Location unknown, taken in 1941 by W/O Lister Walker
Burma through several military actions was absorbed into the British Empire over a period of 62 years (1824-86) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence outside of the Commonwealth was attained in 1948.
In June 18th 1989, the country's name was changed from Burma to the Union of Myanmar. Along with this the English spelling of many places was changed. The capital, Rangoon, for example, became Yangon, and the Burmans became Bamars. These changes reflected the new government's isolationist sentiments, and hinted at many other changes going on behind the scenes. Very little remains of the Burma under British colonial rule when the author Rudyard Kipling wrote a ballad about the road to Mandalay.
PHYSICAL FEATURES 1942
NOTE that all information is presented as it was from 1939 to 1945
Many of the places, and even countries noted do not exist anymore.
Burma, lying between Bengal and Assam on the west, Tibet on the north, and Yunnan, French Indo-China and Thailand on the east, forms part of the sub continent of Indo-China. That sub continent comprises a series of great river-valleys, notably the Mekong, the Salween and the Irrawaddy, all running approximately north-south and divided from one another by mountain-ranges and plateaux. In the north their valleys are contained within a stretch of only eighty or so miles, but they fan out as they proceed southwards and the mouths of the Irrawaddy and Mekong are some 700 miles apart. There-are other, minor, rivers flowing between and parallel. to the major streams. In the case of Burma the most notable river apart from the Irrawaddy (with its main tributary the Chindwin) and the Salween is the Sittang.
The Irrawaddy valley constitutes Burma proper. This river, whose headwaters, the Mali and the N'Mai, rise in the mountains of Tibet and form their confluence 26 miles north of Myitkyina, flows south to the neighbourhood of Mandalay and then bears westwards and again south, being shortly joined by the Chindwin which comes south from the Hukawng Valley. Between the upper Irrawaddy and the Chindwin is a region of wooded hills in the north and of open, scrubby, rolling country farther south in.the Shwebo district. The lower Irrawaddy pursues its way southwards to form the vast flatness of its delta below Henzada. East of the lower Irrawaddy the Sittang, rising in the Shan hills south-east of Mandalay, carries on the original line of the upper Irrawaddy, and flows parallel to the lower Irrawaddy to the sea in the Gulf of Martaban. Between the lower Irrawadqy and the Sittang are, to the north, open country, and farther south the wooded hills known as the Pegu Yoma, whose last phase forms the laterite ridge at the southern extremity of which stands Rangoon, the capital and chief port of the country.
On west, north and east of the Irrawaddy and Sittang valleys are, ranges of hills; on the west the Arakan Yoma, the Chin Hills and the Naga. Hills, whose range's vary from about 3,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level with occasional peaks of 10,000 or so on the north the mountains of Tibet, where even the passes are well over 10,000 feet; on the east the Kachin Hills, and the plateau of the Shan States and Karenni, averaging some 3,000 feet above sealevel. The whole mountain system, consisting of north- south offshoots of the Tibetan mountain-mass, forms a horse-shoe of hills cutting off Burma proper from communication with its neighbours.
The Shan plateau is cut by the Salween river, which enters the sea at Moulmein; the Shan States of Burma extend east of the Salween, and the Mekong forms their boundary with French Indo-China. West of the Arakan Yoma the coastland along the Bay of Bengal, known as Arakan, is politically and racially part of Burma and south of the Salween estuary Burma includes also a narrow strip of coast, 400 miles long, between the sea and the Thai frontier, ending at Victoria Point at the mouth of the Pakchan River. Both Arakan and Tenasserim are difficult of access from the Irrawaddy valley.
The Total area of the country is about 260,000 square miles.
For administrative purposes Burma is divided into eight Divisions, subdivided into forty-one Districts, viz :
Arakan Division Pegu Division lrrawaddy Division Tenasserim Division.
Akyab Rangoon. Bassein Salween
Arakan Hill Tracts Pegu Henzada Thaton
Kyaukpyu Tharrawaddy Myaungmya Amherst
Sandoway Hanthawaddy Maubin Tavoy
Insein Pyapon Mergui
Magwe Division Mandalay Division Sagaing Division. Federated Shan States
Thayetmyo Mandalay Bhamo Northern Shan States
Minbu Kyaukse Myitkyina Southern Shan States
Magwe Meiktila Shwebo
Pakokku Myingyan Sagaing
Chin Hills Yamethin Katha
The Wa States on the Yunnan Border fall under the administrative control of the Commissioner Fedrated Shan States. Karenni is strictly not part of political Burma.
