The Burma Campaign

Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force

The Battalion was raised on 30th November 1877 as the Rangoon Volunteer Rifle Corps.  On 23rd November 1883, it incorporated the Akyab Volunteer Rifle Corps, formed on 12th March 1880, before being re-titled the 18th Rangoon Battalion on 1st April 1917.[1]  In 1920, following the creation of the Indian Auxiliary Force, it became the Rangoon Battalion.  The Battalion was transferred to the Burma Auxiliary Force on 1st April 1937, following the transfer of units to the Burma Army with the separation of administration from India.[2] 

In January 1940, the Battalion was composed of a headquarters, three rifle companies, one machine gun platoon and one armoured car section.  Detachments were at Syriam and Akyab.  This same establishment was reported on 8th February 1941, when the battalion had a strength of 30 Officers and 757 Other Ranks.

War Diary of the Rangoon Battalion, BAF 1939-1942

[PRO document WO172/310 – consisting of three sections of photo-statted notes, one section hand-written, the remaining two typed, presumably in India after the retreat.  The first two sections deal with the activities of the battalion.  The third section covers the Armoured Car Section.]

Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force

[The following is a transcription of hand-written notes copied in Simla, India, presumably after the retreat.]

On the outbreak of war, 3.9.39, the battalion with some 9 officers and 400 ORs was embodied. Guards were provided for:

- RET ….. Power  and Pumping Station
- Telegraph and telephone exchanges
- Crisp Street …….
- BOC Dunnedaw installation.

A Company was also sent to Syriam to … guard the refinery. 

Officers of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. at camp, ca. 1939

Officers of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. at camp, ca. 1939

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This company remained here until the middle of 1940 when it was relieved by one of the newly formed garrison companies.

In time, the battalion was relieved of 1. and 2. above by 1st Glosters.  Further VPs [Vital Points] were however allotted to the battalion when it ceased to be embodied as a whole but an embodied company was maintained to look after VPs in Rangoon.  This gave employment to many jobless or poorly paid members of the battalion.

In 1940 the battalion relieved 1st Glosters of duty at Dry Tree Point, a platoon being sent there for its close defence.

For many years prior to the outbreak of war, the European community, with the exception of a few enthusiasts, showed little or no interest in the Auxiliary Force.  The backbone of the whole force was the Anglo-Burma – Anglo-Indian community.  The outbreak of war lead however to the enrolment of a large number of Europeans to whom the Auxiliary Force presented the only form of military service then[?] available.

The tempo of its training and activities underwent a tremendous increase.

In July, August and September 1940, a three-month intensive course of training was held, which stood many of those who attended their first military course in good stead.  It is not without significance that over 400 members of the battalion received commissions either in HM Land Forces or in the ABRO [Army in Burma Reserve of Officers].  This fact alone, quite apart from its own activities, fully justified the existence [?] of the battalion.

When the Japs came into the war, the battalion was again embodied as a whole except for those who were released from service by reason of the importance of their civil employment.

In December 1941 an AA Company was formed to take over the ground defence[s] at Mingaladon aerodrome and the satellite aerodromes.  In January the armoured car section was sent to the Mingaladon and Sittang front.

After the 23rd and 25th December air raids, the battalion was given the …..[?] unpleasant but vitally necessary job of clearing up the streets.  It also provided the labour for the distribution of vital foodstuffs in Rangoon under the orders of the Controller of Food.  It also supplied guides for military reinforcements coming into[?] Rangoon.

Officers of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. and their guests at a formal reception, January 1941.

Officers of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. and their guests at a formal reception, January 1941.
Amongst the guests is Major General D.K. McLeod, G.O.C. Burma.

The names of the officers and their guests can be viewed on the Officers and Men of the Burma Army page.

After the civil evacuation of Rangoon, Battalion HQ and the remnants of the Tenasserim Battalion were ordered to Yenangyaung at the end of February.  Its AA Company remained at Mingaladon and the detachment at Dry Tree Point remained there until finally evacuated by sea on March 6th/7th.

On the 23rd March, the three infantry battalions, Rangoon, Tenasserim and Upper Burma, were amalgamated into one battalion with HQ at Mandalay.  Apart from static duties it was largely employed in the manning of steamers and launches for river communication. It finally evacuated from Burma by march route.

In addition to the above, the battalion raised ….[?] ordnance companies (light aid detachments) which in January 1942 were handed over to the Rangoon Field Brigade.  It also raised a clerical company which provided the clerks for a rapidly expanded divisional HQ.  It had, including reserves, a strength of just on 6000 men.

War Diary of Rangoon Battalion, Burma Auxiliary Force

[Transcription of a further set of typed notes, also copied in Simla]

On the declaration of war on 3rd September 1939, a company of two officers and 150 ORs were embodied and sent to Syriam to guard the refinery.  The Rangoon Battalion provided VP Guards at the following places:

i)      Wireless station, Monkey Point
ii)       BOC, Dunneedaw
iii)      IBF, Dunneedaw
iv)      Oxygen and acetylene plant, Dunneedaw
v)       Rangoon Telephone Company
vi)      Government Telegraph Office
vii)     Supply and transport godown, Crisp Street
viii)   RET Power House, Ablone
ix)     Rangoon Foundry Water Pumping Station, Ablone
x)      Salt godowns – where Chinese Government’s war materials and ammunition were stored.

