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BURMA - The Longest War 1941 - 1945

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BURMA - The Longest War 1941 - 1945

Postby Jehammond » 30 Mar 2005 14:42

Folks,

I have read about everything there is on the war in Burma in WW2. IMHO the best book on the subject is "Burma - The Longest War 1941 - 1945" by Louis Allen. The research is beyond belief, especially tracking down and talking the IAF officer that blew the bridge at Sittang River.

But was it worth retaking Burma from the Japanese? Some believe the British and Indian forces should have just blocked the Japanese from entering India and protected the air route to India or at the most open a road to China from India. Many think that the invasion to retake Burma is on par with Churchills mini-invasions around Greece, the US retaking the Aleution (sp?) Islands near Alaska and the invasion to liberate the Philippines. That they were operations done bravely, etc. but that they should have been bypassed and were not militarily important in relation to the lives lost.

Anyone have an opinion or any comments on the war in Burma in WW2. What many claim is the real "Forgotten War"

Jack E. Hammond

NOTE> Many people refer to the Korean War 1950-53 as the "Forgotten War."

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Postby Guru » 30 Mar 2005 16:21

Britain was then a Colonial Power and the white superiority mindset (it maybe politically incorrect today, but very prevalent and enforced then) possibly did not reconcile to the humiliating rout from Singapore all the way up to the periphery of British India at the hands of an Asian nation.

This defeat did not stay well on the shoulders of the greatest colonial nation either in Europe or anywhere in the world, especially amongst the British colonies in Africa and Asia.

This had and could have serious repercussion in India, which was in the throes of civil movements demanding the independence of India from the British rule. India could not be 'released; since she was the milch cow of the Empire and a mainstay in sustaining the War against the Axis powers.

Therefore, to my mind, it was essential to wrest the glory back from the Japanese all the way back to Singapore.

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Re: BURMA - The Longest War 1941 - 1945

Postby Jagan » 30 Mar 2005 17:10

Jehammond wrote:Folks,
, especially tracking down and talking the IAF officer that blew the bridge at Sittang River.


Jack
thats quite interesting
which IAF pilot is that?

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Re: BURMA - The Longest War 1941 - 1945

Postby daulat » 30 Mar 2005 22:30

Jehammond wrote:Folks,

Some believe the British and Indian forces should have just blocked the Japanese from entering India and protected the air route to India or at the most open a road to China from India.


that would be an American view which saw China as the most strategically important theatre. For the Europeans it was important to retake Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and Indochina since these were there major claims to being global powers. Britain, France and Holland had a lot of economic interests tied up in these territories and certainly for the British, it would have been important to be back in Malaya and Singapore.

You could argue that liberating these areas from Japanese occupation actually greatly helped the war in China since it depleted so many resources from the Japanese military. Also, after Midway one could argue about the strategic importance of the USN/Marine Corps island hopping campaign in the same light.

Was the military impact on the Japanese forces of losing Burma more or less than losing Saipan?

What would be the relative importance of capturing Iwo Jima over Singapore?

Depends on who you are doesn't it?

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Re: BURMA - The Longest War 1941 - 1945

Postby Jehammond » 31 Mar 2005 12:42

Jagan wrote:
Jehammond wrote:Folks,
, especially tracking down and talking the IAF officer that blew the bridge at Sittang River.


Jack
thats quite interesting
which IAF pilot is that?


Dear Member,

It was not a pilot. It was a Lt in the BIA by the name of Bashir Ahmed Khan. The author went to great lengths to find him and his discussions with him he came to the conclusion the order to blow the bridge was the correct. What happened was the bridge was prepared to be blown weeks before and for what ever reason the charges were removed and so the bridge could not be guaranteed to blow at a moments notice if needed.

Jack E. Hammond

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Re: BURMA - The Longest War 1941 - 1945

Postby Jehammond » 31 Mar 2005 12:50

Dear Member,

That is simple. losing Singapore would have hurt Japan. Loosing Saipan doomed Japan. Saipan brought Japan with in range of the B-29 bombers (China was with the extreme range but fuel could not be provided for mass bombing raids).

