Before proceeding with the next phase of operations,
it is necessary to give a general picture of the situation in Burma
at the end of 1944. The defeat of the Japanese in the Arakan and
at Imphal had been followed by an Allied advance out of Assam and
Manipur into Burma itself. The XXXIII Corps had thrust forward as
far as Kalewa and the stage was set for the crossing of the Chindwin,
the first of the great river barriers of Burma, and for an advance
towards the Irrawaddy.
A small but firm bridgehead had been established on the east bank
of the Chindwin, and the largest Bailey bridge in the world built
across the river. A pause then followed to enable the build-up of
supplies for further operations. It was decided that the XXXIII
Corps should drive straight for the Irrawaddy from Kalewa, while
the IV Corps, now under General Messervy, moved down the Gangaw
valley with the object of crossing the river farther south behind
the Japanese main forces at Mandalay.
The 7th Division formed part of the IV Corps
and was to move on Pakokku, on the Irrawaddy.
ADVANCE TO THE IRRAWADDY
On the 29th of December the l st / 11 th Sikhs left Kohima in motor
transport and arrived in Tamu, in the Kabaw valley, on the same
evening. Here Major Spink, finishing his notes on the First Burma
"After Rangoon fell we had
to go back because our one slender line of supply was threatened.
We had no planes and air supply was a mere conjecture of the future.
Now, nearly three years later, we are on the same road again, but
this time with a difference-tanks, guns, lorries pour down the road
in a steady stream-moving south! The continuous buzz of aeroplanes,
speeding on their many and nefarious missions, is entirely ours!
We are on the same road, with a difference, for we are tried and
trusted veterans of war, and we are moving south! Jubilantly we
shall go back to avenge our gallant comrades who are no more. We
are the same Battalion on the same road, with a difference, for
it has not been achieved without cost; only one officer remains
to point out the landmarks of the way, while many tried and trusted
comrades who fell in the Arakan and in Imphal teaching the newcomers
the way of it all have died to make this new advance possible. But
we are on the right road, the road leading south, the hard, dusty
road we know of old. We shall keep faith with those who died."
From Tamu the Battalion moved to the Gangaw valley, where the 7th
Division was concentrating. Early in January the Division commenced
moving down the Gangaw valley; the 89th Brigade was in reserve and
the Battalion did not go into action. The leading troops encountered
slight opposition in Gangaw and thereafter small determined Japanese
rearguards held up the advance of the Division for some days. The
89th Brigade was therefore sent on a wide encircling movement to
cut off the main Japanese forces in front of the Division.
On the 18th of January the 1 st / 11 th Sikhs set out with the Brigade
and arrived at Yebo, on the main road, on the 27th of January, having
covered a hundred and eighty miles over very difficult country in
eight days. Although this was two days before the date set by General
Evans, who had taken over command of the Division from General Messervy,
it was just too late to cut off the Japanese. However, the threat
to their rear had been sufficient, since it had forced them to pull
back quickly and had enabled the Division to continue its advance.
The 89th Brigade then moved south down the main road and seized
Pauk and the high ground to the east overlooking the Irrawaddy,
while the Sikhs occupied the village of Sinthe. During this period
the fighting was not intense, and consisted only of encounters with
small Japanese rearguards hindering the Allied advance. Pakokku,
a few miles east of Sinthe, was held by the Japanese in strength,
so the Sikhs were ordered to patrol down the Yaw Chaung towards
Myitche and if possible occupy the town. The Battalion encountered
no opposition and secured the town on the 5th of February. Myitche
was situated on the Irrawaddy, so the Battalion had the distinction
of being the first troops to reach the river south of Mandalay.
THE CROSSING OF THE IRRAWADDY
The 33rd Brigade was ordered to carry out the assault crossing of
the Irrawaddy just north of Pagan, so Myitche became the scene of
feverish activity as preparations were made for the crossing. Meanwhile
the 1st/ l 1th Sikhs were sent to carry out a feint crossing some
six miles farther south in order to distract the enemy's attention
from the main crossing.
The Sikhs commenced to reconnoitre and patrol both banks of the
Irrawaddy at the point selected for the feint crossing. All assault
craft had been allotted for the main crossing, so the Battalion
was forced to rely on country boats and local boatmen, who were
reluctant to cross the river. However, after some persistent persuasion,
they finally agreed to take the patrols to the eastern bank on the
11th of February. These patrols found that the southern end of Pagan
on the far side of the river was unoccupied by the Japanese, so
the Divisional Commander, on receiving this information, decided
to turn the feint into a crossing and the Battalion prepared to
cross in force.
On the night of the 12th of February the Sikhs, together with a
battery of mountain artillery, moved over to an island in the middle
of the river from which the crossing was to be made. This was no
easy feat. It was a pitch-black night, only six country boats were
available to cross three hundred yards of water and all sorts of
stores had to be carried two miles across the island in local bullock
carts. However, in spite of these difficulties, the Battalion was
safely hidden in its concentration area by dawn and immediately
prepared for the crossing.
At 11 o'clock in the morning came disturbing news. A patrol which
had been sent to the far bank with a wireless set during the night
reported that the enemy were now holding Pagan. The Sikhs' efforts
to attract the enemy's attention had met with now unwanted success.
It was too late to change the plan by landing farther south, since
a high wind and a heavy swell prevented boats being moved downstream.
At 4 a.m. on the 14th of February "B" Company, under Major
Merrick, set off in fifteen large, unwieldy, country craft. All
went well until they neared the far bank, when they were met by
a hail of machine-gun fire. The local boatmen immediately panicked,
stopped rowing and cowered in the bottom of the boats. Neither persuasion
nor threats would induce them to go on, and the boats began to drift
downstream completely out of control. The men did their best, but
the boats were too unwieldy in the strong current for them to handle
and they were carried away. After drifting for some time the boatmen
were eventually persuaded to row and to take the Sikhs back to the
island. "B" Company was very lucky to have only one man
wounded, but it was quite obvious that it would not be possible
to carry out a landing on the opposite bank without some form of
assault craft which could be handled by the men themselves.
However, this abortive attempt had drawn a large party of Japanese
from the main crossing and had undoubtedly assisted the 33rd Brigade
in establishing a bridgehead farther north.
