include "header.inc" ?>
|2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment in Burma 1944-45|
On the 14th the Bn. moved in toward the city and the next day took over from 4/4 Curkhas (98
Bde.), who were by that time in position facing the East wall of Fort
Dufferin. “C " Coy., under Major Bailey, were detached in a somewhat exposed position about 500 yards South of the main
Bn. position, while’ A ‘Coy., under Major Sykes, were about 200 yards in front of
Bn. H.Q., nearer the Fort.
By this time the battle for Mandalay and Fort Dufferin in particular was in full swing. Mandalay Hill, a bare and rocky height crowned by a monastery and huge pagodas, which dominates the whole city from the North, had fallen after bitter fighting to troops of 98 Bde. A night attack by Gurkha troops had dislodged the Japs in the first place, but it required more troops, using barrels filled with oil and petrol, which they rolled into the labyrinth of passages under the pagodas and set alight, to complete the clearance of the hill. Now there was a platoon of Sikh M.M.G. ‘s on top, who were able to harass the Japs in the city below, and in the Fort in particular, all day. The Jap was not, however, by any means trapped in the Fort. He still commanded at least one road out to the South, and held the greater part of the city, which lay South and West of the Fort.
Fort Dufferin itself deserves description, It was a very formidable fortress to tackle. It is actually a cantonment about a mile square and surrounded by walls which, on the outside, are about 18ft. high. Owing to the earth being banked up on the inside, they are of immense thickness. Outside the walls runs a moat of no less than about 30 or 40 yards in width, which has water in it of varying depths.
Patrols 0f other units had soon discovered that the Jap had not only the bridges over the moat, but also the strip of ground between the moat and the walls well covered by L.M.G. fire and other weapons. His bunker positions were within the thickness of the wall itself and sufficiently far above ground level to make it almost impossible to throw grenades into them. Various air strikes by Hurribombers dropping 500 lb. bombs with the object of breaching the walls had little effect. It certainly looked at this stage as though we were going to be faced with an attack by storm on the lines of Badajos, of Peninsular War fame, with storming ladders and desperate hand-to-hand fighting in the breach, involving probably a considerable loss of life.
On 15th March, “B” Coy., under Major Tipler, moved South to the area of the Leper Asylum, the object being to establish a road block on one of the possible Jap lines of withdrawal. This move promptly produced Jap shelling in the area, including the Leper Asylum itself. As the inmates included a number of Nuns, Missionaries and children under their car, who had been collected from all over Northern Burma by the Japs and interned there, it was decided to evacuate them. They had already suffered one or two casualties from the shelling. The necessary transport was procured and 160 of these unfortunate people were evacuated and handed over to the Civil Authorities; 20 remained-behind to look after 200 Lepers. We were the first British troops they had seen since the retreat of 1942. To say they were pleased to see us is to state the case mildly.
It had been decided that on the same day “A” Coy., under Major Sykes, should occupy a walled enclosure and cluster of pagodas known as Teiktaw, some distance forward towards the East wall of the Fort. Accordingly a platoon was sent at first light to find out. whether the position was occupied or not. As it was found that the position was held in some strength, the platoon was withdrawn and a Company attack was ordered for mid-day. This was preceded by a six-inch How. firing from “A” Company’s area to breach the wall of Teiktaw so as to make an entry for tanks. This was followed by an air strike and at 1145 hrs. by a concentration of Artillery. “A” Coy. then attacked, supported by two troops of medium tanks, and occupied the position, finding little opposition left, and suffering negligible casualties, a most successful small engagement.
There was little activity the following day in the Bn. area, though elsewhere the clearance of the city on the West and South sides of the Fort continued slowly but steadily, and M.M.G.’s and Artillery continued to harass the enemy in the Fort itself. That night, however, the whole of “D” Coy.,’ under Major Lash, was ordered to do a patrol across the moat, and enter the Fort through one of the breaches that had by this time been made in a number of places in the North and East walls by our gunfire, if they could do so unobserved. The object of this was to find out if the Fort were still occupied, as the Japs had been keeping rather quiet, and it was considered very likely that they were in process of evacuating their position. The orders were that if the patrol was fired on or if it could see or hear Japs still in occupation it was to withdraw. Investigation soon showed that the Japs were still inside the Fort in strength and sounds of talking and digging were to be heard all along the wall. No attempt was therefore made to take the Coy. across the moat, and it withdrew without a shot being fired by either side.
On the 18th, “B” Coy., still in their position by the Leper Asylum, reported Jitter parties the previous night, and during the night 18th-19th they were attacked with L.M.G.’s, grenade dischargers, and a B.M. gun, which the Japs brought up very close and fired into their perimeter all night. They suffered a number of casualties, including the F.O.O., who was with them and who was killed. In the morning they were reinforced by two platoons of “D” Coy., and later the same day were relieved by a Coy. of 3/6 Rajputana Rifles (62 Bde.), who had just come down from Maymyo.
Capt. Fisher, the Adjutant, re-joined from Hospital on the 18th. He brought with him 7 new officers, Captains Kendrick and Speed, and Lieuts. Jones, Stevens, Riley, Munton and Dent.
