Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

World War Two (1942-1945)

Birthday of General Aung San

13 February is the birth anniversary of General Aung San. This is a photograph of General Aung San at the Dorchester Hotel in London during negotiations with the UK government in January 1947. He is flanked by Thakin Mya and U Tin Tut (the delegation's principal negotiator). It was the moment of his greatest triumph. Thakin Mya would be killed together with General Aung San six months later. U Tin Tut was killed in September 1948.

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World War II came to Rangoon before Christmas

On 23 and 25 December 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Rangoon for the first time. Over 80 Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-21 bombers escorted by 30 Nakajima fighter planes flew from bases in Thailand and Indochina. They were confronted at 12,000 feet by the 'Flying Tigers' of US Army Col. Claire Chennault but managed to destroy much of the docks and kill hundreds of people. Tomahawk and Buffaloes planes of the (UK) Royal Air Force and the (American) "Flying Tigers" attempted to...

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When Australia changed Burmese history

On 21 February 1942, Australia changed Burmese history.  On 23 December 1941, the Japanese began the aerial bombing of Rangoon, then crossed the border from Thailand, seizing Moulmein at the end of January. The Japanese were then approaching Rangoon from Moulmein and would soon cross the Sittang River. On 15 February, Singapore, Britain's "impregnable" fortress in the Far East, fell and 80,000 Allied troops were captured. On 19 February, the Australian town of Darwin was bombed by the Japanese. By...

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“Flying Tigers”, Defenders of Rangoon

In December 1941, the "Flying Tigers" arrive at Mingaladon to defend Rangoon from the Japanese. The 'Flying Tigers', though outnumbered, managed to down 50 enemy planes over Rangoon (whilst losing 10). The 1st American Volunteer Group also known as the "Flying Tigers" were US airmen authorized by President Roosevelt to support China and protect the Burma Road. As the US was not yet at war with Tokyo, this was a clandestine operation. The Flying Tigers were under the command of...

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Beginning of World War Two in Burma

On 14 December 1941, the Japanese began their invasion of the Tenasserim. This is a photograph of British troops along Sule Pagoda Road, probably from the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, who were amongst the last to remain in the city, until the final evacuation on 7 March 1942.

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World War II battles in Myanmar

In December 1942, the 14th Indian Division began their (unsuccessful) attempt to seize the Mayu peninsula back from the Japanese, whilst at the same time the British and Gurkha special forces (the 'Chindits') were preparing for their first attempt ('Operation Longcloth') to push deep behind Japanese lines in northern Burma. But the Japanese were then also battling the Chinese in Yunnan, whose 5th and 6th armies had tried in vain in 1942 to hold the Shan states, and in 1943...

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Aftermath of World War Two in Myanmar

No need to live in the past, but as Myanmar steps up its relations with big powers around the world, it may be useful to remember that those same big powers turned the country into a giant battlefield in the 1940s. Half a million American, British, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other soldiers fought in Burma, leading to the devastation of almost every single city and town, every port, airport, train station, oil field and factory. Over 200,000 soldiers died, together...

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Fall of Rangoon

On 8 March 1942 Rangoon fell to the Japanese after two and a half months of heavy bombing, At least 2,000 civilians had already died in Rangoon (mainly from Japanese aerial bombing) over the previous 10 weeks; another 400,000 became refugees. The city's dockyards, factories, oil refinery, and railways were all destroyed by the colonial authorities before leaving. Hundreds of offices and shops were looted by ordinary people. The fighting retreat from Rangoon first to Mandalay and then to Assam...

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Bombing of Mandalay

On the night of 3 April 1942, Japanese Mitsubishi bombers attacked the old royal city with incendiary bombs, creating a gigantic firestorm. Two-thirds of all the buildings in Mandalay were destroyed. At least 2,000 - 8,000 people died and more were injured (Out of a population of about 150,000). Blackened and rotting bodies filled the moat. Everywhere in the scorching heat was the smell of death. The city emptied. My father, then ten years old, fled with his family on...

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Capture of Mandalay

In the first week of May 1942, the Japanese 15th Army under General Iida Shojiro (飯田祥二郎) captured Mandalay. The Japanese invasion of Burma began in December of 1941 with the Christmas eve bombing of Rangoon. Rangoon fell 8 March 1942. On 30 March the Japanese took Toungoo from the "Chinese Expeditionary Force in Burma" under General Luo Zhuoying and then Prome from the (British-led) Burma Corps under General Alexander. Allied forces attempted to make a stand at Mandalay which was...

