Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten's Address to the Press
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Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten
“My object in this Press conference is to try to put before the Press of the world that every effort has been and is continuing to be put into the South East Asia campaign; that the Burma battle front is a single unified front: that my plans are made in close consultation with my deputy, General Joseph Stilwell, and we carry them out with a common end in view.
“Please therefore look upon Burma as one big Allied effort, British, American and Chinese, with the help of the Dutch and the other nations that are with us. It is going extraordinarily well as an Allied effort. We do not want a lot of limelight, in fact we do not want any, but I go round and talk to the men in the Command and what worries them is that their wives, their mothers, their daughters their sweethearts and their sisters don’t seem to know that the war they are fighting is important and worthwhile, which it most assuredly is.
“The South East Asia Command is a long way off: it is apt to be overshadowed in Europe by the climax of the war against Germany and in the Pacific by the advances of Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur. Therefore a major effort by Allied forces, doing their duty in inhospitable places, has been somewhat crowded out and the forces have not received their proportion of credit. My purpose this afternoon is to put their achievements before you.
“Enemy held territory in the South East Asia theatre extends 2,500 miles southwards from the north of Burma. The front on which we are at present fighting in Burma alone extends some 700 miles and is second only in length to that of the Russian Front. It is the hard land crust which protects the Japanese conquests in China and lndo-China. It is Japan’s land route to India and, more important, the Allies land route to China. Both offensively and defensively Japan has strained and is straining every nerve to hold Burma.
“In my appreciation of the achievements of the forces of South East Asia Command it must be borne in mind that the Japanese are fighting from interior lines. They control Burma’s rivers, railways and roads, and since they arc a rice-eating army they live off the fat of the land. We, on the other hand, are fighting from the most difficult lines of communication imaginable.
“Before 1943 there were no roads into Burma from the north; while the lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river are unbridgeable. Assam is, in fact, a logistical nightmare. Moreover, advancing as we are from the west, we are fighting against the grain of the country, for its steep jungle clad mountains and swift flowing rivers, all running north-south, constitute a barrier instead of a route between India and China.
“In 1943 the imagination of the world was captured by a small force of British and Indian troops, under Brigadier Wingate, which made the first experiment in long range penetration and proved that we could outfight the Japanese in a kind of war which he had made his own and under conditions which were to his advantage. It was a harbinger of bigger things, but in itself, of course, the experiment was on a small scale.
“At Quebec, the British and American Governments decided that the time had come to form an Allied operational command to take over the British Command from GHQ India. and include the American Command in Burma and India and be responsible for land, sea and air operations against, Japan in South East Asia.
“In view of my original association with Combined Operations a lot of people, myself included, jumped to the conclusion that large scale amphibious operations in South East Asia would at once be the order of the day. It need now be no secret that all the landing ships and craft originally allotted had to be withdrawn for more urgent operations in the west, and, in fact, carried the troops that assaulted the Anzio beaches, and have subsequently been taking part in the invasion of France. The order to us in Burma was to carry on with what we had left.’
“Our plans had to be recast on a less ambitious scale out there was one thing we could do and that was to drive the Japanese out of the north east corner of Burma, to improve our communications with China, and thus increase the supplies which are so badly needed to keep our Chinese Allies in the war, and to enable General Chennault to continue his effective operations with the US 14th Air Force from China.
“A concerted plan was therefore made for the whole of the Burma Front to enable the forces in the north east to advance. General Stilwell. Deputy Supreme Allied Commander and the Commanding General of the American forces in the China, Burma and India theatre, with great gallantry himself commanded the forces on the Ledo front.
“General Stillwell had under his command those Chinese forces which he had originally withdrawn from Burma into India and which had since been augmented. These forces are a good example of Allied collaboration, being equipped and trained by the U.S. and paid and fed by the English. ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, of the American Rangers contributed valiantly to the successful advance of this force down the Hukawng valley to Myitkyina and Mogaung.
“An advance in Burma is a different affair from an advance in France or Russia, since it has largely to be carried out along the single axis of your supply line and a relatively small force can thus stop the advance of a much large force, however resolutely led. It thus became of the utmost importance that the overall plans for Burma should prevent Japanese reinforcements being able to bar the progress of the Chinese-American forces.
“There were two ways in which the Fourteenth Army could most materially help the advance of the Ledo forces. Firstly by cutting the communications of the veteran Japanese 18 Division who were facing the Ledo front, and, secondly, by engaging the greater number of other Japanese divisions elsewhere in Burma.
“The first task, that of cutting the Japanese 18 Divs L of C, was given to General Wingate’s Long Range Penetration forces, which included a West African Brigade, and were flown into Burma by Colonel Cochran’s Air Commandos, aided by British and American transport squadrons. The second task would have proved a more serious problem if it had not been that the Japanese plan was no less than an advance into India through Chittagong on the Arakan front and through Dimapur on the Imphal front.
“This began when the advance of 15 Indian Corps was held by a Japanese encircling movement which cut off their Administrative troops and also the Headquarters of the 7 Indian Div On February 23rd. after a heroic 17 days’ battle, the encircled troops of 7 Div, aided by the rest of 15 Corps, inflicted our first medium scale land defeat on the Japanese.
“The importance of the battle of the 7 Div Administrative Box” was twofold. First it was a victory of morale by men who refused to withdraw when their L. of C were cut; the hitherto successful tactics of outflanking and infiltration were thus defeated. The second factor was the exploitation of air supply by American and British transport aircraft which enabled our forces in the Admin Box to be fully supplied throughout the siege.
