An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
Back into the Fire
May 5. Held usual parade in the morning, including drill, battle drill done practically over the ground, map reading and a lecture by C.S.M. Thatcher on waterman- ship, knots and lashings. “B” Company were to see the Battalion concert at 1430 hrs., but suddenly at 1300 hrs. we get a warning order to move at 1430 hrs., and in the meantime had to pack up all our kit.
Then at 1348 hrs. Dick gave it out that the move was postponed to not before first light on May 6. Great relief as we had all looked forward very much to this concert, which is a Godfrey Shaw production.
The concert was on, and we saw it at its original timings. Cpl. Mollett (“D” Company) was excellent; it was his show, and his costermonger’s act was a great success. Godfrey and John Scott, in their dialogue taking off two old Colonels—or perhaps they were Generals ?—were really first class. Their intonation grand, John Scott complete with monocle. The whole show was exceptionally good, especially as the players had only about a week in which to get together.
The evening was spent in the final packing of kit. The hurricane lamps that were collected, as usual, presented difficulties. Sear stowed mine away with the Officers’ Mess kit, probably never to be seen again! I packed up the chess set myself and stowed it in a yakdan that was going to the Battalion dump in the morning. In bed by 2030 hrs.
May 6. Left Dimapur by M.T. convoy at 0630 hrs. in pouring rain, which continued nearly all day.
At about Mile 28 there is a sign saying that we are in view of the enemy, and from there on the convoy had to keep well dispersed. As we neared Kohima, from Mile 36 onwards we received many different orders about debussing, marching and carrying kit, undoing blanket rolls and carrying them ourselves. I received three orders in as many minutes, so I told the Company to do nothing until I found out. I commandeered the A.P.M.’s jeep and went on ahead to see the C.O. But I drew a blank, as he had gone up well ahead; after some quarter of an hour’s searching I met the Brigadier and asked him. He was naturally rather upset that there should be so many different orders. However, he gave me the debussing point, which was the most important thing. Returned to the Company and on my way back noticed H.Q. Company unrolling their kit; I told them to finish it off as the convoy was moving on. The noise of battle was becoming louder as we neared Kohima at about 1115 hrs. The D.P. (Debussing point). was just beyond Lancaster Gate, which is at Mile 42.
A quick debussing, and then followed a long and terrible climb, carrying blanket rolls and monsoon capes in the rain, with two days’ rations in the pack as well as full-scale ammunition. Had a long rest at about 1400 hrs, when Mervyn and I chatted about the morrow. We had by now gathered we were in for an attack tomorrow, morning.
“Tiny” Taylor (who had gone on ahead) put the Company into its area and the C.O. called for company commanders. We went forward to a vantage point. The Battalion was to attack two features at 1030 hrs, “Pimple” and “Jail Hill.” These two features commanded the road at about Mile 47; the latter objective had so far proved a big thorn in the side of 2nd Division’s advance. The C.O. planned to attack “Pimple” with one company (“C” Company); “D” Company, thickened up by “A” Company, were to attack ‘Jail’; and “B” Company were to be in reserve. This is the first time that I can remember that “B” Company were held in reserve for any show. Again it poured with rain all night and I got little sleep.
Click to view zoomable image
May 7. It rained very heavily during the early morning and did not stop until about 0930 hrs.
After standing down the C.O. saw all company commanders at 0600 hrs. at Command Post, where we all once more acquainted ourselves with the feature to be attacked and the surrounding country. It was difficult to see much through the mist and pouring rain.
The Battalion left its present area at 0930 hrs., and filed along the track in the order “C,”“D,”“A” and “B” Companies, Battalion H.Q. moving in front of “B.” I moved with the Battalion “0” group in Tactical H.Q. behind “C” Company. At 1000 hrs. we learnt that the attack was put off until 1130 hrs. From the noise of battle going on over to the right we conjectured that ?th Brigade had not succeeded in clearing G.P.T. (General Purpose Transport.) ridge as yet. This unhealthy news was later confirmed.
At 1130 hrs., after a twenty-minute bombardment, “C” Company went in, followed closely by “D” Company, who passed by them on their left. Whilst they passed through, the artillery and mortars lifted on to “Jail Hill.” Just previous to the bombardment on “Jail,” we noticed from our present command post a smoke screen put down by the Japs immediately in front of the crest of the hill. When “C” Company sent back the message that “Pimple” was theirs, the rest of the Battalion closed up on them. “A” Company were dispatched some ten minutes after “D” Company moved, and were taking cover in the sides of the track as Company pushed slowly forward. Battalion H.Q. moved to the area of “Pimple” and Tactical H.Q. went to the crest of the forward slopes of the “Pimple” feature. “C” Company had gained their objective unopposed, but were subjected to heavy sniping from the G.P.T. ridge. By the time we arrived George Rothery, “C” Company commander, had been wounded in the head, but continued to command with great gallantry.* (It was not until three days later that he was evacuated, and then only on direct orders from the Colonel. George received a very well earned MC.) John Smyth broke this disquieting news to us when we arrived.
Very shortly after, John himself was killed whilst taking on some enemy who were causing casualties in his platoon. This was a tragedy; he was very young and had proved a very gallant leader in the Arakan during the Adm. Box days. There he used to rally his men during a set-to with his hunting-horn. He still carried this horn, tucked in his shirt, up to the time of his death.
