An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
Forward again, across the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road
March 1. All company commanders met the C.O. at 0600 hrs. to reshuffle the positions. We did not go much on them; they were dirty, lacked trenches, and were too spread out. Returned to the Company and gave them their new positions to which they were to move after breakfast, so we spent the rest of the day digging ourselves in and having a good clean up.
Wet Valley is a filthy place, apart from litter and equipment—of which there is everything from jeeps, bicycles to camp kettles, and maps by the score; it was in this area that the unfortunate Jungle Field Regiment were overrun. Dead Japs, still unburied, and there are many half-buried ones with their feet sticking out. The kite hawks and vultures have been in unbelievable abundance, scores of thousands living off the many unburied and stinking corpses.
Well, this is the first time we have been in a rest position, and behind our own guns, since December 1, 1943. All that is necessary here, is the normal day and night sentries, but there is no patrolling. During the last month we found regularly two patrols a day, above the fighting patrols that went out nearly every other day and the routine ambush patrol that we found alternately with “C” Company. It can be seen that sleep during this time was at a premium, and I myself was on duty as a sentry, O.C. relief’s and officer on duty all combined every night with a very few exceptions. “Tiny” and Ian Frisby have certainly had a far tougher time than I, as they have borne the brunt of the patrolling.
March 2. I like this position, compact, clean, and we have our own Company drinking and washing points okayed by Jack Sumner yesterday. Beautiful clear water straight out of the hillside.
A 2/Lieut. Deacon was posted to the Company this evening. He and four other officers have come to us today straight from Bangalore O.C.T.U.
March 3. General Messervy visited the Battalion at 1000 hrs. and saw all company commanders, C.O., Second-in-Command and Adjutant. He told us how very pleased he was with our work and fully appreciated the hard time we had had. He also promised us one more battle definitely, with possibly two or three more, all according to how things went, he said. You never can tell in war.
March 4. Received a verbal warning order from the C.O. about our next operation, which comes off not before the 6th, and probably on the 7th. This operation is almost identical to an operation that was to have come off in the first week of February. I somehow think we are going to have a short rest
March 5. I went over the plan of the operation with the “O” Group before lunch, and gave them the Adm. orders as far as I could foresee them. Briefly, the operation is to be in five phases: 1st phase, D Day, a brigade to secure Letwedet hill and village, starting at 1930 hrs. and completed by 2200 hrs; 2nd phase, 11th Sikhs assault and capture “Poland” and “Rabbit” features at 2300 hrs., after a huge artillery concentration; 3rd phase, the Punjabis secure Point 142; and 4th phase, the latter assault the north end of “West Finger”—all after another artillery crump. These attacks to go in at 0300 hrs. on D plus one and the features secured by 0500 hrs. Finally, 5th phase: Queen’s to attack and consolidate the feature “Cain” at 0845 hrs. again after an enormous concentration. All the Divisional artillery, including one regiment of mediums, were to be in support.
At 1750 hrs. I received an urgent telephone message from Dick. Brigade had just informed the Battalion that it would be a good thing to send the two leading company commanders in the attack to “Able” tonight, so that we could spend a day of reconnaissance. We were to join the mule convoy that formed up in Brigade H.Q. and left there at 1815 hrs. this evening, M.T. leaving Battalion at 1800 hrs. for Brigade H.Q.
Kingshott and I hurriedly girded our kits up, and I handed over all incriminating and secret documents to “Tiny” before we left.
Godfrey Shaw (“D” Company) and I found the convoy commander—Capt. Chadburn, Q.M. of the Gurkhas’. Chadburn had made these journeys to “Able” almost every other night for the past month, and as a rule the convoy was over 100 mules. The journey went off without incident and we arrived at the 4th/1st Gurkhas’ H.Q. at 2105 hrs. after what I considered to be a rather eerie trek. I cannot understand why the Japs on north “Able” (Gurkhas’ position is “Able,” but at least one company of Japs) have been suing on north of feature for over one month have not ever tried to bust up these convoys, as we have theirs. The escort is a company, and a platoon from one of our Brigade’s battalions goes to Letwedet village; but even so I should have said a convoy going across about three miles of open paddy, and the last half-hour spent winding along tracks in close and hilly country, would have been fairly easy meat.
Saw the C.O. (Colonel Berthon) and Thompson, Adjutant of the Gurkhas, in their command post. They gave us a spot of rum and dug-outs for batmen and ourselves. Beautiful little holes these were, with plenty of straw to lie on. Godfrey and I agreed that somehow the Gurkhas always manage to make themselves more comfortable than British troops, partly, I suppose, due to the fact that this may be more akin to their mode of living than perhaps to our chaps’.
|33 Brigade Astride Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road. March 7, 1944.
