The Burma Campaign

1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A., B.A.F.

The 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A., Burma Auxiliary Force came into being in the summer of 1941.  Preparations for the formation of the new unit had, however, begun earlier.  As the threat of war with Japan grew, in February 1941, a new Burma Auxiliary Force unit was created for air defence, the 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, R.A., B.A.F., initially equipped with 20 light machine guns. This unit was commanded by the then Major H.T. Hogan and remained as part of the Rangoon Field Brigade until 15th August 1941 when the battery was detached to form part of the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A., B.A.F.  Around 200 all ranks had been training since May 1941 and the remaining personnel joined the Regiment from late August 1941.  It appears that some of the men, or at least some of the officers, went to Singapore to be taught anti-aircraft gunnery.[1] 

The Regiment was commanded by Lt. Colonel H.T. Hogan, assisted by the Adjutant, Captain C.F. Gracie.  It was formed of two batteries, the 1st Heavy and the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Batteries.  Given it was formed of both a heavy and a light battery, the Regiment was technically an “Anti-Aircraft” unit, rather than a “Heavy Anti-Aircraft” unit, and it is sometimes referred to as the 1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A., B.A.F.[2]

Officers of the Burma Auxiliary Force

Officers and men of the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft and the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Batteries, 1st Heavy Antiaircraft Regiment, R.A., Burma Auxiliary Force - date assumed to be mid/late 1941, Rangoon.

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When the war with Japan began in December 1941, the 1st H.A.A. Battery was equipped with four 3.7-inch mobile guns under the command of Major H.H. Jackson.  One section of the Battery, with two guns, was at Dundeedaw and the other was at Ahlone, covering Rangoon docks.  The 3rd L.A.A. Battery, under Major J. Irving, was equipped with eight 40mm Bofors Mk I guns and was thus formed of only two troops.  One troop was at Syriam, protecting the oil refinery and installations, the other was deployed at Mingaladon Aerodrome, having been sent there the day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.  Although many men had received training prior to the war, others went into action with only twelve weeks training from enlistment.[3]

Just prior to the first Japanese air raid on Rangoon, on 23rd December 1941, four static 3.7-inch guns arrived by sea at Rangoon.  After having been unloaded and in the process of being prepared for action, these new arrivals were caught in the raid.  Two of the guns, still in their protective jackets, were lying out in the open and were hit.  One was damaged by fire but the other was bent out of true and unusable.  It seems the fire-damaged gun was put into service, giving three static and four mobile 3.7-inch guns for the defence of Rangoon.  The Japanese raid not only targeted the docks but also the aerodrome at Mingaladon and one bomb struck a Bofors gun of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, killing one officer, one N.C.O. and five gunners.[4] 

The Japanese committed a large number of aircraft to the raid, 45 twin-engined Mitsubishi Ki 21 ‘Sally’ bombers attacked the docks and harbour while fifteen Ki 21s and 27 single-engined Mitsubishi Ki 30 ‘Ann’ bombers attacked the aerodrome.  The force was escorted by 30 Nakajima Ki 27 or Type 97 ‘Nate’ fighters.  This aerial armada was intercepted by British and American fighters, the latter from the American Volunteer Group – the ‘Flying Tigers’ – and engaged by the guns of the B.A.F.  The fighters scored several victories and three Japanese aircraft were claimed destroyed by the guns of the B.A.F.  The Japanese recorded losses of seven Ki 27s and an additional Ki 27 crashed while returning to base.  However, much damage had been done to the city and there may have been as many 1,000-2,000 civilian deaths with many more injured.  A second raid on Christmas Day involved 98 Japanese bombers escorted by 57 fighters.  As before, the Japanese force divided to attack Mingaladon and Rangoon.  Mingaladon aerodrome suffered heavy damage and a number of British fighter aircraft were destroyed on the ground.  In Rangoon, civilian casualties were very heavy, as many as 5,000 were killed and the surviving civilians left the city in large numbers.  No damage or casualties were suffered by the B.A.F. and the gunners claimed one Japanese plane shot down.[5]