Early on the 15th of February two men of the Indian National Army,(
A force of Indians fighting for the Japanese) carrying a white flag,
crossed the river from Pagan. These men reported that the Japanese
on the far bank had moved up northwards and had left a company of
the Indian National Army to hold Pagan. This company, they said,
wished to surrender. Major Merrick immediately volunteered to take
his company across the river. Only three country boats were available,
so he set out with one platoon. There were no local boatmen and
the men had to paddle the unwieldy craft themselves. All went well
and the Sikhs crossed without encountering any opposition. As Major
Merrick reached the far bank the company of the Indian National
Army marched down to the river and laid down its arms. More boats
were hurriedly collected and by evening Battalion Headquarters and
"A" and "B" Companies were securely established
in Pagan. The remainder of the Battalion, with the exception of
"C" Company, who . were protecting the southern flank
of the Division west of the Irrawaddy, crossed with the mountain
battery the next morning.
Pagan used to be the ancient capital of the Burmese kings, and
is noted for its countless pagodas, many of which dated back to
the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The Burmese here welcomed the
Battalion and deprecated the Japanese, who had looted most of the
priceless treasures from their ancient temples and removed them
HOLDING THE BRIDGEHEAD
The 1st /11th Sikhs contacted troops from the main crossing the
morning and were given the task of protecting
the right flank of the bridgehead. On the 17th of February the Battalion
moved some two miles south of Pagan and took up a position on the
Chauk road. Patrols were pushed out southwards and soon made contact
with parties of the enemy moving north, apparently with the object
of reinforcing the Japanese opposing the main bridgehead. "B"
Company therefore set off down the road early on the 18th of February
to drive back the enemy. A patrol was sent ahead and it was not
long before it contacted a company of Japanese in position near
a ruined pagoda. Two men of the patrol were wounded, but "B"
Company pushed on and the enemy withdrew to a large red pagoda about
half a mile farther south.
The ground here was very open and Major Merrick
considered that he could not advance without support, so he sent
Lieutenant Proudlock back to Battalion Headquarters to explain the
situation. Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton asked Brigade Headquarters
to send a troop of tanks and then ordered Captain Pritam Singh to
take a section of mortars forward to support "B" Company.
He then moved forward with a small headquarters to the ruined pagoda.
The tanks arrived at about 11 o'clock and "B"
Company advanced. The enemy were driven back and withdrew to some
high ground to the south. While "B" Company and tanks
pursued the retreating Japanese down the east of the road, the Commanding
Officer and mortars moved forward to the red pagoda. On the right
of the road the ground was very broken and here over a hundred Japanese
were hiding in a village and were not spotted by "B" Company
in its pursuit away on the left. As soon as "B" Company
had moved forward, the Japanese debouched from the village and counter-attacked
the red pagoda. Battalion Headquarters and the mortars were completely
surprised and were lucky to get away towards "B" Company
in a 15-cwt. truck just as the enemy closed in on the pagoda. Captain
Pritam Singh, however, was badly wounded in the first few minutes
and, although Major Webster and Lieutenant Proudlock made every
effort to carry him away, he had to be left behind in a very exposed
position. Nevertheless, he had a very lucky escape, since a Japanese
officer brandishing a sword came right up to him, but, believing
him to be dead, he passed on.
"B" Company was still pursuing the Japanese and was unaware
that another party of the enemy had closed in behind it, when the
Commanding Officer eventually caught up with it. He immediately
ordered Major Merrick to turn about and counter-attack the pagoda.
It was now the turn of the Japanese to be surprised.
The tanks moving back in support of "B" Company inflicted
heavy casualties on them, blasting some out of their positions with
their 75-mm. guns and catching others in the open with their machine
guns. After some confused and brisk fighting the Japanese were thrown
back, leaving some fifty killed on the field. "B" Company's
casualties were slight, although Major Merrick was unfortunately
mortally wounded gallantly leading his men in the latter part of
The story of this action would not be complete
without mentioning the exploits of Sepoy Pertap Singh, the driver
of the truck. He followed up the tanks, driving across the open
picking up the wounded. The Japanese naturally directed a considerable
amount of fire against the truck, but Pertap Singh refused to remain
behind under cover and calmly drove around under continuous fire
to collect dead and wounded. But for his gallantry, for which he
received the Military Medal, it would have been very difficult to
have retrieved the wounded without losing further casualties. During
the whole of this time Captain Pritam Singh had been lying in the
open and all attempts to bring him in had failed. However, he was
eventually spotted by a tank and brought back. Two platoons of "A"
Company, called forward by wireless, now arrived and covered the
withdrawal of "B" Company to the Battalion position.
This sally forth had broken up the enemy column moving north and
had inflicted serious losses on the Japanese, who were trying to
concentrate against the main bridgehead.
Throughout the next night "D" Company,
under Major Dykes, holding a position some two miles east of the
Battalion, was heavily attacked, while subsidiary attacks were launched
against the Battalion. "D" Company was greatly outnumbered
and had to fight hard all night to hold its position, but the enemy
was eventually beaten back with considerable losses along the whole
front. Lance-Naik Maghar Singh was responsible for holding an important
post in "D" Company's position, and there is no doubt
that it was chiefly due to his great courage and determination that
the enemy were prevented from infiltrating at a vital point in the
perimeter. He was bombarded with grenades throughout the action
and was severely wounded on three separate occasions. However, he
refused to leave his machine gun and threw the enemy back time after
time until they finally withdrew. After this there was little enemy
activity and the Battalion spent two quiet days. On the 23rd of
February the Japanese put in another determined attack during the
night and were again repulsed with further losses. During this action
Lance-Naik Dalwara Singh displayed outstanding gallantry, when his
section had suffered heavy casualties and his Bren gun was put out
of action. Seeing that his position was in danger of being overrun,
Lance-Naik Dalwara Singh jumped out of his trench and ran over to
the Bren gun under heavy enemy mortar and automatic fire and brought
the gun into action. He was almost immediately wounded, but he continued
to fire his gun and hold the enemy in check. The Japanese redoubled
their efforts to rush his post and Dalwara Singh was wounded again
in the left arm. Despite his second wound, he kept the gun in action
until the enemy were finally driven off. The great courage of Lance-Naik
Dalwara Singh alone prevented his section position from being overrun
and materially assisted in the defeat of the enemy. The Japanese
had suffered so much during these battles that they now abandoned
their attempts to reinforce the troops opposing the crossing farther
north and withdrew.
