Frontal assault on Japanese bunkers at Kohima

View of the Garrison Hill battlefield with the British and Japanese positions shown. Garrison Hill was the key to the British defences at Kohima.
View of the Garrison Hill battlefield with the British and Japanese positions shown. Garrison Hill was the key to the British defences at Kohima.

In Burma the battle at Kohima continued in the area around the District administrators base. The balance was slowly shifting in favour of the British who were now trying to take up the offensive. Both sides were locked into an intense struggle with no quarter given.

In attempting to move against the Japanese the British were forced to attack strongly held positions on higher ground. The Japanese were well dug in into covered bunkers with only a narrow opening for their weapons.

Sometimes a gun or a tank could be brought to bear on such positions. On the morning of the 6th May the Norfolk Regiment had to attack a series of bunkers on a steep slope. The only option appeared to be a frontal assault.

Sergeant Bert Fitt took part in the two platoon assault led by Captain Randle:

We got about half way to the base of the [slope up to the bunkers]. The japanese had two light machine-gun posts which were carving us up terribly. Captain Randle had already been hit at least twice fairly heavily in the upper part of his body before we even got to the bottom [of the slope]. I shouted to him to go down and leave it to me, because I could see that he’d lost blood. He said,‘No! You take that left hand bunker; I’m going to take this right hand one’.

The japanese didn’t realise that I was coming up the slope ‘underneath’ them, as I had moved so quickly. I managed to push a grenade in through the slit and after four seconds it went off. I knew that anybody inside that bunker was either dead or knocked out. I immediately spun right because I thought I could get to where Captain Randle was before anything happened.

As I turned, I saw Captain Randle at the other bunker’s entrance. He had a grenade he was going to release into the bunker. I just stood there. I couldn’t do a thing to save him. If he could have held out for about three minutes I would have got on top of the bunker and knocked it out without getting hurt. But unfortunately he had been hit again at point—blank range.

As he was going down he threw his grenade into the bunker and he sealed the bunker entrance with his own body so that nobody could shoot out from it. But he had got the occupants, killed them. It was the main gun position and I am certain that’s why he went for it. He knew that if he didn’t knock it out it would be lights out for the rest of us. It was a quite deliberate act to block the opening of the bunker to save the remainder of the men. In doing so he was unfortunately killed.

I threw my grenade and I shot [a japanese] at the same time. That was where I used my last round of ammunition.

[Fitt went on to attack another bunker when a Japanese soldier emerged]

He had come out of the back door of the bunker behind me and I didn’t see him shoot. He got me through the side of the face underneath my jaw, took my top teeth out, fractured my maxilla and the bullet burnt along the side of my nose. It felt like just as if somebody with a clenched fist had just hit me. I spat out a handful of teeth and I spun round.

He was only a few paces away, facing me. He had a rifle and bayonet and I had a light machine-gun. I pressed the trigger but found I’d got no ammunition left. As he came towards me, I realised that it was either me or him. I was an unarmed combat instructor and knew I could go hand-to—hand against anybody with a rifle and bayonet. I therefore let him come and I crashed the gun straight into his face. Before he hit the ground I had my hand on his wind-pipe and I literally tried to tear it out. We were tossing over on the ground. I then managed to get the bayonet from his rifle and I finished him with that.

As I stood up, I heard a shout from 12 Platoon telling me that they were pinned down by another bunker I couldn’t see.They told me where it was as best they could. I threw a grenade over the top of the bunker and a chap who could see it yelled back a correction. I threw a second one. That was short, but it hit the ground before it got to the open bunker and it bounced straight into it, killing the occupants. There was still more bunkers over the other side.

One of my men, Corporal Sculforte, spotted one which was slightly over the crest to the left. He started going towards it. I yelled at him to stop but he didn’t. He continued for about a further four or five paces and was shot.

For this and many more personal accounts of the battle see Leslie Edwards: Kohima: The Furthest Battle.

Fitt was to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Randle the Victoria Cross:

On the 4th May, 1944, at Kohima in Assam, a Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment attacked the Japanese positions on a nearby ridge. Captain Randle took over command of the Company which was leading the attack when the Company Commander was severely wounded. His handling of a difficult situation in the face of heavy fire was masterly and although wounded himself in the knee by grenade splinters he continued to inspire his men by his initiative, courage and outstanding leadership until the Company had captured its objective and consolidated its position.

He then went forward and brought in all the wounded men who were lying outside the perimeter. In spite of his painful wound Captain Randle refused to be evacuated and insisted on carrying out a personal reconnaissance with great daring in bright moonlight prior to a further attack by his Company on the position to which the enemy had withdrawn.

At dawn on 6th May the attack opened, led by Captain Randle, and one of the platoons succeeded in reaching the crest of the hill held by the Japanese. Another platoon, however, ran into heavy medium machine gun fire from a bunker on the reverse slope of the feature. Captain Randle immediately appreciated that this particular bunker covered not only the rear of his new position but also the line of communication of the battalion and therefore the destruction of the enemy post was imperative if the operation was to succeed.

With utter disregard of the obvious danger to himself Captain Randle charged the Japanese machine gun post single-handed with rifle and bayonet. Although bleeding in the face and mortally wounded by numerous bursts of machine gun fire he reached the bunker and silenced the gun with a grenade thrown through the bunker slit. He then flung his body across the slit so that the aperture should be completely sealed.

The bravery shown by this officer could not have been surpassed and by his self-sacrifice he saved the lives of many of his men and enabled not only his own Company but the whole Battalion to gain its objective and win a decisive victory over the enemy.

Scene of devastation at Naga village near Kohima taken after fierce resistance from the Japanese, by the 7th Indian Division.
Scene of devastation at Naga village near Kohima taken after fierce resistance from the Japanese, by the 7th Indian Division.

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