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April 24. No time to say farewell

After beating off the frenzied attacks of the previous day, the Royal Berkshires & Durham Light Infantry were left in relative peace during April 24. Nevertheless, Garrison Hill remained a dangerous place. The Berkshires Regimental History recorded that

“Mortar & artillery fire were constantly exchanged & snipers’ bullets flicked everywhere. No one stirred without being shot at, & whenever they moved men ran swiftly from cover to cover.” (11)

Private Alfred Thorne, 1911-1944, 2DLI, Rest In Peace

However, after nightfall a Japanese attack succeeded in capturing a feature called the Mound, as well as the end of one of the Berkshires’ trenches. Lieutenant-Colonel Bickford ordered an attempt to recover this ground, but it ended in failure:

“I decided to recapture this position, but all efforts were unsuccessful. The only way one could get at the Japanese was to throw grenades into their end of the trench or go over the top with bayonets. The latter method would have been sheer suicide because the area was swept by machine-gun fire from two directions. It was during one of the grenade attacks led by Major Sawyer that he received a grenade wound in the chest & died. Many of our casualties were caused by the Japanese throwing our own grenades back at us.” (11)

In the five days they had been on Kohima Ridge, 21 Berkshires had been killed, 5 were missing, & 114 wounded, of whom 98 had been evacuated.

An Unknown Soldier, Rest In Peace

The left hook flanking manouvre led by Brigadier Hawkins of 5 Brigade had worked its way through the difficult terrain to reach some high ground overlooking the village of Merema. According to Lieutenant Wilson of the 2nd Manchesters

“Although tired, the men were in good spirits. Rations were getting on the low side, but we were promised replenishments in the very near future.”

The intention had been to deliver supplies by air, but this was no longer considered practicable. Instead, Nagas were engaged to deliver rations to the hungry British. They took a while to get organised, but then reached 5 Brigade in half the time expected. Major General Grover fed & paid these Nagas when they returned, recording that

“All the troops are filled with admiration for these stout-hearted, cheery hill men. They are doing us so very proud that I feel we must at least show our gratitude.”

Major General Grover and staff

April 23. Hit again

On Garrison Hill, Company Sergeant Major Martin McLane of 2 Durham Light Infantry (DLI) was startled from his doze at 01.30:

“I was woken by shouts. Green phosphorus was pouring into one end of the trench. I was covered with it, which causes deep penetrating burns. I was rubbing the stuff off me with earth, then the Japs came in yelling & shouting. They were in among us & just ten yards away there was a fearsome-looking man waving a sword.” (5)

“The ammunition stacked on Garrison Hill exploded & parachutes from supply drops hanging in the trees caught fire. After fierce fighting we cleared the position. My company commander, the runners & the signallers were all dead. A shell had landed right in the hole where they were located.” (5)

Waves of Japanese were storming up the hill shoulder-to-shoulder, with the leading ranks in gas-masks throwing phosphorus grenades. As they were cut down, those behind stepped over them & kept advancing. The communications needed to call for defensive artillery were out of action. Lieutenant Pat Rome, D Company DLI:

“An ammo dump was blazing away merrily. Sergeant Brannigan & I got out of our hole with a Sten-gun each & our pockets full of magazines & grenades. We had gone 20 yds when Sergeant Brannigan was hit, groaned & crumpled up dead.” (11)

“Isolated incidents spring to mind. Willie Lockhart being killed lying besides me; Edwards being hit in the stomach, cursing & screaming; Corporal Walters lying out in the front shouting ‘Mr Rome, come & fetch me, I’m blind’; dragging him back; ‘Snowball’ shouting that both of his legs were broken. All I could do was to drag him along the ground, poor chap, he was in hell. ” (11)

“Throwing grenades, more grenades & still more grenades to keep the Japanese at a distance. Watching their grenades come over, then down, then bang! I stood up & smack! I was knocked around & my arm hanging limp, useless & numb. I believe I said ‘Shit. Hit again.’ I thought my arm was broken but it didn’t hurt. I crawled around with it hanging down for a bit, but then put on a rifle sling around my neck & hung my arm in the sling. After that I couldn’t do much, except with my left hand. I found shelter behind a wounded Japanese. Although he stared at me, he was useful protection & kept me company for some time.” (11)

Captain Sean Kelly, A Company DLI:

“Lying on top of each other all over the side of the hill were the bodies of friend & foe, all intermingled, & half of them had been set alight by the spreading blaze of the ammunition dump, which in the darkness, lit up the whole grisly scene.” (11)

“Every now & then there would be a crack & nearly always a groan or cry for help. Stretcher-bearers would rush forward & kneel where the man had been hit, dress him, & carry him off. What cold-blooded courage! It’s nothing to charge in hot blood, but to kneel & do your job where a man has just been hit, & where you must be hit too if another comes, is the bravest thing I know.” (11)

Lieutenant Pat Rome was equally impressed:

“The stretcher bearers were beyond all praise & I’ve never seen such superb & inspiring courage. They knelt in the open, patched the chaps up, carried them back & went back for more. They were unstinting & without thought for themselves. Corporals Spencer & Ward were put in for the VC. They got nothing, not even a mention from Delhi.”

Eventually, Rome went to the Regimental Aid Post, his injured arm in a rifle sling. He was sent with other wounded down off the ridge & onto the road below, where

“Some ambulances had come up &, although the Japanese mortared the road, they didn’t interfere with the ambulances. We dashed down the road in one to safety, transferred to another & went back towards Dimapur. The fires were still burning on Garrison Hill.” (11)

This incident had cost the DLI 29 dead, 77 wounded & 4 missing.

In their trenches, the Japanese of 10 Company 124 Regiment wrote letters to their families by candle light & made memorial packages with finger nails & hair. They were ordered to burn photographs & letters from their families, because Captain Yoshifuku did not want the British to find such sentimentalities on the corpses of his warriors. He also told them to remove any badges of rank & throw away the scabbards of their bayonets. At 05.00 hours, he led them up the cliff to Kohima Ridge from the road below.

The Royal Berkshires were ready for them, as described by Lieutenant-Colonel Bickford:

“Just as the day was breaking, D Company & an A Company post under Sergeant Kemble observed about two platoons of Japanese with scaling ladders trying to climb the cliff overlooking the road. The slaughter which followed is indescribable. As the Japanese came up the scaling ladders they were mown down & fell in their tracks. Over 40 dead bodies were counted later. Sergeant Kemble was awarded the DCM.” (11)

Captain Yoshifuku collapsed with wounds in 11 places. To prevent him being captured, his men rolled him over the cliff. This tough officer survived the 20 foot drop to the road & recovered from his injuries.

Whilst 1 Royal Berkshires & 2 Durham Light Infantry were grappling with the Japanese on Kohima Ridge, Major General Grover had sent 5 Brigade on a flanking march to the north, aiming to deliver a left hook.

Cap badge of the Manchester Regiment

The column contained about two thousand men, including a machine-gun platoon of 2 Manchester Regiment, led by Lieutenant Wilson:

“In addition to the normal gun kit, ten belts per gun were ordered & light scale rations for 36 hours. These, we were told, would probably have to last us for 72 hours. Owing to the track being unsuitable for mules, all loads had to be carried, & for this purpose 20 Naga porters were allotted to us. The night was very black & the going was extremely difficult.” (11)

Brigadier Victor Hawkins recorded their slow progress:

“It was dark & cold & no one was very happy. But discipline tells & the troops moved in good order, silently, & with barely a word spoken. At about 22.00 hours, we found ourselves on a precipitous slope with very slippery going. Eventually, after one or two men had slipped down, I considered that it was impossible to continue on that route in the rain & dark. I therefore ordered the column to halt & wait till either the rain stopped & we could see something of where we were going, or till daylight.” (11)

April 22. Them little bastards can dig

Lieutenant Pat Rome of 2 Durham Light Infantry was relieved to have survived his first night on Kohima Ridge, which he spent in a slit trench on Garrison Hill, facing south towards the Kuki Piquet hillock:

“Morning arrived & I breathed a sigh of relief. So far, so good. We brewed up some tea in the bottom of our hole & felt much better … but now there was a shortage of water. The morning passed uneventfully with nearly everyone remaining in their holes.” (11)

At about mid-day, ‘Tank’ Waterhouse, my company commander, received orders that next morning we were going to attack Kuki Piquet. It was only about 50 yards away but in that distance a lot could happen, especially when the area was covered with bunkers & full of Japanese. I thought that sounded rather dangerous & later events showed that it would have been suicidal.” (11)

“During the day we had an air drop of water & food. A lot of the parachutes fell outside the perimeter to the Japanese. Rather infuriating, but I suppose it is difficult to aim properly.” (11)

“During the afternoon, our divisional artillery fired onto the hill [Kuki Piquet]. Hell was let loose & the whole hill was covered with smoke. What an impressive barrage that was, the whine of the shells & the crashing of the shells landing made my blood tingle. Nothing could live in the open in that. Then the dust cleared & there was Kuki Piquet. Tomorrow morning we would be going in behind another such barrage. Later the Japanese sent a few shells back but didn’t do much damage.” (11)

Subsequently, they were told that the planned attack on Kuki Piquet had been cancelled. They were not sorry to hear this. A & C Companies of the DLI came onto Kohima Ridge to reinforce B & D Companies, who had arrived the previous day.

To open the road to Imphal, the British needed to evict the Japanese from the ridge, so a platoon of the Royal Berkshires attacked the ruins of the DC bungalow, held by the Japanese. Lieutenant-Colonel Bickford:

“The attack was carried out in the afternoon after a concentration of artillery & after a troop of tanks had been moved around by road to the rear of the Bungalow. There is no doubt that we inflicted considerable casualties on the Japanese. I saw a bunker receive a direct hit from a tank & then a Japanese body sail through the air like a rocket. I ordered the withdrawal of Sergeant Leeson’s platoon after he had been killed & about eleven others hit. The artillery concentration had been terrific, but the Japanese were obviously well dug in & capable of holding out.” (11)

Indeed, the Japanese were extremely skillful at preparing defensive positions. An extensive network of concealed bunkers was under construction, that would stretch from Transport Ridge to Kuki Piquet. These were carefully sited to be mutually-supporting, with interlocking fields of fire. Attempts to assault a bunker from its side or rear would expose the attackers flanks to fire from supporting bunkers. They even built a redoubt of tunnels on Jail Hill that was reinforced with steel plate. Clearing these formidable fortifications would be a slow, hazardous business that would take a heavy toll in lives. Lieutenant Ken Cooper acknowledged this Japanese propensity:

“By Christ, them little bastards can dig.  They’re underground before our blokes have stopped spitting on their bloody ’ands.” (3)

Inspecting a captured Japanese bunker

The Berkshires’ Headquarters had a lucky escape. Lieutenant-Colonel Bickford :

“Just after sundown we were heavily mortared for about an hour. One mortar bomb landed three yards away in the Gunner Observation Post dugout, killing Major Harrison of the Indian Artillery. We decided it was time to move our Headquarters, so we dispersed to various other company headquarters.” (11)

The Durham’s also suffered. Lieutenant Pat Rome of D Company:

“Just as it was getting dark the Japanese put down a barrage. Everyone dived for cover. When it was over I went around the D Company men & found that two men had been killed & three wounded. We carried the wounded to the R.A.P. [Regimental Aid Post]. The dead were covered up in an old slit trench. Quite a few casualties had been caused all round. I suppose it was because we hadn’t kept below ground.” (11)

April 21. What had we got to worry about?

The Berkshires had got through their first night on Kohima Ridge & breathed a sigh of relief as the sun rose. Their casualties as yet were not heavy.

They were joined on April 21 by two companies of Durham Light Infantry (DLI), who replaced the 1/1 Punjabs. Since their arrival on April 18, the Punjabs had lost 20 killed & 100 wounded. Without them, the tattered remnants of the garrison would have been swept into oblivion.

The DLI had to carry their food, water & ammunition up the steep, 400 foot climb from the road. They were surprised how quiet the Japanese were during this chore, despite occupying trenches only 50 yards away in places. Lieutenant Pat Rome, of D Company DLI, was naively optimistic:

“We all reckoned that we were going to have a good time on Garrison Hill. Everything was quiet. What had we got to worry about?

