12th Burma Rifles
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12th (Lower Burma) Battalion, The Burma Rifles

based on the reconstructed war diary at the PRO, reference WO 172/984

Early in 1939, the Governor of Burma approved the formation of this battalion. Battalion headquarters and two rifle companies were raised, partly by transfer from the 11th Battalion, and became active on 1st October 1939. The remaining two companies were to be raised in 1940. Based in the Mingaladon area, the battalion provided guards for key points around and near the town, including for railway bridges.

On 8th February 1941, the battalion was reported as having a strength of 19 Officers and 367 Other Ranks (WO 106/3656).

On 1st April 1941, the battalion was officially embodied for service and by the outbreak of war in December 1942 was also providing guards for Mingaladon aerodrome. The detachment was known as ‘Z’ Aerodrome Defence Company and it left the aerodrome when it was evacuated and went to Hmawbi with the RAF detachment.

The battalion left Mingaladon on 6th March 1942 for Tharawaddy, arriving the next day, before moving on to Prome on 8th March. During this time ‘Z’ Aerodrome Defence Company accompanied the RAF as it withdrew to Magwe. The battalion was put on patrol and intelligence duties south and south east of Prome from 12th March.

On 18th March, the battalion left by boat for Magwe, now greatly reduced in numbers through the desertion of many Burmans while at Prome. On the same day the battalion came under command of Central Area.

Arriving at Magwe around the 19th/20th March, the battalion was joined there by ‘Z’ Aerodrome Defence Company and took over anti-parachute duties for the aerodrome and its approaches. The opportunity was taken to reequip with abandoned RAF motor transport.

The battalion became Corps Troops to Burma Corps on 13th April and then Divisional Troops, 1st Burma Division on 15th April. Two days later the battalion was assigned to ‘Magforce’. By this time the battalion comprised battalion HQ, two companies of Karens, two companies of Indian reinforcements and some Burma Military Police personnel.

During the night of 17th/18th April ‘Magforce’ formed the rearguard for 1st Burma Division as British forces withdrew. Yenangyaung was reached on 19th April and here the battalion relieved the Cameronians of a position recently captured from the Japanese. A Japanese counterattack was successfully fought off and the night of 19th/20th April was spent on protection duties. On 20th April the battalion came under orders of 13th Indian Infantry Brigade.

The next day the withdrawal continued and the battalion moved by lorry to Mt. Popa and then on to Mandalay which was reached on the 23rd. On 26th April, the battalion left for Myitkyina, under the command of 11th Battalion, Burma Rifles. On 2nd May Nabha was reached and the battalion suffered more desertions. Those who were left reached Indaw on 4th May.

Here, the next day, the few who were left were paid off because as Territorials they would not normally be required to serve outside of Burma.

Elsewhere a small party under Lt Col PC Watson, which had become separated, headed for India via Kalewa and reached 51 Rest Camp (near Imphal) on 17 May, by way of Tamu. On 4th June 1942 the remaining 42 officers and men joined the Burma Army Details Camp at Hoshiarpur.

12 August 2014


Please e-mail Steve Rothwell with comments, additional information and requests for help

British & Commonwealth Orders of Battle Website