The Garrison Battalion, Burma Rifles and the Gloucestershire Regiment took over the guarding of the Syriam Refinery and all the above mentioned posts with the exceptions of items ii), iii) and iv) after about four and a half months.  The remaining posts were guarded by the battalion up to the time of the evacuation of Rangoon.  In addition, from the declaration of war with Japan on 7th December 1941 bodies of men were maintained at HQ, Godwin Road to deal with low-flying aircraft and paratroops.  These men were sent to Mogul Guard in trucks on the sound of an air-raid warning and were also on duty until the evacuation of Rangoon.

On the declaration of war with Japan two platoons with one officer were sent to Dry Tree Point to act as guards over the booms across the Bassein and Mawun Creeks and also as protective guards for 1st Coast Battery, against air and land attacks.  These troops were eventually evacuated from Burma by sea along with the Coast Defence personnel.

On the outbreak of war with Japan the Armoured Car Section and a platoon of Bren-gunners were also sent to Mingaladon airfield to assist with the ground defences of the airfield.

On the 13th January 1942, the AA Company of the Rangoon Battalion was formed consisting of five officers and 130 ORs.  This company was sent to Mingaladon where it relieved the Bren-gunners referred to above.  The company was completely detached from the parent unit and was placed under direct command of Brigade HQ.  The company took over the Browning .5-inch AA machine guns which were originally intended as part of Lease-Lend material from America to China and after eight days training at a base camp near Mingaladon airfield, the company manned eight gun positions on that airfield.  At the end of January a further seven gun positions were manned at Zayatkwin airfield.  The company survived innumerable bombings of both airfields with only one casualty which occurred when an NCO was killed during a night raid on Zayatkwin airfield.

This company claimed two enemy fighters at Mingaladon and it was admitted by the RAF authorities that the defence provided by the company was of great assistance in preventing low flying attacks.

Two days after the RAF evacuated Zayatkwin airfield at the end of February the platoon stationed there was transferred to Highland Queen airfield at Hmwabi.

Officers and men of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F.

Officers and men of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F. somewhere in India, at the final muster of the unit. The photograph is dated 7th September 1942.

Whilst at Mingaladon the company also undertook the training of two platoons of RAF ground defence personnel in the use of Browning .5 machine guns.

From about the time of the evacuation of Rangoon till the day left Mingaladon on 1st March 1942, men were kept in readiness to deal with paratroops and they were armed with LMGs and Brens.  On departure from Mingaladon, the company proceeded to Magwe and enroute collected the personnel of the company at the Highland Queen, Hmwabi.  There were only two tricks provided for the unit and although additional transport was promised, it was not received.  The unit, however, did not wait for transport to be sent and collected the damaged and abandoned trucks left on the roadside etc. and put them into commission again.  When the company left the airport it had to requisition all the cars it could get in addition to the trucks salvaged by the unit.

On arrival at Magwe, the company was first ordered to set up gun positions on Magwe airfield, but after a stay of only a few days was ordered to Yenangyaung for reforming with the remainder of the Rangoon Battalion.  Whilst at Yenangyaung, the company’s transport was used to evacuate European women and children from Mandalay and Maymyo to Magwe airfield from where the evacuees were sent to India by air.

After a short stay at Yenangyaung the company was moved to Mandalay and were stationed in the Fort until reformed with the remainder of the old Rangoon Battalion as the Rangoon Company of the Burma Battalion.

All the AA Company guns and ammunition were successfully delivered to Magwe airfield despite transport difficulties and were handed over to the RAF before the company moved on to Yenangyaung.

At Mandalay at about the middle of March 1942, the Tenasserim Battalion, Upper Burma Battalion and Rangoon Battalion were reformed and became known as the Rangoon, Tenasserim and Upper Burma Companies of the Burma Battalion.  This new battalion performed garrison duties in Mandalay and also supplied officers and men for movement control whilst all its transport with drivers were attached to the Brigade Transport Officer.

At the end of March 1942, the Burma Battalion provided officers and men to man IF Company launches whose crews had absconded.  The Rangoon Company provided the crew for the SS ‘Japan’ and the Upper Burma Company for the SS ‘Warrago’.  These launches plied on the Irrawaddy as far south as Magwe, Yenangyaung etc. with supplies and troops.

On the 24th April 1942, the Burma Battalion left Mandalay, after the bombing, on the ‘Japan’ for Katha.  The ‘Japan’ at the time was towing two flats and had about two thousand troops on board mainly Burma Rifles.  The deck and engine crew of the launch were still members of the Rangoon Company.  Without any mishap and for the first time in the history of the IF Company, a launch of the size of the ‘Japan’ was navigated through the defiles to Katha which place was reached on the 1st of May 1942.  Here everyone except the staff of the launch left the boat and on the morning of 2nd May 1942 orders were given to march to India.

Note: The photographs were kindly provided by John Hodge, grandson of the commanding officer of the Rangoon Battalion, B.A.F., Lieutenant Colonel William M Hodge.  When the Japanese invaded, Lt. Colonel Hodge was wounded and evacuated to India on the back of a mule. He survived the war.  John Hodge can be reached at jhodge@hartingdale.com.au

 

 13 November 2017



[1] Burma Army List January 1940.

[2] "Sons of John Company", Gaylor J, Parapress, Tunbridge Wells (1992 & 1996)