Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pyawbwe 1945



Though the Allied force had advanced successfully into central Burma, it was vital to capture of the port of Rangoon before the monsoon rains began. The temporarily upgraded overland routes from India would disintegrate under heavy rain, which would also curtail flying and reduce the amount of supplies which could be delivered by air. Furthermore, South East Asia Command had been notified that many of the American transport aircraft allocated to the theatre would be withdrawn in June at the latest. The use of Rangoon would be necessary to meet the needs of the large army force and (as importantly) the food needs of the civilian population in the areas liberated.

The British 2nd Division and British 36th Division were withdrawn to India to reduce the demand for supplies. The Indian XXXIII Corps, consisting of the Indian 7th Division and Indian 20th Division, mounted Fourteenth Army's secondary drive down the Irrawaddy River valley, against stiff resistance from the Japanese Twenty-Eighth Army. Indian IV Corps made the main attack, down the "Railway Valley", which was also followed by the Sittang River.

The Indian 17th Division and 255th Armoured Brigade began IV Corps' advance on 6 April by striking from all sides at the delaying position held by the remnants of Japanese Thirty-Third Army under Lieutenant General Honda at Pyawbwe, while a flanking column (nicknamed "Claudcol") of tanks and mechanized infantry cut the main road behind them and attacked their rear. This column was initially delayed by the remnants of the Japanese 49th Division defending a village, but bypassed them to defeat the remnants of the Japanese 53rd Division and destroy the last tanks remaining to the Japanese 14th Tank regiment. As they then turned north against the town of Pyawbwe itself, they attacked Honda's headquarters but were not aware of the presence of an army headquarters and broke off the attack, to capture the town instead.

The 9th Battalion The Border Regiment at Pyawbwe
By January 1945 the Battalion was at full strength again and on its way back at Imphal, this time no longer in its Light role, but as Motorised Infantry working with Probyn`s Horse of 255 Tank Brigade.
The objective was Meiktila, some 550 miles further South, and in February 1945 it crossed the Irrawaddy near Pagan and swept on to Meiktila, where, after some severe fighting with the remainder of the 17th Division it established itself and cut off the Japanese`s main communication with Mandalay.

General Cowan was not the man to sit tight and let the enemy attack him. Instead he sought to destroy the enemy before they were ready to attack, and this he achieved by attacking them in their forming up places , with combined Infantry and Tank Battle Groups.

The 9th Battalion The Border Regiment took part in several such actions, notably at Wetlet, Yindaw, Kinde and Pywabwe. It was after the last battle that the enemy finally broke and made for the Sittang River, abandoning its hold on Rangoon. The Battalion pursued the enemy some 200 miles to Pegu when it gave up the chase with the onset of the monsoon and the consequent flooding of the Pegu River. It then returned northwards to Penwegon to prevent some 15,000 of the enemy, who were cut off by our rapid advance, from crossing the main Meikila/Pegu road, and from reaching safety on the east bank of the Sittang River.

Sittang Breakout
28 Army had retreated into the Pegu Yomas, a range of low jungle-covered hills between the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers, after withdrawing from Arakan and resisting XXXIII Corps. It planned to break out and rejoin Burma Area Army. To cover this breakout, Kimura ordered Honda's 33 Army to mount a diversionary offensive across the Sittang although the entire army could muster the strength of barely a regiment. On July 3, Honda's troops attacked British positions in the "Sittang Bent." After a battle for country which was almost entirely under chest-high water, both the Japanese and Indian 89th Brigade withdrew on July 10.

Honda had attacked too early. Sakurai's 28 Army was not ready to start the breakout until July 17. The breakout was a disaster. The British had captured the Japanese plans from an officer killed making a final reconnaissance and had placed ambushes or artillery concentrations on the routes they were to use. Hundreds of men drowned trying to cross the swollen Sittang on improvised bamboo floats and rafts. Burma National Army under General Aung San already had rebelled against Japan in March. So Burmese guerillas also killed stragglers east of the river. The breakout cost the Japanese nearly 10,000 men, half the strength of 28 Army. And after this, many of those survivors had to keep straggling without knowing the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945.

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By the beginning of August 1945 the Battalion was stationed at Waw, just west of the Sittang River, where it received the welcome, but to them the unbelievable news of the Japanese Surrender. By then a further 5 Officers and 69 Other Ranks had lost their lives, and 9 Officers and 122 Other Ranks had been wounded.

In September the Battalion began the task of disarming some 2,000 Japanese and controlling the activity of dacoits on the Mokpalin and Bilin areas. On the 1st December 1945 the Battalion amalgamated with the 4th Battalion, taking on the name of the latter.
Thus after five and a half years the Battalion ceased to exist.

During its short life the Battalion contributed to the adding of 6 Battle Honours to the Regiments List.
Lt Col John Petty was awarded the M.C. when Major of "B" Company 9 Border at PYAWBWE.
His citation said,

During the whole engagement Major Petty`s tactical skill, flexibility in planning, and personal example were outstanding. He seemed to be having the time of his life and all ranks in his Company were imbued with the highest confidence in themselves and in their Company Commander.

The casualty figures for "B" Company for the day were 92 Japs killed for 10 wounded in the Company, six of them in the shelling before "H" hour.

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