The Burma Campaign

Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force

The Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, came into being following the separation of Burma from India in 1937.  Prior to this and dating back to April 1892 there had been a battalion of the same title with the Burma Military Police.  The Battalion Headquarters were at Lashio.[1]

In 1939 the Battalion was organised with a headquarters company, a training company, ten rifle companies and two mounted infantry troops.  Companies consisted of three platoons and a Company Headquarters Platoon but automatic weapons were restricted to one Lewis gun per company and there were no mortars in the Force.[2]  The sanctioned strength of the Battalion was 1,163 infantry and 70 mounted infantry.  Around half these together with the mounted infantry were located with Battalion Headquarters at Lashio.  Outposts were maintained at Hsawnglong, Manhkum, Hohsawn, Lufang, Kyuhkok, Kutkai.  Additional posts were manned during the “open season” (the dry season, between October/November and March/April) at Tawnio, Tangyan and Kunlong.[3]

At the time of the outbreak of war with Japan, B.F.F. outposts had been reduced to a minimum and Battalions were little more than Training Centres containing recruits, and long service men unfit for active duty.[4]  The Battalion Commandant from 1937 until early 1942 was Major A.E. Cartmel, formerly of the 20th Lancers.[5] [6]

In 1941 the Battalion maintained garrisons in the Wa States, eastward along the Upper Salween, and northward along the border with Yunnan, China.  Two main outposts were at Kutkai and Kyuhkok and a company provided security for the landing ground at Lashio.  In Lashio itself were detachments and recruits, together with Battalion Headquarters.[7]  With Battalion Headquarters in Lashio were the Commandant, Lt. Colonel Cartmel, the Second-in-Command and Adjutant, Major R.D. Low[8] and the recently commissioned 2nd Lieutenants T.C. Hutchinson[9] and H. Braund[10].  The Officer Commanding the outpost at Kutkai was 2nd Lieutenant L.G. Gaudie.[11] [12]

Around September 1941, the Battalion provided a company of Kachins to the Burma Frontier Force mobile detachment F.F.1, to replace a company given up to help form F.F.4.[13] 

Between late 1941 and March 1942 the command of the Battalion changed three times in six months.   On 25th April the Commandant, was Lt. Colonel J.R.K. Wallace[14] who had been recalled from retirement and had been in charge for less than a month, had only one inexperienced Assistant Commandant with him who was in a very indifferent state of health and who was evacuated to Myitkyina on 1st May.[15]

By April 1942 the Japanese were in sight of victory and their rapid advance northwards from Loilem caught the defenders of Lashio unprepared for evacuation.  Only a limited amount of motor transport was available to evacuate men and supplies.  The situation was made more complicated by the stream of troops belonging to the Southern Shan States Area Headquarters and evacuees passing through from Taunggyi and Maymyo.  The roads were also filled with large numbers of transport from the Chinese 5th Army returning to China as part of the Chinese withdrawal.  The Northern Shan States Battalion took up defensive positions covering the southern approach to Lashio.  A company was also posted north of the town to protect any withdrawal from Lashio and to prevent the town from being cut off should the Japanese circle around it. [16]

During 25th April Japanese reconnaissance planes attacked the aerodrome and the Burma Frontier Force lines on two occasions.  The Chinese Expeditionary Force Headquarters decided to withdraw towards China and began making preparations to blow the bridges north of Lashio.  The R.A.F. and supply units also carried out the destruction of stores and equipment.  In the evening firing broke out at several points south of Lashio and a considerable number of men deserted their posts and headed northwards.  At dark the Battalion Commandant marched out northwards with the remaining men, collecting stragglers as far as possible until they reached the bridge over the Shweli River at Manwing.[17]

Orders were given to Lt. Colonel Wallace to delay the enemy as far as possible at this bridge and to destroy it before retiring.  The necessary preparations for the demolitions were made, but no officer trained in demolitions remained at the bridge.  On 3rd May the Japanese advanced in a column of lorries with machine-guns mounted on the vehicles.  The covering troops were rushed and the fuses of the demolition charges were damp and would not ignite.  The defenders were pushed away from the bridge and it was taken intact by the Japanese.  Wallace and the majority of men with him were cut off at the bridge.   It was at this point that Wallace was killed (according to a Japanese account by one of his own men).  Additional demolitions along the road across the bridge were not carried out and the Japanese were able to drive on to Bhamo.[18]

