The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 8 – 254th Indian Tank Brigade on the Road to Mandalay (and Rangoon) 1944-45)

Lee medium tanks of 3rd Carabiniers on the march near Mandalay (note the ‘4’ AoS serial painted on the back)

In the Part 7 of this series I looked at the 254th Indian Tank Brigade and their decisive role in the defence of Imphal in 1944.  This time I’m following the 254th Tank Brigade as they followed the ‘Road to Mandalay’ and beyond.  Here’s a recap of 254th Indian Tank Brigade’s organisation at this time:

Operations CAPITAL & EXTENDED CAPITAL

With the Japanese 15th Army in full retreat across the River Chindwin, Lieutenant General Bill Slim commanding the XIVth Army, anticipated that they would make a stand on the Shwebo Plain, between the Chindwin and the Irrawaddy.  A general plan was agreed with SEAC code-named Operation CAPITAL, whereby IV Corps and XXXIII Corps would mount a general advance on a broad front, in concert with the Chinese-US-British Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC), to bring the Japanese to battle west of the Irrawaddy and to establish a continuous front line from Pakokku to Mandalay to Lashio.  XV Corps would maintain the pressure on the Arakan coast, until such time as an amphibious/airborne operation code-named DRACULA could then be launched by XV Corps to recapture Rangoon.  The northern and southern arms of XIVth Army would then crush the Japanese on the central Burmese plain.

However, as the leading elements of XIVth Army crossed over the Chindwin in pursuit of the Japanese, it quickly became apparent that the Japanese 15th Army was still in full retreat and had no intention of making a stand on the Shwebo Plain.  They were instead attempting to make a stand on the east bank of the Irrawaddy.  Slim revised his plan and in December 1944 this became Operation EXTENDED CAPITAL.

A Lee of 254th Indian Tank Brigade waits to cross the Mu River in the Kabaw Valley, January 1945. This could belong to either the 3rd Carabiniers or 150th RAC, but the only markings visible are the newly-applied Allies Star, the ’30’ weight-class disc and a ‘B’ Squadron square next to the driver’s port.

The most obvious objective for XIVth Army’s advance was the city of Mandalay, the ancient capital of Burma and the main road, rail and river transport hub for central Burma.  To the Burmese, the capture of Mandalay psychologically meant the capture of Burma as a whole and to that end the Japanese were determined to hold it.  The second obvious objective was the Yenangyaung oilfields, on the lower Irrawaddy near Magwe, which was also in the heart of Burma’s main rice-producing region.  The Japanese arranged their forces to reflect these likely objectives.  However, the Japanese failed to grasp that Slim had little interest in geographical objectives and was instead chiefly concerned simply with the destruction of their armies.  His objective would therefore be the city of Meiktila, roughly 100km to the south of Mandalay, sitting astride the main Mandalay-Rangoon road, close to the main railway lines, surrounded by four Japanese airfields and serving as a major supply-hub.  The capture of this (hopefully lightly-defended) city would force the Japanese to respond and then XIVth Army could bring its full weight to destroy them.  Operation DRACULA would also then be launched to take Rangoon, in line with the original plan.

Those Allied formations already east of the Chindwin or in the process of crossing (2nd, 19th & 20th Divisions, 268th Lorried Brigade and 254th Tank Brigade), were now allocated to XXXIII Corps, which would advance on a broad front toward Mandalay, making a large demonstration to draw in Japanese formations and convince them that the assault was to be made there.  To that end, the armoured cars of the PAVO were already well-forward with elements of 19th Indian Division.  Contact was soon made on 19th Division’s left flank with the British 36th Division, which was operating under the command of the NCAC, thus establishing a continuous front line with the NCAC for the first time.  The PAVO meanwhile, were causing great havoc among retreating Japanese units, using the speed and stealth of their armoured cars to great effect.  The PAVO’s organisation had been altered slightly by this time, enabling it to be broken down into more numerous (albeit smaller) sub-units:

IV Corps meanwhile (7th & 17th Divisions, 28th East African Brigade, the Lushai Brigade and 255th Tank Brigade), screened by XXXIII Corps’ advance, would move south quickly and secretly, parallel to, though well to the west of the Chindwin, using a mountain range to mask its movements and aiming to cross the mile-wide Irrawaddy between Pagan and Pakokku.  The 7th Indian Division would first establish a bridgehead on the east bank, allowing most of 17th Indian Division and all of the 255th Tank Brigade to cross the river and then strike toward Meiktila.  Capturing Meiktila and its airfields would then enable reinforcement brigades, the RAF Regiment and other units to be brought in by air, straight into the battle.