I learnt later today of the gallant effort his batman, Pte. Collyer, made in trying to drag John up the slope away from the enemy after he had been hit. No bat- man’s devotion to his officer was more apparent than John’s.
By 1140 hrs. the concentrations on “Jail Hill” had lifted and “D” Company had begun their climb up the spur just this side of the road. As the haze and smoke of the bombardment lifted they soon came under very heavy cross-fire from D.I.S. (Detail Issue Stores) and F.S.D. (Field Supply Depot). ridges and from the right by machine guns firing straight down the road. Through my glasses I could see what a terrible time they were having; they were getting casualties before they crossed the road. Then they moved up the hill itself, one platoon to the right and one up the left. Over the wireless set the C.O. gave the O.K. to “A” Company to go.
Whilst this struggle was going on for “Jail Hill,” things were happening around us. “Pimple,” the small track and the area around us were being shelled and very heavily sniped by light machine guns and rifles. We had previously thought ourselves defiladed, but soon alter the shelling on “Jail” lifted this impression quickly evaporated. Bullets whipped into the bashas*( Bamboo huts, used in the construction of villages in Burma and Assam). and on to the small tracks on the hill, knocking men down as they scrambled up the bank for further cover. Battalion H.Q. moved back some 150 yards to behind the next hillock. It was better here, but any movement brought with it Jap automatic fire. The C.O. decided on this area as the best of many unhealthy spots. Movement along the track which came out on to the main road was suicidal; the Japs had a perfect line on the bends of the track as it rounded two small spurs.
By 1330 hrs. it was becoming clear that “D” and “A” Companies were having a very rough time. “A” Company were pinned about a quarter way up the slope, and “D” Company had about ten men only on the objective. Casualties were mounting. I had to dispatch about twenty men at 1230 hrs. to get “D” Company’s casualties back. “D” Company asked for more men and stretchers and some smoke to cover the evacuation. The C.O. had been wondering whether he would send “B” Company out to “Jail Hill”; he came to the decision that he would not, as we were all he had left, and most of the Company were already committed bringing back casualties. He decided to utilize the whole Company on this job, and at 1400 hrs., without consulting higher authority, he gave the order to “D” and “A” Companies to withdraw. This order was later okayed by the Brigadier and Divisional Commanders. (We were now under command of the 2nd Division, commanded by General Grover). As things were, it would have been a sheer waste of life to go on with the task and remain on the objective, and as the Battalion’s flanks—G.P.T. to the right and D.I.S. to the left—were not in the least secured; tanks could not be used by reason of the weather, and the road blocks were still in Japanese hands.
Getting in the casualties was a ghastly job; most of the routes back were under long-range small-arms and artillery fire. The R.A.P. and A.D.S. moved farther forward to help; the “Doc” and his chaps did Herculean work. The “B” Company men were no less magnificent; some of them made four or five journeys through this hell. Battalion H.Q. had suffered a dozen casualties. After “D” and “A” Companies had passed through on their withdrawal I remained behind with 11 Platoon to see that “C” Company were all right, in case they suffered casualties in their withdrawal. Arrived back at the Battalion’s original harbour at 1700 hrs.
Amongst those already mentioned, Tony Hobrow,*( Tony received the Military Cross for his great part in “D” Company’s attack and withdrawal). Annett and Kirby, all of “D” Company, were wounded.
In the evening a fair-sized battle was developing above our Company position. The overs came our way, including much tracer. With this noise, and lying in the rain, sleeping was not easy
May 8. The C.O. went round to all companies in turn today and gave us a short talk on yesterday’s battle. He came to us at 1500 hrs. He impressed on us that yesterday was by no means a failure, and that he himself had taken the law into his own hands and ordered the withdrawal. The situation was such that it would have been a mere waste of man power to remain in the position with our flanks unprotected. Actually, he said, it was a glorious effort on the part of the Battalion; it had captured its objectives in the face of untold difficulties. The Divisional Commander (2nd Division) had told him that it was the most gallant and determined effort ever seen by him. And although we never went into the assault, “B” Company had ploughed gallantly backwards and forwards under intense fire whilst evacuating casualties, with the result that every man of the Battalion had been accounted for. A Jap patrol infiltrated above us between the Assam Rifles and a company of the Gurkhas. A fairly heavy exchange of shots began at 1600 hrs. and continued throughout the night, as our troops endeavoured to counter-attack them away from the area where “B” Company was positioned. We collected much of the over’s.
I am past mere tiredness this evening. Tonight I feel I shall sleep on indefinitely, come rain, come bullets.
May 9. A good night and a restful day. Company now completely wired in. We had plenty of sunshine today for a change, which gave us an opportunity to wash and dry our kit.
The C.O. gave us a warning order before lunch for the Battalion to attack “Jail Hill” again, combined with an assault by the Punjabis on D.I.S. ridge. These attacks will probably take place on the morning of the 11th.
May 10. Yesterday we had an outline of tomorrow’s battle. Today we were given the operation order; the Colonel had an “O” Group at 1100 hrs. Before giving the orders, the CO. stressed that our attack was part of a Divisional operation which affected future planning; and that naturally a hitch by anyone taking part might affect other units, if not the whole plan. It was most important, he said, that every man should know this. A confirmation of the verbal orders followed, but I will record here the more relevant notes made during the conference.
