Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Jungle is Neutral

In the Second World War the Japanese forces had a reputation for infiltration and surprise, supported by little logistics. In early 1943 a small force of raiders was inserted into the mountains about five miles west of Kaduma. Their task was to observe deployment of enemy forces in the area. For this task they were given five days of rations and told to hide in the jungle as the local population were hostile and would report them to the overwhelming forces of the enemy.
For the next four days the raiders observed the area, skulking in thick jungle, and creating observation posts during the day and night. Sleeping was often done in Chaung's, which were the local name for ditches or dried up rivers. Sometimes these contained water. By now the raiders had a picture of the movements. Road movements were limited to small parties on foot and single vehicles at night. These took no steps to conceal themselves. Every night at around midnight a train used the main line. On day four the decision was taken to ambush the main line and cut the road. 

For the next three days the raiders moved towards the chosen ambush site. Occasionally they would halt to ask villagers questions, which would lead any reports reaching the enemy to indicate the raiders were heading away from their chosen ambush point. By day eight, food exhausted, the raiders were within striking distance of the road and railway. In a final briefing the raiders were given the password and counter sign. The former being the first line from a popular song, the latter the second line. The ambush was to comprise of three groups. Two blocking groups and the ambush party.
One group would head north for eight miles along the main road, here was a weak construction concrete bridge. This would be rigged for demolition and the squad would watch over it. Should a large force of enemy approach, one of the raiders precious radio sets and its mule was given to them. Once the main ambush was warned the blocking force would do its best to slow the enemy, destroy the bridge, and withdraw. Otherwise the blocking group was to leave traffic unmolested and the bridge intact until the main ambush was sprung.

A group with identical orders was sent south to a small choke point on the road near milestone 24. Instead of demolishing a bridge they would have mines, which were not to be placed until a large enemy force approached, or the main ambush occurred.
All three forces would withdraw separately to a rendezvous point set up by the second in command with a few guides and guards, and the supply mules.
All three groups set off early in the night with all established in position by the designated time. During the movement to their locations one of the groups was spotted by three locals. Luckily, by a quirk of culture the locals decided it was too late in the day to report the matter to the enemy forces. This apparently was a common occurrence from local population. However, despite this the enemy had learnt of the raiders presence, although not their exact location. By 0100 on the ninth day of the operation the train had not arrived. The raiders had to withdraw by 0500, any later and the raiders risked being unable to make it to the safety of the jungle before daybreak. By 0400 the raiders had been in position for several hours, tired, exhausted, nervous and starving, only their will to complete the mission kept them going.

As 0500 approached, in the far distance the train’s approach was detected. Due to the enemies suspicions the train had been re-enforced. The escort now consisted of a company of soldiers. In addition, two armoured wagons had been provided to enable the troops to suppress any ambush.

Despite the hour and the stronger than anticipated enemy, the raiders prepared. When the train entered the kill box the trooper assigned raised his PIAT and fired.
 The raiders were Chindits, and the train full of Japanese troops. The Chindits had been formed to launch raids and disrupt the Japanese supply lines well behind the forward edge of battle.  These men often fought half-starved and were frequently racked by tropical diseases. The title of this article comes from Freddie Spencer Chapman, who spent a lot of the war behind Japanese lines in Malaya (and Googling him is well worth it - e.g. he once spent 20 hours in a kayak off the Greenland coast in a raging storm...). Chapman used the saying to point out that the jungle that was seen as an alien environment by western soldiers was no such thing. The Japanese mastery of the terrain was part of the aura they had to the common western soldier, and they too could learn to do what the Japanese did.

The Chindit's opening shot penetrated the boiler of the train and caused the entire engine to explode and derail itself. This explosion meant that the train did not put its brakes on, and the wagons and coaches still on the rails rolled out of the kill box. To prevent it going further a demolition party triggered a mine in a culvert under the railway which caused the rolling stock to halt, with two derailing at the front.
Chindits demoing a railway bridge
The British troops now out of position leapt up and charged after the rolling stock. As they caught up with the train they moved down the line pouring fire into the train from point blank range. The Japanese in the armoured wagons opened fire, however the Chindits were now too close to the train to be fired upon, so the Japanese fire, although intense was flying over the heads of the British.

The troops not in the armoured wagons dismounted from the opposite side of the train and fell back some 300 yards to regroup for a counter attack.
This was foreseen by the Chindits as a possibility. Therefore, a platoon of Commandos had been stationed nearby to react to this. The Commandos charged the marshalling Japanese and in a short bloody fight scattered them, leaving around thirty casualties behind.

A second PIAT was brought up and quickly silenced the armoured wagons. The Chindits began to loot the train and police up the ambush site. As well as recovering some precious scraps of food and documentation, a Japanese official was found hiding in the first-class toilet, standing on the seat.
Chindits getting their wounded out.
Around twenty prisoners were taken, they along with the captured documents and the Chindit’s casualties (two killed, four wounded) were air lifted out by L-5's from the US No 1 Air Commando at about 0530. Around the same time another train was detected approaching. This was a fully armoured train coming to destroy the Chindits. It pushed some empty flat cars ahead of it to detonate any mines. About four miles from the ambush it was blocked by infantry with a PIAT team in support. The PIAT destroyed the empty flat car at the front. The Japanese train commander decided he was unable to advance due to the high risk of mines and so halted. This allowed the Chindits time to destroy the first train by setting everything on fire with a lifebuoy flamethrower and successfully break contact and withdraw.

Image credits:
ww2today.com, warfarehistorynetwork.com and www.irrawaddy.com

Also, today is the 21st, so you know what this means don't you...? Its the final countdown!