Tag Archives: Burma Campaign

Just Extra Mags and a Kukri

A small-framed soldier of the 4th Battalion, 4th Prince of Wales’s Own (PWO) Gurkha Rifles, engaged in house-to-house fighting in a Burmese village, CBI Theatre, 1945.

Raised in 1941, 4/4 saw WWII service in India’s border areas in Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, and the Far East. One of the Gurkha regiments that was partitioned to the Indian Army in 1947, the motto of what is today the Fourth Gorkha Rifles is “Kayar Hunu Bhanda Marnu Ramro” (Better to die than live like a coward) (National Army Museum UK/One of 11 photos collected by Company Sergeant Major G R C Willis, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. NAM. 1989-10-67-4.)

Note the Sten Mk 3 sub-machine gun and the kukri in the belt at the Gurkha’s back. Due to the local conditions, the Gurkha has whittled down most of his ’37 Webbing to just a pair of basic pouches– which could carry either two BREN magazines, a half-dozen Thompson/STEN mags, four grenades, or boxes of 303– and a utility pouch, normally carried on the chest, worn to the back while what looks like the mouth of a canteen is poking up from his right. Still, with as many as 13 32-round mags, this skinny little guy could have over 400 rounds of ammo at the ready– an aspect oft-forgotten by those who poo-poo the use of SMGs on the battlefield. 

The 4/4 used beasts of burden for everything else.

Troops of 4/4th Gurkha Rifles crossing the River Irrawaddy in Burma. Each man carries his own weapon and essential supplies, while the ever-present mules shoulder the burden of extra ammunition, food, and water. NAM. 1989-10-67-5 by Sergeant Major G R C Willis, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.

The hardy soldiers from Nepal were well represented in the CBI in 1944-45 as 3rd Battalion/6th Gurkha Rifles; 3rd Battalion/4th Gurkha Rifles and the 3rd and 4th Battalions, 9th Gurkha Rifles, all took part in the Second Chindit Expedition of 1944. Other Gurkha battalions fought in the swamps and forests of the Arakan.

In lighter notes, the STEN has always been my favorite burp gun and one that is absolutely just the most enjoyable to fire. We’ve already talked about my kukri obsession several times…

Leap of Faith

Some 77 years ago today, in the remote mountainous frontier area between India and Burma, an extremely understrength parachute light infantry brigade began an epic week-long battle against a Japanese force that was both much larger and much better armed– never an ideal task for airborne troops.

The place was Sangshak and the paras were from the 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, made up of 152 (Indian) and 153 (Gurkha) Parachute Battalions along with supporting troops.

The battle was never supposed to happen, it turned out that the Japanese 15th and 31st Divisions, infiltrating toward India, blundered into the Indian/Gurkha paras while the latter were working patrols. Nonetheless, it was a nightmare for all involved.

As noted by Paradata:

The Indian Parachute Brigade group held up the Japanese advance for six days, in appalling conditions, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy but at great loss. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting revolved around the Sangshak church within 200 yards of Brigade headquarters. Counter-attacks with bayonet and Kukri drove the Japanese back.

And from The Museum of the Parachute Regiment & Airborne Forces in Duxford:

On the 26th March, with both sides nearing complete exhaustion, the arrival of the 5th Indian Division allowed the Brigade to ‘fight its way out’ back to Imphal, having lost 40 officers and 585 men.

Patched back up, the Indians and Gurkhas would later finish the war with a drop into Rangoon.

“Rangoon Assault – As The Chutes Of Three Gurka Paratroopers Open Up Over Their Dropping Zone Near Rangoon, Three More Gurkhas Stolidly Step Out Of USAAF’s C-47’S Of The Combat Cargo Task Force, Eastern Air Command. This Is Precision Jumping In The Airborne phase of the land, sea, and air attack launched south of the Japanese held capital of Burma. Parapacks, containing equipment and supplies needed by the paratroopers, are carried like bombs under the bellies of the plane. They will be dropped as soon as the men have cleared the aircraft. U.S. Signal Corps photo via NARA 342-FH-3A37292-A57336AC

“Killing Japanese Is Great Sport To This Husky Gurkha Paratrooper, Who Smiles As A Fellow Member Of His Unit Helps Him Buckle On His Equipment While He Waits His Turn To Board A Usaaf C-47. Pilots Of The Combat Cargo Task Force, Under Major Gen. George E. Stratemeyer’s Eastern Air Command, transported these fighters to the jumping ground behind Japanese lines. U.S. Signal Corps photo via NARA 342-FH-3A37291-57336AC

LIFE Magazine Archives – Jack Wilkes Photographer

Mind the Kukri! Gurkha Paratroopers prepare to drop into Burma during Operation Dracula on May 1, 1945. The Gurkha Paratroopers were dropped from C-47s of the 2nd Air Commando Group on Elephant Point at the mouth of the Rangoon River where they captured/destroyed several Japanese gun positions overlooking the sea approaches to Rangoon. LIFE Magazine Archives – Jack Wilkes Photographer

Note the weapon bag with Enfield .303 inside. LIFE Magazine Archives – Jack Wilkes Photographer

One anecdote from the formation of the Gurkha parachute unit at Delhi in October 1941 was that the hardy mountain men were absolutely ready to jump out of a moving airplane to fight, but were greatly relieved when later told they would do it with a parachute!

