2nd World War Battles in Manipur

BATTLE OF SANGSHAK (21-26 June 1944)

March 21- 26, 1944, a very significant battle, a prelude to the  famous battles of Kohima  and Imphal. The 50th Indian Para Brigade were near Sangshak for Jungle training. Sangshak is a Naga village built on the top of a narrow ridge at about 6,000 feet above sea level.  On the Northern side heavy jungle comes right up to the huts and the whole area is covered with scrub and grass. They never imagine in their wildest dream that divisions of Japanese army are on its way towards Sangshak. The Paras were ill prepared for war to the extent that they did not even  have a steel Helmet nor any barbed wire.  The 50th Para led by Brigadier Hope Thomson held the garrison at Sangshak for a week against the strong 15th and 31st Japanese Army until they were ordered to withdraw. In the words of Field Marshall Slim, “ It was the 50th Indian Parachute Brigade that bore the brunt of the enemy’s powerful flanking attack, and by their staunchness gave the garrison of Imphal the vital time required to adjust their defence”.

As the battle raged the allied became progressively weaker due to the many casualties while the Japanese became stronger day by day as fresh troops arrived.  Surrounded by the Japanese, the Allieds were totally reliant on air drops for water, food and ammunition but, as the Japanese pushed them back and their defensive box became smaller in area, more and more of the dropped supplies fell in Japanese held areas rather than on land they controlled. 

The Battle of Sangshak was the first successful battle of Japanese 15th and 31st Division in Indian soil. But the success came only after paying with 2000 heavy casualty of  their own.

BATTLE OF MODBUNG ( 1- 9th June 1944)

The present Motbung is not the location of Historical MODBUNG Village. The old Modbung was located 2 miles 90 degree from the present Motbung.  As per locals of the present Motbung, the Old Modbung was burnt down by Japanese soldier as the locals killed two Japanese Soldiers.

  As per Sufflock’s war diary, fierce battle took place between 1st to 9thJune 1944. The battle was concentrated on two important peaks codenamed Harry and Isaac by the allieds. The peak code named ISAAC was first occupied by a battalion of Japanese 15th Division. The 2nd Sufflock’s Regiment under the 5th Indian Division was clearing the Japanese from the adjoining mountains of the Moreh- Dimapur Highway. ISAAC was very close to the Highway and it overlooks both the highway and the Depot at Kanglatonbi.

Tanks of the 3 carabiniers were involved in the battle with the Japanese.

As per Japanese War Record,

“There were 4 tanks,….These 4 British tanks were making a great sound from their engines as they climbed up to the Modbung hill, where the 2nd battalion’s main territory – specifically the 6th Kagawa company’s defence line was sited. They looked as if they were laughing at the small Japanese force.

All the Japanese forces, without any artillery, were just watching these tanks holding their breath listening to the sound of the tank’s caterpillar tracks advancing. They were shrivelled and nervous. Suddenly one Japanese soldier came out of his trench and advanced towards the tanks….. . He grabbed a ball-like stuff in his hand and threw it towards a tank which approached him just 10 -15 meters away……… After a few seconds, the soldiers inside the tank pushed up the cover and came out of the tank shouting in strange voices. As soon as they had come out of the tank, we saw them run away towards the mountain, like rolling balls. After that, horrendous black smoke came out of the tank. It’s because Corporal Uhe throw a grenade into the tank after the solders had escaped”.

As per the war diary of 2nd Sufflocks Regiment, the  battle at ISAAC left 96 japanese soldiers death. And lesser from British side. Till recently, the battlefield of ISAAC was never explored and excavated nor the Japanese bone collectors reach the place.  On cross checking the records of Japanese soldiers. They have recorded 95 soldiers killed  at ISAAC. British war records mentioned of Japanese soldiers body buried in their own Bunkers and foxholes.

BATTLE OF KANGLATONGBI  AKA LION BOX (4-7 April 1944)

The Japanese Army depended on seizing enemy supplies as their lines of communication were inefficient at keeping their troops supplied and with this in mind their plans included the capture of the large supply depot at Dimapur and others around Imphal. At Kanglatongbi there was the largest supply depot and administrative area on the Plain and was a prime target for the Japanese who were that time in desperate need of the supplies it contained.

On the night of 4th April the Japanese sent patrols to test the defences and to un-nerve the inexperienced troops, but during the day were quiet allowing the movement of stores to continue. The next two nights the attacks became more aggressive and threatened the security of the supply depot. The Japanese commenced a mortar barrage from the old depot which fell near the Engineer Sector control point but caused no casualties. The immediate response of the Box mortar troop and the 25 pounders, caused the enemy to cease fire but almost at the same time tremendous firing started at the south perimeter of Sector 3. This was a diversion while a party of Japanese tried to enter the Box HQ via the nullah between sectors 2 and 3.