Looking back across the valley I could see the other hills … & the looping road, jammed with transport & guns, tanks, ambulances, bulldozers, everything. There was no alternative, as there was just the one road cut into the hill side with no possibility for dispersion. However, it was a sobering sight, a sitting target for the Japanese air force which, however, never took advantage of it.” (11)

At Dimapur, Corporal Norman of the West Kents was disgusted when he visited his wounded chums:

“At this hospital conditions are terrible. Our lads have not yet had their wounds dressed, their sheets changed or been bathed. A complaint had been sent to GHQ.” (11)

Despite his earlier confidence, Pat Rome’s tension grew when the light faded on Kohima Ridge:

“As evening drew near, we were all back in our trenches getting ready for anything that might start up. There was no moon & a breeze was catching the parachutes in the trees, making them look like sheet-clad ghosts. My eyes got very tired & started to squint & my ears ached with trying to hear the first tell-tale sounds of a Japanese attack. But all was quiet that first night. The Japanese made no attack against the area held by the Royal Berks & the two Durham companies. It was just as well, as we had no one in reserve to counter-attack.” (11)

April 20. Relief

At 09.00 hours on April 20, Japanese troops at Kohima experienced the Allied version of the ‘morning hate’, with a barrage from the howitzers of 161 Brigade at Jotsoma & of 2 Division at Zubza. This was embellished by an air strike by Hurribombers on Transport Ridge & Jail Hill, at the southern end of Kohima Ridge.

Cap badge of Durham Light Infantry,
6 Brigade, 2 Division

Tanks of 149 RAC moved up the road, with men of 2 Durham Light Infantry riding on top. Behind them, the 1st Royal Berkshires marched in two single files, one on each side of the road. The tanks halted below Hospital Spur & by 09.45 the Berkshires were clambering up the gullies to the Ridge.

Cap badge of Royal Berkshires,
6 Brigade, 2 Division

Major Harry Smith of the Royal West Kents, who had been hit by mortar fire the night before, woke from morphia-induced nightmares with the mother of all headaches:

“I came to in time to see the leading troops of the Berkshires in their nice clean uniforms making their way up to the top of the hill, covered by a very heavy barrage of 2 Div’s artillery down the road. Soon I was being helped down the hill to the waiting ambulances, together with the remnants of the battalion, who were filing down, ragged, bearded, looking like scarecrows. Tanks were engaging enemy positions on the road. I was taken to the hospital at Dimapur & had a restless night listening to the cries of the wounded.” (2)

Corporal Roy Welland, 1st Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, remembered very vivdly their climb onto Kohima Ridge, up gullies adjacent to Hospital Spur, with sheer sides like cliffs. They passed jagged tree trunks, stripped of branches by shell fire & draped with parachutes from the air drops. They stepped over the debris of battle, including corpses of Japanese, one with its legs & lower torso torn off:

“We climbed very cautiously until we reached the top, but we lost three men on our way up. When we finally made contact with these gallant defenders we got a few ‘low gear’ cheers from these unshaven, smelly chaps who you could see had had a very rough time. One chap, with a bloodied bandage around his head said ‘It’s good to see yer, Corp. Give them bloody hell. Black your faces first, otherwise they will think you are a bloody bunch of virgins.” (3)

Garrison Hill

Brigade Major David Wilson wrote:

“If Garrison Hill was indescribable for its filth & horror & smell, the sight of its defenders was almost worse. They looked like aged bloodstained scarecrows dropping with fatigue & they smelt of blood, sweat & death.” (3)

Troops arriving on Kohima Ridge retched at the stench of excrement & decaying bodies. Lieutenant Bruce Hayllar:

“Oh my God, the stink of those dead bodies!  It sticks in your nose & mouth, as if death has partly claimed you.”

The West Kents tried to brief the incoming Berkshires. Ray Street:

“We gave what advice we could. We had to. We couldn’t let them face that lot without telling them what to expect. They were better equipped. They had new, more modern weapons, rather than the old Lee Enfield rifles with long bayonets that we had. Some had flamethrowers.” (6)

Major Donald Easten described the West Kents that day as

“Bearded, filthy men with glazed eyes, who had not slept for 14 days – we all slept a little I suppose, but mainly standing up. Wounded, with filthy bandages & pale, grey faces, & weak but cheerful grins. The entire hillside was pockmarked with trenches, the trees shattered by shell fire & festooned with parachutes.”

As the Berkshires arrived, the men who had endured that epic siege were given permission to leave. These included the Assam Regiment, Assam Rifles, composite Indian units, medical staff & remaining non-combatants, as well as West Kents.

Total garrison casualties during the siege are estimated as about 1,375 killed, wounded & missing. Of the 446 Royal West Kents who arrived on April 4, 78 had been killed & 200 wounded. Tragically, some were felled by snipers as they tried to leave, such as Corporal Les Rose.

After overseeing the relief, Garrison Commander Colonel Richards was amongst the last to leave.

“I made my way up Garrison Hill for the last time & on to IGH [Indian General Hospital] spur from where I watched the relief going on. I’d had a message from Major-General Grover telling me to call at his headquarters, so at about four in the afternoon I went down to the bottom of the Spur where the trucks were waiting”. (11)

The replacement garrison consisted of 1 Royal Berkshires, 1/1 Punjab & 6 Field Ambulance, commanded by Brigadier Shapland of 6 Brigade, 2 Division.

When the West Kents reached the road, the clean-shaven Indian truck drivers clapped & cheered them, with “Shabash, Royal West Kents”. Well done indeed. Ray Street was lost in his own thoughts & took no notice:

“We just settled down in the trucks & fell asleep with fatigue straight away as the trucks trundled down the mountain road towards Dimapur. A few miles down the road we were woken up for a meal & some tea, then off again, back, back to the base near Dimapur for a longer rest. We slept through the next 24 hours, missing meals, despite being called & woken up for them. Several razor blades were needed to cut off our beards which had grown during the seige. We cleaned ourselves up. Two lorries turned up with big copper tanks. They parked up & set up showers between them. They were hot too … we felt a lot a lot better for it. Some of the men had to shave their bodies because of lice & insects. We were all sprayed with some type of disinfectant.

Twenty-four hours later we were called into a large marquee. The CO told us what we had achieved in buying time for others to smash the Japanese advance on India. He told us he had been awarded the DSO, but it was for all of us, not just him. In a strange way I missed the bombardment.”

Major Donald Easten, 1944

Major Donald Easten, who had held John Harman as he died on Detail Hill, summed up the remarkable achievement of these men:

“the greatest honours are due to Tommy Atkins. He had fought for six months in Arakan, they had flown him to Dimapur, marched him up to Kohima, marched him back again. Then back once more to Kohima, where he was shot at as he got out of his trucks. He fought hand-to-hand battles practically every night, & his pals were shot down all round him. If he was wounded, he had no hope of evacuation. Day after day he was promised relief which never came; & his platoon, or section, or just ‘gang’ got smaller & smaller. My own company finished up 25 strong; one platoon consisted of a single grinning private, who asked if he could put a pip up. And Tommy Atkins did all that on half a mug of liquid every 24 hours.” (3)

In Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘Tommy Atkins’, the eponymous hero represents an average British soldier, who is not valued until there is a crisis

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country,” when the guns begin to shoot.”

Donald Easten aged 90, back at Kohima in 2008

April 19. Incredibly cheerful

There were no major attacks during the night until 04.30 hours, when the Japanese charged Garrison Hill from the south, capturing some bunkers that had held troops of the Nepalese Shere State Batallion. From there, infiltrators crept up the hill & approached the command posts, until stopped by vigilant defenders.

Attempts were made by 1/1 Punjabs to re-occupy the captured bunkers, but these held firm until 2 Division Engineers blew them up with gun-cotton explosives. Corporal Norman recalled that

“We collected all the pieces of what turned out to be 17 Japanese bodies & put them in a pit & burnt them.” (11)

In the bungalow sector, to the north-east of Garrison Hill, Jemadar Mohammed Rafiq won a Military Cross for leading his Punjab platoon to recover some positions that they had lost during the night.

The dangerous business of evacuating casualties & non-combatants under sniper & artillery fire was completed. Their long, agonising wait was over. It had been common for the wounded, lying in their excrement & covered in flies, to keep a grenade or revolver to end it if the Japanese reached them. Major Donald Easten reflected afterwards that

“Many of the wounded, I feel sure, died in the last days because they had given up hope. Yet they were incredibly cheerful, outwardly, up till the end. Those who were not wounded were too busy to think much, except perhaps at night, just before the time due for the evening hate, when they wondered whether their turn would come tonight.” (3)

More than 600 wounded were carried off the ridge, many suffering fresh wounds or worse. The tattered remnants of the Shere State Battalion were also allowed to leave, after their long ordeal.

The areas held by the Japanese suffered unrelenting artillery bombardment, as well as strikes by Hurribombers.

It was important to expand the area held by the Allies, as the congestion on Garrison Hill meant very high casualty rates from artillery & mortar fire. Even the air drops were causing injuries amongst the densely packed men. The 1/1 Punjabs attacked Kuki Piquet, but were repulsed with heavy losses. The Japanese had dug deep bunkers that protected them from artillery & they emerged unharmed when the barrage lifted, in time to cut down the attacking Punjabs.

Major Harry Smith, Officer Commanding HQ Company, Royal West Kents, was wounded by Japanese mortars:

“On the night of 19 April, it was arranged that the leading troops of 2 Div with tanks would relieve the West Kents. As I was about to make my way to Battalion HQ to receive orders for the relief, a mortar bomb burst on the front of my trench & a fragment entered my head just above the cheek bone. It knocked me out cold. I was given a shot of morphia & ceased to know any more until early the next morning.” (2)

April 18. Another world

The gaunt survivors on Garrison Hill had not expected to see the dawn, but the attack they had expected to sweep them away failed to materialise. As the sun rose, they could see the approaching Punjabis of 161 Brigade. Their deliverance was delayed for an hour by a road block, but then continued to advance.

Cap badge of the 1st Punjab,
161 Brigade, 5 Indian Division

At 08.00 hours, the Indian guns on Jotsoma Ridge began pounding the Japanese positions & were joined by the 25 pdr batteries of 2 Division. As the bombardment continued, eight British tanks trundled slowly up the road & halted under Hospital Spur. The commander of 1/1 Punjab, Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Grimshaw, led his men onto Kohima Ridge, where they took up positions facing south towards Kuki Piquet & north towards the tennis court.

As this was going on, RAF Hurribombers attacked the areas occupied by the Japanese. Lieutenant Peter Steyn of the 1st Assam Regiment felt a flood of relief:

“It seemed unbelievable that the nightmare of the past few weeks could be drawing to a close. Tired eyes watched as fighter-bombers of the RAF roared overhead to strafe GPT [Transport] Ridge & the surrounding area.” (11).

Ambulances arrived on the road beneath the ridge, where they were protected by the tanks. Walking wounded picked their way tentatively down the steep slope, whilst non-combatants carried 140 men down on stretchers. The West Kents’ Corporal Norman was assigned to check the stretcher cases:

“If they were dead, I had to send the Indian stretcher bearers round the back of the feature where they put the bodies in a heap to be buried later.”

Anxious to get away, many non-combatants & walking wounded set off up the road to Jotsoma, but artillery & snipers inflicted more casualties amongst men who thought they had escaped. Lieutenant Donald Elwell of 1st Assam Regiment remembered that

“The air above our heads was full of the song of bullets, which seemed to come from another world to that we were leaving behind.” (11)

Corporal Norman’s thoughts were less poetic:

“At 11.00 hours, Japanese shells started exploding among us & it was terrible to hear the screams of the injured. A large number of the walking wounded were killed. I saw trunks without legs & arms & bodies with heads blown off. Soon four tanks appeared on the road, fired at the Japanese gun that was shelling us & destroyed it. We continued the evacuation.”

That night, after an artillery barrage, both Garrison Hill & the tennis court area were attacked. The Punjabis suffered heavy loss & were driven from some of the trenches around the tennis court, yielding ground that had been contested for so long.

April 17. We’d had our chips

By early morning of April 17, the Japanese were gaining ground up the southern slope of Supply Hill, having overrun the forward trenches. Colonel Bruno Brown personally led 3 platoons of 1st Assam Regiment & Assam Rifles, under heavy mortar fire, to relieve the exhausted & depleted West Kents, who fell back to Garrison Hill. Some were dizzy & shaking from the battering they had received.

By this time, Private Ray Street felt that

“We didn’t know if we could carry on & hold out until help arrived, but we couldn’t give up. We all knew that wasn’t the answer. We had to dig deep.” (6)

1st Punjabis of 161 Brigade could be seen from Kohima Ridge, just half a mile away. However, a radio message informed the beleagured garrison that their relief was postponed because Major General Grover was concerned that 2 Division was vulnerable whilst spread along the road from Dimapur. They were taking casualties from snipers & ambushes, such as Fusilier Jones of 6 Brigade. Grover wanted time to concentrate his units.

