Wednesday, April 24, 2013

WW II's Battle of Kohima voted Britain's Toughest Battle yet

On the 21st of April, 2013 the British National War Museum declared the Kohima-Imphal Battle as the winner of a contest to decide the toughest battle ever in Britain's history. This was considered the mother of all battles at that time too, but no one really noticed.

Describing the event Jasper Copping wrote thus in The Telegraph (UK) -"......Taken as a single victory, Imphal-Kohima was on a shortlist of five battles which topped a public poll and on Saturday, they were selected as the ultimate winner by an audience of more than 100 guests at a special event at the museum, in Chelsea, west London. Imphal-Kohima received almost half of all votes.

In second place was D-Day and Normandy, in 1944 (25 per cent), ahead of Waterloo, in 1815, (22 per cent), Rorke’s Drift, during the Zulu War in 1879 (three per cent), and Aliwal, during the First Sikh War in 1846 (two per cent).

At the event, each contender had their case made by a historian giving a 40 minute presentation. The audience, who had paid to attend the day, then voted in a secret ballot after all five presentations had been made.

The case for Imphal and Kohima was made by Dr Robert Lyman, an author and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.   “I had thought that one of the bigger names like D-Day or Waterloo would win so I am delighted that Imphal-Kohima has won. You have got to judge the greatness of a battle by its politcal, cultural and social impact, as much as its military impact.

“Imphal and Kohima were really significant for a number of reasons, not least that they showed that the Japanese were not invincible and that that they could be beaten, and beaten well. The victories demonstrate this more than the US in the Pacific, where they were taking them on garrison by garrison.

The contest aimed to gauge the battles in terms of their historical impact and the tactics employed......"  The whole article is here :       After that Indian Newspapers also realised Kohima's historical importance. Twenty four years ago I had written an article for Frontline, an Indian fortnightly. I have reproduced it below to give a feel of what it was like there sixty nine years ago.  



I have now put in some pictures of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle observed at the Imphal Cemetery by British Army and its veterans on the 4th of April, 1994:


 Veterans' families and others>
  For the first time after WW II, relatives of the Japanese combatants had held a memorial service at Imphal in November, 1987....>

The tennis battle (the court is etched in stone around the Cross of Service) was fierce and ferocious. A Japanese sniper on the cherry tree to the right of the picture denied success to the Allies by more than a day. Then below the tennis court's right was a billiard room, where a savage, vicious and brutal hand to hand fight was waged till an innovative Garo brought hand grenades that settled the outcome......>

Korengei Arifield:  These cyclists are learning on what was during 1944 a very busy airfield. Its eight kilometres outside Imphal on the Kohima road. Now its potholed surface is used learn bicycling or car driving. ....>


A ruin of a WW II bridge on the Ledo Road, near Pangsau Pass. It is better known - unfortunately- as Stilwell Road. Named after an imperious, unpopular, boastful and arrogant bully. John Masters in his book The Road Past Mandalay writes of a British Colonel fed up of many tall claims made by Stilwell sent him a wireless saying that since the US troops had taken this and that "I am proceeding to take Umbrage." whereupon Stilwell and his advisers spent a lot of time over a map looking for umbrage.....>

The entrance to the WW II Cemetery at Digboi....>

The WWII Cemetery at Guwahati....>

  The Lake of No Return or Shingbwiyang in Burma seen from the Pangsau Pass on the Indo-Burma border.  Retreating soldiers and Indian peasants, traders and officials could relax somewhat from this point on. Only the climb to Pangsau Pass (about a 1000 mtrs high) remained before releif. .....>

All that remains of the much vaunted Ledo (also known as Stilwell) Road....>

< Above & Below:  All that remains of the much vaunted only one way Ledo Road built from 1942 to 1944. It was used only once and then given up as an awful watse. Air transport was more efficient and dependable....>

At Kohima WW II Cemetery: The headstone of L. Corporal JP Harman, perhaps the only Victoria Cross winner from the Kohima battle. >

A Chinese grave in a small field ahead of Ledo. Ignored and grass covered. Grass had to be cleared for this photograph. >

A few years ago about a thousand graves of Chinese labourers who had helped make the Ledo Road to Kunming were found ahead of Jairampur, Changlang, Arunachal Pradesh. No manicured surroundings for them. Some of these unfortunates had been summarily executed by the Allies and some had died of too much work and too little food. > 

Their extraordinary toil in intolerable conditions must not be forgotten....>
Most of them died because of exhaustion, starvation and neglected injuries, and some were executed on suspicion of sluggishness or being spies....>