During all this time troops of the IV Corps
were streaming across the river and had cut off the main Japanese
forces south of Mandalay by occupying
Meiktila. The 7th Division, however, had to remain static and hold
the bridgehead until the whole Corps had crossed the Irrawaddy.
On the 21st of February the 89th Brigade moved
south as far as Monakton and took up a position in the dry, arid
area north of Singu, which covered the approaches to Chauk and the
oilfields. The Brigade was now disposed with the 4th/8th Gurkhas
astride the main road to Singu and the l st / 11th Sikhs in position
three miles east of the Irrawaddy with "D" Company farther
east in the village of Tetma, while the King's Own Scottish Borderers
were in reserve.
It was soon apparent that the enemy was beginning
to concentrate in front of the Brigade preparatory to a further
attack on the bridgehead. The main concentration was in front of
the Gurkhas, who forestalled his plans by sallying forth with tanks
and attacking the Japanese in their concentration area with excellent
results. Another enemy column advanced on "D" Company
at Tetma and occupied a position astride the track, about six hundred
yards south of the village. This party was unexpectedly encountered
by two Sikh patrols which had met and joined forces to return to
"D" Company along this track. The Sikhs, thinking that
this was only an enemy ambush, fixed bayonets and charged. Such
was the ferocity of the charge that the patrol went straight through
the Japanese position, which was found later to be held by about
a hundred and fifty men. Of the fifteen men in the patrol, eight
were killed and seven seriously wounded, but, in their wild charge
they had killed twice their own number and so shattered the morale
of the Japanese that they evacuated the position and withdrew south.
"A" Company, under Major Webster,
now relieved "D" Company in Tetma and two days later encountered
an even larger Japanese column advancing on the village. This column
launched a determined and sustained attack on "A" Company
throughout the night of the 15th of March, The Sikhs, well supported
by the Battalion mortars, beat off all attacks and in the morning
collected twenty enemy bodies on or near the wire around their position.
"A" Company's casualties were negligible and no one was
Other than the Tetma battles little of interest
occurred and on the 22nd of March the 1st/ 11th Sikhs handed over
to the King's Own Scottish Borderers and passed into Brigade reserve
on the bank of the Irrawaddy. It was with a certain amount of relief
that the Sikhs moved back to the river. For them the past month
had meant hard living under difficult conditions. They carried out
continuous long-range patrolling over soft sand with few tangible
results to show for their efforts. In addition, the heat had been
considerable and water was very scarce. After a few days' rest the
Sikhs moved forward and took over from the Gurkhas on the 27th of
After the Gurkhas' sallies the enemy had withdrawn
to Singu, a suburb of Chauk, some five miles farther south. In order
to keep contact with the enemy, the Sikhs established a patrol base
on a hill feature called Fantasia just north of Singu. This, as
its name implies, was a thoroughly unhealthy spot with little natural
cover and dominated by enemy observation posts. It attracted a considerable
amount of artillery fire. It was during a spell of harassing fire
that Major J. Frith, R.A., commanding 347 Battery, was killed. He
had lived with the Battalion for a long time and, both in the Arakan
and during this campaign, had given the Battalion unfailing and
By the beginning of April the IV Corps
had passed through the bridgehead, linked up with the 19th Division,
who had captured Mandalay, and defeated in detail the main Japanese
forces south of the town. The 7th Division therefore was able to
return to the offensive and advance south down the Irrawaddy. Lieutenant-Colonel
Hamilton left the Battalion on the 16th of April and Lieutenant-Colonel
Spink became Commandant.
The Division now came under General Stopford's XXXIII Corps, since
the IV Corps had now moved farther east and was advancing down the
Sittang' valley towards Toungoo.
ADVANCE DOWN THE IRRAWADDY
The 33rd Brigade carried out a wide encircling movement to
the east and the Japanese, fearing encirclement, withdrew from Chauk,
which was entered on the 19th of April. The enemy had been taken
completely by surprise, so the 33rd Brigade was ordered to advance
south and capture Yenangyaung. The Japanese resisted stubbornly,
but were thrown back and the 33rd Brigade occupied the town on the
21st of April.
The main Japanese forces, which had garrisoned Chauk and Yenangyaung,
had withdrawn to the west bank of the Irrawaddy, so the 89th Brigade
was ordered to cross the river and capture Salin to cut off as many
of these Japanese forces as possible.
The 1st/ 11th Sikhs were ordered to cross the Irrawaddy at Kyaukye,
a village some ten miles north of Yenangyaung, and to secure a bridgehead.
At 8.30 p.m. on the 23rd of April "A" Company, under Major
Webster, led the second assault crossing of the Irrawaddy, but this
time in craft more suited to the task. The crossing was unopposed
and by midnight the Battalion was firmly established on the western
bank. The whole crossing proceeded with a smoothness and speed which,
in view of its inexperience, were most satisfactory and reflected
the greatest credit on all ranks, particularly "A" Company,
who without any previous knowledge of these craft paddled itself
silently across with a speed that was most impressive.
The 89th Brigade then passed through and established itself astride
the main road and captured Salin. The enemy were now withdrawing
rapidly southwards to avoid the advance of the 7th Division and
then swinging eastwards across the Irrawaddy while other Japanese
forces were withdrawing from the Arakan over the An Pass towards
Thayetmyo. The 89th Brigade was therefore ordered to advance south
and cut off and destroy these enemy columns. On the 25th of April
the 89th Brigade set off for Minbu with the 1st/ 11th Sikhs in the
lead. Little opposition was encountered, since the enemy was using
tracks farther west, and on the 30th of April the Battalion entered
Minbu without opposition. Minbu was an attractive place almost undamaged
and full of abandoned dumps of ammunition and other enemy equipment.
On the 2nd of May the Sikhs again led the Brigade in a series of
forced marches, over deep muddy tracks, which the premonsoon rain
had made almost impassable. Despite these difficulties, the Battalion
covered over fifty miles in three days and by the 6th of May had
cut the first Japanese escape route at Yenema. "A" Company,
which was advancing some six miles ahead of the Battalion, had a
short, sharp engagement with a party of Japanese, who arrived in
Yenema at the same time. Sepoy Bawa Singh distinguished himself
in this action by getting his Bren gun into action quickly and killing
fifteen of the enemy with three long bursts from a Bren gun.
