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Burma 1930 - 1947:

African Formations 1944 - 1947

The Burma campaign of 1943 through to the end of the war in 1945 saw the deployment of three African divisions and two independent brigades on active service. This was very much at the instigation of General GIFFORD, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of 11 Army Group, who had served in West Africa, and respected the African soldiers and knew their potential.

The two West African divisions were unlike any other formations on the establishment of the British Army as they employed unarmed soldiers as porters. They head loaded all the equipment and supplies required by each Brigade, making the Division very mobile and flexible. Supplied by air drops, the Divisions could operate in effect as long-range penetration forces, in a similar manner to the Chindits.

The 81 (West Africa) Infantry Division was formed on 1 March 1943 in Nigeria. It left West Africa by ship on 9 July 1943 bound for India. The division concentrated in India, having arrived in stages from West Africa.The division concentrated in India, having arrived in stages from West Africa. It was deployed to Burma on 8 December 1943 to come under the command of XV Indian Corps in the Arakan. It was deployed in the Kaladan valley, on the left flank of XV Corps as it advanced down the Mayu peninsula. The division was attacked by the Japanese and withdrew back to the Chittagong area. The division was reorganised in September 1944, then took part in the late 1944 offensive in the Arakan advancing down the Kaladan Valley for a second time. The division met up with the 82 (West Africa) and captured Myohaung in a joint attack. After this, the division was withdrawn from active service, having been on operations for over twelve months. It left Burma on 18 March 1945 to return to India. The division was allocated to XXXIV Indian Corps for the invasion of Malaya. With the cessation of hostilities, the division started to run down in late 1945, and by May 1946, the division had ceased to exist.

The 82 (West Africa) Infantry Division was formed in Nigeria on 1 August 1943. It left West Africa on 28 May 1944, arriving in India on 10 July 1944. Initially the division was organized with three brigade groups, but was reorganised on a standard divisional establishment in October 1944. The division entered Burma on 9 November and joined XV Indian Corps on 10 November. It advanced down the Kalapanzin River, and captured Myohaung. It continued in the Arakan until the end of April 1944. It left the command of XV Indian Corps on 30 April 1945, but remained in Burma under command of H.Q. A.L.F.S.E.A.. The division remained in Burma, as part of Burma Command until May 1946, when it was disbanded with personnel returning to the United Kingdom or West Africa.

The 11 (East Africa) Infantry Division was formed in East Africa on 16 February 1943. It was not until May 1943 that the divisional headquarters assumed control of all its units, except for the 21 (East Africa) Infantry Brigade Group which was already based in Ceylon. The rest of the division arrived in Ceylon in June 1943. It left Ceylon bound for Burma in June 1944. The division was deployed in Burma and came under the command of XXXIII Corps at Imphal on 23 July 1944. It advanced down the Kabaw valley during the offensive of 1944. It reached the Irrawaddy River and secured crossings on the opposite bank. The division was withdrawn from the front line in December 1944. It remained in Burma under command of Headquarters, Lines of Communication, Allied Land Forces South East Asia until 9 April 1945 on its return to India.

In addition, two East African brigades were sent to Burma, where they operated as independent brigade groups. The 22 (East African) Infantry Brigade served with XV Indian Corps in the Arakan. It was involved in the final advances down the Arakan coast, at times being under command of the 26 Indian Division and 82 (West Africa) Division. The 28 (East African) Infantry Brigade served in central Burma under the command of IV Corps. It played a key role in Operation Extended Capital, as it led the advance down the Gangaw valley, masking the presence of the 7 Indian Division behind. The brigade then made a feint crossing of the Irrawaddy River to drawn attention away from the main crossing being undertaken by the 7 Indian Division. The brigade faced sustained attacks, but the Ugandans, Tanganyikans and Somalis fought tenaciously and managed to beat off the attacks. This brigade suffered the heaviest number of casualties of all the five East African brigades deployed in Burma during the war.

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