BALL OF FIRE

THE FIFTH INDIAN DIVISION IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR

BY

ANTONY BRETT-JAMES

FOREWORD BY VICE-ADMIRAL EARL MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA

THE GREAT SAND SEA

ALDERSHOT
GALE & POLDEN LTD

1951

 

CONTENTS

 FOREWORD BY VICE-ADMIRAL EARL MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA, K.G., P.C., G.M.S.I., G.M.I.E., G.C.V.O., K.C.B., D.S.O.

 PROLOGUE
 I. BLUFF IN THE SUDAN
 II. GALLABAT
 III. KASSALA TO BARENTU
 IV. KEREN
 V. THE FALL OF KEREN
 VI. THE ROAD TO ASMARA
 VII. MASSAWA BY THE SEA
 VIII. AMBA ALAGI
 IX. SURRENDER WITH HONOUR
 X. FROM PILLAR TO POST
 XI. GIARABUB AND GIALO
 XII. CYPRUS INTERLUDE
 XIII. ENTRY INTO THE DESERT
 XIV. ROMMEL'S OFFENSIVE
 XV. THE CAULDRON
 XVI. FIGHTING RETREAT
 XVII. RUWEISAT RIDGE
 XVIII. OUTSIDE BAGHDAD
 XIX. TRAINING FOR BURMA
 XX. ARAKAN
 XXI. THE NGAKYEDAUK BOX
 XXII. RAZABIL FORTRESS
 XXIII. KOHIMA
 XXIV. IMPHAL
 XXV. THE ROAD TO TIDDIM
 XXVI. VITAL CORNER AND KENNEDY PEAK
 XXVII. TRAGEDY AT JORHAT
 XXVIII. MEIKTILA
 XXIX. THE RACE FOR RANGOON
 XXX. MOPPING-UP IN BURMA
 XXXI. SINGAPORE REOCCUPIED
 XXXII. SOERABAJA
 EPILOGUE
 APPENDIX I
 APPENDIX II
 ILLUSTRATIONS

 

FOREWORD

By Vice-Admiral Earl Mountbatten of Burma, K.G., P.C., G.M.S.I., G.M.I.E., G.C.V.O., K.C.B., D.S.O.

I AM proud to pay my tribute in this foreword to the Fifth Indian Division. When the Division came under my command in South-East Asia towards the end of 1943, it had already had three years' hard fighting in Africa. In 1941 it had played a leading part in the defeat of the Italian Army in the Sudan, Eritrea, and Abyssinia; in the summer of 1942 it had been very heavily engaged with the Germans and Italians in the crucial battle of the Knightsbridge 'Cauldron,' and in the fighting withdrawal across North Africa to the defence of the Alamein line.

Thus when I first met the men of this Division, soon after the formation of the South-East Asia Command---indeed it was the first Division that I visited---its reputation was already high. At that time it was under the command of Major-General Briggs, and was facing SS Japanese Division on the coastal flank of the Arakan front. By a coincidence, it was also the last division that I visited before I left South-East Asia in the early summer of 1946---when it was in Java, under the command of Major-General Mansergh.

Soon after my first visit, the Division was heavily engaged in the first land battle to be fought since the Command had been set up. I remember feeling how greatly the future trend of operations would depend on the outcome of this battle; and a large share of the credit must go to the Fifth Indian Division for the first decisive victory against the Japanese since they had invaded two years previously.

Immediately after this, three Japanese divisions attacked 4 Corps in the Imphal Plain: and the Fifth Indian Division was at once flown in, straight from its victorious battle in Arakan, to take part in the vital struggle which was developing on the Central front. 161 Brigade joined 3 Corps, which was beginning to arrive at Dimapur, and fought in the battle of Kohima; the remainder of the Division reinforced 4 Corps, whose land victory at Kohima and Imphal, in which the Division played an important part, proved to be the turning-point of the Burma Campaign.