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March 6. After breakfast Godfrey and I were taken on a conducted tour round the O.Ps. by Chris Nixen. These Gurkhas must have had a hell of a time. Their whole area had hardly a living tree on it as a result of Japanese shelling. The Jap positions themselves are to the west and north and are barely fifty yards away in some places. They have had to do repeated counterattacks—sometimes as many as six a day; they have had to do these as a result of many orders received to the effect that “Able” must be cleared at all costs by such and such a time! These little Johnnie Gurkhas have built some really first-class communication trenches and dug-outs.
Had a good sleep this afternoon. Tommy realized I had not got a watch for tomorrow’s attack (two of mine have cracked up), and so lent me one of the Battalion’s pocket watches, an exceedingly thoughtful gesture.
March 7. Met the C.O. at 0700 hrs. after standing down. The C.O. outlined the final plan, of which we had previous warning: “D” Company right, “B” Company left; the other companies and Battalion H.Q. were remaining back in “Able, D” Company were to file out round the “Able” feature first, so as to bring them on to the right, then followed closely by us. The enemy strength on “Cain” was thought to be something in the nature of a company. Godfrey was going to go up the centre of the feature and then on to the right spur and high ground, and I was to go on straight up the left spur and on to the dominating high ground to the left of “D” Company.
The artillery concentrations were put down between 0825 hrs. and 0840 hrs. I went round all the men just before we moved out and wished them all the best of luck, and led the Company out from the F.U.P. at 0830 hrs. When we rounded the south-east corner of “Able” I had to hold up whilst “D” Company shook themselves out across the main road (Maungdaw— Buthidaung), and then the artillery ceased firing. The ground in front of us was open paddy to the road some 100 yards away, and just on the far side of the road our objective climbed steeply away to the south, covered in thick jungle with odd bare patches on the top where shell-fire had laid it waste. “D” Company moved on again; when we next moved I pushed 12 Platoon in front of me. Soon after “D” moved, automatic fire opened up from “Cain”; I could not tell where it came from or who it was at. And then, as we moved forward (it had to be in single file), three men of 12 Platoon were hit five yards in front of me, and then I saw the bullets striking the track along which we were moving. I ran up to Frisby, who was next to one of the men hit, and told him to keep the platoon moving as the enemy automatic was still firing at us, and to cut their way through the thick scrub at the foot of “Able.” This took some time, as it was virgin scrub. Had a quick look at the wounded, who appeared all right except for Vincent, who was losing much blood and was very pale. But no time for dallying; ran back and warned the rest of the Company to ease in under the scrub and told 10 Platoon, who were just behind, to open up with their mortar, and in the meantime got on the wireless to H.Q. and said I wanted 25-pounders smoke and H.E. put down whilst we crossed this bit of open ground, and also to give time for 12 Platoon to cut their way in. By now I had more or less fixed the enemy position as being a third of the way up the left spur—my future line of advance. After a minute or so a ranging shell came down and I sent corrections back; it had landed 100 yards plus. After three minutes’ ranging and corrections we had four gun salvoes. It would have been possible to advance whilst the machine gun was firing, but we would only have suffered further unnecessary casualties, as we could not but help pass through the machine gun’s arc, and it was fairly unpleasant waiting for the first salvo of gun fire as the light machine gun was sweeping the track in front. I must say I thought I was damned lucky, for as I jumped over a puddle of water the mud and water churned up beneath my feet
It was unfortunate that one company had to follow the other, as the rear one (that was us) reaped no benefit from the artillery concentration, as we could not follow it up close enough. However, during this 25-pounder shelling we got forward and crossed the road without any further incident. I had decided by now not to go up this left-hand spur, but to by-pass it by going up the re-entrant and up on to the high ground, and so come out behind this piece of opposition.
After winding through scrub and jungle and walking along the chaung-beds up to our thighs in water, I dispatched 12 Platoon off to the left and gave them their objective on the high ground immediately above the located Jap post; they had a precipitous climb. I went with the leading section of 10 Platoon, with the rest of the company following, by the right-hand route up the re-entrant. We got to the summit of the feature after a stiff climb and, surprisingly enough, there were no Japs to be seen or heard. The position was completely deserted; there was plenty of evidence of previous occupation, although most of the trenches had caved in from our own shell fire. Jap grenades were found, and two half-buried Japs were discovered in one of the holes later in the afternoon.
The time was now 1115 hrs.; gave the two platoons their positions—10 Platoon forward and right face, 11 Platoon in reserve in the area of Company H.Q. and left. Immediately on arrival I sent 11 Platoon (Lieut. Deacon) off on a fighting patrol to work round the Company area and contact 12 Platoon, which was over on our left, and from there 12 Platoon was to work down the spur to pin-point and, if possible, to annihilate the Jap post that had originally held us up. Sent wireless message to H.Q. to say all my objectives taken and were consolidating, and told them of my intentions about the Jap post. Shortly after 11 Platoon left a contact reconnaissance patrol arrived at Company H.Q. from 12 Platoon—they were O.K., and were occupying an old Jap position (not a good thing, but in this case it was the best tactical piece of ground).
