Report in SEAC Souvenir Newspaper (Price 1 Anna)
With the end of the Monsoon in 1944 came the long-awaited moment for the British to return in force to Burma, liberate Mandalav, its ancient capital, and link up with the American and Chinese fighting to re-open the Burma Road to China.
To supply the divisions for this great task, the Ye-Shwebo group of airfields was required early. Air dropping alone could not maintain the forces and produce the build-up for the crossing of the Irrawaddy.
The British 2nd Division was given the task of capturing these vital airfields. On 16 December 1944 the 2nd Division moved out of the East African’s Chindwin bridgehead. Their objective to break through the Jap screen, seize the Kabo Weir which controls the irrigation to the fertile Shwebo Plain. before the Jap could demolish it, and to capture the airfields. The keynote was speed, and 2 Div met this demand.
In twenty days the infantry marched 130 miles from the Chindwin to Shwebo. On Christmas Day the Royal Berkshire Regiment forced Wainggyo Gorge. On New Year’s Eve a Flying Column of Royal Welsh Fusiliers, with tanks, captured Kabo Weir intact.
By January 6 Ye-U and its airfields were firmly in our hands. Against desperate Japanese resistance the Mu river was crossed by Dorsets and Camerons aided by tanks waterproofed over-night by the Divisional REME.
On 8 January the first Dakota landed at Ye-U. On 11 January Shwebo fell to the Worcestershire Regiment supported by tanks of the Carabiniers.
For this speedy advance credit to the Royal Engineers. One hundred and eighty diversions were made round blown bridges, fifty bridges repaired to take our heavy traffic, five hundred road blocks were cleared and seven light aircraft strips built.
Credit also to the RASC who worked shifts of 72 hours on and 12 hours off to supply what the air could not. Credit to the REME and Provost who kept the roads clear and vehicles running, and to the RAOC who satisfied every demand for stores, spares and c1othing.
In record time, by team work of the highest order, the 2nd Division had set the stage for the capture of Mandalay. The 33 Ind Corps plan to capture Mandalay was now becoming clear on the maps. 20 Ind Div was to come in as a right hook from the West, to cross the Irrawaddy between the Mu and the Chindwin.
19 Ind Div was the left hook, to link up on the East with 36 Div - from NCAC- cross the Irrawaddy at Singu, and move on Mandalay from the North. The British 2nd Division in the centre was to contain the enemy in the Sataing Hills sector and to prepare to cross the Irrawaddy to drive on Mandalay from the West; Commander 33 Ind Corps was to control the timing of this crossing, which was to prove a decisive factor in the battle of Mandalay.
As a deception plan the 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment fooled the Japs into the belief that an armoured brigade was preparing to attach Sagaing while the 4th Infantry Brigade inflected server reverses on the Japs with the Royal Norfolks at Saue, the Lancashire Fusiliers at Kyaukse and the Royal Scots at Ywaithitgyi, aid and abetted by the Gordon Highlanders.
Thus the Japanese, expecting an attack on Sagaing, kept large numbers of troops and guns on the wrong side of the Irrawaddy - for them - while the British 2nd and 20th Indian Divisions were really preparing to cross the Irrawaddy between Ngazun and Myinmu and to advance on Mandalay front the West, cutting off all escape to the South.
On 25 February, 2nd Div crossed the Irrawaddy with men of the Cameron Highlanders, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Worcesters, - and Manchesters in the lead. The crossing was opposed. many boats were sunk, but thanks to the determination of the infantry and the outstanding efforts of RASC drivers with DUKWS and home-made rafts, and to the Royal Engineers who made entrances and exits to and from the river banks and built and operated the heavy rafts the bridgehead was made good.
Within 24 hours the 5th and 6th Infantry Brigades were over complete and one troop of tanks. Within 48 hours 4th Infantry Brigade were also in action on the East bank and a complete squadron of the Carabiniers.
Though the British 2nd and the 20th Indian Divisions were faced by the greatest concentration of Jap artillery so far met in this theatre, it was made ineffective by the splendid work of the Royal Artillery Regiments and the co-operation of the RAF and USAAF. Doctors and men of the RAMC, helped by L 5 pilots, worked all hours to ensure that wounded were back in a comfortable hospital under care of surgeons and nurses within 4 hours.
With the Japanese pulling troops from the North to meet new threats from West and South the race quickened towards Mandalay so fast that it now fell to the British 2nd and 20th Indian Divisions not to capture Mandalay, but to seal all escape routes to the West and South and so combine with 19 led Div to destroy the Japanese forces trapped in the Sagaing - Mandalay area.
In a matter of days 5th Infantry Brigade captured Ava the South end of Ava Bridge and Amarapura, and made contact with 19th Ind. Div at the Police Station in the centre of Mandalay. 6th infantry Brigade bypassed Tada-U and with the Durham Light infantry captured Paleik, cutting the last main road and rail link between Mandalay and the South, while 4th Infantry Brigade crossed the Myitnge River to capture the main rail workshops and depots of North Burma.
So ended Act II of the liberation of Burma. In 110 days, 2 Div killed 1,112 counted Japs, took 67 prisoners and captured or destroyed 38 guns.
For the British 2nd Division it was a fitting culmination of a hard years fighting begun at Kohima in April 1944. They had halted the Jan at the Gates of India. They had chased him back into the wild hills to the Chindwin via Ukhrul. They were the first to cross the Burma border at Taniu. They hunted the Jap from the Chindwin to the Irrawaddy. They were in at the kill at Mandalay and blocked the exits by which the Jap had hoped to extricate remnants of his once proud army.