The Burma Campaign

Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Frontier Force

The Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Frontier Force came into being following the separation of Burma from India in 1937.  Prior to this the Battalion had been part of the Burma Military Police, having been raised in 1894.  The Battalion Headquarters were at Falam.[1]

The Battalion was centered on Falam in the Chin Hills near the border with India and under the administration of The Maymyo Infantry Brigade Area.  As a Burma Military Police battalion it had been commanded by Major (later Lt. Colonel) A.C. Moore since 1928.  Moore continued in command following the 1937 transfer of the Battalion to the Burma Frontier Force.[2]

In 1939 the Battalion was organised with a headquarters company, a training company, six rifle companies and no mounted infantry troops.  Unlike the other Burma Frontier Force Battalions, the Chin Hills Battalion was not required to provide additional companies for service elsewhere in Burma, hence there being only six active rifle companies in the Battalion.  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.[3]   The sanctioned strength of the Battalion was 946 infantrymen.  In addition to the Headquarters at Falam, outposts were maintained at Haka, Tiddim, Kalemyo, Kalewa, Mawlaik, Homalin, Tamanthi and Layshi.[4]

In March 1942, the Chin Hills Battalion was reorganised to provide one infantry battalion on the then existing Burma Rifles establishment and a Depot and Chin Training Centre at Falam.  This Depot was also to contain sufficient personnel to provide garrisons for the Upper Chindwin posts at Tamanthi and Layshi, and the posts at Kalewa and Kalemyo.  The Battalion, although organised as a regular infantry battalion, was to remain a Burma Frontier Force unit under the control of the Inspector-General.  It was intended to reorganise the Battalion in the vicinity of Mount Popa, near Meiktila, but owing to the nature of the campaign, this never materialised and the unit was formed to the best extent possible at Kalewa, in which area it was of material assistance during the evacuation of Burma, operating as line of communication troops under Headquarters Army in Burma.[5]  

Following the arrival of Burma Army in India in May 1942, the Chin Hills Battalion continued to operate in the Chin Hills, under the command of IV Corps, and it was proposed the Battalion should be reorganised along the lines of the Assam Rifles.  It was proposed to form a Chin Hills Area to administer this battalion and the Chin Hills Levies.[6]

When Burma Army reached India, a number of Chin soldiers, from both the Burma Rifles and the Burma Frontier Force, were given three months pay in Manipur and allowed to go home on leave.  Others had been told to go home at various stages during the withdrawal but without any pay.  Others deserted.  There were concerns that these men, still armed, were presenting a problem in the Chin Hills.  There was also dissatisfaction from the widows of Chin soldiers killed in the fighting and from the families of Chins still serving who had not received their pensions or family allotments.  To remedy this situation, in August 1942, Major J.N. Mackay of the Burma Rifles was sent into hills with three Chin officers and plenty of funds with orders to settle all accounts with the Chins and a few Lushais.  Instructions were sent to the Hills that it was Government policy that all men were to be treated as though on leave unless there was clear evidence of desertion and that they were to be recruited to fill vacancies in the Chin Hills Battalion or the Chin Levies or were to be given work as pioneers on local road construction.  Major Mackay was also proposed as the new Commanding Officer for the Chin Hills Battalion, in place of Lt. Colonel Moore who had been forced to leave the Hills due to sickness.[7] [8]   However on 2nd September 1942 Major W.R.V. Russell was appointed to the post which he retained until November 1944.[9] [10]

The Battalion was redesignated as part of The Burma Regiment on 1st October 1942.  The Battalion continued to operate under Eastern Army (IV Corps) command in the Chin Hills.    In October 1943, the Battalion was organised with a battalion Headquarters, headquarters company, seven rifle companies, two troops of mounted infantry, a rear headquarters and Depot.[11]

17 November 2017

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

[2] Alleyn Cardwell Moore born, 2nd February 1898.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt. to the Unattached List, 18th April 1916.  Appointed to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt. (AI 58), 92nd Punjabis, 23rd April 1916.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 18th April 1917.  Attached to the 92nd Punjabis, serving with the 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, 17th May 1918 to 1919, on probation and serving as Quartermaster with the 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry from 27th May 1918 to 1919.  Served as acting Captain to 11th March 1919.  Served as acting Major whilst second in command of the 2nd Battalion,. 153rd Punjabis, 1st June 1919 to 2nd July 1919.  Served as acting Captain, 3rd July 1919 to 1st April 1920.  Promoted to Captain, 18th April 1920.  Attached 92nd Punjabis (became the 4th Battalion, 8th Punjab Regiment in 1923), early 1920s.  Assistant Commandant, the Chin Hills Battalion , Burma Military Police, 1925 to 1929.  Officer Commanding Military Police, Naga Hills Expedition, 3rd January 1928 to 2nd March 1928.  Commandant, the Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Military Police, 1932 to 1934.  Promoted to Major, 18th April 1934.  Commandant, the Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Frontier Force until forced to leave due to sickness, 15th November 1937 to August 1942.  As Lt. Colonel, retired, 20th July 1944.  Author of a history of the Chin Hills Battalion, 1942-1947, 1st January 1953.  Appointed High Sherriff for County Armagh, Northern Ireland, 1st January 1958.  Died, 1983 (Belfast Telegraph; British Army List; London Gazette; AIM25 Lt. Colonel Moore; India Office List 1933; Indian Army List 1919; Indian Army List 1921; Indian Army List; IOR L/WS/1/ 1313; Mss Eur E250/(143a)I).