XIVth Army’s approach to the Irrawaddy. Allied units are shown in red and the Japanese in blue.  XXXIII Corps is massing along the Irrawaddy around Mandalay, while IV Corps performs a wide flanking move the the west.

On 7th January 1945, 19th Indian Division, having reached the Irrawaddy, mounted several waterborne patrols across the river and finding little resistance, quickly established a bridgehead at Thabeikkyin, roughly 100km north of Mandalay.  A second bridgehead was established at Kyaukmyaung, roughly 70km north of Mandalay on 11th January.  Alarmed, the Japanese 15th Army dispatched two divisions (the 15th and 53rd) to throw the 19th Division back over the Irrawaddy.  Strong attacks, accompanied by very heavy artillery barrages, were mounted on the bridgeheads, but all were beaten off with heavy losses.  By the end of January the Japanese 15th Division, which had already been hammered at Imphal, had lost fully one-third of its strength during these failed attacks.  By early February, Major General ‘Pete’ Rees, the fiery Welsh GOC of 19th Indian Division felt secure enough to consider a breakout and ordered his armour support, consisting of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC and ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry, to be rafted across into the bridgehead.

With the 19th Indian Division distracting the Japanese defenders north of Mandalay, on 10th February the 28th East African Brigade mounted a second feint assault at Seikpyu, around 40km to the south of Pagan, again drawing off Japanese forces as intended.  On 12th February, the 20th Indian Division mounted its own assault crossing around 50km downstream from Mandalay, sucking in elements of the Japanese 2nd, 31st and 33rd Divisions.  The Japanese 15th Army was now completely off-balance and the main assault could now be launched by IV Corps between Pakokku and Pagan.  This assault, designated Operation MULTIVITE was launched on 14th February and by mid-afternoon, 7th Indian Division had established a firm bridgehead.

Stuart of ‘B’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry

On 17th February the 17th Indian Division (minus one brigade, but now fully motorised) also began crossing into the 7th Division bridgehead, followed by the 255th Indian Tank Brigade.  On 21st February, the 17th Indian Division, plus the 255th Indian Tank Brigade, ‘B’ Squadron of the PAVO (attached from XXXIII Corps) and the newly-arrived 16th Light Cavalry, broke out of the bridgehead and drove hell-for-leather toward Meiktila (I’ll talk more about the Battle of Meiktila in Part 9).

The 20th Indian Division sector had been particularly brutal for the Allies, with strong attacks being mounted by three Japanese divisions that reputedly equaled the worst of the Battle of Imphal.  The intensity of these battles is probably explained by the fact that the Japanese, fighting a defensive battle on ‘home turf’ and close to their sources of supply, had access to far greater quantities of artillery and ammunition.  Consequently, this bridgehead contained the bulk of 254th Tank Brigade’s armour; 7th Light Cavalry (less ‘C’ Squadron) and ‘B’ Squadron 150th RAC, plus the PAVO (less ‘B’ Squadron) and the Priest SP guns and Sherman OP tanks of 18th Field Regiment RA.

A Priest Self-Propelled 105mm Howitzer of 18th Field Regiment RA, pictured within the 20th Indian Division bridgehead on 7th March 1945. Note the circular version of the XIVth Army badge painted on the transmission housing. The regiment’s AoS sign was red-over-blue with ’25’ serial and white lower bar signifying Army Troops.