It later transpired that this enemy party was a reconnaissance
party sent ahead to choose a camp site for the night for the Japanese
column, which was only half an hour's march away.
On the 6th of May the 4th / 8th Gurkha Rifles were ordered to do
a forced march to relieve the Sikhs on the ground at Yenema and
so enable the Battalion to press on south-west and cut another possible
Japanese line of withdrawal down a track following the Pani Chaung
in the next valley to the west.
Accordingly, "C" Company, under Major Heath, was ordered
to move at midnight, while the rest of the Battalion followed at
7 o'clock the next morning after being relieved by the Gurkhas.
"C" Company reached the valley of the Pani Chaung and
then turned over a small range of hills before dropping down into
Shandatgyi. While the forward platoon of "C" Company was
moving over these hills and down to Shandatgyi itself, Major Heath
sent a small patrol to the village of Kaingngegyi on the Pani Chaung,
barely half a mile away. The patrol reported the village occupied
and a large party of Japanese bathing in the river. With a section
of 3-inch mortars in support, the company attacked the village with
the two platoons under Subadar Bachan Singh. Unfortunately the enemy
were on the alert and "C" Company met with very stiff
resistance on the edge of the village. About eighty Japanese were
found to be holding a strong position with five machine guns in
well-sited bunkers. The leading platoon suffered heavy casualties
close up to the enemy defences, which were located behind a strong
bamboo stockade just inside the village.
The wounded were in a very exposed position
and lying so near the enemy trenches that it was impossible to put
down either further supporting fire or to set fire to the village
until they had been collected. This was a long, tedious and costly
business in which Subadar Bachan Singh displayed great courage and
devotion to duty. With complete disregard of his own personal safety,
he personally led three men forward to knock out an enemy post which
was preventing the collection of the wounded. Under very heavy fire
at close range, this party crawled forward to within a few yards
of the enemy trench, when it was held up by a six-foot bamboo fence.
Subadar Bachan Singh could not force his way through the fence,
so he bombarded the enemy post with grenades. His three companions
were almost immediately killed, so he crawled back and collected
another party. He then led this party round to a flank to assault
the post from another direction. Subadar Bachan Singh was again
stopped by the bamboo fence and the party suffered several casualties.
Realizing that further attempts to take the strong-point would cause
additional casualties unless some supporting fire was arranged,
Subadar Bachan Singh ordered two men to give him covering fire while
he crawled forward and dragged six wounded men back to safety.
The forward platoon having now rejoined from Shandatgyi, the company
put in a full-scale attack under cover of the Battalion mortars,
which arrived just in time to get into action. Although 347 Battery
of the 136th Field Regiment was moving with the Battalion and a
troop had been brought into action some miles up the Yenema track,
it was not possible to give "C" Company artillery support.
The company set fire to the village with smoke grenades, but in
spite of this the enemy resisted stubbornly and they were driven
out only after some fierce and bitter fighting. Subadar Bachan Singh
again displayed great gallantry in this attack and personally led
the leading troops forward in the assault. It was largely due to
his initiative and example that the Sikhs managed to rout the enemy
in their strong position. Some thirty-three bodies and a mass of
equipment were recovered at the end of the day.
The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Spink, arrived on the
scene just as "C" Company put in its first attack. It
was quite obvious that this was the ideal spot in which to block
the valley of the Pani Chaung, and he ordered the remainder of the
Battalion forward as quickly as possible and take up positions to
block the valley while "C" Company's battle was still
"C" Company had had a very tiring day and had suffered
some twenty casualties, but the men were in the best of spirits
after their successful attack and immensely pleased with the loot,
which included a large number of binoculars, swords and other trophies,
among which were five bottles of Imperial Japanese saki!
From the number of officers killed and the amount of equipment captured,
the village appeared to have been occupied by some form of headquarters,
but the Commanding Officer was fairly certain that the main body
of the enemy had not yet moved into the Pani Chaung valley. Villagers
reported that parties of enemy troops had been moving south down
this track and there was a large party of enemy at present resting
at Okpo village, some five miles due north.
On receiving this information, Lieutenant-Colonel Spink ordered
a fighting patrol of twenty men of "D" Company, under
Jemadar Mehar Singh, to raid this village during the night of the
7th of May. Despite its fifteen-mile march earlier in the day, this
platoon covered five miles of most difficult country and reached
the village at about midnight. Jemadar Mehar Singh placed 'stops
all round the village and then set fire to it. The Japanese were
taken completely by surprise and ran out in disorder and the platoon,
aided by the light of the fire, killed twenty-five Japanese before
being forced to withdraw by sheer weight of numbers. This patrol
returned at dawn on the 8th of May and reported its
remarkable action. It seemed incredible that the platoon should
have gained such a success in a strange and difficult country, and
Lieutenant-Colonel Spink sent out an officer with a small patrol
to collect more information. Not only had Jemadar Mehar Singh raided
the correct village but the twenty-five enemy bodies were still
lying there. This patrol of twenty men had covered approximately
thirty miles in twenty-two hours and had successfully ambushed a
large party of the enemy-an outstanding achievement.
Throughout the 8th of May patrols scoured the valley of the Pani
Chaung and reported the presence of enemy troops some twelve miles
to the north. At about 5 p.m. Brigade Headquarters reported that
the main body of the enemy had pulled back from Yenema and had turned
west and might be expected down the Pani Chaung during the night
of the 8th of May. Some four miles north of the Battalion position
the main track from the north divided into three. One led to a valley
five miles west of the Pani Chaung; one turned east and crossed
the Yenema track some five miles north-east of Shandatgyi, while
the main track led to Shandatgyi through the Battalion position.
Accordingly, two platoon ambushes were organized for the night of
the 8th of May on the enemy's most probable lines of advance. The
platoons moved out to positions about two miles. north of the Battalion.
Jemadar Bhag Singh and his platoon occupied the ambush on the main
track. At about 9 p.m. a very large enemy column ran into this ambush.
In the running fight that ensued, Jemadar Bhag Singh fought a very
clever rearguard action and delayed the Japanese advance on to the
Battalion position for nearly seven hours by constantly forcing
the enemy to deploy before a succession of small ambushes. When
about half a mile from the Battalion Jemadar Bhag Singh broke contact
and slipped back into "C" Company's area. A few minutes
later, at about 3.30 a.m., the leading elements of the enemy bumped
Under the impression that this was another ambush, the whole column,
including some seventy three-ton lorries and nearly as many bullock
carts, closed up on their forward troops within a few hundred yards
of the company. The artillery forward observation officer and mortar
observation post, aided by a good deal of noise, put in some very
effective shooting. As soon as the Japanese recovered from their
surprise, they attacked strongly under cover of a 75-mm. gun and
an anti-tank gun.
