Bishenpur, Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong – Gurkhas on the Imphal Plain 1944

Bishenpur is a large village on the Tiddim Road on the western edge of the Logtak Lake in the Imphal basin. In the three battles fought at Bishenpur the Japanese 33 Division battered itself to destruction against 17 Indian Light Division. This was all part of climatic finish of the Battle of Imphal. For this post I focus on the conflict in the plains, near the road and in the villages (Bishenpur, Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong), so gloss over the actions on the Silchar track and on the roadblock at Torbung. Although other nationalities are involved, the infantry in 17 Division were primarily Gurkhas, hence the title. Almost all of this material is from Ian Lyall Grant’s brilliant book, Burma The Turning Point: The seven battles on the Tiddim Road which turned the tide of the Burma war (Grant, 1993). I drew some maps.


Terrain

The Tiddim road run north-south along the western side of the Logtak Lake. The area near the lake is paddy fields with the ‘Watershed Range’ to the west.

The villages are dense patches of green along the road. Bishenpur is a large village about 26 km from Imphal itself, where the western hills came close to the lake. The Silchar track cut west from Bihsenpur across the hills. Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong are smaller villages to the south of Bishenpur.

All Manipuri Villages were a chequer-board of ditches and banks, with many clumps of giant bamboo, fruit and spice trees (mango and banana were common). The houses were timber framed, with mud plastered bamboo walls, on a raised mud platform, and with thatch roofs. Many houses had a square pond outside as a water supply. The southern part of Bishenpur was more open than most. Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong have streams running west to east, from the ‘Watershed Range’ to the lake.

In 1944 Ningthoukhong was dissected by paths on raised banks. It seems likely that other villages were the same, even if not called out in the accounts. Part of my rationale for thinking that is that the monsoon raised the level of the lake and flooded both Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong to a depth of 0.6 m. I imagine the locals anticipated this by raising their houses off the flat (see above) and raising their walkways.

Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou was an even smaller village to the south of Ningthoukhong. It was about 460 m long and 230 m wide.

In March and April the paddy fields were dry stubble. But the monsoon broke on 25 May 1944 and from then the fields turned to mud and slowed movement. Add to that the continual shelling by both sides, and the associated destruction of many of the village drainage ditches, and the clay soil turned into a quagmire.


First Battle of Bishenpur (15 Apr to 9 May 1944)

The first Battle of Bishenpur was fought between 15 April and 9 May, when the Japanese offensive (Operational ‘AYO’) was halted.

The Japanese planned to capture Imphal by 29 April, the Emperor’s birthday. The plan had several elements:

  • HQ 33 Division would be at Laimanai.
  • Colonel Taguchi, commander of the Engineer Regiment, would take his own 4th Independent Engineer Regiment, 2/213 Battalion (less two companies), and an anti-tank detachment up the road to Bishenpur
  • 215 Regiment was to clear the blocks between Torbung and Moirang, then leave the road at Moirang and march through to the hills and establish a roadblock on the Silchar track
  • 214 Regiment would leave the road at Churachandpur, and follow a day behind 215 Regiment; they were to cross the Silchar track, move to Nungang and from there advance on Imphal

It didn’t happen like that.

13 April 1944

Before the battle the Japanese sent a raiding party of a lieutenant, six infantrymen, four sappers and seventeen Jiffs to demolish the suspension brigade on the Silchar track at milestone 51 from Imphal (34 from Bishenpu). A patrol from 7/10th Baluch found the Japanese raiders and killed several but the party reached the bridge on 13 April 1944. They reconnoitred the bridge and made their plans.

14 April 1944

On 14 April 1944, 70 Field company destroyed the stored rice in all the villages from Moirang to POtsangbam. Meanwhile men from 32 Brigade rounded up the village oxen. The Japanese attacked the Moirang position on 14-15 April but were beaten off by 49 Brigade. By then 32 Brigade were in position around Bishenpur, and 49 Brigade withdrew through them.

15 April to 9 May: Silchar Track

I have skipped over fight on the Silchar Track which was going on in parallel to the fight near the road.

15 April 1944

At 0300 hours on 15 April 1944 the Japanese raiding party destroyed the suspension brigade on the Silchar track at milestone 51. The bridge was not reopened until 10 June.

Colonel Taguchi’s force reached Ningthoukhong unopposed and dug in. They were well concealed with medium machine guns in support.

19 April 1944

On 19 April 1944 32 Brigade received two additional battalions: 4/12th FFR and 1/4th Gurkhas. Total artillery support for 32 Brigade was eight 25-pdrs from 311 Battery of 129 Field Regiment RA, four mountain guns, six 6-pdr anti-tank guns and three anti-aircraft Bofors.

