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The Forgotten Battle of World War II

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Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

The Battle of Kohima was as decisive as the Battle of Stalingrad but people seem to have forgotten about it.

The Battle of Kohima was as decisive as the Battle of Stalingrad but people seem to have forgotten about it.

Turning Points in World War II

If I ask you what were the turning points in World War II, I am sure most of you would give me some of these answers: the Battle of Normandy, Battle of Stalingrad, or even the Battle of Midway. Yes, these battles were decisive ones that turned the tide of the world war and played a key role in liberating Europe. No doubt about it.

But that brings us to another question. What about Asia? When was Asia liberated?

Asia was liberated decisively by the battle of Kohima which was fought along the dreadful Kabow Valley and cost countless lives. Further, this battle was not fought with tanks, infantry, or aircraft.

Rather, it was fought in swampy jungles, infested with mosquitoes, leeches, and scalding heat. The soldiers were fighting with rifles, bayonets, and knives in one of the most difficult terrains in the world. There were no rations, no canteens, and no reinforcements. It was either survive or rot in the jungle.

In Kohima, a small regiment of less than 1,500 British and Indian troops faced 15,000 soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. Vastly outnumbered 10 to 1, the defenders fought the invaders in brutal, hand-to-hand combat and prevented a Japanese victory. If the Japanese had won, they would have moved into India and effectively conquered Asia.

The battle was so gruesome that it is called the “Stalingrad of the East.” It effectively killed Japanese ambitions and helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Allies. This battle and its heroes have since largely been forgotten.

The battle of Kohima was so gruesome that it was called the “Stalingrad of the East”. It effectively killed Japanese ambitions and helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies.

The battle of Kohima was so gruesome that it was called the “Stalingrad of the East”. It effectively killed Japanese ambitions and helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies.

The Battle of Kohima

From February 1942 onwards the Japanese forces were on the rampage and were unstoppable. They had conquered vast areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and their next target was India, the seat of the British empire in Asia.

In early March of 1944, the Japanese launched the U-Go offensive in which the first units of the Japanese 15th Army invaded India. As part of the offensive, the Japanese planned to enter into India through the northeast, take over the cities of Kohima and Imphal, and then move across the length of India towards Delhi.

The "March on Delhi," as the Japanese called it, started on March 7th/8th 1944. Two Japanese divisions attacked Imphal. On March 15, another Japanese division, the 31st, attacked Kohima.

The irony was that along with the Japanese there were 100,000 Indian National Army (INA) soldiers led by freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose who were fighting against their fellow Indians in the British Indian Army. The British Indian Army was composed of primarily Jats, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas, and Gurkhas, who were led by General Slim.

For the British, Kohima was crucial as it was the gateway to India. The capture of Kohima would mean the end of British rule in India. But the regiment under General Slim was woefully understaffed against a massive Japanese Army.

General Slim sent SOS for reinforcements as his small garrison faced an uphill task to repel a superior Japanese army. From April 3 to 16, the Japanese 31st Division and the INA attempted to capture Kohima Ridge, but the small garrison of the Indian British Army held out against fierce and repeated attempts to invade it.

Kohima handed the Japanese army its worst defeat in history as large numbers of the retreating Japanese army either committed suicide or died out of starvation in the relentless jungle.

Kohima handed the Japanese army its worst defeat in history as large numbers of the retreating Japanese army either committed suicide or died out of starvation in the relentless jungle.

The Japanese Were Defeated

It would be 13 blood-soaked days before reinforcements finally arrived, and another 67 days of gruesome and brutal hand-to-hand fighting before the Japanese would finally be driven out of British India, thus effectively killing Japanese ambitions to conquer Asia.

Kohima handed the Japanese army its worst defeat in history as large numbers of the retreating Japanese army either committed suicide or died of starvation in the relentless jungle.

The Japanese defeat also was a crushing blow to the hopes of Subhash Chandra Bose and the INA, who dreamed of freeing India from the British using the Japanese.

Later the Japanese general Kuniji Kato would call the war the "great bitter battle that sealed our fate." Lord Louis Mountbatten, India’s last Viceroy, called it "he British/Indian Thermopylae," comparing it to the heroic resistance shown by the small army of Greeks led by King Leonidas I of Sparta against the vast Persian army led by Xerxes I.

It was the first time an Indian army played a decisive role in influencing the outcome of World War II as rightly acknowledged by Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army:

“The British couldn’t have come through both world wars if they hadn’t had the British Indian Army.”

It was the first time an Indian army played a decisive role in influencing the outcome of World War II .

It was the first time an Indian army played a decisive role in influencing the outcome of World War II .

It Was an Ironic Battle for the Indians

The war was ironic for the Indians as they were fighting against each other. On one side was the Indian National Army fighting along with the Japanese and on the other side was the British Indian Army comprised of Jats, Sikhs, and Gurkhas.

It was a "what-if" moment in history for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the founder of the INA who had forged an alliance with the Japanese only for the objective of freeing India from the British yoke. Nethaji had hoped that once the Japanese reached Delhi, they would have handed over the control of India to Indians leading to an independent India. But that was not destined to happen.

Would a Japanese-INA victory have led to Bose unfurling of an independent Indian flag at the Red Fort in Delhi? The world will never know. But one thing is certain: the role the Indian army played in the British victory was a great morale-boosting event for a fledging army, and there is every reason to be proud of it and celebrate for years to come.

Kohima War Cemetery is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces who died in the Second World War at Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, India, in April 1944.

Kohima War Cemetery is a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces who died in the Second World War at Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, India, in April 1944.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks MG for your comments.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks Umesh

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 28, 2021:

Interesting account of a great battle but it was crucial for the defeat of Japan. I have two thoughts on this battle, as Indian soldiers fought on both sides and that is the irony. Basic problem is the Indian ethos of servility where most Indians ( Hindus) became mercenaries; fighting for an occupying power, whether it be the British or the Mughals. Well written.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 28, 2021:

Very interesting account, well presented.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks Cynthia

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks Peggy

Cynthia from Philippines on September 28, 2021:

nice article.thank you for sharing

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 28, 2021:

Thanks for writing about this important battle during WWII. You are correct that it is a lessor known one to many of us.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks Joanne for your kind comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks, Bill for your kind comments.

Joanne Hayle from Wiltshire, U.K. on September 28, 2021:

Thanks for shining a light on such an important moment in history. I learned a lot. :-)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2021:

I love your articles. I always learn something interesting.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on September 28, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 28, 2021:

Very interesting historical read. I think this most be the most decisive battle in modern history. With India splt against herself, and two foreign powers eager to swallow her. Thanks especially, to the Indians on the British side. Otherwise if victory falls to Japan, expect the Japanese Imperial Army to turn India into a guinea pig.

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