It was the Divisional intention to clear the Kohima central ridge (which is a series of hills commanding the main road and junctions in Kohima to Imphal)—”Jail Hill,” D.I.S., and F.S.D. Hill.
.th Brigade to clear G.P.T. ridge after dark today.
.th Brigade (Royal Berks) to attack F.S.D. (to same• timings as our Brigade’s attack).
Six-pounder anti-tank guns to blast bunkers this afternoon and, if necessary, if we are held up tomorrow. Our Brigade Intention.—To capture and consolidate
“Pimple,” Jail Hill” and D.I.S. in three phases:—
Phase 1st/1st Punjabis (under command from 5th Division) to infiltrate on to “Pimple” after dark this evening.
Phase II: Queen’s and 15th Punjabis to move out to F.U.P. and be there by 0300 hrs. and be on start line fifty yards below road by 0440 hrs.
Phase III: 0440 hrs. Preliminary bombardment and assault, Queen’s “Jail Hill,” excluding cutting, Punjabis including cutting, and D.I.S., at 0500 hrs.
Battalion Intention.—To capture and consolidate “Jail Hill.”
Two companies up:
Forward companies—”B” left and “C” right. Reserve companies—”D” left and “A” right.
To edge forward under barrage and go up at all speed when it lifted.
I have to liaise with Punjabis’ right-hand company, who will be on my left at the start line.
Exploit forward far enough to prevent sniping.
“H” hour is 0440 hrs.
H to H+ 10 on ”Jail,” D.I.S. and “Jail” road cutting. H+10 to H+14, pause (encourage enemy to reoccupy position).
H+ 14 to H+20. Same targets.
H+20. By observation.
H to H+9 (24 3-in. Ms.).
H+9 to H+14, pause.
H+14 to H+20.
Same targets as above artillery.
Divisional M.Gs. (one platoon Manchester’s). Same timings.
Same targets and to neutralize down road to south.
Coming from Mile 45, and will fire on west slopes of “Jail Hill” only if held up and when they are asked for.
Three troops will go round reverse of D.I.S. and “Jail.”
I.E.: Two bunker destroying parties (i officer and 7 Indian other ranks), one with each forward company.
Deception: The Punjabis’ attack on to “Pimple,” Brigade’s attack and clearing of G.P.T. ridge, all on right flank.
Rations: One day’s light scale on the man.
Water: Four full pakhals taken down to company dumps at 1800 hrs. Strict water discipline as regards water bottles on 11th.
Blankets and ground-sheets rolled into mule loads and labelled by platoons on to dump by 1800 hrs.
Packs, with monsoon capes, taken to start line and left there during the assault.
Tools: Carried and dumped with packs.
Ammunition: An extra five rounds of tracer carried by all men to indicate targets to tanks.
Rum: Carry rum issue to F.U.P.
R.A.P.: On track between “Pimple” and main road. Evacuate by stretcher or jeep ambulance to A.D.S.
Battalion H.Q. on forward slope of Congress Hill (south-west of main road).
Company H.Q. behind 10 and 11 Platoons when attacking hill.
Company Tactical H.Q. level and between 10 and 11 Platoons when attacking hill.
R:T. until capture and then L.T. as soon after as possible.
Wireless silence until “H” hour.
Synchronize watches at 19 hrs., B.B.C. time.
The above was the gist of the orders I gave out to my “O” group at 1400 hrs., after a reconnaissance of position from high ground (some 2,000 yards from objective). In addition, the following was briefly my plan:—
11 Platoon forward right, myself and Tactical H.Q. in centre (to include F.O.O. and party some twenty yards in rear, runner and batman only) and 10 Platoon up on left, 12 Platoon in the centre some forty yards in rear. The two forward platoons to move extended with two sections up, except the rear platoon. On nearing the crest, ii Platoon were to go straight over and take on the bunkers on the crest of the hill, and those beyond as far as they could. 10 Platoon were to move off to the left just before the crest and swoop down from the high ground on to the “Jail” spur and deal with any enemy bunkers in the jail building area. 12 Platoon would be held in readiness and would be most likely to be used on the right to deal with any further bunkers on the reverse slope whilst 11 Platoon contained the enemy; 11 Platoon would also, of course, keep the enemy occupied and protect 10 Platoon’s flank whilst they moved over and down to the left.
After giving out orders I went over to the Punjabis and liaised with their right-hand company commander (Johnson).*( Killed in the assault on the 11th). After this, I was asked in to tea to their mess. Later, Brigadier Loftus Tottenham came in. All were in good form and wished me the best of luck, as also did I when I left. I got back as far as the A.D.S. where I met “Tiny,” and he broke some dreadful news to me. The Company had just been shelled during my absence and we had suffered eleven casualties, which included Ian Frisby, seriously wounded, and all the N.C.Os. of his platoon (12) killed or wounded—they were having their “O” group ! I visited all the wounded in the A.D.S.; Ian was in a very poor way and was being given plasma, (Ian Frisby was very seriously wounded by this shelling. A man of weaker disposition would have died. I was in hospital later with him, and he can remember (so he told me) an orderly saying candidly, “Gor, he’s a gonner). ! “
Fortunately only three of the eleven were killed. Got back to the Company at 1630 hrs.
