An Infantry Company in Arakan and Kohima
We are encircled
February 2. Arrived back at the Battalion at about 1300 hrs. The Battalion lay-out is exactly as when I left. Jap shelling of the area was fairly heavy. I visited io and ii Platoons during the afternoon. I learned from “Tiny” and the men of to Platoon of the terrible time they had had of shelling. A few days ago i o Platoon were fairly pasted and, amongst other hits, two positions—one was a light machine-gun post— received direct hits, causing 100 per cent. fatal casualties.
February 3. The enemy shelled our gun area during the day. I visited 12 Platoon before lunch. 2/Lieut. Frisby, who had arrived whilst I was away, is now commanding them ; but at the moment both he and Cpl. Sewell are away on a two-man reconnaissance patrol on the Maungdaw—Buthidaung road. The Company area was heavily shelled just before stand-to this evening.
February 4. Frisby came back from his patrol early this morning, and was in Battalion H.Q. when I went round there at 0930 hrs. He submitted a first-class report on what he had seen. He had gone out in the early hours of February 2. His report includes Japanese movement along the Maungdaw—Buthidaung road. He mentioned that by day they had seen three officers walking brazenly along the road towards the back of the 162 feature, and had heard cookhouse noises, and seen more movement in the area of “East Finger.” There was quite an air battle this morning. About fifty Zeros and 97’S came over the Divisional gun area. Our A.A. claimed three, our “Tropical” Spitfires chased the rest away and gave them a very good run down the Mayu peninsula. Before the last had left, Sergt. Thatcher of ii Platoon gave one Zero a very healthy burst of Bren as it passed over us merely a few feet up. But we never saw it come down. This is the first time I have seen Spitfires down here, although they were used on two or three occasions while I was back in Calcutta. At 1730 hrs. “B” Company were fairly heavily shelled again. We are all very well dug in. Stretching “inland” from each man’s alarm post there are dugouts that go first into the side of the hill for a yard or so and then down some four feet and then in again, so that there is about eight to twelve feet of earth above some of the dug-outs. Today’s shelling is the worst I have ever experienced. Trenches filled up with dirt, gravel, branches, etc. One piece of shell landed red-hot in my own trench. Pte. Edmunds very badly shaken, otherwise no casualties.
February 5. Heavy firing began on our left in the Punkori area at 0430 hrs. and continued until 0730 hrs. I think it was a Japanese patrol disengaging themselves from the Punjabis. There was also considerable shelling in that area. Zeros and 97’s were over again at 0900 hrs. Had news that there are supposed to be about 500 Japs behind us in the Taung area. It poured with rain throughout the morning. This fact did not enhance the rather unsavoury atmosphere given by the now many rumours about the size of the enemy force in our rear. A later message gave the size as being of battalion strength (about 1,000), and that it had done considerable damage in our M.D.S. (Main Dressing Station) and a gun area. At 1130 hrs. the C.O. asked for me personally over the phone and gave me a message from the Supreme Commander, Lord Louis. This order of the day he wanted to be passed down to every man, and went as follows: “Hold on at all costs; large reinforcements are on their way.” Until we received this message few of us had thought that the situation was serious enough to warrant a special order of the day. This now gives us a little to think about. Continued drizzling in the afternoon. We can hear gun fire and considerable machine-gun fire going on in our rear in two separate areas. The fighting in the Taung area must be some eight miles to our rear. The other sounds are considerably closer, say about half a mile north of us. But news is limited to rumours only. No one can say exactly where the enemy are. As a result of being very wet I can again feel a touch of malaria on me, but I managed to drown it fairly well with mepacrine and aspirins. A Jap nuisance patrol was letting off stuff at the hillocks on our left for about two hours from 2000 hrs. “Tiny,” who is now officially my second-in-command (Joe left me to command “C” Company before Christmas), insisted that I should have the night off all duties so as to sleep off the malaria. Most unwilling, but grateful.
