The Burma Campaign

2nd Chin Rifles

The 2nd Chin Rifles began raising at the same time as the 1st Chin Rifles, on 1st April 1945.  The Battalion was formed from former Western (Chin) Levies.  It remained under Line of Communication Command in the Chin Hills on internal security duty.[1]  The Battalion was formed by Major A.R.G. Baker who had served with the Burma Frontier Force before the war and with the Western Chin Levies from 1943.[2]  The Battalion was to be ready for service by December 1945.[3] 

Following formation at Tiddim, on 19th August 1945 the 2nd Chin Rifles was, together with the 1st Chin Rifles, under the command of 552 Line of Communication Sub Area at Kalewa[4] and moved to Yazagyo in the Kale area.  The Battalion moved to Shwebo by way of Rangoon in mid to late 1945.  On 3rd November 1945, Major Bryans arrived in Mandalay to reconnoitre the accommodation and positions to be taken up by the Battalion when it took over duties there from the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Regiment.  The Battalion advance party arrived in Mandalay on 14th November 1945.[5]  The three senior Chin officers of the Battalion at that time were Majors Hrang Thio, Dal Za Kam and Lian Chin Zam.[6]  On 23rd January 1946, the 2nd Chin Rifles was listed by Headquarters North Burma Area as Area Troops and located at Shwebo, with ‘C’ Company at Mandalay.[7]  Training continued throughout 1946. In mid-December 1946 orders were received for the 2nd Chin Rifles to move from north Burma to Mingaladon in January 1947, taking over from the 1st Chin Rifles which was to move into Rangoon. [8] [Add notes from war diary 2nd Reinforcement Battalion 1946 WO 172/10323]

In early 1947, the 2nd Chin Rifles was transferred from Shwebo to Mingaladon.  British Officers were still in command of the Battalion and the Commanding Officer was Lt. Colonel C.S. Sullivan, who sadly died in his sleep in May 1947.[9]  A new commanding officer arrived from the United Kingdom, Lt. Colonel Allen.  When “Burmanisation” of the Battalion was completed at the end of 1947, Major Dal Za Kam was promoted to Lt. Colonel and appointed commanding officer.[10] [11]

In late August 1948, there was a bloodless insurrection by the Karens (K.N.D.O.) and Mons (M.N.D.O.) in the Thaton-Moulmein area.[12]  This was temporarily settled by the efforts of the Karen leaders who undertook to keep the peace. Nevertheless, following the recapture of Prome in September 1948, the 2nd Kachin Rifles, commanded by Lt. Colonel Thing Nan, was sent from Nyaunglebin by sea to Moulmein to quell the insurgent uprising in Amherst District.  In December 1948, as political and inter-communal tensions mounted, K.N.D.O. and M.N.D.O members began to carry arms openly in the Amherst and Thaton Districts of Tenasserim.  In the second week of January 1949, reinforcements in the form of the 2nd Chin Rifles were sent to Moulmein from Prome.  Lt. Colonel Dal Za Kam was appointed the “Tactical Commander” of the “Tactical Headquarters at Pegu” at this time and was succeeded by the Battalion Second-in-Command, Lt. Colonel Son Kho Pau.[13]  Upon arrival at Moulmein Son Kho Pau established a security zone around the town and sent out companies of his battalion to the outlying areas with the purpose of undermining the insurgents and calming the civilian population.[14]  The combined efforts of the 2nd Chin Rifles and the 2nd Kachin Rifles resulted in the recapture of all areas previously held by the K.N.D.O. and the M.N.D.O. in the Amherst District.  Leaving the 2nd Kachin Rifles to maintain security in the Amherst District, the 2nd Chin Rifles then went on to re-occupy the Thaton District, capturing large quantities of arms and ammunition.[15]  

On 8th March 1949 the deployment of the 2nd Chin Rifles was:

- Administrative Headquarters, one platoon and Battalion Headquarters:   Moulmein