WHY WAS BURMA STRATEGIC IN WW2 ?
Even Churchill himself could not get a handle on the overall mindset and goals of the Japanese, a brilliant strategist he could certainly counter their moves once made, but neither he or anyone had a clear picture of Japans motivation. Indeed even after the war Churchill in his book The Grand Alliance rambled on and on with theories about their motivation. He summed it up by saying "you can not apply logic to understanding things where no logic exists".
The only thing that can be said for absolute certainty, was Japan wanted China. Much of their strategy and actions revolved around taking and securing it, they chose however to secure it before they took it. Keeping in mind that Japans millions had outgrown their tiny Island, If you study a map you will see that China was the perfect geographic acquisition if ever there was one, its great land mass provided for future expansion and it could be very strongly secured. In fact the combination of China to Japan made it a veritable fort. On the land side, the impenetrable Himalayas nearly encircle China stretching from Russia all the way down past the top of Burma to nearly the South China Sea. On the sea side, much of China's coastline is nearly encircled by Japans long finger of Islands. The only hole in this ring of security was a tiny portion of the Chinese border between the China Sea and Burma. It made no sense for the Japanese to take India, Geographically, they could never hold it.
The backdrop in 1940 / 41 was this, Japan had been engaged in war with China since 1937 and through a series of horrific atrocities was taking bigger and bigger bites out of Chinese territory. At the same time Japan was also involved in localized hostilities with Russia regarding a boundary dispute. Japan harboured a resentment towards Germany for not being included in the Russia / German non -aggression pact. Neither were their relations with the other super powers any better. British and US support and sympathy toward China had severely strained its relations with Japan. The material portion of this support being American & British made goods funneled into China via Burma. In July 1940 the United States, Britain and Holland applied economic sanctions against Japan untill it agreed to withdraw its troops from China. This embargo cut off Japan from nearly all supplies of oil and therein things went from bad to worse. It was no help to these strained relations that America was allowing China to hire American pilots and their aircraft to assist China against the Japanese. This famous group was of course the Flying Tigers.
In early 1941 General Chiang Kai-shek of China sent another of many urgent letters to the British for support. This one was urgent, he was convinced the Japanese were going to attack from Indo-China to take Kunming and cut the Burma Road. ( This made sense but the AOC Chiefs of Staff in Burma thought this highly unlikey, and they were right. Rather than cut the road the Japs took Burma instead, ie: the whole road) His appeal was for British air assistance from Malaya and although he expressed no desire to drag Britain into a war with the Japanese, he warned Churchill that if the Japanese broke the Chinese front they would be cut off from Britain thereby exposing its Air and Naval co-ordination with America and the Netherlands East Indies to new threats from new directions.
Churchill summed up his stand in 1941 quite nicely, "My feeling was if Japan attacked us the United States would come in. If the United States did not come in we had no means of defending the Dutch East Indies, or indeed our own empire in the East. Our priorities during 1941 stood: First, the defence of the Island, including the threat of invasion and the Uboat war; secondly, the struggle in the Middle East and Mediterranean; thirdly, after June, supplies to Soviet Russia; and, last of all, resistance to a Japanese assault.
WHY BURMA ?
The point is, we know the Japs wanted China, they had to stop somewhere, this could have been at the Chinese Border or the Burma border. If they took India then what?
On different scales, Japan and Germany shared similar expansionist goals, and undoubtedly the addition of Burma to Japans controlled territories would not be amiss, however it is doubtfull a "land grab" was the primary reason for its thrust into Burma. Rather, Burma was simply in the way and it was (temporarily) militarily strategic to be in possession of it. Since a strategic gain to one, is a loss to the other, likewise it was of some importance that the Empire not give it up.
Looking at it strictly in terms of an aquisition of natural resources, there were far more valuable prizes the Japanese could have targeted, they never had the use of Burmas resources to start with and were certainly (at this point) getting along fine without them. I think it can be safely said the Empire had more to loose in this regard than the Japanese had to gain.
Burma had natural resources which were very useful to the Empire. There were oilfields (albeit small - 275 million gals a day); it had vast resorces of Timber, mostly of highly sought after Teak, and there were Tin mines but the chief resource that the Empire needed was Rice! Pre-war Burma was the 4th largest rice producer in the world and had an amazing 12 million acres under cultivation. This made it a major exporter of Rice, primarily to China and British India, but it also exported to nearly every country in the world as well. Were this supply to be interupted ( for example controlled by the Japanese) it would have had near global implications to the world food supply. In this regard Burma's rice was more than a nice prize to the victor, but it also held strategic military advantages. You can be sure this fact did not go unnoticed by the Japanese, who incidentally "had no need for the stuff" they were the worlds 3rd largest producer.
