The Burma Campaign

Burma Levies

During the Second World War in Burma, the British raised irregular units or “Levies” to operate as guerrillas in Japanese occupied territory.  The aim of these units was to harass the Japanese through acts of sabotage and attacks on installations and small outposts.  They would also provide a source of intelligence on Japanese intentions and actions.

The first such units were raised at the height of the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942.  With the help of the Oriental Mission (established by the Special Operations Executive or S.O.E.), these were formed in the Shan States, of Karens, and were able to hinder the Japanese advance by carrying out demolitions of roads and bridges.

Later, as the defeated British forces withdrew to India, a new force of levies was formed from Chin tribesmen in the Chin Hills, near the border with India.  Designated as the Western (Chin) Levies, it operated on the Burmese side of the border with India.  From inside territory not occupied by the Japanese, it operated against Japanese troops in the region between the Indian border and the Chindwin River.

In the north of the country, the Japanese advance slowed at Myitkyina, leaving the area around Fort Hertz unoccupied.  North Burma is home to the Kachin people, and in the late summer of 1942, a levy force was organised from these tribesmen in the area of Fort Hertz.  The force was titled the Northern (Kachin) Levies or just the Kachin Levies.  The Kachin levies immediately began the defence of their homeland in the area between Fort Hertz and Myitkyina.  They were supported by two companies of Gurkhas from the Burma Regiment.  From November 1943, a full battalion, the 4th Battalion, Burma Regiment, fought with the Kachin Levies and in 1944 supported the American-Chinese advance on Myitkyina.

A small unit force of Lahu Levies was also organised and operated in the southern part of the Kengtung State under the control of Mr. J.G.W. Evans of the Burma Frontier Service, in co-operation with the Chinese.  This force operated from December 1942 until Evans death on 8th April 1943.

From the latter half of 1944, S.O.E., now operating in Burma as Force 136, was instrumental in organising, training and equipping Karen levies to attack Japanese troops deep inside occupied Burma.  Growing to become a major guerrilla force and operating under the Force 136 Operation ‘Character’, in 1945 the Karens inflicted enormous casualties on the retreating Japanese.

02 April 2022