The situation deteriorated even further for the Japanese on 24th February, as the British 2nd Division launched yet another assault-crossing, this time on the left flank of 20th Indian Division’s bridgehead and roughly 30km downstream of Mandalay.  The 3rd Carabiniers (minus ‘B’ Squadron) were quickly brought into the 2nd Division bridgehead, which left only RHQ & ‘A’ Squadron 150th RAC and ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers as the only remaining armoured reserve west of the Irrawaddy.  However, this did not immediately improve the situation for the hard-pressed 20th Indian Division, as if anything, the Japanese intensified their efforts to throw them back across the Irrawaddy.  Nevertheless, within a few days, the 2nd Division was also in intense combat and the Carabiniers were once again in constant contact with the enemy, rushing from crisis to crisis, just as they had done at Imphal.

A Lee of 3rd Carabiniers (note ‘4’ AoS serial) is rafted across to the 2nd Division bridgehead at Ngazun, 28th Feb 1945

By the beginning of March, Meiktila had fallen to IV Corps’ ‘Blitkrieg’ and all available Japanese reserves were being directed to retake the city.  The opposition in front of 19th Indian Division began to slacken markedly and ‘Pete’ Rees was of the opinion that with the bulk of the Japanese 15th Army fighting to the west and south of the Mandalay, the famous ‘Road to Mandalay’ and the city itself would be virtually undefended.  General Rees formed his available armour and most mobile elements into a mechanised spearhead battlegroup designated ‘Stiletto Column’ or ‘STILETTOCOL’ (named for the 19th Division’s dagger badge, but remarkably appropriate, given its ‘rapier-like thrust’ mission) and on 6th March launched them south, straight down the Road to Mandalay.  By 1600hrs on 7th March, STILETTOCOL had achieved the impossible and seized several key terrain features in the ancient city.  19th Division was following close behind and the hard task of house-to-house fighting began.

Sadly, the city itself was not undefended and most critically, the massive stone walls of Fort Dufferin were strongly held.  In scenes reminiscent of Wellington’s day, 5.5-inch guns and 6-inch howitzers (aided by the distinctly more modern Lees of 150th RAC) hammered the ancient walls until practicable breaches were created.  Gurkha ‘Forlorn Hopes’ then charged through the breaches, just as their ancestors had done in the previous century.  Fort Dufferin finally fell on 20th March, by which point the leading elements of 2nd Division were also pushing into the city from the south.  For an excellent account of the Battle of Mandalay, follow this link.

A Lee named ‘Caledonian’ of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC, with infantry of 19th Indian Division in Mandalay

With all Japanese reserves being sucked in by the battles for Mandalay and Meiktila, the previously intense pressure on the battered 20th Indian Division’s bridgehead began to slacken.  By 18th March, Japanese resistance had eased sufficiently for Major General Douglas Gracey to go onto the offensive.  Lt Col J M Barlow, the Commanding Officer of the 7th Light Cavalry, was ordered to take command of all the 254th Tank Brigade elements within the bridgehead, as well as the PAVO, the self-propelled 18th Field Regiment RA, an RAF Forward Air Controller and lastly, the 4/10th Gurkha Rifles from 100th Brigade, who were mounted in every truck that could be scraped up from within the bridgehead.  Barlow’s column was designated ‘BARCOL’ and was given the mission of breaking out to the south, thus driving an armoured stake through the heart of the surrounding Japanese forces.  They were then to make a wide, encircling movement, cutting Japanese lines of communication, destroying any enemy units encountered and if possible, making contact with 17th Division at Meiktila.  They were then to fall upon the Japanese from the rear.

BARCOL broke out of the 20th Division bridgehead on 19th March, easily punching through the encircling Japanese forces and creating havoc among rear-echelon units.   By the 22nd BARCOL had reached Wundwin (see map above), which was over 60 miles from 20th Division’s bridgehead and three-quarters of the way to Meiktila.  The Japanese garrison there was quickly overwhelmed, with over 200 being killed.  Using Wundwin as a base, patrols struck out in all directions, utterly disrupting Japanese movements, communications and supply-lines.  One BARCOL dispatch-rider even managed to reach the defenders of Meiktila following a wrong-turn and a ride through Japanese lines! 

A Stuart of 7th Light Cavalry pictured near Mandalay on 19th March 1945.

