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Kohima

By Arthur Swinson

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The only formation available to defend Kohima, apart from the fragmentary units of the garrison, was the 161st Indian Brigade which was now arriving. In the early evening its commander, ‘Daddy’ Warren, reported to 202 Area headquarters where Slim ‘put him in the picture’. Warren (to quote Slim) was ‘steady, unruffled, and slow speaking’. This is undoubtedly true; but he was also fast-thinking and fast-moving, and a very live wire indeed. His regiment was the 8th Punjab, and he spoke excellent Urdu and Punjabi, and was very good with the troops. […] On this hot, sticky evening in Dimapur, as Slim records: ‘… he heard me out, asked a few questions, and went quietly off to get on with the job. I hope I had as good an effect on him as he had on me.’ Warren’s job, of course, was to assemble his brigade and move it out to Kohima as soon as possible.

While Slim and Warren were talking, the advance guard of the 138th Regiment began their attack on the box at Jessami. Under covering fire from their machine-guns, the Japs rushed forward, hurling grenades and shouting their war cry—Banzai! Banzai! The men of the Assam Regiment held their fire till the attackers were close, then poured Bren and rifle fire into their ranks. The leading platoons were decimated and the assault was broken up, but time after time the Japs re-formed and came on again with fanatical courage. Often the pressure was so great that it seemed the defence must be over-run, but then attacks would be broken off just as suddenly as they had started.

Crouching in their bunkers, the Nagas, the Kukis, the Karsis, and all the tribesmen that went to make the Assam Regiment, changed their red-hot Bren barrels, reloaded their magazines, then waited for the next attack. Sometimes in the silence they could hear the whimpering of the Japanese wounded lying just outside the wire. This sound would be swamped by the prelude to a new assault… and so the night wore on. Only a few enemy soldiers managed to infiltrate through the outer perimeter, and they were despatched by the men in the supporting bunkers. When daylight came their bodies were searched and a unit flag and items of equipment were discovered. Obviously, these had to be sent back to Kohima at once and, from several volunteers, Lance-Naik Jogendra Nath and a sepoy were selected. Choosing their moment, they slipped down the western escarpment, disappeared into the jungle, and headed west.

Meanwhile, the rest of the unit brewed up tea and ate their breakfast, while the Japs provided them with the morning’s entertainment. This consisted of a strafe by the infantry gun, which did little damage, followed by appeals in English and Hindustani. ‘O, Indian soldiers, stop fighting for the British and come and join us. We are freeing your country from domination.’ Needless to say, there was no response to these invitations.

At Kharasom things were not so happy. The company there under Captain Young had now withstood an attack by vastly superior forces for two days and nights, and suffered a good many casualties. But all communication had been severed with battalion headquarters on the 27th so ‘Bruno’ Brown could only guess at the situation. And what worried him most of all was that he could do nothing to help.

During the morning there was a telephone call from General Scoones, who rang up from Imphal to ask what the situation was. Brown told him that it was under control at the moment, but his battalion could not be expected to hold out many days as the enemy forces increased. Scoones is said to have replied: ‘Keep on hitting them and we will see what help we can give you from this end.’ […] What was certain, however, as Brown realized only too well, was that the order to fight to the last man and the last round still stood; whatever happened, there could be no retreat.

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