The Burma Campaign

1st Burma Rifles

The Battalion was ordered to be raised on 1st June 1945, to become part of the interim or new Burma Army being formed by the British colonial government of Burma.  It is interesting to note that the Battalion war diary views the Battalion as being “re-raised”, indicating a lineage back to the 1st Battalion, The Burma Rifles.  The new 1st Burma Rifles was composed of Burmans, most of whom had been members of the pre-war Burma Army who had returned to their homes when Burma was evacuated in 1942 following the Japanese invasion. 

Major R.A. Scoones and a small cadre arrived at Meiktila from Hoshiarpur, India on 30th July 1945 to begin forming the new battalion in the area.[1]  It was estimated that the new battalion would be ready for active service by April 1946.  Scoones, officially second in command of the 1st Burma Rifles, reported to the Headquarters, No. 552 Line of Communications Sub Area.  He had been informed that he would be provided with 80 instructors (Governor's Commissioned Officers (G.C.O.s) and N.C.O.s) from existing units, of which the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Regiment was the most likely candidate.  Although no orders had been received by the 2nd Battalion, it was thought that no more than 25 men could be spared given the current commitments.  Clarification was sought from Headquarters 505 District.  The situation was made clear on 6th August when copies of correspondence and orders were received instructing the Battalion to make the necessary transfers.  In total 80 men were required and would be permanently transferred to the 1st Burma Rifles.[2]

On 24th August, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Regiment and his company commanders held a conference to discuss the transfer of men to the 1st Burma Rifles.  It was felt that the posting away of so many experienced G.C.O.s and N.C.O.s would have an adverse effect on the Battalion however orders were to proceed.  Four days later Major Scoones arrived to discuss the details of the transfer to his battalion.  An initial cadre was posted to the 1st Burma Rifles on 4th August.  The first transfer proper occurred during September.  On 14th September, a letter was received from Major Scoones of the 1st Burma Rifles confirming a reduced requirement, the numbers for transfer being cut back from 80 to 70.  Those selected from 'D’ Company, 2nd Battalion arrived in Mandalay on 22nd September and two days later the first party of instructors left for Meiktila to join the 1st Burma Rifles.  This party consisted of five G.C.O.s and 55 other ranks.  The original intention had been for all transferees to be Gurkhas however in order to make up the required numbers it was necessary to include a number of men of Kumaoni and Garhwali origin.  On 2nd October, Subedar Mandhoj Chh and thirteen other men transferred to the 1st Burma Rifles.[3]

With instructors now in place, the personnel were gradually collected at the Holding and Enquiry Centres created for the purpose and assessed as whether fit for renewed service or discharge.  Those suitable were posted to the new battalions and by 31st December 1945, the strength of the 1st Burma Rifles was twelve Officers, 27 Governor’s Commissioned Officers (G.C.O.s) and 338 Burma Army Other Ranks (B.A.O.R.).  Attached to the Battalion were one G.C.O. and 22 B.A.O.R.s of the Burma Army Service Corps and the Burma Army Ordnance Corps.[4]  The 1st Burma Rifles were at Meiktila on 23rd January 1946, listed as Area Troops under the command of the Headquarters, North Burma Area.[5]

However, most of the men posted were found to be unsatisfactory for continuing military service, the majority having no desire to serve.  These men were discharged and on 1st May 1946, excluding recruits, the strength of Burman personnel with the Battalion had shrunk to 21 G.C.O.s and 234 B.A.O.R.s.  No regimental centre was created to administer and recruit for the new Burma Rifles battalions so orders were given for the Battalion to enlist its own recruits.  In the beginning this was limited to 100 men and later increased to around two companies.  In May 1946, the Battalion was ordered to enlist 500 recruits.  A recruiting party under Major W.D. Hardless, M.C. was sent to Shwebo District to undertake recruiting.  This party later moved to Monywa.  The first batch of recruits joined the Battalion on 5th March 1946.  However recruiting in Upper Burma was unsuccessful largely owing to competition with Police.  Only 21 recruits had been found when the recruiting party was withdrawn on 10th April.  Recruiting in Lower Burma was more successful and those not needed by other units were sent on to the 1st Burma Rifles and the target of 500 men was reached on 6th May 1946.  It is thought that the majority of the personnel now forming the Battalion were former Patriotic Burma Force (P.B.F.) men.  So that the Battalion would be able to undertake internal security duties, two companies of Gurkhas were transferred to it from the 2nd Reinforcement Battalion, Burma Regimental Centre on 16th March 1946.  In April additional details arrived and the Battalion formed a 3-inch mortar and signal platoon.[6]

