts were aided by improvements to the Allied supply lines. By October 1944 capacity on the North-East Indian Railways had been raised to 4,400 tons a day from 600 tons a day at the start of the war. The RAF had gained air superiority and this allowed the Allies to employ new tactics, relying upon air supply of troops.

SEAC had to accommodate several rival plans. Mountbatten, the new Commander-in-Chief, with a background as a naval officer and having previously served as commander of Combined Operations HQ, favoured amphibious landings. The first of these was to be on the Andaman Islands (Operation "Pigstick"), but the landing craft assigned to the operation were recalled to Europe in preparation for the Normandy Landings.

The previous year, a British attack into the Burmese coastal province of Arakan had been heavily defeated. Having been reorganised, Indian XV Corps was preparing to renew the offensive. A limited amphibious move in support of this attack had to be abandoned for lack of the necessary landing craft and other shipping. Chinese forces which had retreated into India in 1942 had been re-equipped and retrained by an American military mission under Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell. Stilwell's aim was to drive a new road, the Ledo Road, which would link India and China and allow aid to reach the Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek, supplementing the air supply route over the Himalayas known as the Hump. By the start of 1944, the new road had reached the far side of the Patkai mountains, and Stilwell was preparing to advance on Kamaing and Myitkyina.

Chiang Kai-shek had agreed to mount an offensive from the Yunnan. When the Andaman Island landings were cancelled, he claimed this was a breach of faith and cancelled the Yunnan offensive, although he later reinstated it.

Following a long-distance raid (Operation "Longcloth") in 1943, British Major-General Orde Wingate had gained approval for a greatly expanded long-range penetration force, known as the Chindits. This was opposed by Slim and others who felt that this was too great a drain on manpower and resources, but under political pressure from Winston Churchill, Wingate's plans went ahead. The Chindits, now designated Indian 3rd Infantry Division, were tasked with assisting Stilwell by disrupting the Japanese lines of supply to the northern front. Wingate had originally planned to capture an enemy airfield at Indaw, which would then be garrisoned by a line infantry division as a base for further Chindit raids. This second part of the plan for Special Force was later dropped. [Slim, "Defeat into Victory", p.218]

The Allied plans for 1944 were reduced to: the offensive by Stilwell's Chinese troops from India; the Chindit operation in support of Stilwell; a renewed overland attack in the Arakan; and a rather ill-defined offensive across the Chindwin River from Imphal in support of the other operations.

Japanese plans

About the same time that SEAC was established, the Japanese had relieved their commander in Burma, Lieutenant General Shojiro Iida and created a new headquarters, Burma Area Army, under Lieutenant General Masakazu Kawabe. Its subordinate formations were the Japanese Fifteenth Army in the north and east of Burma and the Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army in the south and west.

By chance or design, the new commander of Fifteenth Army, Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi, had played a major part in many recent Japanese triumphs. He was keen to mount an offensive against India. Burma Area Army originally quashed this idea, but found that its superiors in Southern Expeditionary Army Group HQ in Singapore was keen on it. When the staff at Southern Expeditionary Army were persuaded of the inherent dangers, they in turn found that Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo was in favour of Mutaguchi's plan.

The Japanese were influenced to an unknown degree by Subhas Chandra Bose, commander of the Indian National Army. This was composed largely of Indian soldiers who had been captured in Malaya or Singapore. At Bose's instigation, a substantial contingent of the INA joined in this Chalo Delhi ("March on Delhi"). Both Bose and Mutaguchi emphasised the advantages which would be gained by a successful attack into India. With misgivings on the part of several of Mutaguchi's superiors and subordinates, Operation U-Go was launched. [Allen, "Burma: the Longest Campaign", pp. 157-170]

Northern front

Stilwell's forces, the Northern Combat Area Command, initially consisted of two American-equipped Chinese divisions with a Chinese-manned M3 Light Tank battalion and an American long-range penetration brigade known after its commander as "Merrill's Marauders".

In October 1943 the Chinese 38th Division (led by Sun Li-jen) began to advance from Ledo towards Shinbwiyang, while American engineers and Indian labourers extended the Ledo Road behind them. The Japanese 18th Division had advanced to the Chindwin to stop them, but found itself outmatched. Whenever the Chinese divisions ran into Japanese strong points, the Marauders were used to outflank Japanese positions by going through the jungle. A technique which had served the Japanese so well earlier in the war before the Allies had learnt the arts of jungle warfare was now being used against them. At Walawbum, for example, if the Chinese 38th Division had been a little swifter and linked up with the Marauders it could have encircled the Japanese 18th Division.

