The Burma Campaign

The Rangoon Field Brigade, Burma Auxiliary Force

The Rangoon Field Brigade was formed originally as the Rangoon Volunteer Artillery on 20th October 1879.  The Brigade became the Rangoon Defence Volunteers on 30th September 1892 and the Rangoon Port Defence Artillery Volunteers on 19th May 1905.  During the First World War, the Brigade became the 3rd (Rangoon) Port Defence Group, Garrison Artillery (Auxiliary Force India).  The Brigade was reconstituted on 1st October 1920 and on 1st September 1928 was increased in size to two Field Batteries, Royal Artillery and the No. 14 Machine Gun Company.  When reorganised on 1st April 1933, No. 5 Field Battery, Royal Artillery; the Rangoon Fortress Company, Royal Engineers; and a Wireless Section - were added to the establishment.  The unit designation, the Rangoon Field Brigade, was given when the Brigade came under the Burma Auxiliary Force in April 1937, following the transfer of units to the Burma Army with the separation of administration from India.  The Wireless Section was designated the Rangoon Artillery Signal Section, Royal Signals on 30th September 1937.[1]

On 3rd September 1939, the Rangoon Field Brigade consisted of a headquarters, one battery of four 18-pounder guns, one Fortress Company of engineers and one artillery signal section.  Two of the 18-pounder guns were sent to man the Examination Battery at Dry Tree Point, on the Rangoon River, together with a searchlight section from the Fortress Company and the artillery signal section.  

In May 1940, the guns at Dry Tree Point were replaced by two 6-inch Mk VII guns from England, which together with a further 6-inch training gun at Monkey Point, close to Rangoon, formed the 1st Heavy (Coast Defence) Battery, R.A., B.A.F. (Rangoon Field Brigade).  The 18-pounders returned to Rangoon.  At the same time, three HCD coastal artillery searchlights were installed at Dry Tree Point.  

In September 1940, the 18-pdrs were used to equip the newly formed 5th Field Battery, Royal Artillery, Burma Auxiliary Force, remaining as part of the Field Brigade.  This battery left for Maymyo on 1st June 1940.  On 8th February 1941 the unit strength was 23 Officers and 476 Other Ranks.

In December 1941, the 5th Field Battery was in the Southern Shan States near Taunggyi, at Takaw with the 2nd Battalion, KOYLI, under command of the 1st Burma Infantry Brigade.  Late in January 1942, the 5th Field Battery moved south to join the 17th Indian Infantry Division.  Between 15th/16th February, a section of the battery, supported the 16th Indian Infantry Brigade in the defence of the Bilin River line, with two 18-pdrs in the anti-tank role.  The battery took part in the defence of the approaches to the Sittang Bridge, on the east bank of the river near Mokpalin.  The guns were lost following the premature destruction of the bridge.

In December 1941, ‘B’ Troop of the 5th Field Battery was formed without guns but on 27th December sent a detachment of one British Officer and 20 British Other Ranks with six Austrian 65mm mountain guns to Mergui for beach defence and one N.C.O. and six other ranks with two 65mm guns to Tavoy, also for beach defence.  The balance of "B" Troop of the 5th Field Battery was given eight 77mm Italian field guns for use in the anti-tank role.  These were handed over to an Indian antitank battery on 17th February 1942.

As the threat of war with Japan grew, in February 1941, a new Auxiliary Force unit was created for air defence, the 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA, BAF, initially equipped with 20 light machine guns. This unit was commanded by Major Hogan and remained as part of the Rangoon Field Brigade until 15th August 1941 when the battery was detached to form part of the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A., B.A.F.  

In May 1941, No. 1 (Burma) Artizan Works Company was formed under Major Jolly and left for Maymyo in August.  Later in September that year, the Rangoon Field Brigade formed a bomb disposal unit and a light aid detachment, the first of eight such detachments.  

On 22nd February 1942, Headquarters Rangoon Field Brigade and detachments left Rangoon for Yenangyaung, leaving behind the Dry Tree Point garrison.  The garrison continued to provide details at the power station at Ahlone and guards on the oil refineries at Thilaun and Seikkgyi.  The Bomb Disposal Unit went to Magwe aerodrome on 5th March and spent a month salvaging motor vehicles, petrol and bombs abandoned by the R.A.F. On 26th March 1942, the Rangoon Field Brigade was ordered to Shwebo and all available personnel were employed as interpreters, well-borers, lorry drivers and drivers for bulldozers of the X.M.U.(?) on the Shwegyin Road.  Between 15th May and 21st May 1942, the Brigade was evacuated to India.

Of the survivors to reach India, some B.A.F. men were formed into the 5th Field Battery at Mhow.  The Battery was offered to India and the remainder would have joined other B.A.F. personnel at Mhow. 

It also seems that for a short time at least, that around 300 men of the Rangoon Field Brigade were allotted to the XV Indian Corps on 30th April 1942.  These men manned a number of gun positions: 2 x 4.5-inch howitzers at Midnapore, West Bengal; 2 X 18-pounders at Bandriposi, Orissa (Odisha); 4 X 2.75-inch guns mounted on boats.[2]  This may have been the same detachment referred to by the H.Q. XV Indian Corps in January 1943.  The 5th Field Battery was attached briefly to the XV Indian Corps and a note in the war diary of the Corps states that on 26th January 1943, the Battery “reverted to the command of H.Q. Burma Army prior to disbandment and transfer of personnel to the Burma Intelligence Platoons”.[3]

Sources: WO 172/640; IOR L/WS/1/1313

1st Heavy (Coast Defence) Battery, RA, BAF (Rangoon Field Brigade)

Note: The record obtained from the National Archives refers to the 1st Heavy Battery however this is believed to be one and the same unit as 1st Coast or 1st Coast Defence Battery whose men eventually reached India and reformed the battery as part of the defences of Calcutta.