February 6. Not much sleep for any of us last night. A hell of a scrap went on over on the Punjab front from dusk to daylight this morning. The ambush party of one and five found from 11 Platoon last night shot up a party of four Japs who appeared to be on patrol. The ambush party opened fire too soon, as Cpl. MacDonald was unable to tell me definitely what casualties he inflicted. They shot up this patrol at 2215 hrs. it was probably the patrol of Japs that “cannoned” from one feature to another between “D” Company and ourselves, firing off discharger grenades and a light machine gun trying to draw our fire. MacDonald’s patrol reported in soon after midnight. At 0245 hrs. Sergt. Inskip— 10 Platoon commander (Uttley evacuated sick)—rang me up. He had a most important message for me, and to say the least it was a little disturbing. In front of his position there was considerable noise of movement and talking, jingling equipment and neighing mules and horses. He could not make out from which side of the chaung the noise came. But at any rate it was in the Letwedet village and chaung crossing area. I told him that it was quite possibly the supply convoy to the Gurkhas on “Able,” although I had not been warned that it was going out tonight. Nevertheless, I would ring up the Adjutant and let him know of this and find out whether the convoy was actually moving tonight. In the meantime he was to listen hard and report on any further developments. I phoned up H.Q. and Dick told me that there was nothing going to “Able.” At 0300 hrs. we in Company H.Q. could hear the jabbering and rattling of equipment. Inskip phoned to say that the pandemonium in front of his position had increased. These shouting’s and jabbering were now unmistakably of Jap origin. I did not hesitate any longer; I told Inskip to tell the F.O.O. with him to get on to his battery and put down defensive fire tasks Nos. 13 and 14, and then rang H.Q. to tell them of my action and asked Dick to duplicate my request by ringing the R.A. Regimental H.Q. Five minutes later the crumps started. We only heard the initial opening of gun fire; of the rest all we heard was the swish of shells close over our heads and their explosions, which seemed that they must be landing in our own positions. But the shoot was admirable. Two ten-minute periods of rapid were put down. At the end of the shelling the panic-stricken noises of the Japanese were indescribable. Shouting, yelling, mules and horses neighing and stampeding. During the hours of darkness we still expected to be attacked. This hubbub continued after daylight until 0730 hrs., but we could not see anything to shoot up as we were shrouded in a damp, heavy mist which normally prevails up to about 0830 hrs. The noise of Japs shouting and chasing spare animals moved around to the rear—just between the Company and Battalion H.Q. Real daylight came and we could see kit strewn all over the paddy-fields and on both sides of the Letwedet chaung; we collected some of the kit in. Amongst some articles that were retrieved was a .Japanese lieutenant’s complete valise—in good condition; in this were found half a dozen of the most obscene watercolours imaginable. This is not the first time that we have come across really dirty photos, drawings and paintings amongst enemy kit or on their persons.
It was quite clear to us now that it was an enemy supply column that we had shot up, endeavouring to reach their encircling troops. Two pack-horses and two mules of the enemy were later rounded up and found their way to our transport lines. I do not think any of the enemy convoy got through or round us. The bulk of the enemy transport were caught in the artillery fire whilst still on their side of the chaung, so one might deduce from the amount of stores deposited around the lower slopes of their positions, which are under observation from 10 Platoon. A brigade of 7th Division moved back last night to the area of Awlanbyin just south of the road. They had been in positions immediately to the west of us across the paddy fields in the Mayu foothills. By moving this brigade I think it is intended to lessen the gap between us and Divisional H.Q. Little is known of the enemy strength or where he is, except that they are known to have taken the hill feature north of Awlanbyin and the road. This means our lines of communication are directly overlooked and threatened. It would appear that the brigade move last evening is to drive the Japs off that feature. About half the guns—battery of 25-pounders and one of 3.7’s—In the Brigade gun area were firing backwards throughout the day. The remainder were on harassing tasks forward in the Punkori and 162 areas. The enemy shelled our gun area during the day on a small scale. They were also firing from our rear. Later in the day we had all sorts of rumours about Divisional H.Q. being overrun; anyhow they had definitely moved, and Brigade H.Q. were not apparently in touch during this morning. The Ngakyedauk Pass is now closed and the enemy are supposed to be astride it somewhere, but no one knows where. However, that the pass was closed was borne out by the fact that we had an air drop of ammunition towards dusk. Twelve D.C.2’s came over and dropped ammunition by coloured parachutes in the Brigade area. The Colour Sergeant informed me, when he came up this evening, that we are to be on half rations from today.
February 7. Jap planes over again, between thirty and forty of them. But we saw no Spitfires or Hurricanes. Plenty of A.A. fire greeted them and at least two planes were shot down, one of which we in Company H.Q. and 11 Platoon clearly saw. Many cheers. The enemy were having a crack at the gun areas; this effort of theirs came at 1030 hrs. Another air drop at 1730 hrs., still ammunition. The Battalion and “B” Company were shelled again towards dusk.
February 8. The air was “singing” with heated missiles from an hour before dawn and for the rest of the day over on our left on the Punjabi front. Merely Jap nuisance patrols bothered us during the hours of darkness. Communications with Division were still not established this morning, although all three brigades are now in touch with each other. We hear that the Adm. Base was very heavily attacked all last night and that the Ngakyedauk pass was definitely closed. “C” Company were ordered out at first light this morning to contact and disperse the Japs that apparently burst into the Jungle Field Regimental area in “Wet Valley.” The whereabouts and strength of the enemy who were in or around this area were not known. All we did hear from Brigade was that the Jungle Field Regiment have been heavily attacked at about 0700 hrs. in their harbour area, which was just in rear of Brigade H.Q. They have suffered many casualties (rumoured at 100) and were caught queuing up for breakfast. It is thought that the Japs were now in the jungle in the hilly area immediately covering the gunners’ mortars and jeeps. “C” Company were Battalion reserve company and were sent out primarily to prevent the Japs from capturing or destroying the guns and mortars. The 25-pounders were firing backwards again today, and appeared to be doing so at very close range on to the jungle slopes of “Wet Valley” and in the Point 129 area. From the amount of small-arms fire coming from this area by mid-day it was evident that either “C” Company had found the Japs or the latter were attacking the gunners again. Had two air drops of ammunition, one at 1400 hrs. and the other during the evening stand-to period. At 1400 hrs. Tom Garrett came up to take a Church Service in 10 Platoon’s area; only 50 per cent. of the Company could attend.