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Bren Gun Carriers Patrol Downtown Rangoon

It was in Feburary, 1942. The city was in near chaos, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the heavily bombed downtown and dockyards, electricity lines severely damaged, and food supplies running short. The Japanese 15th Army were advancing north from Moulmein. The 17th India Division had hoped to halt the advance at the Sittang River but would instead soon meet with disaster. The entire rest of the country was defended by only one other division: the 1st Burma Division...

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Fall of Moulmein

On 26 January 1942, the 55th Division of the Japanese 15th Army under General Shojiro Iida attacked Moulmein. Japan's principal aim was to cut the Allied supply line from Rangoon to Chiang Kai-shek's China ("The Burma Road").  The 55th Division (under Lt. General Hiroshi Takeuchi), which advanced on the city from the east via Kawkareik and Kyondo after crossing the border from Thailand. The 33rd Division approached from the northeast from Pa-an. Tavoy had already fallen on 19 January to a...

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Battle of Lashio

On 29 April 1942, the 56th Division of the Japanese imperial army defeated forces of the Kuomintang's "Chinese Expeditionary Force (Burma)" and seized Lashio. Lashio was burned to the ground during a devastating five hour battle. The Japanese victory effectively cut the "Burma Road, the motorway linking Lashio to Kunming which had been built in 1939 as China's main lifeline to the Allies. The Japanese invasion of Burma had begun four months before. Washington and London asked for help from...

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Dr Ba Maw in Tokyo in 1943

A photograph from March 1943 showing then Dr Ba Maw arriving in Tokyo (together with Thakin May, U Thein Maung, and Gen Aung San) for discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Tojo and others. Dr Ba Maw would soon become the “Adhipati” or “Leader” of the State of Burma and an ally of the Axis Powers.

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Stay away from the Japanese!

Around 1943. American air force leaflets explaining to Burmese villagers that the bombs falling on their country are not meant for them but for the Japanese.

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Cover of "Shashin Shuho" Magazine in March 1943

The image was the cover of the Japanese magazine "Shashin Shuho" showing Dr Ba Maw and colleagues arriving in March 1943 at Tokyo's Haneda airport. Five months later, Dr Ba Maw would be proclaimed the "Adipati" of Burma. In the background is a camouflaged Mitsubishi KI-57 transport plane probably belonging to the Dai Nippon Koku (Imperial Japanese Airways).

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Cairo Conference 1943

The photograph is of Allied leaders President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, PM Winston Churchill, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek discussing the reconquest of Burma at their summit in Cairo. Also at the conference were Madame Chiang Kai-shek (also in the photo), the new Allied Supreme Commander for South East Asia Lord Louis Mountbatten, and his deputy General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell. The Chinese pressed for an aggressive invasion of Burma, by British, Indian, and American as well as Chinese forces, the early...

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Historic Siege of Myitkyina

Beginning 17 May 1944, Chinese and American forces (including "Merrill's Marauders" ) supported by Kachin and other Allied troops laid siege to Japanese-held Myitkyina. It was a critical battle of World War Two, leading to the capture of the all-important Myitkyina airstrip. Myitkyina was captured after only 78 days of savage fighting against an entrenched Japanese garrison. Chinese forces included armies attacking from both India and Yunnan. Altogether nearly 10,000 men were killed or wounded during the historic siege. The...

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Chinese Soldiers in Myitkyina During World War II

First photograph shows troops of the 32nd Infantry Division preparing to attack Myitkyina. The second photograph is the image of a 10-year-old Chinese soldier at Myitkyina airfield 1944. A joint American-Chinese operation (including "Merrill’s Marauders") captured Myitkyina in late 1944 from the Japanese after a long siege, opening the "Ledo" or "Stilwell" Road from India to China.

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Battles of Imphal and Kohima

The epic battles of Imphal and Kohima started on 4 April 1944 and ended with the Allies' victory on 22 June 1944. They are considered by many to be the Asian equivalent of Stalingrad - the pivotal battles that turned the tide of World War Two. Allied forces defeated the Japanese Imperial Army at the epic battles of Imphal and Kohima along the India-Burma border. The battles of Imphal and Kohima are amongst the most important ever in global history....