However, BARCOL’s return to 20th Division’s lines wasn’t as easy as the breakout, with three 7th Light Cavalry Stuarts being lost to Japanese anti-tank guns and a fourth damaged.  Nevertheless, BARCOL’s objective had been achieved and the Japanese were left reeling, confused and badly hurt.  Japanese opposition to the 2nd, 19th and 20th Divisions around Mandalay simply melted away during the last few days of March and BARCOL returned safely to friendly lines.

Lees of ‘C’ Squadron 150th RAC with infantry of 19th Indian Division near Mandalay. The leading tank has the name ‘Cossack’ painted on the side.

Rangoon Or Bust!

Even as Japanese forces continued to resist around Mandalay and Meiktila, Slim had already set his sights firmly upon Rangoon and issued orders for the next phase of EXTENDED CAPITAL as early as 18th March; a full ten days before the last Japanese were cleared from the vicinity of Meiktila.  Fighter-bomber squadrons were already flying into the Meiktila airfields to support the renewed advance.  The key motivational factor for Slim was the monsoon, which was now only weeks away.  While the units of XIVth Army had proved in 1944 that they could fight through the monsoon, maintaining the astonishingly long and fragile supply-lines back to Imphal was another matter entirely.  Slim calculated that XIVth Army would have to maintain a rate of advance of 10-12 miles per day, regardless of Japanese rearguards, strongpoints, bridge demolitions and other delays. 

Lees of ‘B’ Squadron 150th RAC pictured with BARCOL on 20th March 1945. The white number 14, signifying the 14th tank of the squadron, is painted on the turret rear within the ‘B’ Squadron square, which should be light blue for 150th RAC. The same markings are also just visible on the turret side.

The best, though most obvious route was the main road following the railway and the Sittang River from Meiktila to Rangoon.  This axis of advance was given to IV Corps, which was now reorganised once again.  The main body would consist of XIVth Army’s most mobile formations; the 5th and 17th Indian Divisions and 255th Indian Tank Brigade.  The 5th Indian Division had recently arrived at Meiktila, having been rested and fully motorised back at Imphal.  The 19th Indian Division meanwhile, was transferred in from XXXIII Corps and would push east from Mandalay and Meiktila, clearing the western bank of the Sittang. 

XXXIII Corps meanwhile, would now consist of the 7th Indian Division, 20th Indian Division, 268th Lorried Brigade and 254th Indian Tank Brigade and would mount a fiendishly complex manoeuvre across the rear of IV Corps, moving from the left flank of IV Corps to their right flank.  XXXIII Corps was tasked with taking the western axis of the advance, down the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy to Rangoon, thus keeping the Japanese off-balance and preventing them from concentrating all their forces in front of IV Corps.  XXXIII Corps was less mobile and arguably had the more complex task, though they were determined that they would give IV Corps a run for their money to reach Rangoon first!

In detailed terms, the 7th Indian Division, with 268th Brigade and 3rd Carabiniers under command, would advance from their bridgehead down the east bank of the Irrawaddy, to take the railhead of Kyaukpadaung, the isolated 4,000-foot peak of Mount Popa and the oil towns of Chauk and Yenangyaung, before moving on to the city of Magwe.  Elements of 7th Division would also be required to cross back over to the western bank of the Irrawaddy to clear Japanese garrisons and to intercept and destroy units of the Japanese 54th Division who, having been driven out of the Arakan by XV Corps, were making their way east t0 the Irrawaddy.  20th Indian Division meanwhile, with 150th RAC under command, would pass through Meiktila and strike southwest to take Taungdwingyi and then drive on to Rangoon, via Allanmyo, Prome and Letpadan. 

The British 2nd and 36th Divisions meanwhile, along with the 28th East African Brigade, were withdrawn back to India.  Supplies of fresh British infantry were starting to dry up in any case and by withdrawing these formations, the pressure on XIVth Army’s strained supply system would be markedly reduced. 

Another departure during early April 1945 was that of the 7th Light Cavalry from 254th Indian Tank Brigade.  They had fought valiantly and continuously in their Stuarts without a break for over a year, often doing the job of medium or even infantry tanks.  However, they were now transferred to 255th Indian Tank Brigade in IV Corps.  Nevertheless, ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry remained attached to 254th Indian Tank Brigade until the end of the war and ‘B’ Squadron PAVO, which had been attached to IV Corps at Meiktila, was now returned to XXXIII Corps.

