Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

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Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Fri Aug 31, 2018 11:06 am

When most folks think of the great battles of WW2, some names stand out from the rest. Dunkirk, El Alamein, Monte Cassino, Stalingrad, Kursk, The Bulge, Arnhem, Remagen, Berlin. This hobby blog isn't about any of them. This is about a series of battles located rather more to the East. Even then, you'll probably think of Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. However, my interest lies to the West of those famous sites.
For a while now, I have had more than a passing interest in the battles around the frontier of India and Burma. From the campaigns around Arakan in Burma (Now known as Rhakine in Myanmar, a name you'll no doubt be familiar with from the news), to the attempted Japanese invasion of India, which lead to the twin sieges of Kohima and Imphal and on to the battle of Meiktila, it is an interesting theatre of war. The terrain was vastly different to that fought over elsewhere, relatively few armoured vehicles were used compared to Europe or Africa, and a diverse British Imperial army took on the (at the time) premiere jungle fighting army of the world, the Japanese in an environment which was as hostile as the enemy themselves.

I'm not entirely sure what my long term goal is with this, but I certainly plan to build and paint large forces of Japanese, British and Colonial troops, make some terrain for some of the battlefields and post some pictures and some historical info along the way.

As I said above, there was a very diverse British army fighting in these battles. Being based in India, the 14th Army included Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Nepalese units. The local forces were often brigaded with a British unit on a 2:1 basis of Indian:British (a throwback to the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of 1857). British troops came from as far north as Ross-shire in Scotland and as far south as Devon in England. A fair number of regiments from the north of England were present as well, including my hometown regiment, the Durham Light Infantry. (Which isn't surprising since the DLI had 15 battalions and served in most of the British campaigns of WW2 to some degree).
In addition to British and Indian forces, three African Divisions were present in the campaign to liberate Burma. Troops from Nigeria, The Gold Coast, Gambia, Uganda and Kenya were shipped over to the Indian subcontinent where they took part in the advance into India.
More specialist troops such as the Indian Parachute Brigade and a few Royal Marine Commando units were involved at various points, as were native troops who served as guides, spies and advisors to the British troops moving through their territory.

Some of the more historically minded of you may be wondering why I haven't mentioned the Chindits. (The Chindits were a long range reconnaissance/ saboteur formation if you weren't aware of them). Honestly speaking, I'm not all that interested in them. They certainly did an amazing job, cutting supply lines and harrassing the enemy, but as an elite, all volunteer formation that mainly took part in small skirmishes with enemy patrols, they just don't grab my attention all that much.
Likewise, the Americans who fought to keep the Burma road open to supply their Chinese allies just don't do an awful lot for me I'm afraid.
So for the allies, I'll be focussing on British Imperial forces for the main part.

Facing off against the British 14th Army was the Japanese 15th Army. After fighting the British forces to a standstill in the Arakan, General Mutaguchi launched an invasion of India through the jungles and hills of Northern Burma. A feat of incredible daring, the British were caught flat-footed by the unexpected and sudden advance of three Japanese infantry divisions consisting of over 80,000 battle hardened troops. The Japanese themselves had thought such a move impossible until late 1943. It was the success of the first Chindit operation which had shown the Japanese high command that large bodies of troops could penetrate the overgrown terrain and attack from an unknown direction.
Unlike the British, the Japanese army was much more homogeneous. They did have some allied forces though. Upon entering Burma, the Japanese had encouraged the Burmese to rise up against the British. Anti-Imperial sentiment was very strong in Burma and soon the Japanese had a large force of irregular troops aiding them. However, once it became clear that the Japanese were not likely to be leaving anytime soon, a lot of the Burmese volunteers chose to fight against both sides for their independence. The Burmese leader was General Aung San, the father of the current Prime Minister of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. Due to the unreliable nature of the Burmese forces, they remained in Burma as rear echelon troops.
In addition to the Burmese, a small force of Indian troops was formed to begin the liberation of India. The Indian National Army was set up by a pro-independence political leader and rival of Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose. After leaving India at the beginning of the war, he had first approached Germany and then later Japan with the proposition of forming an army to kick the British out of India. Japanese leadership agreed that it was a worthwhile proposal and allowed him to recruit from the Indian troops in POW camps and from Indian civilians within Japanese held territory. For the battles in 1944, the INA had roughly 6000 men available, though they were lightly equipped. While some of the troops were die-hard believers in independence, a lot had joined up simply to escape the POW camps. As a result quite a few deserted at the first opportunity. The INA troops took part in several battles around Imphal, where they discovered that the Indian troops on the British side considered them the worst kind of traitors. INA troops caught by their countrymen were often shot out of hand. The Imperial troops could understand the desire for independence, (survivors of the INA were well received in India after the end of the war), but despised them for betraying their oaths of allegiance during a time of war. Armed with captured British equipment and outdated uniforms unsuited for jungle warfare, the INA were often outmatched by their former brothers in arms. They do however provide a characterful opportunity for modelling, so at some stage I will definitely be trying to put together a small force to use alongside my planned Japanese army.