Not only were the Japanese driven back, but the Allies were able to use the trace of the track the Japanese had constructed to supply 18th Division, to speed their construction of the Ledo Road.

econd Chindit Expedition

In Operation Thursday the Chindits were to support Stilwell's advance by interdicting Japanese supply lines in the region of Indaw. On February 5, 1944, Brigadier Bernard Fergusson's 16th Brigade left Ledo for Burma. They successfully avoided the Japanese by crossing exceptionally difficult terrain, which the Japanese had not guarded, and penetrated the Japanese rear areas. In early March three other brigades were flown into landing zones behind Japanese lines by the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group, from where they established strongholds on most of the Japanese road and rail links to their northern front. Over the next two and a half months the Chindits were involved in many very heavy contacts with the Japanese.

Brigadier Michael Calvert's 77th Brigade successfully defended one of the landing zones, codenamed "Broadway", and established a road and railway block at Mawlu, north of Indaw. This position, codenamed the "White City", was successfully held for several weeks. Not all communications to the Japanese northern front were blocked, as only a single Chindit battalion operated against the road from Bhamo to Myitkyina, beyond the range of effective Allied air support.

On March 24, Fergusson's brigade attempted to capture the airfield at Indaw, but were repulsed, following which the brigade was withdrawn to India. On the same day, Wingate, the commander of the Chindits, was killed in an aircrash. His replacement was Brigadier Joe Lentaigne, formerly the commander of the 111th Brigade.

On May 17 overall control of the Chindits passed from Slim's Fourteenth Army to Stilwell's NCAC. The Chindits now evacuated "Broadway" and the "White City", and moved from the Japanese rear areas to new bases closer to Stilwell's front, and were given additional tasks for which they were not equipped. At the same time, the Japanese replaced the scratch "Take Force" which had been trying to defend their rear areas with the headquarters of the Japanese Thirty-Third Army, and deployed 53rd Division against the Chindits.

Calvert's 77th Brigade captured Mogaung after a siege which ended on June 27, but at the cost of 50 percent casualties. 111th Brigade tried to establish another road and rail block codenamed "Blackpool" near Hopin, but were forced to retreat. By July, it was clear that the Chindits were exhausted by continuous marching and fighting under heavy monsoon rains, and were withdrawn. By the end of the campaign the Chindits had lost 1,396 killed and 2,434 wounded. Over half the remainder had to be hospitalised with a special diet afterwards.

Yunnan Front

The Chinese forces on the Yunnan front mounted an attack starting in the second half of April, with nearly 40,000 troops crossing the Salween River on a 200 mile (300 km) front. Within a few days some twelve Chinese Divisions of 72,000 men, under the command of General Wei Lihuang, were attacking the Japanese 56th Division. The Japanese forces in the North were now fighting on two fronts: the Allies from the North West and the Nationalist Chinese from the North East.

The Chinese Yunnan offensive was hampered by the monsoon rains and lack of air support, but succeeded in annihilating the garrison of Tengchung at the end of May. After overcoming determined Japanese resistance (in which the Japanese were helped when Chinese plans and codes fell into their hands by chance), the Chinese captured Lungling at the end of August. At this point, the Japanese moved reinforcements (amounting to a further division in strength) to Yunnan and counter-attacked, temporarily halting the Chinese advance.

iege of Myitkyina

While the Japanese offensive on the Central Front was being waged, Stilwell's forces continued to make gains. On May 19, two Chinese divisions encircled Kamaing. Two days before, on May 17, after a march across the Kumon Range of hills which nearly crippled the already weary Marauders, Merrill's forces captured the airfield at Myitkyina. [Allen, "Burma: The Longest War", pp. 364-365] If Ledo Chinese troops had been flown in that afternoon to attack the town immediately they could have overwhelmed the small garrison, but support and logistic units were flown in first and the opportunity was lost as the Japanese rapidly reinforced the town.

The resulting prolonged siege was not very well directed and cost the allies many men, particularly amongst the Chindits who were forced to remain in the field to disrupt Japanese relief attempts far longer than had been planned. However, because of the deteriorating situation on the other fronts, the Japanese never regained the initiative on the Northern Front.