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February 9. At 0830 hrs. I was ordered in to Battalion H.Q. I went in with Kingshott, wearing full kit, as Dick had given me the tip that the Company were going to move back closer to Battalion H.Q. Saw the C. O. at about 0915 hrs.; our new position was to be immediately above Battalion H.Q. to thicken up “C” Company and to occupy two features that were not occupied by them. One commanded the entrance to Battalion H.Q. from the east, and the other gave depth and overlooked the ambush entrance to the west. “C” Company returned late yesterday evening, so the C.O. told me. They failed to dislodge the Japs, who were in great strength, now estimated between 100 and 300. “C” Company of the Gurkhas were called in from “Able” and are now in position on the high ground above “Vet Valley,” and so to keep an eye on the Japs. The enemy were still in position this morning overlooking the jeeps and mortars, whilst the gunners themselves had managed to get to the high ground. At 0930 hrs. I gave “Tiny” a call and told him to pack everything up and bring the Company back, whilst I reconnoitred the new area (in very much the same place as the area we left on Christmas Day).
When we were in the forward position overlooking the chaung, I cannot say that I felt altogether too happy with this flare-up on our part of the Arakan. A damn good half a mile separated us from the nearest friendly troops. In fact, the Japanese positions in front of us were considerably closer. Our lines of communication to Battalion consisted of a long and narrow track bordered by scrub jungle and steep, densely covered jungle hills. It would have been a little awkward and a trifle unpleasant if the Japs had decided to plant even a platoon astride the only means of obtaining our daily bread (now biscuits for the duration, or so it seems). For the rest of the day we had plenty of digging to do, especially 12 Platoon, whom I put on the hill overlooking the animal transport lines and commanding the eastern approach to the Battalion. This was, until now, a virgin position. To get to 12 Platoon was not easy. The easiest way is via Battalion H.Q. The other alternative from our ridge is to hack a track up and down the slopes to them. But I am not in favour of this, as the fewer tracks and entrances we have going in and out of our positions, the fewer men will be required to defend an area. So the long way round was the recognized route to them, and I had a Don 5 installed (Field telephone set.) with them this afternoon. Towards the late afternoon I visited 12 Platoon; they had made gigantic strides in their digging. They had dug themselves in around the top of the hill in an oval shape, with communications to Jan Frisby, the platoon commander, in the centre. All trenches and communications had been dug below and without disturbing the jungle vegetation. “A” Squadron of the 25th Dragoons, 11 Lee tanks mounting 75 mm. guns, amongst many other weapons Joined us in our defensive box. These tanks had burst their way past the Japanese occupied positions from the Adm. Base. They brought with them some rations to help us out. They also brought news of Division H.Q. and the Adm. Base. The former just had time to move out of their original H.Q., but only after clerks, batmen, Divisional signallers and numerous other H.Q. personnel had held off vicious Japanese attacks. Very little kit was retrieved and we gathered there was much blood flowing. Division H.Q. is now installed in the Adm. Base area, which is now a fortress box. In this box, of course, they have rations ad lib.; the remainder of the tank regiment, 25-pounders, light A.A. and most of the medium regiment.
But the Adm. box needs to be a fort; they have been attacked every night for hours on end since February . So far the Japs have not broken through, and after each of their attacks scores of dead are left behind. “C” Company is also now under my command and is also in position along the same ridge as “B” Company. Although Joe Mullins is, on paper, second in command to me, he does in fact still command the “C” Company end of the position, which is responsible for the western and southern approaches, and has a duplicate set of communications to Battalion H.Q. Between us we are to find an ambush position every night in the future. I made “B” Company find it this evening. Cpl. Carroll and five other men of 10 Platoon, armed with a light machine gun, went out at 1900 hrs. The position is on the track that leads in to the north from our old position. The ambush’s main task is to hold up any enemy approach through the bottleneck of the track, and also to give early warning of an impending attack from the south. “C” Company, incidentally, are about forty men short; they had had a few casualties yesterday, and in the melee one platoon (Geoffrey Tattershall) (Geoffrey’s party were attached to the West Yorks in the Adm. Base area, so we heard later. Before the fighting in the Adm. Base area was finished, we heard that Geoff. was killed one night. I last saw him the evening before I went on leave December 31). and most of their Company H.Q. have gone adrift. But it is believed that they have made their way northwards, probably to the Adm. box, if they could not cut south again, but the Tanks could not give us any news on this.
“D” Company were also pulled back this morning. Their position now is exactly similar to ours, but across the valley some 150 yards away on the ridge to the north. Both of us will be finding patrols first thing each morning to see if our old positions are occupied and, if not, to light fires as we did normally each morning to simulate the cooking of breakfast. Also one patrol to each company area has gone out this evening to chuck the odd sixty-nine grenades down the slopes. And so we hope to give the Japs the idea of normal occupation.