22 April 1944: Ningthoukhong

32 Brigade sent a reconnaissance in force towards Ningthoukhong. Brigadier Mackenzie sent two companies of the 9/14th Punjab Regiment, two troops aof medium tanks (less) from ‘C’ Sqadron, 150th Regiment RAC. They approached from the north-east. In support were 12 Vengeance bombers, and eight 25-pounders in Bishenpur (from 311 Battery of 129 Field Regiment RA). The aircraft arrived 40 minutes too early and hence did not assist the attack. The attack, in broad daylight across open paddy fields, was a failure. 9/14 PR suffered 85 casualties and one Lee tanks was hit by 4-inch mortar shells and burnt out.

24 April 1944

On the afternoon of 24 April 1944, fifteen Japanese bombers attacked Bishenpur. Casualties were few.

25 April 1944: Ningthoukhong

1/4th Gurkhas, with medium tank support, attacked Ningthoukhong from the west. The infantry penetrated the village but the tanks were stopped by anti-tank fire. Two were knocked out and six damaged. The attackers withdrew.

29 April 1944

On 29 April 1944 the Japanese moved into Potsangbam.

On 29 April 1944 32 Brigade gained four more 25-pdrs, two medium guns and two heavy anti-aircraft guns. The AA guns were used in the ground role and were the only guns able to reach the Japanese 105mm field guns. The Bishinpur defences were split into two boxes. The ‘Gun Box’ was bigger and covered the north-west of the village and stretched to the foot hills.

1-10 May 1944

Between 1-10 May 1944 the Japanese conducted four air raids on the ‘Gun Box’. Each has 12-25 planes. The anti-aircraft defence shot down 11 planes for the loss of two guns and 6-7 vehicles.

Night 5-6 May 1944

On the night of 5-6 May 1944 the Japanese moved four guns into Khoijuman. A platoon patrol from 9/14th Punjab (under Jemadar Feroze Khan) spotted them at dawn when returning from Potsangbam. The Punjabis immediately attacked and captured two guns. The Japanese counter attacked fiercely. A Pathan platoon from Kwa Siphai (under Jemadar Mohammad Zaman) came to the Punjabi’s aid and captured another gun. The two Indian platoons held off their attackers until a relief force from Bishenpur attacked at 1100 hours and cleared Khoijuman. A fourth Japanese gun was captured in Thoubal during the mop up. One of the captured Japanese guns was the new 47mm anti-tank gun, which had not been seen in Burma previously.

6 May 1944

Scoones approved Cowan’s plan to use 32 Brigade to hold the Silchar track and to acquire 63 Brigade from 5 Division and to use it to hold Bishenpur. 63 Brigade arrived on 9 May.

HQ 17 Division moved to the village of Chingphu at mileston 10 on the Tiddim road. Cowan had 32 Brigade, 63 Brigade (moving to the Tiddim road) and 48 Brigade (from 13 May).

Night 6-7 May 1944

On the night of 6-7 May 1944 a Japanese party entered the ‘Gun Box’ and destroyed an anti-tank gun. The machine guns of the 1st W Yorks caught they as they withdrew and they losts an officer and 12 men killed.

7 May 1944: Potsangbam

Potsangbam was heavily fortified. Engineers has laid mines and bobby-traps. The huts, ditches, banks and vegetation, normal in a Manipur village, provided cover for the defenders including machine guns and anti-tank guns. The stream through the centre provided an natural anti-tank defence. British patrols entered Potsangbam but were driven out. The village was softened up by artillery, three squadrons of Vengeance dive bombers, and pattern-bombing by the Liberators of the Strategic Airforce. The Liberators also bombed Ningthoukhong.

Nullah is the Indian word for a watercourse, riverbed, or ravine

8 May 1944: Potsangbam

32 Brigade attacked Potsangbam. At first light an artillery concentration on Potsangbam, allowed 9/14th Punjab Regiment, supported by medium tanks, to close on the Potsangbam. They captured an 150 m deep enclave in the north-west corner and another 47mm anti-tank gun. 25 Japanese were killed. Fierce resistance, including machine guns and anti-tank guns, stopped further progress.

Once it was light a eight tanks from the 3rd Carabiniers, with sappers from 92 Field Company mounted on them, advanced towards Potsangbam. The idea was for the tanks to support the Punjabis from the west edge of the village. About 800 m from Potsangbam the lead tank overturned crossing a nullah, killing the eight sappers riding on it. Two tank carried scissor bridges allowed the 3rd Carabiniers to progress.

Five tanks reached the village at 0700 and combined tank-infantry attack started. The attack progressed but most of the tanks were disabled. The Japanese had accurate supporting fire from artillery in the hills.

In the afternoon the 1st West Yorks and a troop of Stuarts from the 7th Light Cavalry advanced to help but were heavily shelled in Chothe and stayed in reserve overnight.

