The following are some further items from British sources on the experiences
gained in the Burma Campaign. Other material on this subject was included
in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 9, p. 15.
a. Pace of Fighting
The British reports stress the "absolute necessity" for an adequate flow of
reinforcements, permitting the interchange of units in the front line so
that troops will have a rest every 3 or 4 days. The Japanese Army (it is stated), will
sacrifice manpower and use fresh troops in repeated assaults to gain an objective.
b. Arming of Service Troops
In the fighting in Burma, lines of communication were very long and exposed, and
the Japanese made dangerous attacks on rear areas by flanking or infiltration
groups. Under these conditions, it was regarded as absolutely necessary that
all types of troops--engineer, signal corps, ordnance, etc.--should be provided
with, and trained in the use of, rifle, bayonet, grenades, machine guns, and
c. Equipment for Jungle Fighting
The following recommendations were made:
(1) Troops should be armed at all times. Every man should be issued a
bandolier, which he can carry about with his rifle wherever he goes. Full
equipment need not be worn at all times; in an emergency the important
thing is to have a rifle and 50 rounds.
(2) Every man should carry at least one light machine-gun magazine in addition
to his own ammunition.
(3) Some form of knife should be issued to troops in jungle country.
(4) Individual entrenching tools should be carried by every one, but
should be modified to exclude the pick end and to make the digging end
slightly stronger (Note: this refers to British types of tools). These
would be supplemented in the battalion by ordinary picks and shovels.
d. Infantry Patrols
(1) Length of Patrols
Throughout the Burma Campaign, infantry were at all times called upon
for heavy patrol duties. The number and length of patrols were increased by
the enclosed nature of the country (restricting observation), by lack of reconnaissance
aircraft, shortage of mobile troops, and the Japanese aptitude for using
little known and even unmarked trails. The arrival of an armored brigade
did little to help reduce the burden put on the infantry; in the early
stages, this brigade operated as a separate mobile force ahead of the
infantry, and later was employed for shock action or distant patrolling.
These factors not only made patrol duties heavy, but increased beyond
ordinary requirements the depth to which patrols were required to
operate. Bren-carrier patrols to a distance of 13 miles were
commonplace, and sometimes infantry on foot were called upon to
patrol as far as 15 miles ahead of forward units. The necessity for
frequent carrier patrols, at long distances, led to the carrier vehicles
being treated as armored cars--an unsuitable role. Many were lost on roads
and trails in close country through grenade or mortar attacks, or through
destruction of the crew by snipers armed with automatic weapons and
concealed in trees.
(2) Functioning of Patrols
When infantry patrols are sent on foot for such long distances from their
nearest support, very high morale is required, as well as leadership above the
average. If a patrol returns prematurely or fails to carry out its mission, this
may vitally affect the security of the main forces.
In a country where Fifth Columnists are numerous, British sources recommend
special precautions, such as moving only at night and avoiding villages.
(3) Forms of Patrols
In some cases, infantry in trucks accompanied armored carriers on
long-distance patrols. It is doubted whether this was good practice, since the
infantry was vulnerable to attack and the trucks had limited capacities for
cross-country patrol work.
On one occasion, a 3-inch mortar was man-handled forward by a patrol
and achieved a notable success, the enemy being completely unprepared
for fire of this type forward of the British positions.
(4) Sending Back Information
Lack of equipment for communications added to the difficulties of patrol
work in close country. Information was often slow in getting back from the
patrols. Retirements of the main forces often had to be made on short notice,
and patrols could not always be notified of the movement. Sound signals
(prearranged fires, etc.) were not always a practical method of overcoming
(5) Possible Use of Cavalry
Neither side employed cavalry for patrols. The British report suggests
that cavalry using small native ponies would have been invaluable in this
campaign. For patrol work, it is suggested that the mounted infantry should have a high
proportion of light machine guns and submachine guns carried with the
troops. Mounted patrols could use pack wireless and Jeeps to communicate information
and receive orders. Specifically, the report suggests that three companies of
mounted infantry, plus a company of armored scout cars (U.S. type) having
some heavy mortars, would make the ideal reconnaissance unit or light covering
force for a division.
Without adequate maps, long distance patrols found great trouble in
carrying out assignments in difficult country.
e. Village Fighting
Village fighting was involved in a majority of the actions in this campaign.
(1) Character of Burmese Villages
They consist of bamboo houses, with the living quarters raised off the
ground and entered by a ladder. Cattle and equipment are kept on the
ground underneath. The roofs are thatched with leaves, and holes can be easily
made in them. Houses are generally separated from each other by bamboo
stockades, often with sharpened ends, and the whole village is usually
surrounded by a stockade. Cactus hedges are common. Villages, if lacking in
bamboo or other cover, are usually built in squares. Where cover is
abundant, the village is irregular. There is plenty of cover for concealment
in the ordinary village.
Village sanitation is deplorable. The best water supply (wells) was usually
in the villages; this led to troop concentrations in or near villages, and
so to village fighting. The best water is found at the village temple.
(2) Japanese Tactics
The Japanese shock-troops were adept at infiltrating into villages and
concealing themselves. They used trees extensively; also green camouflage
nets. They were skillful in taking cover in houses and frequently used the
roof as a sniping position, after knocking out a small hole, by supporting
themselves on rafters. Culverts, bridges, sunken roads, bamboo clumps, wicker
baskets, rice dumps, trenches under houses--all were likely hiding places.
(3) British Tactics
To clear a village occupied by the Japanese required bold and resolute
leadership. The roads were to be avoided. Unless the village ran into the
jungle, a straightforward advance through the houses on both sides of the
road paid best. Attack, in two waves, should include a firing party with
automatic weapons followed by a mopping-up party--both with plenty of bombs.
If snipers were not caught by the first wave, they could be dealt with by
setting fire to houses and other cover--in such a way as not to interfere with
the main operation. Mopping-up had to be thorough, and the houses searched
from ground to roof; otherwise, the Jap merely "fades out" and "fades in" again
at will. When the village is flanked with jungle, it is suicidal for attacking
troops to advance across the more open spaces of the village with the flanks not
cleared. An encircling movement through the jungle into the village will bring
fewer casualties. In such a maneuver, objectives must be strictly limited. As
each successive objective is gained, there must be a pause for reorganization,
selection of the best objective (to be clearly stated to all troops), and
replenishment of ammunition. These encircling movements can be supported by
frontal covering fire with automatic weapons.
Tanks can be effectively used in support of infantry in clearing a village.
They advance down roads echeloned back from each wave of infantry. They are
thus comparatively safe from antitank grenades, and the infantry ahead of the
tanks can deal with antitank weapons covering the road. Tanks often obtained a
favorable target by moving along the flanks of villages.
Armored carriers can be used in a similar way, if tanks are not available. Both
tanks and carriers can easily make breaches in stockades by charging them.
The searching fire of mortars, well in front of advancing infantry, is
effective in making the Japanese give ground.
In firing a village (to improve fields of fire), it should be remembered
that dumps of rice will take 2 to 3 days to burn out. A dry bamboo house
will burn out in 20 to 30 minutes. The "plop" of burning bamboo shoots has
often been mistaken for enemy small-arms fire.