“On the 16 March three complete Japanese Divisions advanced across the River Chindwin and attacked all along the Manipur front with the avowed object of capturing the Imphal Plain and cutting the main rail L of C to General Stillwell’s forces, and the Chinese Command, and subsequently, of invading India. Their radio and propaganda never ceased to boast that they were ‘Marching on Delhi.’ Further Japanese forces were moved up in support, but British and Indian forces were rushed to the defence of air, rail and road communications.
“Although the enemy cut the main supply road from Dimapur to Imphal British and American air transport aircraft continued to supply the beleaguered garrisons by air; 33 Indian Corps was moved in from Reserve and the British 2 Div led the spearhead of the attack to clear the road. This Corps so severely battered the Japanese 31 Div that the remnants were forced to retire in disorder. Meanwhile 4 Indian Corps from Imphal were attacking to the south and eventually a major victory was secured over the whole Japanese force.
“In point of numbers engaged this must have been one of the greatest land battles fought between the Japanese and British forces and I am glad to say the Japanese have now been flung out of India.
“The Fourteenth Army’s exploits under the leadership of Lieut-General Sir William Slim and The overall command of General Sir George Giffard, were deservedly praised by Mr Churchill in Parliament.
“Meanwhile American and Chinese forces by a great feat of arms, crossed the Naun Hykit Pass and descended with complete surprise on the airfield at Myitkyina, thus enabling American and Chinese reinforcements to be flown in, in addition Long Range Penetration forces, of whom Maj-General Lentaigne assumed command when Wingate met his death in an air crash in the jungle, entered Mogaung from the south and were soon joined by the Chinese forces from the north.
“It will thus be seen that the capture of Myitkyina and Mogaung was the result of a series of closely coordinated operations on the part of British, American, Chinese and West African troops. The 3 Ind Div; as Long Range Penetration groups came to be known, now came under General Stillwell’s command, on this section of the front. The death of Wingate was a great disaster. He was killed at the moment of triumph and fulfilment.
“All these impressive results have not been secured without heavy casualties. Allied forces in 1944 have suffered 10.000 killed: 2.000 missing and 27,000 wounded, but these have been amply avenged by the killing of no fewer than 50,000 Japanese.
“Even more deadly and persistent in inflicting casualties is the mosquito. Malaria has conquered empires and can cripple armies. In the British campaign in the Arakan in 1943 it inflicted a particularly heavy toll. The zeal and skill of American and British medical services have succeeded this year in reducing the ravages of malaria by no less than 40 per cent; particularly effective has been the development of advance treatment centres which have virtually perfected a lightning cure. More than 90 per cent of the patients report fit for duty after three weeks. All the same, since the beginning of the year Allied forces have suffered close on a quarter of a million casualties in Burma from sickness, mostly malaria and dysentery.
“Parallel with the developments on land we have gained a major victory in the air. In December special measures were taken to co-ordinate the Allied air operations under Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse through Eastern Air Command, which is under the direction of Maj-General Stratemeyer USAAF, who is also Second In-Command of all Allied Air Forces in South East Asia. We have practically swept the Japanese air force from the Burma skies. Between the formation of South East Asia Command in November 1943, and the middle of August 1944, American and British forces operating in Burma destroyed or damaged more than 700 Japanese aircraft with a further 100 ‘probables.’ These simple statistics mean that the Japanese air force in Burma is greatly depleted and rarely ventures out either for attack or defence.
“I mentioned air supply earlier. Since May alone we have carried by air just on 70.000 tons and 93.000 men, including 25.500 casualties. These figures exclude the great air supply with China and have been accomplished under the worst flying conditions possible.
“By sea also we have not been idle. The Eastern Fleet under Admiral Sir James Somerville, now succeeded by Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, had been increasing their pressure to see whether they could entice the Japanese fleet into action or else to contain part of them in the Malacca Straits and thus keep them from interfering with the American operations in the Pacific. Our fleet’s first move was an air strike from the sea in April on Sabang which proved highly successful and left the Allied Eastern Fleet unscathed. Their next move took them further afield and with the aid of a US aircraft carrier, which had also been in the first Sabang operations, they made a very successful strike on Sourabaya, followed by a strike against the Andaman Islands.
“In the knowledge that we had complete command of the Indian Ocean and the Japanese had reduced their air defences to a. low level we decided not only to strike from the air but to ride in and bombard with all types of surface craft from battleships to cruisers and destroyers. Sabang was again selected as a target of strategic importance to the Japanese.
“The Royal Navy has received valuable help from the Royal Indian Navy and various American and Dutch naval units. The RIN has helped to maintain the bases for the Eastern Fleet to operate from and provided a very valuable addition to convoy escorts.
“I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the Government of India and the India Command. The importance of India as a base from which operations are launched in South East Asia cannot be over-emphasised.
“I would like to stress in particular the personal help and support I have received from Lord Wavell and General Auchinleck also from my deputy, General Stilwell, whose long experience of the east has been of signal assistance to me in our common task.
‘I am glad to have had this opportunity of endeavouring to explain the significance of the 1944 Burma campaign. I am proud of the gallant fighting which has taken place on all fronts and I hope that my statement may make the people who read it proud of the achievements of their own countrymen and grateful to their Allies who helped them in these achievements.”