Between 1942 and 1945, during the Second World War, General Bill Slim’s 14th Army were engaged in a desperate struggle against the Japanese army in Burma. Early efforts to prevent their steady move west towards India failed. A view that the Japanese were unbeatable jungle fighters was beginning to take hold. In 1943, Brigadier Orde Wingate led the Chindits behind Japanese lines for the first of their long-range penetration operations. It resulted in little strategic success. Yet it did prove that the 14th Army could fight on equal terms with the Japanese in the jungle.
In March 1944, the second Chindit expedition was launched. It was much larger with six brigades. The aim was to harass the Japanese rear and supply lines and to relieve pressure on General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stillwell’s joint US and Chinese forces moving south into Northern Burma (see Map 1). The early operations were marred by the death of Orde Wingate (now Major General) in an air crash. The Chindits were eventually placed under command of Stillwell and used in the unsuitable role of classic infantry, without the support of artillery and armour.
The 3rd Battalion 6th Gurkha Rifles were part of 77 (LRP) Brigade commanded by Brigadier ‘Mad Mike’ Calvert, acknowledged as Orde Wingate’s most tenacious Chindit commander. In early May, the two 3/6th columns were reunited as a battalion, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Shaw with Major Jimmy Lumley as his Second-in-Command (see Photograph 1). Having held off superior Japanese forces for two months from their stronghold ‘White City’, 77 Brigade were ordered north to bring pressure on the Japanese opposing Stillwell’s Chinese in the area of Mogaung. The 160 mile approach march to Mogaung was marked by a series of bloody encounters. The monsoon had broken and conditions were appalling; malaria and typhus were rife. At the end of May, Stillwell ordered 77 Brigade to capture Mogaung itself. 14th Army intelligence, backed by hazardous patrols from 77 Brigade, showed Mogaung to be held by 4,000 Japanese. By the time 77 Brigade launched its main assault it was reduced from an original 3,500 to a fighting strength of less than 550 men. The Lancashire Fusiliers, King’s Regiment and South Staffords between them could only muster 300 and the 3/6th Gurkhas had 230 left fit.
The plan was to advance on the town using the Pin Hmi road as an axis (see Map 2). On the 11th June, Captain Michael Allmand’s (see Photograph 2) heroic feat in ensuring the capture of the Pin Hmi Inn road bridge was the first of the exploits for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. The second occurred on 13th June in the fighting to secure a ridge closer to the town. By now Allmand had taken over command of B Company because of casualties among its officers.
Over the next few days Chinese forces came alongside 77 Brigade to face Mogaung. Although their infantry played no part in the final attack, their 75mm guns provided 77 Brigade with their only artillery.
At first light on 23rd June the final assault was launched. Earlier reconnaissance had pin-pointed the ‘Red House’ as a likely trouble spot. It was Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun’s (see Photograph 3) single-handed gallantry as part of B Company’s attack on the ‘Red House’ which earned him his Victoria Cross. (Read citation) The third specific outstandingly brave action by Tulbahadur’s Company Commander, Michael Allmand, provided the inspiration which lead to the capture of the railway bridge. Sadly, Allmand was mortally wounded and died that night from his wounds. (Read citation) Fierce fighting continued throughout the day and that night. The following morning, a cautious advance into the town found that the Japanese had abandoned it. Mogaung was the first main town in Burma to be re-captured.
The Battalion was now ordered to garrison Mogaung. They remained there until 5th July before marching a further 50 miles to be flown back to India. Whilst in Mogaung, the Battalion took the opportunity to hold a small ceremonial parade and hoisted the Union Jack on a large pagoda, the most prominent building left standing. It was fitting that the Battalion should have the honour of doing this as it had given of its best in capturing a town whose name will ever rank among its finest achievements.
But the cost had been high. Since flying into Burma less than four months earlier, 3/6th had suffered a total of 485 casualties:
|Gurkha Other Ranks||109||335||7||451|
Honours awarded to the Battalion for the operation included:
|2 VCs||2 DSOs||3 IOMs||6 MCs||4 IDSMs||12 MMs||3 American Silver Stars|
Author: Lieutenant Colonel B M O’Bree