Forming at least part of the defence of the Shweli Bridge was a mobile column formed from the Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Frontier Force.  During 1941 a detachment of three platoons of Kumaonis of the Chin Hills Battalion had been provided for the guarding of selected railway bridges in the Lashio area.  Brought up to a strength of 108 all ranks, the detachment was later formed into a Landing Ground Mobile column for the defence of Namshan aerodrome.  After the Japanese breakthrough in the Shan States the column first moved to Lashio and from there on to Kutkai and then to the Shweli Bridge on the Bhamo Road.  Here the column was ordered to defend the bridge, presumably coming under the command of Lt. Colonel Wallace.  On the day of the Japanese attack a detachment of the column under Jemadar Devi Chand and Nand Ram were sent on patrol towards Namkham to the south east.  This patrol ran into the Japanese and was cut off.  Of the remainder at the bridge, only a few men of the column were on the Bhamo side of the bridge.  The rest, on the Lashio side under the command of Subedar Rattan Sing, were cut off when the Japanese rushed the bridge.  According to this account the Japanese used light tanks to rush the bridge against which the men had no suitable weapons or training.  Of the 108 men of the column, less than 40 survived the engagement at and around the Shweli Bridge.  All Governor’s Commissioned Officers were lost and a survivor reported that all prisoners taken in the engagement were lined up and bayoneted by the Japanese.  Most of the survivors retreated to China from where they were flown back to India some months later.[19]

The surviving stragglers from Lashio, with no British Officer to take charge of them, pushed northwards until they reached Assam.  Elsewhere the indigenous garrisons stationed in the Wa States remained in Burma but the remainder, Indians and Gurkhas, with the Assistant Commandant in charge, made their way to India with extreme difficulty via Myitkyina.[20]

On reaching India, the men were sent on in drafts from the immediate border area to Hoshiarpur in the Punjab which had been nominated as the centre for the collection and reorganisation of the Burma Army.  On arrival at Hoshiarpur, along with others of the B.F.F. and B.M.P., the men were registered, given advances of pay, replacement clothing and sent to their homes on war leave.  On return from leave, the men were sorted out and medically graded.  Those found suitable for further service were eventually drafted to Battalions of the Burma Regiment which was formed from B.F.F. and B.M.P. personnel on 1st October 1942.  Initially six infantry battalions were raised, with a mounted infantry and a training battalion also planned, all organised into two administrative brigade.[21]

17 November 2017

[1] “The Lineages and Composition of Gurkha Regiments in British Service", J.L. Chapple, 1984

[2]Burma Frontier Force … 1939-1942” By Lt. Col H.M. Day, WO 203/5694

[3] “Burma Frontier Force”, WO 106/3673

[4] WO 203/5694

[5] Indian Army List

[6] Alfred Edward Cartmel, born 11th May 1893.  Served as Private, the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, Territorial Force, before 1914.  Served in the ranks, Mobilised with the Territorial Force, three years 339 days, August 1914 to 9th July 1918.  Served Egypt, January 1915 to April 1915.  Served Gallipoli, July 1915 to December 1915.  Served Egypt, December 1915 to March 1916.  Served Iraq, April 1916 to August 1918.  Mentioned in Despatches, gazetted, 15th August 1917.  As Serjeant (105084 (formerly 1471)), 1/1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry (St. Albans), awarded the Military Medal, gazetted, 22nd October 1917.  Temporary 2nd Lt., from IATC, Indian Army, attached to the Burma Military Police Mounted Infantry, 10th July 1918 to 9th July 1919.  Served Afghanistan, North West Frontier, 1919.  Served Waziristan (Burma Military Police Mounted Infantry), 1919-21.  Temporary Lieutenant, IATC, Indian Army, 10th July 1919 to 28th March 1920.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 29th March 1920, with seniority from 20th December 1919.  Transferred to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt. (IA 362), attached to the Burma Military Police Mounted Infantry, 29th March 1920, with seniority from 10th April 1919.  Squadron Officer with the Burma Military Police Mounted Infantry, 1921.  Served as Captain (provisional), 20th December 1924 to 31st August 1925.  Served North-West Frontier of India, 1930.  Served North-West Frontier of India (Mohmand), 1933.  Assistant Commandant, Burma Military Police, 1933.  Promoted to Captain, 29th March 1936.  Promoted to Major, 20th December 1936.  Served with the 20th Lancers, which ceased to be an active regiment, becoming the permanent training regiment for the 3rd Indian Cavalry Group, 23rd April 1937.  Transferred to the Semi-Effective List and seconded to the Burma Defence Force as Commandant, Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, 24th April 1937.  Awarded the C.I.E. (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire), gazetted, 11th May 1937.  Commanding Officer of the Burma Frontier Force reception camp at Milestone 105 on the Dimapur Road, May-June 1942.  Staff Officer, Assistant Director of Remounts, Eastern Army, India, 14th June 1944.  Promoted to Lt. Colonel, 20th December 1944.  Retired, 15th April 1948 (“War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941”, Savannah (2004);British Army List; Indian Army List; India Office List; London Gazette; WO 372/4/41517; Private Papers of Lt. Colonel I.C.G. Scott).

