Contents - Hirohito's War
33 The Battle of the Irrawaddy River: Slim’s ‘Mandalay Feint’
[January 1945–May 1945]
[Maps: 33.1, 33.2]
After the Battle of Imphal, What Next? (p 958) Mountbatten’s Machinations (p 958) Operation CAPITAL and EXTENDED CAPITAL (p 960) The Mandalay Feint (p 961) The Siege of Meiktila (p 964) Slim’s March into Mandalay (p 966) The Race to Rangoon (p 967) EXTRACT DIGIT (p 970) The Attempted Sacking of Slim (p 972)
While MacArthur was trying to finish off Japanese resistance in Luzon, General ‘Bill’ Slim was embarking on the destruction of Japanese forces in Burma. Though never a race, it would be a contest that Slim would win with aplomb. It was a speedy victory that not only reflected Slim’s special skills as a commander but, in terms of the air power provided, also showed that Burma was strategically much less important to Japan’s senior officers than the Philippines.
After the Battle of Imphal, What Next? The Battle of the Irrawaddy River (otherwise known as the Battle of Mandalay, the Battle of Pakkoku or the Battle of Meiktila) was unique in the history of land engagements in the Pacific War for being the only full-scale offensive conducted by the British Army—albeit an army that was mainly comprised of Indian soldiers. By the end of April 1944, it had become clear to Major-General Slim that the attempted invasion of the Indian province of Assam by the Japanese had been brought to a halt at the Battles of Imphal and Kohima [see Chapter 24: The Battles of Arakan, Imphal, and Kohima: Slim Boxes Clever], where the Fourteenth Army had destroyed the Japanese Army in a defensive engagement. The scale of the British victory was not immediately apparent. It was only as Slim’s troops, mainly Indians mixed with sundry British and African forces, pursued the fleeing Japanese forces that the scale of their victory became apparent. The grotesque discovery of vast numbers of corpses left by the wayside and villages full of dead and dying spoke of a vanquished, retreating army that was actually starving to death. An estimated 70,000 troops of General Mutaguchi’s approximately 100,000-strong army perished in Japan’s attempted invasion of northern India; it was a death rate almost unique in modern history. Nevertheless as late as summer 1944 some British commanders still feared that Japan might make further attempts to invade India.
Mountbatten’s Machinations: As for Slim, at the end of what turned out to have been a spectacular victory at the Battle of Imphal, he contracted malaria after he broke his own rules by taking a shower after sunset. In spite of his illness he began to plan the next phase in his campaign to retake Burma. He was not alone. Admiral Lord Mountbatten, head of SEAC (South East Asia Command) plotted to recapture the country by a spectacular amphibious campaign aimed at retaking Rangoon. Bolstered by victory at