That evening, a mighty barrage from Japanese artillery lasted almost 5 hours & forced the withdrawal from Supply Hill of Colonel Brown’s Assams & the other Indians who had been defending this fiercely contested position. In the maelstrom of the bombardment, Major Naveen Rawlley was left behind, with his orderly & signaller. They discovered this when the barrage ended & they saw “shoulder to shoulder, a solid phalanx” of Japanese 2/58 Battalion heading towards them (11). Rawlley & his men withdrew in great haste towards Kuki Piquet, the adjacent hillock that was still held by the garrison. There they were challenged by British sentries, who took some persuading that the three Indians were not infiltrators. Eventually, a West Kent officer recognised them & allowed them through.

No more than 40 able-bodied men were on Kuki Piquet, composed of Rajputs, Assams & West Kents. At 02.30 hours, they came under heavy mortar & machine-gun fire. The Japanese then launched a howling attack, preceded by grenades & phosphorus bombs. Tom Greatley watched in horror as

” a big Jap led the way & set off a phosphorous bomb & held it to his chest, laughing as he burnt to death.” (6)

This macabre incident well illustrates the assertion of Private Nobuyuki Hata that

 “When you charge the enemy, you just become this crazed being.” (3)

The defenders signalled for a barrage from 24 Indian Mountain Regiment at Jotsoma & this was promptly delivered, halting the assault. But then, according to Private Tom Jackson,

“All hell let loose: shells, rifle fire, shouting Japanese. I said that if the Japanese came up the hill, we’d had our chips.” (11)

They did & the defenders of Kuki Piquet were overwhelmed.

“We didn’t stand a chance. The Japanese were simply all over us. Hundreds of them.” (11)

Blue marks the area of Kohima Ridge that was still occupied by the garrison at dawn on April 18, 1944.

The survivors scrambled back to the last bastion, Garrison Hill. An area of just 350 yds square remained in the hands of the exhausted defenders. It was packed with men, including many terrified non-combatants & the wounded in their shallow trenches. The Japanese began a bombardment in which every shell was likely to kill, such was the congestion. Colonel Richards thought that

“The shelling was the heaviest & most concentrated we’d had.” (11)

Eventually the barrage subsided, leaving a desolate scene of scattered body parts & trees draped with the ghostly shapes of parachutes from the air drops. The haggard defenders waited for the next attack, each doubting their ability to withstand another maniacal assault. But no attack came, perhaps because the Japanese wanted to consolidate & reorganise, after storming Supply Hill & Kuki Piquet. Perhaps they felt that was enough for one night.

Colonel Richards felt appalled at the desolation all around, but drew comfort from the flag that continued to fly on Garrison Hill. It bore the white horse of Kent and the motto “Invicta”, which means undefeated.

Battle flag of 4th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kents, that flew on Garrison Hill during the Siege of Kohima, displayed at the Kohima Museum

April 16. Like zombies

Major Harry Smith, Officer Commanding HQ Company, 4th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kents, described the desperate situation on Kohima Ridge:

“The Japanese took enormous casualties from the Brens, rifles & grenades of the battalion. Their attacks went on night after night, all night. The sheer weight of the attacks threatened to overwhelm the battalion. The outer part of the defences became piled up with Japanese corpses.” (2)

“It was hard to bury the dead.  The Japs sniped us & the ground was so hard to dig, you couldn’t get very deep.  Rigor mortis set in & parts of arms & legs would poke out of the shallow graves.  We buried them at night.  They left their dead until they captured the position & then burnt them.  The smell of dead & burning flesh was terrible & drifted across our lines.”  (6)

“The smell of death increased as the days passed & bodies decomposed. Day after day our hopes were dashed when expected relief did not arrive. We began to walk about like zombies because we had little chance of sleep. The rifle companies on the perimeter were steadily pushed back as they were forced to give ground by overwhelming numbers of enemy.” (2)

A Japanese machine gun was harassing the Assam troops defending the tennis court area. As attempts to knock it out by mortar failed, four Assams attacked it, led by Angami, a local Naga. At nightfall, they charged 40 yards, each brandishing a grenade with its pin removed, & destroyed the machine gun & its crew. The attack was covered by Sepoy Wellington Massar of 1st Assam Regiment, firing a Bren gun. He placed himself in an exposed position, to maximise his field of fire, but this resulted in him being hit. He refused to leave his post for treatment at the ADS. After Kohima had been relieved he was hospitalised at Dimapur, where he died of gangrene. He was aged 19. Massar had distinguished himself during the Battle of Jessami & his continued bravery at Kohima earned him a posthumous Indian Distinguished Service Medal.

Sepoy Wellington Massar

Air drops were sustaining the garrison. Squadron Leader Peter Bray of 31 Squadron RAF, flying Dakotas from Assam to deliver supplies, described the routine:

“Take off would be around dawn at 6 a.m.  Flying eastwards one would see the paddy fields soon replaced by the inhospitable … Chin Hills running in ridges north to south, rising at first to a few hundred feet & gradually to 6,000 feet, each ridge with a correspondingly deep valley, much of which was covered by deep jungle.” (3)

“Briefing before take-off was provided by an Army Liaison Officer who defined the DZ with great care so that we would be able to find it from some prominent feature on our large-scale map.  DZ code letters were given to prevent supplies going to false DZs created by the Japs.  The pilot would make a straight approach on the DZ giving the ‘stand by’ light to the dropping crew in the back of the aircraft, followed by the ‘drop’ light when he judged the aircraft position to be right.  When the load was clear, the pilot made a steep turn to the left to observe the accuracy of the drop so as to know the correction to make for the subsequent drops.” (3)

Cargo being pushed from a Dakota over the DZ

Another Dakota pilot in 31 Squadron, Flight Sergeant Jim Bell, recalled the shock of seeing the Kohima battlefield as he flew low over it:

“It was pitiful – like World War One – slit trenches, no-man’s land etc. There were torn bits of parachutes of our previous drops torn to read a message on the ground, such as ‘H2O’ for water, or ‘AMMO’, ‘MED’ and ‘FOOD’. (3).

Ray Street had a different perspective:

“We had more airdrops & these were more successful than earlier ones, with most being recovered by our troops. That evening a Supply Officer slipped us a bottle of rum as he passed & we all had a good drink. I began to feel really merry & started singing aloud ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. Soon the others joined in & it seemed the whole hill was singing.” (6)

However, the effect of the rum was short-lived:

“The strain of war was now beginning to tell as, during & after each barrage, you would hear the groans & moans of those that had been wounded. But we were unable to help because if anyone tried to leave their trench they found themselves a victim of mortar or sniper fire. It was an awful mess.” (6)

Relief for the desperate garrison was close now, as leading units of 2 Division reached 161 Brigade at Jotsoma, just two miles from Kohima.

“2nd British Div was … clearing the road to reach us, but it seemed to take a long time. The situation got graver & graver as our numbers diminished.” (2)

April 15. We thought of them as vermin

During the night, the garrison was electrified by news that a patrol of 4/7 Rajputs had managed to penetrate the encircling Japanese to reach Kohima Ridge. The patrol commander was told by Lieutenant Colonel Laverty that although morale was high, he did not think the garrison could hold out for longer than another 48 hrs. The patrol returned to Jotsoma & passed this on to Brigadier Warren, commanding 161 Brigade, but they impressed upon him the high morale more than the urgency of the situation. Perhaps as a consequence, relief did not reach the garrison until April 18.

The guns of 161 Brigade’s 24th Indian Mountain Regiment continued to pound the Japanese from Jotsoma Ridge, 2 miles from Kohima. Since April 9, the Brigade’s 1/1 Punjab had been trying to clear Japanese bunkers on Picquet Hill, that had blocked the approach to Kohima. After significant bloodshed, they succeeded on April 15, thereby removing an important obstacle.

Meanwhile, Japanese artillery & mortars were focusing on Supply Hill. Their ammunition supplies were becoming depleted, so they had started to employ armour-piercing shells that were designed for use against tanks. As these did not explode, the defenders initially took them for duds, but they could penetrate a trench & kill its occupants.

During a mortar bombardment, one of the company runners panicked & left the relative safety of his trench. He only managed a few steps before an explosion caught him.

Private Ray Street, runner for C Company, recorded the danger of approaching an injured Japanese:

“Some of our chaps saw a wounded Jap fall & went to take him in.  As they approached, he pulled the pin from a grenade & blew himself to pieces, wounding & killing some of his would be captors.” (6) 

Major John Winstanley, Officer Commanding B Company, expressed the loathing felt by many West Kents for their enemy:

“We had experience fighting the Japs in the Arakan, bayoneting the wounded & prisoners. So whereas we respected the Afrika Korps, not so the Japanese. They had renounced any right to be regarded as human & we thought of them as vermin to be exterminated. That was important – we are pacific in our nature, but when aroused we fight quite well. Our backs were to the wall & we were going to sell our lives as expensively as we could. Although we wondered how long we could hang on, we had no other option. We had not thought of surrender at any level; we were too seasoned soldiers for that. We couldn’t speak Japanese, but there were some JIFs on the other side & we taunted them in English”. (2)

JIF is an abbreviation of Japanese Indian Forces, a term used by the British for units of the Indian National Army.

Private Ray Street of The Royal West Kents, whose vivid recollections have been captured by his son Robert in excellent books.

That night, it was Ray Street’s turn to collect water for the company runners from a pipe behind enemy lines. With the runners’ water bottles, he passed the ADS & the stenches of excrement & death from the many wounded lying in shallow trenches. He joined the anxious queue to fill the bottles at a pipe protected by a Bren gunner. Replenishing the water seemed to take an age and at any moment they might have been discovered by the Japanese. But they went unnoticed & returned safely. This gauntlet was run each night & Street was relieved that his turn had passed without harm.

April 14. Still loved & missed

Instead of their usual screaming charges, the Japanese attempted a surprise attack on Supply Hill during the night of April 13/14. They crept forward wearing plimsolls to lesson the sound of their approach. The West Kents were prepared, held their fire until the enemy were within 15 yards, then lit the scene with flares & massacred their assailants.

Keeping weapons clean & dry was almost impossible in a muddy trench pelted by the monsoon, especially as the troops were exhausted. This caused the weapons to jam, often at critical moments. A member of B Company was bayoneted when his Bren gun jammed during an attack. Private Peacock of D Company fell into an exhausted doze & awoke to find a Japanese Officer in his trench, who must have thought him dead. Peacock’s rifle was out of reach, so he grappled with the intruder & stabbed him with his own sword.

Many considered grenades to be the most useful weapon, especially at night when you couldn’t see your enemy clearly. Throwing a grenade did not reveal your position, unlike the flash of a gun. But stocks of grenades were running low for both sides. The Japanese sometimes used smoke grenades instead, as less satisfactory substitutes.

Japanese smoke grenade displayed at the Kohima Museum

The Assam Rifles relieved B Company of the West Kents, who had been defending the tennis court, allowing them to pull back to Hospital Spur. B Company Commander, Major John Winstanley, recorded that

“We shot them on the tennis court, we grenaded them on the tennis court.  We held the tennis court against desperate attacks for 5 days.  We held because I had constant contact by radio with the guns & the Japs never seemed to learn how to surprise us.  They used to shout in English as they formed up “Give up”.  So we knew when an attack was coming in.  One would judge just the right moment to call down gun & mortar fire to catch them as they were launching the attack, & by the time they were approaching us they were decimated.  They were not acting intelligently & did the same old stupid thing again & again.” (2)

This ability to contact 24th Indian Mountain Regiment on Jotsoma Ridge to summon prompt & accurate artillery strikes was undoubtedly crucial to the Garrison holding out. The Japanese attacked the position to try to silence the guns, but they were well protected by 1/1 Punjab & part of 4/7 Rajputs of 161 Brigade.

Air drops were successful, including much-needed water. However, one of the planes crashed into Transport Ridge. The garrison feared that aircrew, if they had survived, would be tortured by the Japanese. The abuse that commonly followed capture was a constant source of anxiety.

Garrison Commander Hugh Richards had a typed Order of the Day passed around the troops. This lifted their spirits & strengthened their resolution, stating

“I wish to acknowledge with pride the magnificent effort which has been made by all officers, NCOs & men & followers (non-combatants) of this Garrison in the successful defence of Kohima. By your efforts you have prevented the Japanese from attaining this objective. All attempts to overrun the Garrison have been frustrated by your determination & devotion to duty. Your efforts have been in accordance with the highest traditions of British arms. It seems clear that the enemy has been forced to draw off to meet the threat of the incoming relief force & this in itself has provided us with a measure of relief. The relief force is on its way & all that is necessary for the Garrison now is to stand firm, hold its fire & beat off any attempt to infiltrate among us. I congratulate you on your magnificent effort & am confident that it will be sustained.” (6)

Up the road, 2 Division received a more aggressive Order of the Day from Major General Grover:

“KILL JAPS. KILL AS MANY of them as we damned well can … without unnecessary casualties to ourselves. One well-aimed bullet is all that any Jap wants.” (3)

As Colonel Richards had promised his garrison, the relief force was indeed on its way. The hill occupied by Japanese to protect their roadblock at Zubza was stormed by The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of 2 Division, after a 20 minute bombardment. The assault cost the life of Lance Sergeant Robert Hannay. His wife Ellen never remarried &, many years later, her ashes were interred in Robert Hannay’s grave in the Cemetery at Kohima.