[7] WO 203/5694

[8] Robert Duncan Low born in Burma, 31st August 1907.  Commissioned from the Royal Military College as 2nd Lt. to the Unattached List, 1st September 1927.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 27th February 1930, with seniority from 1st December 1929.  Appointed to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt. (AI 384), attached to the 1st Battalion, 9th Jat Regiment, 27th February 1930.  Promoted to Captain, 1st September 1936.  Seconded to the Burma Defence Force, 16th July 1939.  Assistant Commandant, the Southern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, late 1939 to 1941.  Assistant Commandant, the Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, early 1941.  Officer Commanding F.F.6, early 1942 to 8th March 1942.  As Major, killed, 8th March 1942  (British Army List; Indian Army List; CWGC; "Distinctly I Remember", H. Braund, Wren (1972); “Notes on the Burma Frontier Force” By Major D. Mostert, WO 203/5700).

[9] Thomas Coulter Hutchinson, born, 27th November 1913.  Before joining the Army, was a "Rangoon banker", 1941.  Commissioned to the General List from O.C.T.U. as 2nd Lt. (189600), 28th April 1941.  Posted to the Northern Shan States Battalion at Lashio, 5th May 1941.  Temporary Major, 15th June 1941.  As Captain, Southern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, on the withdrawal from Taunggyi as part of Taunggyi Rear Party.  Took command of a SSS Battalion party for the trek to India, 30th April 1942.  War substantive Captain, 15th June 1944.  After the war appears to have returned to banking in the Far East, 1945 ("Distinctly I Remember", H. Braund, Wren (1972); British Army List; FindMyPast; London Gazette; War Diary 14th Burma Rifles, WO 172/986 (War diary 14th Burma Rifles)).

[10] Harold Ernest Wilton Braund born, 1st January 1914.  Joined Steel Brothers in London, February 1932.  Sailed for Burma, June 1934.  Joined the Militia Company, The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry as Cadet, 21st November 1940.  Commissioned from Cadet  to the General List as 2nd Lt., 28th April 1941.  Joined the Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force at Lashio as Assistant Commandant, 5th May 1941.  Column Commander, F.F.7, January 1942 to May 1942.  Served with the Chin Levies, May 1942 to April 1945.  Promoted war substantive Captain, 1st April 1943.  Award the Military Cross, gazetted, 16th December 1943, the citation for which follows:

Unit:                 Chin Hills Levies

Brigade:            Chin Hills Levies

Corps:              4th Corps

Date of Recommendation:           26th January 1943      

Action for which recommended :-           Captain H.E.W. BRAUND has served in the Chin Levies since May 1942 and has always been stationed in the F.D.L’s which he has never left during that period.  Of late months he has been in constant contact with the enemy, and has led many offensive patrols into the KALEMYO Area.  On December 24th 1942 he led a small Levy raid on TAHAN, inflicting a number of casualties on the enemy, although considerably outnumbered.  He has been indefatigable in his efforts to make a success of the Chin Levies under his Command [sic], and by his great personal courage and example, has greatly increased the morale and offensive spirit of the Levies, during a very difficult period. 