A case in point on a small regional scale, is In 1942 there was a famine in Bihar and Bengal areas of India due to a crop failure. Even this regional failure had an instant ripple effect which reached far beyond the immediate area. Prices soared, black markets sprung up, and the shortfall was even felt by those military units whose major diet was rice. In examining Burmas rice production from 1935 to 1940, some interesting facts turned up and are worth noting, for example: Germany imported more rice then did Britain, near double most years. The highest year by Germany being 1939 at 176,000 tons. India in "its lowest year" (remember its a British colony) imported over 1 million tons. Japan on the other hand hardly relied on Burma's rice at all "being the worlds 3rd largest producer." Interestingly however they went from what must have been a single ship load of 100 tons in 1939 to 130,000 tons in 1940. Makes one think they knew something.
As to mining, the ore of tungsten (wolfram) and to a lessor extent cassiterite (the ore of tin) were also of strategic value and importance to the Empire. The Mawchi mines were the most important single source of Wolfram known and produced 10% of world needs and 35% of the empires needs. Japan on the other hand imported "little to none" in the 5 years preceeding the war. (ironically about the only metal Japan imported from Burma was lead)
By this then it is obvious that Burma's resources were little more than a passing prize to the Japanese. They were however, important for Britain to hang on to, If not for itself, certainly for its colonies who relied heavily on them as noted. Even still, none of these things was sufficient cause for the Empire to divert scarce military resources from other theaters and as history shows, at least initially, they didn't.
It is worth bearing in mind that virtually everyone believed if the United States came into the war, it would be as a result of an attack on British territory by the Japanese, no one believed for a moment that Japan would attack the US directly. They did however, and their attack on the US Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbour changed everything. SOURCE & RESEARCH: written by Kevin Crawford & F/Lt Tony Day
DEFENSE OF BURMA
The following are extracts from the London Gazette published in 1948.
The main factor affecting the defence of Burma was that of communications. The total length of frontier facing Japanese-occupied territory in December, 1941, was nearly 800 miles. There were good roads, as well as railways, running north and south up the valleys of the Sittang and Irrawaddy. Roads in the Tenasserim Peninsula were bad. Working north from the southern end of the Tenasserim Peninsula, there were only mountain tracks leading eastwards from Siam until reaching the road from Raheng through Mesod towards Moulmein, which crossed the Burma frontier at Myawadi. Even this road was not continuous, and there was a section of fifty miles reported to be not much better than a pack track. From the Japanese point of view, it had the disadvantages that we should be able to operate from close to our railhead at Martaban, and that, so long as we held command of the sea, advance beyond
Moulmein by the Japanese would be open to a British flank attack. Continuing north, there were again only tracks until reaching the road leading from the Bangkok-Chieng Mai railway,' through Chieng Rai and thence via Kentung to Taunggyi. On the Siamese side of the frontier this road was good; on our side it was fair-weather only for part of the way. There were only tracks leading from Burma into Northern Indo-China, and these involved the crossing of the River Mekong. Into China itself there was a fair track from Kentung to Puerhfu, and, secondly, the main road from Lashio to Kunming. A road from Bhamo joined the latter near the frontier. Westwards, a start had been made on a road communication with India, but this was by no means complete when war broke out. Landing grounds had been established in the Tenasserim Peninsula with the object of facilitating the movement of aircraft between Burma and Malaya; the main ones were at Tavoy, Mergui and Victoria Point. The last was very isolated, and it was realised that it probably could not be held for long if war with Japan broke out.
It was estimated that the total force which the Japanese could bring against Burma, using land communications only, would be about two divisions, of which one division would be on the road running* through Chie'ng Rai. The Chiefs of Staff considered in January 1941 that, although four enemy divisions could be maintained at railhead on the Bangkok- Chieng Mai railway, it was unlikely that even one division could be maintained on the Burma side of the frontier, owing to the limited road communications. The situation would, however, be completely altered should the Japanese get control of sea communications in the Bay of Bengal. In that case, their capture of Mergui, and possibly Tavoy, would only be a question of time. They would be able to outflank our positions at Moulmein, and our line of communication thence with Rangoon; and, should Singapore fall or be invested, would be able to bring by sea against Burma a force much greater than two divisions.
