The battles around Penwegon. July 1945

Penwegon - an old administrative building now partially converted into restaurants

Penwegon – an old administrative building now partially converted into restaurants

During the advance south by the 17th Indian Division, this small town became it’s headquarters. It was to become the centre of the last significant land battle in the Far East in the Second World War.
What remained of the once powerful Japanese 28th Army had been trapped in the Bago (Pegu) Yomas (hills), and the Japanese attempted to have the survivors breakout out across the Sittang River and escape into Thailand. To get there they had to cross the main Mandalay – Bago road, where Penwegon is located. The Japanese were hampered by disease (malaria and cholera), lack of communications between units, exhaustion and a growing sense of desperation in all ranks.

Former ally turns against the Japanese

Their former ally, General Aung San of the Burmese National Army had switched sides following secret negotiation with the British ( the BNA now became the Burma Patriotic Army) and was heavily engaged in searching for Japanese troops and killing them. THey had already taken to Japanese staff of the Mingaladon Military Academy and executed them in the Bago Yomas.

The 33rd Army went too soon for the 28th army

The Japanese 33rd Army under General Honda attempted to assist the 28th Army breakout, but it’s attack on the Sittang Bend on 3rd July 1945 was mistimed and occurred before the 28th Army was ready.

The plans are captured

To compound their problems, on 2nd July a Gurkha patrol had captured their plans which pinpointed the exact points where the Japanese would attempt to break out, thus allowing the British  to range their artillery on all flanks where the crossings would take place, thus concentrating their firepower to attempt to annihilate the Japanese 28th Army.


The Japanese planned to advance to the Sittang in several columns, under strict rules of engagement forbidding use of firearms in favor of the bayonet and forbidding any radio communications until they had crossed the Sittang by bamboo raft.

Penwegon, the centre of the breakout

One of the routes of march lay directly across 17 Indian Division’s headquarters at Penwegon, and British General Messervy reinforced this critical sector with 64 Indian Brigade from 19 Indian Division. The intelligence was quickly distributed amongst the British forces, which had two weeks to prepare. The result was what has been called a “gunner’s war.”
The monsoon had begun in force, and the British  targeted two fields of action, the first for artillery (targeting 12 Japanese crossing points along the highway)and the second using aircraft ( which were able to fly even in the miserable weather conditions) to attack those who managed to cross the road, especially between the Sittang and the Salween rivers.

The Pegu Yomas overlooking the killing fields

The Bago Yomas overlooking the killing fields

The Japanese had been living for weeks in the Bago Yomas ( the Pegu Hills west of the main road), with multiplying diseases and starvation raking the ranks, which included comfort women.

Unaware that their plans were known to the British, the Japanese were allowed to silently advanced until many of their ranks were in the targeted exposed positions and then the barrage of shell fire and bombing started. The 28th Army HQ attempted crossing north of Penwegon, with others, including the survivors of the siege of Bago (Pegu) crossing to the south, the vacinity of Kyauktaga ( now a village populated by Burmese Indian Hindus, a legacy of disbanded military units in 1946.


Those who reached the east bank of the Sittang were shelled by artillery targeted by British agents concealed in the hills on that side of the rive. Those not hit had to run the gauntlet of the Burmese.
Of the 9000 troops which started the breakout, less than 4000 reached the comparative safety of Moulmein by the middle of August, when they were met with the news of the Japanese surrender following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nyaung Lay Pin village has a former cemetery created by the British Indian 17th Division for the Japanese fallen in this conflict. The fallen were collected by Japanese volunteers and repatriated to Japan

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Posted on by TOBY in Asia, Burma, Myanmar, Remembrance Tour, Tours 2 Comments

2 Responses to The battles around Penwegon. July 1945

  1. J.S Wootton

    As a later member of SEATIC (who had the task of translating the captured plans) I understood the Japanese fatalities to have been much more than the figure given by you

     
  2. TOBY

    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for your comments. I do appreciate them. When in Burma I had the opportunity to meet some of the people involved in the fighting, and also those who suffered as a consequence. I do not know the exact figures of those who died – by the time of the battle most of the Japanese headquarter’s staff had decamped from Rangoon to seek an early escape from the advancing allies, and they had a better time than the survivors of the “breakout” who were pounced upon by the now allied Burmese forces and hill tribes ( who had been by and large, always loyal to the British). It was a huge battlefield.

    I was in the Chin hills (nothing to do with the battle in question) some time ago and met some old folk who had fought the Japanese with the Chindits, and during their retreat from Kohima and Imphal. They welcomed me with a rendition of “God save the King”. Quite moving.

    kind regards,

    David

     

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