The 9/14th Punhab Regiment made small advances overnight and captured a 10-inch mortar.

The fighting on 8 May was expensive for the Commonwealth forces. The Punjabis lost 40 killed and over 70 wounded. Eight of the 10 tanks deployed were disabled – two knocked out, one stuck in a ditch and the rest with tracks off. The two surviving tanks were abandoned in the morning, making 10 out of 10, although they were recovered later.

9 May 1944: Potsangbam

The the 1st West Yorks and 7th Light Cavalry took over the Potsangbam salient from the 9/14th Punjab Regiment.

63 Brigade took over responsibility for Bishenpur and the Tiddim Road. The remainder of 129 Field Regiment RA arrived in Bishenpur. 32 Brigade shifted their focus to the Silchar track.

Grant 1993 Map 13 2nd Bishenpur

Grant 1993 Map 13 2nd Bishenpur


Second Battle of Bishenpur

Second Battle of Bishenpur (10-30 May) includes the British attempt to use 63 Brigade to drive 33 Division south against the roadblock set up by 48 Brigade. I focus on the action in the Imphal plain.

10 May 1944: Potsangbam

The British believed the Japanese had only two weak companies in Potsangbam. So 1/3rd Gurkhas attacked the north of Potsangbam, east of the road, and managed to penetrate 150 m. However, they found the defence surprising fierce. In fact Colonel Taguchi had more than companies as he had all of 4th Independent Engineer Regiment, 2/213 Battalion (less two companies), 215/11 Company, and an antitank company. Plus the Gurkhas had to content with mines, booby traps, and a 700 pound shell fired from a 10 inch spigot mortar.

11 May 1944

General Mutaguchi redirected substantial forces from the Palel front to Bishenpur. His boss, General Kawabe, disagreed with this strategy and tried to prevent it but by the time his wishes were clear the troops had already started moving and he decided to back Mutaguchi.

Fighting at Potsangbam May - June 1944

Fighting at Potsangbam May – June 1944

12 May 1944: Potsangbam

Two Gurkha battalions attacked Potsangbam from the north. 1/3rd Gurkhas attacked west of the road, while 1/10th Gurkhas attacked to the east. They had 129 Field Regiment RA, 29 Mountain Regiment, 60 Field Company, two troops of 3rd Carabiniers, and a scissors bridge layer tank in support. Both infantry battalions attacked with two companies supported by a troop of medium tanks. Through a miscalculation the pre-bombardment landed on ‘C’ Company of 1/20th Gurkhas and they suffered 35 casualties.’B’ Company had to replace ‘C’ Company in the attack. The artillery concentration had alerted the Japanese to the attack and they withdrew to their main defences south of the stream. This meant the second artillery concentration, now with correct ranging, landed on the empty Japanese forward positions. The Gurkhas advanced up to the stream, slowed by snipers in bamboo groves, mines and booby traps. 60 Field company lifted mines, removed booby traps, and used a bull dozer to clear a path for the tanks.

The Gurkhas found the main Japanese defensive line when they reached the stream. A platoon of 1/3rd Gurkhas managed to cross the stream and form a bridge head. The bridge layer tank then put a bridge across the stream and several tanks of 3rd Carabiniers crossed. Their fire power allowed ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies of 1/3rd Gurkhas to cross. ‘A’ swung right and ‘B’ Company swung left. 105mm fire destroyed a tank and wounded the company commander of ‘A’ company. The two companies could hold their ground but could not advance against the stiff opposition. Brigadier Burton decided he needed a new plan and ordered the troops in the bridge head – Gurkhas and tanks – back north of the river.

13 May 1944

General Mutaguchi arrived at Mollou.

Night 13-14 May 1944: Potsangbam

On 13 May 1944 1/3rd Gurkhas took over the entire Potsangbam frontage, including that previously held by 1/10th Gurkhas. 1/10th Gurkhas formed up behind them. Shortly after midnight on 14 May 1/3rd Gurkhas conducted a diversionary attack preceded by an artillery concentration.

Meanwhile 1/10th Gurkhas moved west out of the village into paddy fields, then turned south to attack the sector of the village immediately to the east of the road. They had to crawl through the paddy field to avoid being detected. This and the moonless night meant the achieved surprise and two lead companies penetrated to the southern edge of the village. The battalion then formed a box on each side of the road, right through the village. They suffered few casualties, mainly from booby traps. The few Japanese discovered in the box were eliminated. The Gurkhas dug in, repurposing any Japanese bunkers they could.

13-30 May 1944: Torbung

The Battle of Torbung, on the Tiddim Road south of Bishenpur, was fought 13-30 May 1944. This British roadblock manned by 48 Brigade was the anvil for the hammer provided by 63 Brigade. The narrative only becomes relevant as the action moves back to the Imphal plain.

