The campaign was the longest fought by the British in the Second World War. In December 1941 it began, for the British, with disaster, retreat and irreversible loss of face in front of the subject population. It ended, in August 1945, in triumph with the total defeat of the occupying Japanese army.
Why was the campaign fought? Allied aims were to keep open an overland supply route to the Chinese, thus pinning down a large Japanese army, and to re-conquer a part of the British Empire. However by the time the Burma Road had been reopened and extended the war was nearly over and aircraft had taken over, carrying more supplies over the "Hump" than could be carried by land. Furthermore, once re conquered, Burma soon became independent and within three years had left the British Commonwealth, being the first country to do so.
And yet the campaign was not a failure. It had to be fought to ensure that the Japanese had no opportunity of securing any kind of peace with the United States and her Allies by virtue of possessing a large mainland empire. A Japanese invasion of India was key to achieving such a position and the defence of Burma was key to the defence of India. There can be few who would accept that the displacement of the British Empire by that of the Japanese was in the long term interests of the local populations, especially given that the British had already committed themselves to a process that would, in time, grant independence.
In the end Japan suffered her greatest defeat on land in her history and the chief instrument of that defeat was the Indian Army. Largely officered by Britons but manned by representatives of every race from pre-partition India, the Indian Army had a unique character and in 1945 achieved its finest hour, setting many proud traditions for the current Indian and Pakistani armies. Fighting alongside the Britons, Indians and Gurkhas, there were also East and West Africans, Burmese, Karens and Kachins, Americans and Canadians, and Chinese.
The story of the Burma campaign is multi-facetted. The fighting took place not only in jungle but, in mountains and across the arid Burmese plain, baked as dry as a desert in the summer sun. Men often fought face-to-face and hand-to-hand but the campaign became very much a modern war seeing the airlifting of entire divisions, aerial re-supply, landings by glider, casualty evacuation from small jungle airstrips and the deployment of landing craft in support of sea borne invasions and river patrols.
The country and its climate were the enemy of both sides. Disease and infection could and did decimate armies - tick-borne scrub typhus, malaria, leeches and "jungle ulcers" representing just a few of the medical hazards faced by the combatants. Nor must one forget the monsoon - a period of months when the rain falls in steady sheets day after day, creating conditions where a soldier’s clothing would literally rot off his backs.
March 1944. After docking in Bombay, India, my Father was assigned to No 3 R.F.U. (Refresher Flying Unit) Poona, for 14 days of Jungle Survival Course, plus familiarization to countryside and aircraft type. 8hrs.05 min. on North American Harvard and 2hrs.30min on Hawker Hurricane, which included scramble and interception, low flying and sector recognisance.
April 1944. Joined 152 Hyderabad (F) squadron in Rumkhapalong. Initial flying started with 3 days of familiarization on Spitfire 8.
|Burma and Far East|
|Burma and Far East|