We are very sad to announce the death of Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Keith Old. He was a trustee of the Kohima Museum for a number of years and was assistant curator and treasurer. Our condolences to Keith’s family.
On February 4th 1944, in the Arakan region of north-west Burma, the Japanese 55th Division swept around the left flank of 7th Indian Division, using stealth, speed and cover of darkness to achieve complete surprise. As their HQ was overrun, scattered troops fell back to their Admin Box, where 7th Division’s administrative staff were based. The Box was surrounded by Japanese troops and Tokyo media proclaimed:
“New British 14th Army Destroyed in One Thrust”.
Surrounded on all sides by jungle-clad hills, Admin Box was entirely exposed to enemy snipers and mortars. Attacks came at night and on one night Japanese troops broke into the Field Ambulance and massacred doctors & patients. For ten days, the Box was bombed and strafed by enemy aircraft, until spitfires flying from India established air superiority; after that, rations & ammunition were supplied to the Box by parachute.
On February 24th, the siege was lifted by 5th Indian Division, fighting their way through from the west. Indian & British casualties were estimated at 2,000, including 500 dead; 5,000 Japanese dead were counted in the jungle around the Box.
General Slim wrote:
“For the first time, a British [and Indian] force had met, held & decisively defeated a major Japanese attack… It was a victory about which there could be no argument, and its effect, not only on the troops engaged but on the whole Fourteenth Army, was immense.
The legend of Japanese invincibility in the jungle … was smashed.“
Slim also said “it was the first occasion in this war in which a British force had withstood the full weight of a major Japanese offensive, held it, broken it, smashed it into little pieces and pursued it.
It was the turning point in the Burma Campaign.”
Indeed, after Admin Box the Japanese were never to win another major victory.
Bob White, latest addition to the curator team, has taken over administration of the museum’s website.