14 May 1944: Potsangbam

60 Field Company cleared the road through Potsangbam of mines, and laid a new minefield to the south.

1st W Yorks, assisted by two companies of the 9th Borders and a troop from 3rd Carabiniers, cleared the west of Potsangbam. They then destroyed a Japanese mule train coming from the hills.

The battle for Posangbam was tough. 1/10th Gurkhas alone lost 5 British officers and 200 men as casualties. Two days later this battalion received reinforcements to bring it up to strength.

15 May 1944: Potsangbam

General Cowan had decided to use 63 Brigade to attack the hills and hence 32 Brigade would take over defence of Bishenpur and the captured territory. So 1st W Yorks took over Potsangbam thus allowing 9 Border and the two Gurkha battalions to withdraw.

18-25 May 1944: 63 Brigade fighting in the hills

I gloss over 63 Brigade fighting in the hills.

19 May 1944

As a result of 63 Brigade attack into the hills, General Mutaguchi changed his plans. He ordered 214 Regiment to continue onto Bishenpur alone. 215 Regiment was ordered to respond to 63 Brigade rather than continue on to Bishepur. Potsangbam was abandoned with 2/213 Battalion attack Kha Aimol in support of 215 Regiment and the the remainder of the defenders – 4 Independent Engineer Regiment and the supporting anti-tank company – pulling back to dig in at Ningthoukhong.

20 May 1944: Bishenpur

Captain Moritani, the newly arrived commander of 1/214 Battalion, was tasked with capturing the British box at Bishenpur from the north-east. To do this he only had 410 men. This included his own battalion, 214/10 Company, a platoon of infantry gunners, and a platoon of sappers armed with gun-busting charges. Their first goal was the junction of the main road and the Silchar track, near the north of the village. The crossed to the east side of the Tiddim road and moved south across the paddy fields. When the Japanese bombardment hit Bishenpur some sub-units recrossed the road to the west, but the main attack went in from the north-east. They achieved complete surprise reached the junction and dug in. The fact that the only fighting unit nearby was 32 Brigade’s antitank company and even this unit was further south.

The night of 20-21 May found The HQ of 17 Division at Chingphu with a company of 7/10th Baluch to bolster the defences. One platoon of the Baluchs was to the south on took Point 2926 on the east side of milestone 10.2 on the Tiddim road. 2/214 Battalion was tasked with cutting supplies into Bishenpur. They had a company of mountain guns and a platoon of sappers in support. They duly cut the Tiddim road at Marbam Lokpaching (Marbam) and then attacked the 2926 feature. 17 Division thought the Japanese were just a fighting patrol and send the “Employment platoon”, whose normal job was to erect tents, to counter-attack but were repulsed. The Japanese occupied Marbam and the southern slopes of 2926 feature. The Baluch platoon at the top, Point 2926, resisted repeated Japanese attacks during the night.

21 May 1944: Bishenpur

32 Brigade released a troop of four medium tanks and sent them north to help on feature 2926. Two were destroyed at Oinam, dealing with a mines and two destroyed bridges. They also sent back a Forward Observation Officer (FOO) from 129 Field Regiment RA. The FOO traveled by carrier, skirted Oinam, and made it to Chingphu. 4 Corps also sent their reserves, two troops of light tanks from 7th Cavalry, 9/12th FFR (less two companies), and two companies of the Mahrattas, a battery of 25-pounders. These also assembled at Chingphu.

The garrison of the main Bishenpur box was the part of the 9/14th Punjab Regiment (HQ and 1.5 companies) and a troop of the 3rd Carabiniers (4 tanks). Under Lieutenant Colonel Booth led these in an attack on 1/214 Battalion from the south. They made some progress as the Japanese had no antitank guns. The Anglo-Indians formed a box on the road overnight. They were reinforced by 4/12th FFR.

22 May 1944: Bishenpur

9/14th Punjab Regiment, 4/12th FFR and the 3rd Carabineers continued their attack on the south and east of Bishenpur. The southern part of the village was more open than most villages and this facilitated the operation of the tanks. Captain Moritani, plus many other officers and men, were killed. Captain Matsumura pulled the remaining Japanese into the north-eastern corner of Bishenpur which provided more cover.

In the afternoon the Corps reserve, at Chingphu, attacked south-east into Marbam. An artillery concentration preceded the attack. The attack made progress but with considerable casualties. They managed to reopen the Tiddim road (supplies flowed from 24 May).

General Tanaka took over command of 33 Division. The outgoing General Yanagida told him the division was worn out. He thought initially this defeatist, until he realised the state of the regiments. 1/215 Battalion, for example, had only 100 men.

