The 28th in the concluding phase of the Burma Campaign 1942
(Back Badge, 1949)
The River Chindwin joins the Irrawaddy near to the fairly large town of Monywa, where the Burma rail and road communications to India used to terminate. The Burma Divison had been made responsible for delaying the Japanese south of Monywa. The 28th, by this stage, had been "written off" by Army HQ, who believed that the unit had ceased to exist. However, the survivors gathered at Shwebo on 27th April, with a strength of 7 officers and 170 other ranks, and formed a small HQ Company and 2 rifle companies. On 28th April I received orders to despatch 100 men to Monywa to cover the evacuation of civilians from that place whilst the Burma Division were moving back on that town from the south. Two companies, each of 50 men, were formed under the command of Capt. Niblett and 2 other officers, and were despatched by train. The same evening orders were received for the remainder of the Battalion to move from Shwebo to afford protection to Burma Army rear HQ at Ye-u. We were to march at 2000 hrs on 30th April.
Four bombing attacks were carried out by the enemy on Shwebo at this time, which flattened the town but no casualties occurred in the 28th. The railway was, however, broken and the Depot, just arrived from Maymyo, under Capt. Fox (KOYLI) were unable to travel up to Myitkynia by rail as had been arranged. Capt. Fox was instructed to make for India by the roads and tracks leading westwards. Just as the Battalion was about to start their 20 miles march, a draft of 3 officers and 120 men arrived, having been flown across from India.
Capt. Niblett with "B" and "D" Coys. arrived at Monywa on 30th April, where there had been a heavy air raid, and were employed clearing wreckage from the railway station. During that evening bursts of LMG fire were heard and a great deal of confusion occurred among the people still in the town. Capt. Niblett disposed "D" Coy. covering the town on the river front, and "B" Coy. astride the road facing south. Active patrolling was carried out throughout the night. In the early hours of the next morning, 1st May, heavy mortar and artillery fire was brought down on the river bank and town from the west side of the Chindwin River. We had no guns or mortars with which to engage the enemy. A force of 200 Japs crossed the river in country boats down stream out of range of small arms fire. The Burma Division was once more cut off south of Monywa. Lt-Col. Thomas (Cameronians) who was commanding all troops in Monywa, ordered a withdrawal. This was covered by "D" and "B" Coys. and some Cameronian carriers, and the force withdrew to Budalin, about 15 miles to the north, arriving on 2nd May.
That day I was called to Corps HQ, some 8 miles south of Ye-u, and informed of the plight of the Burma Division and the new threat from the enemy about Monywa, and was ordered to move the rest of the 28th to Budalin, to relieve Colonel Thomas, who was sick, and to take command of all the troops in the area and delay the enemy as long as possible. Motor Transport was provided and the move was completed by 1600 hrs, 2nd May.
The force, known as "Bagot Force", consisted of the 28th, 1 battery 77-mm artillery, 1 mountain battery, 1 company of Indian engineers, 1 section of carriers (Cameronians), and 2 columns (Nos. 1 and 7) of Burma Frontier Force (strength about 50 all ranks). A squadron of tanks was also operating in the area. Patrols despatched to Monywa reported no enemy north of that place at 1900 hrs. Burma Division by-passed Monywa during the night. 1st Indian Brigade took up a position 8 miles in rear of "Bagot Force", while the rest of the Division went back to the area south of Ye-u.
At about 1500 hrs 3rd May a troop of our tanks were engaged near Monywa by some enemy tanks, and 2 of our tanks were put out of action. This was the first appearance of Japanese tanks. At nightfall our tanks withdrew to positions on the road behind our forward troops. During the day some 50 Burmans had been arrested for suspicious activities and kept at Budalin. At 1930 hrs signalling was observed on our right front and a patrol stalked 3 Burmans who were caught in the act. One man carried weapons and Japanese money. He was shot, the remainder were taken back 25 miles under escort of the Burma Frontier Force and dispersed, after they had been made to witness the execution.
