Battle of Kohima-Imphal, 1944

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William Slim versus Renya Mutaguchi: A Japanese army under Mutaguchi tries to cut off and destroy a British army under Slim. Can Slim defend and supply the beleaguered twin cities long enough to mount an offensive? Also known as Operation U-Go. .

The Burma Campaign itself is often seen as comparatively unimportant even though more Japanese were defeated by Slim than any other commander. Indirectly though, the Burma Campaign was vital; had Slim failed to reopen the Burma Road, the Japanese Ichi-Go Offensive to knock China out of the war may have succeeded. This would have made the Pacific War much more costly and difficult, considering that the three million Japanese troops and vast resources committed to China would have been freed up for operations elsewhere in the Pacific. The Japanese high command could have used these resources in the battles of 1945, maybe repulsing the Americans at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and preventing decisive defeat against the Soviets in Manchuria. This would have improved the Japanese strategic situation and maybe emboldened the Japanese leadership to fight on following the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Slim won this battle the way the Allies won the war: he lured Mutaguchi into a battle of attrition in which an overwhelming superiority of material and logistics prevailed. Mutaguchi’s plan was rigid and inflexible which meant the Japanese did not capture the British supply base at Dimapur despite being undefended. Slim had a plan but adjustments were made during the battle to overcome new obstacles such as the unexpected attack against Kohima. This battle highlights the importance of maintaining flexibility in one’s plans and securing one’s logistical chain. It is also an excellent example of the “attack from a defensive position” maneuver.
kohima-imphal preview 2Notes

I was fascinated with this battle for a long time. Battles of annihilation, in which a commander’s goal is to annihilate the enemy force rather than just to defeat it, are always intriguing and showcase a high level of skill. Think back to Cannae, Mohi Heath and others; Kohima-Imphal is on the same level as these, only lesser known.

During the upgrade of this animation, I was unable to add a scale because I could not find the original map I used to trace the terrain.

– Jonathan Webb

Works Consulted
Evans, Geoffrey. “Imphal-Kohima.” In Decisive Battles of the 20th Century, edited by Noble Frankland and Christopher Dowding, 251-264. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1976.
Greiss, Thomas. Campaign Atlas to the Second World War. New Jersey: Avery, 1989.
Moser, Don. China-Burma-India. New Jersey: Time-Life Books, 1978.
Slim, William. Defeat Into Victory. London: Cassell, 1956.
British soldiers:
Japanese soldiers:
Map of the Pacific:
Map of the world:
Renya Mutaguchi:
William Slim:

Readers Comments (28)

  1. I believe my Father took part in this campaign , also the Battle of the tennis court as it came to be known , he was in the Royal Scors , a Lance corporal , he was injured by shrapnel , a Gurkha soldier also his friend , carried him to safety where he spent a year in hospital , they did manage to save his arm and his life . His name was John Reidie . If that gurkha had not saved his life I nor my brother and 2 sisters would be here today . Gordon Reidie

  2. This is awesome i love seeing the statics in this way how do you get the voice on it

  3. Having served in the area at that time in the R.A.F. To get a bigger picture. of what was going on in your surroundings in a animated way FIne

  4. Your commentary has a fairly big factual error around 00:25.
    1) Stilwell was not in command in Arakan.
    2) Arakan is in the south, not the north.

  5. That is a fairly big factual error. I meant to refer to Stilwell’s Northern Combat Area Command and its victories around Myitkyina. It will be corrected in the near future.

  6. Thank you so much for this informative and interesting piece.

    My father also served at Imphal in this campaign, and although he has spoken very little over the years of this chapter in his military life, I remember him enthusing about the brilliant, pragmatic, enlightened leadership of William Slim.

  7. Alan Redican May 8, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

    My father Tom was one of the forgotten army(14th) he saw big men reduced to slim men due to not enough food supplies .I’m assuming he was in Imphal He never spoke about a lot of what happened,only how good the Ghurkas were .
    He had nightmares up until the week that he passed away aged nearly 82 in 2003

    • The food supplies especially during seize of Imphal we’re reduced to half the ration and eventually to quarter at some point. These was a strict order as the land supplies had been cut off by the Japanese during the first week of April,1944 untill the lifting of the seize of Imphal on 22 June of 1944. So it was horrible for the troops that are deployed in Imphal during the seize that their rations had to be cut down inevitably ! Every supplies in Imphal was totally by air only during the seize of Imphal for about 88 days !

