The Burma Campaign

14th (Shan States) Battalion, The Burma Rifles, Burma Territorial Force

The Battalion was authorised on 15th May 1941, being raised in the Shan States to guard Royal Air Force aerodromes.  It was officered by Shans, Karens and Burmese with the men being mainly Shans.  The majority of the officers were Shan Sawbwas ("tribal" chiefs).

The Battalion comprised initially of a Battalion Headquarters and three rifle companies, one of which was to be created by the transfer of a rifle company from the 13th (Shan States) Battalion, The Burma Rifles.  The role of the Battalion was to be largely static, being employed as aerodrome guards at Namsang and Heho, previously the responsibility of the Southern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force.  The third company was to be a Reserve Company providing reinforcements for both the 13th and the 14th Battalions.  The new battalion was equipped with four medium machine guns and four light machine guns.  It was embodied from the date on which it was raised.   The recruiting and training began from 1st April 1941 and was conducted in accordance with the Regulations for the Indian Territorial Force as made applicable to the Army in Burma.

The 14th Battalion was headquartered at Taunggyi, in the Southern Shan States.  It came under the administrative control of the Southern Shan Area.  The Commanding Officer was Lt. Colonel John Darley Tucker.[1]  Two other British Officers were also included on the establishment and were found from regular Burma Rifles battalions.  It was intended that they would be replaced by graduates from the then current Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.) course (presumed to be that which completed at Maymyo on 28th April 1941).

Initially only three companies were raised, however the fourth, ‘D’ Company, began forming at Taunggyi on 1st January 1942.  On 27th January, two anti-aircraft Light Machine Gun posts were established in Taunggyi at the No.2 Animal Transport Company Lines.  The Battalion was responsible for guarding bridges and supply dumps in and around Taunggyi.  From time to time train escorts were also provided.

After the fall of Rangoon in early March, the strategy for the defence of Burma was for the defence of the Southern Shan States to be handed over to the Chinese whilst British forces, comprised of the 1st Burma and 17th Indian Infantry Divisions, together with the 7th Armoured Brigade, came together for the defence of the Irrawaddy Valley around Prome.  As a result, the 1st Burma Infantry Division transferred to the Irrawaddy front, the last troops leaving Toungoo on 2nd March.  The Japanese launched a fierce attack on the Chinese defenders of Toungoo beginning on 24th March and the town fell six days later.   Some British troops remained in the Shan States, to the north of Toungoo, centred on Taunggyi and included the 14th Battalion, the Southern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force and No. 2 Special Service Detachment.

The Japanese advance continued into April, closing in on Taunggyi where, on 15th April, a rifleman of the Battalion was killed during an air raid by 27 Japanese bombers.  Town patrols and guard parties continued to do their work and there was little disorder in the town.  On 16th April 1942, Headquarters Southern Shan Area issued orders for the evacuation of Taunggyi.  The Battalion and the Southern Shan States Battalion, B.F.F., were detailed as the rear party and were to stay in Taunggyi until the Chinese withdrawal reached a line just south of the Taunggyi-Hopong road.  Headquarters and the two platoons of ‘B’ Company guarding bridges at Nantong and Nampawn were to hand these duties over to the Chinese, after which they were to join Headquarters 13th Battalion, The Burma Rifles.  Command of the rear party was given to Lt. Colonel Henry Courtney Brocklehurst, commander of No. 2 Special Service Detachment (S.S.D.).

Desertions and unauthorised absences had been an irritation for the Battalion since formation however things now took a decided turn for the worse.  On 14th April 1942, 16 riflemen deserted from the post at Shwenyaung, near Taunggyi, taking their arms and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.  On the night of 17th/18th April, all of "A’ Company bar 11 N.C.O.s and men deserted, taking their rifles and 26,000 rounds of ammunition.  The newly formed ‘D’ Company also suffered many desertions and the problem became so widespread that small arms and ammunition were withdrawn from the men and only issued when needed for guard and patrol duties.  On or around 17th April, the strength of the 14th Burma Rifles was approximately:

- ‘B’ Company (HQ and HQ Company only) - 40 men
- ‘C’ Company (reduced by a platoon) - 90 men
- ‘D’ Company (recruits) - 200 men.

However by the next day only around 100 men remained in total.

At 20:00 hours on 20th April 1942, Lt. Colonel Brocklehurst ordered the immediate evacuation of Taunggyi as Chinese resistance on the road to the south had collapsed.  The troops in Taunggyi headed north by stages and by the 22nd April, the 14th Battalion was camped at Indaw, north of Lawksawk.  Further desertions reduced the total strength to around 70 men.  During the ensuing withdrawal to India, most of these men fell out or deserted to return to their homes.  The Shans did not leave the Shan States and the last of the Kachins deserted in the Khodaung Hill Tracts, a mainly Kachin area.  By the time the River Shweli was crossed at Inginbin, on 17th May, only Battalion Headquarters and a handful of Chins remained.

Indaw was left on 26th April, the party marching by stages to Naungwo where, on 30th April, a large party of Karen Levies was met, led by Captain Thompson, detached from the 1st Burma Rifles, and Captain Nimmo.  That evening it was decided to split the Taunggyi Force into smaller groups, each of which would proceed independently to India.  The makeup of these parties was as follows:

- No.2 S.S.D. - about 3 British Officers and 20 British other ranks under Lt. Colonel Brocklehurst
- About 100 Indian other ranks from the Southern Shan States Battalion, under Captain Hutchinson
- A further 100 Indian other ranks, the balance of the Southern Shan States Battalion, under Captain Prentice
- 14th Burma Rifles - around 70 other ranks including 30 Gurkhas from the Southern Shan States Battalion, under the Battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Tucker.