The Kohima Museum displays the tragic document that told Ellen Hannay the devastating news of her husbands death, from which she never fully recovered.

Despite Grover’s admonition to avoid “unnecessary casualties to ourselves”, two Lance Sergeants & a Lance Corporal of the Camerons were killed when a shot from British artillery fell short. They are buried on Kohima Ridge, with touching epitaphs (12):

Lance Corporal Robert Moore-Hemsley. In the garden of remembrance we meet every day. Loving wife & son Philip.

Lance Sergeant William Cavanagh. A smiling face, a heart of gold, memories of him will never grow old.

Lance Sergeant Arthur Woodall. Still loved & missed. He is ever dear. Though absent he is ever near. Phyllis.

April 13. A pitiful sight

150 West Kents, of the initial 446, were now dead or wounded.

The number of injured on Kohima Ridge grew each day. They were cared for by men of the 75th Indian Field Ambulance, who carried casualties to an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) northwest of Garrison Hill. Shallow trenches had been dug to protect these wounded from sniper fire, but rock beneath the soil restricted their depth to about two feet. Everywhere on Kohima Ridge was exposed to shell & mortar fire & many casualties received fresh wounds or were killed where they lay. Men lay in their excrement & were covered in flies. The numbers lying in shallow trenches had reached 200 by April 10 and kept rising. Ray Street thought

“It was a pitiful sight & the stench of death & excreta was overpowering. We tried to give words of comfort & support, but there was little we could do. I don’t know how they coped.” (6)

Gas gangrene is a bacterial infection in which blisters fill with gas from dying tissue.

Gas gangrene thrived in the filthy conditions & could kill within hours. Men knew that even trivial wounds could prove fatal.

Two operating theatres were constructed where the soil was deeper. A timber roof was built over one, whilst the other was covered by a tarpaulin. Here, doctors operated by the dim light of hurricane lamps, but many died of postoperative shock. Trestles & stretchers served as operating tables. The medics never seemed to rest & surgical instruments became increasingly blunt.

Two direct hits on April 13 killed 20 men, including two of the doctors, who were greatly missed. Body parts littered the area, including a head. The ADS had been wrecked, but a more sturdy replacement was constructed within hours, 10 feet long & 6 feet deep. However, much medical equipment & supplies had been destroyed.

It was crucial for casualties to be kept hydrated, but this was extremely challenging, as the water containers had been punctured by bullets & shells. There was no water source within the perimeter of the garrison. Ray Street explained:

“The enemy had cut off the water some days ago & it was only available from a few places, such as small streams or a joint on the mains pipe. These were all under the noses of the Japs & could only be used at night. We were rationed to 3/4 pint a day. That was nothing in those conditions & thirst became a big problem.” (6)

Attempts were made to deliver water & supplies by air drop. Ray Street described how

“The airdrops were a disaster. The area we were in was so small it would have been hard to hit if it was flat, let alone amongst the jungle & mountains. A drop zone was agreed & Indian non-combatants cleared the area under constant sniper fire. Flares were used to guide the first Dakota aircraft in, but the pilot must have passed & dropped the supplies behind the Jap lines. These included a mortar & ammunition that the Japs used against us. The other two planes succeeded with their drops, but many parachutes landed in the trees & with the Jap snipers about it was a dangerous business retrieving them. Water was dropped in petro cans & we watched in despair as the Japs shot holes in them as they hung from the trees. John Young recovered some of the medical supplies after dark & medicine & painkillers were given to the wounded. This greatly improved the operation of the ADS. However, very little water was recovered & the situation was past desperate. The airdrops continued daily after that.” (6)

April 12. A right battering

At first light on April 12, the Japanese attacked two platoons of 4/7 Rajputs on Supply Hill. They were driven back, leaving 30 dead strewn across the ground. According to Private Ray Street

“They copped a right battering” (6)

The whole of Kohima Ridge was exposed to artillery fire. Major Harry Smith, Officer Commanding HQ Company, recorded that

“Incessant shelling was the pattern of the place. It became extremely dangerous to walk about in daylight. On one occasion, a Japanese infantry gun bombarded my positions at close range, so close that the shell arrived before you heard the report of the gun, very disconcerting.” (2)

Private Bert Wheeler was a stretcher-bearer:

“As the days passed, the casualties built up & you had to step over them in the dressing station. They had no cover. It was under shellfire. Some wounded were killed, others were wounded a second time. The MO was operating under very primitive conditions. He sometimes ran out of dressings. You couldn’t clean the wounds. Gangrene developed.” (2)

As well as artillery fire, snipers were also a constant danger during the daytime. Private Ray Street was a company runner, whose job was to carry messages from headquarters to his company. This would mean running the gauntlet of the snipers. He described them vividly:

“Snipers were in the trees, hidden amongst the leaves. They picked people off at will. Some used “dum-dum” bullets. These exploded on impact causing severe injury.” (6)

“Our company sniper was called Cousins. He was red hot. He bagged 17 Japs in one day. On one occasion he must have shot a sniper 20 times. He thought he had missed & was losing his touch, until he realised the Jap was already dead. He’d tied himself to the tree so didn’t fall out.” (6)

“Somehow a sniper had made it onto the hill & was in a tree behind BHQ. He swept the area with automatic fire. Heffernan, the CO’s batman, calmly took his rifle & shot him first time. He was tied to the tree & his body lay hanging there for the rest of the siege.” (6)

Although he was a civilian & had been invited to leave before Kohima was surrounded, the Deputy Commissioner, Charles Pawsey, had insisted on staying with the garrison, on the ridge above his shattered bungalow. Ray Street was greatly impressed by the calm & courageous way he visited the gaunt, red-eyed men in their trenches, defying the snipers:

“He was a kind chap & moved around the hill lifting our spirits as he moved between our trenches & Battalion HQ. He stopped & talked to us saying that relief would get through & told us not to worry too much … He seemed without fear of bullets & shells as he strolled along in the open, as if defying the enemy.” (6)

April 11. Mr Watkins was the first to be killed

When the West Kents abandoned Detail Hill, late on April 10, Tom Greatley had been left behind. He was in an isolated trench & had not heard the order. He was shocked, next day, to hear Japanese voices above his bunker. Terrified, he waited for them to move away & then bolted for Supply Hill, expecting to be cut down at any moment. He made it with a huge leap across a shell crater.

The exhausted & heavily depleted remnants of A Company West Kents was withdrawn from the Tennis Court to the relative safety of Kuki Piquet, located behind Garrison Hill. They were replaced by B Company & the Mortar Platoon, who were now exposed to the screaming fury of Japanese assaults.

However, help for the beleagured garrison was finally on its way. The British 2nd Division had been assembling at Dimapur after travelling 2000 miles from southwest India. It was commanded by Major General John Grover, a thrice-wounded veteran of the Western Front in the Great War.

Map showing locations of units near Kohima on April 11 1944.
The British/Indian garrisson on Kohima Ridge was surrounded by Japanese 31 Division.
The remainder of Indian 161 Brigade was located at Jotsoma.
The vanguard of British 2 Division encountered a Japanese roadblock at Zubza.

The Japanese had cut the road from Dimapur with a roadblock at the Naga village of Zubza.

A Japanese roadblock

The roadblock was attacked on April 11 by two companies of the 7th Worcesters. This was the Worcesters first encounter with the Japanese, but their baptism of fire did not go well. Captain Arthur Swinson recorded that

“Soon the wounded came back in jeeps … Gave them cigarettes & tried to cheer them. They … were palpably shocked. Their eyes looked watery & there was an uncontrollable tremor in their voices. Met two men from 18 Platoon, one shot in the shoulder, the other in the arm. Told me they had attacked a small woody hill, but the covering fire had proved insufficient. The Japs got them at short range with LMG [light machine gun] fire. ‘Mr Watkins was the first to be killed’ they said.” (3)

Lieutenant Alstan Watkins was 26 years old. He is buried in Kohima Cemetery.

A jeep carrying wounded.

April 10. Caught in a net

Defending Detail Hill was costing so many lives that on April 10 it was decided to withdraw to stronger positions on the adjacent hillock, Supply Hill.

Blue shows the area of Kohima Ridge still held by the garrison on April 10.
It had shrunk considerably since April 5.

The few unwounded West Kents remaining from C Company were merged with D Company. They watched miserably the Japanese move forward into the vacated trenches on Detail Hill. The new tenants poured petrol over the many corpses, friend & foe, & set them alight. The stench of burning bodies was sickening & deeply distressing.

Swarms of bluebottles gathered around corpses, human or mule. The British tried to bury the dead, but this was hazardous. At night, the sound of digging brought mortar barrages & machine gun bursts. During the day, leaving a trench attracted sniper fire. This also restricted the options for soldiers to relieve themselves. A latrine had been dug, enclosed in a ‘foul tent’, but it was in such an exposed location that few risked visiting it. Most made do with a nearby shell hole or a corner of their own trench.

The Japanese taunted the British that they had been abandoned. Their planes dropped leaflets calling on the garrison to surrender & offering fair treatment. Such proposals were not trusted. Everybody had either seen or heard of captured British soldiers who were tortured & then bayoneted to death. As part of 5th Indian Division, the West Kents were in the Arakan when the Japanese murdered the wounded & medical staff in the Admin Box. News of that massacre had spread like wildfire through 14th Army.

Leaflet dropped on Kohima Ridge by Japanese aircraft

Men of the Indian National Army, allied to the Japanese, would call out to Indians in the garrison “Kill your officers”. Surrounded by unfamiliar men, Lieutenant Bruce Hayllar found this extremely unsettling.

“If it was your own men, you could be sure of them.  But I was put in charge of people I had never seen before … It was a horrible situation.”

Once again, frenzied attacks were launched across the tennis court during the night. A moment of crisis followed a mortar round landing directly in a British trench, wiping out its occupants. Replacements were rushed forward just in time before the next assault. At the other end of the ridge, the Japanese were able to attack Supply Hill from their new positions on Detail Hill. The defenders stood firm, but the casualty list grew.

To add to the misery, the monsoon began on April 10.

April 9. John Harman

April 9 1944 was Easter Sunday.  A service was held, but only 12 men attended.

Major Donald Easten brought some men to reinforce C Company on Detail Hill & amongst them was John Harman, hero of the day before.  Dawn revealed five Japanese setting up a machine gun in a vacant British trench at the bottom of the hill.  Flushed from his triumph of the previous day, Harman ordered covering fire & then charged down the hill, dodging bullets from the Japanese. He stopped a few yards short & shot four, firing his rifle from the hip, before bayoneting the fifth.  He brandished their machine gun & then smashed it to the ground, amidst cheers & applause from the British.  Then he walked calmly back up the hill, ignoring shouts to run.  A burst of fire from Jail Hill hit him in the spine.  Easten ran down & pulled Harman under cover, but he died within minutes. For this & previous acts of heroism, John Harman was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Corporal Trevor “Taffy” Rees had stood to cheer the exploit & was cut down, falling onto exposed ground.  He was paralysed & an attempt to recover him resulted in injuries to his would-be rescuer.  Rees became delirious, screaming in pain & calling for his wife & then his parents.  Stretcher-bearers attempted to reach him under cover of a smoke screen, but the Japanese saturated the area with fire.  Rees finally fell silent after eight agonised hours in pelting rain. The shock of Harman’s loss followed by the long, pitiful torment of Rees was deeply distressing to the British in that sector.         

Kohima Ridge had no source of water, so everyone there endured terrible thirst.  Rain was collected in helmets & mess tins.

Japanese 58th Regiment used scaling ladders to attack the ridge up the steep eastern slope from the road, but well-placed grenades were enough to defeat these attempts.

After dark, three attempts were made to storm Detail Hill, each with what seemed like over 200 fresh troops.  Countless Japanese were slaughtered, but C & D Companies of the West Kents also lost heavily. They stood firm, but they couldn’t keep winning like that.  There weren’t enough men left.