23 May 1944: Bishenpur

Lieutenant Colonel Booth gained a company of 7/10th Baluch. 4/12th FFR attacked the Matsumura’s force from the south as the 7/10th Baluch’s attacked from the east. The Japanese had the support of 75mm guns firing from Nunggang. The Indians made steady progress. Matsumura was killed along with many others. A small party continued to hold out but most survivors retreated back to their starting point at Mungte.

24 May 1944: Bishenpur

Lieutenant Colonel Booth’s Indians extinguished the last party of Japanese in Bishenpur.

1/214 Battalion had just 20 men left in the ranks. 135 men had been killed and the rest wounded. Colonel Sakuma of 214 Regiment added 50 men from his regimental HQ to the 20 men of 1/214 Battalion and ordered them to have another go at Bishenpur. Their target was the gun box in the north-west of the village. Captain Yamamori was in command.

General Mutaguchi of 15th Army decided to replace General Yangida of 33 Division. Effectively this meant he intended to directly command the coming battle himself.

25 May 1944: Monsoon breaks

The remainder of 7/10th Baluch joined the forces at Chingphu.

The monsoon broke on the night of 25-26 May 1944. Both sides began to suffer from the heavy, vertical, drenching rain. From this point the paddy fields turned to mud.

26 May 1944

In torrential rain the Anglo-Indians attacked the Japanese at Marbam from two directions. ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies of 7/10th Baluch attacked down from Point 2926 into the southern part of hill. They had little artillery support, being outside range of the Bishenpur gun box. They made progress on the tree-less ridge but eventually got stopped by Japanese bunkers. ‘B’ company, supported by four medium tanks from 3rd Carabiniers, attacked Marbam village across the paddy fields to the west. They advanced 230 m into the village. 7/10th Baluch suffered 140 casualties. 9/12th FFR replaced ‘B’ company in Marbam and beat off a strong counter-attack.

IV Corps HQ authorised 48 Brigade to advance north to Ningthoukhong. They also assigned the HQ of 50 Parachute Brigade to 17 Division, and this took over the three independent infantry battalions as ‘Woodforce’.

Captain Yamamori 70 men from 214 Regiment attacked the gun box at Bishenpur. They were stopped at the wire by the from from 87 LAA Battery. 12 were killed. The rest by-passed the box and dug in overlooking the Silchar track. There they were attacked by a combined force of infantry and tanks and wiped out.

27 May 1944

Between dawn and midday on 27 May 1944, two companies of 1/7th Gurkhas marched north through Thamnapokpi, Naran Seina, Shunu Sipahi, and Phubalowa. There was no opposition. The rest of 48 Brigade joined them for the night. The rearguard, 2/5th R Gurkhas, conducted a fighting withdrawal and harboured at Ngangkha Lowa.

During the night of 27-28 May, the Tehri Garwhal Sappers cut a tank track up the steep norther end of feature 2926.

28 May 1944: Ninghoukhong Kha Khunou

1/7th Gurkhas, 37 Mortar Battery and 48 Brigade Tactical Headquarters, advance north again into Thinunggel. Japanese machine gun fire, and point blank shooting by an infantry gun, prevented entry Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou (Kha Khunou). The Gurkhas tried to by pass Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou to east and west, wading through mud, but Japanese fire blocked their advance. 1/7th Gurkhas dug in at Thinunggel.

2/5th R Gurkhas rejoined 48 brigade at Phubalowa but remained the rearguard. They deployed two platoons, with a mountain gun, between the bridge and village. Sappers blew the bridge south of Phubalowa and laid mines north and south of the brigade.

A patrol from 1st W Yorks, with the Divisional Liaison Officer, by passed Ningthoukhong to the west, and reached 48 Brigade.

A company of 1st W Yorks had a toe hold in the north-eastern Ningthoukhong. And the 3rd Carabiniers were trying to bridge the stream there to support the Yorkshire men as they continued to attack. However, the Japanese were strongly fortified south of the west-east stream. They had a lot of bunkers but had two infantry companies left – all that remained of the 4th Independent Engineer Regiment. The Japanese commander, Colonel Taguchi, was killed on 28 May.

At Marbam ‘Woodforce’ gained the 3/1st Gurkhas (reinforcements from 20 Division) and 1/4th Gurkhas (from 32 Brigade). 1/4th Gurkhas relieved 7/10th Baluchs on feature 2926. Lieutenant Weir drove his medium tank up the new tank track on the northern slope of feature 2926. The tank knocked out some Japanese bunkers before being hit by a Japanese mountain gun firing point blank. The tank rolled down a slope before coming to rest and taking no further part in the battle. While the tank was operating 3/1st Gurkhas attacked down the slope and took the Japanese positions on ‘First Pimple’ and most of ‘Second Pimple’. The reserve company was committed but no further progress was made. Fighting was fierce and 3/1st Gurkhas lost 19 killed, including the battalion commander (Lt Col Winfield), adjutant, and two company commanders, and 55 wounded.

