The Burma Campaign

11th (Territorial) Battalion, Burma Rifles, Burma Territorial Force

The Battalion was formed in April 1937 from 11th (Territorial) Battalion, 20th Burma Rifles, originally the 1st (Territorial) Battalion, 70th Burma Rifles, raised on 3rd August 192, before becoming the 11/20th Battalion in 1922.  The Battalion was part of the Burma Territorial Force and was organised as two companies of Burmese and two of Karens.  It was based at Mandalay.

From September 1939, the Battalion remained in Mandalay under the command of the Maymyo Infantry Brigade Area.  In October 1940, the Battalion was reported to be composed of a Headquarters and four rifle companies, with a strength of three British Officers, 15 Indian and Indian/Burma Officers (G.C.O.s) and 335 Other Ranks.  An increase in strength was authorised early in 1941 and the return for February 1941 gives a strength of three British Officers, 20 Indian and Burma Officers (G.C.O.s) and 625 Other Ranks.[1]

By June 41, the Battalion was under the command of Upper Burma Area and still in Mandalay.

Under the command of Central Area, by December 1941, the Battalion had taken up railway security duties for the railways between Mandalay and Pegu.[2]  Detachments were located as follows:[3]

- Bridge 392  Mandalay-Rangoon Railway - two sections
- Mytinge River Bridge - one platoon
- Yonbin River Bridge - two sections
- Swachaung River Bridge - two sections
- Sittang River Bridge - two sections
- Sinthechaung River Bridge - two sections
- Samon River Bridge - two sections.

On 17th February 1942, a company was ordered to Magwe to take over the defences at the aerodrome.  The next day, a guard detachment was sent to Ywada to guard the ammunition dump there.

During March, the Battalion continued to be responsible for railway security on the main line from Mandalay to Pegu and for the railway bridge over the Sittang River.  Guard points were maintained in Mandalay and at Taungdwingyi; one company provided a guard for the ammunition dump there.  Battalion Headquarters and the balance of the Battalion remained at Hill Barracks, Mandalay.  Around the middle of March, the company at Magwe aerodrome was relieved and was ordered to hand over its light machine guns and 100 rifles to re-equip regular units which had lost their arms at the Sittang disaster.  This company was then sent to augment the guard at Taungdwingyi.  A number of desertions occurred and the company was disarmed and disembodied.  There was a steady flow of desertions from the remaining two Burmese companies throughout the rest of the month.  However, only one desertion was recorded from the two Karen companies.  At Pegu at the end of the month, a railway protection post was surrounded and one G.C.O. and 20 men captured.  Two escaped and later returned to the Battalion.

At the beginning of April all railway security posts south of Thazi were recalled to Mandalay, given that first line troops were now operating in the area.  The handover of arms to first line units continued in early April and no doubt contributed to the rising rate of desertions.  All Burmese who wished to return to their homes were now allowed to do so.  By this time the Battalion was around 340 strong, organised into two companies of mainly Karens.  Only about a dozen Burmese soldiers remained. 

On 22nd April, the remnants of the 12th Battalion, The Burma Rifles arrived in Mandalay and absorbed men from the Depot of the 11th Burma Rifles and recruits from Maymyo.[4]  A Karen company was sent north through Madaya to improve the road from there to Singu on the Irrawaddy.  On 26th April, the 12th Burma Rifles came under command of the commander of the 11th Battalion, Lt. Colonel P.C. Tudor-Craig.  The Commanding Officer of the 12th Burma Rifles had left the Battalion the previous day to take up the post of Commander Sagiang.  The 11th and 12th Burma Rifles boarded a river steamer and headed for Katha.  Battalion Headquarters proceeded by road across the Ava Bridge to Kyaukmaung where a south bound steamer was boarded and taken to join up with the company of Karens at Singu.  This whole detachment was then collected by the steamer from Mandalay and taken with the rest of the Battalion to Katha.

Having reached Katha on 1st May 1942, the 11th and 12th Battalions marched to Naba on 3rd May.  Here, they came under the orders of the C.O. of the 4th Battalion, The Burma Rifles and all were ordered to take charge of the area and hold it until the last of the hospital trains had passed through.  The trains passed through the next day and the remaining men were now given the choice of going to India or of being disembodied.  All chose to return home except for three Karen riflemen.  The remainder were paid off at Indaw on 5th May 1942 from where the three British Officers and three Karen riflemen set off for India.


 [The remains of the war diary are available at the National Archives at Kew as WO 172/983.  A transcription of the file, together with footnotes gleaned from other sources, can be read or downloaded here.]


08 November 2017

[1] WO 106/3567.

[2] The war diary of the 12th Burma Rifles states that the Battalion's responsibilities for railway security were taken over by the 11th Battalion from 15th January 1942 (WO 172/984).

[3] “Indian Official History, The Retreat from Burma 1941-1942”.

[4] WO 172/984.