Attacks in the bungalow sector began at 22.00, just as Detail Hill quietened down.  The steep terracing kept the Japanese out of sight as they formed up, but they made no attempt to be quiet.  The 24th Mountain Battery Guns at Jotsoma were signalled. Their barrage began quickly & was very precise, with no shells landing less than 20 yds from the British trenches. As thunderstorms raged, the Japanese attacked for half an hour & sustained heavy losses from grenades, rifles, Bren guns & bayonets.  There were further attacks through the night that almost broke through, but the West Kents beat them back.

That night, the Assam Rifles fought off an attack on Hospital Spur.  Japanese dead were found to belong to 138 Infantry Regiment.  Men from 58 & 124 Regiments had already been identified.  The presence of a third regiment revealed to the garrison that they faced an entire division, which meant around 15,000 men.  This was 10-fold the number of combatant defenders when the siege began.  

April 8. Mutaguchi’s dream shatters

The sleep-deprived West Kents on Detail Hill kept busy all night with hourly probing attacks. Daylight revealed that a bunker 40 yds behind them had been occupied by Japanese with a machine gun. Lance Corporal John Harman crawled alone towards the bunker & then sprinted the last few yards, despite bullets all around him, & destroyed its occupants with a grenade. He carried the machine gun calmly back down the hill, enjoying the cheers & applause.

Harman was a mavarick. He was the son of a multimillionaire who owned Lundy Island. On two separate occasions, fortune-tellers had promised him a long life & so he behaved with casual recklessness, trusting these prophesies.

In happier times, the largest of the hillocks on Kohima Ridge had been known as Summerhouse Hill. Located there was the bunker of Colonel Hugh Richards, Garrison Commander, so it was now dubbed Garrison Hill, the summerhouse having vanished beneath a barrage. As C Company runner, Private Ray Street occupied a trench there, ready to carry messages to his company on Detail Hill. At times, Street felt as if all the artillery was targeting his trench.

A stepped series of terraces led north from Garrison Hill to the Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow, sited above the Traffic Control Point where the road from Dimapur turned sharply towards Imphal. An asphalt tennis court lay on one of the terraces, 40 ft above the bungalow.

Despite heavy losses, Japanese attacks on April 8 succeeded in taking the ruined bungalow. A 3.7-inch gun there was captured & turned on the defenders. Men left to cover the withdrawal were overrun & killed. A new defensive line was dug by West Kent’s A Company beside the tennis court. The Japanese pursued to within 20 yds & then dug trenches along the opposite side of the tennis court. This became the most brutally contested & dangerous spot of the battle.

With Kohima surrounded, Lieutenant General Mutaguchi signalled 31 Division to push on to Dimapur. A rearguard could deal with Kohima, a far bigger prize lay beckoning up the road. Capturing Dimapur would cut supplies to China & provide the resources for a glorious March on Delhi.

Mutaguchi’s order for 31 Division to proceed to Dimapur was copied to Burma Area Army HQ in Rangoon, where it was promptly countermanded by Lieutenant General Kawabe. Mutaguchi was apoplectic. He railed against Kawabe’s “timid character” when “the national fate depended” on his bold strategy. However, when granting permission for the campaign, Prime Minister Tojo had insisted

“Tell Kawabe not to be too ambitious”. (8)

Kawabe believed that Mutaguchi was driven by dreams of personal glory, picturing himself on a white charger leading the army into Delhi. Nevertheless, the strategy might have made a decisive difference to the outcome of the war. British high commanders were amazed & hugely relieved that 31 Division did not proceed to Dimapur, acknowledging its vulnerability at this critical moment.

Thus ended the March on Delhi.

Far from these momentous decisions, the men struggling on Kohima Ridge faced much more urgent challenges. Afternoons ended with a Japanese barrage, which the defenders called the Evening Hate. Darkness came suddenly, with no real twilight, & was followed by suicidal attacks. The defenders were alerted that these were imminent by the shouting of Japanese infantry, as they worked themselves into maniacal frenzies. This gave time to signal the Indian artillery at Jotsoma to target the coordinates where the attackers were assembling. Although very effective, the tactic demanded precision from the guns, which could never be guaranteed. On April 8, a misdirected shell collapsed a trench on Detail Hill, burying three West Kents. Two dug themselves out, but young Private Wells was killed.

April 7. Heaped in front of us

As dawn broke on April 7 (Good Friday), Japanese were found to have occupied during the night some bashas (huts) & the bakery on Detail Hill. Among them was the new commander of 58th Regiment, replacement for the CO killed on April 6.

Lieutenant Kameyama, adjutant of 2/58th Battalion, recalled that under cover of shelling

“… enemy soldiers came crawling up from the valley & threw grenades at us; a strong counter-attack. If they took this position & climbed up the hill, our men on the hill as well as the regimental & battalion commanders would be wiped out. So we had to prevent them getting up the hill at any cost … The Machine Gun platoon, with 2 guns, fought very calmly. They waited until the enemy soldiers came very close & fired accurately at them, followed by grenades, & several attacks were repulsed while enemy corpses were heaped in front of us.” (3)

West Kents & Gurkhas stormed 40 yds up the hill & ignited the bamboo huts with grenades. Ray Street saw it all:

“Some Japs stayed inside fighting until they burnt to death. Others ran out, some with their clothes on fire, & were cut down by Bren & rifle fire or by bayonet.” (6)

The brick bakery was more robust & the Japanese had sited a machine gun there, overlooking the trenches of C Company West Kents. According to Ray Street

“Lieutenant John Wright in charge of the sappers & Donald Easten in charge of D Company fixed bales of gun cotton to an old door taken from the hospital, fused & charged it & ran up the hill towards the bakery. They wedged the door against the brick ovens, ignited the fuse & ran back. A terrific explosion took place with bricks, timber, metal & provisions flying everywhere. The Japs ran out through the dust & smoke & were immediately cut down by C Company with Brens & rifles.” (6)

Over 60 Japanese were killed, including the replacement commander of 58 Infantry Regiment. It was only a day since he took over.

April 6. We cut them to ribbons, but they still got through.

A company of 4/7th Rajputs from 161 Brigade joined the garrison on Kohima Ridge in the morning of April 6. Despite this welcome reinforcement, the seige began badly for the Allies, with Transport Ridge falling to repeated assaults. Japanese 3/58th Battalion lost heavily during these attacks, including its commander. Lieutenant Kameyama sadly

“… asked someone to take care of the corpse; to bury him in earth & cut off his finger & cremate it. The finger bone would be sent to his home.” (3)

Opposite Transport Ridge was Jail Hill, which came under sustained artillery & mortar fire, forcing its defenders to withdraw by 11.00. This was a serious erosion of the southern sector of Kohima Ridge & exposed defenders of the adjacent positions on Detail Hill, C Company of the West Kents & the newly-arrived 4/7th Rajputs.

Blue areas indicate defensive positions on April 5,
but Transport Ridge & Jail Hill fell in the morning of April 6

Detail Hill was a small oval feature, 160 yds long & up to 40 yds wide, with huts storing ammunition & provisions. It was dominated by Jail Hill, from where it was bombarded & then attacked after nightfall. C Company runner Ray Street recalled

“After the barrage stopped the Jap infantry attacked. They didn’t make a secret of it. The moon was out & we could clearly see them forming up on Jail Hill. The Japs made a hell of a racket, blowing bugles, screaming & shouting, psyching themselves up for the charge. There was no doubt about it, we were scared. Then the training kicked in. We saw them come down Jail Hill & start to cross the road approaching the steep climb to our positions. We held our fire till then. They were about 30 yds away when we let them have it.” (6)

Lieutenant Victor King phoned mortars & artillery to direct their fire.

“They were very accurate & had a devastating effect, killing & maiming many of the enemy as they charged. But they kept coming, wave after wave of them, rushing towards our trenches. We cut them to ribbons but they still got through. There was that many of them.” (6)

Private Nobuyuki Hata of 58th Infantry Regiment described the attackers’ perspective:

“When you charge the enemy, you just become this crazed being. As soon as it’s over, you go back to being a normal human being, but when you’re in that situation you go completely mad”. (3)

April 5. Up for it

Probational Account Officer Masao Hirakubo was responsible for feeding the 3rd Battalion 58 Infantry Regiment. They had finished the food brought with them from Burma, so he was hoping to find new supplies on reaching Kohima. He was not disappointed.

“We went into Naga Village north-east of Kohima Ridge in the early morning of 5 April 1944 with complete silence, the enemy being surprised.  To my great delight there were 20 warehouses in which a lot of rice & salt were piled up.

I thought it essential to secure the food & asked the battalion commander to lend some men to carry out rice from the warehouses during the night.  The adjutant bluntly refused, as all the soldiers were fast asleep after the hard march in the mountains & the work could be done on the next day.  So I argued … & the commander finally supplied me with 50 soldiers.  I took command of the men & carried as much rice & salt as possible to a valley.  Next morning many British planes bombed the warehouses & everything remaining was turned into ashes.  I regretted not to have carried out more.” (5)

Having left Kohima on April 2, the men of 4th Battalion Queen’s Own Royal West Kents were told that they were needed back there urgently. As their trucks approached Kohima in the morning of April 5, their progress was hindered by crowds of panic-stricken Indians fleeing in the opposite direction.

On arrival, the vehicles came under artillery fire from 4 mountain guns located near the Naga village. The West Kents jumped out & scrambled up the steep slope to Hospital Spur of Kohima Ridge. From there, individual companies were deployed on the successive hills, where they dug in. The Japanese attempted to rush them before they had time to settle, but were beaten off with heavy casualties.

In all, 446 West Kents made it on to Kohima Ridge. They considered themselves tough professionals, having fought against the Germans & Italians in North Africa, as well as the Japanese in Burma. Lance Corporal Dennis Wykes recalled:

“We were up for it.  The lads moaned all the time like any soldiers would, but they had great pride in the battalion.  When you get the daylights hammered out of you as many times as we did, you either go to pieces or you feel you are special, and we were special.” (8)

Apart from these veterans, roughly another thousand infantrymen were already on Kohima Ridge, but most of these had little or no experience of battle. They belonged to a range of Burmese & Indian units, including the Assam Rifles & the 1st Assam Regiment, amongst them some of the exhausted heroes of the recent battles at Jessami & Kharasom. The West Kents referred disparagingly to their new colleagues as “odds & sods”.

Their effectiveness was diminished by the fact that they came from diverse units that had not yet worked together. This lack of coherence was greatly exasperated by the extraordinary refusal of the West Kent’s commanding officer to cooperate with the Garrison Commander Colonel Hugh Richards, who had been placed in charge at Kohima. Adding further to Richard’s problems was the presence of a thousand terrified non-combatants – administrators & depot staff who had not been trained to fight.

In total, there were about 2,500 men on Kohima Ridge on April 5 1944, of whom 1,500 were trained to fight, including 446 West Kents. Surrounding them were 15,000 experienced & confident Japanese of 31 Division. These were fearsome odds.

The West Kents belonged to 161 Brigade of 5th Indian Division. There was neither time nor space to get the rest of the brigade onto Kohima Ridge, so their commander, Brigadier “Daddy” Warren, sited them 2 miles away on Jotsoma Ridge. This was an inspired decision, as the position gave clear observation of Kohima Ridge. The Brigade included 8 guns of 24th Indian Mountain Regiment, which could deliver accurate fire when & where it was needed at Kohima. The mountain guns were protected by two battalions of experienced Indian infantry, 1/1st Punjab & 4/7th Rajputs. Artillery support from Jotsoma was to prove crucial.

April 4. Kohima has fallen!

Pressure mounted as more Japanese troops reached Kohima. The raw Nepalese & Indians assigned to watch the road to Imphal from Transport Ridge continued to be a source of concern. The war diary of 1st Assam Regiment recorded:

“1600 hrs Jap opened up with mortars and L.M.Gs [light machine guns] from right front lasting about 3/4 hour. This was directed over the whole position & was not heavy. This was answered by own troops again wildly & in all directions for most of the night & was only stopped by B.Os [British Officers] going round positions.”

According to the Assam’s war diary, by 2300 hrs a platoon of Sikhs, a mortar detachment of the Shere Regiment, a mixed infantry company & a number of Indian officers had abandoned their trenches.

“These positions were in the centre of the defences.  Their officers & men were not seen again.” 

The Gurkha reserves were used to fill the trenches they had vacated.

The Naga village at Kohima was occupied by the Japanese 2/58 and 3/58 Battalions, bayoneting as they arrived two sleeping sentries of the Shere Regiment. Staring into the night from his command post on Kohima Ridge, Colonel Hugh Richards watched the arrival of the torch-lit processions. Amongst them was war correspondent Yukihiko Imai, who promptly sent Tokyo a jubilant message that “Kohima has fallen”, a claim that was immediately broadcast worldwide. 

