The Burma Campaign

Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force

[This transcript is taken from The National Archives document, WO172/310.  The file consists of three sections of photo-stated notes, one section hand-written, the remaining two typed, presumably in India after the retreat.  The third of these sections is the war diary of the Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force - reproduced here with additional notes, these follow the diary, below.]

The Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force, was embodied on 6th December 1941 for its three day annual training camp at Mingaladon Airport north of Rangoon, Burma, and was thus already at its “action station” when a state of war with Japan was declared on 7th December 1941.

The section was equipped with four armoured cars – “Snipe”, “Kestrel”, “Eagle” and “Hawk” each mounting one Vickers .303 LMG.  The strength of the section was then three officers namely the OC [Officer Commanding], two sub-section commanders and 30 ORs.

On the outbreak of war with Japan the duties of the section consisted of the protection of Mingaladon Airport against saboteurs and attacks by parachutists and/or airborne troops.  The area of operations for the section was confined to within the perimeter of the airport and the section’s original camp was sited in a rubber plantation approximately 500 yards from the main bomb storage huts.  After all the slit-trenches and other passive air defence positions had been constructed it was decided that a strength of only one car commander, one gunner and one driver per car together with one officers would be maintained on the airport at any one time and the section was accordingly divided so that each crew was relieved weekly with the exception of those who had volunteered to remain on the airport for longer periods.  Daily anti-sabotage patrols were undertaken and training continued.   All cars were serviced and maintained by their own crews.

The Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. in 1936.

The Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. in 1936.

Mingaladon Airport was first bombed by the Japanese on 23rd December 1941 and again on 25th December 1941.  During the latter raid the rubber plantation in which the armoured cars were parked was subjected to a severe attack resulting in one car, “Eagle” being put temporarily out of action whilst “Snipe” and “Kestrel” suffered minor damage.  There were no casualties amongst the personnel.  “Eagle” was towed to Rangoon where it was repaired in Autocars workshop and returned in serviceable condition within approximately one week.  “Snipe” was then driven to Rangoon where its damaged radiator was repaired and returned with a few hours.  Other minor repairs on both “Snipe” and “Kestrel” were effected by their crews.

During the night 26th/27th December 1941, the section’s original camp was evacuated and the armoured cars took up new positions at Rawlinson Barracks which had been abandoned by the Gloucestershire Regiment.  The new positions were some 500 yards outside the perimeter of the airport and a detachment of signallers from the Gloucester Regiment was attached to the section for the main purpose of manning an OP [observation post] which was constructed in a tree overlooking the airport.  These positions were occupied until 8th February 1942 during which period, despite innumerable bombing raids, the cars suffered no further damage and there were no casualties.

On 9th February 1942 orders were received from Brigade HQ Thaton [46th Indian Infantry Brigade] for one sub-section (“Eagle” and “Hawk”) to escort an officer of a Gurkha Rifles regiment to Martaban where he had to deliver an important message [the 3rd Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles was defending Martaban, the telephone line to Brigade HQ at Thaton was cut on the morning of 9th February.  The important message was the order for the Gurkhas to withdraw from Martaban].  The remaining sub-section (“Snipe” and “Kestrel”) were ordered to escort another officer to Pa'an.  It was found, however, that the cars were too heavy to be ferried across the Salween River and, accordingly, “Snipe” and “Kestrel” returned to Thaton.

“Eagle” and “Hawk” left Thaton at 1200hrs on 9th February for Martaban and the Gurkha Rifles officer and the sub-section commander travelling in the leading car “Eagle”.  On reaching a point approximately 12 miles from Martaban the sub-section met a Gurkha Rifles patrol who informed the sub-section commander that the patrol had made contact with an enemy patrol in the vicinity of a point approximately eight miles from Martaban and, being outnumbered, had to withdraw [the Japanese had landed a detachment  west of Martaban and had in fact established a roadblock around milestone 8, near Paung].  The sub-section commander warned crews of the positions and it was decided to endeavour to reach Martaban.  When within 10 miles of Martaban the sub-section was subjected to an attack by enemy bombers but suffered no casualties or damage to the vehicles.  The sub-section encountered fire from their front and both flanks by enemy LMGs using armour piercing bullets.  In the leading car, “Eagle”, the Gurkha Rifles officer, the sub-section commander and the driver were wounded and the Gurkha Rifles officer subsequently died of his wounds.  The enemy fire was returned by both cars and, despite his wound in his leg, the driver of “Eagle” was able to turn his car round and drove back in the direction of Thaton.  After proceeding approximately one and a half miles the engine of this car seized as its radiator had been badly pierced during the action and the car was subsequently towed to Thaton by a lorry.  The remaining car, “Hawk”, engaged the enemy at the road block, but in attempting to turn about the engine stalled and the driver was unable to restart the car.  In a brisk engagement lasting approximately fifteen minutes the enemy fire from the west side of the road was silenced but the car commander and the driver were wounded.  The driver was eventually able to restart his engine and drove the car back to Thaton arriving at 18:30hrs.  The wounded were treated at the CCS and sent to Pegu Hospital.  The damaged cars were sent to Rangoon and subsequently to Myitnge and thence to Mandalay where it was found impossible to repair them. [the road block was subsequently cleared at bayonet point by two companies of 3/7th Gurkhas on the afternoon of February 9th.  The Martaban garrison withdrew on its own initiative, reaching Thaton on 11th February.]

The strength of the Armoured Car Section was now reduced to two officers and 11 ORs with one armoured car, “Kestrel”.  Soon after dawn on 22nd February 1942 the two officers proceeded to the Sittang Bridge to obtain orders from the Brigadier.  Whilst they were away the enemy made a surprise attack on the camp [the Japanese were attempting to capture the Sittang Bridge and prevent the British withdrawal over it].  The men, who were doing daily maintenance and having the morning meal were unable to man their armoured car although a lance corporal shot two Japanese with a rifle he had been able to secure.  The OC returned to the scene of action and, in an attempt to reach the armoured car, was shot down sustaining wounds in the leg and cutting his head in falling.  It is feared that the armoured car fell into Japanese hands.

The Armoured Car Section was subsequently reformed in Mandalay as part of the Burma Battalion, BAF, but, having no AFVs, was not again in action.


The Armoured Cars

[Based on information kindly provided by David Fletcher of The Tank Museum, Bovington, Dorset. Website]

The cars used by the BAF were Rolls Royce Indian Pattern armoured cars, dating from 1922.  The Indian Government had ordered the cars to their own design, hence the designation 'Indian Pattern'.  The cars were based on a 1920 Rolls Royce chassis but unlike the more familiar Rolls Royce armoured cars used elsewhere by the British, the Indian Pattern cars did not have the platform at the rear.  Instead the hull armour was extended over the back axle to provide extra space for the crew, ammunition and stowage.  The turret was a dome shape with four ball-type machine gun mountings.  The guns were normally mounted with two facing forward or one forward and one to the rear on opposite sides of the turret.  The guns used were the Vickers .303inch Mark 1.  The hull was lined throughout with asbestos with the purpose of keeping the interior cool.  A very similar looking car based on a Crossley chassis was produced in 1923.

The cars used by the BAF were originally issued to the 9th Armoured Car Company, Royal Tank Corps.  By 1936 most armoured cars in service in India had been replaced by light tanks and the cars were distributed to volunteer forces in India and neighbouring countries.  The BAF cars were equipped with a single machine gun only, probably due to the limited supply of guns at the time.


13 November 2017