At dawn on the 7th April the Japanese broke through the defences when they tricked a sentry by answering his challenge in English. During this confusion about another 20 Japanese infiltrated into the Box and made their way towards the sector HQ and 302 GPT Company lines. 302 GPT Company were now taking very heavy casualties upon seeing his men being killed the OC Major Greenberry desperately rushed to help them with some British other ranks but was immediately seriously wounded in both thighs, left leg and right arm. 302 Company lost 26 Sepoys killed and 22 wounded in this action. The Japanese were now among the Engineer units and had killed several British troops, who then organised a bayonet party to push them back out of the Box. The two bayonet parties did good work clearing the japanese, the OC Major Pearce and his party killed six Japanese, the OC getting three and Major Alexander also killed three with his tommy gun?. Havildar Basant Singh found himself confronting several Japanese as they advanced through gaps in the defences covered by the long grass. He coolly stood up and fired his Bren gun from the shoulder killing a number of Japanese and drove the remainder back into the jungle.

 “BALL OF FIRE” BY ANTHONY BRETT- JAMES

At Kanglatongbi, spread over a considerable area, Four Corps had an Ordnance Dump and Reinforcement Camp. On the night of April 4/5 the Japanese penetrated the area. All the troops from our administration units had been withdrawn into what was known as 'Lion' Box, a mile farther south. The occupants of this box numbered some 12,000 men, of whom the only real fighting units were two Sapper Field Companies and a company of the Assam Rifles.

When the Japanese first attacked astride this main road from the north, Salomons' Nine Brigade was still in reserve. Its task had been to destroy any Japanese who succeeded in penetrating through or round 123 Brigade. The 3/9th Jats and 3/14th Punjab had patrolled with vigour to find out the routes of any enemy enveloping moves, and to anticipate the enemy on any vital hill that covered these routes. But to counter this new threat the 2nd West Yorkshires, supported by one squadron of the 3rd Dragoon Guards with Lee tanks, were at once ordered out to the village of Sengmai, a mile south of Lion Box. The battalion formed a firm base here, and had orders to ensure that the box was not overrun during daylight and that no enemy parties advanced any farther south. On April 5 and 6 West Yorkshire platoons, accompanied by tanks, patrolled forward to Lion Box, dealt with any groups of Japanese troops who had penetrated our defences during the previous night, and mopped up all resistance that remained, before returning to Sengmai at dusk.

Then, on the morning of April 7, strong enemy parties were reported to have entered the box. So Colonel Cree sent one platoon and tanks to evict the Japanese. But, at nine o'clock, the evacuation of Lion Box was ordered. And the task of Cree's West Yorkshires became that of covering this evacuation. Accordingly, the battalion moved forward to positions inside the box. At noon the withdrawal started. The troops marched back along the road into the centre of Imphal, while convoys of lorries were sent up to Kanglatongbi to bring back some of the more important stores from our dumps there. During this evacuation, the enemy shelled the place with a 75 mm. gun. And it was during this bombardment that the A/Q of the Division, Lieutenant- Colonel Norman Maclaurin, was killed while trying to disentangle a traffic block near Kanglatongbi. He had been: with the Division for eighteen months, since the days of Quetta Camp outside Baghdad. He was a delightful personality, of varied talents, for besides being a good caricaturist, he was an expert at Scottish dances, and a piper of merit. In rest areas he could be seen walking up and down outside his tent, playing his pipes. And, fittingly, a piper from the nearby Seaforth Highlanders came over to pipe a lament at his funeral.

BATTLE OF KAMENG. ( 4-5 April 1944)

The fierce battle of Kameng started  on 4th April 1944. On the midnight of 4th April Japanese attack the position of the Dogra’s A company commanded by Rex Mace. The whole battalion of the Dogra was occupying the full range of the kameng hill. The battle was started with gun fire and Mortar fire. The Japanese threw grenades in the Dogra’s perimeter. It was totally dark that night . The Japanese try to infiltrate the Dogra’s position but the Dogras have laid barbed wire in the periphery and maximum of the Japanese were found killed near the barbe wire next morning  on 5TH . During that night the field guns at Sawombung were firing few yards beyond the barbed wire.  On 5th  morning the tanks of carabineers came with troops of 7 Cavalry. They fired at the Japanese positions. The tank were not able to clear all the Japanese so the Dogras had to do it themselves. It was amazing how those few Japanese stood up to that tremendous attack by the allieds. That night the Japanese attack the dogras again but the field gun at Sawombung help again. The next morning i.e on 6th The dogras found 98 death Japanese. The dogras burry the death Japanese bodies that very day.

Importance of the battle:-

The dogras were holding a vital position . The position was part of the defence of the Imphal plain.  If the Japanese overran the position then the allieds will have a tough time defending the imphal valley. This would also have a great impact on the moral of the allied soldiers because Imphal was surrounded by Japanese from all position and infiltrating from a corridor will meant more Japanese from that position.