February 10. The news is a little rosier. The Jap plan has been captured for the complete operations on which they have embarked. But that is as much as I know of it. We are now in wireless communication with Division H.Q.; this is done through the tank No. 19 sets, and so we were able to get a “sit. rep.” this morning. But news is still scarce of the exact Japanese dispositions and strength in our rear. Anyhow, it is thought that it is at least a Jap. regiment, a good 3,000 fighting men. Some prisoners have been taken. We have further news of the promised reinforcements are still on the way! We are beginning to feel the pinch of the ration situation. The C.O. has given us permission to send out organized patrols to round up stray cattle. The local villagers, I gather, will be getting compensation. I was very amused at the sight of three of our men chasing a cow around the paddy fields and driving it into our box; and then to see it dashing past the tanks and whipping past Battalion H.Q. on its way to the butchery department. Our butchery is just beyond the Adm. area and is under the auspices of the Quartermaster, Colour-Sergeants and the Officers’ Mess Corporal who, being a butcher by trade, is the chief butcher and kills for us, Brigade H.Q., the gunners and Tank chaps. The water in the chaung is not too good these days as there are so many people using it, and also because it is tidal. One minute the drinking water is above the washing and the next it is below the soap suds ! The Colonel has ordered two wells to be dug in our box.
February 12. A fairly quiet night. Suddenly thought of the idea to keep the sit. reps. Here’s the first installment (censored). 12 Platoon went on a fighting patrol to Letwedet village at 2200 hrs. last night. Their task was to protect the eastern flank of the mule convoy that goes to the Gurkhas on “Able” on alternate nights. From this platoon a reconnaissance patrol was sent on to the west face of the Point 162 feature to find out whether certain positions are still occupied. The answer is in the affirmative; fire was drawn, but the convoy to “Able” was unmolested. 12 Platoon returned to the fold by first light this morning. Further Jap prisoners taken during the night by the K.O.S.B. and by the Gurkhas on “Able.” The latter were attacked again, so also were the Punjabis fairly heavily in all their company areas. The supply drops were as usual, and I believe some rations were dropped. During the afternoon drop my company clerk made an impromptu remark, “Here come our reinforcements; they’re dehydrated Americans”
February 13. There was some firing in our front and rear throughout the night. An air drop at about midnight. The D.Cs. were flying with navigation lights and were fired on as they came low over the Brigade’s dropping points. One could see the enemy’s red tracer zipping past their tails. This morning the ground is littered again with thousands of many-coloured parachutes—half-closing the eyes, it looks like confetti. The guns were firing in all directions and the enemy’s shells were coming into the Brigade area from all angles, backwards, forwards and from the flanks. We had a church service in 10 Platoon’s area at 1200 hrs.; about twenty-odd attended. Tom Garrett suggested we chose our own hymns, which I thought made a pleasant change. Five hymns were chosen and sung, mine being “The King of Love my Shepherd is” (197 A. and M.). Since we have come back to the box we now sing hymns, but with a soft pedal! There was much Hurricane strafing and Vengeance dive-bombing during the late afternoon.
February 14. The guns again firing backwards and forwards during the morning, especially on the Punjabi front, where there was much small-arms firing. Zeros and 97’s were over at high altitude. I think they must have been showing the flag to their troops. They merely dropped a few bombs over the Ngakyedauk Pass and were away in under ten minutes. They were kept more than occupied in that short period by our A.A. and Spitfires.
At 1800 hrs. a message came from H.Q. to say that the Division has intercepted the following message sent by the Japanese: “Genera! attack 1900 hrs.” In the light of this we were all asked to be teed up more than usual. The various D.F. tasks went down intermittently throughout the night. Whether the shell fire put them off cannot be answered, but anyhow, no attack did come this evening. The message was not dated, and it was in clear, so more than likely it was fictitious or merely propaganda, or perhaps a means to establish where are our D.F. tasks.
February 15. Plenty of shelling and a battle raging in the Mayu on our right. The engineers at Brigade had a small party with the Japs last night; it was only a small Jap patrol. There was also some Jap patrol activity outside the Battalion west entrance, which melted away after a few grenades had been sent in amongst them. The night was otherwise quiet but anxious. Several stories reached the Battalion this morning from various sources, chiefly the Tanks I think. But the truth of these flying rumours cannot be verified over our sole means of communication—the wireless. For what they are worth, here they are. (All censored.’) But they were all true.
February 16. Except for the noise of our own guns, we had a very quiet night. The C.O. came round the Company at ten o’clock and was well satisfied with what he saw. The men and positions were clean and tidy and the weapons were in good condition. He asked me back to the Mess at Battalion H.Q. to have some elevenses. The tanks went out at mid-day to blast off the Japs that had got on to the end of “A” Company’s feature. The Japs were still in position by the end of the day, and “A” Company suffered six casualties in trying to oust the enemy.
