The Action at Wetlet, Burma 8th March 1945

Elements of 63rd Indian Bde and 255th Indian Tank Bde advance on Meiktila

Following my recent flurry of games using Battlefront: WWII rules (by Fire & Fury Games) to fight actions in 1980s Angola, the lads at The Carmarthen Old Guard were interested in how the rules actually work in their natural environment, playing WW2.

Well it’s been a while, so this week I dusted off my WW2 collection and decided to slash my way through the Burmese jungle for old times’ sake.  The last time I did a Burma game was about 10 years ago, with my good mate Martin and we played an excellent little scenario for the Battle of Wetlet (a side-action of the larger Battle of Meiktila) by our late and much-missed friend and transatlantic collaborator Mark Hayes.  The scenario was a cracking game with some finely balanced victory conditions, so thought it would make an ideal club-night game.  However, there were a few minor errors in terms of force composition and organisation in the original scenario, so I’ve tweaked it a little and posted the revised orders of battle below.  You will have to go to the original scenario on the Fire & Fury website for the map, scenario rules and victory conditions.

Historical Background

Following the failure of the twin Japanese offensives against India in 1943-44 (Operation Ha-Go and Operation U-Go) and the successful defence of Imphal, Field Marshal Bill Slim‘s XIVth Army fought through the Monsoon to keep the pressure on the retreating Japanese forces and push them all the way back into Burma, all the while building up an offensive force from the British-Indian IV Corps and XXXIII Corps at Imphal and XV Corps in the Arakan coastal region, with which to go on to the offensive as soon as the Monsoon broke in late 1944.

On 19th November 1944, Slim launched Operation CAPITAL, driving IV and XXXIII Corps deep into Burma, while XV Corps continued its operations along the Arakan coast.  By late January 1945, elements of XXXIII Corps had established a bridgehead across the huge Irrawaddy River and in early February 7th Indian Division of IV Corps launched a full-scale assault-crossing of the river further north at Pakkoku.  This was to be the longest assault river-crossing in history and was successful, with 7th Division establishing a bridgehead east of the river that was soon linked to the western bank by the longest Bailey Bridge in existence (all components of which had been dragged through jungle and over mountains on mud-tracks from India).

On 24th February, General ‘Punch’ Cowan’s 17th (‘Black Cat’) Indian Division (understrength, with only two brigades), with 255th Indian Tank Brigade under command, broke out from the bridgehead and drove hell-for-leather for the central Burmese city of Meiktila, which served as a vital road, rail and air transportation hub for the occupying Japanese.  The assault on the city began on 28th February and was complete only four days later.  With the local airfields captured, Cowan’s 99th Indian Brigade was flown in, along with Squadrons of the RAF Regiment, who would be responsible for defending the airfields and keeping them open for further reinforcement and resupply.

However, the Japanese were swift to respond and the reinforced 18th and 49th Divisions were moving to eject Cowan’s ‘Black Cats’ from the city.  Very quickly, strong Japanese forces cut 17th Indian Division’s lines of communication with the Irrawaddy Bridgehead and started forming up all round the city to pave the way for a major assault.  Cowan was determined not to passively wait for the Japanese to attack him and instead launched several strong mechanised columns out from the city to attack the new Japanese strongpoints; most critically those to the north-west, blocking the line of communication with the Irrawaddy Bridgehead.

One such column from 63rd Indian Brigade was formed from the major part of 9th Battalion the Border Regiment, reinforced by armour from the 9th (Royal Deccan) Horse (255th Indian Tank Brigade), recce from the Indian 16th Light Cavalry and divisional artillery.  They were ordered to advance north-west from the city and hook around the western shore of North Lake, striking at a battalion of the Japanese 106th Infantry Regiment, which was dug in to the village of Wetlet (marked on some maps as ‘Inpetlet’).

Allied Order of Battle 

Japanese Order of Battle 

The Game

Above:  The 2nd Battalion of the Japanese 106th Infantry Regiment digs into the lakeside village of Wetlet.

Above:  Some of the houses have been fortified to become pillboxes and house heavy machine guns.  A 37mm anti-tank gun is hidden in the red-roofed house and the Battalion HQ sets up in the orange house, ready to call for supporting fire from the 75mm regimental gun section, which is set up to the rear of the town.

Above:  In the woods around the town the Japanese have also established a few log bunkers.

Above:  Covering the western approaches to Wetlet, the Japanese 7th Company takes up position along the treeline, covering the open, dry paddy fields.

Above:  The Japanese 5th Company continues the line on the right of 7th Company, covering the northern road into town.  In front of them, in the middle of the open paddy is a fortified farmhouse.  A 37mm anti-tank gun covers the gap where the road passes through the belt of woodland.

