The Burma Campaign

The Burma Auxiliary Force

The Burma Auxiliary Force was created from Indian Auxiliary and Territorial Force units transferred from the Indian Army when Burma separated from India in April 1937.  The Burma Auxiliary Force consisted of British and Anglo-Burmans and Anglo-Indians while the Burma Territorial Force was mainly Burmese.

In 1937 the units were:

Rangoon Field Brigade R.A.

(headquarters, one battery of four 18-pounder guns, one Fortress Company of engineers, one artillery signal section)

Tenasserim Battalion

(headquarters, and two rifle companies)

Rangoon Battalion

(headquarters, three rifle companies, one AA company and an armoured car section)

Upper Burma Battalion

(headquarters, and two rifle companies)

Burma Railways Battalion

(headquarters, and four rifle companies composed entirely of railway personnel.  The duties of the unit were the maintenance and protection of the railway system.)

Leadership

As well as military duties, the B.A.F. was also involved in the assessment of potential officer candidates.  Following the outbreak of the war in September 1939, additional officer requirements for the Army in Burma were met by the creation of an Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.).  Under the provisions of the National Service (British European Subjects) Act, 1940, British subjects in Burma between the ages of 18 and 50, were required to undergo three months' military training.  In Burma, this was achieved by embodying the men into the Burma Auxiliary Force and by attachment to British Infantry Battalions in convenient batches.  At the end of these attachments, those considered suitable were selected for a four month O.C.T.U. course, with a view to appointment to Emergency Commissions in British service in the case of Europeans and in the Army in Burma Reserve of Officers (A.B.R.O.) in the case of Burmans. 

Adjutants for the B.A.F. were found by the secondment of Regular officers from the British and Indian services, although a number of non-Regular appointments were made due to shortages.  British Non-Commissioned Officer Instructors were provided from British Regular units.

Personnel embodied in the B.A.F. were required to serve outside of the military area defined for their unit, notably when engaged in military operations.

Duties, Wartime Expansion and Operations

On 3rd September 1939, the Rangoon Field Brigade consisted of a headquarters, one battery of four 18-pounder guns, one Fortress Company of engineers and one artillery signal section.  Two of the 18-pounder guns were sent to Dry Tree Point, on the Rangoon River, together with a searchlight section from the Fortress Company and the artillery signal section.  In May 1940, the guns at Dry Tree Point were replaced by two 6-inch guns from England, forming the 1st Heavy (Coast Defence) Battery, R.A., B.A.F. (Rangoon Field Brigade) and the 18-pounders returned to Rangoon.  In September 1940, the 18-pdrs were used to equip the newly formed 5th Field Battery Royal Artillery, Burma Auxiliary Force, which formed part of the Field Brigade.   This battery left for Maymyo on 1st June 1940.

By October 1940, the B.A.F. numbered nearly 3,000 officers and men, including reserves.  The reserves were mainly men over the age of 45 and who were only required to know drill and how to shoot.  The B.A.F. strength was distributed as follows:

Monthly Strength Return of the Burma Auxiliary Force - October 1940

Unit

Officers

Other Ranks

British Officers

Permanent Subordinate Staff

Active

Snr

Active

Reserves

Warrant Officers

Staff Sergeants

Temp Drill Instructors

Rangoon Field Brigade

23

6

476

94

1

2

4

1

Tenasserim Battalion

7

-

230

65

1

1

2

1

Rangoon Battalion

30

3

737

188

1

2

5

-

Burma Railways Battalion

22

-

407

139

1

2

3

-

Upper Burma Battalion

16

3

416

60

1

2

3

-

As the threat of war with Japan grew, in February 1941 a new Auxiliary Force unit was created for air defence, the 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, R.A., B.A.F., initially equipped with light machine guns.  This new unit was commanded by Major Hogan and remained as part of the Rangoon Field Brigade.  In May 1941, No 1 (Burma) Artizan Works Company was formed under Major Jolly and left for Maymyo in August.  Later in September 1941, the Rangoon Field Brigade formed a bomb disposal unit and a light aid detachment, the first of eight such detachments.  In December 1941, ‘B’ Troop of the 5th Field Battery was formed without guns but on 27th December the Battery sent a detachment to Mergui and another to Tavoy for beach defence.  These detachments were equipped with Austrian 65mm mountain guns.  The balance of ‘B’ Troop of the 5th Field Battery was given eight 77mm Italian field guns for use in the anti-tank role.  These were later handed over to an Indian antitank battery.

