The Burma Campaign

The Burma Military Police

The Burma Military Police was created from units of the Indian Army after the suppression of the disorders following the 1852 annexation of the country by the British  It was expanded in the same manner after the 1885 annexation of Upper Burma following the Third Anglo-Burmese War.  The purpose of the force was the maintenance of internal security.  Battalions were created in the main within the districts they served and the number of battalions and their constituent companies varied over time.  Immediately prior to separation, there had been nine battalions of Burma Military Police, predominantly Indian and Gurkha in composition, with around a quarter being Karens. 

In April 1937, six battalions, those which were largely Indian and Gurkha in composition, became the Burma Frontier Force.   After April 1937, the three remaining battalions of Burma Military Police were governed by the Civil Administration under the Burma Home Office.  As such they came under the Inspector-General of Police and with a Deputy Inspector-General of Military Police.[1]  The Burma Military Police were by now largely responsible for supporting the Civil Police in addition to internal security duties.[2]

Before the separation of Burma from India on 1st April 1937, the infantry units which came to be included in the Burma Army - the Burma Rifles and the Burma Military Police were officered exclusively by British regular officers of the Indian Army.  From 1st April 1937, officers for the Burma Rifles, the Burma Frontier Force and the Burma Military Police were found by the secondment of British Service officers as well as Indian Army officers for a tour of four years, extensible to five.  All officers were placed at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding, Burma Army who decided the officer postings between the three forces.  Officers serving with the Burma Frontier Force and the Burma Military Police served as Commandants and Assistant Commandants.  Following the outbreak of war, additional officers were found by the appointment of officers from the Army in Burma Reserve of Officers (ABRO).

After the separation of the Burma Government from India, the battalions of the Burma Military Police that remained were:

- The 1st and 2nd Rangoon Battalions, Burma Military Police
- The Mandalay Battalion, Burma Military Police.

The large force of two battalions of over 2,000 men deployed in Rangoon was as a result of the civil disturbances and riots that occurred during 1938.  It was felt prudent to retain a large force in case of renewed unrest.

In early 1940, the Governor ordered an expansion of the Burma Military Police, transferring 452 men recruited for the Burma Frontier Force to the Burma Military Police.  In early 1942, the Governor also authorised a temporary increase for two years in the strength of the Burma Military Police, this being the addition of two Training Companies of around 250 men.[3]  These companies appear to have been allocated one each to the 1st and 2nd Rangoon Battalions.[4]  The strength returns for February 1941 gave a total of 4,301 men, distributed as follows:

- 1st Rangoon Battalion: 1,421
- 2nd Rangoon Battalion: 1,129
- Mandalay Battalion:      1,751.[5]

The Burma Military Police was therefore a civil police force and its personnel were not under military law.  The officers, although drawn from the Army, took their seniority and derived their powers of discipline and punishment from the civil law and its rules.  The men were trained in the use of modern firearms and it was considered that they might augment the fighting strength of the Burma Army if occasion demanded.  As the threat of war increased, in November 1941 the Governor of Burma authorised an ordinance enabling the Burma Military Police to be placed under the control of the General Officer Commanding, Burma Army in the event of war.  As a uniformed force the Burma Military Police came under the protection of the Hague Convention.[6]

Although organised and administered as three battalions, the tactical unit of the Burma Military Police was the platoon.  Platoons were assigned tasks and posts and provided smaller detachments as required.  After the Japanese invasion and following the evacuation from Rangoon and the withdrawal northwards, all three battalions provided detachments in support of the Burma Army.  During 1941, the Army began giving small unit tactical training to the Burma Military Police but this was interrupted by the outbreak of the war with Japan on 7th December 1941.[7]

In addition to duties in the city, the Rangoon Battalions found garrisons at the Headquarters of Districts along the coast line from Victoria Point up through the Tenasserim Area to Akyab and in Burma up to a line drawn slightly north of Toungoo and Prome.  The posts in the Tenasserim Area withdrew as the Japanese advanced throughout January and February 1942 and most of the men came in to the Battalion Headquarters in Rangoon.[8]

From February 1942, the Rangoon Battalions were largely under the control of the 17th Indian Infantry Division.  In February, the Burma Military Police provided platoons to undertake coast watching duties, on the alert for a Japanese seaborne landing.  Throughout the retreat that followed the loss of Rangoon, Burma Military Police detachments provided patrols on the flanks of the Division and came to be valued for their ability to obtain intelligence from local villagers.  In the latter stages of the withdrawal to India, the Burma Military Police provided guards and escorts for the lines of communication and transport.  A large party remained with the 17th Indian Infantry Division until India was reached in May 1942.[9] 

