23 December 1941 - March 1942
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 incept the Japanese invasion force with only limited success. The Japanese used high explosive and incendiary bombs over and the entire downtown from Pazundaung to Ahlone, destroying 3/5s of all the wooden buildings in the area. Rangoon's docks, oil refinery and Mingaladon airfield were utterly destroyed, but much of the city itself was spared, unlike Mandalay which by May would be left a blackened ruin. An estimated 2,000 civilians were believed killed, including many women and children and many more injured (out of a total population of around 400,000). There has never been any memorial to the men, women, and children killed that day. Over 100,000 began to flee in panic, by sea or air if they could (including from sea-planes taking off from in front of the Strand Hotel), otherwise by land to Assam. Hundreds of thousands of civilians - Indians, Burmese, Anglo-Burmese, Europeans, Chinese, Karens, and others fled the city over the following weeks and tens of thousands died along the way. It was one of the greatest and most horrific refugee exoduses in history. The land invasion would begin two weeks later. Rangoon fell to the Japanese Fifteenth Army of Lt. General Shōjirō Iida on March 1942. This is a very rare photograph taken from a Japanese plane showing the bombing of the area south of Government House, around St.John's College and Lady Dufferin Hospital. The old prison is clearly visible near the centre.