This unit occupied the Examination Battery, together with a section of the Rangoon Fortress Company (engineers) and the Rangoon Artillery Signal Section.  The Battery was armed with two 6-inch Mk VII guns, one 12-pdr naval antiaircraft gun, three HCD coastal artillery searchlights and two Lewis antiaircraft guns.  For local defence, a section of the Support Platoon, 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment was attached.  Shortly after hostilities began with Japan, the Gloucesters' section was withdrawn and replaced by two platoons from the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F.

As a result of a visit by the General Officer Commanding Burma Army, Lieutenant-General T.J. Hutton, in January 1942, the defences were extended by the construction of a picket line about 1,000 yards from the perimeter and orders were given for the construction of a series of pill boxes 400 yards from the perimeter.  There were two pickets approximately 3,000 yards from the perimeter covering booms across the Hmawwun and Bassein Creeks and the hinterland of the fort was patrolled by night.

There were naval patrol boats patrolling the Rangoon River by night at the extreme effective range of the searchlights.  There was also a naval patrol on the Bassein Creek. These patrol boats were subsequently withdrawn owing to a shortage of personnel in the Burma Navy and the only early warning approach available to the Battery was provided by four signallers in a motor boat anchored downstream by night. 

On 22nd February, orders were received to put the demolition scheme into effect and abandon the fort.  The Officer Commanding Dry Tree Point refused to accept these orders unless confirmed by higher authority and the orders were subsequently cancelled, though not before a considerable amount of demolition had been carried out.  The garrison was finally withdrawn under direct orders of Rangoon Fortress on the night of 7th/8th March 1942, the demolition scheme drawn up by C.F.D.(?) being put into effect with the exception that none of the buildings were fired under orders of Rangoon Fortress as the embarkation of the Rangoon garrison was taking place under the guns.  For the same reason it was impossible to burn cordite as had originally been intended, but this was thrown into the Rangoon River.  Neither the coastal artillery guns nor the antiaircraft defences were in action at any time.  The 12-pounder antiaircraft gun having no instruments was not available for firing on heights of more than 1,000 feet and there were no antiaircraft searchlights or G.L.(?) equipment for night-firing.

A certain number of desertions were suffered by men whose families had not been evacuated either by military or civil authorities.

On reaching India, the 1st Coast Defence Battery went to Mhow and was later offered to India.  The offer was accepted and the Battery went to Diamond Harbour, Calcutta.  Some of the balance of B.A.F. men remaining at Mhow formed a reserve of men for the Battery.

Sources: WO 172/640; IOR L/WS/1/1313

The Examination Battery

Source for this section: The Fortress Study Group; Clements, B (2006), "Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Artillery Fortifications in Burma", FORT 34, pp59-80"

In June 1939, as war in Europe loomed, the British government ordered an Examination Service to be set up at all major ports to control access by all shipping.  At each port an inspection anchorage was to be established where officers of the Examination Service would board and inspect all merchant vessels.  This anchorage was protected by a battery known as the Examination Battery.

At the request of the Governor of Burma, a Colonel Baynham, Royal Artillery reported on the establishment of an Examination Battery at Rangoon. Colonel Baynham held the view that in the light of the increased ranges of modern naval guns it would be necessary to establish any Examination Battery at least 25,000 yards (c22.8km) downriver from Rangoon.  The position Colonel Baynham selected was Dry Tree Point on the right bank of the Rangoon River, just north of Hmawwun Creek. He proposed a battery of two 6-inch BL Mk VII guns on 15 degree mountings in concrete emplacements.  Due to the ground being so low-lying and marshy, Baynham recommended that no magazine should be built but that 100 shells and cartridges should be held for each gun in the shell and cartridge recesses of the two emplacements.

The War Office accepted Baynham’s report with the exception of his proposal for a range finding tower for the depression range finder. In his report he stated:

“The flatness of the country precludes any natural position from being found from which a vertical base instrument can be used. Whilst the wide arc over which the guns operate makes a horizontal base system alone unsuitable. The height of the guns above Mean Sea Level, which will be under 20ft [c6m], almost precludes the use of autosights.”

The War Office substituted a two-storey house and an 18ft (c5.5m) Barr & Stroud rangefinder in its place.

The Battery was to be manned by personnel of a new coast battery formed from III (Rangoon) Field Brigade, Royal Artillery, Burma Auxiliary Force [The Rangoon Field Brigade] and the government of Burma ordered two 6-inch BL guns and a training gun in March 1939.  The training gun was provided for use at the unit headquarters in Rangoon because it was considered that the situation of the new battery was too far from Rangoon, particularly in view of the poor road system, for Auxiliary Force personnel to train on a regular basis at the battery site.

The two gun-emplacements were complete by May 1940 and the guns were installed in August 1940. Prior to that date, the duties of the Examination Battery were undertaken by Auxiliary Force personnel using two 18-pdr Quick Firing field guns positioned at Dry Tree Point.

The Dry Tree Point battery had a very short operational life, a mere nineteen months from August 1940 to March 1942.


[1] Burma Army List January 1940.

[2] War diary H.Q.R.A. Eastern Army, WO 172/384

[3] War diary H.Q.R.A. XV Indian Corps, WO 172/1892