The long siege also resulted in heavy Japanese losses. When the airfield was captured, the Japanese in the town at first intended to fight a delaying action, aided by the monsoon rains. On June 10, Major General Genzo Mizukami, who had been sent with reinforcements and placed in charge of the garrison, was ordered personally to "Defend Myitkyina to the death". The Japanese dug in and repelled several Chinese attacks. Further resistance appeared hopeless by the end of July. Mizukami evacuated the survivors of the garrison before fulfilling the letter of his orders by taking his own life inside the defended perimeter. Myitkyina was finally captured on August 3. [Allen, "Burma: The Longest War", pp. 381-385]

The capture of Myitkyina marked the end of the initial phase of Stilwell's campaign. It was the largest seizure of enemy-held territory to date in the Burma campaign and was primarily due to the Ledo Chinese divisions led by Stilwell. The airfield at Myitkyina became a vital link in the air route over the Hump.

outhern front 1943/44

In Arakan, Indian XV Corps under Lieutenant General Philip Christison renewed the advance on the Mayu peninsula. Ranges of steep hills channeled the advance into three attacks; by Indian 5th Infantry Division along the coast, Indian 7th Infantry Division along the Kalapanzin River and 81st (West Africa) Division along the Kaladan River. 5th Division captured the small port of Maungdaw on January 9, 1944. The Corps then prepared to capture two railway tunnels linking Maungdaw with the Kalapanzin valley. However, the Japanese struck first. A strong force from the Japanese 55th Division infiltrated Allied lines to attack the 7th Division from the rear, overrunning the divisional HQ.

Unlike previous occasions on which this had happened, the Allied forces stood firm against the attack, and supplies were dropped to them by parachute. In the Battle of the Admin Box from February 5 to February 23, the Japanese concentrated on XV Corps' Administrative Area, defended mainly by service troops, but they were unable to deal with tanks supporting the defenders. Troops from 5th Division broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass to relieve the defenders of the box. Although battle casualties were approximately equal, the overall result was a heavy Japanese defeat. Their infiltration and encirclement tactics had failed to panic Allied troops, and as the Japanese were unable to capture enemy supplies, they themselves starved.

The Allies did not fully exploit their victory as XV Corps offensive wound down over the next few weeks, as the Allies concentrated on the Central Front. After capturing the railway tunnels, XV Corps halted during the monsoon, and even gave ground in the Kaladan Valley.

Central front

At Imphal, Indian IV Corps under Lieutenant-General Geoffrey Scoones had pushed forward two divisions to the Chindwin River. One division was in reserve at Imphal. There were indications that a major Japanese offensive was building. Slim and Scoones planned to withdraw and force the Japanese to fight with their logistics stretched beyond the limit. However, they misjudged the date on which the Japanese were to attack, and the strength they would use against some objectives.

The Japanese Fifteenth Army, consisting of the 33rd Division, 15th Division and the brigade-sized "Yamamoto Force"), under Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi, planned to cut off and destroy the forward divisions of IV Corps, before capturing Imphal. The 31st Division would meanwhile isolate Imphal by capturing Kohima. Mutaguchi intended to exploit this victory by capturing the strategic city of Dimapur, in the Brahmaputra River valley. If this could be achieved, his army would be through the mountainous border region and the whole of North East India would be open to attack. Units of the Indian National Army were to take part in the offensive and raise rebellion in India. The capture of the Dimapur railhead would also sever the land communications to the airbases used to supply the Chinese, and cut off supplies to General Stilwell's forces fighting on the Northern Front.

Preliminary battles

The Japanese launched their troops across the Chindwin River on March 8. Scoones only gave his forward divisions orders to withdraw to Imphal on March 13. The Indian 20th Infantry Division withdrew from Tamu without difficulty, but the Indian 17th Division was cut off at Tiddim by the Japanese 33rd Division. From March 18 to March 25, thanks to air re-supply by the RAF and U.S Troop Carrier Command crews in their C-47 Dakotas, and assistance from the Indian 23rd Division, the 17th Division was able to fight its way back through four Japanese road blocks. The two divisions reached the Imphal plain on April 4.

Meanwhile, Imphal had been left vulnerable to the Japanese 15th Division. The only force left covering the base, Indian 50th Parachute Brigade, was roughly handled at Sangshak by a regiment from the Japanese 31st Division on its way to Kohima. However, the diversionary attack launched by Japanese 55th division on The Southern Front, had already been defeated, and in late March Slim was able to move the battle-hardened "Ball of Fire" Indian 5th Division, including all their artillery, jeeps, mules and other materiel, by air from Arakan to the Central Front. The move was completed in only eleven days. Two brigades went to Imphal, the other (the Indian 161st Infantry Brigade) went to Dimapur from where it sent a detachment to Kohima.