During the afternoon I paid the Company out. For the last week or so Hugh Ford, in conjunction with the Padre, has been running a general knowledge quiz— an inter-platoon competition. The answers went in two days ago. I am reminded of this, as today I saw the results of an individual poetry contest which I held in the Company. Pte. Kent handed in a grand historical effort, covering the salient movements and events of the Company since our march down in September. Sergt. Thatcher’s effort was a clever, witty piece entitled “The Men England Forgot.” Frisby took out two sections of 12 Platoon as a fighting patrol to the Pazwanyaung area at 1830 hrs. Their task is to beat up any Jap mule convoy that may move that way, and return at first light tomorrow.
February 17. Another quiet night in our area, except for the guns in the valley just behind us, and they were spasmodically active.
Frisby reported in this morning as per schedule, and stated that the patrol had shot up about six mules and their leaders, but total damage unknown. This small convoy were moving north. We are beginning to think now that the Japs always precede their large supply convoys with merely a handful of mules, so that if there should be something in their path, the gaff is blown before the big stuff comes along. The Brigade is aware from other unit reports and prisoners that convoys of up to 200 mules move most nights. Most of their routes are known now, and there is a big plan afoot in the future to cover the whole ground between the Punjabis on the left and the Mayu foothills on the right, both by machine-gun fire and fighting patrols. The Japs on “A” Company withdrew during the night and left one Jap officer’s body, a sword and maps. The enemy landed three shells right in Battalion H.Q. (Quartermaster and Colour-Sergeants’ area). No casualties, but much kit written off.
February 18. Intermittent firing and shelling throughout the night. Nothing of real importance tame in today. We had a parachute drop in the early hours this morning and another one at 1115 hrs. both rations and ammunition were dropped. All these rations and ammunition and the air activity must make the Japanese jealous, as they cannot shoot our planes down, and they dare not send their Zeros over to do the job. Although our rations are still only half, we do not do too badly. Scrounging parties go to the village every day and bring back potatoes, beans, fruit, an odd chicken, a few eggs and plenty of rice; we also get our fresh meat fairly regularly from local cattle. Cigarettes are very scarce—in fact hardly exist. For once the men will do anything to get hold of a “Vee” cigarette. Many men of the Company have made bamboo pipes, and although they do not last they are temporarily very good. The men use a variety of tobacco, mostly fag ends, some even grass. I hand all my fag stubs to my batman. No mail comes in or goes out, of course. Soon after standing down the Battalion wireless set opens up in Battalion H.Q. and gives off soft music for an hour or so and then the news. This wireless set has been with us since we have been in the Arakan, and was one of three given to us as part of the Fourteenth Army amenities. Somehow the set has got away with it, and so we get the news sheet daily at about 1500 hrs. in the Company. The news sheet and sit. reps. are passed to the platoons in turn. It is amazing how eager the chaps are to see how the war is going on elsewhere; it is a great asset to morale.
The men are excellent over shaving, turn-out and the cleaning of arms. Razor blades are naturally short, but there are many ways of sharpening the old ones—the palm of the hand being as effective as any. Uniformity of turn-out is perhaps not so easy and not always as good as it might be. However, it has improved a great deal, and we do at least wear the tin hats at about the same angle, and always equipment when leaving the Company areas. Any man that does manage to creep away from the Company with his braces crossed wrong, or wearing his water bottle incorrectly, does not get very far in Battalion H.Q.; the Second-in-Command or R.S.M. do not waste time over return tickets Obtaining a full bath in the chaung is not easy, but one section of a platoon manages to get a wash down nearly every day. This is subject to patrol activities, ration fatigue, and parachute collecting parties. During the afternoon we had another R.A.F. display of air superiority. Vultee Vengeances and Hurricanes, mounting two Bofors guns, were over in numbers; the Vultees bombing targets in the Taung area and Jap positions north-west of the Gurkhas on the “Able” features. The Hurricane strafers went farther south to the road and Buthidaung areas.
Hugh Ford invited me to tea in Adm. Company Mess. Returned to the Company at 1715 hrs., where I met the Padre and arranged a service for 1200 hrs. on Sunday next. “Tiny” Taylor took 10 Platoon out on a fighting patrol at 1830 hrs. The task and area were similar to Frisby’s, but a little farther to the east.
February 19. 10 Platoon came in at 0700 hrs. this morning. Not a sign of a convoy last night, nothing to shoot up. Very dull and very cold for the men. They came in absolutely blue with the cold, having lain doggo in the wet paddy and the dew falling on them for about eight hours. “Tiny” reported excellent shooting by our 25- pounders on the Punkori area. This may have upset the Jap convoys. Saw the CO. just before stand-to this evening, and he told us present in Battalion H.Q. a marvellous dialogue, which he could not help but overhear this morning, going on between two privates digging a slit trench: 1st Private: “Seen the nooze, mite? Churchill says that ‘e is wotchin’ ar front wiv intense int’rest.” 2nd Private: “Yus ?“ ist Private: “Well, wot I sez is, that he ain’t wotchin’ ar bleedin’ rear.”