And that's about it for now. I will try to keep this thread updated with my plans, progress and thoughts as I go. Now all I need is a lot of time, energy and the ability to avoid my focus drifting off to another project.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Sun Sep 02, 2018 12:47 pm

Looking through my collection of Japanese minis, I had a few already undercoated, so I started work on a few of those. A mortar team, an MG team, a light howitzer and some officers.
Image

And next in the assembly pile:
Image
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Lovejoy » Sun Sep 02, 2018 2:59 pm

I’ll be following this. Don’t know if you have read Quartered Safe Out Here, but I think it’d make fascinating reading for your project. It details the author’s personal experiences in this theatre during the war, and is a gripping and thoroughly recommended read. I really must read it again myself.

This is the same George McDonald Fraser who authored the Flashman series (must get to it one day) and, erm, apparently the Octopussy and Red Sonja scripts...mind you he also seems to have written one of the definitive texts on the border reivers, The Steel Bonnets.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Sun Sep 02, 2018 11:30 pm

@Lovejoy - I picked up Quartered Safe Out Here from the army museum at Carlisle Castle when I was over there in July. It's a great book, as you say, being an autobiography written by a novelist with an interest in history, rather than by a historian with no concept of how to tell a story. It's more amusing, sad, thought-provoking and interesting than any of the other military history books I've read before. I also have a collected set of stories by the same writer that follow a Junior Officer fresh from the Burma campaign and his adventures post WW2. Well worth a read.

On the subject of books, Fergal Keene's 'Road of Bones' is a good, though somewhat dryer, read. It covers the Japanese assault on the Indian border, particularly with regards to the Battle of Kohima and it's aftermath. The writer travelled to Japan and spoke with some of the Japanese survivors and their children, as well as talking to folks on the British side.

I'm currently working my way through Osprey's book on the Battle of Imphal, and I have copies of their Kohima and Meiktila books on order as well.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:14 am

Well, between a general apathy towards painting recently and what hobby work I have done being focussed on an upcoming Bolt Action game set in Italy, nothing much has happened with this project. :oops:
So, to provide some image of progress, here is a little historical background.

Lieutenant-General William Slim - Officer Commanding, British 14th Army
General Slim began his military career as a junior officer in WW1. He was wounded during the Gallipoli campaign, returned to service later in the war and was wounded again during the Mesopotamia campaign. Between the wars he served in the British Indian Army as an officer in a Gurkha regiment. Early in WW2, he took part in the East African campaign as commander of 10th Indian Brigade based in Sudan. He was wounded yet again fighting the Italians in Eritrea. In the summer of 1941, he led the 10th Indian Division in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Following the campaigns in the Middle-East, he was given command of two divisions in Burma in 1942. The divisions suffered badly during offensives by Japanese troops advancing into the country and were soon forced to retreat to India. In October of the same year, he was given command of XV Corps, but following numerous arguments with his commanding officer General Irwin, was temporarily pushed aside. General Irwin took personal control of XV Corps and led them into combat in the first Arakan campaign. XV Corps fared poorly and even though Slim was restored to command he was unable to make any headway and withdrew his men. Irwin and Slim both blamed each other, but Irwin was sent home in disgrace and Slim promoted to command of the newly formed 14th Army.

