TODAY -

Battle of Maram : 1944

Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh *

 2nd Division Memorial at Kohima
2nd Division Memorial at Kohima :: Pix - Rajeshwar Yumnam



Introduction :-

In early 1944, the Japanese army decided they were going to invade India and assist the INA to get to Delhi. Three divisions attacked Manipur. Came over Chindwin, and further north, the 31st Division of the Japanese army aimed for Kohima and caught everybody by surprise.

For three long months there was a fierce battle between the British 2nd Division and the Japanese 31st Division at Kohima. The Japanese 31st Division was commanded by Lt Gen. Kotoku Sato and the British 2nd Division was commanded by Major General M.L. Grover. The attack at Kohima was part of the Japanese Imphal campaign.

Prelude :-

It was the beginning of June 1944. The capture of Jail Hill, Naga Village, Aradura Spur and finally Kohima, from the Japanese by the allieds was completed. The advance of the Japanese had at last been checked and they were retreating.

It was General Slim's plan for the soldiers to proceed, lead by the tanks. The 7th Division (Indian) provided protection by staying left of the road, the 23rd Long Range Penetration Regiment were on the right of the road and it was planned that the 2nd Division, would force the Japanese off the road to be ambushed by these two units.

The British had superiority in numbers, artillery and armaments and absolute superiority in the air. But the jungle, the single track treacherous mountain road, and the monsoon, made the advance slow and difficult. The British were confident having beaten the Japanese at Kohima once, that they could do it again and get through to Imphal.

With the tanks in front of the 2nd Division, and wary for surprise by the Japanese, they had not moved more than several miles along the narrow winding Imphal road, when several Japanese jumped out of the bushes in front of them.

They had mines held to their chests, and eluding the firing from the British, threw themselves against the sides and front of the first tank. Their mines exploded and they killed themselves in a suicidal attempt to disable the tank.

Major- General John Grover's 2 Division had begun its push down the road on June 4th against the usual Japanese fierce resistance, in this case put up by Sato's rearguard under Major-General Miyazaki. In the village of Mao the Japanese had scrawled in English on a wall: "British-too many guns, tanks and troops. Japanese going, but back in six months".

During the 17th June, many Japanese positions located on the Mao Songsang ridge were heavily bombarded by night, while encircling movements round both the east and west flanks were launched.

To every surprise the Japanese abandoned their positions and slipped away. This was, William Slim thinks, the first time in the Burma campaign that such a vital position had been surrendered without a fight- a most significant change in Japanese mentality.

The Battle:-

The 2nd Division pushed on hard at the heels of the Japanese during the 18th June and made its best advance up to that time- some fourteen miles from Mao- but was then held up a few miles short of Maram as the Sappers rebuilding a bridge were heavily mortared.

On the 18th June, the spearheads of the two corps, one from Kohima and another from Imphal were some forty miles apart on the Kohima road. The 2nd Division approaching from Kohima were at Maram and the 5th Division nearing Kangpokpi. Although the Japanese had given up the much stronger defences of Mao Songsang, the Japanese attempted to hold against the 2nd division, another rearguard position at Maram.

Captain Nishida Susumu of 58th Infantry Regiment, Miyazaki Force, reaches the hill north east of Safarmaina on the evening of 18th June. He reported to Colonel Matsumura, commanding 60 Infantry Regiment. The main body of 31st Division was in retreat of its own volition, and abandoning the Kohima front.

A force consisting of one battalion under Miyazaki's command was moving south along the Kohima-Imphal road, occupying successive strong points to hold up the British advance. Miyazaki's planned withdrawal was to be as follows:
Viswema: 4-13 June
Mao Songsang : 13-17 June
Maram : 17-20 June
Karong : as long as possible after 20th June.