At 0430, 4th May, the Japs attacked, supported by 3 tanks. The 28th, who by now had plenty of experience of Jap tactics, had learned to hold their fire in the dark until they had the enemy on the end of their rifles. Some Indian units just in rear of our position panicked. The attack failed.
At 0630 orders arrived to withdraw immediately to Ye-u, some 30 miles away. 5th May the Japs bombed the canal area, but missed the bridges and we had no casualties. On 6th May we were again bombed, but without much damage being done. The Battalion now marched to Kaduma, about 15 miles away, to join X Indian Infantry Brigade. Arriving at Kaduma about 2100 hrs, 6th May, we found no sign of the brigade; which we found had gone back a further 40 miles. We had no transport, no water and no supplies. I ordered a start to be made at 0800 hrs on 7th May for Pyingaing, where it was thought a supply point lay. We arrived at Pyingaing in the early hours of the following morning and found water and supplies. Finding Corps HQ, I was ordered to move to Thetkegyin. We started out at 1600 hrs, 8th May and arrived at midnight. On 9th May we crossed the Chindwin River on launches and eventually reached Imphal in Assam.
The 28th in Assam, 1942-43
(Back Badge 1950)
August 1942 found the 28th at Kohima as part of 63rd Brigade in the 17th Indian Division. During August and September the strength of the Battalion was very low, since in addition to the large number of sick and wounded from Burma, a high proportion was on leave. Amongst the officers to rejoin the Battalion with a big draft from the Wiltshire Regt were Majors Chilton and Roberts, Capt. Smele and Lieuts. Radice and Collister. Major Roberts was taken away immediately for a staff job.
Accommodation was in the Assam Rifles' Barracks, which consisted of long huts divided into a number of small rooms. Equipment of all kinds was very short as the Battalion brought nothing out of Burma, and the Imphal road did not stand up to monsoon conditions. This road, the only means of supplying all the troops forward of Manipur, was constantly collapsing. As a result, the Battalion was on half rations.
During September, Major Bath, Capt. Varwell, Capt. J. Morris (adjutant) and Lieuts. Rockett, Niblett, Evans and Jones returned. Training continued, with the addition of animal management and mule loading. A Jap recce plane used to pay frequent visits to the area, but it never came down very low. Early in October a large draft arrived from Lucknow, made up of the returning sick and wounded. Patrols went out to gain a thorough knowledge of the country. Everywhere these patrols went the local Nagas tribesmen showed themselves to be friendly and hospitable. Two Battalion exercises were carried out during the month, including a night attack on the camp of the 1st/3rd Gurkha Rifles.
1st November 1942 the 28th marched out of Kohima to camp 2 miles away in the jungle. During November platoons from the 70th British Division were attached to the Battalion for jungle training. 13th December the Battalion moved by MT to Imphal, arriving on the evening of the 14th. The Battalion was act as the "enemy" to the 48th Brigade in Exercise Torbung. After which the 28th had Christmas at Imphal.
On 20th January 1943 the 63rd Brigade (including the 28th) began the move to milestone 42 on the Tiddim track. The Battalion acted as rearguard on the march, during which a storm broke. The ground became waterlogged and muddy. They arrived at their new camp at 1700 hrs on 24th January. On 27th January a new draft consisting of men from the Wiltshires and Devons joined the 28th.
15th February Lt-Col. Hopkinson of the Rifle Brigade arrived to take command of the 28th. A few days later a jungle fire, started by a field firing exercise, threatened to destroy the whole camp. The Battalion was called out to fight it and after some very hard work the fire was halted about 50 yards from "D" Coys lines. The CO imposed strict fire discipline and started anti-malarial measures in preparation for the malarial season.
In March and April Operation Navvy took place. It was apparent that the road to Tiddim would not completed before the monsoon and as a result the Chin levies would not be supplied. The plan was for each Battalion to dig a portion of the road. It was hard work, but the road was opened up just before the monsoon broke. The 28th then moved to Shillon. But soon after arriving there, the Battalion was ordered to hurry back to Imphal to act as a mobile reserve. The emergency came to nothing and the Battalion returned to Shillon. In July orders arrived that the Battalion would go to Calcutta for a rest.