General Slim was not a great general in the style of Napoleon or Alexander. But he was a good general. He learned from his mistakes and took great pains to find solutions to them. During the battles in Burma he saw how Japanese forces quickly cut supply lines after encircling the British positions. He saw how nervous British troops were about operating in the Jungle and the fear that was evident when they did encounter the Japanese. He also paid attention to the high levels of sickness within his army. All of these were problems that he had to address before any successful assault on the Japanese could take place.

To Be Continued...
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Sat Sep 29, 2018 1:23 am

The other day, 2 boxes of the new Warlord 8th Army infantry arrived. One kit bash with their regular British infantry and a metal head from Gripping Beast later and:
Image

The mould lines on the 8th army arms are still visible. :? I'll have to go over them again with a file.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Mike the Pike » Sat Sep 29, 2018 3:17 am

Oops, I forgot your Marine arms. Remind me before the next games day.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Tue Oct 16, 2018 9:52 am

Wow, nearly a month since I said:
Primarch wrote:To Be Continued...
As I said in my last post, Slim had several issues to deal with before he could feel confident sending his troops back into the fray.
The first thing he had to deal with was the British and Indian troops being apprehensive about jungle warfare of any kind. Every unit in the 14th army was scheduled for jungle training behind the lines, and when in the line, they were to start making aggressive patrols deep into the jungle. Even though there was little expectation of meeting enemy forces, rigorous patrol schedules were organized so that troops would be spending more time in the environment and learning how to survive in it. Local tribesmen were brought in to act as guides, imparting some of their wisdom to the troops that accompanied them.

The second issue that Slim had to address was the sense of fear that had built up in his men since the losses suffered during the initial battles with the Japanese. In the minds of the men, the Japanese were almost superhuman fighters, capable of emerging from the jungle without warning and sweeping everything before them. Overcoming this required a significant change in tactics at every level. The standard procedure for the British was to fall back if they were ever in danger of being outflanked. If a clear line of communication could not be held open, the units were to retreat to a position where they could. The Japanese, well aware of this doctrine sent their own units on wide flanking thrusts, so that when the British did come to fall back, the Japanese were already behind them, leading to ambushes and the surrounded British surrendering.
Slim decided on what most of his peers would have considered an insane strategy. Instead of falling back on their lines of communication, the Commonwealth soldiers were instructed to fall back on each other, setting up self-contained 'boxes,' which they would defend at all costs. Slim ensured that these boxes would receive constant supply from the air, as the Allies had a great deal more aircraft available than the Japanese did. The men were to fortify their position and dig in at the first sign they were going to be surrounded, since they inevitably already had been. Slim also did his best to ensure that wounded troops would be flown out of the boxes wherever possible. Knowing that they would receive proper medical care meant that the troops would fight harder and for longer.
(It is interesting to note that Hitler ordered his men to use similar techniques against the Russians during the later half of the war. Due to the Russians being able to interdict most German aircraft, the Germans tended to lose more men than they would otherwise have done. Air superiority was a critical component of this tactic).

Slim's final issue was one of health. Malaria was a severe problem for the troops, with some units reporting 60% of men unfit for duty. The British were issued with medicine to protect them from the disease (though it's effectiveness was questionable), however it tasted vile and most men didn't take it. Previously, ensuring that the men took their medicine regularly was a job for the medical staff. Most of the troops sat through their instructions and then didn't bother taking their dose. Seeing that this method wasn't working, Slim issued a standing order that henceforth ensuring the men took their medicine on time was the duty of their commanding officers. To make sure the point was made, he fired several high ranking officers in the units which had the worst sickness rates. This shook things up so much that the reports of malaria dropped from 60% to merely 5% within the space of a few weeks. Discipline was restored and the health of the men improved significantly.

