The Burma Campaign

F.F.5, Burma Frontier Force

The raising of F.F.5, the fifth mobile detachment of the Burma Frontier Force, was authorised on 16th September 1941.  Intended to operate in the Kemapyu-Mawchi area of Karenni, F.F.5 was to be located at Mawchi during the malaria season (coinciding with the rainy season which runs from May/June to October).[1]  The detachment was raised by Captain G.B. Thunder and remained as only a single column (about a company in strength) for its entire existence.[2] [3]  The men were mostly Was and Padaungs.[4]

F.F. Detachments in the Southern Shan States & Tenasserim-December 1941 (Indian Official History)

Click image to open full size in new window

In December 1941, F.F.4 and F.F.5 were both operating in the Kemapyu area, close to the Thai border, and under the command of the 13th Indian Infantry Brigade.  The brigade formed part of the 1st Burma Infantry Division.  Whilst still at Kemapyu, on 2nd January 1942, F.F.5 was earmarked to move to Mese.[5]

F.F.s 1, 3, 4 and 5 remained on the Thai frontier up to mid-February 1942, but were not used as much as they might have been.  F.F.s 4 and 5 had successful brushes with Thai troops and inflicted considerable casualties on them with little loss to themselves.  The arrival of Chinese troops in the Shan States in February brought about the transfer of the 1st Burma Infantry Division to the Toungoo area and F.F.s 1, 3 and 4 went South with the division.[6]  The 13th Indian Infantry Brigade moved back to the Mawchi area and retained command of F.F.5, by now located at Mese.[7]

Early in March, F.F.5 was withdrawn from Mese and based once more at Kemapyu with the object of operating patrols down the Salween River towards Kyaukhnyat.  Around 21st March, the 1st Burma Infantry Division issued orders for the concentration of the division at Yedashe prior to transfer to the Prome front.   All troops under the command of the 13th Indian Infantry Brigade were ordered to evacuate Karenni and to hand over Mawchi to the Chinese, as a precursor to joining the 1st Burma Infantry Division on its move to the Prome area.[8]  The brigade concentrated at Taunggyi before moving to Meiktila, with animals going by train and personnel by motor transport.  F.F.5 moved with the brigade and all were complete in Meiktila without incident on 1st April 1942.[9]  At Meiktila F.F.5 became divisional troops, under the direct command of the 1st Burma Division.[10]

[Elsewhere the 17th Indian Infantry Division had withdrawn further northwards and was now in positions centred on Prome.  On 29th March one column of the F.F. Group attached to the division was at Paungdale on the Prome-Paukkaung road and another at Sinmizwe, to the East of Shwedaung.  The group had orders to patrol to the North-East, to the South-East and to the West of Sinmizwe.  According to the reconstructed war diary of the 5th Burma Rifles, who were resting there, the Paungdale column was F.F.5 however the war diaries of the 1st Burma Infantry Division and the 13th Indian Infantry Brigade place F.F.5 at Meiktila at this time.[11]  It is more likely that this column was actually F.F.2 as described by the Indian Official History.[12]] 

Between 6th and 16th April, a reorganisation of the F.F. detachments was undertaken at Yenangyaung.  It was decided to carry out reorganisation at Yenangyaung which had recently become the Advanced Headquarters of the Inspector General of the Burma Frontier Force, having been relocated there from Pyawbwe in February, the Rear Headquarters moving to Myitkyina.  At Yenangyaung the Inspector General, Brigadier Roughton, combined these duties with that of the Commander, Central Area, responsible for maintaining and protecting the lines of communication.[13]  By April Yenangyaung was also home to a draft of B.F.F. reinforcements.  F.F.5 was called down from Meiktila to allow the release of F.F.6 which was badly in need of rest and reinforcement.[14] [15]  On arrival at Yenangyaung Captain H.J.N. Edgley,[16] until then the Adjutant of F.F.3, was appointed to command F.F.5 on or just before 10th or 11th April.   The previous commander, Captain Thunder, was transferred to command the combined Mounted Infantry of F.F.1 and F.F.3.[17]  Also appointed to F.F.5 at this time was Lieutenant P.F. Taylor.[18]

F.F.5 at Migyaungye 11-13th April 1942 (Indian Official History)

Click image to open full size in new window

The 1st Burma Corps now planned a limited offensive against the Japanese, as set out in orders issued on 6th April.  The centre of the main line of defence was to be held by the Corps "Striking Force", consisting of the 1st Burma Infantry Division (with the 1st Burma and 13th Indian Brigades but less the 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade), the 48th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 7th Armoured Brigade.  Of the Burma Frontier Force units, "A" Squadron, Mounted Infantry (formerly of F.F.1) and F.F.5 were allocated to the "Striking Force" as soon as they could arrive from the Central Area (Yenangyaung).  The 1st Burma Infantry Brigade was ordered to the Migyuangye area, on the East bank of the Irrawaddy, about ten miles south-west of Nyaunggyatsan.[19]