At Meiktila on 21st June 1946, orders were received from the Headquarters, 17th Indian Infantry Division to place one company at two hours notice for internal security duties.  At 14:00 on 27th June, ‘D’ Company under Major J.A. Smith left for Myingyan to take up these duties.  This company returned on 16th July, the return march taking two days.  On 20th July, ‘C’ Company (Gurkhas) transferred back to the 2nd Reinforcement Battalion, B.R.C.  During July ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies (Recruits) continued training, the most senior company being in their eighteenth week of the 24-week training programme.  During August additional recruits were enlisted, mostly from the Pakokku District.[7]

In May 1947, the 1st and 2nd Burma Rifles participated in successful internal security operations, taking the surrender of many ‘dacoits’ north of Prome and in the Thayetmyo area.[8][9]

Following independence one of the largest anti-government factions was the Communists, of which the major grouping was the Communist Party of Burma (C.P.B.), sometimes known as the “White Flag Communists”.  Discontent among the C.P.B. grew into armed struggle between themselves and government forces and by May 1948 pitched battles were being fought.  On 15th June 1948, twenty-one privates of the 1st Burma Rifles at Wa in the Pegu District defected to the C.P.B.  In nearby Abya Buda, 31 soldiers shot their officer before also going over to the Communists.  The following day more troops of the 1st Burma Rifles defected and went underground, as did elements of the 6th Burma Rifles.  A large area around Waw, Daik-U and Thantabin in Central Burma was quickly taken under Communist control.[10] 

Steps were taken to remove the units affected by mutiny to locations remote from the area of operations.  The 1st Burma Rifles was one of the units removed from the operational area, being sent from the Area around Pegu to Thayetmyo.  The 3rd Burma Rifles at Mingaladon was not considered reliable enough to relieve them.[11]

There were further, major defections to the insurgent cause in August 1948.  Most of the 1st and part of the 3rd Burma Rifles deserted to the insurgents on 9th and 10th August.  The 1st Burma Rifles defectors, around 600 men, were led by Lt. Colonel Zeyya, formerly a Staff Officer at the War Office who had been appointed Military Attaché Designate, London, and Major Sien Tin, the Battalion second in command.  Zeyya attempted to persuade the 6th Burma Rifles to join the insurgency and having failed in this then contacted General Ne Win, offering to stop the fighting and to unit the White and Yellow factions of the P.V.O. and the Communists in a common front against the Karens.  While the officers may have been committed to the cause many of the men were less so, having merely followed the lead of their officers, and morale was poor.  At the time of the desertions in August the 1st Burma Rifles was fully equipped including a normal scale of weapons and with a considerable amount of small arms ammunition.[12]

The defectors of the 1st Burma Rifles at first occupied Thayetmyo and Allanmyo, north of Prome, helping to extend the control of the Communist insurgency to Thayetmyo town and the Prome and Tharrawaddy Districts.  The 3rd Burma Rifles mutinied at Mingaladon and in the beginning occupied the Hmawbi and Wanetchaung areas.  The men of the two battalions attempted to collaborate to seize Rangoon by joining forces in the Hmawbi-Wanetchaung area before marching on the city.  However the plan came to nothing.  The 1st Burma Rifles were stopped at Letpadan by a combined force of Union Military Police and Levies, supported by the Burma Air Force.  The survivors withdrew to Prome. The 3rd Burma Rifles were defeated also and dispersed into the Hmawbi-Tantabin area.[13] 

The plan to retake Prome for the Government was devised by Lt. General Smith Dun, then the Supreme Commander of all defence Forces, including the police.  To the north, the 2nd Karen Rifles first moved on Magwe from Meiktila, aided along a difficult route by equipment of the Burmah Oil Company.  The 2nd Kachin Rifles were flown from Myitkyina to Mingaladon with orders to advance on Prome from the south.  However, the 2nd Kachin Rifles advance was delayed by the separation of detachments from the battalion to deal with local crises.  When they did begin to move north they were hindered by insurgent attacks and destroyed bridges.  In the north, Thayetmyo and Allanmyo were recaptured despite stiff resistance for some days from the Army deserters north of Allanmyo. Finally an attack was made on Prome in battalion strength by the 2nd Karen Rifles.  After inflicting heavy casualties on the mutineers of the 1st Burma Rifles, the Karens entered Prome on 9th September, to find that most of the surviving enemy had fled.  The survivors of the 1st Burma Rifles handed over to the P.V.O. and moved to the east.  These now desperate men trekked across the Pegu Yomas along old Japanese escape routes to the Communist strongholds around Pyinmana and Toungoo.[14]

However the existence of the 1st Burma Rifles was however maintained, while elsewhere in 1949 the battle between the Government and the Karen nationalists raged.  On 8th March 1949, the strength and location of the 1st Burma Rifles was reported as:[15]

- ‘A’ Company of three platoons:   Gyogon, in the Irrawaddy Region to the west of Hinthada

- A platoon of ‘B’ Company:   The War Office, Rangoon

- A section of ‘B’ Company:   Tactical Headquarters, Thamaing, Rangoon.