February 20. I include today’s sit. rep. from “Paddy” “With: General sit. rep. 1430 hrs. About 200 rounds from I believed 105 mms., 75 mms. and 3 inch. mortar fired on 4th/1st Gurkhas 1700 hrs. Their guerrillas returning from well south of road were engaged by Jap platoon. Nine Japs badly wounded or killed, 9 wounded. Own casualties, 2 killed, 3 missing. Japs have extended their position on the neck south-east to within about 50 yards of our own positions. Estimated one jap company on’ Able,’ one company south of road. ‘C’ Company 4th/1st Gurkhas, less one platoon, returning to ‘Able’ today. This company contacted small party Japs 460495 at 1630 hrs. yesterday. R.A. Survey Troop drove off few Japs from OP. position 470499; captured documents, including detailed sketch map Brigade H.Q. area marking three routes in.
2130 hrs. 8 to 12 Japs attacked Mule Company 466489 for 15 minutes. Believed some casualties inflicted. N.M.S. (No movement seen). Awlanbyin valley, but villagers report some Japs moved south and west. Patrol 1st/11th Sikhs heard a few Japs at 468513 at 0900 hrs. Patrol to Sinobyin drew fire from north-west bulge. N.E.S. (No enemy seen). Ngakragy. aung to Maunggyitaung this morning. Pockets of Japs reported at 419457 and 434487 and 434482. 114. Brigade found large unoccupied tunnel position for about one battalion at Thankrwe. They mortared Buthidaung ferry without reaction. Detailed locations near Adm. Base and farther north have been promised.” (End of sit, rep.) A very sharp battle was fought just behind us at 2130 hrs. last night in the Brigade H.Q. area. Red tracer was everywhere, and grenades by the hundreds exploded. After fifteen minutes the fire died away as suddenly as it came. A fairly big air strafe of dive-bombers escorted by twenty-four fighters went over at 1600 hrs. We learnt late this evening that the flare-up in Brigade H.Q. last night was the mule company loosing off all their ammunition at a Jap reconnaissance patrol that had penetrated the area.
February 21. Jack Sumner came back at lunch time from leave. He had been due back about a week or so, but our being cut off prevented it. Being the determined chap he is, he came over by a two-seater Moth, which landed in 114 Brigade area (across the Kalapanzin), and eventually reached our Brigade H.Q. by moving with mule convoys, etc. During the time he has been waiting to get back to us he volunteered to go up with the D.Cs. and help with the supply drops over us. Something I had not previously realized was that all these supplies were pushed out by volunteers, and it was no easy job. Jack had actually dropped supplies to us on four occasions. It was certainly grand to see him hack; his presence in the R.A.P. means much to the men.
One troop of tanks went out of the harbour at 1300 hrs. to help the Sikhs on Point 182. Frisby out on patrol again tonight. He is to take 12 Platoon out on a fighting patrol at 1845 hrs. to the Letwedet chaung just north of Punkori, where it is thought he may catch the Japs crossing the chaung from the village, or may even catch some sampans loaded with supplies going to the 162 feature. My batman came to me this afternoon just before going off to dip our clothes into some muddy water. “Ever seen these before, sir?“ he says, showing me his shirt. I answered that I did not think I had—”these” were lice crawling about the seams of the shirt. I told him not to worry, but just wash it and lay it in the sun, and do the same with mine, without looking too closely at it. We have all, of course, been eaten alive with bugs, hoppers and the usual dug-out crawlers. At this moment I have at least four ticks on me, their heads firmly imbedded under the arm-pits and in the shoulder blades. (They had dug so far in that a knife was necessary to get them out.)
A great deal of firing everywhere last night. Gurkhas were attacked during the night, but beat off the onslaughts. The Punjabis were raided by fighting patrols. The greatest noise of firing came from our rear, from just behind Brigade H.Q. and farther in rear of that. Twelve 97 bombers came over with some fighters above them. I think their target must have been the pass or the Adm. Base. After concentrated A.A. fire they left “after twenty minutes at about 1030 hrs. We had a large air drop towards mid-day.
February 22. Today’s sit. rep. at 1600 hrs. was as follows: “General sit. rep. hrs. Gurkhas were attacked between 0430 and 0930 hrs. by several determined parties from west. Two Jap bodies seen, probably more. Our casualties, 2 seriously, 2 slightly wounded. Total of 11 bodies found on Pt. 182, plus two G.Ds. (Grenade discharger). and one M.M.G. Identified as part of . . . Regt. Own casualties, 2 killed, 9 slightly wounded. Movement heard on feature during night. Patrol ‘A’ Company Queen’s to Pt. 129 saw about 150 Japs and 20 mules come south down Awlanbyin valley and turn southeast area 478502 at 0500 hrs. Punjabis saw 30 Japs move south area 491490 at 0400 hrs. H.Q. R.A. was attacked last night; 24 bodies, 1 wounded P.W. recovered. After attack on 4th/8th Gurkhas yesterday 36 bodies recovered. W. Yorks, in 9th Brigade, ‘B’ Ech. area accounted for 24. 114 Brigade report Zadidaung and Pt. 124B reoccupied by Japs.”