During the afternoon of the 19th, a concentration of Japs who had been spotted in some buildings outside the Fort to the South-East, and roughly between “B” and “C” Companies’ positions, was successfully engaged by the mortar platoon. Locals came in and reported afterwards that the enemy had been thrown into confusion and had suffered numerous casualties.
In the meantime preparations were going forward for a large-scale attack on the Fort on 22nd March. A few days previously a night attack had been carried out by troops of two units, one at the North-West and one at the North-East corner of the moat, simultaneously. Although some men were got across the water without being spotted, the Japs had the breaches in the walls well guarded, and it proved impossible, with these filled with piles of steep lo9se rubble, to press the attack with any hope of success unless very heavy casualties were to be accepted. The attack was therefore called off, and during the days that followed much more extensive breaching 0f the walls on the North, West, and East fronts was carried out. It was the intention that the Fort should be attacked in strength on three sides with all possible support. The Battalion would have the East side as its task.
On the 19th, Mitchell bombers came over to recce. for a big air-strike on the North Wall of the Fort the following day, and 6inch Hows. continued to batter at the breaches already made. On this day, too, sounds of gunfire could be heard away to the South-West of the city, where 2 Div. were steadily drawing nearer. They had made an opposed crossing of the Irrawaddy below the Ava Bridge some time after we had made our crossing, and had since been fighting their way slowly toward Mandalay from that side.
The air strike on the 20th by two squadrons of Mitchells was a tragedy for the Bn. It was timed for 1100 hrs., but through some error no warning was sent to the Battalion that we were required to move back some 400 yds. farther from the Fort, in case the bombing should be inaccurate, until a few minutes before the strike began. It was then too late to move. Even so there should have been no real danger as the target was some 1000 yds. away from us in the centre of the North Wall. But the bombs fell inexcusably far wide 0f the mark, and one stick of 2000 lb. bombs dropped right in the Bn. area. Had the ground not been fairly soft, the casualties must have been heavy indeed. As it was, we suffered casualties amounting to six killed, including Sgt. Hughes, P1. Sgt. of the Mortar Platoon, and Sgt. Shay, of “D” Coy., and 18 wounded, including Sgt. Poole, of the Animal Tpt., and Sgt. Rollason, Pioneer Sgt. All these were experienced N.C.O.’s who could ill be spared.
It was thus bitter news indeed for us when we learnt a couple of hours later that the Japs had evacuated the Fort the previous night under cover of darkness, and that the 1/15 Punjabis and Baluch were already entering from the North side. The Commanding Officer immediately set off with a small party, including Capt. Wright (1.0.), Major Bailey (“ C” Coy.), and Capt. Ellis (“ D” Coy.), and they were the first members of the Bn. to enter the Fort, which they did by scaling the wall near the East gate. After all the preparations for the attack on the 22nd, it was rather an anti-climax.
On the 21st March we saw History made; the Union Jack hoisted anew over the ruins of Government House in Mandalay. Of Government House itself, not one brick was left standing upon another. The Fort throughout was a scene of desolation. Not that it was worse indeed than the city outside, which had been repeatedly and heavily bombed by both sides since the first Jap attack on Good Friday, 1942. But somehow one had hoped that the Fort, with its trees and gardens and pleasant European bungalows, might have fared better. But everywhere one looked were torn and shattered houses, acres of burnt grass and desolate gardens. King Thibaw’s Palace was burnt right down to the vast plinth on which it stood.
Major Tipler commanded the Guard of Honour found by 64 Brigade for the Ceremony. In addition to providing a proportion of the Guard of Honour, the Bn. found a party of 240 Officers and men, under the Second-in-Command, to represent the Bn. Our Corps Commander, Lt.-Gen. Sir Montague Stopford, was there, and, of course, our Divisional Commander, Major-Gen. Rees. The Union. Jack was hoisted by the Commander of the XIVth Army, Gen. Sir William Slim, and we gave three cheers for His Majesty the King Emperor. We expected a speech, but we did not get it. The brief ceremony was over and we marched away.
Contact was quickly made with 2 Div., and it was satisfactory to know that many of the Japs who had slipped through our fingers in Mandalay had left their escape too late and ran into 2 Div. troops, who took heavy toll of them. Both on the 21st and 22nd we saw something of the 7th Battalion. Major Tipler and Capt. Fisher went down to see them on the 2lst, and a number of their officers came to see us during the morning of the 22nd. The two Battalions had not met since the 12th January at Padaung, just outside Shwebo.
The capture of Mandalay was not quite the end of the Division’s task in this phase of the campaign, as we were responsible for clearing the country to the South and East of the city as far as the Myitgne River, and this took a good many troops and involved quite a lot of fighting. It did not, however, concern the Battalion, which moved out 0f Mandalay on the 22nd to the area of Yedwet, on the Mandalay Canal, some four miles to the East of the city. We were there until the 28th, doing little except send out uneventful patrols looking for stragglers. On the 28th we moved up to the hill station of Maymyo by M.T., for a short rest.
|GO TO CHAPTER SEVEN|
|Back to Burma Intro Page|