The US suffered from the same feeling in a way that the British did about Burma and Singapore over the Philippines. But in a different way. The US felt a moral obligation to the Filipino people because they had stuck by the US so strongly in 1941-42 (ie but the US has also promised absolute independence to the Philippines also in 1946). It felt a moral obligation. Many in the US military actually argued against invading the Philippines and instead take Fomosa (Taiwan) stating correctly that with Saipan and Formoso in US control Japan would be totally severed by bombing raids from the rest of Asia, etc. But General MacArthur convinced President Roosevelt that the US had a moral obligation to liberate the Philippines and the result was devestation for the Filipino people especially those of Luzon where the Japanese went on a rampage.

Finally, there was talk in the British general staff with the US to not retake Burma or invade Singapore but to invade the northern part of Sumatra to bring both Singapore and the oil fields within bombing range. With airfields on northern Sumatra the straits would have come under air control, etc.

Jack E. Hammond



daulat wrote:
Jehammond wrote:Folks,

Some believe the British and Indian forces should have just blocked the Japanese from entering India and protected the air route to India or at the most open a road to China from India.


that would be an American view which saw China as the most strategically important theatre. For the Europeans it was important to retake Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and Indochina since these were there major claims to being global powers. Britain, France and Holland had a lot of economic interests tied up in these territories and certainly for the British, it would have been important to be back in Malaya and Singapore.

You could argue that liberating these areas from Japanese occupation actually greatly helped the war in China since it depleted so many resources from the Japanese military. Also, after Midway one could argue about the strategic importance of the USN/Marine Corps island hopping campaign in the same light.

Was the military impact on the Japanese forces of losing Burma more or less than losing Saipan?

What would be the relative importance of capturing Iwo Jima over Singapore?

Depends on who you are doesn't it?

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Postby ASPuar » 31 Mar 2005 13:44

As I had mentioned in a previous thread, my grandfather served in the arakan in 43 I believe. He also operated jointly with the "2000 Indian flotilla" if you have heard of such a force, which served as an amphibian assault units of sorts, as I understand it.

I have heard many a story of gallantry shown by Indian and british officers and men alike from him. It is humbling to imagine service in a war such as the one fought in those jungles.

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Postby daulat » 31 Mar 2005 20:14

Singapore and most of the Burmese cities could have been bombed from India too. not sure that bombing would have dislodged the japanese force from the jungle... it had to be an infantry war

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Postby Jehammond » 01 Apr 2005 07:56

ASPuar wrote:As I had mentioned in a previous thread, my grandfather served in the arakan in 43 I believe. He also operated jointly with the "2000 Indian flotilla" if you have heard of such a force, which served as an amphibian assault units of sorts, as I understand it.

I have heard many a story of gallantry shown by Indian and british officers and men alike from him. It is humbling to imagine service in a war such as the one fought in those jungles.


Dear Member,

The general staffs of both the UK and the US saw India/Burma/China as the backwater of the war against Japan and refused to release hardly any landing craft, etc for that area -- ie the best way to retake Burma was with an amphibious assault on Rangoon, etc. In the last year of the war though the British in India put together and ad hoc amphibious force which was 200 India Flottilla and were planning to use it in 1946 to assault Sinapore.

Jack E. Hammond

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Range of Rangoon and Singapore from India WW2 invasion Plans

Postby Jehammond » 01 Apr 2005 08:08

Dear Member,

Yes when the US supplied B-24s to the RAF most of the Burmese strategic targets came within range, but not Singapore. It was still to far. And it only had to be an infantry war to secure airbases, not to destroy the Japanese ground forces. That was why so many Japanese bases were bypassed and left to die on the vine. That was why most US generals and admirals wanted to invade the Formosa/Taiwan instead of the Philippines as it would require a much smaller force and would have totally isolated Japan with airpower.

Finally, the only Japanese land forces that could not have been bypassed were the ones on Japan.

Jack E. Hammond

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Postby Samir » 01 Apr 2005 08:22

I should probably search the thread on Indian Army history for this, but I'm looking for recommended books on the Indian Army's role in Burma.

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Postby Jehammond » 02 Apr 2005 12:48

Samir wrote:I should probably search the thread on Indian Army history for this, but I'm looking for recommended books on the Indian Army's role in Burma.


The absolute best book on WW2 and the Burma War (including BIA) is "BURMA - The Longest War 1941-45" by Louis Allen. It is over 686 pages. Tons of maps and photos.

Jack E. Hammond

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Postby Johann » 04 Apr 2005 16:51

Dear Mr. Hammond,

I am assuming that the particular operation or period that you are interested in debating is Operation CAPITAL, January-July 1945.