Having been hammered by 7th Division artillery, the Japanese garrison of the Kyaukpadaung railhead quickly fell on 12th April to an attack by 33rd Brigade, 268th Brigade and ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers.  The bodies of 120 dead Japanese troops were found, along with a massive stockpile of supplies.  As 89th Brigade passed through Kyaukpadaung to assault Chauk, 268th Brigade and ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers moved up onto the slopes of Mount Popa, to eject a mixed force of Japanese and Indian National Army (INA) troops.  The battle for Mount Popa proved to be prolonged and frustrating, particularly for the Carabiniers, who struggled to move their tanks across country due to steep slopes and soft going.  The enemy also frequently melted away whenever their tanks appeared.  Nevertheless, after six days of fighting, Mount Popa fell on 19th April with an estimated 500 Japanese troops being killed.  The INA managed to slip away in the confused fighting, though being trapped with their backs to the Irrawaddy, would later surrender en masse on 26th April.

Lee No.12 of ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers on Mount Popa, April 1945

89th Brigade meanwhile, had run into stiff opposition just north of Chauk.  33rd Brigade moved west to outflank the Japanese roadblock, but by the time this manoeuvre had been performed, the Japanese had managed to slip away, unexpectedly escaping by boat, west across the Irrawaddy.  Chauk was captured unopposed on the 18th and 7th Division drove on to Yenangaung, with 33rd Brigade now taking the lead with ‘B’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers under command and 89th Brigade performing the flanking move.  ‘B’ Squadron successfully supported an assault on the high ground overlooking the town, but further advance was delayed due to intense sniper fire and huge barriers formed by burning oil-drums.  They were determined on this occasion to prevent a repeat of Chauk and this time placed tanks to cover the river and engage boats attempting to cross, but fate played a hand and the garrison escaped under the cover of a rain-storm!  Nevertheless, the town with its associated oil-fields was captured intact on 22nd April and large quantities of materiel were taken, including artillery and trucks.

20th Indian Division meanwhile, with the armoured cars of the PAVO and the Stuarts of ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry roaming far in front and to the eastern flank, was making rapid progress in its advance from Meiktila.  The strategically important town of Taungdwingyi fell unopposed to 32nd Brigade on 14th April, thereby cutting Japanese main supply route to Magwe.  100th Brigade then took over the lead and screened by the light armour, pushed on south toward Allanmyo.  80th Brigade, with the entire 150th RAC under command, struck out west to take Magwe from the rear. 

At Magwe, 150th RAC carried out the very first and last full three-squadron regimental-strength attack ever conducted by a regiment of Lee/Grant tanks during WW2!  In North Africa, armoured regiments had never contained more than two squadrons of Lee/Grant and in Burma the terrain often precluded fielding anything more than a squadron or two, but at Magwe the 150th RAC was able to assault the town in full battle-array!  The town was taken almost without opposition and 80th Brigade rounded up hundreds of INA prisoners, many of whom seemed overjoyed to be captured.  150th RAC meanwhile had a field-day, shooting up boats attempting to escape west across the Irrawaddy.

On 22nd April, ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, probing south from Yenangyaung, made contact with 20th Indian Division at Magwe and XXXIII Corps was once again united.  The HQ, ‘A’ & ‘B’ Squadrons 3rd Carabiniers were immediately sent east with 268th Lorried Brigade to join 20th Division’s advance on Rangoon, though ‘C’ Squadron remained with 7th Division.  Aside from that one squadron, the entirety of 254th Indian Tank Brigade was now under 20th Division’s command and would provide the armoured punch for the advance.

West of the Irrawaddy, the 114th Brigade of 7th Indian Division had relieved the 28th East African Brigade and on 19th April started advancing south in concert with the division’s advance down the east bank.  Japanese resistance was stiff in this sector and was only increasing due to units arriving from the Arakan and from the ejected former garrisons of Chauk, Yenangyaung and Magwe.  However, with the fall of Mount Popa on 19th April and the crushing of all Japanese resistance on the east bank, the bulk of 7th Division, including ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers, were now transported over to the west bank.

