Burma Campaign 1944-1945

Burma Campaign 1944-1945

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

caption = Geography of Burma
date = November 1944 – July 1945
place = Burma
result = Allied victory
casus =
territory =
combatant1 =

flagicon|United Kingdom|size=20px United Kingdom
flagicon|India|British|size=20px Indian Empire
flagicon|Republic of China|size=20px Republic of China
flagicon|Burma|1943|size=20px Burma National Army

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|Burma|1943|size=20px Aung San

commander2 =
flagicon|Empire of Japan|size=20px Hyotaro Kimura

strength1 =
strength2 =
casualties1 =
22,262 (British Commonwealth)

casualties2 =
31,119 [not counting casualties fighting Americans and Chinese]

The Burma Campaign in the South-East Asian Theatre of World War II was fought primarily between British Commonwealth, Chinese and United States forces against the forces of the Empire of Japan, Thailand, the Burmese Independence Army and the Indian National Army. British Commonwealth land forces were drawn primarily from the United Kingdom, British India and Africa.

Partly because monsoon rains made effective campaigning possible only for about half of the year, the Burma campaign was almost the longest campaign of the war. During the campaigning season of 1942, the Japanese had captured Burma from the British. After scoring some defensive successes, they then attempted to forestall major Allied offensives in 1944 by launching a major attack into India. This had failed with disastrous losses. During the next campaigning season, beginning in December, 1944, the Allies launched major attacks against the weakened Japanese, capturing Rangoon just before the monsoon struck to ensure their hold on the country.

Allied 1944-1945 offensives

Allied Plans

As the monsoon rains ended late in 1944, the Allies' South East Asia Command was preparing to launch large-scale offensives into Japanese-occupied Burma. There were four major routes by which offensives could be supplied. On three of these (in the Burmese coastal province of Arakan where communications ran mainly by sea, on the newly-constructed Ledo Road running from Ledo in north-eastern India and on the Burma Road in Yunnan province in China, the Allies were preparing to expand the gains they had made earlier in 1944. The major effort however would be made from Imphal in India's Manipur state, across the Chindwin River into Central Burma, where the terrain favoured armoured and motorised formations. The Allied Land Forces South East Asia headquarters under General Oliver Leese had overall control of the various fronts.

The Allies were also acquiring resources not previously available. They were able to use Landing craft to launch amphibious operations along the Burmese coast. Even more important were increased numbers of aircraft, in particular of transport aircraft which could make formations independent of normal lines of communication. The Allies by now had air supremacy in the skies over India and Burma.

Japanese Plans

In the aftermath of their defeats the previous year, the Japanese had made major changes in their command. The most important was the replacement of General Masakazu Kawabe at Burma Area Army by Lieutenant General Hyotaro Kimura. Kimura threw Allied plans into confusion by refusing to fight at the Chindwin River. Recognising that most of his formations were weak and short of equipment, he withdrew Fifteenth Army behind the Irrawaddy River (Operation BAN). Twenty-Eighth Army was to continue to defend the Arakan and lower Irrawaddy valley (Operation KAN), while Thirty-Third Army would attempt to prevent the completion of the new road link between India and China by defending the cities of Bhamo and Lashio, and mounting guerilla raids (Operation DAN).


Another factor which was to become significant during the campaign was the changing attitude of the Burmese population. During the Japanese capture of Burma in 1942, many Burmese had actively aided the Japanese Army. Although the Japanese had established a nominally independent Burmese government under Ba Maw and formed a Burma National Army under Aung San, they remained in effective control of the country. Their strict control, along with wartime privations, turned the Burmese against them. The Allied liaison organisation, Force 136, was already aiding resistance movements among the minority Karen population. They were now also to abet the defection of the entire Burma National Army to the Allies. In addition to the allied advance, the Japanese now faced open rebellion behind their lines.

Another force nominally under Japanese control was the Indian National Army, a force mainly composed of former prisoners of war under Subhas Chandra Bose. Some INA units were to fight stoutly against the Allies, but others were to desert or capitulate readily. The Japanese had alienated some of the INA by denying them equipment and supplies, or by using them as labourers rather than as fighting troops.

outhern Front

In Arakan, as the monsoon ended, the Indian XV Corps under Lieutenant General Philip Christison resumed the advance on Akyab Island for the third year in succession. This time the Japanese were far weaker, and had already lost the most favourable defensive positions in the Mayu range of hills. The Indian 25th Infantry Division advanced on Foul Point and Rathedaung at the end of the Mayu Peninsula, being supplied by landing craft over beaches, while the 81st (West Africa) Division and 82nd (West Africa) Division converged on Myohaung at the mouth of the Kaladan River, cutting the supply lines of the Japanese troops in the Mayu Peninsula. The Japanese evacuated Akyab Island on December 31, 1944. It was occupied by XV Corps without resistance two days later.