29 May 1944: Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou and Ningthoukhong

1/4th Gurkhas advanced on the Japanese positions at Marbam and feature 2926 and found them empty. They captured three prisoners, two 75mm mountain guns, and one 70mm battalion gun. The original Japanese force – from 2/214 Battalion (500 men), 3 Mountain Artillery Company (100 men), engineer platoon (40 men) – was reduced to 37 men capable of fighting. These meagre survivors had pulled back into the hills before the Gurkhas attacked.

To the north of 48 Brigade, two companies of 1/7th Gurkhas (‘B’ and probably ‘C’) attacked Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou in the early hours. By 0430 hours ‘B’ Company had a foothold in the eastern half of the village and by 0830 the Gurkhas had taken the whole village.

In the south, while still dark, Japanese tanks triggered three anti-tank mines south of Phubalowa. One tank was disabled. The Japanese lifted the remaining mines south of the blown bridge and constructed one or two foot bridges over the stream. Just before dawn the Japanese launch a heavy infantry attack supported by one medium tank firing from south of the stream. The detachment from 2/5th R Gurkhas could not stop the attack and was pulled back to the battalion positions. The mountain gun was lost. The sappers laid a new minefield south of the main position. 2/5th R Gurkhas counter attack across the paddy fields but was stopped heavy fire and the Gurkhas withdrew.

The rest of 48 Brigade then moved up to Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou and the sappers blew the bridge 500 m south of village. The sappers then laid mines to the south of the village and on the track to the west.

Meanwhile ‘B’ and ‘C’ Company of 1/7th Gurkhas attacked Ningthoukhong from the south, but made little progress. While observing the attack Brigadier Cameron was shot in the chest, but was only bruised as his field glasses took the hit.

Fighting at Ningthoukhong June – July 1944

Fighting at Ningthoukhong June – July 1944

30 May 1944: Ningthoukhong

‘B’ Company of 1/7th Gurkhas entered eastern Ningthoukhong to provide cover for sappers constructing a trail between the village and the lake. The trail was complete by 0800 hours. At 1100 hours the majority of 48 Brigade marched along the trail, to the east of Ningthoukhong, and joined the Potsangbam road. The rearguard, 2/5th R Gurkhas, then passed through 1/7th Gurkhas and along the trail. Finally 1/7th Gurkhas followed the brigade. Although the brigade’s withdraw was a success, they did suffer from fire from freshly supplied Japanese 75mm and 105mm guns in the hills.

31 May 1944: Potsangbam

48 Brigade took over the defence of Potsangbam. Colonel Hedley took over the brigade from Colonel Cameron.

Japanese 3/214 Battalion finally arrived at the front on 31 May. It had taken them an entire month. The commander was dismissed for loitering.


Third Battle of Bishenpur

by June 1944 it was clear to both sides that 17 Division had successfully blocked 33 Division’s advance on Imphal. The British tried to exploit this success but simultaneously the Japanese tried to relaunch their offensive, admittedly with fewer troops.

1 June 1944

151 Regiment (less the first battalion), seconded from 53 Division who were busy chasing Chindits, arrived on the Tiddim road and was direct to help in the battle in the hills. The eight 105mm guns of 2nd Battalion (less 4th Battery) of 18 Heavy Field Artillery Regiment also arrived at Moirang.

2 June 1944

In Special Divisional Order to 33 Division, General Tanaka announced of the new plans to seize Imphal. His diary reveals he felt duty bound to execute his orders, but didn’t not believe them realistic.

3 June 1944

A mortar bomb landed on a patrol from 2/5 Gurkha. The company commander and an FOO were killed, the battalion commander (Lt Col Philip Townsend) and another Gurkha officer were wounded. Lt Col. N. Eustace took over command of the battalion; the third commander in five days.

Night 5-6 June 1944

70 Field Company replaced the temporary bridge at Potsangbam with a 25 m bailey bridge suitable for tanks.

6 – 14 June – 1944

Once again I skip over the battle in the hills.