1200 hrs., message from C.O. to say that “D” Company were in position without opposition and that “C” Company were coming up to relieve them as “D” were going on to occupy another commanding feature some 400 yards in front of my present position. “A” Company were coming up to fill the rest of the spur from my rear to overlooking the road. Battalion H.Q. were going to be tucked in the re-entrant below my H.Q. and 12 Platoon. But before all this happened there was to be a five-minute medium artillery concentration on to “D” Company’s new feature at 1215 hrs. In the meantime all ranks must be warned to keep down during the concentration. After about ten seconds of the concentration it struck me that several were falling short; the earth shook and there was a certain amount of blast. I looked up out of the trench and saw that the shells were falling on and around “D” Company’s next feature all right. A few seconds later—it felt like hours— there was no doubt about it: there were also shells dropping around us. I saw one medium shell burst behind Company H.Q. in 12 Platoon’s direction, and then two landed unmistakably in the Company H.Q. area after I was grounded by the first. I do not know how close, as I was crouching as near the dirt as possible, but all I knew was that my hole was filled in and I was deaf and dazed, except that I managed to scramble out and call into the signallers’ trench and tell them to get on to the Battalion to tell them of the shorts. Within half a minute the shelling ceased. The C.O. told me, on the wireless after it had ceased, that he had seen this from his O.P. and ordered the F.O.O. to cease fire at the same time as he got my message. As a result of the medium’s shelling we had one killed and one wounded in 11 Platoon, one wounded in 12 Platoon, and one signaller seriously wounded in Company H.Q.
“D” Company duly passed through us on to the next position and arrived without any opposition on to their objective. At 1515 hrs. there was considerable firing in the direction where 11 Platoon should be. 1700 hrs., 11 Platoon returned, a little bit shaken. Their platoon commander and three N.C.Os. were all wounded, and Cpl. Naylor was wounded in the leg and was still out there. Apart from being hit elsewhere, every one of the above chaps were hit by bullets in the face, but Cpl. Berry was the only serious case. Deacon had apparently formed a “blitz” party and ran on to this machine gun at twenty yards’ range. Naylor had shouted out that he would crawl out as otherwise he would attract firing. By this time “A” Company were in position and one of their platoons is only a few yards from the Japs; this platoon is to harass the enemy with mortar and sniping throughout the night and “blitz” them at first light tomorrow. One of ”A” Company’s platoon commanders was killed this afternoon whilst on a reconnaissance by himself in the area of this post. This young officer only joined the Battalion from his O.C.T.U. on March 2nd
At 1815 hrs. a dead Jap was brought into the area of my H.Q. A Jap patrol had been playing about in front of “D” Company and walked right on to one of their posts; the post killed one and badly wounded another; the rest of the patrol fled, leaving the casualties. This dead jap began as a live prisoner, but died of his wounds on the way.
A noisy night of artillery exchanges and small arms.
March 8.—There appeared to be a Japanese counterattack last night and this morning on “Poland.” We could hear the Sikhs’ war-cry and the Japs yelling “Banzai !“ The reason for the counter-attack would be to get back two anti-tank guns the Sikhs captured in their attack yesterday.
We had a 50 per cent. stand-to last night. I managed one and a half hours’ sleep. The enemy post on east spur withdrew during the night; this was rather as we suspected, as it was completely surrounded. Cpl. Naylor’s body was found at the foot of the position. It was evident that he had been hit by a grenade in the chest. By this man’s unselfishness in yelling to 11 Platoon not to worry about him, he had perhaps saved the lives of several others, as the noise of scuffling and talking would have doubtless drawn many more grenades.
I buried Pte. West and Cpl. Naylor in the area of 12 Platoon’s position at 1250 hrs. Our total casualties (“B” Company) were 3 killed and wounded yesterday. Pte. Vincent died in the R.A.P. The operation is now complete with the Brigade astride the main Maungdaw Buthidaung road.
March 9. Not so much artillery exchange last night. There was still an odd battle going on to the east of us. “D” Company reported that there were many Japs milling around their positions last night.
The Brigade’s present locations have cut a vital enemy supply link to their east tunnel positions on the road. It is now impossible for the Japanese to supply these positions from Buthidaung along the main road, and neither is it possible from the west from Maungdaw. Their only alternative is by a jungle track running along the chaung-beds and other low country, which will become impassable when the rains start. This track runs from the south of us to the north-west, not far from “D” Company’s position. And I do not envy them this track, as it will almost certainly be threatened by short-range fighting patrols in the near future.
