The Anniversary of Imphal & Kohima

David Pettitt

The battles at Imphal and Kohima during the closing years of the Second World War turned the tide of conflict in the eastern theatre. Ultimately, victory for the British and Indian forces at Imphal repelled the Japanese from India and became the catalyst for the re-conquest of Burma and the Far East. The events at Imphal and Kohima remain crucial in understanding the wider conflict. The plan to attack Imphal was a culmination of an astonishing series of Japanese victories over the preceding years. Success in China, Malaya, Singapore and the march north through Burma resulted in Mutaguchi’s army finding itself in India’s far north east.

View of Kohima War Cemetery in Nagaland, India

In his way were the British-Indian forces of the Fourteenth Army under the command of Lieutenant-General William Slim. Despite the setbacks of 1942-43, Slim was instrumental in changing the mindset of his forces, extolling the importance of aggressive tactics, incorporating air support and emphasising jungle warfare training. All this restored the morale and confidence of his soldiers. The battles at both Imphal and Kohima were brutal, with no quarter given or taken. Allied logistical superiority was crucial to victory and the fighting was so intense it has since been described as the Stalingrad of the East. Although some veterans of the battles have felt overlooked, Imphal-Kohima was one of the biggest defeats the Japanese Army ever suffered. After this decisive victory, the British-Indian troops fought through northern Burma eventually leading to the fall of Rangoon (Yangon) in early May 1945.

Kohima War Cemetery in Kohima, Nagaland

This year is the 70th anniversary of the battles of Imphal and Kohima and different commemorations are planned to mark the occasion. The region also remains proud of the role it played during this pivotal period and there are many places of interest available for visitors interested in the battles. The main battlefields can be visited, three Allied cemeteries remain beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and there is also a Japanese War Memorial close to Imphal as well as the INA Memorial complex in Moirang, Manipur.