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VJ Day - The Indian and British Army against the Japanese in the Far East
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VJ Day - The Indian and British Army against the Japanese in the Far East
Future Events  |  05.24.2020 10:23 pm  |  464  |  A+ | a-

Indian Army during World War II

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For other periods, see British Indian Army.


British Indian Army

Red Ensign of India.










2.5 million men




The British Indian Army during World War II began the war, in 1939, numbering just under 200,000 men.[1] By the end of the war, it had become the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in August 1945.[1][2] Serving in divisions of infantry, armour and a fledgling airborne force, they fought on three continents in Africa, Europe and Asia.[1]

The British Indian Army fought in Ethiopia against the Italian Army, in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria against both the Italian and German Army, and, after the Italian surrender, against the German Army in Italy. However, the bulk of British Indian Army was committed to fighting the Japanese Army, first during the British defeats in Malaya and the retreat from Burma to the Indian border; later, after resting and refitting for the victorious advance back into Burma, as part of the largest British Empire army ever formed. These campaigns cost the lives of over 87,000 Indian servicemen, while another 34,354 were wounded, and 67,340 became prisoners of war.[3][4] Their valour was recognised with the award of some 4,000 decorations, and 18 members of British Indian Army were awarded the Victoria Cross or the George CrossField Marshal Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British Indian Army from 1942, asserted that the British "couldn't have come through both wars (World War I and II) if they hadn't had British Indian Army."[5][6] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also paid tribute to "The unsurpassed bravery of Indian soldiers and officers."[5]


Further information: List of Indian Army Brigades in World War II and List of regiments of the Indian Army (1922)

British Indian Army of 1939 was different from the British Indian Army during World War I, it had been reformed in 1922, moving away from single battalion regiments to multi-battalion regiments.[8] Overall, the army was reduced to 21 cavalry regiments and 107 infantry battalions.[9] The field army now consisted of four infantry divisions and five cavalry brigades.[10] There was a covering force of 12 infantry brigades to protect the North West Frontier from incursions and one third of the infantry, 43 battalions, were allocated to internal security and to aid the civil power.[10] In the 1930s, British Indian Army began a programme of modernisation—they now had their own artillery—the Indian Artillery Regiment—and the cavalry had started to mechanise.[11] By 1936, the Indian Army had committed to supplying in wartime a brigade each for Singapore, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, Burma and two for Egypt.[12] But, by 1939, further reductions had reduced British Indian Army to 18 cavalry regiments and 96 infantry battalions, in total 194,373 men including 34,155 non-combatants.[13] They could also call upon 15,000 men from the Frontier Irregular Force, 22,000 men from the Auxiliary Force (India), consisting of European and Anglo-Indian volunteers, 19,000 from the Indian Territorial Force, and 53,000 from the Indian State forces.[13] Muslim soldiers accounted for up to 40% of the British Indian Army during the war.[



The Battle of Kohima was the turning point of the Japanese U-Go offensive into India in 1944 during the Second World War. The battle was fought in three stages from 4 April to 22 June 1944 around the town of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland in northeast India. From 3 to 16 April, the Japanese attempted to capture Kohima ridge, a feature which dominated the road by which the besieged British and Indian troops of IV Corps at Imphal were supplied. By mid-April, the small British and Indian force at Kohima was relieved.

From 18 April to 13 May, British and Indian reinforcements counter-attacked to drive the Japanese from the positions they had captured. The Japanese abandoned the ridge at this point but continued to block the Kohima–Imphal road. From 16 May to 22 June, the British and Indian troops pursued the retreating Japanese and reopened the road. The battle ended on 22 June when British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 109, ending the Siege of Imphal.

The battle is often referred to as the "Stalingrad of the East".[5][6] In 2013, the British National Army Museum voted the Battle of Imphal and Kohima to be "Britain's Greatest Battle".[7]

On the Imphal-Kohima road

March 1944 and the Imperial Japanese Army had a clear objective, capture the Allied supply bases on the Imphal plain. Known as Operation U-Go, if successful, it would cut off Allied communications to China and allow them to take over the bases for an all-out assault on British India. The attack was known as the ‘March on Delhi’ and if successful, India would be opened up for the taking by the Axis. The Japanese General in the Burma operation was the veteran Renya Mutaguchi who had already served with distinction in China, Malaya and Singapore.

At his disposal he had three Japanese Divisions who were accompanied by one Indian National Army Division, eager to secure Indian independence. The British, meanwhile, could call on the 4th Corps, which included the 17th, 20th and 23rd Indian Divisions. After some fierce fighting, by early April, the Imphal-Kohima road had been severed and the British troops stationed at Kohima and Imphal had been surrounded. The Kohima contingent had less than 2,000 men and they were in for the fight of their lives against 15,000 Japanese soldiers.

The battle was primarily trench warfare, with the trenches only a few metres away from each other. The Japanese artillery was relentless throughout the day, with mortars, phosphorous bombs and sniper fire pinning the Allies down. The small area made the battle a free-for-all as many British and Indian soldiers fought for their lives with the orders barely filtering through from the top. Attempting to exhaust the defenders, the Japanese frequently called out their opponents to surrender. After a night of dogged resistance, reinforcements came in the shape of the 1st Punjab and Royal Berkshire regiments.

Garrison Hill had been saved but the Japanese still held on to the lower areas of the hill. There was an attempt by the Imperial Army to capture Kohima again on 22 April but this was unsuccessful. The exhausted British men finally managed to break out in June. The whole of May was spent trying to navigate through the interlocking Axis trenches that littered the hill and the retreating Japanese. The battle was so brutal that reports from the day state that many of the troops who survived were physically sick after inhaling the stench of rotting corpses. The over aggressive Mutaguchi had completely underestimated the Allies’ resolve and their expertise at holding the hilltop.


Kohima was one of the greatest land defeats ever felt by the Japanese Army. Only 20,000 of the 85,000 Japanese who had come to Burma were alive by the end of the campaign. Mutaguchi was relieved of command, recalled to Tokyo and given a forced retirement. The battle is forever known as ‘The Stalingrad of the East’ due to the backs-to-the-wall defence, as well as it being an integral turning point in the war in Asia. 4,000 Japanese soldiers were lost at Kohima and the victory galavanised the British, who were able to launch renewed offences as the last of the Japanese troopswere cleared from Burma and pushed back to Mandalay and Meiktila.

In a 2013 poll instigated by the National Army Museum, Imphal/Kohima was awarded the title of ‘Britain’s Greatest Battle’. It beat D-Day, Waterloo, Rorke’s Drift and Aliwal to the title. Lord Mountbatten described the victory at Imphal and Kohima as “probably one of the greatest battles in history… in effect the Battle of Burma [was] the British-Indian Thermopylae.”


At the end of every Remembrance Services Across the Commonwealth the following words are read out.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn 

At the going down of the Sun and in the Morning

We will remember them"

That section is dedicated to WW l


The service then ends with


"When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow

We gave our today"


That’s known as the KOHIMA after the battle and to remember ALL those who fought in WW ll, especially Indian Troops, as they were then.