- Tactical Headquarters and two rifle companies:   Thaton

- One rifle company and two platoons:   Martaban.[16]

Meanwhile, the Karen insurgency was in full swing in Central Burma.  Attempts to capture Rangoon by the K.N.D.O. and men of the 1st and the 2nd Karen Rifles who had gone over to the insurgent side were narrowly defeated.  However the Karens held Insein and were besieged by the 1st Chin Rifles, battalions of the Burma Rifles and other units.  Heavy fighting continued at Insein throughout February 1949.  In the second week of March, the whole of the 2nd Chin Rifles was flown from Moulmein to Mingaladon over a period of three days, the airlift being undertaken by four aircraft.  From Mingaladon the 2nd Chin Rifles opened a second battle front against the Karens engaged in the defence of Insein.  The 1st Chin Rifles, commanded by Lt. Colonel Hrang Thio, was already engaged at Thamaing and the 2nd Battalion moved down to take on the insurgents at Swabwagyigon, to the east of Insein.[17]  Fighting took place here from the second week of March through until the K.N.D.O. withdrawal on 22nd May.[18]

The fighting at Insein was at times heavy and vicious.  Chin troops were at the forefront and involved in some of the fiercest fighting, around Sawbwagyigon between Insein and the Prome road.  To begin with the fighting was largely positional warfare, with both sides entrenched in interconnected bunkers.  Shelling, mortaring and machine gunning were common, interspersed with patrols, raids and limited attacks against isolated positions.  Casualties were heavy on both sides.  The 2nd Chin Rifles Commanding Officer at this time was Lt. Colonel Son Khio Pau and the Battalion Second-in Command was Major Thual Khup.  The overall Government commander at Insein was Brigadier Kyaw Zaw, commander of the South Burma District.[19]

There were days when the 1st and 2nd Chin Rifles suffered around twenty killed, the fighting was so fierce.  Also involved on the Government side was the Twante Battalion, Union Military Police.  A company of the 5th Burma Rifles had been brought in from the Arakan by air.  The Burma Rifles company launched an attack against the K.N.D.O. positions (possibly those on Pagoda Hill as related elsewhere) but suffered heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw.  The 1st Chin Rifles relieved the 5th Burma Rifles, continued the attack and successfully occupied the K.N.D.O. positions.  Sergeant Tai Cawn of the 1st Chin Rifles was awarded the highest gallantry medal, the Aung San Thuriya, for his exemplary leadership in this action.[20]

On 10th April, the combined force of the 1st and 2nd Chin Rifles, under the overall command of the South Burma Area commander, Brigadier General Kyaw Zaw, attacked Duck Egg Hill, the last major stronghold of the K.N.D.O. in the Insein area.  During the fighting the 1st Chin Rifles suffered fifteen officers and men killed and fifteen wounded.  The 2nd Battalion lost five men killed and fifteen officers and men wounded.  By May, when the K.N.D.O. had been defeated, the combined losses of the 1st and 2nd Chin Rifles amounted to over 300 officers and men killed and wounded.[21]

Near the end of June 1949, the 2nd Chin Rifles began an offensive against the K.N.D.O. in the Delta with the objective of clearing the Twante canal.  By 1st July, the Battalion had cleared the canal to the 19th milestone and by 14th July the operation was complete.  On this date, the 2nd Chin Rifles linked up with the 4th Burma Rifles at Maubin.  It was hoped that the K.N.D.O. east of Maubin would now surrender however they did not despite much publicised negotiations.[22]

The 2nd Chin Rifles retook Prome from the Communists in January 1950 and by February had retaken the Thayetmyo District.  Security of Prome and the surrounding district was handed over to the 1st Shan Rifles.[23]  In February 1950, in the Tharrawaddy District an attack by insurgents was repulsed only when two companies of the 1st Chin Rifles arrived.  Following this, activity was restricted to minor raids on villages and communications.  An operation with naval support in the Bawle Island area during the second week of January resulted in heavy casualties for the Government forces involved, with around 70 being killed.  The Karens were forced to retreat but once the supporting troops and naval craft were withdrawn the insurgents began to return.  The 2nd Chin Rifles and around four companies of Union Military Police undertook a successful operation to clear the area between Twante and Kungyangon, completing the mission and reopening communications in early February, some ten to fourteen days over schedule.[24]