Turning to the Chieng Rai line of advance, owing to the indifferent road on our side of the frontier and the shortage of Mechanical Transport, it was impracticable to maintain a big force east of the Salween. The policy, therefore, was to fight delaying actions as far forward as possible, and to make the Salween the main line of defence. Owing to the. heavy growth of trees along the Japanese lines of advance, conditions were not generally favourable for air reconnaissance. On the other hand, there were certain open defiles against which air bombing would probably have been very effective, and it was hoped that sufficient air force would be available to deter the Japanese advance to a great extent. For this purpose aerodromes were constructed with the object of being able to concentrate either on Central or South Burma, and against either the Mesod road or the Chieng Rai road. Demolitions were prepared along the enemy lines of advance, especially on the Chieng Rai road.
There was a great shortage of engineers, both civil and military. In planning the engineering programme, priority was given first to aerodrome construction and accommodation for the Royal Air Force; secondly, to road construction for strategical and tactical purposes, including ferries; and then accommodation for troops and stores, including ammunition. In the time available there was no opportunity to complete elaborate concrete defence lines; all that could be done was to construct field defences on the probable lines of approach. There were limitations even to this: first, the difficulty of working and the prevalence of malaria in the rainy season; secondly, the number of troops available; and thirdly, the lack of Mechanical Transport, until the Autumn of 1941, which severely limited the number of men that could be maintained near, and east of, the Salween River.
In November 1940, air strength in Burma was practically non-existent. The Singapore Conference had recommended the following:
1 general reconnaissance squadron;
2 bomber squadrons; and
No. 60 Squadron, equipped with Blenheim bombers, arrived from India in February 1941; in August 1941, one flight was reorganised as a fighter flight and equipped with Brewster Buffaloes. Later, a complete Buffalo squadron, No. 67, was sent from Malaya in November 1941, and the whole of No. 60 Squadron reverted to bombers. There was a Burma Volunteer Air Unit, but this had not got further than a small training organisation. This merely gave Burma two squadrons, which was admittedly very weak, and, actually, when war broke out, most of the Blenheim squadron, No. 60, was in Malaya for bombing practice. On the other hand, the American Volunteer Group of the International Air Force started to train in Burma in August 1941, and there was an understanding, amounting practically to an agreement, with General Chiang Kai-shek that, if Burma was attacked, part, or the whole, of this American Volunteer Group would be detailed for the defence of Burma. Actually, two of the American Volunteer Group squadrons were sent to Kunming when war with Japan ibroke out, and one to Mingaladon, near Rangoon. It was my opinion that the defence of Burma depended largely upon holding Malaya, and that the defence of the latter must have priority. I also considered it unlikely that the Japanese would attack Burma solely in order to cut the Burma Road to China. They knew that this must involve war with Great Britain, and in all probability with the Dutch and perhaps also the United States. If they, were going to face this, they would be much more likely to start attacking Singapore than Burma. Admittedly, we were working on probabilities and not certainties, but, in view of the weakness of our air forces, it was essential to concentrate the maximum effort and not try to be equally strong in two places. The American Volunteer Group consisted of three single-seater fighter squadrons which were equipped with Tomahawks up to the time I handed over command. Doubtless the United States will not forget the help that was freely given to the American Volunteer Group by the Burma Government and by the Royal Air Force. SOURCE: London Gazette
THE LOSS & RETAKING OF BURMA
Whatever the "initial" motivation was to attack Burma, with the Americans temporarily incapacitated by Pearl Harbour, the Japs swung down through the Pacific attacking Malaya with the obvious intent of cutting off the only practical means of American support to the British & Chinese. Shortly thereafter the Japs attacked Burma and by March 6, 1942 (06/03/1942) they had driven the British out and over the mountains into India. They were only stopped from carrying on into India, if indeed that was their true intent, by the arrival of the 1942 Monsoon, the almost impregnable range of mountains beteen Burma and Assam in the NW corner of Burma and their own lengthening supply line from Rangoon up to the Chindwin River, where they stopped. They could live off the land and go barefoot if their boots wore out, but they could not go without ammo! The last situation is also true of the Arakan, they just ran out of supplies.