British troops pass a former ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers Lee, on Mount Popa 20th April 1945.

The Lees of ‘C’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers provided the armoured ‘punch’ that 114th Brigade had been lacking in the previous weeks and consequently, 7th Indian Division with ‘C’ Squadron and 89th Brigade in the lead, was soon making good progress southward along the west bank.  On 28th April at Singaung, roughly opposite Magwe, the squadron engaged a troop of Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tanks (probably from the Japanese 54th Division Recce Regiment), destroying one and capturing two.  Capturing the town of Minbu on 29th April, they pushed on south but resistance once again stiffened and several tanks were lost to medium and large-calibre 75mm, 105mm and even 150mm artillery-pieces being deliberately sited in camouflaged, anti-tank ambush positions and firing at point-blank range. 

On 6th May one troop found itself facing its deadliest adversary yet; a captured British 25pdr Field Gun.  In a duel lasting almost half an hour, the troop commander’s tank stalked and exchanged enormous quantities of ammunition with the 25pdr until at last, his 75mm gun crew scored a direct hit, destroying the 25pdr and killing the entire Japanese crew.  This was to be ‘C’ Squadron’s final battle west of the Irrawaddy and they were released to rejoin their regiment, which was now advancing on Prome.

In the meantime, the rest of 3rd Carabiniers had been advancing south toward Allanmyo with 100th Brigade, at the head of 20th Indian Division.  150th RAC were following close behind, split between 32nd Brigade and 80th Brigade.  The PAVO and ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry as always, were patrolling aggressively on the flanks.  ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry suffered a tragic loss during this period, as their OC, who had won the DSO and two MCs during the previous year, was crushed as his tank rolled while attempting to negotiate a roadblock.  He was to die five months later. 

Allanmyo was reached on 28th April and 100th Brigade put in an attack, supported by the Carabiniers.  The 4/10th Gurkhas with ‘A’ Squadron in support, had a tough time capturing the northern end of the town and one Lee was knocked out by a Type 01 47mm Anti-Tank Gun.  However, the Japanese were eventually overwhelmed, suffering over 100 killed and the loss of one 47mm gun and two 75mm guns.

Shortly after the capture of Allanmyo, something new appeared in the midst of the Carabiniers… A Churchill infantry tank!  This solitary tank had been sent to 254th Tank Brigade on a trial basis, as the brigade was due to re-equip with Churchills and 149th RAC was already undergoing conversion back in India.  It appears to have been a Mk V armed with a 95mm close support howitzer, though it’s described as a 75mm-armed tank (Mk VI or Mk VII) in a number of secondary accounts.  However, reports indicate a severe difficulty in obtaining ammunition for it, which would not be the case with a 75mm-armed tank, as it would be able to use any 75mm ammunition used by the Lees and Shermans.  They were however, able to obtain some smoke ammunition for it and MG ammunition would not have been a problem, as it was armed with the same Besa MGs as the PAVO’s Daimler Armoured Cars.  Favourable reports were received regarding its cross-country and river-crossing performance, where it excelled when Lees bogged down, though it arrived too late to ever see action.

Stuart No.37 of ‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry, in the thick of the action near Prome, 29th April 1945.

‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers continued to push on with 100th Brigade toward Prome, fighting a number of sharp actions against Japanese roadblocks.  However, the monsoon had now broken and heavy rain was starting to swell the rivers, flood the paddies and make off-road movement extremely difficult.  On 2nd May, with the weather threatening to stall the advance, General Gracey ordered Lt Col Whetstone of the 3rd Carabiniers to form a column consisting of his regiment (which was still missing ‘C’ Squadron), ‘A’ Squadron PAVO, the 1/1st Gurkhas and a battery of Field Artillery and dash forward to seize the town by surprise and shock.  This mission was completed the following day without loss, the garrison having fled. 