The Mandalay Battalion provided detachments under the control of various Lines of Communication commands.  The Battalion’s main role was the protection of the rail lines between Mandalay and Myitkyina.  The Battalion Headquarters were at Mandalay with posts stretching from Thayetmyo to Katha.  The Battalion Headquarters remained at Mandalay almost to the end and witnessed the town being destroyed by bombing attacks.  During these raids, assistance of all kinds was given and law and order was maintained.  Escorts and guards at different points were also provided.  Many of the Burmans in the Battalion deserted but some remained faithful to their posts until the Battalion marched out to India.[10]

On or shortly after 20th February 1942, whilst the majority of the 1st and 2nd Rangoon Battalions were leaving Rangoon for Tharrawaddy, it was announced that the Burma Military Police had come under the control of the army.[11]

On 25th March, the 1st Burma Corps, or ‘Burcorps’, issued orders for a reorganisation of the Frontier Force mobile detachments within the Corps.  As part of the Corps Staff there would be a new post, Commander Corps Frontier Force and Lt. Colonel G.G. Pryce assumed this role at Allanmyo on 29th March.  The 17th Indian and the 1st Burma Divisions would each have a Commander Frontier Force officer on their staff who would be responsible to the Division Commander for the allocation and administration of the Frontier Force units allotted to the division.  The Commandos and the Burma Military Police then operating under Corps command were to be incorporated within this new organisation.  On 1st April, Burcorps ordered the disbandment of the 1st and 2nd Rangoon Battalions, Burma Military Police and the incorporation of the these units into the current Burma Frontier Force organisation, under the administrative control of the Inspector-General, Burma Frontier Force, and the operational control of the Corps and Divisional Commanders Frontier Force, as ordered previously by the Commander-in-Chief.  The Mounted Infantry of the Mandalay Battalion were also ordered to be transferred to the Burma Frontier Force.[12]

After the escape of the Burma Military Police from Prome to Taungdwingyi, it was decided on 6th April that one party from the Rangoon Battalions would remain with the 17th Indian Infantry Division and the remainder would go to Myitkyina to re-equip.  Myitkyina was by now the location of the Rear Headquarters of the Burma Frontier Force and the Myitkyina Battalion, Burma Frontier Force was acting as a holding battalion for men of the Burma Frontier Force and the Burma Military Police.  On 1st May 1942, men of the Burma Military Police at Myitkyina were transferred to the Myitkyina Battalion, Burma Frontier Force.[13]

In Myitkyina on 4th May, Brigadier J.F. Bowerman assumed command of the Burma Frontier Force, and the Burma Military Police, the latter having been placed under the control of the Inspector-General, Burma Frontier Force in April 1942.   The evacuation of Myitkyina began on 7th May and accompanied by the Senior Staff Officer, Burma Frontier Force, Bowerman arrived in India by the Hukawng Valley route.  From Assam he was immediately flown to General Headquarters India in Delhi, to obtain orders as to the future of the Frontier Force and the Burma Military Police.  His orders were that all members of both Forces were to be sent to Hoshiarpur, in the Punjab, where a reception depot was formed.  Drafts of men began arriving at Hoshiarpur from 15th June 1942.  A Force Headquarters and a Headquarters for each Battalion were opened.  As they arrived, the men were registered, given advances of pay, replacement clothing and sent to their homes on war leave.  During the period June to December 1942, approximately 10,000 all ranks passed through Hoshiarpur.  On return from leave, the men were sorted out, medically graded, and those found suitable for further service were eventually drafted to Battalions of The Burma Regiment.  This new Regiment was formed from Burma Rifles, Burma Frontier Force and Burma Military Police personnel on 1st October 1942.  Considerable difficulty was experienced during this period of reorganisation owing to very few senior British Officers being present, to the large amount of sickness among both officers and men and to the difficulty in obtaining arms and equipment with which to commence training.[14]

13 November 2017


[1] WO 106/3675

[2] "The Lineages and Composition of Gurkha Regiments in British Service", by J.L. Chapple (1984)

[3] WO 106/3675

[4] “Report of Burma Military Police” by Major H. Chappell, WO 203/5693

[5] WO 106/3675

[6] WO 106/3675

[7] WO 203/5693

[8] “Burma Frontier Force, Report on the B.F.F. 1939-1942”by Brigadier J.F. Bowerman, WO 203/5692

[9] WO 203/5693

[10] “Burma Invaded 1942”, Enriquez, C.M; Private papers of Lt. Colonel A.W.S. Learmond

[11] WO 203/5693

[12] “Burma Frontier Force, 1939-1942”, by Lt. Colonel H.M. Day, WO 203/5694; War diary of the 1st Burma Corps, WO 172/403

[13] WO 203/5693

[14] WO 203/5694