By late 1944 to early 1945 when the final clearances and preparations were taking place it was clear that the Japanese would be defeated, but it really was not at all clear how long it would take, and at what point if any they would surrender.

The landing on the Japanese Home Islands was expected to be incredibly expensive to the Allies - stretching out and tying down as much of the Imperial Japanese Army in defence of various territories was seen as essential to mitigating, or if possible avoiding that cost. Burma, as an integrated allied command and with the presence of Commonwealth and American troops, available airpower and developed logistics was the only place on the Asian mainland where the IJA could be confronted and where Chinese could be persuaded to get serious about fighting the Japanese.

A less pressing but nonetheless real fear was that the Japanese home islands would be conquered at tremendous cost, only to see the Imperial family and the military government flee to the mainland empire - Korea, China, Indochina, Malaya, etc where the Imperial Japanese Army still had several million troops. Not to mention rice, oil, rubber, tin, iron ore, transportation infrastructure etc.

It is important to remember that at the time Soviet participation against the Japanese was a vague promise. The PLA and KMT for the most part conserved supplies and manpower for the coming struggle with each other. There is no evidence that either the combined chiefs of staff, Churchill or Roosevelt were willing to gamble entirely on the success of the handful of atomic bombs they had.

All of that is at the top level. At the same time further down I think that the men who had joined the service before the war, Indian as well as European had a strong desire to decisively erase the stigma of the long retreats and restore theire professional pride by thoroughly and unambiguously trouncing the Japs in the jungles, paddies and rubber plantations. The achievements of the Chindits and the tremendous defence of Kohima and Imphal did not satisfy those desires, but rather whetted their appetite. In a similar but somewhat different vein I think a lot of the wartime Indian volunteers were extremely keen to earn merit for India and their place in it. Meeting and beating the Japanese in battle was a way to force the British (and the rest of the world) to make room for them and their aspirations. I think those combination of factors, under the leadership of figures like Slim explain why morale was what it was despite what were very difficult conditions.

Samir,

All of Louis Allen's books on the Burma war are exhaustive as Mr. Hammond has said. It is particularly interesting because of the light he sheds on the Japanese forces, their situation, commanders, and decisions.

Have you read Slim's memoir 'Defeat into Victory'? It is a classic, perhaps the classic account of Burcorps/14th Indian Army. One of its many virtues is Slim's personal modesty, which was certainly reflected in his command style.

There are also official histories both British and combined India-Pakistan effort! Multiple volumes, very dry as is unavoidable with that kind of thing. Only recommended for the very serious, unless they are lying around.

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Postby daulat » 04 Apr 2005 16:59

Johann - I would even hypothesize that the British command probably thought it important to have a British led Indian army achieve a major stand alone victory to rebuild the foundations of empire and the faith of the army. I am sure that despite the Western Desert and Italy, the bulk of the Indian army were in need of getting a major victory under their belt after the Malayan travesty and the hard slog out of Burma in 42

also, the funding issue is important. would the 14th army and the burma campaign have been paid for out of 'indian' taxes rather than 'british' ones? so was it easier in some respects to commit a large number of men and materials in that theatre as a result

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Postby Johann » 04 Apr 2005 19:47

Daulat,

When it came to SEAC(Mountbatten), by 1944-1945 there was no such thing as a 'the British command'. The chain of command for Slim and and his American and Chinese colleagues did *not* run through the Viceroy/GoI(Wavell) and Commander-in-Chief India(Auchinleck). Mountabatten's priorities in turn were set by the combined chiefs of staff in accord with decisions reached at Allied summits.

What I am trying to get at is that there were many reasons at many levels, and they changed over time.

The original decision was made at the Allied conferences in 1943 to conduct offensive operations in Burma (and establish SEAC), the Ledo road was far from complete, the IJA remained capable of offensive operations in to India, etc. So there were very serious military reasons to go after the Japanese in Burma, at the very least to keep them off balance.

Even in September 1944 (Quebec conference) by which time Japanese forces in Burma were no longer a threat, the Americans remained equally keen on a dry season offensive with the chief operational objective of taking Rangoon, and the strategic objective of reopening the Burma road and increasing supplies (and reducing excuses) for the KMT to fight the Japanese. Let us not forget that if the actual invasion of the Japanese Islands had taken place, only 3 out of 43 divisions would have been Commonwealth (1 each from Britain, Australia and Canada), the rest would have been American, and so would most of the 100-300,000 estimated casualties.