Throughout December 1941, the 1st H.A.A. Regiment, B.A.F. had attempted to expand but this was hampered by a shortage of officers and guns.  Twelve officers were on their way from the United Kingdom, where they had been delayed while they were taught Burmese, even through the language used by the 1st H.A.A. Regiment was English.  It is not known whether these men ever arrived.  Equipment and guns did reach Rangoon, but the gun-laying radar sets (“G.L. sets”) and four 3.7-inch guns were not unloaded.  This turned out to have been the correct decision as the guns were of the static type and would have been destroyed later, when Rangoon was evacuated.[6]

Although additional guns for the B.A.F. were fated not to arrive, anti-aircraft reinforcements were received.  The Indian 8th Heavy and 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Batteries disembarked at Rangoon on 31st December 1941, bringing with them eight 3-inch and twelve Bofors guns respectively, all mobile. The Indian heavy guns went to Syriam and the Battery H.Q. and two troops of Bofors of the 3rd Indian L.A.A. Battery relieved the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. at Mingaladon, the latter moving to positions covering Rangoon docks.  On 5th January 1942, the third troop, ’C’ Troop, of Indian light gunners was sent to Moulmein.  The Bofors gun damaged in the air raid of 23rd December was repaired and on 9th January was put back into service and taken across the Rangoon River to the King’s Bank Fort.  On 16th January 1942, the final anti-aircraft reinforcements arrived when the British 8th H.A.A. Battery disembarked at Rangoon with four 3-inch mobile guns.  This battery went immediately to Syriam and relieved the 8th Indian H.A.A. Battery which moved to Martaban, where two guns of the Battery had been protecting the ferry to Moulmein since 12th January.  No further daylight raids took place on Rangoon, but there were frequent night raids on Mingaladon aerodrome.[7]

The ‘C’ Troop of the 3rd Indian L.A.A. Battery lost all four of its guns at Moulmein when the town was evacuated on 31st January 1942 in the face of Japanese attack.  This loss was made up by the transfer of four guns from the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F.  The remaining four guns of the B.A.F. battery remained at Rangoon docks, with Battery Headquarters at Monkey Point, until the city was evacuated in March 1942.  As the Japanese advance continued, towards the end of February, it became clear that Rangoon would have to be abandoned.  The 1st H.A.A. Regiment made preparations to become mobile, receiving additional vehicles and acquiring others left on the docks or in the city’s streets.  Ammunition was sent by train to Mandalay, where dummy gun sites were constructed beginning on 28th February.  Positions were reconnoitred for four 3.7-inch static guns but, as mentioned above, these were never unloaded.  The Regiment now suffered many desertions, primarily of men whose families lived in areas now occupied by the Japanese or under immediate threat of occupation.  However, there were always more trained men available than equipment so no gun was ever out of operation for lack of men to serve it.[8]

On 7th March 1942, Rangoon was abandoned to the Japanese.  The four mobile 3.7-inch heavy guns and the four remaining Bofors of the Regiment left the city.  The static guns and ammunition at Ahlone were blown up by Major Jackson.  Ammunition and spare barrels at Kyaikasan were destroyed by Lt. Colonel Hogan and Bofors ammunition was either blown up or thrown into the lake at Jamal Villa.  The 1st H.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. was ordered to Magwe and the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. to defend the bridges at Hmawbi and Thonze.  However, all units were halted by the Japanese roadblock at Taukkyan, along with the Rangoon garrison and elements of the   17th Indian Infantry Division.  At this point, all the anti-aircraft artillery in Burma went into action around Taukkyan.  The next day, a small Japanese air raid was driven off by anti-aircraft fire and later the Japanese withdrew from their roadblock.  As the 1st H.A.A. Regiment moved off for Magwe, a new Japanese raid damaged one Bofors gun and killed two B.A.F. gunners.  The gun had to be left behind but was recovered and repaired by fitters of the 7th Armoured Brigade who returned the gun to the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. 48 hours later.[9]