Monthly Strength Return of the Burma Auxiliary Force - February 1941

Unit

Officers

Other Ranks

British Officers

Permanent Subordinate Staff

Active

Snr

Active

Reserves

Warrant Officers

Staff Sergeants

Temp Drill Instructors

Rangoon Field Brigade

30

4

553

126

1

2

4

1

Tenasserim Battalion

6

-

221

63

1

1

2

1

Rangoon Battalion

25

2

634

291

1

2

5

-

Burma Railways Battalion

22

-

426

140

1

2

3

-

Upper Burma Battalion

17

4

449

131

1

2

3

-

On 22nd February 1942, Headquarters Rangoon Field Brigade and details left Rangoon for Yenanyaung, leaving behind the Dry Tree Point garrison, manning details at the power station and providing guards on the oil refineries.  The Bomb Disposal Unit went to Magwe aerodrome on 5th March and spent a month salvaging motor vehicles, petrol and bombs abandoned by the R.A.F.  On 26th March 1942, the Rangoon Field Brigade was ordered to Shwebo and all available personnel were employed as interpreters, well-borers, lorry drivers and drivers for bulldozers of the X.M.U.(?) on the Shwegyin Road.  Between 15th May and 21st May 1942, the brigade was evacuated to India. 

The Rangoon Battalion provided guards for important facilities in and around Rangoon.  On the outbreak of war with Japan, the Armoured Car Section and a platoon of Bren-gunners were sent to Mingaladon airfield to assist with the ground defences of the airfield.  On 13th January 1942, the Ant-Aircraft Company of the Rangoon Battalion was formed, consisting of five officers and 130 Other Ranks.  It was equipped with Browning .5-inch anti-aircraft machine guns which were originally intended as part of Lease-Lend material from America to China.  This company was sent to Mingaladon where it relieved the Bren-gunners.  See photographs and surviving fragments of the war diary here.

The Armoured Car Section, Rangoon Battalion, BAF, was embodied on 6th December 1941.  It was equipped with four Rolls Royce Indian Pattern armoured cars, each equipped with a single Vickers .303-inch machine guns.  Two cars were damaged beyond repair by Japanese light machine gun fire whilst trying to reach Martaban on February 8th 1942.  The third was lost on the retreat from Bilin to Mokpalin on February 21st.  The last car was lost to the Japanese on February 22nd by the Sittang Bridge.  See the war diary of the Armoured Car Section here.  The section was attached to higher commands as follows:

The Rangoon Infantry Brigade Area

01-Dec-41

-

08-Feb-42

4 X cars

46th Indian Infantry Brigade

08-Feb-42

-

15-Feb-42

4 X cars

16th Indian Infantry Brigade

15-Feb-42        

-

24-Feb-42

2 X cars 

On 15th August 1941, the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A., B.A.F. was formed with two batteries:

- 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery with eight 3-inch guns (formed from the 1st Anti-Aircraft Battery, detached from the Rangoon Field Brigade)
- 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Battery with eight 40mm Bofors guns.

However the guns were not available immediately so training went ahead without them.  The guns eventually arrived just before the outbreak of war with Japan.  Both the heavy and light guns were stationed in and around Rangoon, with a detachment at the oil refineries at Syriam.  Surviving men and guns were evacuated from Rangoon on 7th March 1942.  The regiment eventually reached India in May 1942.  

By mid-March 1942, all three battalions of the Burma Auxiliary Force were withdrawn to Mandalay.  On 23rd March 1942, they were amalgamated into a single battalion - the Burma Battalion, BAF consisting of the Rangoon, Tenasserim and Upper Burma Companies.  The survivors of the Rangoon Company left Burma for India from Katha on 2nd May 1942.

Following the Retreat - India

On arrival in India, all B.A.F. personnel were concentrated at Mhow and initially reorganised into: the 5th Field Battery, R.A., B.A.F.; the 1st Heavy Antiaircraft Battery, R.A., B.A.F.; the 1st Coast Defence Battery, R.A., B.A.F.; a B.A.F depot and record office.  The 5th Field Battery came under command of the Indian Eastern Army; the 1st Coast Defence Battery went to Diamond Harbour, Calcutta; the 1st Heavy Antiaircraft Battery went to Risalpur to be equipped; and the B.A..F Depot and Record Office went to Mhow, together with the balance of B.A.F. personnel. The 3rd Light Antiaircraft Battery was stationed at Mhow in India where it was subsequently disbanded.

The 5th Field Battery and the 1st Heavy Antiaircraft Battery were disbanded during the first half of 1943 to provide for the expansion of the Burma Intelligence Corps. The balance of men was posted to create a reserve for the 1st Coast Defence Battery or was attached to the B.A.F. Depot.

15 November 2017