  8. good to see battle of kohima n imphal… i’m from imphal….war memorial were placed here…n the japanese war veteran are constructing a hospital,here, in the memory of there fellow soldiers. hope more british veteran came to see their fellow fallen soldiers. young british soldier just 18 year old died here….its sad people almost forgot….while people are busy with western n eastern front.

  9. im from near imphal war cemetry. I can help u anyone if u want photos of rear imphal war cemetry.just contact

  10. Its awesome, and was particularly helpful in understanding what exactly happened in Imphal and Kohima.

  11. The japanese never win any battle against westerners right?

  12. I could have written the comment by Alan Redican. My father, Lonz,( also in the forgottten army, the 14th,) was at Imphal. Dad rarely spoke, but when he did, he also praised the Ghurkas. Dad also had nightmares and suffered recurrent bouts of malaria throughout his life.

  13. Charlotte Bathurst October 31, 2012 @ 10:55 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I am planning to retrace Dad’s footsteps in Imphal. He finally told me about keeping the airstrip open and defending it from the Japanese, just before he died. This overview is great.

    • The field Regiments of the RAF were responsible for the defense of all air strips which was six in numbers. The field Squadron of the RAF got no help from the army in defending and operating almost all the Airstrips during the seize of Imphal. During this seize the only supplies route to Imphal was solely by air. The field Squadron’s of the RAF plays a vital role during the seize of Imphal and this was one reason during the Battle the British did not run out of supplies and eventually leads to victory !

  14. In answer to Spider man, my understanding is that the victory Kohima/Imphal of the 14th Army was the first and only defeat of a Japanese field army in all of WWII, the rest were of individual units, brigades, garrisons. The Japanese until that April of 1944 had overrun all of Southeast Asia and Oceania and were considered unbeatable. The same British regiments which won the battle of Kohima had been forced to retreat from the Arakan under Wavell a year earlier, out fought and completely out maneuvered by the Japanese. Both Japanese soldiers and officers had proven far superior to their enemies until Kohima when shouting Bansai they fell by the thousands in the final assaults on Garrison Hill. My Dad was with the 6th Brigade, 2nd DLI from its arrival in Bombay (Mumbai) in June 1942 until its return to England after the war’s end. My take is that the Japanese soldier was tough, brave, cunning, and resourceful, just as the 14th army learned to be; the quality of his officers varied as much as that of our own. My Dad, too, considered the Ghurkas (Nepalese) the finest soldiers with whom he had had the honour to serve, and praised the Royal Scots at every opportunity for their courage in every battle. Bill Slim and my Dad shook hands after his company broke a Japanese roadblock for the linkup to Imphal. The troops were as proud of their commander as he was of them.

  15. ,I live in imphal. Last month i went to visit the war cemetry in kohima. As i read the carvings on the tomb stones i found a carv,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  16. I once read an article entitled ‘the seven gambits of war’ giving seven basic options open to any general in fighting a battle: Imphal-Kohima was cited as a classic example of the option of retreat followed by counter-attack.

  17. Interestd to know or see the facts for yourself..?? Come to Nagaland-kohima during HORNBILL FESTIVAL( Held evry year from 1st dec to 7 dec.)…any tourist who attend de festival will gain better knowledge bout kohima battle or the famous battle of khonoma.. Log on to the website “Nagaland Horbill Festival”, 2 get more detail.

  18. hi im jitendera , editor of sadinama hindi magazine published from kolkata, due to ina and indian freedom movement we know very less about his great battle. any can voleunteer to publish atricle may come forword and ask me 9231845289. this is the war topoen may aspects . i salute this graet battle

  19. Angamba Singh July 9, 2013 @ 8:05 am

    hello…i am from Imphal and currently associated with an NGO “WW2 Imphal campaign foundation” …we are basically doing research on major battles that was fought in Manipur during WW2…we are also commissioning a private WW2 museum which is coming up soon…we have also identified all the major landmarks associated with WW2 with helps from Burma Campaign Society…Lots of celebration is being planned at Imphal for the 2014 WW2 anniversary

  20. anders lindberg June 11, 2014 @ 11:00 am

    Hi. What happend to Charles Pawney the vice govenor that refused to be evacueted and stayed whith two bodyguards armed with spears and knifes,being of the nagapeople? yours Anders Lindberg sweden

  21. In which year did Japan drop bomb in and around Mao gate Manipur?

    • April – June, 1944.

    • There was a bombing and strafing at the Karong area which is in Senapati district on 18 of May,1944 by a Squadron of RAF using a Hurricane IIC based at Tulihal airstrip in Imphal.

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