Gurkha Paratrooper going into action against the Japanese near Rangoon, Burma SC photo via NARA 342-FH-3A37293-B57336AC

Burma 1945: Z Craft Beach Arty Battery

Burma: A “Z” Craft lighter, likely of No 4 IWT Group, beached on the Arakan Peninsula at Myebon. Note that it is loaded with a section of at least four Ordnance 25-pounder (3.45-inch or 88mm caliber) QF field guns used to fire on the Japanese lines, reportedly less than 6 miles away, 13-18 January 1945. This was likely on the run-up to the Battle of Hill 170 in support of No. 3 Commando. Also, note the sandbags, ready ammo, packs, and drums.

Z lighters, simple shallow-draft ramped vessels similar to LCM/LCUs designed and built by the Royal Engineers Inland Water Transport section, were typically ship to shore connectors. They were 135-feet long (excluding the ramp) with a 30-foot beam and a 2-to-4-foot sloping draft. They had a deck “the size of a tennis court,” accommodations for a crew of 8-10, and a speed on a pair of light diesels of 8-10 knots.

Z craft via Royal Engineers Journal. They flew a blue RE ensign, emblazoned with a Sapper thunderbolt. 

Although mainly used in the Mediterranean by the Royal Engineers, some made it to the Far East by 1945

An interesting background story, from British Army vet Stuart Alexander, that could be of this very craft, operating during the Arakan campaign:

I was on a Z-craft Lighter which took part in two landings on the West Coast of Burma, one 35 miles between the Japanese front line. We sailed in at H+180 at Kangaw and fixed our guns which were attached to the deck of the lighten. We moved forward periodically and tied up to trees in the jungle swanps. This lasted for about nineteen days until we were landed on an island very much behind Japanese and although the guns were silent there were registered on a Japanese Fery crossing. This was putting a deception over as we invaded an LCM further south.

A great article on Z-craft and their use is in the June 1965 edition of the Royal Engineers Journal (pdf here) including this specific section about them carrying 25-pounders in Burma:

Although a dated concept, it is not too far out of the box to envision LCM/LCUs of today doing the same type of work with an embarked section of HIMARS or 155mm howitzers. Could be handy in a littoral. 

‘If you track behind, you’ll likely find yourself newly dead’

Jungle Marines,” a 15~ minute Crown Film Unit production, “Shows the dangers faced by long-range Royal Marines patrols in the jungles of the Far East.”

It portrays an 8-man RM patrol, all good chums, roaming around what looks like Burma during the latter part of WWII. Armed with No. 4 Lee Enfields, an M1928 Tommy gun, a BREN gun, and machetes, they poke around in good fashion in the green hell and across rice paddies, burning off leeches with cigarettes and winning hearts and minds with the locals while trying to keep one step ahead of the Japanese and jungle rot.

Of particular interest is how light they pack, using just a small musette bag for what seems to be a week-long patrol.

At the 7:40 mark, they make a great little raft out of groundsheets and bamboo to help them cross a river.

Then comes a night ambush.

I say old boy, is that a Type 94?

The British Army in Burma 1945: Soldiers examine a captured Japanese 37mm Type 94 anti-tank gun, January 1945. A U.S.-marked Bren carrier fitted with deep wading screens passes by in the background.

No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Wackett, Frederick (Sergeant) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205185 Copyright: © IWM.

Per TM-E 30-480: Handbook on Japanese Military Forces, Technical Manual, U.S. War Department, October 1, 1944, via Lone Sentry:

Model 94 (1934) 37-mm gun. (1) General description. This weapon (fig. 212) is referred to by the Japanese as the “Infantry rapid fire gun.” It is an infantry close support weapon firing both high explosive and armor piercing high explosive ammunition. It has a semiautomatic, horizontal, sliding type breechblock. When the shell is loaded, the rear of the cartridge case trips a catch that closes the breechblock. Recoil action of firing opens the breech and extracts the cartridge case. Sighting is by a straight telescopic sight. This weapon has marked on the barrel the following [94 model 37-mm gun] which reads “94 model 37-mm gun.”

Characteristics.Caliber 37-mm (1.46 inch).
Length (over-all in traveling position) 114 inches.
Width (over-all in traveling position) 47 inches.
Weight 714 pounds.
Traverse 1,062 mils (60°).
Elevation +480 mils (27°).
Maximum range 5,000 yards.
Muzzle velocity (armor piercing ammunition) 2,300 feet per second.