Jungle firefight as Chindits ambush Japanese

Chindits prepare a railway bridge behind Japanese lines for destruction.

Chindits prepare a railway bridge behind Japanese lines for destruction.

As the Japanese continued their attack on Kohima in their attempt to break into India, they were also attempting to contain the Chindit operation deep inside Burma. The Chindits, a long range deep penetration operation behind Japanese lines, had established a number of strongpoints in the jungle. These were both operating bases and defensive positions. They contained rough airstrips by which the Chindits were resupplied and the wounded evacuated.

Through reconnaissance the Chindits were aware that the Japanese were closing in on one of the strong points, “White City”. Brigadier ‘Mad’ Mike Calvert led a strong force out into the jungle to take the attackers by surprise:

We ‘advanced with the Reconnaissance Regiment forming the spearhead immediately followed by my special ‘élite’ company of Gurkhas, under young Ian MacPherson, who acted as mobile reserve to go in whenever trouble was brewing. We went further north this time then turned in towards White City.

We met odd pockets of Japs on the way but they were no match for our force and we killed thirty or forty that day without loss to ourselves. By dusk we had reached a point about a mile south-east of the block, an ideal spot from which to go for the enemy as they gathered to attack White City. We camped for the night but lit no fires and the japs did not know we were there until the Reconnaissance Regiment took an enemy unit completely by surprise in a dawn raid. The reconnaissance boys drove a deep wedge into the Jap positions outside the block and the rest of the column moved up in support.

The battle was now well and truly on. The enemy realized that they were being attacked from the rear and turned on us ferociously. We estimated that well over 2,000 Japs were now squeezed between us and the block, which was only half a mile away at several points along our front. I had previously arranged with Gillmore that as we pushed the japs against his defences he would launch an attack from the block itself, and during the moming we could hear the Nigerians from White City, as they broke out among the now bewildered enemy.

But these Japs were good soldiers, well led and well equipped and willing to fight to the last man. They recovered and made a sudden counter-attack, catching my Brigade H.Q. in the crossfire of heavy machine—guns. We kept ourselves flat on the ground as the bullets scythed through the thick jungle undergrowth a couple of feet above our heads. The unfortunate mules carrying our wireless sets could not get down far enough. I watched fascinated as bullet holes appeared in rows along their bodies, little spurts of blood in line, before they crashed to the ground.

Suddenly we heard the roar of planes above our heads and I sighed with relief. Before the battle had really got going I had ordered the Mustangs for 1 p.m., when I reckoned the fighting would be at its height and they would be of most use. This time my gamble had paid off and my estimate was dead right. I rolled over and over until I was lying beside Mungo Park, my signals officer, who was in touch with White City on his wireless set. I asked the signals people to tell the Mustangs they had to be absolutely accurate with their bombing and strafing, as we were very close to the Japs.

To emphasize just how close we were Mungo told me I was shouting into the set and every time I spoke the japs fired in the direction of my voice. Then the Mustangs began diving, slap bang on target. We muffled our heads in our arms to shut out the roar of exploding bombs and the earth shivered and shook beneath our bellies. The strafing followed and again Cochrane’s boys showed off their pin-point accuracy. The Jap machine-guns stopped abruptly and the intense feeling of relief at our release from that stuttering menace brought tears to my eyes.

We had all had enough and it was time to move. The question was, which way? As we discussed it the forward reconnaissance boys reported that several well-dug-in Jap machine-guns were still capable of firing along the narrow valley between us and the block where so many of our men had died already.

See Michael Calvert: Fighting Mad: One Man’s Guerrilla War.

The men inside “White City” were from the Kings African Rifles. You can read much more about their contribution to the battle in Burma at Medal of Kar.

Chindits making tea at their jungle bivouac.

Chindits making tea at their jungle bivouac.

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