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Burma 1930 - 1947:

Independent Brigades

There were some independent brigades that operated in Burma during the campaign of 1944 and 1945.

The Lushai Brigade was an ad-hoc formation raised by the Fourteenth Army to cover the large area of the Lushai and Chin Hills on the flank of IV Corps, and to prevent Japanese activity in the region. It’s troops had to cover long distances in appalling weather, and they were successful in disrupting the Japanese line of communication. The Brigade was disbanded in India in February 1946. This formation is often overlooked and neglected, yet it played a key role in the Battle of Imphal and the subsequent advance. I have, therefore, written a concise history of this formation, which is attached.

The 268 Indian Infantry Brigade was formed in August 1942 to be the infantry component of the newly raised 43 Indian Armoured Division. In April 1943, it moved to the new 44 Indian Armoured Division, and then into G.H.Q. Reserve at Ranchi by March 1944. On 16 April 1944, with the launch of the Japanese invasion of India through Kohima and Imphal, the brigade was deployed to Dimapur. It arrived on 8 May to come under command of an emergency formation entitled the 21 Indian Division, which itself was under command of XXXIII Indian Corps. It was given responsibility for the defence of the line of communication between Dimapur and Kohima. In mid-May, the brigade took over the responsibility for Kohima Ridge, and continued to operate in the Kohima area. The brigade continued on operations until being withdrawn to Imphal in early August 1944. On 10 August 1944, the brigade was reorganised.

Five new battalions were posted into the brigade. Its role changed from being a lorried infantry brigade within an armoured division to an independent brigade capable of movement across the varied terrain in central Burma. This brigade came under command of IV Corps on 11 November. It was tasked with misleading the Japanese and also to protect the southern flank of the 62 Indian Infantry Brigade from the 19 Indian Division as it crossed the River Chindwin. At 07.00 hours on 26 December, this brigade and the 19 Indian Division transferred to the command of the XXXIII Indian Corps. The brigade was ordered to advance down the Mu River and make patrols contact with the 2 Infantry Division and 19 Indian Infantry Division. The brigade prided itself on having to navigate the more difficult country and terrain than other formations, and used mules, bullocks and elephants for transport. In late January 1945, the brigade came under Corps Reserve. On 10 April 1945, the brigade commenced its advance from Ngathayauk in support of the 2 Infantry Division and cooperated in capturing Mount Popa, an extinct volcano that rose from the plain to a height of 500 feet. Having assisted in the capture of that feature, the brigade concentrated at Allanmyo by 1 May 1945. The brigade advanced down the Irrawaddy River with XXXIII Corps and held the central sector around Thayetmyo under command of the 7 Indian Division. The brigade became part of the 12 Army in Burma and was used to mop up stragglers in the Allanmyo, Kama and Prome areas under the direct command of the 7 Indian Division. The brigade was relieved in July 1945 and moved to India to reorganise to Allied Occupation Forces in Japan.

The Third Special Service Brigade was formed in Dorchester, England on 1 September 1943. The Headquarters was formed using the personnel of 102nd Royal Marine Brigade H.Q., which disbanded on the same date.  The original intention was for the brigade to comprise 42 Commando, 43 Commando and 44 Commando, all Royal Marines units.  It was decided, however, to provide this brigade, and the other three Special Service brigades, with a mix of Army Commando and Royal Marine Commando units, hence the brigade had the establishment as shown.

Brigadier (Temporary) Wilfrid Ivan NONWEILER, R.M., commanded the brigade from 7 December 1943 until 26 November 1944, when he was posted back to the United Kingdom, although he officially remained in command until 14 January 1945.  Brigadier P. G. YOUNG officiated as the Brigade commander from 27 November until 18 December 1944, when Temporary Brigadier Campbell Richard HARDY, D.S.O., assumed command.  He remained the brigade commander until 29 April 1946.

The Brigade was based in and around Canterbury in late 1943, travelling to Egypt where it arrived on 12 December 1943.  It embarked again on 9 January 1944, and it landed in India on 21 January 1944.  The Brigade concentrated at Poona, under the command of XXXIII Indian Corps, which was intended for amphibious landings in Burma.  The Brigade moved to Maungdaw in March and April 1944, then moving to the Silchar Valley, and then on 13 August 1944, it arrived on the island of Ceylon.  In early October, the Brigade was deployed to Teknaf and then Maungdaw.  It was redesignated as 3 Commando Brigade in mid to late 1944. In January 1945, the Brigade was deployed in landings at Myebon and Kangaw, which included the fierce battle for Hill 170.  On 16 March, the Brigade sailed for Madras, and it concentrated at Poona.  Although earmarked for Operation ‘Zipper’, the invasion of Malaya, the Japanese cessation of hostilities led to it being diverted to Hong Kong, where it arrived on 12 September 1945.  The Brigade remained in operation post-war, and it remains today (2023) as the main formation in the Royal Marines.