BATTLE OF RED HILL  AKA  POINT 2926 ( 21st -29th May 1944)

One of the bloodiest during the Battle of Imphal. The object of the  advancing 33rd Japanese Division  had been to capture the strongly fortified British camp at Bishnupur. On failing to capture this particular British camp, the advancing columns bypassed the British at Bishenpur  and followed the western hill ranges of Manipur so as to put up a blockade to British supplies at Lotpaching (Red Hill) just adjacent to MS 10 in Imphal Tiddim highway.

To this last phase of the Imphal Campaign. The allied and the japanese were destined to meet  finally for the bloodiest Battle at Lotpaching or the Red Hill, The Lotpaching or the Red Hill (R. K. 2926) proved strategically important for the Japanese assault on Imphal, while on the part of the British defenders they had to fight the last ditched battle just to retain the strategic plains of Imphal. As the occupation of Imphal was their main objective, the 33rd Division desperately attempted to reach Imphal through Buri Bazar (Nambol). The Japanese army asked Col. 'Saku', Commander of 1/214 Regiment based temporarily at Ingurok to lead the strike. Hence Saku's regiment left their Hqs. (Ingurok) on their way to Imphal by May 16 and crossed the Silchar Track, and proceeded eastward via Tairenpokpi, Nungnag, Khoirok river, Wainem and Irengbam villages so as to focus on Lotpa Ching (Red Hill) area and the outskirts of Chingphu (quite unaware of the existence of the Hqs of 17th Indian Division at Chingphu).

On 20th May 1944, some Japanese troops of 2/215 Regiment, who were entrusted to storm Bishnupur, had meanwhile joined 1/214 Regiment at the Red Hill, after streaking through the villages located on the fringes of Loktak lake just for avoiding any possible confrontation with the Allied troops on the main route. Upon reaching the Red Hill they managed to make some hurried preparations too. In order to defend themselves, the Japanese had to construct 'Pimples', 'Foxholes' and 'Gunner Boxes' in the entire region of the Red Hill. And they could put up a blockade to British supplies at Lotpaching for about 48 hours at the cost of heavy casualties on both sides.

But across the Japanese line the Allied forces were making an all-out bid to check further advances of the Japanese combatants. And just to tactically break through the stiff resistance offered by the Indo-Japanese forces, a Composite Force was formed on the 24 May out of the units attached to Cowan's Hqs. viz. 'Woodforce', after its Commander. The force was to comprise: i) 4/12 Frontier Force; ii) 48 & 63 Brigades; iii) 7/10 Baluch; iv) two companies of 6/5 Maratha Light Infantry; and v) Cavalry of 50 Para Brigades representing infantry, tanks, sappers and artillery. The real confrontation took place on the 25th May and continued right upto 30 May. During all these six days fierce hand-to-hand and bayonet-to-bayonet fights including all the dingdong battles of grenades continued, interpolated by shrilling sounds of burst of machine-gun firing.
And yet neither had achieved any decisive success and both sides suffered heavy losses.17 But in the last few days of May, the firepower of the powerful  field-guns and skillful manoeuvrings of the Lee tanks recently acquired by the Allied forces turned the table against the Japanese light tanks. Besides, Woodforce, the other detachments and all other Allied fighting units had the advantage of being constantly supported by a regular supply-line and an uninterrupted communication network between the field units and Divisional Hqs., which naturally the advancing Japanese units critically lacked. All these gave the tactical command group, Woodforce, an upper edge.

The Battalion HQ and the D company ( Joe Hudson) of the  7th/ 10th Baluch were send forward from  near the Red Hill to bolster up the local defence of 17th Division Headquarter located near the Nambol Bazar. One platoon of D company, under Subedar Ghulam Yasin was deployed on point 2926, the highest part of Red Hill. On the night of 20/21 May 1944, with the monsoon intensifying, the Japanese made their most ambitious and daring thrust. 2nd Battalion, 214 th regiment group, move several miles along the hills, cross the road and endeavour to seize the whole Red Hill feature. The group consisting of 500 infantry, 100 gunners with three light caliber guns and 40 sappers, who on the way demolished the bridge at Oinam and laid mines on the road to the west of the village Oinam. The only platoon under Subedar  Ghulam Yasin fought all night and held out and at dawn the Japanese had to dig in on the southern part of the feature and in part of the small village of Maibam to the south.

On 21st May, Divisional Headquarter, initially underestimating the Japanese strength at Red Hill and thinking it was only a fighting patrol, ordered the Divisional Defence Platoon to counter attack and drive the Japanese off. The Defence Platoon suffered heavy casualty. On that day four tanks sent back from Bishenpur were knocked out at Oinam

On 22nd May 1944,a battalion group of 9th /12th Frontier Force Regiment from Corps Reserve put in several costly and unsuccessful attempt from the north west of Red Hill.