Throughout March, elements of the Regiment were almost constantly on the move as the British retreated northwards.  On 9th March, the 1st H.A.A. Battery arrived at Prome and the 3rd L.A.A. Battery defended a road bridge near Letpadan.  The next day, Letpadan railway station was bombed but the bridge was not attacked.  The 1st H.A.A. Battery defended Magwe aerodrome on 11th March and at Okpo on 14th March, the 3rd L.A.A. Battery defended the headquarters of the 17th Indian Infantry Division.  Two days later, the 3rd L.A.A. Battery moved to Prome and then to Magwe on 17th March.  The anti-aircraft defence of Magwe aerodrome was now entirely the responsibility of the B.A.F.  On the afternoon of 21st March, the aerodrome was the subject of a heavy raid, during which four gunners were killed.  More raids followed the next day and following the destruction of many aircraft, the Royal Air Force decided to abandon the aerodrome and left for Lashio.  The R.A.F. asked that they be given protection by the 1st H.A.A. Regiment and the guns set off in support.  The route took the R.A.F. across Pin Chaung and Gokteik Gorge.  The crossing at Pin Chaung was covered by the light guns of the 3rd Battery which then set off for Gokteik.  The heavy guns of the 1st Battery, meanwhile, were moving to Lashio.  The Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel Hogan, sought clarification of his orders from Army Headquarters and upon his arrival there on the evening of 23rd March, was told that orders had been issued for all guns to be halted at Meiktila.  The next morning, the B.A.F. was ordered back to Magwe.  The 3rd Battery had already passed Meiktila before the orders were received and was stopped at Mandalay.  The entire Regiment then returned to Magwe, being in action there on the afternoon of 26th March.[10]

There was a light raid on Magwe on 31st March during which one of the light guns was set on fire.  Captain A.T. Cockle, Sergeant Reich and Lance Sergeant DeGlanville succeeded in putting out the fire with no casualties and little damage to the equipment.  On 4th April, orders were received for the Regiment to move to Meiktila that evening.  On the morning of 6th April, while en route, new orders directed that the Regiment should go on to Mandalay, but not before all ranks had been inoculated against cholera.  Leaving Meiktila, the Regiment reached Mandalay on 8th April and was in action just in time to fire on a light high level bombing raid.  One Japanese aircraft was claimed but not confirmed.[11]

The Regiment remained in Mandalay until 28th April 1942.  Assistance was given in the gathering and evacuation of women and children from Maymyo, Mandalay and other places.  Some left by train, others by river steamer.  Some reached Myitkyina where they were flown to India but many had to trek on foot and there were many deaths.  The narrative account maintained by the Regiment records Japanese air raids on Mandalay on 23rd, 24th and 26th April.  The city had been devastated in a major raid on Good Friday, 3rd April, and the Japanese returned to disrupt the British withdrawal.  B.A.F. claims for this period were one Japanese aircraft destroyed on 23rd April and one hit on 24th April.  One Bofors of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery was sent to Kyauktalon on 26th April to operate as an anti-boat gun on the Irrawaddy.  Its place was taken by four 0.5-inch calibre Browning machine guns which the Regiment had been manning since Magwe.[12]  There were ten of these guns in total but they were never all serviceable at the same time.  Men from the Rangoon Field Brigade assisted in manning these guns.  On 27th April, the Regiment less the anti-boat gun went to the Sagaing area to protect the Ava Bridge.  There were two air raids that day, although no bombs were heard to fall, and two Japanese planes were claimed destroyed.  Three days later, there was a high level bombing  raid which may have been aimed at either the bridge or the landing ghat, near which most of the bombs fell.  Two men of the Rangoon Field Brigade manning the Browning machine guns were killed and two wounded.  The Regiment claimed two Japanese bombers hit and one destroyed.[13]

