2nd Battalion, The Burma Rifles
battalion was first formed on 22nd December 1917 as the 2nd
Battalion, 70th Burma Rifles. Upon
creation of the 20th Burma Rifles in 1922, the 2/70th
became the 2/20th Burma Rifles.
When Burma was formally separated from Indian in 1937, the “20th”
was dropped from the regiment title and the battalion became the 2nd
Battalion, The Burma Rifles.
By this time the
battalion had earned the following battle honours:
1937 the battalion was stationed at Mandalay and arrived from there at Maymyo
in November 1938, coming under command of the Maymyo Infantry Brigade Area. On
1st 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 1st July 1941. As part of the strategy to
defend the landing grounds in Tenasserim, the battalion was sent to Mergui on
1st October 1941. The battalion remained at Mergui, dispatching a company to
Bokpyin on 26th December.
battalion remained at Mergui, dispatching "D" Company to Bokpyin on
26th December and which remained there until 5th January 1942.
On 6th January, the troops at Mergui came under the command of the
"Tenasserim" Division - the 17th Indian Infantry Division.
At this time the troops at Mergui were the 2nd Burma Rifles, two
companies of the 3rd Burma Rifles, two detachments of the Kokine Battalion,
Burma Frontier Force and two sub-sections of the Burma Sappers and Miners
16th January, the two companies of the 3rd Burma Rifles left Mergui for Tavoy
by sea and by road. Following the
loss of Tavoy, however, it was decided to evacuate Mergui by sea.
This was done on the evening of 21st January and the 2nd Burma Rifles
reached Rangoon on the evening of 25th January where they took up the quarters
of the 3rd Burma Rifles at Mingaladon.
On the night of 31st January, the battalion left Mingaladon by train for Papun where on 5th February the battalion came under the command of the 16th Indian Infantry Brigade. Moulmein had fallen on 31st January and the British defence plan was now focussed on holding the line of the Salween River. Japanese pressure soon mounted and between 8th and 13th February there was confused fighting on this line as more and more Japanese troops crossed the river. It was soon decided the line was untenable and the British withdrew behind the Bilin River line by 15th February. To the north of the line, the 2nd Burma Rifles were still covering Papun, under the direct command of 17th Indian Division Headquarters. Japanese attacks on this new line began on 16th February and on the 20th a further withdrawal was made, this time to the Sittang River. Further disaster followed with the untimely destruction of the railway bridge over the Sittang, after which the remnants of the 17th Indian Division reorganised on the west bank near Pegu. Throughout this period, the 2nd Burma Rifles remained at Papun and on 23rd February, following the Sittang battle, the battalion was ordered to withdraw from Papun and join the 1st Burma Division.
2nd Burma Rifles had been out on their own at Papun
and a slow withdrawal towards Shwegyin and the Sittang River now ensued.
On 28th February the 2nd Burma Brigade, located at Nyaunglebin,
attempted contact with the battalion to order their return towards Toungoo,
preferably via Pyu. The 2nd Burma
Rifles came under the command of the 2nd Burma Brigade on 14th March 1942.
The next day F.F.4 came under command of the 2nd Burma Brigade and was
placed under command of the 2nd Burma Rifles.
By now orders had been issued for a withdrawal northwards to Toungoo by
the 1st Burma Division, of which the 2nd Burma Brigade formed a part.
This began on 15th March and would lead to the transfer of the division
to the Prome front, joining up with British troops in the Irrawaddy valley to
form 1st Burma Corps or "Burcorps".
The battalion entrained for Taungdwingyi and on to the Irrawaddy front
on the night of 21st/22nd March 1942. The battalion arrived in the Allanmyo
area, via Pyinmana, on 22nd March before crossing the Irrawaddy to Thayetmyo
by the 25th March.
29th March, the 2nd Burma Brigade received orders to occupy the area Allanmyo-Thayetmyo
astride the Irrawaddy River valley. The
2nd Burma Rifles and a Garrison Company at Thayetmyo were tasked with guarding
the main approaches up the west bank of the Irrawaddy.
now the 2nd Burma Rifles was around 430 strong, losses in the main owing to
sickness and desertion. Two
companies, "C" and "D" had been merged in to one on 28th
March. The battalion was detached
on a mobile role away from Thayetmyo, moving to Minde on 1st April.
By 4th April, the 2nd Burma Brigade had crossed the Irrawaddy and was
located in Thayetmyo when orders were received to withdraw to Minhla.
The 2nd Burma Rifles were ordered to conform to the general brigade
withdrawal. The battalion reached
its allotted position on high ground to the west of Minhla during the night of
13/14th April. Here it was shelled
from the East bank of the river and had three men wounded, one of whom died
the next day.
The general withdrawal to India was now in full swing and the 2nd Burma Brigade withdrew up the West bank of the Irrawaddy. By 30th April, Pauk was reached and from here a long and arduous march was made northwards. On 12th May lorries arrived to transport the battalion to Kalemyo but the destination was then changed to Imbaing. From here the withdrawal continued by stages until on 23rd May 1942 the 2nd Burma Rifles arrived at Palel where they moved into a rest camp for the night. The next day the battalion moved by lorry to a temporary camp at Milestone 109, some 24 miles beyond Imphal. Here, on 25th May, the battalion paraded and was inspected by His Excellency, Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief.
following day, at a conference of Burma Rifles battalion commanders, it was
decided to allow all men who wished to the opportunity to return to their
homes in Burma. On 19th May the
battalion strength had been around 220 all ranks and 46 followers.
