Kohima was isolated in the Japanese advance towards India and without an air-strip the small garrison of 3,500 faced 15,000 Japanese. From the heights above the town the enemy was blasting everything but the men at Kohima had a job to do and that is what they did for sixteen days and nights they stopped the Japanese advance.


Mountatten had tried to stop the threat to the Bengal-Assam railway by taking the 33rd Indian Corps commanded by Lieutenant-General Montagu Stopford C.B., D.S.O., M.C. across India to the Assam valleys, this move was to keep the road open from Dimapur to Kohima, finally to link with the 4th Corps in the Imphal Plain. It was hoped by this time the 4th Corps would have cleared Imphal and started north to join Stopford.

By April 5th 1944 the 161st Brigade left Dimapur for Kohima with the 4th Royal West Kents heading the march, directly the 4th entered Kohima the Japanese encircled it breaking them off from the rest of Stopford's forces who were surrounded further up the road. Stopford saw the situation was serious and so he tried to quicken the arrival and debarkation of his 33rd Division which were still arriving at Arakan from India, the object was to open the road to Kohima.

The road from Dimapur rises sharply up a valley to the Kohima Ridge at 5,000 feet which is at right angles to the road. It then turns and runs along that ridge, it then bends away again to the south down a valley to Imphal. The ridge contains hillocks which rise either side to commanding positions above Kohima. At the start of the battle the garrison held all these hillocks but as they were forced back the Japanese began to take control of them till only one remained in the defenders hands.


Stopford saw that first he had to relieve the 161st on the road to Kohima then Kohima itself and lastly to push the Japanese back. Although his troops were still arriving he sent the 2nd Division into the battle with only a fraction of their wireless and telephone equipment available, support was from Allied aircraft. The Cameron Highlanders backed by Grant tanks and mountain batteries quickly broke through to the 161st Brigade.

The next step was to relieve Kohima but the Japanese had dug in and had the advantage of the higher ground. The Japanese were attacking the British posts at Kohima all this time and were repelled when Indian sappers blasted the huts that the enemy occupied.

It was during this fighting that Lance-Corporal John Harman finding his section of the Royal West Kents were held down by a Japanese machine gun crew in the dark, went forward by himself using a four second grenade which he held for two seconds after releasing the pin he captured the gun and killed the crew. Soon after dawn he charged another position held by the enemy and shot four bayoneting the fifth, as he walked back he was hit by a burst of fire from the Japanese as he died he said "I got the lot, it was worth it.", he won the Victoria Cross.

The fighting at Kohima was so close that even the District Commissioner's garden was divided between the opposing forces, the Japanese holding his bungalow, to take it the British drove a tank up to the front door and released shells into it. At dusk the Japanese delivered a half hour of gun and mortar fire and when the sun sank the infantry would attacked slowly gaining ground.

Supplies were now getting short and Allied planes were sent in with supply drops, as the defending area got smaller the job of dropping supplies got harder and more dangerous. Water was as difficult to obtain as this was within 50 yards of the enemy line, the men had to crawl singly to fill up their water containers, the ration was one pint a day. The onslaught was without end and the sleep could only be got for two hours at the most.

Supplies for the wounded were also short and Colonel Young, D.S.O., a British doctor passed through enemy lines to help them and organised a raid on the Japanese stores with some of his staff, they obtained medical valuable supplies for the wounded, 75 percent of his staff were Indian. Young brushed aside his staffs bravery by saying of the wounded "They were the real heroes of the Kohima Siege. No tribute is too fine for them." The wounded were being re-wounded because of the fierce fighting the Japanese did not leave a wounded man alive and did not waste bullets on the wounded, they were bayoneted. Young said after the third shell hit the dressing station " The shambles of that place after its second direct hit will remain always in my memory, it was a frightful task collecting medical equipment mixed in all that blood and filth - there was a head on the floor and dismembered limbs on all sides - in order to carry on our work." Over 600 casualties were handled by Young and his staff in the siege.

The area of the battle was being drawn in further and was now named 'Summerhouse Hill'. The constant bombardment from the Japanese above them seemed never ending and the fighting reached new peaks of ferocity. So bitter was the fighting that the Japanese gave up trying to make an assault in daytime and left their guns to pound the garrison. They attacked only at night still gaining ground on Terraced Hill with their overwhelming numbers only for the Durham Light Infantry to take it back next morning. The siege of Kohima had now entered its third week and the first reinforcements were now able to reach them on April 18th by crawling in using a gully. They then drove a wedge into the enemy to get the wounded out, the Camerons and Worcesters with tank support then broke through the road block and bunker positions letting in the Red Cross but even though clearly marked the enemy kept firing at the ambulances.