The F.O.O. and sapper officers and their parties arrived at about 1730 hrs. I got in a spot of rest between 1630 hrs. and 1930 hrs., when we stood-to. Had supper on standing down (I booked it to be as late as practicable). Had some more tea up for the Company at about 2130 hrs. At 2200 hrs. got the order to move out at 2215 hrs. The order of moving was “C,” “A,” “B” and “D” Companies, then Battalion H.Q. This night approach, in my opinion, was most difficult—very tricky navigation and altogether rather nerve-racking, something I shall never forget. Much checking and halting during the move. At about half-way all us company commanders met and decided that it would be better if the order of march was changed to “B,” “C,” “D,” “A,” as then we would be in the correct order for forming up. I had to navigate the column—in fact, I had to lead it. Very tricky, no defined tracks, thick undergrowth, down hundreds of feet round spurs and up hundreds of feet and across re-entrants, hacking, pushing, stumbling, and through ruined bashas, and so on.
Click to view zoomable image
May 11. We eventually got to what I thought was the F.U.P. at about 0315 hrs. (I might mention that only the general direction had been reconnoitred in daylight; it would have been impossible to reconnoitre the route itself because of close enemy observation.) Having got here, I laid the Company out into the assaulting formation, and then went on to do a personal reconnaissance to the main road to check on our position; it was all right, I recognized some tyres on the road which I saw through glasses yesterday. During yesterday evening and early this morning our guns and mortars were harassing the enemy on the three features, and so I was able to check on this fall of metal to get my location. Waiting here was cold, but for the rum.
At 0440 hrs. it was still dark and as silent as a tomb; then whistle, shriek, screech, and everything came down with a rending crash and clatter—machine guns, antitank guns, artillery and mortars—a most impressive noise. The slopes to the left, above and to our right were silhouetted by the explosions in the darkness. We had one or two shorts from something, which landed in the Company, one falling behind us and one in the area, but no one was hurt. The enemy could not have known that this great army of men were assembled some 300 yards away, as we never had any interference from them.
Just on 0500 hrs. we edged forward; as we did so I went over to each platoon and wished them the best of luck, and then the artillery ceased, only machine-gun fire on flanks and some smoke shells bursting on and around the feature, otherwise quiet. (By 0500 hrs. there were the first signs of daylight, the inky blackness was giving way to a grey haze.) Up the spur and across the main road on to the enemy-held feature itself; the enemy put nothing down to stop us until about three- quarters of the way from the top, and then it started. Our speed and formation up the hill was grand and the chaps in terrific form.
The Japs in one bunker on the left, just this side of the crest, beat it and ran back and down the hill to the “Jail” area, and 10 Platoon caught these as they came up on to the top and were about to swing round towards the “Jail.” The left-hand leading section of theirs caught about eight or ten Japs running down, and they gave them everything. Pte. Day just stood up and sprayed them with his Bren gun, and the section all surged on and fired on the move. But this platoon was not doing this without receiving a number of casualties; they were being heavily fired on from bunkers lower down the reverse slope and from the left, which of course were covering the Jap bunkers from which they had ousted the enemy. We were also getting a great deal of interference from the right in the area of 11 Platoon, who were now up against immense difficulties and enemy cross-fire from many and unknown directions. We reached the crest of the hill, where the right-hand platoon first met trouble, at about 0505 hrs.
The time now was about 0600 hrs., up to which lime they had taken one .bunker and driven the Japs out of another small one into the arms of 10 Platoon. But from now on movement forward was a very hard and costly business. 11 Platoon had been very hard hit. They had now lost their platoon commander and sergeant and three other N.C.Os., being now left with a junior lance-corporal. Seeing their predicament, I told them to remain where they were and to hold and contain the enemy, but to ease forward so as to improve their position merely by a few yards of crawling. I got up 12 Platoon (“Tiny” Taylor was commanding in Frisby’s place, and I gave them another N.C.O. from 11 Platoon after the shelling tragedy of yesterday) and put them round the left of 11 Platoon to encircle round to the right, hoping to drive them away and towards “C” Company on our right, and so also to bring fire to bear on the enemy’s flank and right rear. As far as I could see there were anyhow three bunkers directly barring our way, and there were others firing up the hill from about 100 yards distance. Before committing 12 Platoon I had another shot with 11 Platoon, and under cover of grenades and a Bren I took about six men forward so that we were only about eight or ten yards away from about two of their bunkers. This gave us a better position, as it meant we were well forward of the crest of the hill and looked down on the Japs themselves. Around this section I built up the rest of 11 Platoon.
“Tiny’s” platoon did not get very far before they had a number of casualties. They tried worming forward, and that inflicted a number of casualties on the Jap and got on to and in one of the bunkers, but the majority of those that remained in the bunker became casualties from flank light machine guns. As a result of this attack “Tiny” Taylor was wounded in the legs and arms by a grenade and incapacitated, also the N.C.O. I lent him. Cpl. Goodswen was one of those N.C.Os. of 12 Platoon who was wounded yesterday by the shelling (in the leg and arm), but he would not be evacuated, and in this show he was wounded again: I gave the men the order to withdraw from this bunker which was merely a death trap, and take up a position overlooking a Jap position some fifteen yards away.