While this attack was developing, Subadar Naranjan Singh, who had
been in the western ambush position, began to appreciate the situation.
By the sound of the firing he judged that Jemadar Bhag Singh was
falling back towards the Battalion. He therefore decided to move
east and his platoon struck the centre of the enemy column just
as it had been brought to a standstill by "C" Company.
Subadar Naranjan Singh immediately attacked and caused considerable
casualties and damage to the enemy. Amongst other things, the platoon
managed to hit and destroy, with anti-tank rifle grenades, two three-ton
lorries full of troops. Almost simultaneously the Commanding Officer
ordered a platoon of "D" Company to move up the eastern
bank of Pani Chaung and attack the column from the eastern flank,
in an endeavour to silence and capture the 75-mm gun.
These unexpected flank attacks in the centre of the very congested
and vulnerable column completely disconcerted the enemy, who began
to withdraw at about 7.30 a.m. "B" Company, under Major
Redding, was at once ordered to follow up and force the Japanese
to deploy and fight again. As soon as this had been done the Commanding
Officer ordered "A" Company to be prepared to move through
the jungle to the west in an encircling movement in order to strike
again at the enemy flank and rear. "A" Company thereupon
concentrated in "C" Company area ready to move.
By 8 o'clock "B" Company had reached a point about four
hundred yards along the track from "C" Company's position.
The Japanese had not expected a follow-up and their fighting troops
had fallen back on to their congested transport, which they were
vainly trying to turn round and sort out. As soon as the enemy had
recovered from surprise, they counter-attacked with the fanatical
ferocity of complete desperation. "B" Company suffered
heavy casualties and it seemed that it might be overrun by superior
numbers of the enemy. The Commanding Officer therefore decided to
change his original plan and ordered "A" Company to assist
By the time the situation in "B" Company area had been
restored, it was nearly 2 o'clock. The enemy had managed to prepare
a very strong rearguard position covering their column. In view
of this and the fact that the men were now very tired, the Commanding
Officer decided to do nothing further until nightfall other than
maintain contact with patrols.
Soon after dark, at about 8 p.m., the enemy began probing "C"
and "B" Companies' positions and it appeared as if they
were trying accurately to locate our posts before putting in an
attack. At about midnight this attack developed, but was not pressed
home with great determination.
At this time "D" Company reported the noise of motor transport,
and the Commanding Officer, realizing that the attack was probably
a feint to cover a withdrawal, asked the gunners to harass the track.
At about 4 a.m. enemy pressure on "B" and "C"
Companies' positions ceased and as soon as it was light "D"
Company moved forward down the road to the track junction and killed
six Japanese stragglers, but the main party had pulled out and was
withdrawing with all speed down the westerly track. It was in the
course of this battle that Lieutenant Amar Singh was killed when
gallantly leading his men. He was first wounded and was lying in
the open about fifty yards from the enemy. Sepoy Sarwan Singh immediately
dashed forward under heavy enemy machine-gun fire and brought him
back to safety. However, Lieutenant Amar Singh was so badly wounded
that he died shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, the 4th/8th Gurkhas had been relieved by the King's Own
Scottish Borderers at Yenema on the 9th of May and had taken up
a position at Shandatgyi with two companies at Taungdaw in the next
valley. This effectively blocked the last route open to the Japanese.
These companies were savagely attacked for three days before the
Japanese finally abandoned their transport and dispersed in the
jungle in small parties.
The enemy column when it first struck the Battalion was approximately
two thousand five hundred strong and had seventy-five lorries and
some sixty bullock carts. All this transport and much valuable equipment
was captured, while between five and six hundred of the enemy were
killed. Oi' this number the Battalion accounted for over two hundred
On arrival at Mindon the 89th Brigade, less the 1st/ 11th Sikhs
and the King's Own Scottish Borderers, were ordered to Thayetmayo
to take up monsoon quarters, reorganize and refit for the autumn
campaign. The Battalion and the King's Own Scottish Borderers were
placed under the temporary command of the 268th Brigade and ordered
to work as independent columns and clear two tracks down to Kama,
where the 268th Brigade had been established to prevent the escape
of the shattered remnants of the 54th Japanese Division.
On the 21st of May the Battalion moved out of Mindon just as dawn
was breaking. The operation was scheduled to take five days, the
first and longest march of which was to take them as far as Kabaing,
some fifteen miles south of Mindon. The monsoon was just breaking
and, after several days of heavy rain, the track was deep in mud,
while the various streams which had to be crossed had become raging
torrents, waist-deep in water, and presented a difficult obstacle
for both man and mule. Sun and rain followed each other intermittently
and the atmosphere was oppressive and steamy. The track wound up
and down over the hills and the heavy mud, which clung tenaciously
to one's feet, the stifling humidity and the constant inclines made
the march an arduous and tiring performance. It was a very weary
battalion that eventually began to approach Kabaing.
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon Major Redding, commanding "B"
Company, which had left some four hours ahead of the Battalion,
came through on the wireless to say that they were now half a mile
north of Kabaing, and that Kabaing was reported by villagers to
be occupied by a party of about a hundred Japanese with two or more
While "B" Company patrolled forward, the Battalion closed
up and at about 3.30 p.m. Lieutenant-Colonel Spink met Major Redding
and moved forward to his leading platoon. While the Commanding Officer
was viewing Kabaing through the trees, a patrol returned and confirmed
the report that the village was held. It also reported that a sentry
post with a light machine gun, which was acting as an outpost to
the village, was covering the crossing across the stream just north
of the village.
This was bad news; the men were tired, it was getting late, an air-drop
was expected at any moment and the Battalion had to get into position
and dig in quickly, since more parties of Japanese were expected
through Kabaing that night. A villager, however, agreed to lead
the Battalion across the stream at a point where it was thought
to be under cover from the sentry post. This was very
risky, but the Commanding Officer decided to send "C"
Company forward. since it was essential to get on to the high ground
south of the stream.
