The Burma Campaign

The Kachin Levies

By June 1942, the Japanese completed their eviction of the British from colonial Burma.  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 it was thought that they might remain loyal to the British and aggressive towards the Japanese.  It was hoped that they might be organised into guerrilla bands to harass the Japanese.  In late August, two British officers, Lt. Colonel W.M.F. Gamble and Captain Edmund Leach, flew to Fort Hertz with the object of raising just such a guerrilla force.  By November 1942, with its headquarters located mid-way between Myitkyina and Fort Hertz at Sumprabum, the force had reached a strength of 500 men and small detachments had been ambushing the Japanese to the south.  By early 1943, the force had grown to six companies in strength.  By now, this force was referred to as the North (Kachin) Levies, distinguishing it from the Western (Chin) Levies operating on the border with India.  The North (Kachin) Levies were often referred to as just The Kachin Levies.[1] [2]

The Kachin Levies resisted the Japanese occupation from late 1942 from their base at Fort Hertz.  In this task they had been reinforced by two companies of Gurkhas of The Burma Regiment.  During 1944, further reinforced by the 4th Battalion, The Burma Regiment, the Kachin Levies took part in the advance from Fort Hertz to recapture Sumprabum.  This operation was conducted in support of the attack on Myitkyina by the American and Chinese under Stilwell.  The combined force of Levies and the 4th Battalion, Burma Regiment went on to Myitkyina where the town was finally taken by Stilwell’s troops during August 1944.  The Kachin Levies then went into camp at Mankrin, on the northern edge of Myitkyina.  Many officers went on war leave and on 10th November 1944, the majority of the men also went on war leave in anticipation of the formation of a new Kachin Rifles battalion.[3]

The 1st Kachin Rifles began forming on 2nd February 1945 at Myitkyina, under the Headquarters, Fort Hertz Area, under the overall command of the Lines of Communication Command.  It was formed largely from former members of the Northern (Kachin) Levies.  It was thought that a second battalion would be raised later, when sufficient recruits had been allocated to the first battalion.  The 2nd Battalion was in fact raised during May and June 1945.[4]

Major Philip Lynton Hope served with the Kachin Levies between 1943 and 1945.  His story is told here.


01 April 2022

[1] Walter Morris Felix Gamble born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 26th November 1896.  Served in the ranks with the Australian Imperial Force, assigned to the 15th Light Trench-Mortar Battery as Private, 28th May 1915 to 8th August 1916.  Served Gallipoli, 1st September 1915 to 20th December 1915.  Served Egypt, 5th January 1916 to 5th April 1916.  Served France, 19th July 1916 to November 1917.  Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Australian Imperial Force, 9th August 1916.  Awarded the Military Cross for action at Polygon Wood, Belgium 1917, award gazetted, 19th November 1917.  As Lieutenant, Australian Imperial Force, commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant on admission to the Indian Army on probation, 25th March 1918, with seniority from 9th May 1917.  Arrived in India, 28th March 1918.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 9th May 1918.  Attached to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Punjab Regiment from 23rd August 1918.  Attached to the 91st Punjabis (3rd Battalion, 8th Punjab Regiment), appointed temporary Captain whilst serving as a Platoon commander at a School of Instruction, 26th October 1918.  Platoon Commander, Officers School of Instruction, Bangalore, 1918-1919.  Appointed to the Indian Army as Lieutenant, 25th March 1919.  Served Waziristan, 1921-23.  Promoted to Captain, 1st May 1921.  Served North West Frontier of India, 1930-31.  Served Burma (Saya San Rebellion), 1930-32.  Served as Assistant Commandant with the Burma Military Police, 5th October 1931.  Served as Assistant Commandant with the Western Battalion, Burma Military Police at Fort Hertz, October 1932 to April 1933.  Transferred to the Special Unemployed List, 9th September 1935.  Promoted to Major, 1st May 1938.  Acting Lt. Colonel from 1st August 1938.  Served as D.A.A.G., Northern Command from 7th June 1940.  Arrived at Fort Hertz to take command of the area and to raise and command the Northern Kachin Levies, September 1942.  Relieved of command of Fort Hertz Area and the Northern Kachin Levies, August 1943.  As Major, temporary Lt. Colonel, awarded O.B.E., gazetted, 16th December 1943.  As temporary Lt. Colonel (AI 41), O.B.E., M.C., mentioned in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Burma, gazetted, 19th July 1945 ("War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941", Savannah (2004); “Amiable Assassins: The Story of the Kachin Guerrillas of North Burma”, Ian Fellowes-Gordon, R. Hale (1957); Burma Army List 1943; Indian Army List 1919, 1932, 193, 1941; London Gazette).

[2] Edmund Ronald Leach born, 7th November 1910.  Educated at Marlborough and Clare College, Cambridge where he graduated with honours in Engineering, 1st January 1932.  Went to study the Kachin Hills of Burma, 1939.  Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, ABRO (ABRO 79), 10th November 1939.  Served with the 1st Battalion, The Burma Rifles, October 1940 to December 1940.  War substantive Lieutenant, temporary Captain, 15th June 1941.  Served with the 10th (Training) Battalion, The Burma Rifles, 1941.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 17th October 1941.  Served with the 3rd Battalion, The Burma Rifles (not verified), 1942?.  Seconded to the "X" List (wounded?), January 1942.  Appointed to organise the Kachin Levies, April 1942 to May 1942.  Trekked out of Burma to China, May 1942.  As acting Major, flew to Fort Hertz to organise the Northern Kachin Levies with Lt. Colonel Gamble, August 1942.  Transferred to the Civil Affairs Service (Burma) after quarrelling with Lt. Colonel Gamble and being reduced in rank to 2nd Lieutenant, August-September 1942.  Transferred to the Civil Affairs Service (Burma), August-September 1942.  Became a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics, 1946.  Received a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the London School of Economics, 1947.  Became a lecturer at Cambridge University, later being promoted to reader, 1953.  Elected provost of King's College, Cambridge, 1st January 1966.  Knighted, 1975.  Retired, 1979.  Died, Cambridge, 6th January 1989 ("Amiable Assassins, The Story of the Kachin Guerrillas of North Burma", Fellowes-Gordon I., Robert Hale (1957);"Edmund Leach", Tambiah S.J., British Academy; "Burma Levies 1942", WO 203/5712; Burma Army List January 1940; Burma Army List October 1940; Burma Army List 1943; Burma Defence Services July List 1941;

[3] War diary of the Kachin Levies 1944, WO 172/5042

[4] “Burma Army Re-organisation”, WO 203/503