Indian Army in WW2

Battle of Kohima - 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force)

30 May to 20 June 1944

Japanese Offensive "Operation C"

Even today, the Battle of Kohima is discussed world over, for the dogged determination of the outnumbered and besieged garrison of Kohima (1st Assam Regiment), who withstood the onslaught of the Japanese 31st Division. Another dimension to this epic battle was given by an Indian Battalion (4th Rajput) breaking the siege at a point and reinforcing the besieged battalion. The offensive by the Japanese, called "Operation C", through Central Burma and Central Sector of Assam, was launched on 13th March 1944 by the Japanese 31st Division (Kohima) and against Tiddim by the 33rd Japanese Division and five days later, (18th March) against Tamu by the 15th Japanese Division. Both Indian Divisions (17th and 20th) defending the area fell back on Imphal. The allies under Lord Mountbatten moved the 2nd British Division to Kohima , the 5th Indian Infantry Division were flown in from Arakan and the 7th Indian Infantry Division moved from Arakan on the heels of the 5th Division. Two of its brigades were to join XXXIII Corps at Dimapur and the third one to join IV Corps at Imphal.


Col. N. Macdonald addressing troops, May 1944

Lt. Col. N. Macdonald, CO 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
Addressing Troops - May 1944
(Photograph courtesy: Brigadier M.R. Roberts DSO)

Move of 7th Division to Kohima

In early May 1944, the Headquarters of the 7th Indian Infantry Division moved to Dimapur (Manipur Road) and then to Zubza, short of Kohima . The operation in this area by the 7th Indian Division commenced on 5th May 1944. By the 3rd week of May, the Japanese were still holding a number of key positions east and south of Kohima. The Japanese were opposed at this stage by the 2nd British Division, the 161st Brigade of 5 Indian Infantry Division and the 33rd Brigade of 7 Indian Infantry Division, when the 3rd brigade of the 7th Division (114th), of which 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF) was part of, arrived on the scene. The 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF), after a couple of days at the railhead (Dimapur), moved forward on 24th May 1944 to Mile 5 (Zubza, near Kohima) and on 26th May, a party of 30 men moved up and joined 4/1 Gurkha Rifles on the outskirts of Kohima. The Japanese organised resistance in Kohima Town came to an end on 31st May 1944, with a daring raid on the remnants of Japanese by the Guerrilla (Commando) Platoon and assault by B Company (Major McBride) of 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF) and next day took over Treasury Hill and on 2nd June, the Battalion took over Gun Spur from 4/1st Gurkha Rifles.


Tasking of 114 Brigade and 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF) Operations

To speed up the operation of clearing the Japanese, 114th Brigade was tasked to carry out an outflanking movement. The Japanese were moving along Jessami track (close to Kohima) and it was essential for the Battalion (4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF)) to remain in contact with the Japanese for further development of operations. C Company of the Battalion (Major P.A.R Beytagh) moved on 3rd June to reconnoitre the next likely position of the Japanese, beyond Chedema ridge. During the night, it was joined by D Company (Lieutenant E.I.M Newton) and the ridge was occupied without any opposition. The remainder of the battalion soon built up on the two companies (C and D). The next objective was Chakabama ridge. On 5th June, the Battalion (4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF)) moved from Chedema for next objective: Chakabama ridge, the limit of the eastward advance, was occupied without any interference.



Map: Battle of Kohima, 24th May - 18th June 1944


The battalion therefore turned south to carry out the outflanking movement. B Company (Major McBride) moved to reconnoitre Kezoma, which was on the track from Chakabama and joining the main road at Sajouba, and gained contact with the Japanese force on 6th June 1944. Soon, C Company and A Company joined B Company during the day. On the same night, B Company moved and occupied Kezoma and the remainder of the battalion built up on the objective on the morning of 7th June. On the same day, a patrol under Lieutenant Newton found a detachment of five Japanese, four of whom were killed and the fifth captured. From here, the advance of the 114th Indian Brigade was led by 1st Lancashire Regiment for the next objective, Kedima, though the Battalion (4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF)) had to come forward again in the front to lead the brigade (114th) operations. The Japanese in Kedima repulsed the attack by the 1st South Lancashire Regiment on 12 June. 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF) then secured Kedima village on 14th June. On the 15th, the Battalion moved to Kedima, while D Company (Major Newton) was sent to block the escape route of the Japanese in the rear of Kedima. 161st Brigade was also operating in the area and D Company was operating under their command until 19th June.


