In March the Japanese had launched their attack north through Burma and into India. It was a daring move that pushed their assault force deep through the jungle on very extended lines of supply. They hoped to make use of captured British supply bases in order to push on further into India.
Instead the Japanese found themselves fighting isolated battles at Imphal and Kohima, where the British stood their ground and defended their bases against wave after wave of attack. Intense fighting over small scraps of land had characterised both both battles, with fierce engagements at close quarters. The Japanese has exhausted themselves in both battles and were incapable of bringing in further supplies or reinforcements. They had already broken off the battle at Kohima and on the 3rd July they were forced to begin their retreat from Imphal.
In total it is estimated that the Japanese had suffered around 55,000 killed or wounded, they would suffer many more losses as they trekked back across the Arakan mountains to their main lines.
Senior Private Manabu Wada from the Transport section of the Japanese 131st Infantry regiment was one of the minority who survived to make the retreat:
At the beginning of the Imphal Operation the regiment was 3,800 strong. When our general gave the order to withdraw to the east we were reduced to just a few hundreds still alive. Without shelter from the rains, with boots that had rotted and had to be bound with grass, we began to trudge along the deep mud paths carrying our rifles without ammunition, leaning on sticks to support our weak bodies.
Our medical corps men slipped and slid as they carried the sick and wounded on stretchers or supported the ‘walking wounded’. Some of the orderlies were themselves so weak that they fell to the ground again and again until their physical and moral endurance was at an end, so that when a sick man cried out in pain they simply said, ‘If you complain we’ll just let you go, and throw you and the stretcher down the cliff side.’
Icy rain fell mercilessly on us and we lived day and night drenched to the skin and pierced with cold. I remember how we longed for a place, any place at all, where we could take shelter and rest. Once we found a tent in the jungle; inside it were the bodies of six nurses. We had never imagined there would be female victims, especially so far over the Arakan Mountains. Why, we asked one another, had the army not taken the nurses to a place of safety?
In another tent we found the bodies of three soldiers who had killed themselves. How could one ever forget such terrible, distressing sights as the dead nurses, and the soldiers who had taken their own lives? All I could do was to swear to myself that, somehow, I would survive.
Our path to safety lay beyond these Arakan Mountains covered in dense jungle. In the rain, with no place to sit, we took short spells of sleep standing on our feet. The bodies of our comrades who had struggled along the track before us lay all around, rain-sodden and giving off the stench of decomposition. The bones of some bodies were exposed.
Even with the support of our sticks we fell amongst the corpses again and again as we stumbled on rocks and tree roots made bare by the rain and attempted one more step, then one more step in our exhaustion.
Thousands upon thousands of maggots crept out of the bodies lying in streams and were carried away by the fast—flowing waters. Many of the dead soldiers’ bodies were no more than bleached bones. I cannot forget the sight of one corpse lying in a pool of knee-high water; all its flesh and blood had been dissolved by the maggots and the water so that now it was no more than a bleached uniform.
In my thirst I looked for clean water as I struggled to catch up with the division’s remnants. Once I found what I thought to be a spring whose water rippled out of a fissure in the rock. Filling my cupped hands, I was about to drink when I saw maggots oating in them and in disgust I threw it down. It was then that I found it was a stream where ten or more soldiers had come for water and were now no more than bones. Upstream beyond the skeletons I at last found water that I could drink. It was where the water buffalo drank.
We walked and walked endlessly along a road littered with corpses. With almost nothing to eat and our feet aching and legs weary, we used sticks to support ourselves until at last, several days later, I don’t know how many, we reached Tonhe. Although there were three or four houses there we found no villagers and assumed they must be hiding somewhere.