The Final Onslaught


30 April

Grover’s 4th Brigade re-establishes lines of communication from Jotsoma to Kohima

5 May

Armoured attack successfully ejects Japanese forces from FSD Hill, but with heavy losses

By 30 April it had become apparent that the Japanese still had considerable strength on GPT Ridge and the Aradura Spur, and there was little chance of forcing them out of both positions simultaneously with the forces available. Grover now assigned 4th Brigade to an attack on GPT Ridge. It was expected that this could not be mounted until 5 May due to the extreme difficulties of moving the brigade on foot, but the 2nd Norfolks were able to take up positions there on the 4th and, with 4/1st Ghurkhas, now managed to establish a clear line of communications back to Jotsoma. The remaining Japanese troops on Kuki Piquet were now very nearly encircled, though they continued to fight with incredible determination. The following day a force of nine Grant and five Stuart tanks tried to force their way to FSD Hill with the intention of consolidating the progress made on the 4th, but, although various engineering stores were delivered, this was only achieved at some cost and five of the Grants were put out of action, effectively blocking the main road.

Meanwhile, 6th Brigade had not been able to take Jail Hill and the remaining reserve unit, 1st Queen’s Royal Regiment, was committed to the task early on 7 May. Initially they made good progress, but the Queen’s were brought to a halt when they encountered a particularly strong bunker complex at the top of the hill which was amply supported with fire from the enemy positions on DIS Hill and GPT Ridge. The attack was eventually abandoned by mid-afternoon and the unit withdrew under cover of a heavy smoke screen.


35 A Fourteenth Army observation post directing artillery fire. (AB/AWH)


36 British troops at Kohima. (Author’s collection)

Elsewhere there had been some progress throughout the day. 6th Brigade managed to establish themselves firmly on FDS Hill and was pressing on with clearing the DC’s bungalow, but the eastern aspects of Kuki Piquet and FSD Hill still remained in enemy hands and could call on fire support from other positions. 5th Brigade had been able to achieve a firm grip on the western edge of the Naga village but had not been able to clear it.

There was now something of a lull in the battle, though it can hardly have been apparent to the troops on the ground, whether Commonwealth or Japanese, due to the continued shelling, sniping and patrol activities. In the absence of major attacks, both sides were able to concentrate their efforts on stockpiling and distributing supplies and – for the Japanese – preparing their dug-outs and trenches for the next onslaught.

Early on 11 May, Brig. Loftus-Tottenham’s 33rd Brigade, with 1st Queen’s and 4/15th Punjab leading, and with 4/1 Ghurkha in reserve, advanced toward DIS Hill and Jail Hill, while 5th Brigade renewed its attack through the Naga village as 4th and 6th Brigade continued the process of destroying the Japanese positions on the southern aspects of FSD ridge and Kuki Piquet.

Although 33rd Brigade’s advance made a promising start, by 0700hrs it had been brought to a halt in front of strongly held Japanese entrenchments by devastatingly accurate fire from the reverse slope of GPT Ridge and FSD Ridge. A squadron of Grant tanks from 149th Royal Armoured Corps (RAC), which had been tasked with supporting the attack on FSD Ridge, found they could not get past a roadblock which the Japanese had constructed around the four tanks that had been lost nearly a week before. As the day wore on it became apparent that little more progress could be made and a vast concentration of smoke was deployed so that casualties could be evacuated. Then, at about 1900hrs, a mist descended on the battlefield, obscuring the Commonwealth troops from fire and allowing them to dig in close to the Japanese positions while food and ammunition was brought up to them. By around 1030hrs the following day the roadblock of disabled tanks had been removed and the balance of the tank squadron was able to come to the support of 33rd Brigade who were now able to make a slow but steady advance over the course of the day. Meanwhile 4th and 5th Brigades, despite hard fighting, remained more or less stalled to the north and south. Therefore, when night fell there were still Japanese troops ensconced on Jail Hill and DIS Ridge, and in trenches and foxholes stretching from Jail Hill to Kuki Piquet, but by dawn on the following day 33rd Brigade had finally broken the spirit of the defenders and were able to inflict heavy casualties as they abandoned one position after another. The remaining bunkers around the DC’s bungalow held out for a while, but a determined push by the Dorsets eventually destroyed the last remnants of the Japanese forces on Kohima Ridge.

The units of 33rd Brigade and 2nd Division could now receive supplies and replacements, but the Kohima battle was not yet complete. General Sato’s 31st division was extremely short of food and ammunition, battlefield casualties had been heavy and many more men had been lost to illness, but it was still a potent force and could still shell the Kohima to Imphal road. By 24 May 5th Brigade had been relieved at the Naga village by 33rd Brigade, thus allowing Grover to reunite 2nd Division and go on to the offensive. Their advance began on 27 May with an attempt by 6th Brigade to seize Aradura Hill with 4th and 5th Brigade in support advancing in parallel on either side of the main road while an armoured column pushed along the road between them. The attack did not fare well; a Japanese unit made an audacious local counter-attack and – probably by sheer chance – captured the 6th Brigade tactical HQ. At much the same time the tanks encountered a minefield which proved to be very difficult to neutralise and heavy casualties were incurred by the engineers. A further attack by 1st Royal Scots and 2nd Norfolks fared no better and was abandoned by about 1630hrs with nothing to show for it but heavy losses.

Meanwhile, 33rd Brigade was still engaged at the Naga village. On 30 and 31 May, 4/15th Punjab and 4/1st Ghurkhas made repeated attacks to little avail and with heavy losses, with one company of the Punjabs being reduced to only eighteen men. Although they had made little ground, they had inflicted considerable loss on the enemy and, after dusk on 1 June, an attack by 1st Queen’s under cover of the evening mist entered the Naga village to find it empty – the Japanese had withdrawn earlier in the day.

At Aradura Ridge the Commonwealth troops continued to be held up by small, but utterly determined, groups of Japanese soldiers, often no more than a section or platoon of men, but well protected in carefully sited bunkers and trenches. However brave and committed they might be, the Japanese soldiers were in a hopeless position. Whether through lack of ammunition or simply a matter of accepting the inevitable, the last Japanese troops had withdrawn during the night of 3/4 June; 1st Assam Regiment took possession of Pulebadze and, after a brief show of resistance by a small Japanese rearguard, 5th Brigade captured Phesama Ridge.

General Sato’s 31st Division had been beaten decisively, but were still in remarkably good order for a formation that had travelled through such hard countryside, endured such harsh conditions, suffered such heavy casualties and failed to achieve its objectives. Once it became clear that he could not hope to complete the capture of Kohima nor press on to Dimapur, Sato’s objective became the obstruction of the Commonwealth drive to relieve Imphal. In this he had achieved an incredible degree of success, especially bearing in mind his dreadful supply situation and his heavy losses in battle and to disease. He had failed to destroy the Kohima garrison, but he had stopped 2nd Division in its attacks at Aradura and forced 33rd Brigade to a standstill at the Naga village, and clearly there was a limit to what his troops could do. On 31 May he arranged to leave elements of 124th and 138th Regiments in and around the Naga village and ordered his senior infantry commander, Gen. Miyazaki, to form a rearguard of about 600 men to hold up the Allies at Aradura. These units would either die in their trenches or, in due course – if at all possible – disengage and follow the balance of the division as it made its escape across country, abandoning much of what remained of their equipment. Sato’s 15th Division was more than beaten; it was close to utter destruction.


Map 6 The Commonwealth counter-offensive from Imphal. (Butler, p.352)

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