Mountbatten as Supreme Allied Commander was certainly also keen to win laurels for himself, and since he was the only British theatre commander, the PM was certainly willing to back him to earn political capital to spend at the crucial discussions on the post-war architecture discussions at Potsdam and Yalta. Of course there's no doubt that he was also thinking that IA victories would be important in the subcontinent itself, but in many ways those were secondary to the much more fundamental challenges facing Britain - if it held on to India and alienated the US it was likely to lose everything given its fundamental financial and economic weakness at the time. India and the Empire could not finance reconstruction and the normalisation of the British war economy - only the US could do that.

Either way both Britain and the US were keen to tie dow the IJA, inflict defeats upon it and and persuade them if possible that continuing the war was futile.

As for finances the GoI accumulated a sterling balance in the UK for all commodities, goods and services provided for the war effort. Britain also remained responsible for all lend-lease material provided to GoI 'owned' units. So fielding and operating Indian forces in WW II was not exactly 'free' in a financial sense. Given the historical degree of integration - British officers, British battalions in Indian brigades, British brigades in Indian divisions, etc, and traditional parsimony when it came to conserving defence resources it was never possible to treat Indian military units as 'cannon fodder' any more than British units.

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Postby daulat » 04 Apr 2005 19:54

Johann - thanks for the explanations. I wasn't implying canon fodder, merely accounting nicities! :)

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Postby Mandeep » 04 Apr 2005 23:35

AS Puar, I'd sure like to meet your grandfather or recieve his service details and an account of his experiences.

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Postby Mandeep » 04 Apr 2005 23:47

The victory in Burma enabled the British to leave South and Southeast Asia after the war with dignity, pride and honour intact. Unlike their fellow colonists the French and the Dutch.

Would that be a correct analysis, Johann ?

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Postby Samir » 05 Apr 2005 00:48

Thanks for the book leads, Jack and Johann. I'll put them on my wish-list...

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Postby ramana » 05 Apr 2005 01:04

Johann, How much and what happened to the "sterling" balance accumulated by GOI in London during the war years?

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Postby Jagan » 05 Apr 2005 01:10

ramana wrote:Johann, How much and what happened to the "sterling" balance accumulated by GOI in London during the war years?


We spent it buying the Vampires, Hunters and Canberras and Centurion Tanks in the Fifties.

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Postby Johann » 05 Apr 2005 08:21

The victory in Burma enabled the British to leave South and Southeast Asia after the war with dignity, pride and honour intact. Unlike their fellow colonists the French and the Dutch.

Would that be a correct analysis, Johann ?


Mandeep, I have a feeling that with your own vast knowledge of Indian military history this is something of a tongue-in-cheek question :)

If as you say Britain was able to effect a cheaper and less humiliating exit, it was not because of wartime performance, but better post-war judgement. You can compare British choices in Malaya and Burma to those made by the French and Dutch in SE Asia. They recognised that times had changed and that there was no point in attempting to hold on by the fingernails. The age of empire had passed, and Cold War priorities were already beginning to trump any sentimental attachments.

On the other hand there's no question that the career army was proud and delighted to exorcise the defeats of 1942, but that went beyond staying or leaving. Battle honours are battle honours.

Ramana,

I think it was somewhere in the order of a billion pounds in 1947 - I dont remember how much of it was accumulated in the war itself. Post independence it basically allowed India to modernise its forces while keeping current spending low, and without having to seek military aid like Pakistan or other developing countries.

Jagan, dont forget the Vikrant, or indeed other IN vessels!

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A TV series on Burma 1941-42

Postby Jehammond » 05 Apr 2005 12:18

Dear Johann,

First thank you taking the time for such a great reply.

In this country an unknown documentary TV producer with small (very small) funding from GM put together a 10 part mini-series about the American Civil War in 1861-1865. His name was Ken Burns. It was a hit beyond belief. The mini-series was in two hour segements. It was done mainly with quotes from books and black and white still photos.

While I know it is not going to happen I believe a mini-series by Ken Burns on the Burma War 1941-45 would be a hit if by some miricale it was produced. It has so much drama, history, cowardice, bravery, different lands, peoples, politics, etc. All the making but one. Some one who would risk the money to make it.