"C" Company therefore moved across the stream and occupied
the high ground without opposition. This was most unexpected and
furthermore it looked as though "C" Company had not been
observed by the enemy.
Leaving "A" Company to lay out a dropping zone for supplies
and to cover the tracks on the north side of the stream, the rest
of the Battalion moved forward on to the high ground which overlooked
Kabaing from the south-west.
By half-past four "B" Company was established on a high
hill directly overlooking Kabaing. It was almost too good to be
true, for the Battalion held all the dominating ground round the
village and had not been detected by the enemy.
"D" Company had already been warned for the attack on
Kabaing and moved to a rendezvous in "B" Company's area.
The Company Commander, Major Brough, went forward for a reconnaissance
and reported that a large party of Japanese were bathing in the
stream, which lay between Kabaing and "B" Company. He
also stated that the company would have to cross some five hundred
yards of open ground to reach the village.
However, despite these difficulties, the Commanding Officer decided
to attack under a mortar concentration without previous registration.
This was the only way in which sufficient surprise could be achieved
to get "D" Company over the five hundred yards of open
rice fields. Captain Proudlock, the Mortar Officer, was profoundly
disturbed, since he could not fix the position of his mortars accurately
on the map on account of the very thick jungle and the inaccuracy
of the map.
The Commanding Officer went forward to "B" Company with
a wireless set, and "D" Company moved to the edge of the
jungle, while the rest of the Battalion dug themselves in.
The attack was due to start at 5 p.m. Two minutes before the hour
a burst of firing broke out in "A" Company's area and
everyone's heart sank. The Adjutant, Captain Cunningham, immediately
came up on the wireless set from Battalion Headquarters and reported
that an enemy foraging party had come across to the village held
by "A" Company, who had been forced to open fire; they
had killed four Japanese. He was at once followed by Major Brough,
who asked, in a furious voice, what was happening. He reported that
the Japanese, who had been bathing, had all scuttled back into the
village, that all chance of surprise was lost and that the attack
across the rice fields must now be a costly business.
However, the firing had come from the direction of the track down
which the enemy must obviously have been expecting our forces, and
since only a few shots had been fired Lieutenant-Colonel Spink felt
that the enemy would assume that it was merely a clash with an advance
patrol. In addition, the enemy still did not seem to be aware of
our presence in the hills to the south-west. Lieutenant-Colonel
Spink therefore ordered Major Brough to continue with the original
At five minutes past five the mortar concentration of a hundred
menced and "D" Company began its dash across the rice
fields. Surprise was complete and overwhelming. The Japanese, on
hearing "A" Company's fire, had manned their positions,
which were all sited to cover the main track across the stream north
of the village.
No battle could have gone more perfectly to plan! By sheer good
luck the mortar concentration came down perfectly, catching the
Japanese in the open as they rushed to man alternative positions
covering the open rice fields across which "D" Company
was attacking. "D" Company crossed the open with a dash
and speed which, after its tiring march, would not have been thought
possible. Before the enemy had recovered from the first shock of
surprise, "D" Company was in with the bayonet. Under the
inspired leadership of Major Brough and Subadar Gurcharan Singh,
it passed into a complete frenzy. The Japanese never had a chance,
and although they fought doggedly it was soon over.
By 6.30 p.m. the last strong-point had been taken. Some fifteen
to twenty of the enemy escaped to the south-west, but the rest were
dead. Seventy-three enemy bodies were counted in Kabaing, of which
over fifty had been killed with the bayonet. Booty included three
guns and five heavy machine guns, as well as a mass of miscellaneous
articles. The Battalion's casualties were three killed and nine
wounded. Lance-Naik Bhag Singh was awarded the Indian Distinguished
Service Medal for his gallantry and devotion to duty in this attack.
He led his section forward with great dash tinder heavy enemy fire
and captured the first trench. He personally killed three of the
enemy with his bayonet and then led his section forward to the next
line of trenches. His section was soon held up by a light machine
gun and he himself was wounded. However, with complete disregard
for his own wounds, he charged the enemy post singlehanded. He was
again hit by a burst of machine-gun fire in the chest, but he charged
on and succeeded in killing the two Japanese manning the gun. Despite
his now very serious wounds, Lance-Naik Bhag Singh led his section
forward and captured his final objective.
As the attack went in, the first Dakota aircraft arrived and dropped
supplies and ammunition.
The Battalion was forced to delay its departure from Kabaing by
one day to enable an airstrip to be constructed and casualties flown
back. This delay allowed the Japanese to keep ahead and the march
to Kama was uneventful, although some stragglers were periodically
encountered on the way, which was littered with abandoned equipment.
The Battalion arrived at Kama on the 26th of May and remained therefor
a few days before moving on.
On the 2nd June the Sikhs arrived at Thayetmyo, on the west bank
of the Irrawaddy, some two hundred miles north of Rangoon, where
they were to spend the monsoon and train, re-equip and generally
reorganize in preparation for the next campaign, which, as far as
they were concerned, was scheduled to start on the 15th of October.
The first few days were spent in settling in, cleaning
up and preparing for a large party to go out on leave. Unfortunately,
the expected air-lift did not materialize and only forty men were
able to get away. Captain Sarkar, who had been Medical Officer to
the 1 st / 11 th Sikhs since 1943, left the Battalion at this time.
All ranks were very sorry to see him go, as he looked after everyone
with great care and tended to all the wounded throughout two long
and arduous campaigns. He won the Military Cross with the Battalion
for his courage and devotion to duty in tending the wounded under
fire on several occasions in the Arakan. His place was taken by
Captain Roy, who is still with the Battalion today.
On the 8th of June Lieutenant-Colonel Spink was ordered to Rangoon
with a party of thirty men to take part in the Rangoon Victory Parade.
They drove down the main Prome road, which had only just been cleared
of Japanese, and saw with interest the various positions the Battalion
had held in 1942. Although the Japanese had done little or no maintenance,
the road was still in good condition and after the tortuous jungle
tracks it was a very pleasant change to drive once more along a
macadam surface. Rangoon was not so badly damaged as one had been
led to believe, and was an absolute hive of activity, as stores,
vehicles and personnel continued to pour in through the port. On
the 15th of June a most impressive parade, unfortunately marred
by rain, was held for the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral The
Lord Louis Mountbatten, who took the salute at the march past. Representatives
of the American, French, Dutch, Chinese and local Burma patriot
forces took part, as well as contingents from all the British and
Indian divisions which had fought; in the Burma campaign.
