Relief

1944

23 April

General Sato orders an all-out assault on Kohima. This fails and he reconfigures his dispositions to deny the Imphal Road to Commonwealth forces

25–29 April

2nd Division manoeuvres to destroy 31st Division and complete the relief of Kohima

The rational course of action would have been to attempt to preserve his manpower by making a withdrawal across the Chindwin River. However, Sato could not take such a course without orders and was, therefore, left with no choice but to settle his men into the mountains and jungle for a protracted defensive battle. A desperate assault on Garrison Hill during the night of 23/24 April failed to make any progress and, from that point onward, the Commonwealth troops seemed to be facing the prospect of rooting out Japanese positions one by one in a battle that would last for several more weeks.

Grover’s planned encirclement of Sato’s 31st Division inevitably made slow progress given the nature of the countryside and the tenacity of the Japanese soldier, many of whom had long abandoned any hope of returning to their homes and had nothing more to live for other than inflicting as much damage as they could on their opponents. The traditions of the Japanese Army conditioned soldiers to reject the idea of surrender, and army propaganda told them that the British and Indian troops facing them would kill prisoners out of hand, so the only choices were fight or flight.

The Japanese soldier, like any other, was perfectly capable of running away, but at Kohima it would have been hard to identify anywhere to run away to. If a man chose to desert his post he was faced with retracing the steps of 31st Division back to the Chindwin, through some of the most difficult terrain in the world and with every chance of being tracked down and killed by Naga hunters. If he chose to obey his orders, he would be behaving in an honourable and soldierly fashion, would benefit from whatever rations and ammunition 31st Division could acquire and be among his comrades, whereas even if he successfully negotiated his way back to the Chindwin and rejoined the army there, he would almost certainly face execution for desertion.

By 26 April 6th Brigade had their hands full on Kohima Ridge and had to withstand another attempt on Kuki Piquet, which was successfully driven off at considerable cost to both sides. The attack had been abandoned by dawn at which point two companies of the Dorsets was able to mount an attack which made some progress against the Japanese bunkers, but was impeded by the torrential rain and the fierce determination of the enemy. The attack did, however, allow two troops of tanks (Grants from 149th Regiment and Stuarts from 45th Cavalry) and a party of Royal Engineers in Bren Carriers to force their way through the enemy positions to join 5th Brigade for the loss of one tank.

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33 Commonwealth troops manning a light anti-tank gun. (AB/AWH)

The progress of 4th Brigade was slow. Although a small number of tanks had been brought into the fight, the terrain was just too difficult for the infantry to get forward under fire. After a failed attempt to seize Firs Hill, Gen. Grover decided that the best use of the brigade was to prevent 31st Division from reinforcing their surviving troops on Kohima Ridge from the north.

By the next day, Grover had developed a new plan. His 4th Brigade, in conjunction with 161st Brigade, would block the Imphal road by taking the Aradura Spur and attack the remaining Japanese forces on GPT Ridge from the south and west. At the same time 5th Brigade would seize the Naga village, thus squeezing the Japanese from two directions, while 6th Brigade would attack FSD Hill with armoured support and then press on to Jail Hill.

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34 Airstrike on a Japanese supply train. (AB/AWH)

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