The 82nd Division now attacked south along the coastal plain, while Indian 25th Division, with 3 Commando Brigade under command, made amphibious landings further south to capture the Japanese in a pincer movement. First ashore was No.42 Commando on the south-eastern face of the Myebon Peninsula on January 12, 1945. Over the next few days the commandos and a brigade of 25th Division cleared the peninsula and in doing so denied the Japanese the use of the many waterways along the Arakan coast.

On January 22, 3 Commando Brigade landed on the beaches at Daingbon Chaung led this time by No. 1 Commando. Having secured the beaches they moved inland and became involved in very heavy fighting with the Japanese. The following night a brigade of the 25th Division was landed in support. The fighting around the beachhead involved hand-to-hand fighting as the Japanese realising the danger threw all their available troops into the fight. Allied forces managed to turn the tide of the battle and take the village of Kangaw only on January 29. Meanwhile the forces on the Myebon Peninsula linked up with the 82nd Division fighting its way overland towards Kangaw. Caught between the 82nd and the forces already in Kangaw, the Japanese were forced to scatter leaving behind thousands of dead and most of their heavy equipment.

Following these actions, XV Corps operations were curtailed to release transport aircraft to support Fourteenth Army. With the coastal area secured the Allies were free to build sea-supplied airbases on the two offshore islands, Ramree Island and Cheduba. Cheduba, the smaller of the two islands, had no Japanese garrison, but the clearing of the small but typically tenacious Japanese garrison on Ramree took about six weeks (see Battle of Ramree Island). [William Slim References pages 461,642] [ [http://www.combinedops.com/No%205%20Commando.htm combined operation: No 5 commando] ]

Northern Front

The operations of the American-led Northern Combat Area Command under Lieutenant General Daniel Isom Sultan were limited from late 1944 onwards by the need for Chinese troops on the main front in China. Nevertheless, they resumed their advance against the Japanese Thirty-Third Army.

On the right flank of the command, the British 36th Infantry Division, brought in to replace the Chindits, made contact with the Indian 19th Infantry Division near Indaw on December 10, 1944, and Fourteenth Army and NCAC now had a continuous front. On Sultan's left, the Chinese New First Army (Chinese 14th Division, which returned to China in December, Chinese 30th Division and Chinese 38th Division) advanced from Myitkyina to Bhamo. The Japanese resisted for several weeks, but Bhamo fell on December 15. The Chinese New Sixth Army (Chinese 22nd Division, which returned to China in late December, and Chinese 50th Division) infiltrated through the difficult terrain between these two wings to threaten the Japanese lines of communication. An American force known as the "Mars Brigade" (which had replaced Merrill's Marauders) acted independently, though mainly in support of the New First Army.

Sultan's forces made contact with Chiang's Yunnan armies near Hsipaw on January 21, 1945, and the Ledo road could finally be completed, although by this point in the war its value was uncertain, as it would not now affect the overall military situation in China. To the annoyance of the British and Americans, Chiang ordered Sultan to halt his advance at Lashio, which was captured on March 7. The British and Americans generally refused to understand that Chiang had to balance the needs of China as a whole against fighting the Japanese in a British colony.

By now, the Japanese lines of communication to the Northern front were about to be cut by Fourteenth Army, and they largely abandoned this front. From April 1, NCAC's operations stopped, and its units returned to China. 36th Division was withdrawn to India. A US-led guerrilla force, OSS Detachment 101, took over the military responsibilities of NCAC, while British civil affairs and other units (such as CAS(B)) stepped in to take over its other responsibilities. Northern Burma was partitioned into Line-of-Communication areas by the military authorities.

Central Front

The British Fourteenth Army under Lieutenant General William Slim made the main thrust into central Burma. It had Indian IV Corps under Lieutenant General Frank Messervy and Indian XXXIII Corps under Lieutenant General Montagu Stopford under its command, with six infantry divisions, two armoured brigades and three independent infantry brigades. Logistics were the primary problem the advance faced. A carefully designed system involving large amounts of supply by air was introduced as well as endless construction projects designed to improve the land route from India into Burma.