By June 1949, the reformation of the Battalion was under way at Mandalay and it was planned to train and equip the battalion by October.  The nucleus of the battalion was made up of men from other Burma Rifles battalions.  The balance came from volunteers of the Burma Territorial Force (formerly the Sitwundan, levies raised locally to combat insurgents) in North Burma.[16]

By March 1950, with many of the major towns and villages back in Government hands, the 1st Burma Rifles was sufficiently trained to be deployed once again.  In the Shan States some movement across the border by Chinese bands was reported, at first it was unclear whether the Chinese were Nationalists or Communists.  A company of the 1st Burma Rifles and a company of the 13th Battalion, Union Military Police (U.M.P.) were sent to the area but proved lacking in strength to control border movement.  Around Loikaw and Taunggyi in the Shan States, there was low level fighting with what were probably 'dacoits'.  The Government troops in the area were the low grade 1st Shan and 1st Karenni battalions, both units being only partially trained.  In the east of the Shan States the single company of the 1st Burma Rifles was replaced as the garrison of Kengtung town by the 4th Burma Regiment.  The major problem in this area continued to be with what by now had been identified as an influx of Chinese Nationalist soldiers across the border in the Mong Hopaung area.  The 4th Burma Regiment was ordered to round them up and disarm them in preparation for repatriation to China.  Mindful to avoid border disputes, the French-Indo China and Siamese border guards were warned of the 4th Burma Regiment's mission.[17]

18 March 2018

[1] Robert Anthony Scoones born, 15th September 1915.  First commissioned, 29th June 1938.  Employed by Steel Brothers, 1939 to 1941.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt., ABRO (ABRO 36), 29th September 1940.  Served with the 5th Battalion, The Burma Rifles, October 1940 to 1941-42?.  Acting Captain from 2nd March 1941.  Temporary Captain from 2nd May 1941.  As Major and second-in-command, the 1st Burma Rifles, arrived in Meiktila from Hoshiarpur to begin raising the new battalion, 24th July 1945.  Commanding Officer, 1st Burma Rifles, from August 1945?  Died, 1999  (; Burma Army List October 1940; Burma Defence Services List July 1941; Burma Army List 1943; Thacker's Directory; War diary 2nd Burma Regiment, WO 172/7802; War diary 1st Burma Rifles, WO 172/10324).

[2] Burma Army, WO 203/1766; War diary 2nd Burma Regiment, WO 172/7802

[3] WO 172/7802

[4] War diary 1st Burma Rifles, WO 172/10324

[5] War diary ‘G’ Branch, North Burma Area, WO 172/9982

[6] WO 172/10324

[7] WO 172/10324

[8] A ‘dacoit’ in India or Burma is a member of a band of armed robbers and an act of banditry is a ‘dacoity’.  During the early days of the British return to India the British tended to refer to all armed trouble makers as ‘dacoits’ even though at this time many had or claimed to have allegiance to one of the nationalist groups.

[9] “Epilogue in Burma, 1945-48”, McEnery J.M., Spellmount (1990)

[10] The Second Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th June 1948, DEFE 7/863

[11] Review of the Situation in Burma, 14th September 1948, DEFE 7/863

[12] The Second Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th June 1948, DEFE 7/863; Review of the Situation in Burma, 14th September 1948, DEFE 7/863; The Third Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th September 1948, DEFE 7/863

[13] The Second Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th June 1948, DEFE 7/863; Review of the Situation in Burma, 14th September 1948, DEFE 7/863; The Third Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th September 1948, DEFE 7/863

[14] Review of the Situation in Burma, 14th September 1948, DEFE 7/863; The Third Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th September 1948, DEFE 7/863

[15]Review of the Civil War in Burma”, British Services Mission, 21st March 1949, DEFE 7/864

[16] The Second Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th June 1949, DEFE 7/865

[17] The First Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,31st March 1950, DEFE 7/866; The Second Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th June 1950, DEFE 7/867