On 31st May, after the men returning to Burma had declared themselves,
146 Kachins, Chins and Karens elected to stay with the battalion in India.
on it was thought the remaining men of the Burma Rifles battalions staying in
Burma would form a reconnaissance unit and those staying in India but not
required for this purpose left for Ranchi on 2nd June.
Those returning to Burma began their journeys on 5th June.
The next day, all ranks remaining in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th and
10th Burma Rifles battalions were formed into a composite Burma Rifles
battalion, with a total strength of 20 G.C.O.s and 308 Other Ranks, and an
unknown number of British Officers.
The Composite Burma
Rifles Battalion was commanded by Lt. Colonel C.H.D. O'Callaghan, former
commander of the 2nd Burma Rifles. This
unit left for Ranchi on 8th June, arriving there on five days later.
En route an additional three coaches were added to the train, holding
four British Officers and around 180 Other Ranks from the Burma Frontier Force
and the Burma Military Police. After
some confusion the Composite Battalion left for Hoshiarpur, where the Burma
Army was being concentrated, on 23rd June, with a strength of seven British
Officers, 23 G.C.O.s, 323 Burmese Other Ranks, 69 followers and 72 families.
The train carrying the men and families reached Hoshiarpur late on 26th
June and the night was spent on the train.
The men began moving into camp the next day.
On 29th June a further six G.C.O.s and 54 Burmese Other Ranks arrived
to join the battalion.
reorganisation of Burma forces included the retention of the 2nd Burma Rifles
and the creation of new infantry battalions.
The battalion was retained, initially as part of the Composite Burma
Rifles Battalion, and built up in strength by selection of the best Burmese
men from the Burma Frontier Force units. GHQ India was anxious to include this
unit in the special force brigade then being formed.
At Hoshiarpur the battalion was reorganised and re-equipped before
moving to a rest camp at Dharmsala in August.
The 2nd Battalion Burma Rifles came under Indian command in June 1942
and was allotted to the 77th Indian Brigade, under Wingate’s command, and
moved to join the brigade at Saugor in September 1942, where preparation began
for the First Chindit Operation.
of the war diary for 1942 are available at the National Archives at Kew as
file WO 172/975,
only the months of January and April-June 1942 survive. A
transcription of the file, together with extensive footnotes gleaned from
other sources, can be read or downloaded here.]
Chindit Operations -
Service with 'Special Force'
the 77th Indian Brigade, the battalion moved to Assam in January
1943. On 15th 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.
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 the 77th Indian
Infantry Brigade in August 1943, at Jhansi.
his official report on the expedition, Wingate wrote of the 2nd Burma Rifles:
the expansion of the Chindits, 2nd Burma Rifles joined the 3rd Indian Infantry
Division, the cover name for ‘Special Force’ – the Chindits - 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 5th 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
Men of the 2nd Burma Rifles 1944 courtesy of
the Anglo-Burmese Library web site, click
The role of the Battalion was primarily reconnaissance or scouting, usually in platoon strength, one platoon per column, the standard tactical unit employed by 'Special Force', in advance of British, Gurkha and West African infantry. They were not trained in intelligence and public relations duties and usually only spoke their own language, and in this way differed from the specialists of the Burma Intelligence Corps. The advantage given by the Battalion was that the men could move through areas occupied by Burmese civilians causing less disturbance than British, Gurkha or West African troops whilst gaining information on local routes and food and water sources. They could:
Slip into villages without causing the same level of disturbance
caused by British, Gurkha or West African troops
December 1944, the battalion provided three detachments to support ‘Special
Force’ operations being considered in Burma for 1945.
However by January 1945 it appeared that ‘Special Force’ would
not be required after all and on 5th February 1945 it was
disbanded due to a shortage of British manpower, lack of transport aircraft
and changes in strategy making Long Range Penetration operations
unnecessary. By this time many
officers and men of the Battalion had been detached and were serving in
other capacities. The Burma
Intelligence Corps, suffering from something of a manpower crisis due to the
lack of suitable Burmese-speakers generally, requested a number of men from
the Battalion. In January 1945,
Major Watson of the Burma Intelligence Corps visited the 2nd
Battalion Depot to select men suitable for work with the B.I.C.,
subsequently submitting a list of 107 men for transfer.
January 1945 the allocation of the officers and men of the Battalion was
given as follows:
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.
Army List January 1940.
 The 3rd and 6th Battalions had effectively been disbanded during the retreat. The 7th and 8th Battalions were largely manned by men of Indian origin and were formed into an additional composite battalion that was designated the 1st Battalion of the new Burma Regiment in October 1942.
 “Burma Intelligence Corps”, WO 203/48
 “Burma Intelligence Corps”, WO 203/48
 Force 136 – the name by which Special Operations Executive operated in India, Burma and South East Asia.
 CAS(B) – the Civil Affairs Service, Burma, run by the Government of Burma to aid reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas of Burma recaptured from Japanese occupation.
 I.F.B.U.s – Indian Field Broadcasting Units, operated by Force 136 (Special Operations Executive) to broadcast propaganda to the Japanese and civilians under their occupation.
06 November 2015