The general situation up here at about 0830 hrs. was, as far as “B” Company was concerned: 10 Platoon on the left were still down the hill in the “Jail” area, with so far no news of them. Their 2-inch mortar and one section were left on the top, covering them down and also flank protection to us. The other two platoons had one N.C.O. between them and about 50 per cent. casualties each, so I thought it prudent to hold what ground we had with 11 and 12 Platoons and reorganize them as far as possible into one platoon. The ground we were now on was of course decidedly in our favour; we had all the high ground and overlooked the Japs. The other company (“C”) on our right had met with a similar situation, but they had not got the best of the ground. Of course by now daylight was fully established and the sun had been out continuously.
By this time other horrors had become evident. Our position up here was made worse by the fact that enemy bunkers still existed on G.P.T. ridge across the road on our right, and also on D.I.S. Cross-fire from these long- range undetected light machine guns and snipers was also taking a steady toll. Movement on top or anywhere on the flanks, and even down to our rear, was becoming increasingly costly, and the Japs still had a machine gun directed straight down the road firing from the south. Evacuation of casualties and getting up ammunition was, to say the least, very sticky. I went back to Company H.Q. and got on the wireless to the C.O. and put him in the picture, and then saw Godfrey Shaw (O.C. “D” Coy.), who was following up in rear of me. He had virtually only one platoon at his disposal, as the others were being used to hold and cover the main road below us. This platoon he gave to me to be under my command. I intended to get in touch with 10 Platoon and relieve them by putting this platoon of “D” Company’s into the ‘Jail” area and so give me a stronger front with the remnants of 10 Platoon. I also got in touch with Pen Ingham, who was commanding the right-hand platoon of “C” Company, and who was immediately on the right of 11 Platoon. We arranged between us to try and put out the post that lay in between and just in front of “C” and “B” Companies. His platoon was now down to a mere handful of men, and so he was going to make a section up of them, and I got hold of about six men of 11 and 12 Platoons. This post was some twenty-five yards away.
Before all the above troop movements took place I had smoke put down on the flanks of the hill to curb the activities of the Japs on D.I.S. and GP.T. ridge. This had to be done through the Battalion, as my F.O.O. was now no longer operative, his runner and operator had been killed and his set knocked out.
The gist of this local attack on to this position was an assault in line under covering fire. Pen and I started the ball rolling by whistling over some grenades, and then we all ran forward. But the terrain was not easy, there being many shell-holes, horizontal tree stumps and the odd trench to negotiate. As we were going down the slope we caught the full blast of about three light machine guns and rifle fire and, of course, grenades as we tried to negotiate the obstacles. This, I am afraid, resulted in many more men dropping; we were pinned at about ten to fifteen yards away, and there appeared to be only six or seven of us there. Rightly or wrongly— possibly the former, as it turned out later—I halted the assault and we took up positions in the broken ground and just took on the Japs by firing at any that showed themselves. C.S.M. Buchanan, of “C” Company, was on my right. I had seen a Jap aim his rifle and fire, half a second later I fired and got him, I happened to turn my head to the right and the C.S.M. had rolled over—he was shot through the head. What a chap he was, always full of good humour and fun, and I am sure he should not have been where he was.
After this there followed a sniping duel, and then things happened the like of which I had never seen before. It was the nearest approach to a snowball fight that could be imagined. The air became thick with grenades, both theirs and ours, and we were all scurrying about trying to avoid them as they burst. This duel appeared to go on non-stop for an un-reckonable time. We did a fair amount of damage to these little blighters; we saw two creep out of the bunker and make a run for it, they both had their head or arms in bandages, which I reckon were old wounds. Poor old Pen misjudged a grenade and did not crawl away in time, with the result he caught a number of pieces under the heart; he was soon dragged clear, but I regret that he died about half an hour later. I put Pte. Easton( Easton was awarded an immediate Military Medal for his determined personal hold and vigil (with complete disregard for his safety) which lasted for some six hours of daylight). in charge of these men in this area as this bunker was no longer causing us trouble to much extent. This man, who had a Bren, remained in this position coming under mortar and light machine-gun sniping fire for the rest of the day, he himself continually sniping and harassing the enemy. By this section holding this ground it gave us depth.
I went back and had a look at “Tiny” in his shell- hole and gave him several tots of rum out of my flask during the morning until he was evacuated. I managed to see Pen once before he died.
All four company commanders got together in conference just in rear of my H.Q. at about 1030 hrs.; these were very nearly the last words spoken by all of us. A machine gun opened up from our rear and hit a tree stump and a piece of metal in the middle of us, nowhere did it appear to be safe. It was decided that “B” and “C” Companies should hold on and consolidate our present gains, as we were both fairly hard hit and were not even two platoons strong between us. “B” Company were especially weak (10 Platoon had returned and taken up a position on the left face of the perimeter, and the platoon of “D” Company were in the “Jail” area by about 1000 hrs.). Two platoons of “A” Company were to work right round the right flank of “C” Company and try to dislodge the Japs from the ridge running down to the road.
During all this time the stretcher-bearers and C.S.M. Thatcher had been working like blacks. No praise can be too great for these chaps; the stretcher-bearers are always in the thick of it in any battle. Cpl. French was untiring the whole day; he had a charmed life if any of us did. “Tiny” managed to hobble away helped by a “C” Company stretcher bearer; as usual, “Tiny” was an unforgettable sight. He left the hill in his birthday suit complete, with just a torn cardigan, a pair of boots and a watch! *(“Tiny” and I met up again later in hospital. It was about two years later in England before “Tiny” was finally successfully operated upon).
