Battle of Mandalay

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20 MARCH 1945

The fall of Mandalay on 20th March 1945 was the culmination of an advance of 400 miles against ever increasing opposition which carried 19th Indian Division from the banks of the Chindwin to the walls of Fort Dufferin in Mandalay (see Map 1 and Photographs 1 and 2).  Both the 1st and 4th Battalions of the 6th Gurkha Rifles served in 19th Indian Division during this period. The 1st Battalion was in 64th Indian Infantry Brigade, for most part leading the Division’s advance and covering the north and west flanks.  The 4th Battalion was in 62nd Indian Infantry Brigade.  It was this lightening advance over difficult and sometimes treacherous terrain chasing a tenacious and often fanatical enemy that was a principal factor in the fall of the ancient city of Mandalay.

Mandalay city, on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River (see Map 2), was a blend of ancient and modern which before the war had a population of 30,000. The Japanese had determined to hold Mandalay at all costs, and with Mandalay Hill and Fort Dufferin they had a strongly fortified position.  Mandalay Hill, with a monastery at its summit and tunnel systems below it, is a long whale-shaped feature, 500 feet high running north-south for a mile from the north-east corner of the city (see Photograph 3). Fort Dufferin is a square enclosure with sides 2,500 yards long.  Surrounding this enclosure are walls some 30 feet high and 4 feet thick built of red brick.  The wall is backed and supported by an earth embankment.  Outside the brick wall is an open area some 30 yards wide to a moat filled with water 40 yards across.  The main city lies south and west of the Fort and stretches to the dockyards on the Irrawaddy River some 2 miles due west. 

By the time the 1st Battalion reached Mandalay on 10th March, two-thirds of Mandalay Hill had been captured and the ground to the east and north, up to the walls of the Fort, had been taken.  To the south, the area was devastated by bombing and artillery fire, but contained many well concealed strong-points which were tenaciously held.  The area outside and to the west of the Fort, where the buildings were of stouter construction, also remained in enemy hands.  While the Japanese strongly resisted any attempt to rush the Fort from any point, he was particularly determined to keep the attackers away from the moat on the west and south and it was here that he fought most fanatically. He had artillery including 150 mm guns in support of his troops and was well supplied with mortars, anti-tank weapons and automatics of all kinds.

For a week the Japanese defended the town stubbornly and the 1st Battalion had its first and bloody experience of street fighting (see Photograph 4).  On 12th March the 1st Battalion moved up and took over the positions occupied by 1/15th Punjab Regiment, opposite the west wall of the Fort.  For this operation the 1st Battalion came under command of 98th Brigade temporarily commanded by Colonel Dykes (the 1st Battalion’s Commanding Officer) while Major CR Budgeon assumed command of the Battalion (see Photograph 5).  The area for which the Battalion assumed responsibility was laid out in a series of square blocks in which many of the buildings were still standing.  The blocks were separated by roads.  The enemy held a series of these blocks nearest the Fort wall and moat and also others providing depth to a strong defensive position which was also supported from the walls of the Fort itself.  Bitter house-to-house fighting took place as the Battalion, supported by tanks attempted to seize enemy held blocks.  Casualties were high and there was little to show for it.  On 15th March 64th Brigade assumed control of operations and Colonel Dyke returned to command the Battalion.  At this time a tragedy occurred; while taking Colonel Dyke around the Battalion position Major CR Budgeon was mortally wounded by a burst of light machine-gun fire. He, among many of the casualties, was mourned by all ranks.   Major AG Patterson MC took over as Second-in-Command, while Major JP Phillips assumed command of “D” Company. 

Numerous attempts to storm the Fort from the north and east sides of the Fort, where ground was occupied up to the moat, were unsuccessful.  Attempts to break down the walls by using artillery at point-blank range similarly failed to have an impact.  The 1st Battalion was involved in vigorous patrolling in the Zeggyo bazaar area to the west, but this was strongly contested by the enemy.  It was at this time that the Japanese High Command reversed the decision to hold Mandalay at all costs.  The garrison was ordered to thin out gradually with the emphasis of keeping their escape route open; hence the determined resistance our troops met at every effort to get closer to the south-west corner of the Fort.

On the 17th March the Commanding Officer was told that the 1st Battalion was to take part in the main attack on the Fort on 24th March which would be preceded by a major air and artillery bombardment.  The 4th Battalion was to take over the holding position of the 1st Battalion to allow preparation for the attack.  On the night of 17th March a strong force of Japanese attempted a break-out in the east, but this was held by the 2nd Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment.  This suggested that the enemy were trying to move their troops away from the Fort so a hastily adopted plan for a final silent entry by three independent companies including “D” Company of the 1st Battalion during the night was activated.  Assault boats and scaling ladders were distributed, but the attempt was doomed to failure as hostile patrols were encountered which prevented any of the force reaching the moat; with surprise lost, the operation was called off. 

On 19th March Colonel Dykes was called to Calcutta for important business and Major Patterson assumed command of the 1st Battalion.  That night a great deal of ‘mechanical’ noise was heard, particularly in the area of the ‘South Gate’ and the ‘Railway Gate’ in the south-east corner of the Fort.  Concentrations of artillery and mortar fire were put down during the night.  Early the next morning the 4th Battalion took over the positions occupied by the 1st Battalion, but at 11.30 hours a party of civilians emerged from the one of the breaches in the walls and confirmed that the Japanese had evacuated the Fort during the night and the historic capital of the old Kingdom of Ava was liberated (see Photograph 6).

The following casualties were sustained during the course of this battle:
  Killed Wounded
  1/6 GR   
 4/6 GR   
 1/6 GR   
 4/6 GR   
 British Officers
 4 3 4 4
 Gurkha Officers
 2 1 8 12
 Gurkha Other Ranks   
 106 91 263 226
 Totals 112 95 275 242

The following awards of decorations had been published at the time of the fall of Mandalay.  More were to be published later:
  1/6 GR   
 4/6 GR   
 Military Cross
 1 3
 Indian Distinguished Service Medal   
 Military Medal
 13 2
Author: Major A D O Bredin