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"Further Notes on the Burma Campaign" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. report on the Burma Campaign was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 11, Nov. 5, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The following are some further items from British sources on the experiences gained in the Burma Campaign. Other material on this subject was included in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 9, p. 15.

a. Pace of Fighting

The British reports stress the "absolute necessity" for an adequate flow of reinforcements, permitting the interchange of units in the front line so that troops will have a rest every 3 or 4 days. The Japanese Army (it is stated), will sacrifice manpower and use fresh troops in repeated assaults to gain an objective.

b. Arming of Service Troops

In the fighting in Burma, lines of communication were very long and exposed, and the Japanese made dangerous attacks on rear areas by flanking or infiltration groups. Under these conditions, it was regarded as absolutely necessary that all types of troops--engineer, signal corps, ordnance, etc.--should be provided with, and trained in the use of, rifle, bayonet, grenades, machine guns, and Tommy guns.

c. Equipment for Jungle Fighting

The following recommendations were made:

(1) Troops should be armed at all times. Every man should be issued a bandolier, which he can carry about with his rifle wherever he goes. Full equipment need not be worn at all times; in an emergency the important thing is to have a rifle and 50 rounds.

(2) Every man should carry at least one light machine-gun magazine in addition to his own ammunition.

(3) Some form of knife should be issued to troops in jungle country.

(4) Individual entrenching tools should be carried by every one, but should be modified to exclude the pick end and to make the digging end slightly stronger (Note: this refers to British types of tools). These would be supplemented in the battalion by ordinary picks and shovels.

d. Infantry Patrols

(1) Length of Patrols

Throughout the Burma Campaign, infantry were at all times called upon for heavy patrol duties. The number and length of patrols were increased by the enclosed nature of the country (restricting observation), by lack of reconnaissance aircraft, shortage of mobile troops, and the Japanese aptitude for using little known and even unmarked trails. The arrival of an armored brigade did little to help reduce the burden put on the infantry; in the early stages, this brigade operated as a separate mobile force ahead of the infantry, and later was employed for shock action or distant patrolling.

These factors not only made patrol duties heavy, but increased beyond ordinary requirements the depth to which patrols were required to operate. Bren-carrier patrols to a distance of 13 miles were commonplace, and sometimes infantry on foot were called upon to patrol as far as 15 miles ahead of forward units. The necessity for frequent carrier patrols, at long distances, led to the carrier vehicles being treated as armored cars--an unsuitable role. Many were lost on roads and trails in close country through grenade or mortar attacks, or through destruction of the crew by snipers armed with automatic weapons and concealed in trees.

(2) Functioning of Patrols

When infantry patrols are sent on foot for such long distances from their nearest support, very high morale is required, as well as leadership above the average. If a patrol returns prematurely or fails to carry out its mission, this may vitally affect the security of the main forces.

In a country where Fifth Columnists are numerous, British sources recommend special precautions, such as moving only at night and avoiding villages.

(3) Forms of Patrols

In some cases, infantry in trucks accompanied armored carriers on long-distance patrols. It is doubted whether this was good practice, since the infantry was vulnerable to attack and the trucks had limited capacities for cross-country patrol work.

On one occasion, a 3-inch mortar was man-handled forward by a patrol and achieved a notable success, the enemy being completely unprepared for fire of this type forward of the British positions.

(4) Sending Back Information

Lack of equipment for communications added to the difficulties of patrol work in close country. Information was often slow in getting back from the patrols. Retirements of the main forces often had to be made on short notice, and patrols could not always be notified of the movement. Sound signals (prearranged fires, etc.) were not always a practical method of overcoming this difficulty.

(5) Possible Use of Cavalry

Neither side employed cavalry for patrols. The British report suggests that cavalry using small native ponies would have been invaluable in this campaign. For patrol work, it is suggested that the mounted infantry should have a high proportion of light machine guns and submachine guns carried with the troops. Mounted patrols could use pack wireless and Jeeps to communicate information and receive orders. Specifically, the report suggests that three companies of mounted infantry, plus a company of armored scout cars (U.S. type) having some heavy mortars, would make the ideal reconnaissance unit or light covering force for a division.

(6) Maps

Without adequate maps, long distance patrols found great trouble in carrying out assignments in difficult country.

e. Village Fighting

Village fighting was involved in a majority of the actions in this campaign.

(1) Character of Burmese Villages

They consist of bamboo houses, with the living quarters raised off the ground and entered by a ladder. Cattle and equipment are kept on the ground underneath. The roofs are thatched with leaves, and holes can be easily made in them. Houses are generally separated from each other by bamboo stockades, often with sharpened ends, and the whole village is usually surrounded by a stockade. Cactus hedges are common. Villages, if lacking in bamboo or other cover, are usually built in squares. Where cover is abundant, the village is irregular. There is plenty of cover for concealment in the ordinary village.

Village sanitation is deplorable. The best water supply (wells) was usually in the villages; this led to troop concentrations in or near villages, and so to village fighting. The best water is found at the village temple.

(2) Japanese Tactics

The Japanese shock-troops were adept at infiltrating into villages and concealing themselves. They used trees extensively; also green camouflage nets. They were skillful in taking cover in houses and frequently used the roof as a sniping position, after knocking out a small hole, by supporting themselves on rafters. Culverts, bridges, sunken roads, bamboo clumps, wicker baskets, rice dumps, trenches under houses--all were likely hiding places.

(3) British Tactics

To clear a village occupied by the Japanese required bold and resolute leadership. The roads were to be avoided. Unless the village ran into the jungle, a straightforward advance through the houses on both sides of the road paid best. Attack, in two waves, should include a firing party with automatic weapons followed by a mopping-up party--both with plenty of bombs.

If snipers were not caught by the first wave, they could be dealt with by setting fire to houses and other cover--in such a way as not to interfere with the main operation. Mopping-up had to be thorough, and the houses searched from ground to roof; otherwise, the Jap merely "fades out" and "fades in" again at will. When the village is flanked with jungle, it is suicidal for attacking troops to advance across the more open spaces of the village with the flanks not cleared. An encircling movement through the jungle into the village will bring fewer casualties. In such a maneuver, objectives must be strictly limited. As each successive objective is gained, there must be a pause for reorganization, selection of the best objective (to be clearly stated to all troops), and replenishment of ammunition. These encircling movements can be supported by frontal covering fire with automatic weapons.

Tanks can be effectively used in support of infantry in clearing a village. They advance down roads echeloned back from each wave of infantry. They are thus comparatively safe from antitank grenades, and the infantry ahead of the tanks can deal with antitank weapons covering the road. Tanks often obtained a favorable target by moving along the flanks of villages.

Armored carriers can be used in a similar way, if tanks are not available. Both tanks and carriers can easily make breaches in stockades by charging them.

(4) Miscellaneous

The searching fire of mortars, well in front of advancing infantry, is effective in making the Japanese give ground.

In firing a village (to improve fields of fire), it should be remembered that dumps of rice will take 2 to 3 days to burn out. A dry bamboo house will burn out in 20 to 30 minutes. The "plop" of burning bamboo shoots has often been mistaken for enemy small-arms fire.


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