The Division continued to fight and to advance throughout the rest of the war, except for one period of rest and reorganization; and took part in the final thrust by 4 Corps down to Rangoon. Its record was second to none and I was proud to have such a fine formation under my command.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

WITHOUT the most generous and painstaking help given to me by more than eighty former members of the Division, its History could not have been written, for many of the experiences that they brought out from the depths of their memories and set down on paper had never before been recorded. Some wrote many pages about the particular campaigns in which they served; others lent their personal diaries, maps, private letters, newspaper cuttings, articles they once wrote for journals, photographs, regimental histories as yet unpublished, war-time copies of regimental journals and news-letters. Some have recorded their impressions of the senior commanders under whom they served; others have patiently answered the questions put to them on varied and often perplexing subjects. Some have given of their best in conversation over a drink or a meal, or by telephone; others have taken great trouble to read through the draft chapters submitted to them for criticism, and have suggested many amendments, recastings, and improvements, besides pointing out errors of fact, half-truths, and misinterpretations. For any such blemishes that remain, they are not to blame.

To all those who have given their aid I am deeply grateful. My particular thanks are due to the following: Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Briggs; Lieutenant-Colonel W. E. Dean; Brigadier B. C. Fletcher, D.S.O., M.C.; Captain B. C. Gomm; Lieutenant-Colonel A. P. Harrington, M.B.E.; Lieutenant-General Sir Lewis Heath; Captain P. M. Leslie-Smith; Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Mansergh; Major-General Sir John Marriott; General Sir Mosley Mayne; General Sir Frank Messervy; Major C. Morshead, M.C.; General Sir William Platt; Major-General D. W. Reid; Lieutenant- Colonel T. C. W. Roe, O.B.E.; Lieutenant-General D. Russell; Brigadier J. A. Salomons, D.S.O., O.B.E.; Colonel B. L. Sundius-Smith, D.S.O.; Mrs. D. F. W. Warren; Brigadier G. de V. Welchman, C.B.E., D.S.O.; and Major J. Wiberg. The names of all others who helped in the writing of this book are listed at the end.

I am indebted to the late Field-Marshal Earl Wavell and Messrs. Harrap for permission to quote a passage from his book, Allenby; to Mr. Winston S. Churchill and Messrs. Cassell for permission to quote from one of his war-time speeches and from his book, Their Finest Hour; also to Lord Camrose and the Daily Telegraph for the latter excerpt.

Thanks are due to the Imperial War Museum, the Combined Inter-Services Historical Section (India and Pakistan), Elliott & Fry Ltd., Lafayette Ltd., and J. Russell & Sons Ltd., for permission to reproduce copyright photographs. Also to Sir Charles Pawsey, K.C.I.E., C.S.I., M.C., who lent me his collection of photographs of Kohima.

I have received the greatest help from Lieutenant-Colonel J. E. B. Barton, of the Cabinet Office (Historical Section), who gave me access to the narrative of the campaign in the Sudan, Eritrea, and Abyssinia, which he compiled for the Official History of the Second World War; he also read through the early chapters, and made many valuable comments. I am further indebted to him for the use of several photographs which he took during a tour of the battlefields.

I am grateful to Brigadier H. B. Latham and the staff of the Cabinet Office (Historical Section) for enabling me to study the war diaries of the Division, documents that were largely dull but occasionally rewarding.

I owe much to Miss N. S. Peppard, who read large parts of the manuscript and saved me from a number of grammatical faults and clumsy phrases; and to Mr. R. P. Jago and Mr. David Bowen, who read the proofs.

To Miss Mary Scorer, of Winnipeg, I dictated parts of this book, and she typed and in many cases retyped the manuscript with great efficiency and understanding. She has my very warmest thanks.

All the maps were drawn by Captain J. A. Hepburn, who deserves special recognition.

Lastly I express my gratitude to my father, who helped me so nobly during the often tedious work of research upon the war diaries, and who, with my mother, read through the book in manuscript, transferred corrections and additions from one copy to the two spare copies, read the proofs with such care, and helped with the index.

MILL HILL.
A. B. -J.


Prologue