The 1st Burma Infantry Brigade occupied Migyuangye on 9th April before moving eastwards to Kandaw two days later as part of an operation with 13th Indian Infantry Brigade to attack a Japanese force in the Kanhla-Alebo area.  To protect the western flank along the Irrawaddy River were "C" Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment and the newly arrived F.F.5.[20]

However the entire British position was soon threatened by a surprise Japanese advance up the East bank of the Irrawaddy. The situation report on the morning of 12th April gave the locations of British units in the area.  The Rajputs company was moving back northwards to Migyuangye from Minywa.  The 1st Battalion, The Burma Rifles were on the Taungdwingyi-Migyaunge road, to the East of Migyaunge.  F.F.5 was at Migyuangye.  In response to the emerging threat, the 1st Burma Infantry Brigade was ordered back to the Migyuangye area, issuing orders at midday on 12th April to the 1st Battalion, The Burma Rifles to move to the town.  However the orders were not received until 23:00 that evening.[21]   

The 1st Burma Rifles started out at 03:00 on 13th April.  When they reached the bridge East of Migyuangye at around 06:00 they were met by a member of F.F.5 with a rough sketch of dispositions in the area.  Although no enemy was reported to have been seen, the Japanese had been in the area since around 03:00.  The Commanding Officer of the 1st Burma Rifles, Lt. Colonel B. Ruffell, visited F.F.5 Headquarters which was in an isolated hut.  The headquarters was immediately attacked by Japanese posing as Burma Rifles and Burma Military Police.  Ruffell and the two F.F.5 officers, the commander Captain Edgley and Lieutenant Taylor, were captured.  During the ensuing fighting, Ruffell escaped.  When a counter attack was launched by Captain Ransford of the 1st Burma Rifles, the Japanese solider guarding Edgley and Taylor bayoneted them both.  Edgley was struck first in the chest and died.  Taylor saw what was coming and fell backwards as his captor lunged at him, taking the thrust in his neck.  He feigned death and the Japanese left him for dead whereupon he cut his bonds to make good his escape.[22]   At around 11:00, having suffered heavy casualties, the 1st Burma Rifles withdrew north-eastwards up the Magwe road.  The Rajputs company and F.F.5 were largely destroyed.  

F.F.5 is not mentioned again is assumed not to have reformed after the debacle at Migyuangye.[23]

22 November 2017

[1] IOR/M/3/1064

[2] Geoffrey Bernard Thunder born in Tanjong Rambutan, Malaya, 30th December 1908.  Commissioned to the Unattached List as 2nd Lt. (IA 75), attached to Hodson's Horse, 31st January 1929.  Served North West Frontier of India, 1930.  Appointed to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt., 20th March 1930.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 30th April 1932.  Seconded to the Burma Frontier Force as Assistant Commandant, Northern Shan States Battalion, 21st May 1937 to 1st January 1938.  Assistant Commandant, Myitkyina Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, 1938 to 1942.  Promoted to Captain, 28th March 1938.  Raised and became the Commanding Officer of F.F.5, Burma Frontier Force, 15th September 1941.  Appointed the Commanding Officer, Mounted Infantry Column, Burma Frontier Force, formed by the amalgamation of the survivors of the Mounted Infantry Columns of F.F.1 and F.F.3 on or just before, 16th April 1942.  Temporary Major, 18th May 1944.  As Captain, retired, 27th September 1946.  Died in Lacken House, Kilkenny, Ireland, 25th August 1963 ("War Services of British and Indian Officers of the Indian Army 1941", Savannah (2004);; British Army List; Indian Army List; London Gazette; “Burma Frontier Force by Lt. Col G.G. Pryce”, WO 203/5697).

[3] Burma Frontier Force by Lt. Col G.G. Pryce”, WO 203/5697

[4] “Short History of F.F.3” by Major J.H. Turner, WO 203/5702 (

[5] War Diary of the 13th Indian Infantry Brigade, WO 172/563.  The reconstructed war diary for December 1941 to March 1942, effectively a narrative written down from memory after the withdrawal to India, records the mobile detachment as being F.F.7.  However an analysis of the sources makes it most likely that the unit referred to is actually F.F.5.  The war diary entry for 1st April 1942 correctly reports F.F.5 as having moved with the brigade to Meiktila.  It is believed that F.F.7 was not formed until late January 1942 at Pyawbwe.

