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India’s forgotten fight: The crucial Battle of Kohima4 min read

February 19, 2021 3 min read


India’s forgotten fight: The crucial Battle of Kohima4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rewind with Owliver

On this week’s Rewind with Owliver, let’s go back in time to a forgotten battle. Though lesser-known, it was a turning point and quite an important event during the Second World War. Known as the Battle of Kohima, this battle took place in 1944 in three stage – from April 4 to June 22. Let’s go back in time!

A British soldier near the crucial stretch from Imphal to Kohima. Photo: IWM

Where did the battle take place, and why?

The battle took place in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, in Northeast India.

During the peak of the World War II, Japan planned its entry into India via Burma, which is now known as Myanmar. This operation was codenamed Operation U Go. After Kohima, the Japanese planned on moving towards Assam, and then towards Delhi.

Owliver’s Obscure Facts

Kohima was originally known as Kewhira, and was renamed Kohima by the British. The name Kewhira, which is derived from a flower that grows in the area, is still used by locals.

Now, there was already a British garrison in Kohima, as this was before India’s Independence from Colonial rule. The British and Indian forces did not want the Japanese to enter at any cost, and fought long and hard to keep them out!

British forces during the battle. Photo: Shutterstock

It was in March 1944 that the Japanese made their entry from Burma into India with a strength of about 12,000 men. The British forces in Kohima were few – only about 2,500 soldiers were present there.

What followed next were fierce battles. The Battle of the Tennis Court was an especially bloody one, where thousands of people perished and many others got sick. What’s worse is that both sides were running out of supplies such as food and medicines, and had to make do with what they had.

(The video below sheds some light on the battle)

Apart from soldiers from the British-Indian army, thousands of people from the Naga community fought alongside the British. Due to their in-depth knowledge of the mountainous terrain of the area, the Naga people were able to provide a lot of intelligence to the British. However, many people from this community became casualties of war, and say their efforts were not recognised by the British or the Indian government!

After many battles were already fought, the British sent more of their men to relieve their forces in Kohima. This is when the Japanese realised they were in trouble, and they began to retreat. The Japanese also lost in the Battle of Imphal.

The reason this battle was so important was because it was one of the biggest defeats the Japanese Army ever suffered.

How many lost their lives

The British and Indian forces had lost around 16,987 men – dead, missing and wounded. The Japanese suffered 60,643 casualties, including 13,376 dead. Most of these losses were the result of starvation, disease and exhaustion!

Here are some interesting facts about this battle:

The war memorial in Kohima. Photo: CNN
  • The battle is often referred to as the Stalingard of the East
  • The British National Army Museum voted this as ‘Britains Greatest Battle’
  • In the spot where the Battle of the Tennis Court happened, which, as the name suggests, was actually in a tennis court, lies a war cemetery for those who lost their lives. It also holds the famous Kohima Epitaph that reads, ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say; ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today’
  • In June 2019, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal, is the Imphal Peace Museum.

Sources: BBC, CNN, Wikipedia, Byjus