An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
Tanabashi around the back again
March 25. Frisby and his patrol rejoined the Company after stand-down this morning. A very sticky patrol, he says, rather a party. Pte. Downes missing, but otherwise O.K. The medium gunners gave them a very comfortable night and told Frisby they think the infantry are the tops A hectic day, all things cancelled. There was a plan afoot for the Battalion to move on to “Massif” and so from there to liquidate the remaining Japs on the feature. At 0800 hrs. heard much firing and mortaring going on in rear. I put this down to the continuation of 26th Division’s scheme. (26th Division had some fire and movement scheme in rear yesterday!) Shortly after this time Dick gave me a ring to say that the Battalion move and further operation was postponed. This set us thinking that the firing in our rear was a little more than a mere scheme. I went back to Battalion H.Q. to get some information. “D” Company, I learnt from Godfrey, had received orders to move back to Adm. Box; 400 to 500 Japs, it was thought, had got in behind us again in the Wet Valley area and on the features south of the road opposite the Adm. Box area of Ngakyedauk Pass. The 11th Sikhs were engaged with the Japs immediately south of the road. Once again our line of communication is threatened. “D” Company are to come under command of 11th Sikhs occupying one of the hill features south of road.
First “A” Company, then changed to “B” Company as I was on the spot, are to move out as soon as possible to Brigade H.Q. to pick up M.T. and then move to 11th Sikhs. I raced back to the Company to get them packed up at breakneck speed. There was a hell of a lot to pack up, rations in bulk had to be split, second- call kit blankets and so on; these had to be man-handled some distance to the jeep track. Dick rang up again at 0945 hrs. to say that there was no immediate hurry now, as the whole Battalion are to move at 1100 hrs. I saw most of the kit packed up; the Colour-Sergeant again did some mammoth work getting the jeeps back and unloading them to a Company dump at H.Q. and back again to us. Brought the Company round to H.Q. at 1050 hrs., all but 11 Platoon, who for some reason had been atrociously slow. I had to lead the Battalion a very roundabout route to Brigade H.Q., because of enemy intensive shelling on the western route.
It was an incredibly hot day; and at the last minute I had decided to have our blankets carried on our packs. The reason for this was that as mule and M.T. transport would be used for rations, ammunition, etc., it was unlikely that any less important stores would move today. I met the Brigadier on the track, who said that there was now no M.T. for moving the Company on in advance, and he gave me the route to Brigade (the usual route would have been tricky, as it was uncertain, as usual, where the enemy was), which had now moved just north of Point 182. Three minutes after he left, Sergt. Smith (Intelligence Sergeant) came up with a message from H.Q. giving me another route! Anyhow, I followed the Brigadier’s instructions, presumably the latest.
Arrived in the new Brigade H.Q. area. I gathered from the Brigadier that the whole Brigade was moving back to the Adm. Box locality, the Punjabis to move out of F.U.P. first and to attack hill features immediately west of us across the paddy. This means the Japs opposite Adm. Box are faced with the 11th Sikhs on their north and the Punjabis in the south. Queen’s (“B” Company leading) to follow after Punjabis, then to strike north to the Box itself, and wind our way between the battles. (The Gurkhas are not now part of the Brigade; they crossed the Kalapanzin after their relief on “Able” and came under command of the brigade across the river about five days ago.) The amount of transport milling around this valley, including tanks, was enormous. The dust and heat were pretty wicked. I was given an approximate map reference to go to; I was not absolutely certain what features we were on, or the Japs. Brigade H.Q. moved behind the Battalion, and then the A.D.S., behind which I had to have one platoon (12 Platoon). The exit west of this valley was being continuously shelled; the Punjabis moved out of it at about 1340 hrs. and I followed five minutes after they were all clear. In the meantime the tanks had moved out to piquet the flanks of the open paddy, up which we had to move, and keep the enemy’s heads down. The Brigade transport, headed by our carriers, had also started to move out up the track.*(I was later told of the incredible bravery of Cpl. Potter, of the Carrier Platoon. The carriers went back along the track and paved the way for the Brigade’s soft vehicles. Cpl. Potter, in the leading carrier, ran into an ambush. He jumped from the carrier, seizing the Bren gun, charged the post and knocked out all the enemy in it. But in doing this he himself was killed).
