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British Fourteenth Army

From Academic Kids

The British Fourteenth Army, in spite of its name, was a multinational force: most of its units were from the Indian Army and there were also significant contributions from East African divisions within the British Army.

The army was formed in 1943 in eastern India. Its commander was the brilliant General William Slim. It is referred to as the "Forgotten Army" because its operations in the Burma Campaign were often overlooked by the contemporary press, and have remained more obscure than those of the corresponding formations in Europe to this day.

With the creation of SEAC in late 1943, the Eastern Army of India was split into two. The Eastern Command took over responsibility for Bihar, Orissa and most of Bengal. The rest, including Burcorps, became the Fourteenth Army under the command of General Slim.

Many plans for offensives from India to recapture Burma from the Japanese had been formed since British forces had been ejected from the country unceremoniously in 1942. However, they had all floundered for lack of resources. Since the UK was fully engaged in fighting in the Mediterranean and European Theatres, it could not spare many resources for SE Asia. By late 1943, it was felt that enough resources had been assembled to go over to the offensive. This was not to be a general offensive, but a more limited push along the Arakan coast of Burma. The attack proceeded, but a Japanese counterstroke halted its progress relatively quickly.

With the offensive in the Arakan blunted, and indeed in danger of being cut off from the rear, the main Japanese threat materialised. They attacked the centre of Fourteenth Army and the battles of Kohima and Imphal began. During March and April 1944, large numbers of British and Indian troops were cut off in those two enclaves. They were supplied by air in the largest operation of its type. The Japanese forces were cut off from their supplies by air attack, and gradually the roles were reversed. The besiged garrisons broke out and pursued the Japanese back to the border.

With the Japanese attack broken, a general advance was ordered. The original idea had been to capture Rangoon, the capital of Burma, from the sea and then link up Fourteenth Army troops advancing from the north. However, due to lack of landing craft, the landing could not be pursued.

Fourteenth Army had to be supplied from the air. In a brilliantly successful campaign, they made it to Rangoon from the north before a deadline when the American transport aircraft, upon whose support the offensive rested, were reassigned. The capture of Rangoon, a large port, made it possible to supply Fourteenth Army by sea, and thus no disasters ensued. Rangoon was captured at the beginning of May, and with its fall most of Burma, outside of a small area down towards the Kra Isthmus, was recaptured.

The Army headquarters was then relieved of responsibility for operations in Burma. IV Corps from Fourteenth Army remained in Burma, and took over operations against the remaining Japanese formations. A new Army headquarters, Twelfth Army, was raised to take over command of Burma.

Offensive operations under the command of Fourteenth Army then paused for the rest of the war, whilst an offensive to retake Malaya by amphibious landing, Operation Zipper, was planned. Fourteenth Army was low profile, but within its limited powers, it made a good contribution towards Allied victory over Japan

Fourteenth Army was renamed Malaya Command on 1 November 1945.

When you go home don't worry about what to tell your loved ones and friends about service in Asia. No one will know where you were, or where it is if you do. You are, and will remain "The Forgotten Army." – attributed to General Slim
When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today – The Kohima Epitaph
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