The Noose Tightens


5 April

RWK return to Kohima in response to Japanese attacks

6 April

31st Division mount the first concerted attack on Kohima

8 April

Japanese 138 Regiment cuts the route between Jotsoma and Kohima

During the course of 5 April the Japanese mounted successive probing attacks at Jail Hill to the south of the perimeter and successfully dislodged elements of the Shere regiment overlooking the Naga village to the north. The perimeter held was remarkably small, little more than 1,000yd (915m) from north to south and only about 900yd (825m) at its widest point.

By 6 April the Japanese had finally cut all communication between 161st Brigade and the Kohima garrison and the close siege now began in earnest. A series of attacks by Fukunaga’s 58th Regiment succeeded in forcing elements of the Ghurkhas and the Burma Rifles from their position on Jail Hill, driving them onto DIS Hill where they were met by a company of the RWK under Maj. Shaw. The Japanese now occupied positions overlooking the southern aspect of the Commonwealth position, but the cost had been heavy, including the loss of the commander of the 2nd Battalion of 58th Regiment. A plan was made to mount an immediate counter-attack with another company of the RWK, but the Japanese had dug in with remarkable speed and were obviously present in considerable strength, so the plan was abandoned to conserve the fighting strength of the battalion.

Despite the encircling Japanese forces, it proved possible to infiltrate a company of the 4/7th Rajputs before the Japanese cut the telephone line that day. Throughout the night the Japanese mounted repeated attacks from Jail Hill to DIS Hill. The attacks were direct and aggressive with no attempt to outflank or suppress the defenders, which rather suggests that the Japanese commanders believed that the garrison had been shaken by the events of the day to such an extent that they would be prone to panic or despair and could be swept away by a determined driving charge. A counter-attack on DIS Hill revealed that Japanese troops had ensconced themselves among the buildings there and had to be winkled out with some difficulty, but did produce two prisoners, one of whom was able to provide some intelligence relating to Japanese strength and positions in the vicinity.


The Vickers gun was adopted by the British Army in 1912 and became the standard machine-gun for all the Commonwealth countries. It was gas-operated and the barrel was cooled by a water-filled jacket. Despite the tropical heat, the Vickers gun performed admirably in Malaya and Singapore. The gun fired the same .303 calibre bullets as the Lee-Enfield rifle and the Bren gun, but from 250-round canvas belts. Each battalion had a machine-gun platoon, usually with four weapons and with six to eight men per gun; two to operate the weapon and the others to carry ammunition and provide protection for the gun team.

During the night of 7/8 April the Japanese launched several attacks on DIS Hill and elsewhere at the southern end of the perimeter, and by dawn on the 8th they had recovered their position among the DIS buildings, while at the northern end they were able to push the defenders back toward the Deputy Commissioners bungalow. During the course of the day they had also isolated 161st Brigade at Jotsoma and had managed to bring at least one of 31st Divisions’ 75mm howitzers into action.

Although he had succeeded in bringing his force through terrible terrain and concentrating it at Kohima, Gen. Sato had problems of his own. His superior, Gen. Mutaguchi, quite rightly saw Dimapur as being the more important objective and ordered Sato to advance accordingly. Sato was focussed on the immediate problem of Kohima, but could hardly ignore a direct order, so he now sent one battalion of 138th Regiment toward Dimapur. Within a matter of hours Mutaguchi’s order was countermanded by the theatre commander, Gen. Kawabe, who was already having doubts about the practicality of Mutaguchi’s plans to advance deep into India. Accordingly, the battalion made its way back to the Kohima battle and the threat to Dimapur was lifted. Strategically, however, this was a disastrous move. Although there were a great many troops in the Dimapur area, there were very few combat soldiers and many of these were unfit for battle. It is quite possible that a defence of the stores and railway marshalling yards there could have mounted, but if it had failed the loss of munitions would have been a massive blow to the Commonwealth forces throughout the whole theatre.

The plight of the Kohima garrison was painfully clear to Brig. Warren’s 161st Brigade at Jotsoma. Warren’s mountain guns were firing on Japanese positions around the town and breaking up attacks on a daily basis, but the prospects of penetrating the Japanese forces to relieve the garrison were not good. On 9 April Warren mounted an attack on Piquet Hill by 1st Punjab Regiment, which floundered against strong opposition. Things were not going well for the Japanese either: three attacks by 58th Regiment that same night failed to make much impression on the defenders, though there were heavy losses on both sides.


29 Defoliation from shelling at Kohima. (AB/AWH)


Lance Corporal John Harman of the 4th Royal West Kents was the son of millionaire Martin Coles Harman, owner of Lundy Island. Corporal Harman was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his repeated conspicuous gallantry on 8 and 9 April 1944 during the Battle of Kohima.

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