General Slim's care for the men under his command became one of his most defining traits. His men knew that he cared for them and wouldn't take any unnecessary risks with their lives. This led to them calling him 'Uncle Bill'. As George MacDonald Fraser (the author of the book mentioned further up the thread and a young officer in the 14th army), writes:
"But the biggest boost to morale was the burly man who came to talk to the assembled battalion … it was unforgettable. Slim was like that: the only man I've ever seen who had a force that came out of him... British soldiers don't love their commanders much less worship them; Fourteenth Army trusted Slim and thought of him as one of themselves, and perhaps his real secret was that the feeling was mutual."

I think it is perhaps fair to say that the British army was capable of halting the invasion of India and turning the tide in Burma largely because of the efforts of their commanding officer.

Next Up: General Mutaguchi Renya, CO of the Japanese 15th Army.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Thu Oct 25, 2018 9:15 am

Lieutenant-General Mutaguchi Renya - Officer Commanding, Japanese 15th Army.

Lt.General Mutaguchi was a career soldier and of a similar age to his counterpart General Slim. He graduated from the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1910 and served in a variety of staff positions. Early in his career he served with the Japanese forces sent to the far east of Russia as part of the Siberian Intervention. The Siberian Intervention was a multinational coalition of troops sent to aid the White Russian forces against Lenin's communist forces in the Russian Civil War. The Japanese initially annexed part of Siberia, but were eventually forced to withdraw due to mounting diplomatic pressure from abroad and the rising toll of holding the area.
Mutaguchi then served as a military attache in France, before returning to Japan to serve on the Imperial General Staff. During the 30's he was given command of the Japanese garrison in Beijing. Following a promotion he was given responsibility for the Japanese army in China, and was ultimately responsible for the troops involved in the Marco-Polo Bridge Incident which sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War. There is no evidence to suggest that the incident was intended to spark the war, the Japanese forces in China were well prepared following years of uneasy truce and minor skirmishes. (One suggested cause was the Chinese Communists, who intended to force the Chinese government into a protracted war with the Japanese, thus leaving the way clear for a communist takeover. Again, there is no evidence to fully support this theory).
After returning to Japan and a teaching position in 1939, Mutaguchi was given command of the 18th Division during the invasion of Malaya in 1941. He led his troops to victory in Malaya and Singapore, before engaging the Americans in the Philippines. Finally his division was assigned to Burma, and in 1943, he was given command of the 15th Army.

Lt.General Mutaguchi was a driven officer and dedicated to the Emperor and a believer in the code of Bushido. He was vigourous in exercising the power at his command and there was a great deal of friction between Mutaguchi and the generals serving under him. Disagreement was frowned upon and officers were expected to follow orders without question and keep their opinions to themselves. In contrast, Lt.General Mutaguchi did his utmost to remain on good terms with the higher echelons of command. He was assertive and aggressive, which had stood him in good stead throughout much of his career. While initially sceptical of an invasion of India from Burma, once he became convinced that it was possible, nothing was going to stop him. He managed to talk his superior officer into putting his plan forward at the Imperial HQ and started organizing his troops. General Mutaguchi's plan was ambitious, even considering the large gains the Japanese had made up to that point. He planned to march his entire force through hundreds of kilometres of dense jungle and mountain terrain into India. The Imperial HQ questioned the ability of the forces available to achieve this goal and set about revising the plan...

To be continued.
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Re: Bolt Action Blog - East of the Empire

Post by Primarch » Sun Oct 28, 2018 9:47 pm

The first models of my Japanese unit are done.
Image
And a close up of the command figures.
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