The 7th Bn Worcestershire Regiment recorded the ordeal at Maram in their war Diary and is recorded as follows

The Battle of Maram June 19:-
0730 hrs: The Brigadier gave order to capture Maram
0930 hrs : D Coy, Tanks + RE Recce party followed by TAC HQ.
B+A Coy moved up road to farming up area, 79.5 m/s area, Artillery, MGs and Tanks
put down a concentration on the area. The Bn had to capture, assisted by 3" Mortar Fire.
1030 hrs : C Coy ordered to move off road to capture first objective, the high ground, 316369,
and if possible capture the high ground dominating MARAM 314369, on leaving the
road, Coy by our own Tanks and MGs without casualties to ourselves. The use of
the 77 grenade to indicate the position of the leading troops, allowed the Brigadier to order the supporting arms to cease firing.
1050 hrs: C Coy captured first objective and ordered forward, and came under heavy fire from LMGs, snipers and grenades

Company Quarter Master Sergeant Frederick J. Weedman of 'C' Company, 7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment recollected and wrote an account of the battle at Maram,
"Our next encounter with the Japanese was at Maram, where rounding a sharp bend in the road, a shell from a 25mm Japanese gun on a hill to our right, demolished one of our 30cwt trucks. We learnt later this pocket of Japanese with a mobile gun had been ordered to delay our advance for ten days. 'C' Company, 7th Worcestershire Regiment, under the command of Major F.G. Burrell was ordered to clear this obstruction.

Finding a clearing off the road, we 'dug-in' and made tea, while the Platoon Officers and Sergeants were briefed by Major Burrell. It was early afternoon when 'C' Company set out climbing slowly up the slippery mud-covered side of the hill, urged on by the loud voice of C.S.M. 'Chalky' White. It was the unusual situation of an encounter taking place while the rest of the Regiment watched from the road below.

Shots from both sides could be heard while the men from 'C' Company closed in on the enemy. Eventually a runner came back and reported to the Regimental Commanding Officer that the position had been overcome, with only one killed and several wounded.

The wounded included the Company Sergeant Major, 'Chalky' White who had a bullet through his thigh. Stretcher bearers were sent up to fetch the wounded down. As they appeared there was a cheer for C.S.M. White, who had hobbled down because he said that his 18 stone was too heavy for the stretcher bearers to carry!

The Japanese gun was dismantled and brought down as well and now resides in the Worcester Museum. For this encounter, Major F.G. Burrell was decorated with the Military Cross for "inspired leadership, coolness and determination" while C.S.M. J. White received a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his gallantry."

 7th Worcester regiment at Stonehedge Camp (IWM)
7th Worcester regiment at Stonehedge Camp (IWM)
Picture Courtesy of Imperial war Museum -
https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205440



Consequences :-

The weight of the British Artillery preparations and air-strike, combined with the rapidity of the 2nd Division's deployment and infantry attack, was such that , instead of holding for many more days, the Japanese rearguard was overrun and mostly destroyed in a matter of hours.

This was the last serious attempt by the Japanese made to delay the advance of 33 Corps from Kohima. It was evident from Maram Battle that the Japanese 31st Division was disintegrating and the Japanese higher command no longer controlled the battle.

As a result of this encounter at Maram, the road was clear to proceed to relieve Imphal, which had been surrounded and under siege for several weeks.

The Memorial at Kohima, was installed after the battle of Maram and was unveiled by Field Marshal Sir William Slim, who was at the time commanding 14th Army in Burma. It was made from one piece of solid stone taken from a Spur near the village of Maram. The stone was with great difficulty, and with the assistance of the villagers, moved to its present site, at one end of the 2nd Division's War Cemetery at Kohima.

References:-

Slim William, Defeat Into Victory, Natraj Publishers, Dehradun, 1981
Evans Geoffrey, James Anthony Brett, Imphal: A Flower on a Lofty Heights, Macmillan & Co Ltd, London 1962
Allen Louis, Burma: The Longest War (1941-45), Phoenix Press, London, 1984.
War Diary of 7th Worcestershire Regiment.
http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/17/a5830517.shtml
https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205440 (Imperial war Museum)


* Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at yrs001(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 29 2020 .



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