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

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

[5] WO 203/5694

[6] IOR L/WS/1/1313

[7] IOR L/WS/1/1313

[8] James Noble Mackay born, 1st January 1900.  Served Afghanistan, N.W. Frontier, 1919.  Commissioned to the Unattached List as 2nd Lt., 15th April 1919.  Appointed to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt. (IA457), 16th April 1919.  Served Persia, 1st January 1920.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 15th April 1920.  Served with 1st Battalion, 107th Pioneers, 1921.  Promoted to Captain, 15th April 1925.  Served N.W. Frontier of India, attached 2nd Corps of Bombay Pioneers, 1930-31.  Mentioned in Despatches for distinguished service rendered on military operations on the North West Frontier of India, October 1930 to March 1931, gazetted, 6th May 1932.  Served North West Frontier, 1937.  Promoted to Major, 15th April 1937.  Seconded from 4th Gurkha Rifles to the Burma Army, 2nd Battalion, Burma Rifles, 1st June 1937.  Served with the 5th Battalion, The Burma Rifles, 1942.  Awarded the D.S.O. while attached The Burma Rifles, gazetted, 28th October 1942, citation as follows:

Brigade:                        1st [Burma] Inf, 1st Burma Division          
Corps:                          Burcorps          
Unit:                             5 Burif             
Rank and Name:            Major James Noble MACKAY

Date of Recommendation:         25th April 1942. 

Action for which recommended :-           At KYAUKTAGA on March 17th the battalion was attacked and subjected to heavy and accurate Mortar fire almost incessantly from 1100 hrs to 1800 hrs.  The Mortar fire was seriously affecting the men’s morale.  Major MACKAY moved amongst them talking to them and soon restored their confidence.  Finally he personally took out the withdrawal order to the centre company which was then bearing the brunt of the attack and remained there until the withdrawal hour bringing back the remnants through very heavy fire mostly at close range.  Throughout the action this officer set a magnificent example of courage and calmness which was an inspiration to all those around him.

Recommended By:        B.J. Devenish-Meares, Lt-Col., Comd, 5 Burif; Bruce-Scott, Maj-Gen, Comd 1 Burdiv

Honour or Reward:        Distinguished Service Order      

Signed By:                    H.R. Alexander, General.           

Promoted Lt.Colonel, 15th April 1945.  As temporary Lt.Colonel, 4th Gurkha Rifles, Mentioned in Despatches, gazetted, 9th May 1946 (“War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941”, Savannah (2004); British Army List; Indian Army List; Indian Army List 1921; Indian Army List; War Diary 2nd Burma Rifles WO 172/975 (War diary 2nd Burma Rifles); IOR L/WS/1/1313; London Gazette; WO 373/30/157).

[9] William Rodney Villiers Russell born, 15th March 1914.  Usually went by his middle name, Rodney and called "Roddie" by some.  Educated at Wellington College, 1926ish.  Commissioned into The Rifle Brigade as 2nd Lt. (62669), 1st February 1934.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 1st February 1937.  Seconded to the Burma Defence Force, Assistant Commandant, Myitkyina Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, 10th September 1938 to late 1939.  Special Employed, 11th September 1938.  War Substantive Major, 10th January 1940.  Assistant Commandant, Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force and Officer Commanding the Kutkai outpost detachment, late 1941.  As Assistant Commandant, Burma Frontier Force, on Special Duty in the Northern Shan States, 1941 to June 1942.  Served as Commanding Officer, F.F.1, Burma Frontier Force (incorrectly recorded in recommendation for M.C. as "W.B.R. Russell"), 1941 to May 1942.  Promoted to Captain, 1st February 1942.  Temporary Major, 14th March 1942.  As Captain (temporary Major), attached to the Burma Frontier Force, while in command of F.F.1, awarded the Military Cross, gazetted, 28th October 1942, for which the citation reads:

Division: 1st Burma Division, Burma Corps
Unit:  F.F.1, Burma Frontier Force

Date of Recommendation:           4th June 1942

Action for which recommended :-           During the operations South of TOUNGOO subsequent to 11 March 1942 Maj RUSSELL was in command of F.F.1 a column which through no fault of his had lost touch by wireless with the remainder of the force and had of necessity to be left behind during the withdrawal.  In spite of many vicissitudes and brushes with the Japanese cavalry (the column was for some time behind the Japanese lines) Maj RUSSELL managed to bring out his column complete, men and animals, across the PEGU YOMAS, living on the country wherever food could be found for two weeks and marching 25 to 30 miles daily.  Rations were approximately a handful of rice per man per day.  The morale of the small force under Maj RUSSEL’s [sic] leadership never waned and on all rejoining the division although tattered, thin and exhausted, their spirit was magnificent.  This I am convinced was due to the personality and character of their leader.           

Recommended by:  Maj-General J.B. Scott, M.C, Comd 1 Burma Division
Signed By:  H.R. Alexander (General)

Appointed Commander Frontier Force (C.F.F.) to the 1st Burma Infantry Division, 14th April 1942.  As Lt. Colonel, Commanding Officer, The Chin Hills Battalion, The Burma Regiment, 1st September 1942 to 4th November 1944.  Temporary Lt. Colonel, 4th November 1943.  Relinquished command of the Chin Hills Battalion, The Burma Regiment and left for repatriation to the U.K., 4th November 1944.  As War Substantive Major, promoted to Major, 1st February 1947.  Died, 7th December 1994 ("Distinctly I Remember", H. Braund, Wren (1972); British Army List; Indian Army List April 1940 - January 1941; Indian Army List January 1941 - July 1942; "Kelly's Burma Campaign", Kelly D., Tiddim Press (2003); London Gazette; WO 373/30/171; WO 373/35/131; WO 203/974; War Diary of the Chin Hills Battalion, WO 172/5040; The Peerage).

[10] “History of the Chin Hills Battalion, 1894 …”, MSS Eur E250

[11] IOR L/WS/1/1313