The Regiment moved to Shwebo on the evening of 30th April, where 27 Japanese bombers were engaged the next day but no bombs were dropped.  The 3rd L.A.A. Battery was ordered by Army Headquarters to move to Yeu during the afternoon of 1st May, followed by the 1st H.A.A. Battery later that night.  The heavy battery engaged a formation of Japanese bombers on 2nd May but claimed no hits.  During the day of 3rd May, Lt. Rodrigues’ section of heavy guns was strafed by two Japanese fighters which inflicted no damage.  That night, heavy small arms fire was heard near the vicinity of Lt. Rodrigues position and although patrols were sent out, no Japanese were encountered and there was no attack.  Fearing such an attack, however, Lt. Rodrigues destroyed the height finder and predictor and prepared to destroy his two guns.[14]

On 4th May, as the senior anti-aircraft officer available, Lt. Colonel Hogan was ordered to destroy all anti-aircraft guns except for the four Bofors of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F.  The guns ordered to be destroyed were: four 3.7-inch of the 1st H.A.A. Battery, B.A.F.; nine Bofors of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, Indian Artillery; two 3-inch of the 8th H.A.A. Battery, Royal Artillery; two 3-inch guns of the 8th H.A.A. Battery, Indian Artillery.  Hogan went immediately to the General Slim, the commander of Burma Corps, and succeeded in persuading the General to countermand the orders.  Only those guns deemed too wide for the track to Shwegyin, the 3.7-inch guns of the 1st H.A.A. Battery, and the 3-inch guns, of the Indian 8th H.A.A. Battery, which were not fully mobile, were actually destroyed.  The 3-inch guns of the British 8th H.A.A. Battery, four of the nine Bofors from the Indian 3rd L.A.A. Battery and four from the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. eventually reached Shwegyin.[15]

Early on 5th May, the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. went to cover the crossing of the Yeu canal.  Before all the guns could be deployed in their allotted positions, four Japanese fighters flew low over the bridge to be protected.  The guns engaged the planes from where they were and the fighters were driven off without having dropped any bombs or fired their machine guns.  All the serviceable Browning machine guns were taken on to Shwegyin by 2nd Lt. Green of the 1st H.A.A. Regiment and 2nd Lt. Miller of the Rangoon Field Brigade.  Here, they were to defend the Chindwin crossing.  The 1st H.A.A. Battery, no without guns, marched towards Shwegyin.  The 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. was ordered to Pyingaing which was reached in the early hours of 6th May.  The Battery moved on to Shwegyin, arriving the next day, and took up positions defending the valley running down to the ferry at the river.  There were two low flying attacks on 8th and 9th May during which the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F. shot down two Japanese aircraft and claimed to have damaged two more.[16]

On 9th May, all the remaining guns in Burma were deployed to protect the ferry across the Chindwin at Shwegyin.  The guns were supposed to cross the river during the night of 10th/11th May but on the morning of 10th May the Japanese arrived in the area and began an immediate attack during which the ferry was damaged.  As a result, the guns could not be got across the river.  That evening, the guns were destroyed and the men of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, B.A.F., together with the other troops, set off on foot for a night march up the Chindwin to a point opposite Kalewa where they were ferried across the river.  With the men of the 1st H.A.A. Battery marching a day or two ahead of the 3rd Battery, the anti-aircraft gunners of the B.A.F. trekked to India.  During this last march, Sergeant Goddin shot down a Japanese plane with his rifle or Tommy gun, an event that was certified by a chit handed to him by an excited Major of the Rajput Regiment.  Throughout the final trek, the gunners of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery were assisted by the 1st Field Regiment, Indian Artillery in carrying their packs, the sick and the lame.  From Palel, which was reached on 17th May, the men were carried by lorry until at Milestone 118 from Dimapur, just to the north of Imphal, the 3rd L.A.A. Battery caught up with the 1st H.A.A. Battery.  On 19th May, both Batteries marched to Kankpokpi at Milestone 105.  Without shelter and only a handful of tents, the men were forced to camp in driving rain.  There was much sickness and this continued throughout the two weeks the Regiment spent in camp and in transit to Mhow.  On 24th May, the Regiment was taken by lorry to Dimapur where the next day it left by train for Ranchi.  On 29th May, the Regiment went into a camp near Milestone 36 outside of Ranchi.  The Regiment eventually arrived at Mhow on 16th June 1942.  Here the losses were counted and the victories assessed.  The total number of Japanese aircraft confirmed as destroyed by the Regiment during the campaign was nineteen – fifteen for the 1st H.A.A. Battery and four by the 3rd L.A.A. Battery.  The first eight planes shot down by the heavy battery were brought down for an average of only sixteen rounds per gun.[17]

