Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

British 36th Division

The following is a report about the Division's contribution to the Burma Campaign by S.E.A.C. (South East Asia Command).  It was published in the SEAC Souvenir Newspaper just after the surrender by the Japanese.

 

THE 1944-45 campaign fought by the British 36 Division is yet another illustration of the co-operation of the Allied Forces in South East Asia Command.

 

At times during the past twelve months, General Festing has had under his command British, Indian, American and Chinese troops, all with one task before them - to drive the Japanese out of Northern Burma, so that the Burma Road could be re­opened to take vital supplies so ur­gently needed in China.

 

The terrain of North Burma pre­sented many problems, never studied or even considered in any theatre of war. The most important of these was supply. For nearly twelve months 36th Division has lived entirely on air supply.   Combat Cargo Squa­drons of the USAAF have flown to the battle front every man, every weapon and every piece of equipment. except some heavy vehicles and mules. In many parts roads were almost non-existent. so that only the minimum number of vehicles could be used. Consequently, no reserves could be carried. a fact that was soon accepted by every man, who knew that in spite of the hazards of flying through the worst monsoon, the American pilots would never fail to deliver the goods.

 

The Division first saw action in the Arakan during February, March and April 1944. It was withdrawn to Shillong in May. After a short rest and re-equipping, orders were issued In June that the Division was to join Northern Combat Area Command, un­der the command of General Stilwell. The move was carried out by road and rail to Ledo from where the com­plete division, except its very limited transport, was flown to Myitkyina.

 

The advance down the Railway Corridor began early in August 1944. The monsoon was in full spate, turning the few tracks into quagmires. The only reliable means of communication was the railway itself. This was also the main axis of advance, down which the famous jeep trains were run by Divisional Engineers, but not before they had repaired a large number of bridges; entirely with cap­tured and local material.

 

The Japanese resisted very stubbornly down the whole of the 170-mile corridor, in which many stern battles were fought in torrential, rain and deep mud. Hill 60, Pinbaw, Pinwe and Gyobin  Chaung are names that will 1ive in the memories of the men of 36 Div.  The capture of Katha and Indaw early in December 1944 completed the extermination of the enemy from the Railway Corridor, and brought the Division to the West bank of the Irrawaddy river, which was crossed on a few captured Jap rafts end local craft. The first British troops were across the Irrawaddy.

 

During the latter half of December, the Division, now the furthest British troops from home, was joined by an Indian brigade, which was flown into Mawlu. The advance continued, mopping-up scattered parties of enemy falling back to the River Shweli at Myitson. The fighting for this crossing in January 1945 was bitter.  The  Japanese used flame­-throwers for the first time in this theatre, and more artillery than ever before against this Division.

 

The brunt of the fighting was borne by Indian troops, who engaged the enemy at a few yards range in dense bamboo. Casualties were heavy, but at least 500 dead Japs were counted on the battlefield. 

 

One of the outstanding features of this battle was the supply dropping by 12 Combat Cargo Squadron.

 

Our troops in the very small perimeter across the river were running short of ammunition and food, and as the river crossing was under artillery and small arms fire, everything depended on a “good drop.” Without the accurate dropping and skilful flying of the American pilots throughout this battle. during which they were under continual fire, a withdrawal might have been unavoidable.

 

Mongmit and Mugok were captured after a speedy advance over mountain-country during which many Japanese were killed. After months of living in uninhabited jungle and teak forests, the capture of Mongmit brought our first real contact with civilization, and, a remarkable sight, a tarmac road.

 

On 19 March. Mogok, together with its famous ruby mines was captured, and by the end of the month, lead­ing patrols linked up with the first independent Chinese Regiment on the Burma Road near Kyaukme.

 

Having successfully completed its task in Northern Burma the Division now turned South-West down the Burma Road to march to Maymyo, and come under command of Fourteenth Army. At the same time one brigade was flown from Monglong to Manda­lay to take over garrison duties in the recently captured city.

 

After a short pause in Maymyo, the Division moved to the plains at Meiktila; from here it advanced against stiffening Japanese resistance towards Kalaw. crossing into the Federated Shan States early in May.

 

The 36th Division has completed over ten months of continuous contact with the ‘Japanese. Men have fought and marched the whole way through jungle, swimming chaungs, sweating over mountain tracks and across the desert scrub of the plains. The infantryman has marched over a thousand miles in ten months.

 

British and Indian Engineers have built with wood cut from the jungle over 6,600 feet of bridging, including the longest bridge ever built in this theatre with local material - the 765 foot Mountbatten Bridge over the Shweli at Myitson. British and Indian linemen of the Royal Corps of Signals have laid over 6,000 miles of cable, often operating telephones over distances of 60 miles.

 

The whole campaign fought without any support from carriers, armoured cars, tanks or medium guns, is a fine example of what can be achieved by good British and Indian infantry, supported by Field Artillery.

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
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