In May 1950, the Government moved to recapture Prome from the P.V.O.  The advance on the town began on or about 12th May.  The original intention was for the 2nd Chin Rifles to advance up the river and for the 1st Burma Regiment to advance by road.  However the naval part of the operation was cancelled and the 2nd Chin Rifles was able to occupy Prome on 19th May against very little opposition, the P.V.O. having largely defected to the Government side.  The 1st Burma Regiment was left to guard the lines of communication.[25]

The Chin Rifles battalions continued to be involved in combating Communist and Karen and Kachin insurgencies into the 1960s.  Some reorganisation of the Burma Army took place during this period and included the dismissal or transfer of senior Chin officers who were replaced by Burman officers.  In the late 1980s further reorganisation did away with battalions organised and titled along ethnic lines.  In their place came integrated units identified by number.  It is believed that some time after 1988 the 2nd Chin Rifles became No. 308 Light Infantry Battalion.[26]

22 February 2018

[1] “Burma Army Reorganisation”, WO 203/503

[2] Burma Army List; Indian Army List; War diary Western Chin Levies, WO 172/2151

[3] War diary 1st Chin Rifles, WO 172/7808

[4] “The War Against Japan, Volume 5, The Surrender of Japan”, Woodburn Kirby S., H.M.S.O. (1969)

[5] War diary 2nd Burma Regiment, WO 172/7802

[6] "The Jungle in Arms", Oatts B., William Kimber (1962); "Tedim to Yangon, Background and Record of The Moong Family", Khen Za Moong, (1995).

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

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

[9] Cecil Steven Sullivan, born 1900.  Died 4th May 1947.  Burma Rifles.  Service No. 980. (Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

[10] Lt. Colonel Lian Chin Ziam took over command of the Chin Hills Battalion from Lt. Colonel R.H.L. Webb on 22nd December 1947  (“The Chin Hills Battalion”, MSS Eur 250).

[11] Tedim to Yangon

[12] The Karen National Defence Organisation and the Mon National defence Organisation respectively.

[13] Tedim to Yangon

[14] Lt. Colonel Son Kho Pau was a veteran of the First and Second Chindit Operations in 1943 and 1944.

[15] “The Outbreak of the K.N.D.O. and M.N.D.O.”, Yangon Siyin Baptist Church Silver Jubilee Magazine

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

[17] Lt. Colonel Hrang Thio was a veteran of the First and Second Chindit Operations in 1943 and 1944.  He had been awarded the Burma Gallantry Medal while serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles, gazetted 22nd June 1944 (London Gazette).

[18] The Outbreak of the K.N.D.O. and M.N.D.O.

[19] Tedim to Yangon

[20] Tedim to Yangon

[21]The Outbreak of the K.N.D.O. and M.N.D.O.” gives a figure of total Chin casualties as around 300.  In the document “A Paper on the Chin Affairs in the Army” given to the author by Van Cung Lian, the figure given is 346, made up of: 177 killed; 153 wounded; 16 missing.  These were the second highest losses experienced by any class (ethnicity) in the post-independence conflicts and compare with the 2,745 Burman casualties.

[22] The Third Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th September 1949, DEFE 7/866

[23] “A Short Biography of Lt. Col SonKho Pau (C.O. of 2nd Chin Rifles)”, Salai Van Cung Lian

[24] The First Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,31st March 1950, DEFE 7/866

[25] The Second Quarterly Report of the British Services Mission,30th June 1950, DEFE 7/867

[26] Note to the author from Van Cung Lian.