Following the Japanese retreat from the borders of India after the defeats at Imphal and Kohima, they were followed by the retrained and reorganized 14th Army. Although many of the units of the British Indian army were the same as those involved in the bitter retreat of 1942, they were now confident and led by competent commanders.
Once they re-entered Burma the army split up into various sections, all making their way towards different objectives on the Irrewaddy river. Lt. General Slim, the British commander, has devised plans to fool the Japanese as to his targets. His immediate opponent, Lt-General Katamura Shihachi ‘s 15th army, was in agreement with his superior General Kimura Heitaro that the British would head for Mandalay.
The Japanese are mistaken
But this was not the case. Mandalay would be taken from the north, while the British used the tactics of the Japanese in 1942, outflanking so quickly the opposition had no answer.
Slim’s “Operation Cloak ” was involved in transmitting radio signals from a bogus HQ, encouraging the belief that the target was Mandalay, but the 4th Corps (17th Indian Division and 255th Tank Brigade) was sent down the difficult Myittha valley and crossed the Irrawaddy, heading straight away to Meiktila to cut off the Japanese supply and communications network to Mandalay and the north.
The allies now had complete air superiority, and to the surprise of the Japanese whose high command was having a meeting in the town at the time, the 4th coprs reached the outskirts of the Meiktila on February 28th
Hand to hand fighting
After tough fighting, much of it hand to hand against suicidal defenders, Meiktila was taken on March 3rd.
The Japanese were shocked at the loss and were determined to retake the town, and launched counter attacks, some of which put in danger the airfields north-west of the own which had become the logistic centre of British operations.
The Japanese retreat begins
The attack continued on through the month of March, but by then Mandalay had fallen, and the severely weakened Japanese began a retreat south.
The Japanese had experienced a heavy defeat. Their communications shattered and their lines of supply compromised – things looked bleak but the 14th Army advance would be heavily resisted – there was more fighting to come to get to Rangoon (Yangon) .