There now began a long and difficult march.  For the most part the Battalion followed jungle tracks, often encountering signs of left by the Japanese.  Rivers were crossed using dugout canoes and hand-built bamboo rafts where no canoes could be found.  Information was sought from local villagers as to the location of the Japanese and their patrols.  On 5th May, a company-sized Japanese patrol was narrowly avoided.

On 2nd May, the 14th Battalion party grew when six men of the Southern Shan States Battalion Mounted Infantry Company  were met, having survived a Japanese ambush and losing touch with their unit.  On 8th May it was decided to break the party into smaller groups, as evading the Japanese was becoming more difficult.  The parties were made up as follows:

- 14th Burma Rifles personnel less the Indian followers
- The Gurkha party with the Indian followers
- The six Mounted Infantry
- A small party of 14th Burma Rifles Kachins who proceed independently.

The march then continued.  Kunhka was reached on 9th May and here four days later it was decided to aim for India via the route Myatdaung-Pinlebyu-Paungbyin-Tamu-Imphal.  The River Shweli was crossed by raft on the night of 14th/15th May.  It was crossed again near Inginbin on 17th May and the Irrawaddy was crossed by sampan on 18th/19th May 1942.  The River Chindwin was reached on or just after 26th May but could not be crossed immediately for fear of encountering the Japanese who were active in large numbers according to the reports of local villagers.  The Chindwin was eventually crossed on 31st May/1st June, near Lower Auktaung.  There then followed a difficult march made somewhat easier by the hiring of three elephants from the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation, a working party of whose was encountered in the forest.   

On 7th June, the Kalemyo-Tamu road was crossed as the monsoon arrived, bringing heavy rain.  On 10th June, near Shuganu, a post of the Assam Rifles was encountered.  Then two officers of the 23rd Indian Infantry Division were met, supervising the return of Chins to the Chin Hills.  The next day, the party was taken by Jeep to Palel.  On 12th June 1942, the party reported to the Headquarters 1st Burma Infantry Division and received orders to join up with the survivors of Burma Army at Ranchi.  The pitifully small party of the 14th Battalion that reached India consisted of Lt. Colonel Tucker, Captain Macpherson (Battalion Adjutant), Captain Mazumdar (attached to the party since the evacuation of Taunggyi), two Indian clerks of the Battalion, a mounted infantryman of the Southern Shan States Battalion and Captain Mazumdar's personal servant.

[The war diary is available at the National Archives at Kew as WO 172/986.  A transcription of the file, together with extensive footnotes gleaned from other sources, can be read or downloaded here.]

09 November 2017

[1] John Darley Tucker, born, 21st December 1897.  Gentleman Cadet from the Royal Military College commissioned into the Gloucestershire Regiment, 2nd Lt., 16th August 1916.  Appointed Indian Army as 2nd Lt. , on probation (AI 14), 16th August 1916, with seniority from 25th February 1918.  Served France, November 1916 to April 1917.  Promoted Lieutenant, 16th August 1917, with seniority from 25th February 1918.  Promoted Lieutenant, 16th February 1918.  As Lieutenant, attached 3rd Battalion, 70th Burma Rifles, 17th April 1918.  As acting Captain, Company Commander, the 3rd Battalion, 70th Burma Rifles, 23rd April 1918 to 2nd September 1919.  Served Iraq, wounded, August 1920 to December 1920.  Promoted to Captain, 16th August 1920.  Served with the 20th Burma Rifles from formation, 10th February 1922.  Indian Staff College, 24th August 1923 to 31st January 1928.  Instructor Army Signal School, 24th August 1923 to August 1925.  Served Burma (Saya San Rebellion), 1930-32.  Married Mabel Grace Staphylton, Rangoon, 10th December 1932.  Promoted to Major, 16th August 1934.  Served as Adjutant, Auxiliary Force India, 26th February 1935.  Served as Company Officer with the 3rd Battalion, The Burma Rifles and Adjutant, University Training Corps, April 1937 to end 1937.  Served with the 3rd Battalion, The Burma Rifles, April 1939.  Served with the 5th Battalion, The Burma Rifles (as Second in command during late 1940), Summer 1940 to February 1941.  As Major, served with 6th Battalion, The Burma Rifles, February 1941 to 19th January 1942.  As Major (acting Lt. Colonel), raised the 14th (Shan States) Battalion, The Burma Rifles, Burma Territorial Force, 15th May 1941. Possibly attached to the 3rd Battalion, The Burma Rifles for a few days after the fall of Tavoy, 20th January 1942.  As Lt. Colonel, Commanding Officer, the 14th (Shan States) Battalion, The Burma Rifles.  Led an increasingly small party of men of his battalion on the retreat from Taunggyi and subsequent trek to India, January 1942 to June 1942.  Promoted to Lt. Colonel, 16th August 1942.  Officer Commanding, No. 4 Holding & Enquiry Centre, 26th February 1946.  Retired, 19th March 1948.  Died in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, December 1980  ("War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941", Savannah (2004); British Army List; Wiki Tree - Tucker; Indian Army List; London Gazette; War Diary 14th Burma Rifles, WO 172/986 (War diary 14th Burma Rifles); War diary 2nd Burma Regiment, WO 172/10320; War Diary 3rd Burma Rifles, WO 172/976 (War diary 3rd Burma Rifles)).