‘C’ Squadron 7th Light Cavalry meanwhile, had a far harder time of it while screening the advance, losing an entire troop of three tanks to a single 47mm anti-tank gun and heavy artillery fire.  Nevertheless, aided by their Mortar Troop, the Indian cavalrymen exacted fine revenge over the next few days, eliminating a company-sized enemy force and capturing several 75mm guns and trucks, for no loss.  This was to be ‘C’ Squadron’s last action of the war, as they were soon ordered to halt their advance.  Baffled and angered by this order, they pretended not to hear it, but repeated orders finally persuaded them to stop.  The reason for this order would soon become clear: XV Corps had launched Operation DRACULA and preceded by an airborne assault, the 26th Indian Division had landed at Rangoon.  The main threat to XXXIII Corps was now perceived to be the Japanese 54th Division retreating from the Arakan.

However, with 7th Indian Division dealing effectively with the Japanese 54th Division on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddy, 20th Indian Division and 254th Indian Tank Brigade were ordered to resume the advance on Rangoon and prevent another Japanese formation, the 55th Division, which was based around Bassein, in the south-west corner of Burma, crossing the Irrawaddy from the west.  A cordon therefore needed to be established along the entire length of the Irrawaddy from Magwe to Rangoon. 

32nd Brigade, with 3rd Carabiniers and the PAVO under command, pressed on ever southward toward Tharawaddy, encountering little opposition except for one strong roadblock position on a river crossing, which was cleared with the support of ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers.  Tharawaddy was taken on 15th May and as the PAVO pushed on to the south, they encountered the infantry of 71st Brigade, 26th Indian Division, accompanied by the Shermans of 19th (KGVO) Lancers (50th Indian Tank Brigade) pushing north.  They had already been beaten to Rangoon by IV Corps, but there was still much celebration at the successful completion of their mission.  However, there were still some battles to fight and a troop of Shermans of the 19th Lancers joined ‘A’ Squadron 3rd Carabiniers in an assault on a Japanese strongpoint.  Most surprisingly, Japanese tanks were encountered and the Lancers (who had not fired a shot until this point) managed to capture a Type 95 Ha-Go in running order as a trophy (the 3rd Carabiniers didn’t argue, as they already had several).

XXXIII Corps continued throughout the monsoon in fighting several sharp battles along the line of their cordon, which was stretched very thin along the Irrawaddy, especially at the railway junction town of Letpadan.  However, 254th Indian Tank Brigade’s part in the campaign was over and in June they drove to Rangoon docks and were embarked on board ships bound for India.

Models, Painting and Markings

I actually covered all this at the bottom of Part 7, but it’s worth adding that while the tanks of 3rd Carabiniers were in the main marked with AoS signs and squadron tac-signs, those of 150th RAC seem to have been largely unmarked aside from Allied Stars and individual tank names.  That said, photographs of the brigade’s tanks in Burma are very sparse, so can’t really be taken as a representative sample.  The Stuarts of the 7th Light Cavalry had very clearly-marked squadron tac-signs on the turret, but other markings were generally obscured by enormous quantities of stowage!

A new standard scheme of AoS markings was ordered in 1944, but only 255th Indian Tank Brigade seems to have followed it and the tanks of 254th Tank Brigade seem to have mainly followed the earlier version, shown here.  As discussed last time, 7th Light Cavalry are something of a conundrum, apparently keeping their old markings (e.g. yellow squadron tac-signs), even after being bumped down the seniority list from 2nd to 4th place with the arrival of 149th RAC and 150th RAC.  I expect that this is largely due to the fact that they were in almost constant combat from March 1944 to May 1945 and they had better things to do than repaint markings!

Here is the 1944 regulation list of AoS markings as they SHOULD have been painted, which definitely weren’t painted on the brigade’s tanks until well after they returned to India in June 1945.  I include it here as it shows the full range of supporting units:

I’ve had enough of Jungle Green for a while, so my next post will be something more colourful!  However, I will be back to complete the ‘Burma Armour’ story with 255th Indian Tank Brigade.

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Burma Campaign. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Forgotten Wargames Army: XIVth Army in Burma (Part 8 – 254th Indian Tank Brigade on the Road to Mandalay (and Rangoon) 1944-45)

  1. Chris Kemp says:

    A very informative post.

    Regards, Chris.

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