Reuters news agency transmitted a British denial.

April 3. Pictures of my family

Two hundred & sixty men of the 1st Assam Regiment, survivors of the battles at Kharasom or Jessami, managed to reach Kohima. Most arrived on April 3rd with Lieutenant Colonel ‘Bruno’ Brown. During the last stage of their march, they were mistaken for Japanese by RAF pilots & strafed. According to the regimental war diary

“Many of these men were without boots & little clothing, some were wounded & all were tired out & not in a fit state to fight.”

The wounded were transported on to Dimapur, whilst the others joined the garrison. Garrison Commander Hugh Richards wrote:

“The arrival of Col Brown & his men marching in with their heads held erect was one of the finest sights of the battle.  Until his arrival, no one knew what had happened to him.” (8)

Brown’s uniform was so tattered by this stage that the Deputy Commisioner gave him a sweater, which he wore for the next 2 weeks.

Kohima Ridge. Blue marks areas occupied by defenders on April 4. DC, Deputy Commissioner’s bungalow. TCP, Traffic Control Point

Kohima Ridge was about 1 mile long & 400 yards wide, with a series of wooded hills & gullies.  It had steep sides, at the bottom of which was the road between Dimapur & Imphal. Because it was a storage site, rations were available for 15 days, along with plentiful amounts of grenades & ammunition. However, there were no water sources within the defensive perimeter, only storage tanks that could easily be destroyed by enemy fire. A pipe ran from a source to the south, but this could be cut if it was discovered.

At the southern end was Transport Ridge, where Assam & Nepalese troops were located to watch the road to Imphal. At 1600 hrs, they spotted Japanese. It remained quiet until 2000 hrs, when a few shots were fired by a Japanese sniper. According to the 1st Assam war diary

“… almost every LMG & rifle in the position opened up & fired wildly in every direction for about an hour.  Complete lack of fire control & discipline & troops obviously shaken – some casualties to own troops by own fire. ”

At 2045 hrs, a patrol of the Nepalese Shere Regiment bolted along the main road, claiming they were being persued, although this appeared not to be true. British officers toured the position to steady the troops. Such jumpiness did not bode well for the defence of Kohima.

Japanese soldiers were reflecting on the imminent battle.

“We cut our nails & hair, wrapped them in paper and sent them back to the rear in case our bones were not recovered and could not be sent home.  I put pictures of my family in my helmet”. (5)

April 2. Browned off

The 4th Battalion Royal West Kents left Kohima at 13.30, heading back towards Dimapur. Having spent the previous day digging trenches in the rain & now suffering from a bad cold, Private Norman was thoroughly “browned off”. (8)

Garrison Commander Hugh Richards received an operational order to ”deny Kohima to the Japanese as long as possible without being destroyed yourselves”. (11)

There followed instructions to ensure the safe escort of the Deputy Commissioner & to destroy documents, stores & vehicles when the time came to withdraw. Richards kept these orders secret, believing that

“Nothing could be more unfortunate or undesirable than that there should get abroad any idea of the possibility of a withdrawal from Kohima, however remote. I therefore put the order in my pocket & neither showed it nor mentioned it to anyone except … my second-in-command.” (11)

At 18.00, a patrol of the Shere State Battalion of the Royal Nepalese Army reported that the Japanese were just 3 miles from Kohima. As evidence of this, they offered three Japanese ears.

April 1. Real panic stations

The town of Kohima was the administrative centre of Nagaland, under its British Deputy Commisioner Charles Pawsey, a veteran of the Somme. He lived in a charming bungalow at the tip of a steep-sided ridge covered in wooded hills. A manicured garden & tennis court spread over a series of terraces leading to a summerhouse. On the ridge were a bakery, food depots & a General Hospital of 1000 beds, which mainly treated victims of tropical diseases, especially malaria. Kohima also had a jail & a Naga village, perched on top of a separate hill.

Deputy Commissioner Charles Pawsey (in shorts) presenting Naga warriors to
Lord Louis Mountbatten

The importance of Kohima in 1944 was that its ridge dominated the road that ran to Allied IV Corps at Imphal from its supply base at Dimapur. Although its capture would leave IV Corps isolated & vulnerable, Kohima had not been prepared for defence. This crucial oversight reflected belief that the mountaineous terrain between Kohima & the frontier, 120 miles to the east, precluded attack by any sizeable force. This assumption underestimated the Japanese.

Approaches to Kohima (top right) from the east are shielded by mountains

Colonel Hugh Richards was in Delhi when he received orders placing him in operational control of all troops at Kohima. Arriving there on March 23rd, he found the town utterly chaotic. As midway post for troops, supplies & equipment moving from Dimapur to Imphal, the constant state of flux precluded reliable estimates of resources available for defence.

Sketch of Hugh Richards, Commander Kohima Garrison, drawn during the siege by his second-in command

Between March 17 & 29, 5th Indian Infantry Division had been airlifted to Dimapur & Imphal, an unprecedented operation to meet the crisis of the Japanese invasion. Kohima was reinforced by the 4th Battalion of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kents, part of 161 Brigade of 5th Indian Division. But on April 1, the brigade was ordered back to Dimapur, despite protests from its commander & from Hugh Richards. To the Deputy Commissioner “this was heart-breaking”. (8)

Recall of 161 Brigade was a panic response to an RAF report that Japanese had bypassed Kohima & were threatening Dimapur. The group spotted by the pilots & mistaken for enemy was in fact a large section of labourers.

To Lieutenant Tom Hogg of the Royal West Kents, their recall “smacked of confusion in high places”. (8)

Lieutenant Bruce Hayllar arrived that day to find Kohima at “real panic stations”. (8)

March 31. The spirit of the battalion was magnificent throughout.

Surrounded at Jessami with their radio smashed, the 1st Assams believed they were under orders to fight to the last man. Lieutenant John Corlett volunteered to carry through the enemy’s lines a message to withdraw. Initially, the Assams shot at him, assuming he was a Japanese infiltrator, but he persuaded them otherwise & delivered the new order.

Lieutenant Colonel ‘Bruno’ Brown decided it was too late to withdraw that night, so the garrison had to hold out at Jessami through another long day.  Expecting them to attempt a break out, the Japanese attacked repeatedly. Bunkers kept changing hands in savage fighting. When night came at last, the Assams abandoned Jessami.

The Japanese had laid ambushes, but ‘Bruno’ Brown extricated most of his men & led them to Kohima, a hazardous march of 78 miles, completed in just 39 hours.

British despatches reported that:

“Orders were given to the Jessami and Kharasom garrisons to withdraw on the night 31 March/1 April.  A message in clear was dropped on Jessami by air but, unfortunately, not on the garrison.  The consequence of this was that, when 1st Assam Regiment withdrawal took place, all roads & tracks leaving from Jessami were heavily ambushed by the enemy.  The withdrawal of 1st Assam Regiment completed a brilliant operation by a comparatively new battalion in their baptism of fire.  Not only had it held the enemy attacks & inflicted more casualties than it suffered, but it had successfully delayed the enemy’s advance and thus given valuable time for preparation to the Kohima Garrison.  The spirit of the battalion was magnificent throughout, and in the end it had extricated itself without any of the help it had been led to expect.”

March 30. The finest traditions

By March 30, most of Japanese 31 Division had reached Jessami. Three companies of 1st Assam Regiment were now facing five battalions of Japanese infantry & two battalions of mountain artillery. These were prodigious odds.

The 1st Assams had been ordered to fight to the last man. Staff at Kohima now rescinded this order, but could not tell the gallant Indians because they no longer had radio contact. The message was therefore dropped from a light aircraft. However, it fell outside the Assam’s perimeter & was recovered by the Japanese.

The persistance of the Japanese shelling & assaults was wearing down the Assam’s ability to hold them at bay. Jemadar (warrant officer) Tonghen Kuki showed conspicuous courage in supporting one of the defenders’ forward bunkers, for which he later received the military cross. The citation read:

After three days of hard fighting between 28th & 30th March 44 at JESSAMI, it was known that our men in a forward & isolated bunker position were short of food.  Jemadar TONGHEN KUKI volunteered to get the food to them, although aware that the ground was covered by Japanese machine guns at very short range.  Despite the fact that he was clearly visible to the enemy he again and again crossed the open space to the bunker carrying food, water and ammunition, under constant enemy fire from which he was eventually badly wounded in the head.  The magnificent courage of this Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer undoubtedly saved the lives of the men in the bunker, as well as enabling them to continue the fight.  His complete disregard of personal safety & determination were in the finest traditions of the service. (9)

Jemadar Tonghen Kuki of 1st Assam Regiment

That night, wave after wave of determined Japanese assaults were still unable to overcome the Assams. Any attackers who breached the outer perimeter were cut down by troops manning the inner defences.

March 29. All the calmness in the world

At Jessami, the mortars of the surrounded 1st Assams were put out of action by Japanese artillery & mortars. 

Japanese & their allies in the Indian National Army (INA) called out in English & in Hindustani for the Assams to surrender. Sovehu Angami, a havildar (sergeant) in the 1st Assams, recalled that

“The INA soldiers would ask our soldiers to go and join them in Hindi. Sometimes, our soldiers would invite them in Hindi and fire at them when they appeared!” (9)

Noisy Banzai charges were again made during the night. Although they were repulsed, the loss of their mortars made this more difficult for the Assams than on the night before.

Captain Peter Steyn was proud of his men:

“Young & inexperienced sepoys were fighting like veterans; red-hot machine-gun barrels would be ripped off, regardless of burns suffered in the process; Japanese grenades & cracker-bombs were picked up & thrown clear of the trenches with all the calmness in the world & there did not seem to be a man in the garrison afraid to carry out any task given to him.” (10)

March 28. Japanese reach Jessami

The 280 men of 1st Assam Regiment at Jessami lay in the path of the main thrust of Japanese 138 Infantry Regiment. As at Kharasom, the Assams at Jessami had prepared their position carefully, with deep trenches & mortar pits protected by barbed wire.

At 08.55 on March 28, the leading Japanese came into sight. The Assams watched the first 25 approach to within 40 yards, before cutting them down with Bren light machine guns.

Once alerted to the presence of their opponents, the main Japanese force behaved cautiously, spending the day attempting to draw fire from the Assams, to determine their strength & locations. The Indians waited calmly without returning fire.

Several noisy Banzai charges were made in the night, but were beaten off by the defenders’ fire without loss to the Assams.  Isolated infiltrators got through the wire before being killed.  Documents & a unit flag were gathered from Japanese corpses for intelligence purposes & carried to Kohima by runner. This was a good start, but the Assams knew that far worse was to come.

March 27. The last man

Whilst Japanese 58 Regiment was delayed by 50 Indian Parachute Brigade at Sangshak, further north the Japanese 138 Regiment was advancing towards Kohima. In their path lay 400 men of the 1st battalion Assam Regiment. This was the youngest regiment in the Indian Army, raised just 3 years previously from local hill-men, including many Nagas.

They had been ordered to defend the approaches to Kohima to the last man & the last bullet. Most were dug in at the Naga village of Jessami, but A Company, 120 men strong, was 9 miles south at the village of Kharasom. The Assam’s had carefully prepared their defensive positions, with deep trenches protected by barbed wire.

At daybreak on March 27, Captain Jock Young, A Company commander, saw a battalion of Japanese approaching Kharasom complacently, with mules carrying ammunition & elephants dragging artillery. Before they could deploy, their front ranks were scythed down by withering fire from the Assams. Three Japanese assaults before nightfall were repulsed with heavy losses. This pattern was repeated for the next 3 days.

By March 30, food, water & ammunition were running low. The arrival of fresh Japanese troops convinced Jock Young that the position would soon be overrun. He therefore ordered his troops to sneak away after nightfall, whilst he remained to fight on alone. Young was unaware that the order to fight to the last man had been rescinded. The Japanese attacked at dawn & were met by Young, manning a bren gun. He was quickly silenced.

Colonel Hugh Richards, garrison comander at Kohima, wrote of Jock Young’s heroic stand that

“As an example of complete self-sacrifice, nothing could be more magnificent.” (8)

Of the 120 Assams who had fought at Kharasom, 56 made it back to Kohima two days later.

Battle of Sangshak: The reckoning

The Japanese gave a casualty figure of 580 at Sangshak, of whom nearly half were killed. This included a disproportionate number of platoon & company commanders, which blunted the effectiveness of 58th Infantry Regiment. More importantly, their arrival at Kohima was delayed by 6 days, buying time for the Allies to rush in reinforcements.