This officer is highly deserving of the Award of the Order of The British Empire Medal (Military). [Amended to the Military Cross]  

Recommended by:  Area Commander, Chin Hills Levies 

Signed By:  G.A.P. Scones, Lieutenant-General Commanding IV Corps; N. Irwin, Lieut-General, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Army.

Retired from the Army, January 1946.  Married Maxine Velma Strong, Bombay, 1946.  Worked for Steel Brothers associate, The Attock Oil Company in Rawalpindi, 1946 to 1966?.  Awarded the O.B.E, 13th June 1959.  Retired to Australia, late 1960s?.  Died, 1st January 1988 ("Distinctly I Remember", H. Braund, Wren (1972);; British Army List; FindMyPast; London Gazette; WO 373/31/154).

[11] Lawrence Glen Gaudie born Eton, Buckinghamshire, 1914.  Worked for Steel Brothers, 1939.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt., ABRO, 10th November 1939.  Promoted to Lieutenant (listed as "L.G. Gandie"), 20th September 1940.  Assistant Commandant, Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force and Officer Commanding the Kutkai outpost detachment, 1941.  Served with F.F.4, Burma Frontier Force as Adjutant, late 1941 to April 1942 (an "L.G. Gandie" wrote a "note" on F.F.4 - see WO/172/980), 1st January 1942.  Married Valerie Catherine Davies Borrington, Madras, 1942.  Served Chin Hills Battalion, 1944? to 1945.  Died, Buckinghamshire, 1971  ("Distinctly I Remember", H. Braund, Wren (1972);; Anglo-Burmese Library; Scott papers; FindMyPast; London Gazette; War Diary 8th Burma Rifles, WO 172/980 (War diary 8th Burma Rifles)).

[12] "Distinctly I Remember", H Braund, Wren (1972)

[13] “F.F.1’s Part in the Burma Campaign by Lt. Col. W.R.V. Russell M.C.”, WO 203/5699.

[14] James Rupert Kenneth Wallace, born 22nd January 1898.  Commissioned 10th November 1916, Indian Army Reserve of Officers, seniority from 10th August 1917.  Appointed to the Indian Army 24th October 1918.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 10th August 1918, attached 98th Infantry, became 19th Hyderabad Regiment from 1922.  Served  Mahsuds,  6th June 1917 to 10th August 1917; Iraq, 29th September 1917to 31st August 1918; Salonika, 1918; Black Sea, 1920, wounded, Mentioned in despatches, gazetted 11th December 1920.  Awarded the Military Cross whilst serving as Lieutenant (acting Captain) with 95th Russell’s Infantry during the action at Sultan Chift on 5th July 1920 in the Turkish War of Independence, gazetted 28th October 1920.  Served Waziristan, 1921-24.  Served with the 19th Hyderabad Regiment until 13th June 1935, then General duty 14th June 1935 to 27th August 1935.  Promoted to Major, 5th July 1935.  Appointed to the Supplementary List, 28th August 1935.  Appointed M.E.O., Army in Burma, 24th May 1935.  Appointed Inspecting Officer Military Lands and Cantonments, Army in Burma, (18th June 1934, 1st April 1937, appointed 21st October 1937).  As Commandant, Northern Shan States Battalion, B.F.F., died 3rd May 1942.  According to a Japanese account, he may have been killed by Indian soldiers (British Army List; Indian Army List; “War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941”, Savannah (2004); “Burma 1942, The Japanese Invasion”, I.L. Grant, K. Tamayama, Zampi (1999)).

[15] Indian Army List; “Report on the B.F.F. 1939-1942” By Brig J.F. Bowerman, WO 203/5692

[16] WO 203/5692

[17] WO 203/5692

[18] “Indian Armed Forces in World War II, The Retreat from Burma 1941-42”; “Burma 1942, The Japanese Invasion”, I.L. Grant, K. Tamayama, Zampi (1999)

[19] “The Chin Hills Battalion”, MSS EUR 250 (British library)

[20] WO 203/5692; WO 203 5694

[21] IOR L/WS/1/1313