Above:  The 6th Company forms a second line to the rear, reinforced by the 70mm battalion gun section.  The Regimental Transport Platoon stands ready to the rear.  [In game terms, around a quarter of the Japanese units are ‘dummy’ stands, whose existence will only be confirmed when they move, fire or are spotted by the Allies]

Above:  Led by the armoured cars and carriers of the 16th Light Cavalry, Lt Col Stedding’s main column arrives on the southern road.  As ‘D’ Company of the 9th Borders moves forward across the open paddy, the Borders’ 3-inch mortar platoon sets up and prepares to give supporting fire.

Above:  On the northern road, the Sherman V tanks of the 9th (Royal Deccan) Horse advance warily through the trees, flanked by ‘C’ company of the 9th Borders and followed by the OP Carrier of a Forward Observation Officer from 1st Indian Field Artillery Regiment.

Above:  Skirting the swamp at the northern end of the lake, the 16th Cavalry cover the treeline with their machine guns as ‘D’ Company advances into the woods.

Above:  Rifle fire suddenly rings out from a camouflaged bunker and a section of ‘D’ Company is cut down by the ambush!  The Japanese 7th Company also opens up from the treeline and both sides are soon pinned down in a tremendous firefight.

Above:  Over on the Allied left flank, ‘C’ Company emerges from the trees and spots the fortified farm.  There is no fire coming at them, but to play safe, they call up the Deccan Horse, who speculatively (and very effectively) shell the farm into rubble.  Meanwhile, although he can’t directly spot the Japanese 7th Company, the firefight erupting along the distant treeline is enough for him to call down a fire mission in support of ‘D’ Company on the right.

Above:  25pdr HE shells soon slamming into the treeline, causing massive disruption among the Japanese infantry.  However, the motto of the Indian Artillery is Sarvatra, which like the Royal Artillery’s Ubique, means ‘Everywhere’ or to everyone else in the Army ‘All Over The Place’… Shells also start landing among the left-flanking platoon of ‘D’ Company, causing serious disruption and much Cumbrian swearing!  Nevertheless, the rest of ‘D’ Company is still moving forward and as a wounded sergeant shouts “Remember Arroyo!  Gan git’em, marras!”, they successfully assault the bunker with grenade and bayonet.  However, this sharp little action has cost them a third of their rifle strength.

Above:  With the bunker eliminated, the 7th Company’s left flank is turned and the Borderers pour enfilading fire into the Japanese infantry.  With road now clear, 16th Light Cavalry push on toward the village.

Above:  With the Japanese 7th Company pinned down in front of them, ‘D’ Company launches a charge across the short stretch of open ground end kills or routs the enemy to their front.

Above:  The 9th Borders’ Mortar Platoon finally gets a call to action as it fires a smoke mission to support ‘C’ Company’s advance across the open paddy.  The 16th Light Cavalry Mortar Carrier however, remains silent.

Above:  As the Deccan Horse Shermans fire HE in direct support, the 9th Border mortars drop smoke in front of ‘C’ Company (indicated by the rather unattractive templates – I should have used white fluff!).  ‘C’ Company advances across the paddy, but gets rather bunched up as it bypasses the bunker.  The Japanese commander wishes he had more indirect fire support elements…

Above:  Nevertheless, he makes good use of what he does have… As the Borderers storm the Japanese positions they are hit hard by the Japanese 75mm Regimental Gun and suffer further casualties.

Above:  As the 16th Cavalry pass clear of the woodland they are still hemmed in between the swamp and a stream, so are in the ideal spot for an ambush.  Heavy machine gun fire rattles from the lakeside bunker and rings off the armour of the leading Carrier section, but only manages to suppress the Bren-gunners.

Above:  “Guru Nanak on a Bike!”  The Sikh cavalrymen are rather more shocked when a 37mm anti-tank gun opens up on them from the nearest building!  The Bren-gunners decide to take their chances in the open rather than sit inside a tin can, waiting for the next round to come through the armour!

Above:  As ‘C’ Company emerges from the smoke, they are extremely surprised to discover that the enemy has (mostly) gone!  However, a lone group of Japanese anti-tank-bombers remain to be winkled out of the bunker.  ‘C’ Company suffers the loss of one section during the assault on the bunker (their first casualties), but the Japanese hold-outs are eliminated and the bunker is taken.  To the left of the road, one section of Borderers occupies the fortified farm, while two sections push on with supporting tank fire, weathering flanking HMG fire, to eliminate a Japanese rifle section belonging to 5th Company.

Above:  As ‘C’ Company and the tanks push on through the woods, the Japanese 5th Company sallies out from the woods in an attempt to re-take the fortified farm.  However, fire from the farm, the rearmost tank and hastily-drawn Webleys belonging to the Carrier crew throw back the Japanese attack in disorder.