Jack E. Hammond

PS> One of the main reason would be the defeat in 1941-42. As one writer stated:"The spectacle of defeat is more illuminating and instructive than the sight of victory. Failure is, without question, more fascinating to watch than success. To observe hope and resolution turn into despair, to see order become chaos, to regard collapse and disintegration, all this is awesome, even hypnotic." Martin Blumenson, ARMY March 1980, page 82

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Postby Mandeep » 05 Apr 2005 14:14

Johann that was very much a serious query.

Anyway, I believe that the British through their determined and successful campaign in Burma retrieved much of the lost prestige of the defeats in the earlier Burma and Malayan Campaigns. This allowed them to quit India with their honour intact.

The French and the Dutch on the other hand were not as politically astute. The Dutch in particular sought to use the strength of the other Allies to reclaim their colony in Indonesia. In an instance of appalling bad judgement the British deployed Indian troops to help the Dutch. This led to very strong resentment among the Indian troops deployed. There can be justification for the casualties suffered by them while attempting to re-install a former colonial power.

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Postby Johann » 06 Apr 2005 15:16

Mandeep,

There was resentment and unhappiness among British troops on Java as well, for many of the same reasons as the Indians.

The Javanese youth groups had been trained by the Japanese and there was a really nasty mob fury of the kind seen recently in the anti-Chinese riots. Abduction, mutilation, rape, torture were standard tactics against just about anyone who wasnt Javanese, including Chinese locals and the Japanese. The groups in Surabaya had been armed by the local Japanese commandant and even had artillery. At the same time they were fighting with rearmed Japanese as their comrades!

In short they were fighting a really nasty conflict for no clear reason, and men who had survived the Western Desert and Burmese jungles were dying in fairly horrible ways after the war was over. To make matters worse the Australians refused to participate, or even provide supplies!

At the same time I think the main problem was really an intelligence and even a command failure rather than their mission orders. All Axis controlled territory was to be occupied by Allied troops at the end of the war. XV Corps job in Java and Sumatra was fairly standard - liberate Allied PoWs and civilian internees, disarm Japanese, maintain order, and repatriate all those who wanted or needed to be repatriated. When Allied troops arrived they found that the Javanese were attacking Japanese compounds to take Dutch PoWs and internees prisoner, and to seize Japanese arms. Given that unlike Aung San in Burma none of the Indonesians had fought on the Allied side I think tension was inevitable. Even if the Brits had not been sympathetic to the Dutch the interference with the basic occupation duties of the Allies would have led to serious tension.

Unfortunately Java had been MacArthurs responsibility until the Japanese surrender, and he hated intelligence organisations. There was no knowledge of conditions, and worse, no contact with the local groups. The failure on the Allied side was that they didnt understand how well armed and how fanatic these groups were, or they would have made negotiations between the Dutch and Javanese the first priority. Instead the tension turned in to 2 months of serious combat. Labour's preference had been for a negotiated settlement between the Dutch and Indonesians to sushion the inevitable, and once Commonwealth forces were secure they didnt hesitate to twist the Dutch arms in to signing an agreement before they left - of course the Dutch tore it up after the withdrawal.

The 20th Indian Division in Saigon in the course of its occupation duties suppressed Vietminh attempts to take control, but it wasnt resented by the troops in the same way. For one thing the Vietminh were not as well armed and mobilised as the Javanese so it wasnt intense combat, nor did the Vietminh stoop to the same kind of barabarity, and most of the Vietminh's guerilla actions were aimed at the French rather than Commonwealth troops. Also Vietnamese were not Muslims like the Javanese and so it wasnt as hard on the loyalties of Muslim troops.

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Postby Mandeep » 06 Apr 2005 18:51

Excellent information and analysis, Johann. Thanks a lot.

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The Indian Army in DEI after WW2

Postby Jehammond » 20 Apr 2005 14:03

Dear Johann,

I have read about everything involved with the DEI after WW2. To be honest the Indonesians (ie the Javanese) were lucky the Allies did not make war on them totally. What they did was way beyond the pale: ie not allow the starving and diseased POWs to be released and trying to use them as a bargaining chip.

Finally, most can not accept this. But when the Dutch left, the end of colonial rule of Indonesia did not end. It just got replaced by the white Dutch with the brown skin Javanese. And the worst thing that happened was when the UN forced the Dutch to hand over Dutch New Guinea to the Javanese in the 1960s. What ever is said abou the Dutch behavior in the East Indies in the some 300 years they were there, there rule in DNG was not cruel or exploited those simple people. The Javanese when they came to rule DNG were cruel beyond belief and drove the to revolt.

Jack E. Hammond


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