The Japs shelled the road this morning just behind H.Q. between 1030 hrs. and 1115 hrs.
March 10. At 0630 hrs. received a warning order to move at one hour’s notice. Where? Forward to attack Inbauk (a mile due south of us, and a focal point on the track to their east tunnel position), or back to ? Many rumours floating around as a result of preparations to move. But still, I do not know.
The C.O. is to meet the Divisional Commander on “Able” this afternoon. At 0930 hrs. the Battalion moved out, leaving one section in each company position. The Battalion concentrated in the low ground astride the main road just below “Able,” and here we waited all day, not knowing what was to become of us. Everything hangs on the conference at Brigade H.Q. with the Divisional Commander.
During the day all men had time for a good wash and shave, and numerous mugs and tins of tea appeared. It always amazes me how the troops can put on tea at such short notice and so often on these occasions. As long as the tactical situation permits they will brew up tea all day long. It is better to be ignorant as to how they obtain and carry it! Jack Sumner spent most of the day in my Company H.Q., where we talked at length on many topics, especially what the future held in store for us.
At 1630 hrs. the C.O. returned. We are going back to Tatminyaungwa village, less “A” Company, who are to relieve the Sikhs on “Poland.” All moves are to be done after dark, except that seconds-in-command of companies are going at 1700 hrs. to reconnoitre the new positions.
“B” Company moved off at 1900 hrs. and, en route, I put 12 Platoon in position on a feature called “Kidney.” Having seen them there O.K., I moved the Company on and we hit Tatminyaungwa tank crossing absolutely square. The men marvelled at my navigation (it was dark), but I am afraid I had to tell them that I was following a telephone cable that ran straight “home.” At the bridge I was met by “Tiny,” who gave me the layout. He took 11 Platoon and put them in position himself as they are right up the northern end of the village about one and three-quarter miles from Company H.Q. 12 Platoon are a good 800 yards from the Company; 10 Platoon and Company H.Q. are holding the tank crossing and southern portion of the village and chaung. We took over from the 8th Gurkhas of another brigade and the relief was completed by 2150 hrs.
March 11. Went up the dusty track after breakfast and visited Platoon. I put a few of the individual positions right and gave them a reminder about camouflage; 11 Platoon holds the northern track junction and one directly opposite Battalion H.Q., who are on the western side of the Tatmin chaung.
This position is the most comfortable I have yet been in. It is flat, no jungle, but has trees in the inhabited areas. We can have eggs, the odd chicken, vegetables and bananas off the villagers. The chaung is tidal. I had a very refreshing bath and swim in two feet of water at high tide. The dug-outs are adequate and are lined with boosa (Straw). in typical Gurkha style. The only drawback to the position is the fact that half 10 Platoon are on the opposite bank of the chaung, and so also lies the route to Battalion H.Q.; all moves in this direction necessitate wet feet except at extreme low tide.
The 8th are to attack and go through Buthidaung with the aid of tanks tomorrow. The Brigade operation was such a complete success that the Divisional Commander intends to follow up and keep the enemy on the run.
Had a telephone installed in 12 Platoon, and Cpl. Davies of Company H.Q. spent the morning running the line back to Battalion H.Q.
March 12. A very pleasant and restful night. Nothing of any note occurred today. Visited 10 Platoon and had a spot of “elevenses” with them.
Just before lunch I was called in to Battalion H.Q. The C.O. had little to tell me, but that I might have to put in an attack with the Gurkhas on “Able” if the latter was not cleared of the enemy.
Visited 12 Platoon on “Kidney” after lunch. On the map the feature is shaped as a kidney; on the ground it is more like a very large five-pointed star! Frisby’s platoon is lost in the feature, but is concentrated on the “home” or south-east side and protects the western line of communications to Buthidaung and “Able.” The men in 12 Platoon were very happy, but lacked drinking water facilities; starting yesterday, I sent the Colour-Sergeant over with their rations and two pakhals of water. (Each pakhal holds 8 gallons).
Whilst in the platoon position I went on to a suitable O.P. to look at “Able” from the north-east angle to view the probable routes and positions of a F.U.P. for the attack. My task, I gather, will be done from the north with the hope of driving the enemy onto the Gurkhas.
Arrived back in Company H.Q. at 1500 hrs. Almost on my return Frisby rang me up to say that Pte. Smith (04) had been killed outright by a shell landing close to where I had done my reconnaissance. The enemy had been doing a great deal of strafing of the track behind our present position, and all along the track that connects forward to the Buthidaung road. Supply vehicles have been moving down the tracks, kicking up whirlwinds of dust, and so hence the shelling. I do sincerely trust it was not I that brought this odd shell.