Above:  As they push on through the woods, ‘C’ Company is very pleasantly surprised to discover that the second Japanese line is a dummy, all save for one rifle section, which is eliminated in the open.  Meanwhile, the leading Deccan Horse Sherman comes under fire at point-blank range from a camouflaged 37mm anti-tank gun, but the Sherman’s thick armour (thick by Far Eastern standards, anyway!) easily shrugs it off and the anti-tank gunners and their supporting infantry are quickly dispatched by the supporting Borderers.

Above:  In front of ‘C’ Company there appears to be nothing but running Japanese infantry!  However, they are now coming under fire from a 70mm Battalion Gun positioned in the treeline on their left and this might be a good time to pull back to the treeline and let the tanks,  artillery and mortars do their work…

Above:  The much-depleted ‘D’ Company meanwhile, has already run into trouble while attempting to push forward.  Borderers are cut down in the open by previously unseen, bunkered HMGs and the remainder are pinned down.  The Baluchis bring their Vickers MMGs up to the treeline ready to support the assault, but ‘D’ Company is now down 50% strength and is in no mood to press forward!

Above:  On their right, the Japanese 37mm anti-tank gun is having a field day as a Carrier section is knocked out.  The dismounted cavalrymen scramble for cover, but are targeted by lethal 75mm indirect fire and two of the three sections are eliminated!  Frantic calls for smoke support from their mortar section goes unheeded.

Above:  The Daimler Armoured Car section pushes forward, hoping to get close enough to effectively take on the dug-in AT gun, but all to no avail as the car suffers a direct hit and bursts into flames!

Sadly, while ‘C’ Company and the Deccan Horse were doing well, the attritional losses suffered by ‘D’ Company and the 16th Light Cavalry meant that the Allies were unable to fulfill their victory conditions… Bah…

Thanks to Chris and Phil for a great game!  Special thanks to Phil for providing the magnificent palm-trees, undergrowth and bunkers.

The figures and vehicles are from my collection: infantry are mostly by Peter Pig, while the Sikhs are by Flames of War.  The Light Cavalry armoured car, scout car and carriers are by Skytrex, as are most of the Jeeps.  The rest of the vehicles are by Flames of War.

 

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Games, Scenarios, World War 2, World War 2 - Burma Campaign. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Action at Wetlet, Burma 8th March 1945

  1. Daniel says:

    Great game! Well done!
    I’m thinking of re-fighting this battle for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on 15th August 2020.
    Thanks for the references for the model figures and vehicles: I really like the look of the Peter Pig British 14th Army figures.
    “Special thanks to Phil for providing the magnificent palm-trees, undergrowth and bunkers.”
    Yes, indeed! Please could you ask Phil to confirm the sources of the terrain items -particularly the camouflaged subterranean Japanese bunkers and the palm trees…?

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Daniel!

      The palm-trees are Chinese eBay specials – you just have to search eBay until you find some, sorry (I did find some and order them just as the lockdown began, much to Mrs Fawr’s horror… they went straight into a big bowl of bleach as soon as they arrived…). Those buried bunkers were actually home-made many years ago by my friend Mr Small, sorry. Phil provided the sandbagged ones – he used to sell them.

  2. Olivia Ainsley says:

    My father, Major RB Patch was awarded an MC for his part in the attack on Wetlet on 8 March 1945. The action lasted 4 hours according to the citation

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Hi Olivia,

      Wow, thanks very much for that bit of extra information. As it happens, I had no idea which two companies of 9 Border were present at Wetlet, so picked C & D at random, but I do know that Major ‘Bobbie’ Patch was OC ‘A’ Company.

      If it’s not too much trouble, are you able to post the citation? I’d love to know more about this action. Sadly Mark Hayes who wrote the scenario passed away some years ago and other than the Indian Army Corps history, I’ve no idea what his sources were.

      I do hope that you don’t mind us representing your father and his comrades in toy soldier form! One of the unexpected and pleasant consequences of creating this blog is that I’ve received many messages from relatives of the men involved in the battles I write about, as they’ve found their way here via Google.

      As it was VJ Day yesterday (and as an ex-serviceman myself), please accept my gratitude for your father’s contribution to freedom.

      • Olivia says:

        Hi Jemima

        Great to hear from you.

        I’m sorry to learn of Mark Hayes’s passing.

