Burma Military Police
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The Burma Military Police

Prior to separation there had been nine battalions of Burma Military Police, predominantly Indian and Gurkha in composition, with around a quarter being Karens.  Six battalions, those which were largely Indian and Gurkha in composition, became the Burma Frontier Force and the three remaining battalions after 1937 were responsible to the Inspector-General of Police, Burma.  The BMP were largely responsible for internal security duties.

The Burma Military Police

Following the formation of the Burma Frontier Force, the battalions of the Burma Military Police were:

1st Rangoon Battalion, Burma Military Police

2nd Rangoon Battalion, Burma Military Police

The Mandalay Battalion, Burma Military Police

Before the separation of Burma from India on 1st April 1937, the infantry units which came to be included in the Burma Army, the Burma Rifles and the Burma Military Police, were officered exclusively by British regular officers of the Indian Army.  From 1st April 1937, officers for the Burma Rifles, the BFF and the BMP were found by the secondment of British Service officers as well as Indian Army officers for a tour of four years, extensible to five.  All officers were placed at the disposal of the GOC Burma who decided the officer postings between the three forces (Burma Rifles, BFF and BMP).  Officers serving with the BFF and BMP served as Commandants and Assistant Commandants.  

Following the outbreak of war, additional officers were found by the appointment of officers from the Army in Burma Reserve of Officers (ABRO).


Account of the Operations of 1st and 2nd Rangoon Battalions, Burma Military Police

At the outbreak of war both battalions were in Rangoon and assigned to guard Japanese premises and vulnerable points, in conjunction with the civil police. On 23rd December 1941 the men experienced their first air raid when the Japanese bombed Rangoon. A further raid on Christmas Day followed this.

Two platoons of the 2nd Battalion were detailed on column duty at Thongwa in the Tharawaddy district and were eventually evacuated to India by sea as the Japanese invasion progressed.

The training companies of both battalions, under the command of Major T.H. Geake, left for Mandalay and then Bhamo, so that the fighting would not interrupt training. The remainder then became involved in the civilian evacuation from Rangoon.

On 20th February 1942, both battalions were ordered to Tharawaddy and left Rangoon the same day. However 200 men stayed in Rangoon on guard duties, under command Major M.D. Hindle.

The BMP battalions were never equipped for war against a modern enemy. There were only four Lewis guns per battalion, no other automatic weapons or grenades being issued. The battalions were organised into platoons with one havildar and 25 other ranks. The platoons in Rangoon were manned with one GCO (Governor’s Commissioned Officer) or one havildar and 19 other ranks.

En route to Tharawaddy, the 1st and 2nd Battalions came under command of the Army as line of communication troops. On Arrival at Tharawaddy, the 1st Battalion was billeted at the local BMP Post and the 2nd Battalion at the Karen High School.

On 25th February, 200 men of the 1st Battalion and 300 of the 2nd Battalion were sent back to Rangoon. There they were joined by the Rangoon detachment and from then on the two battalions became one merged unit – sometimes referred to as The Rangoon Battalion, BMP or just the BMP. The men were posted around the city in police stations to prevent looting. In the remaining days before the final military evacuation of the city, the BMP shot over 100 looters and arsonists.

The BMP left Rangoon on 7th March, as part of the final evacuation from the city, in motor transport that arrived at last minute. A detachment at Taukkyan was placed under command of the 1st Glosters on 8th March and participated in the attack on the Japanese roadblock. When this lifted, the BMP continued on to Tharawaddy. Many of the men then moved on to Prome.

The retreat was a time of great confusion and units and sub units became separated. Platoons under Subedar Saw Pan Kaing, 2nd Battalion, and Jemadar Maithang Limbu and Jemadar Hastabahadur Limbu were lost between Taukkyan and Tharawaddy and never seen again. They were presumed lost to enemy.

Some entrained at Kemmendine for Prome, under Major A. Smith. Disaster struck when a pilot engine preceding the train fell through a bridge. The train then came under fire, which was returned with some relish. The BMP then made their way to Prome on foot. Others went on foot through the jungle and joined up later. The BMP now had a detachment in Prome and 600 men under Lieutenant-Colonel Chappells-Martin [1] at Tharawaddy. Those in Prome were put on anti-looting patrols and guard duties.

When the Japanese began to attack Prome, the BMP assisted in the town’s defence. Four platoons under Subedar Moti Ram Thapa, 2nd Battalion, came under orders of the Royal Inniskillings and were sent to protect the west bank of the Irrawaddy. Four other platoons of the 2nd Battalion, under Subedar Rattan Sing, again under Royal Iniskillings command went to Padaung, eight miles downstream of Prome. A 1st Battalion platoon, under Jemadar Bisi Ram was stationed at Tombo.

On 31st March, the four 2nd Battalion platoons under Subedar Moti Ram Thapa, came under fire from advancing Japanese and withdrew without loss under orders from 63rd Infantry Brigade.

On 1st April 200 men of the BMP were sent to guard the east bank of river from Japanese landings. The BMP came under attack in Prome on the evening of 1st April. The BMP began to withdraw the next day and for the next four days all men of both battalions remained together on the road until Taungdwingyi was reached on 6th April. Here 250 men remained and the rest, under Major H. Chappell, went on to Myitkyina.

Many of these men reached Myitkyina by special train. The remainder also left by train from Ywataung on 17th April but the train was derailed on the next day. An examination of the track uncovered sabotage as the cause of the derailment. The men soon transferred to a relief train and arrived at Myitkyina on 24th April.

Total strength of the combined BMP at Myitkyina was 3 British Officers and 728 men. Of these, 184 were Punjabi Mussalmen, 194 Kumaonis, 198 Gurkhas, 139 Karens, 12 Burmans and one Sikh. Soon after arrival, 1 platoon of Punjabi Mussalmen was sent to Shwebo, two platoons of Kumaonis went to Katha and another platoon of Kumaonis went to Wuntho. The rest built a camp for Army HQ, cleared a site for an aerodrome and placed it under guard.

On 1st May 1942, the BMP at Myitkyina were transferred to the Myitkyina Battalion of the Burma Frontier Force (BFF). Major Hindle went to this battalion; Major A. Smith went to the Bhamo Battalion, BFF and Major Chappell to the BFF.

The above account is based on WO203/5693 - Report of BMP by Major H Chappell, 2nd Rangoon Battalion, BMP

Along with other units, those men who had not already deserted or become casualties were allowed to return to their homes, if they wished.   Many non-Burmese stayed with the retreating British and on into India where some would have joined the newly raised battalions of The Burma Regiment, in September 1942.

[1] Possibly Major James Elliot Leslie Martin.



08 January 2015

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