When it was realised that the Japanese had fallen back behind the Irrawaddy River, the plan was hastily changed. Initially both corps had been attacking into the Shwebo Plain between the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers. Now, only XXXIII Corps would continue this attack, while IV Corps changed its axis of advance to the Gangaw Valley west of the Chindwin, aiming to cross the Irrawaddy close to Pakokku and then capture the main Japanese line of communication centre of Meiktila. Diversionary measures (such as dummy radio traffic) would persuade the Japanese that both corps were still aimed at Mandalay.

The new plan was completely successful. Allied air superiority and the thin Japanese presence on the ground meant that the Japanese were unaware of the strength of the force moving on Pakokku. During January and February, XXXIII Corps seized crossings over the Irrawaddy River near Mandalay. There was heavy fighting, which attracted Japanese reserves and fixed their attention. Late in February, 7th Indian Infantry Division, leading IV Corps, seized crossings at Nyaungu, near Pakokku. Indian 17th Division and 255th Indian Armoured brigade followed them across and struck for Meiktila.

Central Burma in the dry season is an open plain with sandy soil. The Indian 17th Division (which was now mechanized) and the armoured brigade could move rapidly and unhindered in this open terrain, apparently taking the staffs at the various Japanese headquarters by surprise with this blitzkrieg manoeuvre. They struck Meiktila on March 1, and captured it in four days, despite resistance to the last man. In an often-recounted incident, some Japanese soldiers crouched in trenches with aircraft bombs, with orders to detonate them when an enemy tank loomed over the trench.

The Japanese tried first to relieve the garrison at Meiktila, and then to recapture the town and destroy Indian 17th Division. Although a total of eight Japanese regiments were eventually involved, they were mostly weak in numbers and drawn from five separate divisions, so their efforts were not coordinated. The Japanese Thirty-Third Army HQ was assigned to take command in this vital sector, but was unable to establish proper control. The Indian 17th Division had been reinforced by two infantry brigades landed by air. British tanks and infantry continually sallied out of Meiktila to break up Japanese concentrations. By the end of the month the Japanese had suffered heavy casualties and lost most of their artillery, their chief anti-tank weapon. They broke off the attack and retreated to Pyawbwe.

While the Japanese were distracted by events at Meiktila, XXXIII Corps had renewed its attack on Mandalay. It fell to Indian 19th Division on March 20, though the Japanese held the former citadel which the British called Fort Dufferin for another week. The battle was extremely costly in that much of the historically and culturally significant portions of Mandalay, including the old royal palace, were burned to the ground. A great deal was lost by the Japanese choice to make a last stand in the city itself. With the fall of Mandalay (and of Maymyo to its east), communications to the Japanese front in the north of Burma were cut, and the road link between India and China could finally be completed though far too late to matter much. The Japanese Fifteenth Army was reduced to small detachments and parties of stragglers making their way east into the Shan States.

Race for Rangoon

Though the Allied force had advanced successfully into central Burma, from a supply point of view the capture of the port of Rangoon before the monsoon was critically important. The overland route from India, while it was able to sustain the dry-season offensive, would not be able to fully meet the needs of the large army force and (as importantly) the food needs of the civilian population in the areas captured.

XXXIII Corps mounted Fourteenth Army's secondary drive down the Irrawaddy River valley, against stiff resistance from the Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army. IV Corps made the main attack, down the "Railway Valley", which was also followed by the Sittang River. They began by striking at the delaying position held by the remnants of Japanese Thirty-Third Army at Pyawbwe. The Indian 17th Division and 255th Armoured Brigade were initially halted by a strong defensive position behind a dry chaung, but a flanking move by tanks and mechanized infantry struck the Japanese from the rear and shattered them.

From this point, the advance down the main road to Rangoon faced little organised opposition. At Pyinmana, the town and the bridge were seized before the Japanese could organise their defence. Japanese Thirty-Third Army HQ was attacked here, and although Lieutenant-General Honda and his staff escaped, they had little means of controlling the remnants of their formations.

The Japanese Fifteenth Army had reorganised in the Shan States and were reinforced by the Japanese 56th Division. They were ordered to move to Toungoo to block the road to Rangoon, but a general uprising by Karen forces who had been organised and equipped by Force 136, delayed them long enough for the Indian 5th Infantry Division, now leading IV Corps, to reach the town first. The Indian 19th Division followed up the lead units of IV Corps and drove the Japanese back from Toungoo towards Mawchi to the east.

