The Y Service 1939-1945

Battles of Kohima – Imphal

All Y units in the field were ready to defend themselves. But G1 (ops) from Corps HQ arrived on the doorstep to tell them the North Sector, Shark Box in effect instead of IV. Corps guarding them they were to defend them! Some Indian Sappers were allocated to man one North sector strongpoint and the WOs, NCOs and Clerks of Corps HQ could be called on as a last-ditch reserve. The central and largest strongpoint was to be manned by the Signals men of 5 SWS (apart of the IV Indian Corps HQ) also a third of I Corps personnel and the RASC drivers.

They were supplied with quantities of barbed wire, explosives for booby-traps, boxes of grenades none of which they ever handled before or been instructed how best to use. However they used they collective ‘know-how' and hoped for the best. They had their own Bren guns, tommy-guns and rifles, of course but the only bayonets were those carried by the three Army Catering Corps cooks!

One Japanese Division cut at Kohima, the road back to the railhead and two others surrounded the Plain on all sides. One battalion dug in on the hills facing North Sector across some paddy-fields. Their life line now was the magnificent work of the Dakota squadrons and aircrews who kept them supplied after March, even though the treacherous monsoon weather soon to come. Rations were reduced by a third and later to a half. Airlifts could not supply them with bulk food but they did bring in over 40 million cigarettes. Smoking these they said would make them feel less hungry. This went on for three months. They at least had the satisfaction of knowing that they work, which carried on as near-normally as possible, contributed to the enemy's confusion and frustration, thwarted enemy ‘kami-kazi' type attacks on local tactical positions and thereby saved countless casualties.

As for North Sector , Shark Box, amidst the monsoon deluge they could do no better I quote the words of Special operator Signm Harold Tatman written not long afterwards “we all lost weight until our ribs stuck out , the heavily-chlorinated water from the river took a deal of will power to drink”.

They did night-guards on the path in addition to their setroom duties, and then spent nights in the strongpoint trenches. When did they sleep? God only knows!

Taken from a symposium given by the late Hugh Skillen, written by Phil Webb.

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