At this the tides began to turn in favour of the British, the Americans were regaining their balance, and high on the list of reasons for returning to Burma, despite the fact energies were better spent elsewhere, was Revenge..pure and simple. The Japs had given us a good licking and pushed us out of Burma and it was a matter of national pride that we get our own back. In any case we had promised the Karens and Kachins that we would return. The Burmans were glad to see us go and the Shans could have cared less, one way or another. Militarily, Burma was a stepping stone to the re-taking of Malaya and Singapore, the loss of which will always be a blot on British arms. Britain could have simply, and easily held their ground at the border of India, using the mountains as a natural barrier, however the re -entry into Burma also came with the blessing of the Americans. The US Administration had always felt that they had an in with China and had long supported Chiang Kai Shek with supplies up the Burma Road from Rangoon to Chunking. When that route was lost due to the Japanese the Americans instituted the supply route over the Hump, which involved some of the most difficult flying over very mountainous terrain. One can hold nothing but admiration for the American USAF pilots and crews who flew the Hump. However, the Americans wanted a ground route so they set about building the Ledo Road from North East India to Chunking, the US supplying all the equipement and engineers for this project as well as the troops to defend the engineers . (Merrills Maurauders were the off shoot of these troops with "Vinegar Joe Stillwell " in command. ) They also updated the Railroad line from Calcutta to NE India.
With this American investment into supplying China they obviously wanted the British to retake Burma as soon as possible.
SOURCE & RESEARCH: Jointly written by Kevin Crawford & F/Lt Tony Day
THE 113 IN BURMA
Operationally Burma was divided into 3 Fronts....the Northern operated by the Americans and the Chinese, Central by the Brits, and the Arakan also by the Brits. The Brits meaning Canadian, Australians (lots), Kiwis, South Africans, and other nationalities including a few Yanks in the RAF.
The 113 Squadron was operational in the Burma theater almost exclusively against the Japanese from December 30, 1941 untill the unconditional surrender of Japan and continued in Mop Up operations for sometime after untill October 13, 1945. The squadron which had flown Blenheims since the start of the war officially stood down as a Bomber squadron on August 15, 1943. A short time later it reformed as a fighter squadron flying Hurricanes.
Expand above to give a very brief time line of major events only as as relates to 113.
Mingaladon 7 Jan 42
Toungoo 10 Jan 42
Magwe 6 Feb
Fyzabad 6 Apr
Asansol 8 Apr
Jessore 19 Dec
Feni 21 Jan 43
Chandina 28 Feb
Comilla Main 4 May
Feni 27 Jun
Kharagpur 28 Aug
Yelahanka ? Sept
St Thomas Mount (Madras ) 2 Oct
Cholavarum 9 Non
Dimapur 31 Dec
Tulathal 17 Mar 44
Palel 25 May
Yazagyo 18 Dec
Onbauk 22 Jan 45
Ondaw 14 Mar
Kwenge 20 Apr
Kinmagen 8 Jun
Meiktila 30 Jun
Zayatkwin 17 Aug to 13 Oct
TO DO - Impact then and now, the boundries after the war
Maps, show blenheim losses by listing serial # on location on map
Show aerodromes on maps & link to each aerodrome description.
put in detail on airstrips, jonnie walker and other kutcha strips and details and pictures of aerodromes, set up separate page for this
About Mandalay Fort
King Mindon Min ordered the construction of his imposing walled palace compound in 1875. The immense walls measure eight metres high and three metres thick at the bottom, tapering to 1½ metres thick at the crenellated top, and are made of fired brick backed by earth ramparts.Each of the four sides extends two km; the surrounding moat is 70 metres wide and over three metres deep. A channel from the Mandalay irrigation canal fills the moat. After the British occupied the city in 1885, the compound was named Fort Dufferin and became the seat of the colony's government house and British Club.
On 20 March 1945, in fierce fighting between advancing British and Indian troops and the Japanese forces which had held Mandalay since 1942, the royal palace within the fort caught fire and was completely burnt out. The traditional wooden construction of Burmese palaces had often in the past led to severe damage by fire, and this -the last and most magnificent palace complex-was no exception. All the remains of the original palace today are the huge walls and moat, the base on which the wooden palace buildings and apartments stood, and a few masonry buildings or tombs. The Burmese army has re-occupied the fort.
There were originally three gates to the fort on each of the walls. There were also five bridges leading into the fort, four running to the main gates. Each of the gates was topped by a pyatthat, or wooden pavilion. Smaller pyatthats stood at each corner and between the large ones-making 32 in all. Apart from some damage repaired after the war and changes made when the railway was directed through the palace grounds, the wall and its pavilions are original. Mandalay Palace was far more than just royal living quarter-it was really a walled city within the city. (Author of article unknown)