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The Synthesizing Role of The I.N.A. Martyrs' Memorial: Moirang & The Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph: Lotpaching (Red Hill)

Manindra Singh Mairembam

4. Battle of Lotpaching or the Red-Hill (R. K. 2926):

As already cited, the Indo-Japanese forces advanced quickly upto Moirang from where they moved along between Bishnupur and Ningthoukhong. Both the Indo-Japanese and British forces tried tooth and nail to overpower each other through hand-to-hand fighting at times. This battle would remain as one of the bloodiest at the Battle of Imphal. The object of the advancing column had been to capture the strongly fortified British camp at Bishnupur. On failing to capture this particular British camp, the advancing columns bypassed the British areas and followed the western hill ranges of Manipur so as to put up a blockade to British supplies at Lotpaching (Red Hill).

Over to this last phase of the Imphal Campaign. The two main adversaries were destined to finally lock each other in the final embrace of death in the Battle of Lotpaching or the Red Hill. Lying on the historic old Cachar road from Imphal, the Lotpaching or the Red Hill (R. K. 2926) proved strategically important for the Japanese assault on Imphal, while on the part of the British defenders they had to fight the last ditched battle just to retain the strategic plains of Imphal. As the occupation of Imphal was their main objective, the 33rd Division desperately attempted to reach Imphal through Buri Bazar (Nambol). The Japanese army asked Col. 'Saku', Commander of 1/214 Regiment based temporarily at Ingurok to lead the strike. Hence Saku's regiment left their Hqs. (Ingurok) on their way to Imphal by May 16 and crossed the Silchar Track, and proceeded eastward via Tairenpokpi, Nungnag, Khoirok river, Wainem and Irengbam villages so as to focus on Lotpa Ching (Red Hill) area and the outskirts of Chingphu (quite unaware of the existence of the Hqs of 17th Indian Division at Chingphu).

Some Japanese troops of 2/215 Regiment, who were entrusted to storm Bishnupur, had meanwhile joined 1/214 Regiment at the Red Hill, after streaking through the villages located on the fringes of Loktak lake just for avoiding any possible confrontation with the Allied troops on the main route. Upon reaching the Red Hill they managed to make some hurried preparations too. In order to defend themselves, the Japanese had to construct 'Pimples', 'Foxholes' and 'Gunner Boxes' in the entire region of the Red Hill. And they could put up a blockade to British supplies at Lotpaching for about 48 hours at the cost of heavy casualties on both sides.

But across the enemy line the Allied forces were making an all-out bid to check further advances of the Japanese combatants. And just to tactically break through the stiff resistance offered by the Indo-Japanese forces, a Composite Force was formed on the 24 May out of the units attached to Cowan's Hqs. viz. 'Woodforce', after its Commander. The force was to comprise: i) 4/12 Frontier Force; ii) 48 & 63 Brigades; iii) 7/10 Baluch; iv) two companies of 6/5 Maratha Light Infantry; and v) Cavalry of 50 Para Brigades representing infantry, tanks, sappers and artillery. The real confrontation took place on the 25th May and continued right upto 30 May. During all these six days fierce hand-to-hand and bayonet-to-bayonet fights including all the dingdong battles of grenades continued, interpolated by shrilling sounds of burst of machine-gun firing.

And yet neither had achieved any decisive success and both sides suffered heavy losses.17 But in the last few days of May, the firepower of the powerful Bofors field-guns and skilful manoeuvrings of the Lee tanks recently acquired by the Allied forces turned the table against the Japanese light tanks. Besides, Woodforce, the other detachments and all other Allied fighting units had the advantage of being constantly supported by a regular supply-line and an uninterrupted communication network between the field units and Divisional Hqs., which naturally the advancing Japanese units critically lacked. All these gave the tactical command group, Woodforce, an upper edge.

On the other hand, the Indo-Japanese forces could not pass heavy guns and tanks through Bishnupur for the Red Hill confrontation. Thus the chance of overcoming Imphal became slimmer. Had the Japanese forces succeeded in capturing the British camp at Bishnupur its onward march to Imphal would have proved possible and the course of Indian history might have been different hitherto. The famished INA-freedom-fighters and the Japanese troops with no hope of reinforcements and further supply line, except their morale had to retreat to save themselves from a possible total annihilation. On the Japanese side the battle proceeded very badly. One company of 214 Regiment had reportedly been totally wiped out to the last man. And on 30 May 7/10 Baluchs found that the Japanese had moved away from the Red Hill leaving behind two 'pimples' full of a carpet of corpses where at least 200 men of the 1st Battalion of 214 Japanese Regiment were killed, possibly from aerial bombing.

Nevertheless, the Japanese still persisted in their effort and attacked the same area again in the wee hours of 25 May. In this battle one British Corporal Monk of Corps of Signals was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his coolness and informing the Brigade Hqs for every few minutes even after the British officers had been killed. And one Military Cross (MC) was bestowed on Lt. A. Weir of 3-Carbiniers who managed to get up on the Red Hill so as to give direct aid to Allied soldiers on foot. Thus the Blitzkrieg of the 33rd Japanese Division was checkmated by the infantry of the 17th Indian Division at the foot of the Red Hill, while they were heavily bombarded and continuously gunned down by the Royal Air Force gunners and bombers. The nightmare on the Red Hill during the last few days of May, 1944 had a lone Japanese survivor of his own company: 1/214 Regiment, all of which were wiped out in that final assault of the 17th Indian Division.

The crucial last few days in May 1944 of the Japanese Army on the Red Hill was personally recalled by a lone survivor, one M. Mimura of Saitama, Japan (85 years old) on the occasion of the inauguration of the Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph in 1994 at the very Red Hill (see section 9 below). On retrospect, the Allied forces had themselves been reeling as long as they had to check the Indo-Japanese advances from all the three sides. Quite fortuitously the advance from Tamu was halted at Pallel by the Allied air-bombing in league with own combatants on the ground. Likewise, the Kohima assault from Ukhrul was also warded off by the Allies who had enough time to replenish all their war materials and troops along surface route for the critical Battle of the Red Hill, where the onslaught was well within apprehension of any strategist. Against this concerted and replenished Allied defence, the Japanese were then fighting with only their determination, and thus were easily defeated.


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