[6] “Report on the Burma Frontier Force 1939-1942” by Brig. J.F. Bowerman, WO 203/5692

[7] WO 172/563

[8] War Diary of the 1st Burma Infantry Division, WO 172/447; WO 172/563

[9] WO 172/563

[10] WO 172/447

[11] War Diary of the 5th Burma Rifles, WO 172/978

[12] “Indian Armed Forces in World War II, The Retreat from Burma 1941-42”, Prasad, B, Orient Longmans (1954).

[13] “Notes on [the] Burma Frontier Force” by Captain Hales, WO 203/5698.

[14]Notes on [the] Burma Frontier Force” by Capain Hales, WO 203/5698

[15] The file IOR/M/4/1388 records that only F.F.5 was reorganised, this taking place on 10th April 1942, and that the other mobile detachments (F.F.s) were not.   However other sources confirm that F.F.s 1 and 3 were reorganised and their respective Mounted Infantry Columns amalgamated under a single commander.

[16] Hugh John Norman Edgley, born Darjeeling, India, 7th August 1917.  Attended The Dragon School, Oxford, May 1926 to July 1930.  Attended Eton College, 1930 to 1935.  Attended New College, Oxford from Autumn 1936.  Worked for the Burmah Oil Company from 1939.  Sailed for Burma on the SS "Stratheden" to Bombay, occupation listed as "Assistant", 20th August 1939.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt., ABRO (ABRO 73), 10th November 1939.  Served with the Burma Frontier Force, 1940.  (Note: Is listed in error as "H.G.E. Edgley" in WO 203/5702).  Commander, No.2 Infantry Column, F.F.3, Burma Frontier Force, November 1940 to March-May 1941.  Adjutant and Quartermaster, F.F.3, Burma Frontier Force, March-May 1941 to March 1942.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 11th May 1941.  Appointed Commanding Officer, F.F.5, Burma Frontier Force, around 11th April 1942.  Captured by the Japanese at Migyaungye along with the C.O. the 1st Battalion, Burma Rifles and another F.F.5 officer, Lieutenant P.F. Taylor, when the Headquarters, F.F.5, Burma Frontier Force, was overrun.  Ruffell and Taylor later escaped however Edgley was murdered by his captors, 13th April 1942.  According to WO 203/5702, killed "2 days following" appointment as Commanding Officer, F.F.5, 13th April 1942.  Died, believed murdered by Japanese captors, 17th April 1942 (“Short History of F.F.3” by Major J.H. Turner, WO 203/5702 (Short History of F.F.3, WO 203/5702); Anglo-Burmese Library; Burma Army List October 1940; Commonwealth War Graves Commission; Dragon School Memorials; FindMyPast;; London Gazette; Private Papers of Lt. Col. I.C.G. Scott (IWM); War Diary 1st Burma Rifles, WO 172/974 (War diary 1st Burma Rifles, WO 172/974)).

[17] WO 203/5697

[18] Peter Frank Taylor, born, Quetta, India, 18th January 1916.  Served with the Burma Frontier Force, 1940 to 1941.  Commissioned as 2nd Lt., ABRO (ABRO 95), 7th March 1940.  Served with the Reserve Battalion, Burma Frontier Force at Pyawbwe, before being transferred(?) sometime after, September 1940.  Promoted to Lieutenant, 21st December 1941.  As Lieutenant, served with F.F.5, Burma Frontier Force, 11th April 1942 to 13th April 1942.  Captured by the Japanese along with his commanding officer, Major Edgley, and the Commanding Officer, the 1st Battalion, Burma Rifles, at Migyaungye.  When the 1st Battalion, Burma Rifles launched a counter-attack, their captors murdered Edgley and attempted to murder Taylor.  However Taylor was wounded and feigned death and eventually escaped, 13th April 1942.  Temporary Captain from 10th July 1942.  As Major, served as "B" Company Commander, the 1st Battalion, The Burma Regiment, from 26th March 1944.  Died, Cornwall, 1979 (“Burma Frontier Force by Lt. Col G.G. Pryce”, WO 203/5697; Burma Army List; Burma Defence Services List 1941; Burma Army List 1943; FindMyPast; Private Papers of Lt. Col. I.C.G. Scott (IWM); War Diary of the 1st Battalion, The Burma Regiment, WO 172/5036).

[19] “Indian Armed Forces in World War II, The Retreat from Burma 1941-42”, Prasad, B, Orient Longmans (1954)

[20] WO 172/447; Indian Official History

[21] WO 172/447

[22] Private Papers of Lt. Col. I.C.G. Scott (IWM)

[23] WO 172/447; WO 172/547; War Diary of the 1st Burma Rifles, WO 172/970; Dragon Schools Memorial; Commonwealth War Graves Commission.