Nevertheless, the Japanese still persisted in their effort and attacked the same area again in the wee hours of 25 May. On 25th May 1944, Maurice Wright was ordered to put in a full battalion attack to recaptured the Red Hill feature.

In the early hours of the 26th May 1944, in torrential rain Tactical Battalion Headquarter, consisting of Maurice Wright, Jock Price, a signaler with a radio and John Randle, climbed up to set up position with the D Company’s platoon on the top of Red Hill.During this time the Mortars under Jimmy Whelan, were however used from base plate position south west of Chingphu Village. That day some ground both on the Hill and in Maibam Village was taken by the British but the Japanese wre not dislodged.

On 28th may 1944, 3rd/1st Gurkhas from 20th Division put in an attack. It was with a heavy casualty and the Gurkhas did not succeeded. The commanding Officer, Adjudant and two company commander of the 3rd /1st Gurkha rifles was killed.

And on 30 May 7/10 Baluchs found that the Japanese had moved away from the Red Hill leaving behind two 'pimples' full of a carpet of corpses where at least 200 men of the 1st Battalion of 214 Japanese Regiment were killed.

Had the Japanese forces succeeded in capturing the British camp at Bishnupur its onward march to Imphal would have proved possible and the course of Indian history might have been different hitherto. The famished INA-freedom-fighters and the Japanese troops with no hope of reinforcements and further supply line, except their morale had to retreat to save themselves from a possible total annihilation. On the Japanese side the battle proceeded very badly. One company of 214 Regiment had reportedly been totally wiped out to the last man. In this battle one British Corporal Monk of Corps of Signals was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his coolness and informing the Brigade Hqs for every few minutes even after the British officers had been killed. And one Military Cross (MC) was bestowed on Lt. A. Weir of 3-Carbiniers who managed to get up on the Red Hill so as to give direct aid to Allied soldiers on foot. Thus the Blitzkrieg of the 33rd Japanese Division was checkmated by the infantry of the 17th Indian Division at the foot of the Red Hill, while they were heavily bombarded and continuously gunned down by the Royal Air Force gunners and bombers. The nightmare on the Red Hill during the last few days of May, 1944 had a lone Japanese survivor of his own company: 1/214 Regiment, all of which were wiped out in that final assault of the 17th Indian Division.

BATTLE AT RUNAWAY HILL ( 5-6 April 1944)

During the night of April 5th 1944, a group of Japanese soldiers harass the allied troops near the area of Yumnam Khunou.

On 6th April 1944, the company commander of D Company, 3rd Battalion, 9 Jat Regiment, Major  W.D Ritchie, MC ordered Jemadar Abdul Hafiz of 3rd Battalion, 9 Jat Regiment to attack the enemy with two section of his platoon at 9.30 am. After softening the Japanese position by the artillery Abdul hafiz led the attack on the steep crest. He so inspired his men that from the start the attack proceeded with great dash.  Few yards from the crest the Japanese open fire with machine gun and grenades. In spite of being wounded he immediately ordered an assault personally leading with the mohamadan battle cry. On reaching the crest he was wounded on the leg but seeing a machine gun firing from the flank he immediately went towards it and seizing the barrel pulled it upwards while another man killing the gunner. He then took a bren gun from a wounded man and advance firing and killing several Japanese soldiers. So fierce was the attack that the enemy who were still in considerable numbers on the position ran down the opposite slope of the hill. Regardless of the machine gun fire from another feature a few hundred yards away he pursuit the enemy. He was badly wounded in the chest again from the machine gun fire and collapsed holding the bren gun still ordering his soldiers to reorganised while he giving covering fire. He died shortly.For this act of raw courage he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the most coveted award of the British Army. He was the first Indian Muslim to get a Victoria Cross and he is also the first to get it in Indian soil.

BATTLE AT SILCHAR TRACK  (April- June 1944)

The allieds were to hold for three critical months on point 5846, a mountain position blocking the main Japanese attack on Imphal. The Japanese were from the best 33rd  division determined to break through to Imphal. The allied struggle to stop them was a savage one with the break of the monsoon adding to the difficulties. There was hand to hand fighting over the Dome, the Wireless Hill, the half way house where the visibility was reduce to zero due to the clouds and the fogs. The Gurkhas do have a tough time guarding the Track and the maximum brunt was face by the Northamptonshire with its heavy death casualty to maintain their dominance at point 5846. The allieds tank did not deter the spirit of Japanese 33rd Division.

 

 

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Mostly relevant with 1939-1945 incidents that happen in and around North East India and Burma. The focus is mainly on World war 2, with special reference to Burma Campaign in General.

Started in 2009 with the aim to find out more info about the great war fought in North East India.

Planning to start a museum with all the findings and documents.

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