The Royal Berkshire Regiment marched into Kohima relieving the siege the next day, they found how good the supply drops had been because every tree had parachutes attached to them showing the air crews did their job well even in the monsoon weather.

This was not the end of the battle, the Japanese through everything into the recapture of Kohima. One sniper Private Burton shot 43 Japanese when they tried to break out of a burning basha. District Commissioner Charles Pawsey's bungalow was still in the middle of the fighting with his tennis court as no mans land. Two of the three brigade commanders who led an attack were killed and the other wounded. The enemy had to be cleared from the heights before Kohima could be cleared, in Naga Village on the British left flank the Japanese were entrenched, the 5th Infantry Brigade fought for this vantage point and won taking over the highest point in the area. They held on till the rest of the division overtook their position. The 4th Brigade fought for the other flank this was a ridge overlooking the Imphal road, this was reached by a very steep precipice, traveling through the night but they did not reach the crest and with the morning mist could not see their destination. The Norfolk commander went forward to reconnoitre and found himself being fired on by a heavily-defended bunker system. Sergeant Bert Fitt charged with grenades and machine gun and then when his gun jammed hit out with it at the enemy and put in a grenade. The Norfolks cleared the Japanese from the hill.

With both flanks G.P.T. Ridge (General Purpose Transport) and D.I.S. Hill (Detail Issue Store), now cleared the assault on Jail Hill at the centre was launched. The 161st and 33rd and 6th Brigades led the first attack on May 4th and nearly made it, four days later the Queen's Royal Regiment dug in with two Gurkha companies they fought for three days and nights but finally captured the enemy position. A monument to the 2 Div now stands on Jail Hill it says " For your tomorrow they gave their today."

On May 14th Kohima Ridge was in British hands but the roads running south took days before they were cleared. The Japanese still had to be cleared out of awkward positions and Church Knoll was one of them, the British had been reinforced by the 7th Indian Division commanded by Major-General Frank Messaervy. Three assaults on the ridge had to be made before it was won with a Gurkha jemadar leading his platoon at night killing seven Japanese himself to capture a 75-millimetre gun without a casualty in his platoon.

When the 50 day battle for Kohima was over, costing the Japanese 4,000 lives, Stopford then was able to push across the Imphal Plain towards Imphal where General Scoones was holding off the enemy. The Japanese were reporting that Imphal had already been taken by their crack 33rd Division, but as they left the cover of the foothills and attacked with all their might, Scoones was prepared and opened fire with everything he could so pushing the enemy back into the hills. The bombers and artillery kept up the bombardment on the enemy positions until the infantry moved in, so by the end of May all the hills in the 600 square miles of the plain were occupied by allied troops. This only left the rearguard positions and the allies were finding these to be stubborn but the Japanese were now on the defensive.

The British decided that now was the time to destroy these crack enemy troops and leave Burma open for recapture. Two Corps commanders agreed a plan which included Ukhrul, the Japanese stronghold in the mountains between the Imphal road and Chindwin River. On June 22nd at noon the Fourteenth Army joined together at milestone 109 just north of Imphal. The 7th Division then drove eastward towards Ukhrul while the 20 Division under the command of General Stopford pushed north-eastward along the Imphal to Ukhrul axis. Peowne's columns had closed in on Ukhrul from the north leaving no escape for the Japanese. By mid-July Ukhrul was cleared adding to the Japanese heavy casualties.

Below Imphal at Bishenpaur the Japanese 33rd Division held on against the 17th Division and the fighting was bitter with no side gaining any advantage, in this battle the British and Gurkha soldiers gained three Victoria Cross. To root the Japanese the heaviest artillery was got together and bombarded the Japanese at Bingthoutong Kha Khunog where the enemy were at their strongest. It was said that not one leaf was left on a tree after this action. When this action finished the infantry advanced with 25lb pole charges on the end of bamboo poles.

In December at the Imphal Plain in front of Scottish, Gurkha and Punjab regiments general Slim was knighted by the viceroy along with his three Corps Commanders, Christison, Scones and Stopford.

Imphal was as bad for the Japanese as Flanders was for the Germans in WWI for here on the 'Bloody Plain' 50,000 of the best of the Japanese army were slaughtered.



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