Of the two thousand defenders at Sangshak, 900 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Worst hit was 152 Indian Parachute Battalion, which suffered roughly 80% casualties.

Monument at Sangshak

Lieutenant General W. J. Slim, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fourteenth Army wrote later:

“To the officers & men of the 50 Parachute Brigade I send my congratulations. Your Parachute Brigade bore the first brunt of the enemy’s powerful flanking attack, & by their staunchness gave the garrison of Imphal the vital time required to readjust their defences.”

March 26. Fight your way out

Major Maurice Bell of Brigade Signals Section:

“At 17.45 on the evening of 26th March, the signaller noted down a message received over the crackling radio from Major General Roberts: “Fight your way out. Go south then west. Air and transport on lookout. Good Luck. Our thoughts are with you.” (7)

“I could barely believe my ears or the accuracy of my morse reading! A moment of bliss as there dawned the possibility – however slim – of a future life. (7)

“Then came the doubts. Firstly, was this a genuine message or something sent by the enemy?  Secondly, had the Japs intercepted the message? We had destroyed our code books early in the battle to prevent them falling into Japanese hands & had been communicating ‘in clear’ ever since. On the first issue, we asked for information on personnel in Brigade Signals. This was personal stuff unlikely to be known by Japanese intelligence & included such details as the nicknames of various signalers. All the questions were answered promptly & correctly & we were reassured that the message was genuine. (7)

“On the second issue we could do nothing. I told the two operators to keep the news to themselves and took the message to Brigade HQ, wondering on the way how we would cope with the many wounded in the field hospital. (7)

There were about 150 severly wounded who could not be moved. Everyone knew that the Japanese routinely murdered such men, remembering the massacre of wounded in the Admin Box in February. “Much discussion & heart-searching” (8) preceded the decision to abandon the wounded. They were sedated & left in an opiate stupor.

The night was moonless & pitch black, allowing the survivors of 50th Indian Parachute Brigade to creep away in small groups. They made their way back to Imphal, a trek that took these exhausted men at least 3 days & demanded climbs of around 4,000 feet.

On this occasion, the wounded were spared because of the discovery that a popular Japanese officer, slain during the battle, had been wrapped in a blanket & buried. Lieutenant Shosaku Kameyama recorded that

“Our men were all moved by this. As the enemy treated our company commander respectfully, our regimental commander ordered that enemy wounded should … not be killed.” (8)

They were sent to Japanese field hospitals with orders to treat them mercifully.

March 25. None of us expected to get out alive

At 0400 hrs on March 25, after heavy artillery & mortar fire, a large Japanese assault broke into the church position, but was driven out.  This was repeated with fresh troops several times over the next few hours, fighting continuing inside the church, until all its defenders had fallen.

The Japanese were now established on the highest ground within the defensive perimeter, setting up their machine guns in the Indian’s trenches & gun pits.  Captain John Sanderson of 152 Battalion described this desperate combat: 

“My men and I were fighting for our lives, hand to hand, when a grenade exploded and knocked me out. A fellow soldier’s body fell on top of me. The Japanese came through bayoneting our men but they must have thought I was dead. A counter-attack finally drove the Japanese back again. When I regained consciousness, I found I was the only one left alive. The weapon pits were a shambles of dead and dying, both our own and Japanese. It was impossible to be certain who was still alive. Major Smith and Major Lock commanding the Mortar and Gun batteries were both killed fighting gallantly in counter-attacks to save their battery positions.” (7)

All the company commanders of 152 Battalion had been killed or badly wounded. Ordered to retake the church area, Lieutenant Robert de la Haye of the 152nd, calmly checked his equipment and combed his hair, before leading his men forward to fight their way up to the church with bayonet and kukri, but they were shot down in minutes. Some positions were retaken by further counterattacks, but could not be held because they had no more grenades.  

“We continued to fight by day & night.  The position became utterly gruesome & macabre.  The perimeter was littered with corpses, which could not be buried, & there were mule carcasses everywhere.  Some went into the cooking pot, but others very quickly rotted in that climate – and there were Japanese bodies, our own bodies, & excreta everywhere.  It was impossible to construct properly dug-down trenches, dysentery became rife & the situation was almost intolerable. We were getting weaker by the hour – our men were getting killed off one after the other, we were running out of ammunition & food & some men were almost delirious after many days without sleep. Some of us would drop off for a few minutes in mid-conversation.  The situation was desperate, & by 25 March, none of us expected to get out alive.  But somehow that didn’t seem to mean anything, either – we just went on, relentlessly.  I never heard a single man complain.” (3)

Captain Dicky Richards, 152 Indian Parachute Battalion.

Dicky Richards survived the Battle of Sangshak & rose to become a Brigadier in the British Army & a Commander of the British Empire.

March 24. Well done indeed

Lieutenant Kameyama Shosaku recalled: 

“We attacked every night from the 22nd to the 25th & every night many soldiers were killed. Despite that, we went forward.”

The defenders were under strict orders to stay put at night, so that any movement could be recognised as hostile & fired upon. A critically-wounded Gurkha filled the darkness with screams for his mother, before dying just before his comrades could reach him at dawn,  

Major Harry Butchard of 153 Battalion:

“Conditions on the plateau soon became pretty grim – bodies lying about, human & animal, decomposing rapidly.  Snipers were a constant nightmare – one morning I was speaking to two officers of 152 battalion, and when I returned that way a few minutes later, I found them both lying dead, in exactly the same place – shot through the head”.

High ground around the church was key to the whole position & under almost continuous attack.  If captured, the Japanese could sweep the area with fire.  Several times they reached the church, but were eventually driven back with heavy casualties.

A message of encouragement was received from HQ, saying

“Well done indeed.  Of greatest importance you hold your position.  Will give you maximum air support.”

March 23. The brave pilot

At daylight on 23rd March, Dakota transport aircraft dropped supplies, but were flying too fast & too high for accuracy, so that most parachutes floated down to the Japanese positions. Years later, John Sanderson, who in 1944 was a Captain in 152nd Battalion of 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, told his son (7)

“Dakotas flew over with parachuted supplies of ammunition, water, food and equipment. We were frustrated to see almost all these containers floating down into the Japanese-held positions. The mountainous region and low clouds made the pilots’ task difficult.

Parachutes dropping from a Dakota transport plane

“The aircraft came in high to avoid the enemy’s fire from the ground and slung their loads out in one run over the position. One aircraft, however, came over very low and made a number of runs over the hilltop, dropping only two parachute loads each run. The brave pilot made every flypast so low that the beseiged soldiers could see him waving. They could clearly make out the dispatchers in the doorway, as they watched and shouted encouragement. 

“The Japanese directed intense small arms fire from the jungle as the single Dakota flew over their heads. All subsequent supply drops followed the same pattern. Of every flight on subsequent days, they could only rely on being able to collect this one precious load. The pilot and crew of this aircraft had taken part in the Brigade air training. 

“On hearing that 50th Brigade was cut off, and having to rely entirely on supply from the air, they were determined that whatever happened, and regardless of the risk to themselves, the Brigade should at least get their entire aircraft load.” (7)

To try to recover parachuted supplies, an attack was launched by Gurkhas of 153 Battalion, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, but they were driven back empty-handed.

Gurkhas in action (NAM)

Ammunition & supplies quickly became depleted & rations were cut to a minimum. Priority was given to the wounded for what little water remained.

During the morning, large Japanese columns including elephants reached Sangshak, bringing artillery.

Both sides valued the strength of elephants, which were controlled by experienced native handlers.

Shelling began at midday, followed by large attacks. These were beaten off after fierce hand- to-hand fighting. A call for air support brought strikes by Spitfires, but targets were difficult to locate precisely & the defenders were strafed as well as the Japanese. 

March 22. No attempt at surprise

Once it got dark on March 22, Japanese of 2/58th Regiment charged in waves, without artillery support, up the slopes to Sangshak. They made no attempt at surprise, carrying lights & shouting as they ignited the village. Flames from the burning buildings lit the battlefield. Ninety Japanese were soon dead, including their battalion commander, but they kept attacking through the night, disregarding casualties. When dawn broke, the Japanese withdrew into the jungle & shooting subsided.

“From our experience in China we were confident of the success of the night attack.  But when 8th Company broke through the enemy front line … very fierce enemy firing made their progress impossible.  Under a strong counter-attack the commander and most soldiers of 8th Company were killed or wounded.  Though we wanted to advance we could not even lift our heads because of the heavy fire which we had never before experienced.” (3)

Lieutenant Shosaku Kameyama, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, 31 Division. March 1944.

March 22. Let everyone toast their lives to me

“Our battalion commander … ordered an attack during the coming night.”

“Company Commander Marukawa gave an address of instruction: “Let everyone toast their lives to me in this operation…” He was speaking in tears. Then about ten porcelain cups were brought in, filled with Japanese sake, and circulated among us. After we all had a sip, the cups were thrown at a rock to be broken in pieces – a ritual before going into a hard battle.” (5)

The Battle of Sangshak

The Battle of Sangshak by Søren Hawkes

“On the evening of 21st March, we occupied the village of Sangshak.  The enemy mounted a heavy counter-attack on us after sunrise.  This was the first time that we had fought with the British-Indian forces, which was very different from our experience of fighting the Chinese army which had inferior weapons to ours.” (3)

Captain Shosaku Kameyama, 3rd Battalion, 58 Infantry Regiment, 31 Division.

A webinar by Robert Lyman & Harry Fecitt describing the Battle of Sangshak can be found here.

March 21. Our great disappointment.

As instructed, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade prepared a defensive box at the Naga village of Sangshak, which was perched on a hill. The Allies had about 2,100 men, with mountain guns, machine guns & mortars. Digging in was hampered by hard rock just a few feet below the surface, so trenches were very shallow.

Although Sangshak was not on their way to Kohima, the Japanese were unwilling to leave a significant force threatening their flank. So they turned aside to deal with the unexpected threat of 50th Indian Parachute Brigade. Around 2,200 Japanese with mountain guns were initially engaged, but they were joined by more later.

Capturing supplies abandoned by their retreating enemies was a key part of Japanese strategy, as they had set off with only enough food for 20 days. Captain Shosaku Kameyama, of 3rd Btn, 58 Infantry Regt, 31 Division, recorded

“After 6 days’ hard march we poured into Ukhrul, a small village on the road from Kohima to Sangshak. British troops seemed to have evacuated it only a few hours before & the village was burning. We then realised that the enemy had destroyed all their food & supplies, to our great disappointment.” (3)

March 20. Your task is to destroy Japanese

Brigadier Hope-Thomson, Commander of 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, received the following orders:

“Your task is to destroy Japanese moving west through Naga Hills. If unable to do so owing to superior enemy strength you will ensure security of your force by concentrating it into close defence box in general area of Sangshak.

The Naga village of Sangshak

In event of enemy by-passing your positions you will cut their lines of communication and harass their rear.
Your continued resistance in your present area of operations is an essential part of a plan for defence of Imphal.
If your communications are cut and cannot be opened you will be supplied by air.”

March 19/20. Such a brave act.

Unknown to either side, the 50th Indian Parachute Brigade lay in the path of the Japanese advance. Formed of volunteers from many regiments, they were carrying out jungle training near the Naga village of Sangshak & were not yet prepared for combat.

Insignia of 50th Indian Parachute Brigade

The first Indian unit to make contact was C Company of 152 Battalion, who were several miles from most of the brigade, on a hilltop in an isolated position. On March 19, the seven British officers & 170 men of C Company found themselves surrounded by 900 Japanese of 58th Regiment. Repeated attacks were repelled until the following morning, when, according to the 58th regimental history

“Suddenly from the top of the hill, a small group of about 20 men charged down towards us, firing & shouting in a counter-attack … At the very top of the position an officer appeared, put a pistol to his head & shot himself in full view of everyone below. Our men fell silent, deeply impressed by such a brave act.” (3)

Indian troops attacking

This futile gesture seems extraordinary for a British officer. It is far more consistent with the culture of the Imperial Japanese Army, where suicide could be considered heroic, even when nothing was gained. Perhaps this is why the Japanese were so impressed.

Of the 177 paratroops of C company, only twenty escaped.

Conditions were hard

Senior Private Manabu Wada, of 3rd Battalion, 138 Infantry Regiment, 31 Division, recalled that

“Conditions were hard, well-nigh impossible.  At 3,000 metres the mountains were shrouded in freezing cloud, and the rocks and trees were covered in moss and lichen.  Matches struck at this altitude went out immediately, so we could not light cooking fires or boil water. 