Meanwhile, in Thayetmyo, a good deal of work had been put in on
the lines and in making ranges and parade grounds for training.
However, the Battalion was not destined to reap the benefit of its
labours, and on the l7th of June the Brigade, less the King's Own
Scottish Borderers, recrossed the river to Allanmayo, en route for
further operations in the Pegu area, where the 7th Division had
been ordered to relieve the 5th Indian Division, with whom the 1
st / 11 th Sikhs had fought in the relief of Imphal the previous
On the 19th of June the Battalion moved by motor transport to the
Brigade concentration area at Hmawbi, on the main Rangoon-Prome
road about thirty miles north of Rangoon, and arrived about noon,
having stayed the night at Okpu.
It was there that the Brigade bade a sad farewell to Brigadier Crowther,
D.S.O., who had been posted to command the 17th Indian Division.
He had commanded the Brigade throughout all the fighting from the
very early days in the Arakan.
The 89th Brigade was ordered to hold a sector along the west bank
of the Sittang river, which included the Rangoon-Moulmein railway
(the bridge over the Sittang at Nyaungkashe was destroyed in the
withdrawal in 1942). The task of the Brigade was to prevent the
Japanese crossing the Sittang to reassume the offensive or extract
their forces trapped in the Pegu Yomas farther west.
On the morning of the 23rd of June the
Battalion moved to Waw on the railway some thirteen miles west of
the Sittang, and on the next day went on to relieve the 3rd/2nd
Punjab Regiment, of the 5th Indian Division, six miles farther east
at Abya. After the short rest in Thayetmyo everyone was very fit
and in the best of spirits. On the 25th of June the 4th/8th Gurkhas
passed through the Battalion along the railway to relieve the Burma
Regiment at Nyaungkashe, while the 3rd/6th Gurkhas moved up along
the canal to Myithko, about ten miles farther north on the Sittang.
The 7th Bn. The York and Lancaster Regiment was now placed temporarily
under the command of the Brigade and was located in the Waw area.
The monsoon had broken some ten to twelve days before, so the Brigade
was dispersed over a large area in completely flooded country. The
whole area was submerged with the exception of villages, railways
and canal banks. The railway was the only line of supply and this
was easily threatened by the Japanese, who could move in boats up
the old Sittang river channel, which swung westwards towards the
railway south of Nyaungkashe. In addition, all our artillery had
to be located in sectors of the railway and this greatly restricted
the artillery we could employ. The Japanese were better placed on
the east bank of the river, having a secure line of supply and ample
gun positions with excellent observation posts.
For several days little happened and the Sikhs concentrated on building
up defences (digging was quite out of the question in the flooded
countryside) and sending out patrols to search villages in the area.
The patrols found no sign of Japanese activity, although the 4th/8th
Gurkhas had several minor clashes with small Japanese bridgeheads
still holding out on the west bank of the Sittang and were subjected
to a good deal of shelling.
On the 2nd of July one platoon of "C" Company was ordered
to Satthewagon to protect the line of supply to a company of the
4th/8th Gurkhas established north of the railway line. On the same
day a large party of three hundred officers and men was sent on
leave, leaving the Battalion only some five hundred strong. The
Sikhs were therefore very under strength, but it was advisable to
get men away on leave so as to be ready to fight another campaign
On the 3rd of July "C" Company, less one platoon, was
ordered to Payabyo, just south of Waw, to take over from the York
and Lancaster Regiment, who had been withdrawn from the Brigade.
There was already one company guarding numerous bridges along the
railway, so that the Sikhs had only Battalion Headquarters and two
very weak rifle companies available to act as a striking force for
the Brigade.. At this time there was indication that the Japanese
were reinforcing their small bridgeheads on the west bank of the
Sittang, while the 3rd / 6th Gurkhas reported increased activity
in the neighbourhood of Myithkyo.
On the night of the 3rd of July heavy firing broke out down the
railway line and shelling could be heard in the 4th/8th Gurkhas'
sector. Havildar Didar Singh, commanding a platoon of "B"
Company which was guarding the forward bridge in the Sikhs' area,
had been heavily shelled all day and now reported that Jemadar Bhag
Singh, with the "C" Company platoon, was also engaged
but not very heavily. All communication to Jemadar Bhag Singh had
failed, as both telephone lines had been cut and the wireless was
out of order. Brigade Headquarters reported that the 4th / 8th Gurkhas
were surrounded and after a heavy concentration of shelling were
being strongly attacked.
As dawn broke, Havildar Didar Singh reported that two parties of
the enemy were dug in on his front, one on the railway between himself
and the nearest Gurkha platoon, situated on the bridge just west
of Nyaungkashe, and another near a pagoda between himself and Jemadar
Bhag Singh. Shortly afterwards Sepoy Babu Singh arrived from Jemadar
Bhag Singh and reported that the platoon was surrounded, had been
very badly attacked all night and was running short of ammunition.
He had divested himself of his clothing, donned a loin-cloth and
crawled along a flooded stream; he then mingled with some villagers
whom the Japanese were clearing from the village, and passed within
a yard of a Japanese sentry to get to the Battalion. He later received
the Military Medal for his gallantry.
Jemadar Bhag Singh and the twenty-two men of his platoon had done
magnificent work. They had held off a determined attack by a hundred
and fifty of the enemy for over eight hours and finally forced the
enemy to withdraw to the far end of the village. On the wire round
the platoon position were thirty-three enemy bodies.
"A" Company, under the command of Major Webster, was at
once ordered to clear Satthewagon village, establish contact with
Jemadar Bhag Singh and, after clearing the pagoda area, to be prepared
to take up a position in Satthewagon. Owing to the difficult nature
of the country it was 11 o'clock before the village was finally
"A" Company then proceeded to reconnoitre the pagoda position
in strength and drew very heavy automatic and mortar fire. The enemy
position was located on an isolated mound around the pagoda and
was surrounded by flooded rice fields often waist-deep in water.
Sepoy Gurdial Singh was the leading man of the section detailed
to discover the strength of the enemy. He succeeded in reaching
a point thirty yards from the enemy position, when he was wounded.
He signalled to the remainder of the section to give him covering
fire and crawled nearer the enemy. Although Sepoy Gurdial Singh
was again wounded, he continued to crawl forward, to within a few
feet of an enemy machine-gun post and then lobbed grenades into
the post, killing three Japanese and silencing the machine gun.