From about 1015 hrs,, and at odd intervals for the rest of the day, there were low sweeping clouds and mist, which of course brought some rain. This was one of the few occasions when we welcomed this thick mist and rain, as it meant we could move round a little without being sniped from behind us. Also we managed to get some of the casualties back. When the sun came out for periods we had a few more casualties, and I regret that John Scott (O.C. “C” Company) was killed outright by a sniper from D.T.S. ridge. For the rest of the day we dug like beavers—everything we could find, plates, mugs, bayonets and entrenching tools—not so much digging as it is normally done, but by making a hole and burrowing and tunnelling ourselves forward below ground level. By the evening we were completely dug in and all section posts linked up. I reorganized the Company on a one-platoon-basis; our total strength at about midday was thirty-odd, not including Company H.Q. During the mist and the smoke that was put down between 1230 and 1400 hrs. all casualties up to date were evacuated less a few walking wounded, who remained up with us until the late afternoon. When circumstances permitted we salvaged what arms and ammunition we could from casualties. (It was impossible and would have been foolhardy to have buried the dead, or even attempted to get them away, as the air was still very full of metal.) I also had water-bottles collected and distributed, as I could foresee we should not be getting any further supplies of food or water up to us. It was out of the question to go down for any and likewise to collect our packs* and monsoon capes; with numbers as they were, I was not prepared to risk any more casualties.
* This was a grave administrative error on my part. Packs had been left on start line immediately below “Jail Hill,” to allow men greater freedom and quicker movement up the steep objective.
At about 1730 hrs. two platoons of the Gurkhas came up. One platoon was to fill the gap between “B” Company’s right and “C” Company’s left, and the other platoon was going to harry the Japs by patrolling after dark. Major McCann commanded them. Mac and I shared the same H.Q. area for tonight, as he had no wireless (he was actually under my command). Heard that Mervyn Mansel (O.C. “A” Company) was very seriously wounded in the stomach by a sniper as he crossed the road from his company to go to Battalion Tactical H.Q. At the first sign of dusk a carrying party from the platoon of “D” Company on the road came up with some ammunition—chiefly grenades, we were very low indeed with grenades; they also brought up some very welcome rum. It had been raining a little more frequently in the late afternoon, and we were consequently soaking wet and were obviously going to be so for the rest of the night; we had no capes and no cardigans.
Our total strength at stand-to (1845 hrs.) was two officers (Jim Cato and I) and 28 other ranks. Of this total of 28 other ranks I had the C.S.M., 1 sergeant, 1 corporal, and 1 Lance-corporal only left. This total did not include the Colour-Sergeant, two cooks and a storeman, who were left with our “B” echelon kit, nor did it include two of the four stretcher-bearers who were down at the R.A.P. during the night. We started the attack with 79 (less the colour party). I should have mentioned earlier that the C.O. got on the wireless to me at about 1700 hrs. to congratulate us on a magnificent show. I passed the message round to all the chaps, which of course gave them terrific heart. In spite of everything their morale was still excellent; they just accepted the difficulties and the casualties and carried on.
We had a 50 per cent. Stand-to all night, but we were virtually all awake. It poured with rain throughout, and it was one of the noisiest nights imaginable. Jap machine guns and our light machine guns were punctuated by grenade and mortar fire. Three of the enemy bunkers were only about ten or fifteen yards away. The grenading was a little unpleasant, as the range was so close they could not help but fall in and around us. We were fortunate in only having three men wounded during the night. The Gurkhas* had a few casualties from grenades, and two men I think killed by automatics. In automatics “B” Company were well up, as we had seven of our nine light machine guns (two smashed up) and at least five tommy-guns distributed around the thirty chaps.
I learned later that the Gurkhas lost the commander of the company that should have come up to fill in the gap. He was killed on the rear slopes of our hill. Their CO. was also killed today, Ivor Hedewake; he was very young and had just taken over.
Somehow the night passed, and it might have been worse but for my small flask of rum which Mac and I pulled at alternately.
May 12. The night was very wet and cold; we shivered like jellies on a piece of barbed wire. Stand- down at 0530 hrs., and passed the rum round. We were thankful for the daylight and later a little spasmodic sun, although it continued to rain intermittently. There was much exchange of shots during the day; the platoon of Gurkhas endeavoured to oust the enemy from one of their strong posts with negative results. There was still intense automatic sniping from the enemy on D.I.S. ridge. I was called in to Battalion Tactical H.Q., and had to dodge much sniping going down the hill and across the road. The task for the Brigade today was naturally to mop up and eliminate the posts on D.I.S. and “Jail.” This was going to be done by tanks in conjunction with the Gurkhas, who were reserve battalion. The tanks could not operate yesterday, owing to road blocks, but these were cleared by the Sappers in the dark this morning. Tanks were going to go through the “Jail Hill”—D.I.S. cutting and blast up the reverse slopes of both features. Other troops of tanks were going to blast up the tough bunker— it might almost be termed a small fortress position—on the south side of “Jail,” and the sniper’s post on G.P.T. ridge.
It was difficult to assess how many bunkers were still left on “Jail”; we knew of four—the strong one on the south side about twenty yards to our half-right, another small one to the north-east fifteen yards down the slope to our front, and another, at least one, about sixty yards to the east which covered both the former. A fourth bunker existed near the road on “C” Company’s side. The tanks were to pound the second and third bunkers mentioned. I was called down to H.Q. to give my views as to how the tanks could work as a result of a message, which was as follows:—
“To: Appt. 6 via 18. *(Appt. 6 meant Adjutant 18 meant “D” Company).