When it became my turn to move we were met by a number of wounded coming back who had had direct hits on their vehicles. The enemy, of course, immediately started shelling us as we got into the open, which resulted in some of the troops going to ground. But naturally we had to keep moving; it was just as suicidal to remain on the ground as to move quickly and disperse. So with the first signs of this I immediately pushed the men on again. We could see where the shells were being ranged on us and the tanks in anticipation of our advance, and so I made several detours around the shelled areas. The transport on the tracks, guns of all types from mediums to 3.7’S and their ammunition vehicles, were having a hell of a time. I saw several receive direct hits and others blown over by blast. Throughout this move we came under fairly heavy sniping from light machine guns and rifles at about 600 yards’ range. It was impossible to find out from where came the sniping, as our own troops were engaging the enemy east and west of us as we moved. Tanks were firing repeated long bursts of Browning, and quite frequently we would see their 75 mm. guns fire salvoes, perhaps ten or a dozen in quick succession at forty to fifty yards’ range.
On entering what I later gathered was the Adm. Box area; we were heralded with a shattering din of shell fire only a few yards away. We could not see the gun or guns, and my first impression was that we were being shelled by the Japs who had captured some guns of ours (no one at this time knew exactly the enemy locations), as bits and pieces were flying around us. I halted the Company for a minute to have a look-see. There in front of us, behind some bushes, was a Bofors gun and three British other ranks firing for all they were worth at the Japs on the hill across the road at point-blank range over open sights!
Battalion H.Q. and those behind them, for some reason, had not followed our deviations through the shell fire. They moved over to the left under the lee of the hills. I had done my best to avoid this as there was a sharp battle going on here. By the time the mules had reached this point the enemy had this area well taped with mortar fire, and resulted in a few casualties in rear of Battalion H.Q. and some of the kit on mules being flung around. I gathered that Frisby’s platoon did sterling work carrying casualties and salvaging kit under fire. We arrived in the Adm. area at a few minutes to 1500 hrs., and I personally was dead tired and terribly thirsty; and Frisby’s platoon were just about all in when they arrived at 1630 hrs.
On passing the Bofors gun I realized we were in the Box, and so I laid the Company out, awaiting the C.O.’s arrival to give us our final positions. The Company was finally all in position at 1730 hrs. on the most eastern spur north of the road, “C” Company were above us and to our right, “D” Company on the right, and “A” Company on their right again above Battalion H.Q.; the latter being on the inside of the box. From our position we have a grandstand view of the Japs on the hill opposite us, with the Sikhs clinging on to the spur. Our task is to guard the road and eastern approaches to the box. 10 Platoon’s positions are almost sitting on the road, their position being on a bank fifteen feet high with sheer drops to the road. All guns were beautifully locked in cross-fire.
Managed to get some food down before stand-to. The company of the Punjabis of another brigade, whom we were relieving, moved out after their supper and very kindly gave my H.Q. and myself much of their ration chocolate. This was a great uplift to morale— only I know my craving and capacity for chocolate.
The Japs and our own troops across the road were having a crack every five minutes throughout the night with small arms.
The “SOS” or alarm, should the box be attacked during the night, is two rounds fired by a Bofors in the centre of the box.
March 26. Noisy night; 50 per cent stand-to, as we expected an attack.
1100 hrs., a tank squadron of 25th Dragoons open fire from all angles from fifty yards’ range on feature opposite us. Punjabis go in after fifteen-minute barrage. Great success; all positions taken and 53 dead counted. My view from 11’s Platoon’s position was first class; the Punjabis were crouching a bare fifteen yards from the crest of the hill, which the 75 mm. pounded.
Deacon and 11 Platoon go out on a fighting patrol to Laung Chaung at dusk this evening. Laung Chaung is the area where the old Divisional H.Q. was when the Japs overran it last February. It was thought that the enemy, lacking originality, might adopt the same route to come into our rear again.
“Tiny” Taylor and 10 Platoon go out in morning to Schwechiang, some seven miles north of us, another possible route and assembly area for an attack on the north entrance of the box.
Pte. Downes came back to the Company just after lunch today. We were overjoyed to see him, as we all thought that he had been badly wounded and later had been captured by the enemy. He had been missing since Ian Frisby’s patrol on the night of March 23.
He had apparently jumped to cover in the darkness and fallen down a steep slope, missed the rest of the patrol and lain up in the position until the night of 24th/25th and made his way to the Punjabis of another brigade. The C.O. of that unit had treated him royally and he had been fed in their officers’ mess. Downes was quite dazed and overcome at being back and safe again.
March 27. Comparatively quiet night. Heard this morning that Wet Valley has once again been cleared of Japs.