Treasury Hill captured 1944 Kohima Town 1944 alt
Treasury hill after its capture Kohima town, 1944 Kohima spur after final capture, as seen from above
Click on the images to enlarge


Final Phase of Operations

The battalion advanced further and secured Sajouba on 18th June, as the final stage of the operation. On the same evening (the 18th), contact was established by the Battalion (4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF)) with the troops of the 2nd British Division. On 17th June, arrival of administrative echelons were a welcome force. Since leaving Kohima on 4th June, the battalion had been living on self-contained basis with light scale pack rations. The battalion's last operation in the area was on 20th June. A Company (Jhonge) had been sent to establish a block in the rear of the Japanese at Sajouba and on the evening of the 19th, a platoon under Jemedar Rudra Bahadur Rana was sent. The platoon, in spite of being fired upon and literally outnumbered, harassed the Japanese throughout the night and on 20th June, attacked them. The Japanese suffered casualties and the objective was captured. A machine gun, several rifles and much equipment were recovered.

The outflanking movements of 114th Brigade, led by the Battalion, had succeeded in its objective  of  loosening  the grip on the road  and their opposition to the 2nd British  Division. The Japanese 31st Division was no longer an effective fighting force and had  probably lost  nearly  fifty  percent of  its strength, forced to abandon well-prepared positions and it was proved that they were not invincible. The road from Kohima to Imphal was reopened on 22nd June and the initiative finally passed onto Allied Fourteenth Army. During the next few days, congratulatory messages were received from the Governor of Assam, the Supreme Commander and the Corps Commander, that were read to the troops of 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF). On 24th June came the news that the 7th Division Troops were to be moved for rest and refit. The Japanese, who were seen as invincible, were humbled wherever the battalion operated during the war. Commandant Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) N. Macdonald, CBE, DSO described this in a letter; "I like to make a point of this – it is good for our morale and the reverse for Japanese; besides I think he treats us with greater respect. The Japanese is just like a Pathan – he knows which units he can try his tricks on. Not on Four Five."

Rest and Refit  at Merema Village

On the 28th, the battalion moved to Kohima and on 2nd July, moved to the village of Merema. For ten months at a stretch, the battalion and the brigade had been on the front and in contact with the Japanese and this rest was welcome. Merema remained the home of the battalion for the period of July to November 1944 and it was from here that leave was opened. It may not be a sheer coincidence that Delta company of the battalion (Major, later Brigadier Rattan Kaul), was located in the same village (Merema) from January 1970 to July 1971 and later Major Ranjeet Dhanoya. The village Gaon Burha (literally, "Village Elder") Nielhou Chesteso recounted to the Company Commander that  when he was a young man in 1944, he had run errands for them, little realising that it was the ancestors of the present lot who had treaded the same soil where the latter were located.


Brigadier N. Macdonald Gaon Burra Merema Village Subedar Major Indrabir Thapa Sardar Bahadur Major I. M. Brown
Brig. N. Macdonald, CBE, DSO Nostalgic photograph with Gaon Burra of Merema village at Merema Post, 1982
(Courtesy of Col. Sunit Singh)
Sub. Maj. Indrabir Thapa Sardar Bahadur, MBE, OBI, MC Maj. I.M. Brown, MC**
(3x winner of Military Cross)
Click on images to enlarge


On 19th July, the battalion bade farewell to Commandant Lieutenant-Colonel N. Macdonald, DSO, who left to command the 37th Indian Infantry Brigade. "Mac" had  raised the battalion in 1941 and commanded it for the first three years of its life. Brigadier Macdonald cannot be forgotten by the second generation as he remained in touch, with his last greeting card in January 1987. This was the last time we heard from Brigadier Macdonald, as he died a few months later. By this time, the battalion had fought battles at Arakan and Buthidaung and both battles had been awarded as Battle Honours. The Battle Honours were finalised centrally and Battle Honours to be awarded, suggested to India and Pakistan, which were to be bestowed. The British Army maintains that Kohima is a Battle Honour for 4/5 Royal Gurkha Rifles (FF) also. The other two battalions of the brigade; 1st South  Lancashire Regiment (British Army) and 4/14th Punjab Regiment (Pakistan Army) were awarded Kohima as Battle Honour by Governments of United Kingdom and Pakistan respectively. Unfortunately Kohima Battle Honour, published in 1962, was not awarded by the Indian Army to the deserving units. The powers that be, at that time, decided to bestow this honour for particular units of "a particular formation" (268th Indian Infantry Brigade) and one odd unit to make it "restricted". Otherwise, how could that "formation" be singled out for better achievements!!. Incidentally, the most decorated soldier of the 5th Gorkha Rifles (FF) and  Indian Army, Lt Gen Z C Bakshi, PVSM, MVC, Vr. C, VSM, McGr. Medal, also fought at Kohima as a young officer with his unit (Baluch Regiment).