By Capt DW (Joe) Payne, 33rd Anti Tank Regt RA
Sgt. Bill Willingham (OPA), Bdr. Danny Wright (signaller) and I, escorted by Gnrs. Cowan and ‘Yorky’ Woolard, crossed the Irrawaddy in the dark and a rubber boat. Our OP Party - Ack, Signaller and self - reckoned we were the youngest OP Party in Burma (22, 20 and 24). The others were the two toughest members of my troop, suitably built for carrying spare batteries for the 48 set, escorted weaponry and a sense of humour. After landing we camped down for the night. In the morning we were told to follow some telephone lines at the end of which we would find two companies of 3/6 Raj. Rif. on the top of a hill. What nobody knew or had bothered to tell us was that the telephone lines diverged at one point. After trudging for some time in that direction we realised that we were moving along the hillside and not up it and probably Jap-wards. We turned about!
Eventually we located the infantry and introduced ourselves to the Indian 2 i/c of the Raj. Rif. - George by name (surname unknown) - who was the local commander. We were told to dig ourselves a hole. As the ground was solid rock we built ourselves a sangar and roofed it with what little timber was available, which gave us a completely false sense of security. We were asked to register DF on the reverse slope of the hill as close to the wire as possible from the battery’s mortars - all twelve of them - in position on the other side of the river. Fortunately the range was within the scope of Charge 1, so we did not worry about the possibility of short rounds - an unpleasant characteristic of 3” mortar bombs when fired with a secondary propellant. The other Gunner OP’S were from the Mountain Regiment and from the Mediums (Army Troops). Their DF tasks were across the ends of the ridge. On our first night the Japs shelled us with every gun they possessed. I have since read somewhere that this was the biggest concentration of Jap artillery at that time in Burma. I do not know the validity of this, but it certainly felt like it!
That night there were some jitter parties outside the perimeter but no assault. During the following day there was a lot of probing activity by the Japs. In the middle of one of our more hectic mom-ants I received a radio request from my Battery Commander for a report on how many of my men had two pairs of boots. My response was suitably to the point and grossly insubordinate!
That night we were again heavily shelled and this was followed by a full scale ‘Banzai’ attack up our face of the hill. The jawans on that flank, aided by our mortar bombs, eventually put an end to that. The following day is mostly memorable for the supply drop. Our previous considerable experience of obtaining the necessities of life by air was related to carefully demarkated DZ’s. We had no such luxury as a DZ and boxes of grenades and ammunition, barbed wire, food, medical supplies etc were dropped on us — surprisingly there were no casualties. Then, on our third night on Pear Hill, there was a repeat of the previous night’s shelling, followed by another attack up the reverse slope. On this occasion, however, the Japs were in greater numbers and more persistent. They managed to get right up to the wire. George phoned me (surprisingly the lines were still intact) and asked me to bring the DF closer. I pointed out that this would be very hazardous for us, but he decided that this was necessary. Even that did not deter the Japs and I was then asked what more we could do to expel the enemy who were now inside the wire. The only thing that we could do — and did — was to drop the bombs inside the wire. Effectively the mortars were now ranged on their own OP!
Although our 48 set disintegrated when hit by a splinter (from one of our own bombs?), the signaller was unscathed and we borrowed a set from someone on the hill who had a spare.
We subsequently learned that the battery almost ran out of ammunition during this ceaseless engagement and BSM Steve Wells made a hazardous trip in the dark with all the battery’s Jeeps and trailers to obtain fresh supplies. He returned, grossly overloaded, to the Gun Position just in time to keep us going. The Jap attacks for the next several nights were always by the same route, proving that the local Jap commander was not able or allowed to change his tactics.
Water was very scarce, being difficult and dangerous to obtain from the Irrawaddy, so, when our stint came to an end after nine days, we were very smelly members of The Great Unwashed. We were also very weary, having averaged about three hours sleep per night. Postscript: The local Canteen Contractor had a large stock of Grapenuts, of which the battery had acquired a share. I consumed a whole packet of these with tinned milk, had a (canvas) bath and slept for 12 hours. (2447)