8 June 1944: Ningthoukhong and Potsangbam

The Japanese attacked Ningthoukhong before dawn on 6 June 1944. Ningthoukhong was still contested with Anglo-Indians north of the stream and Japanese south of it. The 1st West Yorks continued to hold the north and, to compensate for their reduced numbers, had two companies of 2/5th Gurkhas under command. The rest of 2/5th Gurkas were about 800 m north in Awang Khunou. The attack was by 1/67 Battalion and 14 Tank Regiment with three light tanks and 11 medium tanks, and supported by 4th Independent Engineer Regiment who were to bridge the steam for the tanks. 67/4 company and the three light tanks would attack across the paddy fields from the west. In the dark 67/4 left their positions, moved west to the hills, crossed the steam (losing two light tanks in the process) and then headed east back to the village. They were only challenged by the 1st West Yorks once they had crossed the road into the village. The surviving light tank knocked out two bunkers and 67/4 company gained a foothold in the village. The main attack on Ningthoukhong had the rest of 1/67 battalion attacking across the stream in the village, supported by the 11 medium tanks, which had already been placed in concealed positions about 200 m south of the stream. The two missing light tanks managed to cross the stream and arrived at dawn allowing the Japanese to have another go, pushing the British further back. Col Eustace brought forward a company of 2/5th Gurkhas to restore the situation. The defenders also had the support of hurribombers and artillery. Japanese casualties were sufficiently high that they pulled back from their captured positions before the 2/5th Gurkhas arrived. 2/5th Gurkhas took over north Ningthoukhong and 1st West Yorks went into reserve.

Simultaneously 2/154 (Iwazaki) Battalion attacked Potsangbam from the south-west across open paddy fields. They were surprised to discover a barbed wire fence 20 m from the village. The battalion pressed home their attack with determination but suffered from machines, mortars and artillery. Iwazaki battalion lost about 100 men but the 1/7th Gurkhas lost very few.

10 June 1944

2/5th Gurkhas in Ningthoukhong received a draft of 53 men.

11 June 1944

2/5th R. Gurkhas received a draft of 30 men. Two 2-pounder anti-tank guns from 228 A/Tk Battery RA were manhandled into position in the forward area of Ningthoukhong.

12 June 1944: Ningthoukhong

Shortly after 0500 hours the Japanese opened a bombardment on the 2/5th R. Gurkha positions in north Ningthoukhong. This included mortars, many 105mm guns, one or two 150mm guns, and the medium tanks concealed about 200 m south of the stream. One of the recently installed 2-pounder anti-tank guns was destroyed. As soon as the bombardment ceased the Japanese infantry attacked the junction of ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies. The attack had one light tank and four medium tanks in support. The inner platoon of the defending companies were both pushed back about 200 m. The surviving 2-pounder shot the barrel off the leading Japanese tank and disabled another. The other three tanks diverted to avoid the guns fire. Captain Little spotted one of the tanks in an isolated position and stalked it with a Piat. He silenced the vehicle for a time but it came to life again whereupon the commander of the anti-tank detachment (Lt Robertson) took another Piat and knocked it out. Anglo-Indian communications were cut for a time but once restored the 25-pounders of 129 Field Regiment came to the Gurkhas aid. They helped ‘B’ Company repulse an attack. At first light a troop of medium tanks from 3rd Carabiniers drove down the road to help. They couldn’t leave the road because of the mud and found themselves exposed on the road embankment. A Japanese anti-tank gun knocked out one British tank and the others withdrew. With the light came the RAF and Hurricanes dispersed another Japanese attack forming up in south Ningthoukhong. By 0930 the positions had stabilised with the Japanese holding a 270 m wide and 180 m deep salient north of the stream. At 1430 ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies of 1/7th Gurkhas formed up to attack the salient, preceded by artillery fire. The Gurkhas made progress but were blocked by two bogged but undamaged medium Japanese tanks. Rifleman Ganju Lama knocked out both tanks with a Piat and killed the crews with grenades (for which he earned a VC). The Gurkhas then pushed the Japanese back south of the stream. 1/7th Gurkhas took over from 2/5th R. Gurkhas in Ningthoukhong. 2/5th R Gurkhas had 29 killed and 61 wounded. 1/7th Gurkhas had 3 killed and 9 wounded. 1/67 Battalion had only 38 men remaining and no officers. 2/154 Battalion had little more. The Japanese lost five tanks, presumably the five involved in the attack.

17 June 1944: Ningthoukhong and Potsangbam

Both Ningthoukhong and Potsangbam were both flooded as the lake level rose due to torrential rainfall.

23 June 1944

1st W Yorks took over Ningthoukhong and Potsangbam. They had one company plus a platoon in north-west Ningthoukhong with the rest of the battalion and medium tanks in Potsangbam. 1/7th Gurkhas retired into reserve at Bishenpur. HQ 48 Brigade and 2/5th R Gurkhas were redeployed to the Silchar track.

1 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

1/7th Gurkhas relieved 1st W Yorks and discovered some Japanese bunkers along the stream in west Ningthoukhong to be occupied. 1st W Yorks retired to Bishenpur.

Night 4-5 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

Twice a company of 1/7th Gurkhas tried to clear the Japanese bunkers in west Ningthoukhong. The first attempt was stopped by Japanese artillery fire. The second attack succeeded. However, 2/154 (Iwazaki) Battalion, now reduced to 50 men, returned to Ningthoukhong and some men managed to infiltrate back into the village and reoccupy the bunkers.

