04 April 1944
Battle of Kohima
One of the fiercest battles of the Second World War, the Battle of Kohima started on 4 April 1944, in which British and Indian troops fought against the Japanese offensive in the northeast of India. The Japanese were defeated.
- In 1944, during the height of the Second World War, the Japanese planned an incursion into India via Burma. The plan was codenamed Operation U Go.
- The plan was to attack the northeast of India through Burma. There was a British garrison at Kohima, today the capital of the state of Nagaland. The Japanese forces wished to attack the garrison and take Kohima after which they would take Assam and then march on to Delhi.
- But, this was not to be as the British and Indian forces fought valiantly and thwarted the ambitious plans of Japan.
- In March 1944, the Japanese came in through the dense jungles of the region from Burma into India. They attacked Imphal first catching the British by surprise. After this, they eyed Kohima and the garrison stationed there.
- It was a relatively obscure garrison because this part of the region was not key to British plans. They had a total of about 2500 forces. In contrast, the Japanese were moving ahead with 12000 men.
- With the odds placed undeniably in favour of the Japanese, they attacked the garrison at Kohima with a view to capturing the town itself.
- However, the British troops held on their strategic positions and troubled the Japanese with their artillery fire.
- The Japanese were also worried by the lack of adequate supplies. They had brought along with them about 5000 oxen to be slaughtered for food, but most of the animals died on the way.
- Many battles were fought at the garrison. The bungalow and the tennis court of the Deputy Commissioner were witness to bloody battles. This was called the Battle of the Tennis Court. Many engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The number of people who perished was in the thousands and a further many got sick because of the stench of rotting corpses.
- Supplies were low on both sides but the soldiers battled on steadfastly.
- British reinforcements arrived in Dimapur to relieve the forces at Kohima. Now the Japanese realised that their position was precarious as they were extremely low on supplies. They began to fall back.
- The Battle of Kohima was one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War but one that India seemed to have forgotten.
- The Indian and British troops lost about 4000 men while the Japanese lost 5000 – 7000 men in the battle.
- The battle is often referred to as the Stalingrad of the East.
- The British National Army Museum voted this battle as “Britain’s Greatest Battle”.
- Today, in the place where the tennis court of the Deputy Commissioner was, there is a war cemetery for the Allied dead. It has the famous Kohima Epitaph which reads,
“When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today”
- This battle turned the tide of the war in the eastern theatre and built the grounds for a Japanese retreat.
Also on this day
1905: A massive earthquake hit the Kangra Valley (in Himachal Pradesh) killing more than 20000 people.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.