SUMMER EXHIBITION – The Context

SUMMER EXHIBITION – The Context

The war in the Far East began violently and suddenly in 1941 for the Allied forces stationed in Malaya and Burma. In the face of a rapid Japanese advance Allied forces could do little except fall back in the face of a formidable and battle-hardened enemy.  By the end of 1941 Malaya had been conquered and on February 7th 1942 Singapore, one of the largest fortresses in the Far East and containing over 80,000 Allied troops, fell to Japanese hands.

The situation in Burma was scarcely any better. After the Allied troops in Burma fought a running retreat to the banks of the Sittang River in early 1942, chaotic communications meant that the decision was taken to demolish the Sittang Bridge to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands, but thereby trapping two thirds of the retreating force on the enemy side of the river.

While the destruction of the bridge had caused a delay to the Japanese advance, the extensive withdrawal of British forces required further offensive actions by a rear-guard. Gurkhas played a key role in this, as they carried out actions aimed at stalling Japanese advances, thereby allowing the main force to successfully retreat north into British India.

The military situation came to a head in early 1944. After consolidation by both sides, the Japanese 15th Army launched its U-Go offensive into India, aiming to capture key supply depots. After months of fighting in and around Imphal and Kohima, this assault was blunted and turned with the Japanese starting to be pushed back out of Burma from late 1944 by a better-equipped, trained, and experienced 14th Army, led by General William ‘Bill’ Slim.

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