Sixth Battalion, Burma
Bertrand Jones went to war with The South Wales Borderers and made the ultimate sacrifice on August 5th 1944 fighting the Japanese in Burma. The following is detail of his regiment and the battle of Sahmaw Chaung where Bert gave his life. He is buried in the Taukkyan war Cemetery, Burma. Plot 6.F.21.
The 6th Battalion was raised in Glanusk Park, Breconshire, in July 1940. Almost none of its men had had any military training. It trained as an infantry regiment until April 1942, when it suddenly became a tank unit – 158th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (The South Wales Borderers). Psychiatrists weeded out those unsuitable for the new role. In this capacity the battalion sailed for Bombay in October 1942, and trained in India as a tank regiment until March 1943, when to the great disappointment of all ranks, it was reconverted to infantry. It now trained as an amphibious assault unit and moved to Calcutta to attack Akyab. But this attack was cancelled and the battalion was sent to Burma to fight as an ordinary infantry regiment in the Arakan. In spite of a chequered career and many disappointments it was now to prove its worth.
Burma, 1944/45 Mayu Tunnels
There were only two roads through the Arakan and one had been designed as a railway and ran through a series of tunnels from Maungdaw to Buthidaung on the Mayu River. The Japanese were in control of this road and so could pass men and supplies quickly from one side of the Mayu hills to the other. The battalion arrived in the area on 20th March and its first objective was the capture of the two tunnels used by the Japanese for storage and gun emplacements. The enemy were subjected to three days of shelling and dive bombing and then ‘B’ Company began a determined attack, which involved the taking of four enemy positions camouflaged in thick bamboo, which lay one after the other on a spur commanding the approach to the feature over the first tunnel. The battle developed into fierce hand to hand fighting, in which ‘B’ Company pressed on doggedly. Sergeant Woodhouse won a DCM for capturing an enemy post single handed when its fire decimated his section. In two and a half hours ‘B’ Company drove back the enemy and established themselves over the first tunnel. The Japanese however, remained in the tunnel underneath. Meanwhile, ‘D’ Company attacked a spur on the other side of the tunnel in support but failed to take its objective and suffered a number of casualties. This spur was named ‘Tredegar Hill’, for most of the men killed came from Tredegar in Monmouthshire. Earth from this hill now stands in a casket in the chambers of the Tredegar Urban District Council. The next day day a Sherman tank was brought up to fire into the mouth of the tunnel. Bodies and debris were blown out of the other end of the tunnel and ammunition stored inside exploded and burned for hours. Next day the tunnel was occupied and aptly named ’24th Tunnel’. The Japanese abandoned Tredegar Hill without further fighting. For this action, which cost the battalion eleven killed, Major Crew-Read commanding ‘B’ Company was awarded an MC and an Indian water carrier who helped evacuate wounded received an MM.
By July 1944, the Japanese army in Burma was being pressed from the east by the 14th Army from Manipur, by an American and Chinese force in the north and by the Chinese fron Yunan. On 4th July 1944, the battalion was sent to Ledo to reinforce the American Chinese forces operating in North Burma under General Stillwell. It was flown to the Myitkina area and set off towards Mogaung, supplied by air, living on American rations and supported by Chinese artillery. The division had had to leave its transport behind for the duration of the monsoon, and the battalion had only a few jeeps adapted to run on the railway line, and eight mules. From Mogaung (on the Myitkima-Mandalay-Rangoon Railway) the battalion began a nine months march, the first hundred miles of which ran along a narrow corridor in thick jungle, in one of the world’s wettest and most unhealthy areas. The first battle was at Sahmaw Chaung. The Japanese held Sahmaw village and railway station. The Battalion task was to outflank a foothill known as Hill 60 and to capture a point to the west where a track forded the Sahmaw River. This would cut the Japanese line of retreat from the main attack. The battalion spent thirty six hours in an assembly area, drenched by rain and hidden in long grass only a thousand yards from the enemy, and in the early morning of 5th August, they began the attack – ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies on the right flank, ‘C’ and ‘D’ on the left, and ‘HQ’ in the centre. The advance was over flat ground with little cover except grass some three feet long. The Japanese were in strong positions in a chaung with steep banks running at right angles to the line of advance. They poured fire on to the centre column and the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Cresswell and his staff had to crawl into a ditch only thirty yards from the enemy. The flanking companies were held up by heavy fire and suffered many casualties. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies reached their objectives by dint of hard fighting and a byonet charge. ‘C’ Company’s leading section was wiped out except for its bren gunner who, with Lieutenant Harris and Sergeant Carr, attacked the enemy position, killing about ten Japanese, and enabling the company to take cover, but they could advance no further. Colonel cresswell and his staff crawled back some six hundred yards and then withdrew the left and centre columns who crawled back under cover of a smoke screen. The next day the Japanese positions were heavily shelled and ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were then able to occupy them without much opposition. The battler had been fought in intense heat and discomfort and it cost the battalion four officers and seventeen other ranks killed and fifty eight wounded, but had achieved its purpose. Three MCs, one DCM and four MMs were awarded.
Through the War Graves Photographic Project, I have been able to obtain a photograph of Bert’s grave in the Taukkyan Cemetery, Myanmar.