“From: 16 01—12. (16 meant “B” Company).
“Sit. rep. Enemy sniping from D.I.S. flank. Two enemy bunkers still occupied and have automatics. Sniping and grenades have come from these. Apart from this, situation O.K.
“To deal with bunker up here, McCann and I think a tank feasible if it can get up the slope and under cover of smoke. Company strength: 2 and 28. Can smoke be arranged for, rations and water to be sent up.
which I sent at about 0600 hrs. by wireless. McCann and I thought a tank could get up our hill after a little digging out of the bank which led on to the road. However, the Tank chaps thought it better to work from the road, but this meant they could not deal with the first- mentioned bunker as it was defiladed on the left side of the hill. (This is not referred to in message, as I did not know at the time that the third one was still occupied.)
Returned to the Company at about 0930 hrs. I sent Jim Cato down to liaise with the tank troop commander to point out the targets. The bunkers on D.I.S. were to be cleared first by the tanks and mopped up by a company of Gurkhas at about 1500 hrs. The bunkers on our hill were to be pounded at 1530 hrs, and Chris Nixon’s company (of 4th/1st Gurkhas) and one platoon of Mac’s were to deal with the top bunkers. Hamilton’s platoon of “D” Company (under command) from the “Jail” area were to go into and mop up the post north-east of us, which is in the “Jail” area.
The “D” Company platoon at H.Q. brought up some sandwiches and dixies of tea and more rum at 1200 hrs.
It was an amazing sensation as the tanks shelled these bunkers. We all had to lie flat on our stomachs to avoid debris and even the shells and cover themselves, as the positions they pounded were literally only fifteen yards away, but we had no casualties at the end of it. After a quarter of an hour of this the tanks ceased fire— incidentally their 75mm. shells were punctuated with Browning automatics. The tanks were completely successful with the far bunker; the Japs streamed away and were shot up by the Manchester’s’ machine-gun platoon and the tanks’ automatics. The bunker near the road was shot to pieces, and Japs were seen to be blown clean up into the air. Hamilton’s platoon dashed through the “Jail” buildings and old bunkers as soon as all firing ceased, encountered no opposition but long- range sniping from D.I.S. or Treasury Hill (still occupied by Japs)—the bunker position was empty. A strong section of this platoon occupied this area, and the Gurkhas occupied the others. Taking advantage of the remaining Japs’ dilemma, the Gurkhas tried to tackle the big bunker next door to us. Whilst they were doing this, our Company H.Q. had a grandstand view of the Gurkha company tackling the bunker on D.I.S. ridge. So good was it that C.S.M. Thatcher and myself took sniping shots at the Japs who were milling around and much too occupied to notice us. Our position was about 400 yards away and we looked right down on them, and so we were firing well over the heads of our Gurkha friends. Whilst we shot, the Subedar-Major of Mac’s company spotted for us. This was the first time that our ridge was free from sniping from the D.I.S. ridge, and now here we were paying them back. I am afraid the Gurkhas did not manage to clear our large bunker, which appeared to have four automatics; those on D.I.S. appeared to be advancing satisfactorily.
At about 1745 hrs. a draft of ten men, mostly old “B” Company sick and wounded chaps (now fit) arrived at the Company and included two new sergeants, which was very satisfying. They came in the middle of a large shoot-up by Gurkhas and the Japs; this initiated them well, as they were forced to keep on their stomachs and crawl into positions. Tea and stew were sent up at about 1800 hrs.
Although there was a considerable amount of enemy cross-fire today, the sniping was not as heavy as yesterday, and so we managed to slip some men down to fill up water-bottles and collect packs; we tried to work it so that there was a pack between two men, so that the cape and cardigan and balance of the emergency ration could be shared. Altogether we only had one killed and two wounded today. The Japs fired three or four guns, 70 mm. (the flashes of three could be seen by us) from a high ridge just beyond G.P.T. ridge. They fired at a rapid rate for fifteen minutes, firing down over our heads. The shells, fortunately, just cleared our hill and were falling on the road and D.I.S. They began this at 1900 hrs.
Sent out a four-man fighting patrol under L./Cpl. Edmunds to worry and do some damage to the nearest leg of the Jap bunker. They went out at 1945 hrs. and returned at 2130 hrs. They threw many grenades into the post and fired the odd burst of tommy-gun. There was no answering fire from the post, although the Jap had been blazing away early in the evening. By about 0200 hrs. all firing on the feature seemed to have died away.
May 13. Sent out another patrol, this time just before daylight broke; the Gurkhas did the same from their platoon on our right. Patrol reported bunker empty to our front at 0600 hrs. I got a phone message (cable was reeled out to us yesterday at midday) telling me to report to Battalion H.Q. This, again, was to discuss how to deal with the remaining bunker—that is the one opposite the Gurkhas. They were pleased to see me at H.Q., and gave me and my batman a good breakfast, almost real food, a soya link. Whilst I was there it appeared that the hill feature was cleared, as our men and the Gurkhas were walking about all over the hill. This was later confirmed by a phone message. This mission finished, we returned to the hillside. (Battalion H.Q. was about 800 yards as the crow flies.)