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American Soldier in Kachin in 1944

Somewhere during 1944, American Pvt Wayne Martin offers gum to a child somewhere in the Kachin Hills. Pvt Martin was one of "Merril's Marauders", the American special operations unit that fought behind Japanese lines. American and Chinese forces were then battling the Japanese for control of Myitkyina.

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Burma 1944

In March-April 1944 three Japanese divisions and one division of the Indian National Army under Subhas Chandra Bose had been decisively beaten at Imphal and Kohima by British and Indian forces. 60,000 Japanese had died. In May 1944 three Chinese armies together with American Special Forces ("Merrill's Marauders") attacked Myitkyina. The town and airstrip were taken only after a three month siege and a ferocious resistance by the Japanese 33rd Army. Over the same months, the Allies landed more than...

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Surrender of Japan

On 2 September 1945, the Empire of Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers on board the USS Missouri. Over 100 Allied warships and submarines were present that day in Tokyo Bay. The Allied was represented by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander. The Japanese was represented by Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru (in top hat and tails) and Chief of Imperial Army Staff General Umezu Yoshijiro.In Burma three days before (30 August), the Commander of the Burma...

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Japanese Surrenders at Government House, Rangoon

On 12 September 1945, General Ichida Jiro (Acting Chief of Staff Burma Area Army) formally surrendered to Brigadier E.P.E. Armstrong (Chief of Staff to Lt-General Sir Montague Stopford, GOC-in-Chief 12th Army Burma) at Government House, Rangoon. On the same day, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia received the Japanese surrender in Singapore. Five days earlier on 7 September, Lord Mountbatten and General Aung San signed an agreement at Kandy in Ceylon to absorb up to 5,200 men...

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Battles of Meiktila and Mandalay

The battles of Meiktila and Mandalay were extremely significant battles in the war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan (after Imphal and Kohima battles). They changed as well the course of Burmese history. In Cairo in November 1943 the leaders of the new “United Nations”, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek, agreed on an overland invasion of Burma, to restore links between India and China. In June 1944, Allied forces decisively defeated the Japanese at the...

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The defeat of the Japanese

The Japanese surrender ceremony was held at the Convocation Hall of Rangoon University in August 1945. The British 14th Army, with nearly a million men under arms (the largest imperial army anywhere in WW2) had just defeated the Japanese Burma Area Army and were preparing for an invasion of Malaya when the war ended. In this photograph, you can see the Convocation Hall in the background.

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Ledo or Stillwell Road

On 28 January 1945, the Ledo or "Stillwell Road" was opened. The Road connected Ledo in Assam to Kunming in Yunnan. The Allied lifeline to China was built by thousands of African-Americans in what was one of the epic engineering feats of World War Two. The road was named for General "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell, Commander of the China-Burma-India Theatre. This is a photograph of him with Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, taken at Flagstaff House in Maymyo (now destroyed) in...

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Operation Dracula

In May 1945, Allied troops recaptured Rangoon ("Operation Dracula"). The 17th Indian Division was pushing south from Pegu and on 2 May reconnaissance aircraft flying over the jail noticed a message on the roof painted by British prisoners that read "Japs Gone, Extract Digit" (RAF slang for "Hurry Up"). The 26th Indian Division (a mixed force of mainly English, Punjabi, and Gurkha troops) entered the city virtually unopposed the next day. Allied leaders had feared that the Japanese would make...

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Pyinmana During World War Two

On 20 April 1945, Allied forces led by the 5th Indian Division were seizing control of Pyinmana (now "Naypyitaw"). It was the headquarters of the Japanese 33rd Army and its commander, General Masaki Honda, only just managed to escape in the dark on foot. Hundreds of other Japanese were killed. The 5th Indian Division - with Scots, Pathan, Sikh, English, Gurkha, Punjabi and other troops - had fought the Italians in East Africa and the Germans in North Africa, as...

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Relationship Between Lt. General Slim and General Aung San

General Aung San crossed the Irrawaddy at Allanmyo on 15 May 1945 and then flew to Meiktila on 16 May to meet for the first time with Lt General William Slim, commander of the (British) 14th Army. The 14th Army with nearly one million men was the largest Commonwealth army anywhere during World War Two - a giant force of Indians, Africans, British, Gurkhas, Burmese and others. By 16 May the 14th Army had already retaken Rangoon and General Slim...

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