On arrival in India, all B.A.F. personnel were concentrated at Mhow and initially reorganised into: the 5th Field Battery, R.A., B.A.F.; the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, R.A., B.A.F.; the 1st Coast Defence Battery, R.A., B.A.F.; a B.A.F. depot and record office.  The 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery went to Risalpur to be re-equipped before returning to Mhow.  As part of the expansion of the Burma Intelligence Corps, it was decided to replace non-B.A.F. personnel in the existing four B.I.C. platoons with B.A.F. men and to raise an additional two platoons also from the B.A.F.  To meet this demand it was agreed to disband both the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, B.A.F. at Mhow and the 5th Field Battery, B.A.F. at Ranchi.  The decision was authorised by the Governor of Burma on 26th January 1943.  The 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Battery was also located at Mhow but does not appear on the Burma Army Staff Tables from September 1942 onwards.  However, the Battery continues to be listed in the India Command Orders of Battle until September 1943.[18]

Officers and men of the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, B.A.F., at Mhow, India

Surviving officers and men of the 3rd L.A.A. Battery, Burma Auxiliary Force on being reunited at Mhow, India, May 1942.

Captain Cockle is seated 5th from left , 2nd row from the front. Lt.Colonel Hogan is seated on Cockle's left.

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25 February 2020

[1] War diary Rangoon Field Brigade, WO 172/640; War diary 1st H.A.A. Regiment, B.A.F., WO 172/749; Diary notes, A.H. Jenner, Burma 1942

[2] WO 172/749

[3] WO 172/749

[4] WO 172/749

[5] ‘Bloody Shambles’, Vol 1, Shores C., Cull, B, Yasuho Izawa, Grub Street (1992)

[6] WO 172/749

[7] WO 172/749; War diary 8th H.A.A. Battery, R.A., WO 172/757; War diary 8th Indian H.A.A. Battery, WO 172/835; War diary 3rd Indian L.A.A. Battery, WO 172/843

[8] WO 172/749

[9] WO 172/749

[10] WO 172/749

[11] WO 172/749

[12] These machine guns may have been those originally manned by the Anti-Aircraft Company, Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F.  The Company was formed on 13th January 1942 and manned the guns at Mingaladon aerodrome and, by the end of the month, Zayatkwin airfield.  When Mingaladon was evacuated, the Company went to the Highland Queen airfield at Hmawbi.  Later, the Company went to Magwe where the guns were handed over to the Royal Air Force.  This appears to have been a different unit from the (1st) Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Battery, Royal Artillery, B.A.F., which appears in the Burma Army List for October 1940 and July 1941 (War Diary of Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force, WO 172/310).

[13] WO 172/749

[14] WO 172/749

[15] WO 172/835; WO 172/2431; WO 172/749

[16] WO 172/749

[17] WO 172/749

[18] FO 643/2; IOR L/WS/1/1313; WO 106/4587; India Command Orders of Battle, WO 33/198, WO 33/203, WO 33/2146