The 50th Indian Parachute Brigade was raised on 1 October 1941 at Delhi. It trained at Delhi, Dehra Dun and near Poona, and it was deployed in Delhi on internal Security duties.  Brigadier (Acting) William George Hugh GOUGH, M.C., 2nd Gurkhas, raised the Brigade and was its first commander, even though he had lost the use of one eye and had a damaged arm as a result of a grenade injury.  GOUGH was relieved of his command in June 1942 due to his age, and his failure to recover from a leg injury resulting from a parachute jump.  He was replaced by Brigadier (Acting) Maxwell Richard Julian HOPE-THOMPSON, M.A., Royal Scots Fusiliers (who was known as ‘Tim’ HOPE-THOMPSON).  He had been sent out from the U.K. where he was the commanding officer of the 4th The Parachute Regiment because of his knowledge and experience in airborne forces.  The Brigade moved to Campbellpore near Rawalpindi in October 1942 and trained at the Air Landing School.  It also undertook some jungle training and the Brigade, less the 154th Battalion, moved to Kohima for jungle training in a forward area with effect from 4 March 1944.  On 15 March, the Brigade Commander was ordered to send the 152nd Battalion to the Sangshak area to relieve the 49th Indian Infantry Brigade.  The Brigade H.Q. moved forward to Litan, with the M.M.G. Company at Ukhrul and the 153rd Battalion remaining at Kohima.  On 19 March, the Japanese attacked the forward locations held by 152 Battalion, with ‘C’ Company being wiped out on Point 7378 after a gallant defence of that location.  The Brigade Commander consolidated his Brigade at Sangshak, although only about half of the 153rd Battalion managed to reach Sangshak before it was surrounded.  The Brigade held on against repeated determined attacks until 26 March, when the survivors broke out in small groups.  For various reasons, in the main unjustified, the actions of the Brigade were criticized, and Brigadier HOPE-THOMPSON was relieved of his command on 1 April 1944 and he was sent back to the U.K.  Colonel B. E. ABBOTT officiated until Brigadier (Acting) Edward Galbraith WOODS, M.B.E., 17th Dogra Regiment, p.s.c., was appointed as the new Brigade Commander on 22 May 1944.  In June, the Brigade continued to operate in the Litan area north of Imphal, and it served under the 17th Indian Infantry Division in the Tiddim and Kalemyo areas.  The Brigade returned to India in August 1944 and was reunited with the 154th Battalion.  In September 1944, it came under command of this Division, but trained independently in the Secunderabad region.  It was not until 5 February 1945 that it actually joined this Division in practice.  A composite battalion group from this Brigade was dropped at Elephant Point on the approaches to Rangoon on 1 May 1945, which turned out to be the only use of Indian Airborne Forces during the Second World War.  In August 1947, the Brigade was stationed at Quetta.

Anti-Aircraft Brigades and Units – India and South-East Asia

At the outbreak of the Second World War, as far as the U.K. is concerned, on 3 September 1939, there were no anti-aircraft units either based in India, or within the Indian Artillery. The initial requirement of the British Indian Army was to raise new formations for deployment in the Middle East, Iraq and Egypt in particular. As such, the first anti-aircraft units were raised in India.  Through 1941, the threat from Japan to the American, British, and Dutch colonies and possessions in the Far-East rose, and the likelihood of war became much more likely. War became a reality on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Malaya, and soon afterwards, the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies and Hong Kong.

The pace of raising new Indian anti-aircraft units increased, but a shortage of British officers and non-commissioned officers, and Indian Viceroy Commissioned Officers and non-commissioned officers, held back the expansion of the anti-aircraft artillery considerably. There was also a high demand for soldiers from the Punjab for infantry units, so the Indian Artillery increasing turned to recruiting Madrasi soldiers from southern India. These new soldiers proved to be very competant and quick to learn, with many being promoted to fill the vacancies for non-commissioned officers.

Three Indian anti-aircraft brigades were formed, two of which were based in and around Calcutta, and the third in southern India. In addition, two British anti-aircraft brigades, which had been formed in the U.K., were sent to India, and the only West African anti-aircraft brigade. One British and the West African anti-aircraft brigades were deployed to Assam, while the other British brigade was deployed to the Arakan region.

In February 1944, the 9 Anti-Aircraft Brigade and 3 Indian Anti-Aircraft Brigade swopped locations, with their constituent units remaining in place. The 9 Anti-Aircraft Brigade moved to southern India, and it began to prepare for amphibious operations in South-East Asia, that ended with Operation ‘Zipper’. The 3 Indian Anti-Aircraft Brigade assumed responsibility for the Assam base. In early 1945, the process of replacing British anti-aircraft units with Indian one continued, and some units were disbanded and others returned to the U.K.

With the end of hostilties on 15 August 1945, the requirement for anti-aircraft units ended abruptly, and in September 1945, all anti-aircraft units in Burma were ‘stood down’. At Partition, one heavy anti-aircraft and one light anti-aircraft regiment passed to Pakistan, and three units passed to the new Indian Army.

The role of anti-aircraft artillery in South-East Asia is often overlooked. For those units based in Ceylon and southern India, there were few air-raids, and none from 1943 onwards. The situation was different in the Calcutta region, and in Assam, where one brigade was responsible for defending fifteen busy Allied airfields. Some units were deployed into Burma, either under Corps command, or one of the anti-aircraft brigades, and these were also called upon to support troops on the ground. This included some regiments operating 7.2″ howitzers in a ground support role.

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