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TURNING POINT: 50 years on, a new booklet commemorates the bravery of North-East soldiers who helped win a vital victory in Asia

material on this page was submitted by Bernard Hope, the son of Tom Hope, DLI, veteran of Kohima

Echo, Friday, May 6, 1994

WITH the D-Day anniversary debacle and the success of the film Schindler's List, attention has again been focused on the horrors of war in Europe.

    But it had no monopoly on savagery. At the same time, Asia was under the grip of another peril as the Japanese tried to wrestle the colonies from the European empires.

    Fifty years ago, the 2nd Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry spearheaded the battle of Kohima, which spelled the beginning of the end for the Japanese advance in Asia.

    Anthony Barnes looks back and meets a campaign veteran.

THE jungle-fringed hill stations provide cool, quiet relief from the oppressive heat of the Indian plains.

    But the idyllic peace was shattered at one town in the spring of 1944, when Kohima - in the North-East province of Assam - became a raging battleground for three months.

    All parts of the town were absorbed into the battle, and at one point a tennis court saw a different kind of volley of shots when it became the only thing separating the two sides.

    The Japanese army, in a two-year march across South East Asia, had already claimed Malaya, Singapore and much of Burma - all British controlled.

    And next it expected a victorious breakthrough into India, provoking a revolt against colonial rule.

    The invasion would have seen an advance of 100,000 troops. The plan was first to seize the British defences at Imphal and Kohima and then head on another 30 miles to straddle the Bengal-Assam railway.

    The Japanese managed to isolate the hill on which Kohima stood - and laid it under a murderous barrage.

    Only 1,500 men were furiously fending off the Japanese 31st division, which numbered 12,000 men.

    Two weeks were spent under siege, with the only supplies arriving by air as the ground occupied by the British shrank until they were confined to the top of one hill.

    Finally, the British 2nd division, spearheaded by the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, got through to find a scene of devastation - no building was left undamaged and the dead lay unburied.


    They relieved the survivors on April 20, but there was no let-up in the Japanese onslaught. They needed the lofty ground to be sure of controlling the road which ran around the base.

    Two days later the Imperial forces launched an all-out attack to capture the town.

    Both sides suffered heavily, but the Durhams held their positions.

    After that unsuccessful blitz the bitter fighting went on until the Japanese withdrew in early June. The fighting had lasted 64 days.

    On top of being a battle which turned the course of the war in Asia, sparking the Japanese withdrawal, Kohima is notable for the fact that compared with the weight of the Japanese forces, there was only a handful of British holding them back. It has brought comparisons to the Zulu charge at Rourke's Drift.

    Kohima claimed around 30,000 Japanese lives, while British and Indian losses came to 5,500. From one 2DLI company of 136 men, only 60 remained.

    The 50th anniversary of the battle is being marked with the publication of a booklet, Forgotten No More.

    Written by Steve Shannon, of the DLI museum, it is to be published by Durham County Council.

See One Wearside man recalls horrors of brutal battle


Kohima1.jpg (81776 bytes) LAID WASTE:
 The charred landscape of Kohima after the Japanese forces had finally retreated.

Kohima2.jpg (142171 bytes) HEROES ALL:
 Tom Hope (second from left, with hands on hips) and stretcher bearers from the 2nd Battalion DLI at Kohima in 1944.


Saturday, 31 December, 2005 15:27

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