KOHIMA in Wartime


The Battle of Kohima

Garrison Hill 44
Garrison Hill, Kohima 1944

The Battle of Kohima was a critical battle of the Burma Campaign in World War II. It marked the limit of the Japanese U-Go offensive into India in 1944 and was the turning point in the war with Japan.

The battle took place in two stages. From April 3 to April 16, the Japanese attempted to capture Kohima ridge, a feature which dominated the road by which the major British and Indian troops at Imphal were supplied. At this point, the small British force at Kohima was relieved, and from April 18 to June 22, British and Indian reinforcements counter-attacked to drive the Japanese from the positions they had captured. The battle ended on June 22 when British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 109, ending the siege of Imphal.

Memorial Plaque
Kohima Memorial Plaque

The battle was the first defeat of the Japanese by the British Army. The town of Kohima was completely destroyed, but this did not prevent the local inhabitants from supporting the British and Indian troops as guides, porters and combatants.

Without the help of the Naga people, it is doubtful if the battle could have been won. The war memorial at the cemetery in Kohima carries the adjoining inscription.

The surviving veterans, who for six decades, have honoured the courage and sacrifice of those who died at Kohima see the Trust not only as a way of sustaining the memory of the battle, but also of assisting the tomorrows of the people who are their allies in the land where the battle was fought.

Kohima 1944
Kohima 1944

Battlefield Painting Unveiled
A new painting, portraying battlefield action at Kohima in 1944, was unveiled by His Excellency the Governor of Nagaland... Read full story

Background to the Battle of Kohima
Extract from MOD booklet WWII 60th Anniversary

5000 feet above sea level in the middle of the Naga Hills, was from April to June 1944 the location of one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Second World War. Over the course of 18 months, the British and Indian Fourteenth Army, under the command of General William Slim, had been building up logistical bases at Dimapur and Imphal for an eventual offensive into Burma.

The Japanese Fifteenth Army, under the command of Lt General Renya Mutagachi, received orders in early 1944 to put a stop to the British preparations in Assam. The fighting in and around Kohima in the spring of 1944 was part of a larger Japanese offensive, known as 'U-Go', in which three Japanese divisions, the 15th, 31st and 33rd, attempted to destroy the British/Indian forces at Imphal, Naga Hills and Kohima. The Japanese, however, were unaware that the British and Indian troops based in Assam in 1944, unlike their predecessors in 1942, were properly trained for the coming battles.

Kohima was an important hill station on the only road that led from the major British/Indian supply depot at Dimapur to Imphal. It was nearly 40 miles from Dimapur, and 80 miles from lmphal. The Japanese plan was for the 31st Division to split into three columns that would cut the Kohima-Imphal Road and envelop the village from three different angles. The Japanese operation, 'U-Go', began in mid-March 1944; by the 22nd elements of the British IV Corps  17th, 20th and 23rd  Indian Divisions based in and around Imphal, were engaging the first of the Japanese troops.

General Slim understood that a major Japanese offensive was under way. With most of IV Corps tied up in Imphal and the Imphol-Kohima road cut, he knew that Kohima would need to be reinforced. British military intelligence did not initially reallse the threat to Kohima. It was assumed that no more than a few battalions would be able to traverse the high ridge system that existed between the Chindwin River and Kohima. Before long, however, reports confirmed that an entire Japanese division was on the move to Kohima.

This battle was ultimately to prove to be the turning point of the Burma Campaign. Earl Mountbatten described it as 'probably one of the greatest battles in history ... in effect the Battle of Burma... naked unparalleled heroism ... the British/Indian Thermopylae'.

Read full booklet Second World War 60th Anniversary

60 Anniversary