        I’m interested you know my Pa was A Company and known as Bobbie and of course I don’t mind him being represented in toy soldier form. I’m sure it would have tickled him! I found your blog having been stirred by yesterday’s VJ Day commemorations to try to find out a little more about my father’s experiences in Burma. Like so many, he rarely spoke about his experience of war or conflict, just his good times in the army. All he divulged to me was that officers were issued with a cyanide pill to take in case of capture and that his unease with spiders emanated from the experience of walking through jungle in Burma. Also, he spoke highly of the Gurkhas and how he owed his life to them. I imagine that was in Burma.

        I’ve taken a photo of the copy I have of the MC citation (possibly typed by my mother from a copy), and a personal note of thanks from General Slim but can’t seem to post here. Maybe my IT skills are lacking? I’d be happy to email copies to you or follow instructions to add copies here.

        I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful father – gentle and patient inspite of, or maybe partly due to, his wartime experience.

        Olivia

        • jemima_fawr says:

          Hi Olivia,

          My apologies! I was forgetting that this doesn’t have the same functions as a forum! Is it ok if I drop you an e-mail?

          He appears on a list I made earlier during research for the Battle of Imphal. I’m not sure what the source was for that. I thought it might be General Lyall-Grant’s book ‘Burma: The Turning Point’, but I’ve just looked and he’s not in the index, so I’m not sure where I found that.

          Re the Gurkhas: 9th Borders were assigned to 48 Indian Brigade, which until that point were an all-Gurkha formation. The (British) Brigadier was very disparaging, as he apparently despised British infantry regiments. However, 9th Borders proved themselves tenfold during the fighting around Imphal and the Brigadier complemented them by calling them ‘his White Gurkhas’. They were a very, very good infantry battalion and as a company commander, your father’s leadership would have been instrumental in moulding it.

          Out of interest, have you read George Macdonald Fraser’s book ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’? GMF was a soldier in ‘B’ Company of the 9th Borders from just after Imphal onward, so his experiences would have been very much the same as your father’s. In the book he refers to ‘Long John’, who was the company commander of ‘B’ Company, which might give you an idea of how a good company commander was viewed by his men within that battalion. I’m not sure if your father is mentioned, but he might be (I’ll have to re-read it)! If you haven’t read it, you MUST, as it is absolutely the best soldier’s memoir to come out of WW2.

        • jemima_fawr says:

          There are some interesting links here:

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/user/46/u556046.shtml

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/26/a2207026.shtml

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/85/a2419085.shtml

          https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/16/a2422216.shtml

          I think you’ll like this: 🙂

          This was composed by Sgt Wren and Sgt Heaton in the Sgts Mess in Penwegon 1945.

          Tune (SOUTH OF THE BORDER)

          South of Meiktila down Pyawbe Way
          That`s where the J.O.R. thought that they had come to stay
          But the Borders surprised them one sunny day,
          South of Meiktila down Pyawbe Way.

          First in was B Coy led by Long John
          Then Bobbie Patch MC took his “A” Coy along
          “C” Coy waited with “Tommo” in charge
          “D” was right forward neath the barrage

          Then th Japs stared shouting and screaming
          As the Mortar Platoon got weaving,but the lads
          Didnt need any screening
          They had the Japs on the run.

          • Olivia says:

            Many thanks for the info and links, and I do like the ditty!

            I see John Petty and Monty Spedding mentioned in the links, don’t think I ever met John although he is in my father’s address book. Monty, I remember meeting – a lovely man who adored his Siamese cat. I think my father was godfather to his son.

            Thanks too for recommending GMF’s book, I shall track it down. I realise how little I know about this part of my father’s life and the huge respect I had for him just grows.

            Please do drop me an email so I can forward you copies of the few documents I have that may interest you.
            ojainsley@gmail.com

          • jemima_fawr says:

            Fantastic, this is wonderful stuff! Sometimes when reading history, it’s very easy to forget that they were/are real people. ‘Long John’ Petty was clearly an outstanding leader, held in great affection and respect by his men. He became the Battalion’s Commanding Officer toward the end of the Burma Campaign.

            Thankfully, ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’, being an eternal classic, has never gone out of print, so is very easy to get hold of: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quartered-Safe-George-MacDonald-Fraser/dp/0007105932

            If you want some slightly heavier reading, Field Marshal Slim’s ‘Defeat Into Victory’ very clearly sets the scene for the war that your father fought in and is a surprisingly easy read for such a monumental tome. Slim’s humanity, humour and incredible leadership skills shine through what could otherwise be a very dry military history. Major General Ian Lyall-Grant’s ‘Burma: The Turning Point’ is undoubtedly the best account of the Battle of Imphal and he actually fought alongside your father as an officer of Indian Sappers attached to 9th Borders. Edward M Young’s ‘Meiktila 1945’ covers most of what 9th Borders were doing toward the end of the war and is the only book I’ve found that even mentions the Battle of Wetlet.

            Great, I’ll drop you a line now. 🙂

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