Night 7-8 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

A platoon from 1/7th Gurkhas probed Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou from the east. To their surprise they found it strongly defended. The Japanese had 200 men and six medium tanks present. The defence was too strong and they withdrew to Ningthoukhong.

8 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

In the evening ‘A’ Company of 1/7th Gurkhas captured the area around the Japanese bunker in west Ningthoukhong. The bunker itself was still occupied.

9 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

Sappers from a bunker busting detachment from 70 Field Company blew up the Japanese bunker in west Ningthoukhong, killing the occupants.

1st West Yorks moved to Awang Khunou as 1/7th Gurkhas occupied Ningthoukhong.

10 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

On the night of 10 July, a patrol from 1st West Yorks succeeded in entering Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou from the east. Simultaneously, a strong Japanese patrol established itself in clumps of bamboo in east Ningthoukhong.

11 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

A platoon from 1/7th Gurkhas attacked the Japanese position in east Ningthoukhong, but was driven off by automatic fire.

That night ‘A’ Company from 1st West Yorks joined their patrol in Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou. They captured two medium tanks (Colonel had 7-8 in total).

Meanwhile two companies 1/7th Gurkhas attacked from the north. ‘B’ Company attacked down the road. The lead platoon penetrated the village but Japanese fire, including from tanks used as pill boxes, pinned the lead platoon and the rest company behind them in the open. ‘B’ Company tried from another angle but got pinned down again. The company was ordered to retreat with the lead platoon having to fight its way out of the village, which they did at dawn. During the withdrawal a Gurkha, Corporal/Naik Birbahadur Rai, knocked out an approaching medium tank, and killed its crew.

‘D’ Company never made it to the village. They waded through the flooded paddy fields to the west, but still had not reached the village by dawn and were withdrawn.

12 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

At 0430 hours the 254 Tank Brigade laid a bridge over the Ningthoukhong Turel, capable of taking jeeps. Sappers from 401 Field Company cleared some mines south of the bridge but ran into an ambush 100 m down the road.

At 0900 hours, ‘C’ Company of 1/7th Gurkhas attempted to clear the Japanese fighting patrol from the road. The got close to the Japanese positions but were stopped by mortar, grenade, machine gun and tank fire. The latter from a concealed medium tank. An allied tank came up but got bogged down and then shelled (ineffectively) by a 70mm mountain gun firing direct from Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou. ‘B’ And ‘C’ Companies were withdrawn.

By afternoon the Japanese had surrounded ‘A’ Company 1st West Yorks. The Japanese had two medium tanks and the Yorkshire men had lost contact with brigade and had declining supplies. After dark they pulled out to the east. Only 26 men returned, including 13 wounded. Two officer and 23 men had been killed.

13 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

2/5th R Gurkhas moved to Awang Khunou.

1/4th Gurkhas moved into Ningthoukhong. The defensive box expanded to included the bridge.

14 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

HQ 33 Division telephoned the defenders of Ningthoukhong to hang on until further orders. Then the line was cut. Colonel Inose had been killed by a shell and the wounded Captain Nakamura took over. He sent a runner to division at 1400 hours.

In the evening the British fired a large, but short (15 min), concentration on Ningthoukhong and Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou. This involved the guns of seven field batteries and one medium battery.

15 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

Nakamura’s runner returned at 0200 hours with orders to withdraw immediately. Nakamura felt he had insufficient time to organise a full withdrawal and decided to wait until midnight.

16 July 1944: Ningthoukhong

At 0000 hours Captain Nakamura withdrew all Japanese forces (100 men) from Ningthoukhong and Ningthoukhong Kha Khunou. The surviving Japanese tanks had to abandoned due to damage.

At 0345 hours the British fired 9,000 shells into the now vacated Japanese positions.

At 0445 hours 2/5 R. Gurkhas attacked and occupied the now empty positions.

17 July 1944

1/10th Gurkhas occupied Thinunggei unopposed. This was the last objective for 17 Division. 33 Division was now in full retreat.


References

Grant, I. L. (1993). Burma The Turning Point: The seven battles on the Tiddim Road which turned the tide of the Burma war. Zampi Press.

2 comments to Bishenpur, Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong – Gurkhas on the Imphal Plain 1944

  • An excellent summary of the fighting around Bishenpur. Well done! I’ll be referring to this a lot in the future, as it’s a lot quicker than wading through the book. 🙂

    • Steven Thomas

      Yeah, well, I have a personal flaw … an obsession with chronology. I like to know what happened when. And even great books often sacrifice chronology for the narrative. Hence the above.

      In this case, because I have wargaming at the back of my mind, I also was interested in locations. Specifically Bishenpur, Potsangbam and Ningthoukhong. Now I can just search the page for “Ningthoukhong” and find all the action in that village. And I did the maps to support the location perspective.

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