While the Allied forces in Imphal were cut off and besieged, the Japanese 31st Division, consisting of 20,000 men under Lieutenant-General Kotoku Sato, were able to advance up the Imphal–Dimapur road. Instead of isolating the small garrison at Kohima and pressing on with his main force to Dimapur, Sato chose to concentrate on capturing the hill station. The Japanese records indicate that Sato (and Mutaguchi's other divisional commanders) had severe misgivings about Fifteenth Army's plan. In particular, they thought the logistic gambles were reckless, and were unwilling to drive on objectives they thought unattainable.

The Battle of Kohima started on April 5 when the Japanese isolated the garrison and tried to dislodge the defenders from their hill top redoubts. Fighting was very heavy around the District Commissioner's tennis court. This phase of the battle is often referred to as the Battle of the Tennis Court and was the "high-water mark" of the Japanese attack. On April 18 the Indian 161 Brigade relieved the defenders, but the battle was not over as the Japanese dug in and defended the positions they had captured.

A new Allied formation HQ, the Indian XXXIII Corps under Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford, now took over operations on this front. The British 2nd Infantry Division began a counter-offensive and by May 15, they had prised the Japanese off Kohima Ridge itself, although the Japanese still held dominating positions north and south of the Ridge. More Allied troops were arriving at Kohima; the Indian 7th Division followed 5th Division from the Arakan; a motor infantry brigade reinforced 2nd Division; a brigade diverted from the Chindit operation cut Japanese 31st Division's supply lines. XXXIII Corps renewed its offensive in the middle of May.


The Battle of Imphal went badly for the Japanese during the month of April, as their attacks from several directions on the Imphal plain failed to break the Allied defensive ring. At the start of May, Slim and Scoones began a counter-offensive against the Japanese 15th Division north of Imphal. Progress was slow. The monsoon had broken, and this made movement very difficult. Also, IV Corps was suffering some shortages. Although rations and reinforcements were delivered to Imphal by air, artillery ammunition was by now rationed. However, the Japanese were at the end of their endurance and with the monsoon season beginning, conditions would quickly become far worse. Neither 31st Division nor 15th Division had received adequate supplies since the offensive began, and their troops lacked proper food. During the rains, disease rapidly spread among the starving Japanese troops.

Lieutenant-General Sato had notified Mutaguchi that his division would withdraw from Kohima at the end of May if it were not supplied. In spite of orders to hold on, Sato did indeed begin to retreat, although an independent detachment from his division continued to fight delaying actions along the Imphal Road. Meanwhile, the units of 15th Division were wandering away from their positions to forage for supplies. Its commander, Lieutenant-General Masafumi Yamauchi (who was mortally ill) was dismissed but this could not affect matters. The leading troops of IV Corps and XXXIII Corps met at Milestone 109 on the Dimapur-Imphal road on June 22, and the siege of Imphal was raised.

Mutaguchi (and Kawabe) nevertheless continued to order renewed attacks. 33rd Division (under a new forceful commander, Lieutenant-General Nobuo Tanaka), and Yamamoto Force made repeated efforts south of Imphal, but by the end of June they had suffered so many casualties both from battle and general sickness that they were unable to make any progress. The Allies had in the meantime cleared large numbers of starving and disordered Japanese troops in and around Ukhrul (near Sangshak) north of Imphal. The Japanese Imphal operation was finally broken off early in July, and they retreated painfully to the Chindwin River.

It was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history. They had suffered 55,000 casualties, including 13,500 dead. Most of these losses were the result of disease, malnutrition and exhaustion. The Allies suffered 17,500 casualties. Mutaguchi was relieved of his command and left Burma for Singapore in disgrace. Sato refused to commit Seppuku (hara-kiri) when handed a sword by Colonel Shumei Kinoshita, insisting that the defeat had not been his doing. [Don Moser, References, page 157] He was examined by doctors who stated that his mental health was such that he could not be court-martialled. (This was probably under pressure from Kawabe and Terauchi, who did not wish a public scandal).

From August to November, Fourteenth Army pursued the Japanese to the Chindwin River. While the 11th East Africa Division advanced down the Kabaw Valley from Tamu, the Indian 5th Division advanced along the mountainous Tiddim road. By the end of November, Kalewa had been recaptured, and several bridgeheads were established on the east bank of the Chindwin.

Slim and his Corps commanders (Scoones, Christison and Stopford) were knighted by Wavell (the Viceroy of India) in a ceremony at Imphal in December.



