2nd Burma Rifles
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2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles

The battalion was first formed in 1917 as 2nd Battalion, The 70th Burma Rifles, a regular battalion of the Indian Army. Following a reorganisation of the Indian Army, the battalion was redesignated as 2nd Battalion, The 20th Burma Rifles, in 1924. Following the separation of Burma from India in April 1937, the battalion became 2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles. By this time the battalion had earned the following battle honours:

Egypt, 1917

Moplah, 1923

Burma 1930-1932

On 3 September, 1939, the battalion was at Maymyo, under command of the Maymyo Infantry Brigade Area. On 1 December 1940, the battalion moved to Moulmein, coming under command of the Tenasserim Infantry Brigade Area, from which 2nd Burma Brigade was organised, coming into being on 1 July 1941. As part of the strategy to defend the landing grounds in Tenasserim, the battalion was sent to Mergui on 1 October 1941. The battalion remained at Mergui, dispatching a company to Bokpyin on 26 December and which remained there until the first week of January 1942.

Following the Japanese invasion, the battalion was withdrawn to Rangoon on 20 January 1942, arriving on the 25th and moving directly to Papun where, on 5 February, it was attached to 16 Indian Infantry Brigade. Ten days later the battalion was attached to 17 Indian Infantry Division before withdrawing to Nyaunglebin on 21 February and returning to the command of 2 Burma Brigade Group.br.gif (3901 bytes)

Beginning on 15 March, the battalion withdrew with the brigade, part of 1 Burma Division, north along the road to Toungoo and entrained for Taungdwingyi and on to the Irrawaddy front on the night of 21/22 March 1942. The battalion arrived in the Allanmyo area, via Pyinmana, on 22 March before crossing the Irrawaddy to Thayetmyo by the 25 March. Thayetmyo was evacuated by 2 Burma Brigade on the night of 5/6 April and the battalion withdrew north to Minhla, reaching the town on 8 April. By 14 April the battalion was at Minbu before withdrawing to India via Sagu, Pakkoku, Pauk and Gangaw, up the Myittha Valley. The battalion made contact with detachments of the Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, 15 miles south of Kalemyo on 12 May 1942 and was trucked to Tamu from there. The battalion reach Imphal, via Tamu, on 17 May 1942. The battalion was the only Burma Rifles battalion to reach India in good condition, with a strength of around 250 men. At Imphal, the Burma Rifles battalions were concentrated into two composite battalions.  The Composite Battalion was re-designated 2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles.

The battalion remained in the Imphal area until 1 June when it moved to Ranchi for refitting. In July the battalion moved to Hoshiarpur for re-equipping before moving to a rest camp at Dharmsala in August. In September, the battalion moved to join 77 Indian Infantry Brigade in the Saugor area and began preparing for the first Chindit operation, the "Wingate Expedition". With the brigade, the battalion moved to Assam in January 1943. On 15 March the battalion re-entered Burma with the Chindits, organised as one HQ platoon and seven platoons, one platoon attached to each Chindit Column to provide reconnaissance and interpreters. The battalion CO, Lt Col. Lyndon Grier Wheeler, 16th Punjab Regiment, had served as a Major with 3rd Burma Rifles during the retreat to India.  Whilst with No. 5 Column, Wheeler was killed on 4th April by a stray bullet at the village of Zibyugin.  He achieved the distinction of being awarded a posthumous DSO.

In May, the battalion re-crossed into India following the conclusion of the "Wingate Expedition", with casualties of three British Officers (including Lt Col Wheeler) and seven others killed and 180 missing, of whom 120 had been allowed to shed their uniforms and stay in Burma. In June the battalion was at a holiday camp in Karachi and rejoined 77 Indian Infantry Brigade in August 1943, at Jhansi.

In his official report on the expedition, Wingate wrote of the 2nd Burma Rifles:

"I would like to record here that I have never had under my command in the field as good a body of men as the 2nd Burma Rifles. Their Commander, Lieut. Colonel Wheeler, and myself were hopeful that the work of a reconnaissance unit for a Long Range Group would make full use of their good qualities, but we were surprised by their excellence in the face of the enemy. As a result of the experience we gained, the following conclusions may be drawn. The Burman hillman is an ideal soldier for aggressive reconnaissance. He is not at all ideal in defence. He is not ideal if ordered to attack a strongly held position. But in carrying out rapid, bold and intelligent patrols in the face of the enemy, in obtaining local information, in making propaganda, in handling boats, in living off the country, and in loyal service to his officers he is without equal. This therefore is the use to which he should invariably be put.

There appeared to be little difference between Karens, Kachins and Chins in general excellence, except in areas inhabited by their respective tribes."

With the expansion of the Chindits, 2nd Burma Rifles joined 3 Indian Infantry Division (Special Force) in August 1943, at Jhansi, and underwent an increase in size to provide reconnaissance sections for each Chindit Column. In February, the sections moved with the Chindits to Assam before embarking on Operation Thursday and the second expedition on 5 March 1944. In September the Burma Riflemen withdrew to India, having suffered 13 killed or died, three missing and eight wounded. Later that month, the battalion moved to rest camp at Dehra Dun.

Officers of the 2nd Burma Rifles 1944 courtesy of the Anglo-Burmese Library web site, click here.  The men in the photo are named at this link.

Men of the 2nd Burma Rifles 1944 courtesy of the Anglo-Burmese Library web site, click here.

In December 1944, the battalion provided three detachments to join Special Force for operations in Burma in 1945.

During March and April 1945, the battalion was reformed as a regular, four company infantry battalion at Hoshiarpur in India but remained in India until August 1945. The battalion appears in the XII Army order of battle for 30th September 1945, under command of 253 Sub Area, South Burma District - a static command for internal security and administration. At this time the battalion is likely to have been based in the Rangoon area and was part of the new Burma Army. In January 1946, the battalion moved to Syriam and during May 1947 was involved in successful anti-dacoit operations north of Prome and in the Thayetmyo area. Responsibility for internal security duties was transferred to the new Burma Army in June 1947 and the battalion is believed to have been in existence when Burma became independent on 4th January 1948.

 

15 January 2014

 

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

British & Commonwealth Orders of Battle Website