The Victoria Cross

The Distinguished Flying Cross

The Battle of Kohima and Kohima war cemetery

This was one of the decisive battles of World War II, and one that took the British completely by surprise.

It was a battle between the Japanese and the British. The Japanese had occupied Burma since 1942, and at the time Burma was a part of the British Empire.

The Imperial Japanese Empire had two reasons for attacking Kohima i.e.

Firstly, Kohima is situated on a ridge, and therefore it was an excellent strategic location for the Japanese to use to advance into India.

Secondly, the Japanese were determined to stop the British from recapturing the Kohima-Imphal road which would have given the British access to Burma and allowed the British to resupply the British at Imphal. The Japanese plan to invade India was known as operation U-Go. Originally, Operation U-Go was merely a plan to prevent the British from retaking Burma, but this evolved into the Invasion of India. This was the idea of Lieutenant General Renya Mutaguchi.

The Japanese 31st Division started their plan of attack on the 15th of March 1944, cutting their way through dense swathes of Jungle, and finally reached southern Kohima on 3rd April 1944.The battle of Kohima commenced on the 4th April.

The British were not expecting the attack at all as Kohima was an outpost. The Garrison at Kohima comprised of the West Kent Regiment and a battalion of the Assam Regiment. The Office in Charge was Colonel Hugh Richards. There were 1500 British troops,many of who were non combatants, and 15,000 troops from the Imperial army.

There were four regiments in the Japanese 31st Division. These were the 58th Regiment, the 124th Regiment,138th Regiment and 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment.

The Japanese surrounded the British forcing them into a small area around Garrison Hill. The British troops were inexperienced, whilst the Japanese had been fighting in Burma, so were battle hardened. There were also 1,000 non combatant staff who had to fight for their lives, literally. Finally, the British held onto only two remaining positions the Garrison Hill or Raj Bavan area and the Tennis Court, which is now Kohima War Cemetery. This is where the British defended themselves. The Japanese troops took over the Deputy Commissioners bungalow. The Deputy Commissioner at the time was Charles Pawsey. The battle of the tennis court was one of the bloodiest ever fought with hand to hand combat taking place amongst hand grenades, rifle fire, and mortar shells.

Most of the battle was fought after dark. There were 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who died at Kohima and were cremated in accordance with their religion. The fiercest part of the battle came to be known as the “Battle of the Tennis Court”, which remained indecisive until 13th May, when a British tank arrived at the Tennis Court, annihilating the Japanese bunkers and trenches .This held the Japanese back until the British reinforcements arrived in the form of the 161st Indian Brigade, and the 5th Brigade of the British 2nd Division who counter attacked the Japanese forces. The Royal Air Force flew in supplies and men as well as evacuating casualties.

The Japanese conditions were also extremely serious. They brought 5,000 oxen with them to slaughter as food, but most of them died before they got to Kohima. They had no air support as their airfields in Burma had been bombed to make them unusable.

As a result of the tables turning against them with the British receiving reinforcements, the Japanese decided to retreat. The battle officially ended on the 22nd June 1944. The losses on both sides were substantial, not least of all due to the Japanese soldiers taking their own lives a consequence of the disgrace of having to retreat.

There is also a cherry tree which is of significance. The original tree, from which a branch has been used to create the present tree where the plaque is fixed, had been used for target practice by the Japanese forces. It was destroyed during the battle. Hence, Kohima Battle is also known as the "Battle Under the Cherry Tree"

There were two Victoria Crosses and a Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to the fallen in Kohima Cemetery. Their stories of heroism can be read here courtesy of Wikipedia

 :-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pennington_Harman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Niel_Randle

There was also a DFC awarded to a Canadian at Kohima

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Whalen

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