Arrived at the Company and found people searching the bunkers. The main bunker position in front of us and the Gurkhas had a central position and four legs from the centre, and could have held about forty to fifty Japs. The central bunker had steel shutters on the inside, which they could close up when grenaded. There was a quantity of kit in and around it: rifles, ammunition, very rusty machine guns, a battered Bren gun, stacks of Jap grenades, and our 36 grenades. Several of the chaps got Jap flags. Jap dead were searched; we only counted ten today, and five Jap diaries were handed to me. The C.O., George Grimston and Dick Kensington, the Adjutant, came up and had a look round the area. An amusing, but very fortunate, incident occurred during their visit: a Jap sniper from somewhere south fired two shots at them, followed by two long bursts; they automatically jumped into the nearest hole. It so happened that the C.O. and Adjutant jumped into the same hole, which turned out to be an old Jap latrine; the mire was made deeper by the past rain. When they eventually came out it was evident that they had been up to their waists. I think the CO. laughed louder than the troops and waved a cheery good-bye-.---from a distance!
During the morning we buried all our dead; most were taken down and all buried in a Battalion site below the road and about 300 yards north-west along it from the forty-seventh milestone. Others had to be buried on the hill. All arms, ammunition and equipment, etc., were salvaged and sent back to the road and were later collected by carriers and taken to the salvage dump- head. Wire came up at about 0930 hrs., and we had wired the whole area in with trip and a single apron by about 1430 hrs., the Company frontage being about 200 yards.
There was little or virtually no firing on the Battalion front today, although snipers were still active from the south in a small way. D.I.S. ridge and F.S.D. were cleared of all Japs, and so there were no headaches from them. There was a considerable battle going on in the Treasury Hill area by our troops and tanks against the Japs ensconced there. It so happened that at about 1300 hrs. I picked up my glasses to have a look at their battle, some 900 yards to the north, then I noticed figures dodging away from the hill and crossing the road; first they came in ones and twos, and then a party of five. They were obviously Japs running away from their position. This was too good to miss. I warned all those of the Company on that face of the perimeter, and we began to snipe. Then more came down the hill, about thirty of them. In the meantime, I did F.O.O. to our mortars and our gunner F.O.O. got the 3.7’s on to them. C.S.M. Thatcher was spotting and indicated the targets to the men—there were about fifteen of us altogether, and included three light machine guns—and gave them the orders to fire. This was terrific fun, real controlled aimed fire at the Japs as they crossed the road and tried to take cover behind bushes, tin huts and bashas. This firing by the men sounded grand. We were getting a great kick out of this; we were really getting something for nothing. The shells and bombs fell very accurately indeed and moved with the enemy as they tried to make a re-entrant, where they would be defiladed from small-arms fire. But the guns and mortars continued to chase them from on dip to another.. All told, about fifty of the enemy crossed our front; it was hard to assess their casualties, as we only actually saw about a dozen appear to be killed, but I am sure the guns and mortars took quite a toll.
The enemy did a little spasmodic shelling on some of our wiring parties in the early afternoon. They shelled and mortared the road below and D.I.S. ridge. I cannot for the life of me imagine why we were not heavily shelled on top of this barren hill. “Jail Hill” had been blasted so much from the air and artillery and tanks that there was not a leaf left on it or a blade of grass. It had, of course, been thick jungle, some of the tree stumps still remained standing. “Jail Hill” was void of any cover except shell-holes; it smelt to high heaven, it was littered with kit; in fact, it was the acme of desolation, as also of course was most of Kohima.
Telephone message from the Battalion in the afternoon to say that we are to be relieved tomorrow at 1000 hrs. No regrets, cheers all round. Quiet night on our front, a little rain in the night, but who cared, we were being relieved and we had our drop of “morale” to keep us warm.
Just a word about the flies. They have been so thick on this now battered, barren and debris-scattered hillside, that complete corpses have been almost buried by them. I, for one, have eaten several of the largest filthy-looking bluebottles, having settled on a bully- beef sandwich between the hand and the mouth. The fly problem at the best of times is bad, but since the 11th they are everywhere, and are now content to sit on the mud-blood hill itself. In contrast to the Arakan, none of us have seen a bird of any description up here.
May 14. Sent out patrols fairly well forward to search the area primarily for Japs, their dead bodies and any kit they may have left behind. They came back with about four more diaries, papers, sketches, etc. They had come across some more arms—some were British—a store of clothing and hundreds of tins of milk, and watches. I sent out a party to gather in as much as possible. I collected a Jap rifle and bayonet off the hill, which I intended to keep not only as a souvenir, but to have cut down and use as a sporting rifle. The Punjabis of another division relieved us; the relief was completed by 1045 hrs., and I came away with the last section.
Whilst we were thinning out, one Jap plane (Zero) came over and dropped a bomb in the area of Divisional H.Q. Ten minutes later about a dozen 97’S and Zero escorts came over and bombed and strafed the rear divisional area. They were successfully driven off by A.A. fire, and were met by Spitfires on their way back. A half an hour of dog fights broke up an otherwise boring morning. -
The Battalion had returned to its original area which it left on the 10th. It was good to be back here. Those that had remained back were glad to see us. The cooks were getting a large meal for us, and the Colour-Sergeant said our second-call kits and change of clothing would probably be up tomorrow, and anyhow, we would get our blankets tonight.