* Slim, William (1956) "Defeat Into Victory". Citations from the Cassell 1956 edition, but also available from NY: Buccaneer Books ISBN 1-56849-077-1, Cooper Square Press ISBN 0-8154-1022-0; London: Cassell ISBN 0-304-29114-5, Pan ISBN 0-330-39066-X.
* Allen, Louis "Burma: The Longest War"
* Bayly, Christopher & Harper, Tim. "Forgotten Armies"
* Calvert, Mike. "Fighting Mad" has content related to the 1944 Chindit campaign
* Dillon, Terence. "Rangoon to Kohima"
* Hickey, Michael. "The Unforgettable Army"
* cite book
last = Jackson
first = Ashley
title = The British Empire and the Second World War
publisher = Hambledon Continuum
year = 2006
location = London
pages = pp. 387 - 388
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 978-1-85285-517-8

*cite book
last = Keegan (ed)
first = John
authorlink =John Keegan
coauthors = Duncan Anderson
title = Churchill's Generals
publisher = Cassell Military
year = 1991
location = London
pages = pp 243-255
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-304-36712-5

* Latimer, Jon. "Burma: The Forgotten War"
* Moser, Don and editors of Time-Life Books "World War II: China-Burma-India"', 1978, Library of Congress no 77-93742
* Ochi, Harumi. "Struggle in Burma"
* Rolo, Charles J. "Wingate's Raiders"
* Sadayoshi Shigematsu " Fighting Around Burma"
* Sugita, Saiichi. "Burma Operations"
* Thompson, Robert. "Make for the Hills" has content related to the 1944 Chindit campaign
* Webster, Donovan. "The Burma Road : The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II"

External links

* [http://www.burmastar.org.uk/ Burma Star Association]
* [http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/pages/Second-war/far-east.html national-army-museum.ac.uk] History of the British Army: Far East, 1941-45
* [http://www.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/1/burma/summary.htm Imperial War Museum London] Burma Summary
* [http://www.remuseum.org.uk/corpshistory/rem_corps_part16.htm#burma Royal Engineers Museum] Engineers in the Burma Campaigns
* [http://www.remuseum.org.uk/corpshistory/rem_corps_part16.htm#chindits Royal Engineers Museum] Engineers with the Chindits
* [http://warmuseum.ca/cwm/newspapers/operations/burma_e.html Canadian War Museum: Newspaper Articles on the Burma Campaigns, 1941-1945]
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/burma42/burma42.htm US Center of Military History (USCMH): Burma 1942]
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh/brochures/centburma/centburma.htm USCMH Centeral Burma 29 January - 15 July 1945]
* [http://www.army.mil/CMH-pg/brochures/indiaburma/indiaburma.htm USCMH India-Burma 2 April 1942-28 January 1945]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/launch_ani_burma_campaign.shtml World War II animated campaign maps]
* [http://www.regiments.org/wars/ww2/burma.htm List of Regimental Battle Honours in the Burma Campaign (1942 - 1945) - Also some useful links]
* "Operations in Eastern Theatre, Based on India from March 1942 to December 31 1942", official despatch by Field Marshal The Viscount Wavell
* "Operations in the Indo-Burma Theatre Based on India from 21 June 1943 to 15 November 1943" official despatch by Field Marshal Sir Claude E. Auchinleck, War Office. (or [http://www.britain-at-war.org.uk/ww2/london%5Fgazette/indo%2Dburma%5Fjune%5Fto%5Fnov%5F1943/ see this html version] )
*LondonGazette|issue=39195|supp=yes|startpage=1881|endpage=1963|date=6 April 1951|accessdate=2007-11-19 "Operations in Burma from 12 November 1944 to 15 August 1945" official despatch by Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese
* [http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/sino-japanese.htm Sino-Japanese Air War 1937-45, see 1941 and 1942]
* [http://homepages.force9.net/rothwell/burmaweb/ordersof.htm Burma Campaign, Orbat for 1942 campaign, Japan, Commonwealth, Chinese, USA]
* [http://www.cpamedia.com/history/thailand_in_shan_state/ A Forgotten Invasion: Thailand in Shan State, 1941-45 ]
* [http://www.geocities.com/thailandwwii/shans.html Thailand's Northern Campaign in the Shan States 1942-45]
* [http://stonebooks.com/history/siam.shtml]
** [http://www.geocities.com/p_klykoom/phayaparmy.jpgPhayap Army]

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