The battles of Imphal and Kohima were fought between March and June 1944 in the northeast Indian states of Manipur and Nagaland. They were the turning point of the war against Japan, halting the Japanese offensive and paving the way for the recapture of Burma (now Myanmar).

Background

After the Japanese army drove Commonwealth forces into India in 1942, the British-Indian Fourteenth Army began to build logistical bases at Dimapur and Imphal to support the retaking of Burma. A Japanese offensive in the spring of 1944, called U-Go, was an attempt to forestall this invasion by destroying Commonwealth forces and supplies on the Imphal plateau and cutting the Imphal-Dimapur road by capturing Kohima.

Kohima

At Kohima, a small British-led garrison of about 2,500 men faced around 15,000 Japanese troops. Located on a ridge, it was cut off on 6 April by the advancing Japanese. Non-combatants such as clerks, signalmen, cooks and labourers were all assigned to help the defence as Commonwealth forces dug in on Garrison Hill. Subjected to near-continuous shelling, sniping, mortar fire and infantry assaults, the garrison relied on air-dropped supplies. Water was rationed to one pint per man per day.

On 18 April, British troops fought through the Japanese positions to relieve the siege of Garrison Hill. Even bloodier hand-to-hand combat occurred afterwards, particularly around the remains of the Deputy Commissioner's bungalow and tennis court. Further Commonwealth attacks continued from late April to June, all resulting in fierce fighting, but eventually the road to Imphal was reopened.

Imphal

The main Japanese attack against Imphal was launched on 6 March 1944. Well-trained British and Indian forces successfully defended their positions in April, then began a counter-offensive in May, pushing northward to link up with a relieving force fighting its way south from Kohima. Japanese troops, suffering from near-starvation with limited supplies, were forced to withdraw.

The Kohima-Imphal road was reopened on 22 June, ending the siege of Imphal, although the Japanese continued to fight on the edge of the Imphal plain. The Japanese attack was finally called off on 3 July and Japanese forces began a long retreat in which many thousands perished from disease, exhaustion and starvation.

Aftermath

British and Indian forces lost around 17,000 men, dead, wounded and missing. Japanese losses are said to have amounted to more than 60,000 casualties, including more than 13,000 dead. This defensive victory paved the way for the final victory in Burma, allowing Commonwealth forces to plan a new offensive to drive the Japanese south towards Mandalay.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Kohima War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of some 1,420 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom more than 140 remain unidentified. Within the cemetery stands the Kohima Cremation Memorial, which lists the names of nearly 920 servicemen of the Indian Army whose remains were commited to the flame in accordance with their faith.

Imphal Indian Army War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of almost 830 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom more than 200 remain unidentified. Within the cemetery stands the Imphal Cremation Memorial, which lists the names of nearly 870 servicemen of the Indian Army whose remains were commited to the flame in accordance with their faith.

Imphal War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of some 1,600 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom nearly 140 remain unidentified.