Bitter struggle to end Japanese resistance in Mandalay

Two British soldiers on patrol in the ruins of the Burmese town of Bahe during the advance on Mandalay.

Two British soldiers on patrol in the ruins of the Burmese town of Bahe during the advance on Mandalay.

Troops of the Indian 19th Division in action against Japanese positions on Mandalay Hill overlooking the city.

Troops of the Indian 19th Division in action against Japanese positions on Mandalay Hill overlooking the city.

A Japanese supply dump burning in Mandalay after an Allied air attack.

A Japanese supply dump burning in Mandalay after an Allied air attack.

The British advance south in Burma was making dramatic strides. After taking Meiktila they moved on to Mandalay, arriving on the outskirts of the city on the 9th March.

There followed some very intense, fierce fighting as the Japanese sought to defend their positions from underground bunkers established in old Buddhist temples and catacombs. The terrain was very different but the techniques for overcoming the Japanese would have been very familiar to the US Marines on Iwo Jima.

John Masters was an officer with the 19th Indian ‘Dagger’ Division:

We stood, so to speak, on top of Mandalay. We also stood, at much closer range, on top of a good many Japanese. The temples, cellars and mysterious chambers covering Mandalay Hill were made of reinforced concrete.

The 4th Gurkhas had taken the summit, and no Japanese was alive and visible; but scores of them were alive, invisible, in the subterranean chambers.

A gruesome campaign of extermination began, among the temples of one of the most sacred places of the Buddhist faith. Sikh machine-gunners sat all day on the flat roofs, their guns aimed down the hill on either side of the covered stairway.

Every now and then a Japanese put out his head and fired a quick upward shot. A Sikh got a bullet through his brain five yards from me.

Our engineers brought up beehive charges, blew holes through the concrete, poured in petrol, and fired a Very light down the holes. Sullen explosions rocked the buildings and the japanese rolled out into the open, but firing. Our machine-gurmers pressed their thumb-pieces. The japanese fell, burning.

We blew in huge steel doors with Piats, rolled in kegs of petrol or oil, and set them on fire with tracer bullets.

Our infantry fought into the tunnels behind a hail of grenades, and licking sheets of fire from flame-throwers. Grimly, under the stench of burning bodies and the growing pall of decay, past the equally repellent Buddhist statuary (showing famine, pestilence, men eaten by vultures) the battalions fought their way down the ridge to the southern foot — to face the moat and the thirty-foot-thick walls of Fort Dufferin.

Pete brought up the medium artillery, and the 5-5s hurled their 60-pound shells at the wall, over open sights, from four hundred yards. The shells made no impression. He called in the air force. P-47s tried skip bombing, B-24s dropped some 1,000-pound bombs, some inside the fort and some outside – among our troops.

See John Masters: The Road Past Mandalay

It was not until the 21st that the British found a way into the old redoubt of Fort Dufferin through the sewers – but the remaining Japanese had withdrawn during the preceding night.

Royal Air Force Thunderbolt fighters in formation during operations against Mandalay. In order to clear the Japanese from Mandalay the Allies made full use of their air superiority.

Royal Air Force Thunderbolt fighters in formation during operations against Mandalay. In order to clear the Japanese from Mandalay the Allies made full use of their air superiority.

British artillery bombards Fort Dufferin, the key to the Japanese defences at Mandalay.

British artillery bombards Fort Dufferin, the key to the Japanese defences at Mandalay.

An aerial view of Fort Dufferin at Mandalay under aerial attack.

An aerial view of Fort Dufferin at Mandalay under aerial attack.

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