It was now quite obvious that this position could not be taken without
adequate artillery or air support. So, since it was now late, it
was decided to postpone the attack until the next day, when air
support could be arranged.
However, on the 5th of July the 1st/ 11th Sikhs were ordered to
extricate the now isolated Gurkha Company from its position east
of Satthewagon, and it was not possible again to carry out further
operations against the pagoda position. Later in the evening "C"
Company rejoined the Battalion from Payabo.
The situation in Nyaungkashe was steadily deteriorating, although
being supplied by air, the Gurkhas were being heavily shelled without
respite, while the evacuation of casualties was becoming a matter
of urgency. LieutenantColonel Spink was ordered to make every endeavour
to open the railway to Nyaungkashe.
On the following two days and nights the Battalion attacked with
the utmost gallantry and resolution against impossible odds, but
the Sikhs' efforts were unavailing. The planned air support did
not materialize on account of wet weather, while the artillery support,
already inadequate, was further limited by lack of ammunition.
During these battles on the 6th of July, Lieutenant Jogindar Singh
was killed while gallantly leading a forward platoon of "A"
Company, and Major Webster was seriously wounded. Sepoy Ujagar Singh
volunteered to bring in the body of Lieutenant Jogindar Singh. This
involved crossing two hundred yards of flooded rice fields swept
by enemy artillery and small-arms fire. Sepoy Ujagar Singh reached
Lieutenant Jogindar Singh and hoisted him on to his shoulder, but
he himself was almost immediately wounded. Although his leg was
broken and he could not walk, he dragged himself and the body back
to cover, where he fell unconscious through exhaustion and pain.
There were many other feats of gallantry and it is possible to recount
only a few. Subadar Gurbachan Singh, who took over "A"
Company when Major Webster was wounded, set a very fine example
to his men when the company came under very heavy fire a few yards
from the enemy's position and suffered very heavy casualties. He
was always to be seen where the fire was hottest and the situation
most critical, cheering and encouraging his men. It was chiefly
due to his initiative and able leadership that all the wounded were
evacuated and his company successfully withdrawn from its precarious
position in close contact with the enemy. Company Havildar-Major
Jaswant Singh personally dragged two wounded men to cover from a
very exposed position a few yards from the enemy. He then swam with
one man across a flooded stream to a place of safety and then returned
to accomplish this hazardous undertaking under heavy enemy fire
a second time. Lance-Naik Bakshi Singh found himself the only non-commissioned
officer in his platoon. He set a fine example of courage and devotion
to duty in personally leading his men against impossible odds time
and time again until he was ordered to withdraw. It was due to the
courage and initiative of this young non-commissioned officer that
the platoon, together with all the wounded, was successfully withdrawn.
Sepoy Ralla Singh was the sole survivor of a section pinned to the
ground close up to the enemy's position. He immediately manned the
Bren gun and covered the other two sections of his platoon which
had been ordered to withdraw. He then saw his platoon commander
lying wounded close by and went to his aid. He dragged the platoon
commander back bound by bound, stopping only to engage the enemy
with his Bren gun. He successfully brought back his platoon commander
and the Bren gun through two hundred and fifty yards of flooded
fields under continuous enemy fire to safety.
By the early hours of the 7th of July the Battalion was reduced
to two weak composite companies. Two officers and five Viceroy's
commissioned officers had been either killed or wounded and the
proportion of non-commissioned officer casualties was heavy. Lieutenant-Colonel
Spink therefore informed the Brigadier that until air support was
available in sufficient strength to neutralize the various strong-points
he was unable to put in any further attacks.
The Brigade Commander, however, decided to withdraw the 4th/8th
Gurkhas from Nyaungkashe and hold Abya as the forward position,
since air support during this period of bad weather was so uncertain
and Nyaungkashe was not of vital importance.
Accordingly on the 7th of July the Battalion concentrated farther
forward in Sattewagon to assist in the withdrawal of the 4th/8th
Gurkha Rifles, which was successfully carried out that night, while
the 4th/ 15th Punjab Regiment, from the 33rd Brigade, took over
By a curious turn of fate the weather on the 7th of July cleared
and Royal Air Force support was overwhelming. This, after the Sikhs'
incessant attacks, disheartened the Japanese, who, ironically enough,
withdrew from their forward positions at the same time as the 4th
/ 8th Gurkhas were withdrawing. The 1 st / 11 th Sikhs at once occupied
the pagoda position and later reinforced the forward position on
the railway. These were now held by a composite company of "C"
and "D" Companies under Major Brough.
As soon as the Japanese realized that the 4th/8th Gurkhas had withdrawn
they attempted to follow up and reoccupy their advanced positions,
but they were thrown back, with considerable loss by "C"
/ "D" Company on the night of the 8th of July.
The 33rd Brigade now relieved the 89th
Brigade, and on the 11th of July the Battalion was withdrawn to
Waw and two days later moved to Hlegu, about thirty miles east of
So ended the Sikhs' last, most bitter and unsatisfactory battle
against impossible odds and under the most trying and arduous conditions.
The men remained constantly cheerful and fought with the utmost
gallantry and resolution. Although not at first apparent, the Battalion
had in fact achieved a major success. It was learned from captured
orders that the Japanese offensive had aimed at the capture of Waw,
in order to extricate their forces in the Pegu Yomas. This offensive
was effectively stopped and the Japanese made no further attempt
to advance after their attacks on the night of the 8th of July.
At Hlegu General Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief in India, visited
the Battalion and met all officers and Viceroy's commissioned officers,
and inspected the men. He was particularly impressed with a guard
of honour commanded by Subadar Naranjan Singh. General Stopford,
Commander-in-Chief, Twelfth Army, and General Tuker, officiating
Commander of the IV Corps, also visited the Battalion and congratulated
the men on their bearing and turn-out.
Gun Tower - Chitral Fort
Whilst at Hlegu the 1st/11th Sikhs heard
rumours of the Japanese surrender, but no one believed these to
be true, since after the recent fighting in the Sittang bend it
seemed hardly possible that the Japanese would surrender. However,
the Battalion soon learned that this was true, and Subadar Gurbachan
Singh represented the Battalion at the actual surrender ceremony
at Rangoon on the 19th of September.