Our cattle and horses fell down the mountainside, taking our provisions with them; the slopes were so steep we couldn’t go down to retrieve anything.” (5)

A Japanese column climbing in the Naga Hills

“We complained bitterly to one another of the incompetence of our generals who had sent us into the mountains without any proper climbing equipment or clothing, and hampered by large herds of cattle which could not climb the steep, rocky paths which even we soldiers found hard enough.” (5)

Japanese troops climbing, burdened with equipment

“But at last we reached the summit and could see, to the west beyond the boundless sea of clouds, Tibet and the Himalayas.” (5)

Peaks of Himalayan mountains in the distance, like a row of clouds.

Beasts of Burden

Japanese 31st Division had to cross mountainous jungle terrain to reach Kohima, 120 miles away. There were a few narrow, winding tracks, but no roads that could take motor transport from the frontier. An average infantryman carried about 100 lbs, so heavy that he needed help to stand up; this included his personal supply of rice for 20 days. Mules could carry 160 lb & were used in huge numbers, as were horses. 

Terrain crossed by the Japanese 31st Division en route to Kohima.

Mutaguchi attempted to use bullocks to transport stores & munitions, providing his army with a source of fresh meat when needed, but these beasts plodded far too slowly.  They were used to pulling carts or ploughs, not to carrying burdens on their backs, & they would stop frequently & stubbornly refuse to move. This was hugely frustrating for troops rushing to reach their objective. Captain Shosaku Kameyama expressed the opinion that

“These ideas of our top brass proved to be wishful thinking, which disregarded the harsh reality.” (5)

A Burmese bullock

Captain Kameyama recorded that 700 oxen were allocated to his battalion & one of its four rifle companies was converted into a transportation unit responsible for them. This was less than popular for these young fighters, eager to prove themselves in battle.

17,000 of the beasts of burden supporting the Japanese, mules, pack ponies & bullocks, perished in the Invasion of India.

March 15.  Japanese 31 Division set off for Kohima

March 15th 1944.  Japanese 15th & 31st Infantry Divisions crossed the Chindwin, heading for Imphal & Kohima, respectively.

Invasion routes of Japanese Divisions

Senior Private Manabu Wada, of 3rd Battalion, 138 Infantry Regiment, 31 Division, recalled:

“I shall never forget the date of 15 March 1944. This was the dry season and the great Chindwin River was now so shallow that we were able to walk across to spearhead 31 Division’s rapid advance to attack the British and Indian forces beyond the Arakan Mountains and capture Kohima in India’s Manipur State.  At that time we thought only of victory, never of defeat.” (5)

Japanese infantry fording shallow river

In contrast to Manabu Wada’s 138 Infantry Regiment, most crossings were further south where the river was higher & needed pontoon bridges to get over the Chindwin.

River crossing by Japanese infantry using a pontoon bridge

Mutaguchi’s Plan

The Japanese 15th Army that invaded India was commanded by Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi. He was 56 years old & liked to brag of his prowess in combat & with women. Ambitious & political, he had been prominent in the belligerent faction that had precipitated war with China. He sacked his chief of staff for suggesting that the invasion of India would be unable to overcome the logistic challenges of supplying an army across mountainous territory with inadequate roads.

Renya Mutaguchi, Commander of the Japanese 15th Army

Mutaguchi’s primary objective was to destroy the Allied IV Corps, which was based at Imphal, using two of his divisions (15 & 33). His remaining division (31) would head for Kohima, a small town in the Naga Hills. Capturing Kohima would cut the main supply route to Imphal & isolate Allied IV Corps, allowing its destruction by 15 & 33 Divisions (his “Victory of Annihilation”).

Mutaguchi’s plan to cut off & crush Allied IV Corps at Imphal, push on through Kohima to capture Dimapur, closing this supply route to China

The Allied supply base was at Dimapur, which had airfields, good rail connections & huge store depots. Dimapur was the source of supply not only for Allied IV Corps, but also for China, which had been at war with Japan since 1937. Mutaguchi planned for 31st Division to push on from Kohima & take Dimapur. This would be catastrophic for the Allies. Not only would it cut the supply route to China, but the resources at Dimapur would springboard his triumphant “March on Delhi”. He imagined millions of grateful Indians overthrowing the British, their colonial oppressors, & welcoming their Japanese liberators, supported by the Indian National Army.

Support for the Japanese by a soldier of the Indian National Army (INA)

Airlift

Reacting to the Japanese invasion of India, Lieutenant General Slim, Commander of 14th Army, met Lord Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, on March 14th 1944 & requested a fleet of transport aircraft to transfer Indian 5th Division to Imphal from the Arakan region of Burma. This would require 260 flights by C47 Dakotas & would be the first airlift of such magnitude in history. Motor vehicles, guns & mules had to be transported, if the division was to operate effectively on arrival.

A mule being loaded onto a C47 Dakota

Ray Street remembered that the mules urinated as soon as the planes’ engines started & the urine collected under the floor amongst the electrics:

“In the heat the stench was awful. The aircrew went mad.” (6)

Indian 5th Division, “The Fighting Fifth”, was in good spirits after breaking through the Japanese to relieve the Admin Box in February, the first major victory by British & Indian troops in the Burma Campaign. The airlift began on March 17th and was complete by March 29th.

Contemporary pamphlet chronicling the excellent wartime record of 5th Indian Division

Indian 7th Division, heros of the Battle of Admin Box, were subsequently also flown up from the Arakan to meet the invasion. The rapid arrival of two entire divisions was not anticipated by the Japanese and had massive impact on the strategic situation. It was made possible by the huge increase in Allied air power in 1944.

Gurkha

Gurkhas are mercenaries from Nepal, renowned for their courage & fortitude. They have fought with the British since 1815, formerly as part of the Indian Army. A British officer of a Gurkha regiment recorded:

“Gurkhas were wonderful chaps to command. They had a lovely sense of humour. You had to prove yourself, but once they liked you they would do anything for you.” (4)

The Gurkha in the foreground is carrying a kukri, the long curved knife characteristic of these troops.

After Indian independance, Gurkhas transferred from the Indian Army to the British army, where the Gurkha Brigade continues to serve with distinction.

Indian National Army (INA)

Subhas Chandra Bose had been a leader of the radical, wing of the Indian National Congress, becoming Congress President in 1938. He was replaced in 1939 following differences with other leaders and later placed under house arrest by the British, for promoting civil unrest.

Bose escaped from India in 1941 and traveled to Berlin to appeal to Hitler for support in securing independence for India by force. A brigade was established, termed the Free India Legion, of 4,500 Indians captured by the Germans in North Africa.

Bose meeting Hitler in 1942

Bose then turned to the Japanese and, with their assistance, organised the Indian National Army. A 16,000 strong Division was assembled, composed largely of Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army who had been captured by the Japanese when Malaya & Singapore were conquered. There were executions of some Indian prisoners of war who refused to join the INA.

Photographs found on a dead Japanese soldier that are thought to show executions of Indian POWs who refused to join the INA

The INA Division supported the Japanese 15th Army when it invaded India in March 1944, urged on by Bose with the slogan “Onward to Delhi”.

Imagined rout of British troops by INA in alliance with the Japanese

An anonymous Indian corporal explained:

“I joined the INA after hearing Netaji. The Japanese were not cruel to anyone. They said the Asians should fight for their independence, and all Asians should be independent. We were fully confident that the Japanese would hand independence to India, as they had done to the Burmese, the Malays, the Thais; all the Asians. The Japanese remained in Burma because Nehru said on the radio that he didn’t need any help from outside”. (2)

There was no mention of the 14 million, mostly civilians, who died during the Japanese occupation of China. Netaji means “Respected Leader” in Bengali, a title applied to Subhas Chandra Bose.

An attempt to encourage defections from the British Indian Army

Two Million Indian Volunteers

Red Ensign of British India

Despite the civil unrest, more than 2 million Indians volunteered to join the Indian Army & fight alongside the British. It was the largest conscript army in history. Sometimes referred to as the British Indian Army, to avoid confusion with the Indian National Army (INA).

Although junior officers were often Indian, the senior offices were British. Many Indian Infantry Brigades contained one British and two Indian battalions. For example, the 161st Indian Brigade, which stopped the Japanese from taking Kohima, comprised the 4th Battalion Royal West Kents, the 1st Battalion 1st Punjab and the 4th Battalion 7th Rajputs.

By 1945, 14th Army troops were 87% Indian, 10% British & 3% African. A report produced by the British War Office, based on interrogation of prisoners, was disappointed to record that the Japanese considered that Indians & Gurkhas were better soldiers than the British.

Quit India

General Mutaguchi, who launched the Japanese invasion of India in 1944, believed that its population would rise up against the British colonial oppressor. Civil unrest in India provided grounds for this belief.

India for the Indians

Since 1858, the British Crown had ruled the Indian subcontinent. Most Indians wanted the British to leave. Aware that this was inevitable, Britain promised a gradual devolution of power to give Dominian status to India, in return for supporting her in the war against Germany, Italy and Japan. Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian Congress Party rejected this proposal and launched the Quit India Movement in 1942.

2017 Indian stamp commemorating the 1942 Freedom Movement

The British authorities arrested & jailed the Congress Party leaders, including Gandhi. Wide-scale rioting erupted across India, leading to 100,000 arrests & hundreds of fatalities. Instead of fighting the Japanese, 57 British battalions were kept for internal security in India.

March On Delhi!

March 7th 1944. Tokyo Radio proclaimed “The March on Delhi has begun.  Our victorious troops will be in Imphal by March 27th.” (3)

Invasion of India!

March 6th 1944.  Japanese 33rd Infantry Division began crossing Chindwin River, heading for Imphal.

A Victory of Annihilation! 

Lieutenant General Mutaguchi, Commander of Japanese 15th Army, issued a proclamation:

  “The Army has now reached the stage of invincibility & the day when the Rising Sun shall proclaim our victory in India is not far off.

 When we strike we must be absolutely ready, reaching our objectives with the speed of wildfire … we must sweep aside the paltry opposition we encounter & add lustre to the army’s tradition of achieving a victory of annihilation.” (3)

Queen of the Nagas

The photograph & caption below is from the Bombay Chronicle, 9 September 1945, and shows the marriage of Ursula Graham-Bower, who lived with the Naga people. She led a group of Naga tribesmen to provide valuable intelligence about the strength and activities of the Japanese. Her husband was a British intelligence officer of V-force.

In her own words:

“My parents could not afford to send me to Oxford, so instead I went to live among the Naga tribes and carried out ethnographic work.  When war broke out I … helped start a Watch and Ward scheme in Nagaland. My job was to collect information on the Japanese and send it back by runner.  But it had problems.  There was no hope I could conceal myself in the Naga village.  I am too tall and light skinned. In Burma when British officers were occasionally hidden, the Japs tortured the villagers until the officer gave himself up. I fixed up with Namkia, the headman, that I wasn’t going to be taken alive.  So I would shoot myself, and he would take my head in, if the pressure on the villagers became unendurable”. (2)

Forgotten Army

The 14th Army was formed in late 1943 to fight the Japanese. Thirteen infantry divisions served within it, of which eight were Indian, three African and two British.

The British referred to themselves as the Forgotten Army, because press coverage back home always focused much more on events in Europe.

Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Commander South East Asia, used to get a laugh from the troops by joking:

“I know you think of yourselves as the forgotten army, well let me tell you you are not forgotten…”

…pause for effect…

“…nobody even knows you’re here!” (1)

Quotations are cited from:

(1) “Burma ’44” by James Holland (2016) Transworld Publishers.

(2) “Forgotten Voices of Burma” by Julian Thompson (2009) Ebury Press.

(3) “Japan’s Last Bid for Victory” by Robert Lyman (2011) Praetorian Press.

(4) “Nemesis. The Battle for Japan, 1944-45” by Max Hastings (2007) HarperCollins.

(5) “Tales by Japanese Soldiers of the Burma Campaign 1942-1945” by  Kazuo Tamayama & John Nunneley (2000) Cassell Military Paperbacks.

(6) “The Siege of Kohima” by Robert Street (2003) Barny Books.

(7) “The Indian Arnhem” by Myles Sanderson (2024) Hermes Messenger of the Gods, digital magazine of The Parachute Regimental Association.

(8) “Road of Bones” by Fergal Keane (2010) HarperPress.

(9) “The advance toward Kohima“. The Soldier’s Burden.

(10) “The History of the Assam Regiment” by Peter Steyn (1959) Orient Longmans, India. 

(11) “Kohima: The Furthest Battle” by Leslie Edwards (2009) The History Press.

(12) “The Trees Are All Young on Garrison Hill” by Gordon Graham (2005) Kohima Educational Trust.

(13) “Kohima, An Historic Village” by John McCann (1988) John McCann.