Contents - Hirohito's War
24 The Battles of Arakan, Imphal, and Kohima: Slim Boxes Clever
[August 1943–July 1944]
[Maps: 24.1, 24.2, 24.3, 24.4, 24.5, 24.6, 24.7, 24.8]
General ‘Bill’ Slim (p 674) The Burma Railway (p 676) The First Arakan Campaign (p 677) Wingate and the Chindits (p 679) Slim’s Rebuilding of the Army in Assam (p 682) Independence for Burma (p 686) The Second Arakan Campaign and the Battle of the ‘Admin Box’ (p 687) Wingate and Long Range Penetration, LRP–2 (p 690) Mutaguchi and the March on Delhi (p 691) Supply and the Opening of the Burma Railway (p 692) Operation U-GO and the Battle of Imphal (p 692) The Battle of Kohima (p 695) Mutaguchi, from Defeat to Catastrophe (p 699)
General ‘Bill’ Slim: While the Americans and Australians were tipping the balance of the Pacific War in the South Pacific, the balance of power in Burma rested firmly with the Japanese. The British, having lost entire armies in Malaya and Burma in 1942 were patiently rebuilding their forces under the guiding hand of Lieutenant-General ‘Bill’ Slim. Meanwhile the pressure to supply and relieve Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Armies fighting the Japanese in central China was growing. By mid-1943 both Japan and Britain were limbering up for renewed engagement. In Japan, Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo saw the India-Burma frontier as a place to recoup some of the pride and prestige being lost in the South Pacific after the loss of the Solomons and southeast New Guinea, while in northeastern India, the British Army was ready to push back into Burma. It was a unique moment in the Pacific War when facing Allied and Japanese Armies were offensive-minded at the same time. The result, particularly for military historians, would be perhaps the most intriguing land battle of the Pacific War.
“The epithet ‘The Forgotten Army’ was taken up by the troops,” recalled Lieutenant- General ‘Bill’ Slim, “and before it became a statement of pride it reflected the fears and frustrations of soldiers thousands of miles from home whose hardships and deprivations were not widely appreciated.”1 In the post-war era even British historians, Burma specialists apart, have ignored Slim and his great victories at Imphal and Irrawaddy River. Roy Jenkins’s otherwise excellent 900-page biography of Churchill  gives due weight to General Montgomery and El Alamein but fails to even mention Slim or the great conflicts on the India-Burma front during World War II. American historians are similarly blank on the subject. Ronald Spector’s well-regarded Pacific War history, Eagle Against the Sun  makes scant reference to General Slim or his Fourteenth Army. John Toland’s The Rising Sun  is equally opaque on the subject. Yet the Battle of Imphal and the later Battle of the Irrawaddy River were the finest land victories of the Pacific War achieved by a general who was probably the most talented Allied military commander faced by Japan.
After a fighting retreat from the borders of Malaya, via Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma, Slim’s Burma Corps had reached India in April 1942. Albeit bedraggled they were at least intact as a fighting force. What now? They had reached India, the jewel and heart of the British Empire but they were in its nether regions, at its most far-flung corner in the remote states of Assam and Nagaland as well as the farthest reaches of east Bengal.