Deacon came in at 0800 hrs.; nothing to report.
Received wire, reserve ammunition and rations this morning. Most of the reserve ammunition and all our second-call kits and all non-essential stores have had to be left behind in our old position on the 25th, (lack of transport).
A large mixed draft arrived at 1230 hrs. today, forty- nine of them. C.S.M. Hudson and I had a talk to them and put them in the picture.
March 28. Party of Japs came into the Box area and probed the Punjabi and our positions last night. They got no change out of us; they were merely a great nuisance, firing off the whole night from 2000 hrs. to 0400 hrs. this morning. The Punjabis returned the fire most of the night.
“Tiny” and 10 Platoon came in this morning at 0915 hrs. The patrol had arrived in at the Mule Company lines dead tired yesterday evening. Schwechiang was seven miles on the map, but they said that, with all the wandering around in the elephant grass, it was a good twelve miles there and another twelve back over the most shocking country. About a mile from their objective they met a patrol of the Royal Scots Fusiliers of 36th Division, who were on a similar mission from the top of the Mayu. After ten minutes of stalking each other (neither knew of the other’s identity), what might have been an unfortunate incident ended in a cup of tea all round provided by the Jocks. The Mule Company, “Tiny” said, were very hospitable and terribly pleased to see the patrol. I think that they were also more than pleased to know that someone had had a look in their rear. The Mule Company provided blankets, tea all night and cigarettes for them all. 10 Platoon appreciated this very much.
March 30. Frisby went sick with dysentery and was evacuated. He has done very well indeed with us. Excellent with men and first class on patrol.
March 31. C.S.M. Thatcher came in to Company H.Q. from “C” Company tonight, as C.S.M. Hudson goes tomorrow on repatriation. The former takes over as our C.S.M.
April 1. From today, for the duration of our stay in the Box, there are four Battalion patrols day and night, which is so worked out that each company finds one definitely every day, with perhaps another small reconnaissance patrol.
Learnt from Dick over the phone at about 1215 hrs. that all patrols will cease from 0700 hrs. tomorrow. Another move in the air. All sorts of rumours from the chaps again. Is it backwards, or forwards to finish off 162 (“Massif”)? The general opinion and hope is backwards and out of the Arakan!
The situation concerning the Jap encirclement is very rosy. They have been expelled from all features west of the Kalapanzin with very heavy losses. This Jap encirclement is proving another military fiasco for them; the remnants of the last debacle have apparently been sent back again in the form of a punishment in a do-or- die attempt. There are now only a few isolated pockets; the bulk of them, according to “sit. reps.” are stagnating in the near foothills of the Kaladan range, Tanabashi again commanding.
C.O.’s conference at 1700 hrs. The cat’s out of the bag—we are for Assam. In the past few days Mervyn and I had cogitated on the prospects of going up there to help IV Corps to evict the Japs, who recently invaded Manipur and Assam. The news of our being transferred from one front to another surprised the troops, I think, but some of the officers had an idea.
“B” Company had fewer officers than any other company, and so from this evening we get Lieut. Cato from “D” Company.
“INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY* FOR APRIL 1, 1944.
“Own Front .—Two Jap companies have been located in the Taragu area north-east of Taung. They have been comparatively inactive and offensive action is being taken against them. There are indications that Tanabashi may be in the area.
“114th Brigade are pushing slowly forward. They have encountered grenades giving off lachrymatory smoke.
“36th Division. After a tank fired into it, the West Tunnel was occupied. A damaged 150-mm. howitzer and much ammunition were found in it.
“26th Division.—East Tunnel appears strongly held. Much abandoned equipment and ammunition captured in area BM75. Our positions in the hills south of Buthidaung were strongly counter-attacked without success—the Japs sustained heavy casualties. The 300 Japs in Wet Valley have been driven off by infantry and tanks and mines cleared from the road.
“Chin Hills.—Two Jap battalions are astride the Tiddim road and a third battalion is twenty miles north-east of Tiddim.
Imphal. (Manipur front). One Jap battalion attacked the Litan Box sixteen miles north-east of Imphal, gaining some ground.
“Northern Front.—Chinese and U.S. troops, driving south from Sumprabum, have captured Tingpai.”
* In the light of what happened to our Division in the next few days I intended to include this Intelligence Summary in the text of the diary, as I have made no notes or reference to the attempted invasion of India by the Japanese, which was at this date much in full swing. I had not at this date given any real thought to the new flare-up in the north.