12 Platoon arrived in this morning at 0700 hrs. Frisby rang me up and said he had reported to the Adjutant and told him all. The men had had some fun, he said, and no casualties. The platoon sank one sampan loaded with kit and definitely killed one and wounded another Jap. Frisby himself threw grenades into the boat and said he saw the Japs leap over the side. There were some Japs on the far bank ready to receive the sampan, and they opened fire with an automatic and rifles on the patrol. Small Jap patrol around the Battalion west entrance was beaten off with grenades by the Carrier Platoon. The Japs have now attacked most of the battalions down here since the encirclement, but have so far left us alone apart from patrols. These patrols must still be trying to find a weak spot and a way in, but have so far met with no success. A couple of days ago 114 Brigade reported that captured documents included a detailed sketch map of the area around the Battalion and our Brigade box. But if the Japs ever did try their hand at attacking the “Braganza Box” (“We call our Battalion area “Braganza Box”). they would catch a cold. The Battalion holds all the high ground with ambushes in depth at both entrances, and the Tank personnel hold the valley and low ground between “D” to the north and “B” and “C” Companies on the south. The tanks alone have 74 automatic guns between them, and the majority of these are dismounted at night for ground action. Our dive-bombers came over at 1500 hrs. and bombed targets in rear and in front of us. “Tiny” Taylor took 11 Platoon out on a fighting patrol to the east beyond Pazwanyaung, to link up the valley between us and the Punjabis, at 1900 hrs.
February 23. ”Tiny’s” patrol saw nothing going north or south. He said the Punjabis fired 2-inch mortar and light machine guns at odd moments during the night, but he heard no Jap firing. The Punjabis themselves had a fighting patrol out on the paddy some 400 yards to the east of him. Quiet night here.
February 24. The C.O. held a conference this morning on promotions. I recommended Sergt. Thatcher for promotion to C.S.M. He has done excellently with us down here and has made his platoon 11 Platoon— by far and away the most efficient in the field; it is neater and cleaner in the positions. Thatcher always has things laid on for his men, and he is not above getting them extras of anything—if he can ! But by making him a C.S.M. I shall lose him to “C” Company, who has not one. He likes the Company so much, he says, he would rather stay in it as sergeant. However, orders are orders, and he goes to “C” Company and comes back to us when C.S.M. Hudson is repatriated. All the battles are getting closer as the Jap is driven from the north. The Gurkhas were heavily attacked last night.
February 25. John Smyth (“C” Company) took out a Platoon on a fighting patrol into the paddy field to our west last night. They had a colossal shoot-up of a Jap convoy moving south. (As will be seen from the sit. reps., the general trend of the Japs is now south; they are short of ammunition and rations, and are now trying to get out of it.) John’s ambush patrol captured much kit. At about 0700 hrs. this morning “A” Company saw a magnificent target of between 100 to 200 Japs moving south across the paddy between us and the Punjabis. The Japs had mistimed it and were caught in daylight. Vickers and Bren’s opened up on them, and then the artillery caught them. Their confusion was stupendous, and their morale so shaken that the Japs were committing hari-kari by placing grenades to their chests.
Battalion shelled in the afternoon at 1400 hrs., some shells landing immediately in front of Company H.Q. We heard a rumour that the pass was open, but Brigade later this evening sent us definite news that the pass was open to casualties only; there were still Japs sniping in the area. Altogether 411 casualties were evacuated over the pass yesterday. In the past week or so Auster aircraft have been landing in the Brigade H.Q. area and taking off the more serious casualties. A word about the sick: “B” Company has about eleven really sick men—malaria and dysentery—but of these only six are prostrate. These fellows cannot be evacuated and are just lying in their platoon areas.
February 26. A huge “party” all last night. John Smyth volunteered to take his platoon out again to have another go at the Jap mule convoys going south. It was obvious that the Japs were no longer using the eastern route, but went west in the Tatminyaungwa area. At about 2040 hrs. the firing started and increased into a crescendo. After half an hour or so we could hear the rattling of equipment on mules. The Carrier Platoon opened up and so did the Sikhs just north of Brigade H.Q.; the sky was lit up with flares, bomb explosions and tracer. This convoy was fully caught and could not get back, and so tried to get forward south to their own positions in the 162 area. As the remnants of this convoy got through this devastating cross-fire, they were met by another small ambush patrol we had out just this side of the anti-tank gun troop (in an infantry role) on the Letwedet chaung. This ambush fired at them from the south, so again the Japs were caught in between the two ambushes. After dawn broke we could see the kit strewn over the burnt paddy; it covered an enormous area. Dead and wounded mules lay around; only eighteen Jap dead bodies could be found. I went out to see what kit there was, and found an 81 mm. bipod and brought this in, with a few rifles. John Smyth’s chaps brought in the base plate.