The Indian 17th Division resumed the lead of the advance, and met Japanese rearguards north of Pegu, convert|40|mi|km north of Rangoon, on April 25. Kimura had formed the various service troops, naval personnel and even Japanese civilians in Rangoon into the Japanese 105 Independent Mixed Brigade. This scratch formation used buried aircraft bombs, anti-aircraft guns and suicide attacks with pole charges to delay the British advance. They held the British off until April 30 and covered the evacuation of the Rangoon area.

Operation Dracula

The original conception of the plan to re-take Burma had seen XV Corps making an amphibious assault on Rangoon well before Fourteenth Army reached the capital, in order to ease supply problems. Lack of resources meant that Operation Dracula did not take place in its original form.

Slim feared that the Japanese would defend Rangoon to the last man through the monsoon, which would put Fourteenth Army in a disastrous supply situation. His lines of communication by land were impossibly long, and the troops relied on supplies ferried by aircraft to airfields close behind the leading troops. Heavy rain would make these airfields unusable, and curtail flying. He therefore asked for "Dracula" to be re-mounted at short notice. However, Kimura had ordered Rangoon to be evacuated, starting on April 22. Many troops were evacuated by sea, although British destroyers claimed several ships. Kimura's own HQ and the establishments of Ba Maw and Subhas Bose left by land.

On May 1, a Gurkha parachute battalion was dropped on Elephant Point, and cleared Japanese rearguards (or perhaps merely parties left behind and forgotten) from the mouth of the Rangoon River. The Indian 26th Infantry Division landed the next day as the monsoon began, and took over Rangoon, which had seen an orgy of looting and lawlessness similar to the last days of the British in the city in 1942.

The leading troops of the Indian 17th and 26th divisions met at Hlegu, convert|28|mi|km north of Rangoon, on May 6.

Final operations

Following the capture of Rangoon, a new Twelfth Army headquarters was created from XXXIII Corps HQ to take control of the formations which were to remain in Burma, including IV Corps.

The remnants of the Japanese armies remained in control of Tenasserim province, with the Twenty-Eighth Army which had withdrawn from Arakan and unsuccessfully resisted XXXIII Corps in the Irrawaddy valley, cut off in the Pegu Yomas, a range of low jungle-covered hills between the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers. They planned to break out and rejoin Burma Area Army. To cover this breakout, Kimura ordered Honda's Thirty-Third Army to mount a diversionary offensive across the Sittang, although the entire army could muster the strength of barely a regiment. On July 3, Honda's troops attacked British positions in the "Sittang Bend". On July 10, after a battle for country which was almost entirely under chest-high water, both the Japanese and the Indian 89 Brigade withdrew.

Honda had attacked too early. Sakurai's Twenty-eighth Army was not ready to start the breakout until July 17. The breakout was a disaster. The British had captured the Japanese plans from an officer killed making a final reconnaissance, and had placed ambushes or artillery concentrations on the routes they were to use. Hundreds of men drowned trying to cross the swollen Sittang on improvised bamboo floats and rafts. Burmese guerillas and bandits killed stragglers east of the river. The breakout cost the Japanese nearly 10,000 men, half the strength of Twenty-Eighth Army. British and Indian casualties were minimal.

Fourteenth Army (now under Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey) and XV Corps had returned to India to plan the next stage of the campaign to re-take south east Asia. A new corps, the Indian XXXIV Corps, under Lieutenant-General Ouvry Lindfield Roberts was raised and assigned to Fourteenth Army for further operations.

The next intended operation was to be an amphibious assault on the western side of Malaya codenamed Operation Zipper. The dropping of the atomic bombs forestalled "Zipper", but the operation was undertaken post-war as the quickest way of getting occupation troops into Malaya.



* Allen, Louis "Burma: The Longest War"
* Bayly, Christopher & Harper, Tim. "Forgotten Armies"
* Hickey, Michael. "The Unforgettable Army"
* Hodsun, J.L. "War in the Sun"
* cite book
last = Jackson
first = Ashley
title = The British Empire and the Second World War
publisher = Hambledon Continuum
date = 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
date = 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"
* Sadayoshi Shigematsu " Fighting Around Burma"
* 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.
* 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]

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