It was thought that not many Japs got over the chaung. So one platoon of “B” Company and one platoon of “C” Company were to go to an area where it was thought they might lay up in daylight. Joe Mullins took the “C” Company platoon across the jungle-covered slopes, and I took 11 Platoon round the left, taking the same route as if going to our old forward position. We left our old position on our left and went straight on up the narrow and wet re-entrant and chaung-bed, to the source of the stream and up over an almost perpendicular bamboo-covered ridge. From the ridge we then dropped down into a thick but large re-entrant. This was the place all right; clothing, equipment, papers, maps, ammunition, shells and fuse caps, and up the deepest re-entrant we found the barrel of the 8i mm. mortar. So now we have a complete Jap mortar less the sights. “C” Company had arrived in this area some minutes before us and had found a wounded “Jif” (Japanese Independent Force, consisting of “pressed” locals). who told us which way the Japs had gone. I dispatched a section in that direction, which was through our old positions, and told them that if they found no Japs to return to the Battalion area, whilst we gathered all the documents and kit we could. There were altogether seven mules in different stages of emaciation; some were wounded and all were starved. After an hour of sorting out the kit, we left here at 1330 hrs. and arrived back at 1430 hrs in the Battalion H.Q. area. Battalion were shelled quite heavily this afternoon at 1515 hrs. “C” Company had a few in front of them, and we had some in our area, one landing right in the cookhouse, but no casualties in the Company. We hear now that the pass is definitely open for casualties, supplies and mail. “Tiny” to take out 11 Platoon and one section of 10 Platoon on the same job as John Smyth did last night. He has a veritable little fortress of arms—four light machine guns and two 2-inch mortars and about forty eight H.E. bombs.
February 27. ”Tiny” had great success against another Jap convoy going south last night. From 2130 hrs. to the small hours this morning the noise of firing from the ambush area was incessant and huge; the Carrier Platoon again opened up on their arcs.
The patrol came in at 0715 hrs. and brought in a wounded Jap as prisoner: only seven dead have been counted and three dead mules. Documents, arms and equipment brought in were quite considerable. The story of a Jap officer, who was killed whilst rushing one of the section positions single-handed, was told me by “Tiny,” and once again goes to show how fanatical these little rats are. The section of 11 Platoon commanded by Cpl. Berry, surprised a party of Japs at about ten yards and had them silhouetted against the sky. The Jap second-lieutenant, in front of his men, stumbled into the position and saw our men, who had not yet fired. He shouted “Thayro !“ (A common Urdu word meaning “Wait.”) to the Bren gunner and drew his sword, but the gunner gave him a burst and got the Jap in the thigh. ‘The Jap jumped over the gunner and struck round with his sword left and right, hitting the pack of the gunner and just piercing the back of another rifleman. In the meantime the Jap was hit by another rifle bullet and bayoneted in the side, but still he showed fight. L./Cpl. Chamberlain finally put a burst of tommy-gun into him, which floored but did not kill him. The officer was finished off by a couple of men running a bayonet through him. The remaining six men were dealt with by others of the section with grenades and the light machine guns. Our casualties were one wounded slightly by the sword and Pte. Perks got a burst from our own light machine gun as he jumped across its line of fire. He was seriously wounded in the testicles, but I gather from the M.O. he will be all right.
Had a large artillery barrage last night and early this morning in the area of Punkori and east of 162 feature. “Tiny” Taylor took one section of 10 Platoon out as a contact patrol to a brigade of 26th Division, who are part of the relieving force and have advanced south down the foothills of the Mayu, and are now west by north of us. The patrol left at 1030 hrs. and arrived back at 1630 hrs. They came under Japanese fire as they went across a little too much to the south; on working their way up north the patrol met up with a Frontier Force regiment of that brigade, who had just put in an attack and were still scrapping with the Japs. The patrol brought back some vegetables and rice, most welcome. The last few days have seen a great change in the Japs’ fighting. 26th Division have been pushing down well and are not far north of us, a matter of four miles from our northernmost troops. The dive-bombing on the tips of the Mayu ridge is also gradually coming south; it is most accurate. We can follow the progress of our troops as the bombing moves from one peak to the next.
February 29. Our encirclement has virtually ended, as although there are still large numbers of Japs in our rear, our communications are now fully restored. The road back is all ours. “D” and “B” Companies went back to their original positions at 0800 hrs. this morning. K.O.S.B. reconnaissance parties arrived at 1200 hrs. Robin Innes, commanding “B” Company, K.O.S.B., came with the party, as he did on February 4, but the change-over was then indefinitely put off owing to the Jap impertinence. I took him around the positions and fixed the party up for lunch. Innes told us of their heavy officer casualties: their second CO. was wounded in the Ngakyedauk Pass. They have altogether had about twenty-one officer casualties since they have been down in the Arakan, whereas we have had eleven only. Their first C.O., Colonel Mattingly, was killed by a shell in January. I knew him very well in Razmak, and travelled backwards and forwards to the Arakan with him last July. In the meantime “Tiny” Taylor and a representative from platoons are to reconnoitre an area in “Wet Valley.” The K.O.S.B. Company arrived at 1600 hrs. and we returned to the Battalion H.Q. area, where we assembled prior to moving out. Left the Braganza Box at 2230 hrs. and arrived in Wet Valley at 0200 hrs.