Early in 1944 the Japanese 15th Army commanded by General Renya Mutaguchi launched a pre-emptive strike across Burma’s Chindwin River. It’s primary aim and purpose was to encircle and destroy the British/Indian IV Corps at Imphal to prevent the launch of a British and Indian attack across the border to re-take Burma.
To achieve this Mutagushi ordered two of his divisions, the 15th and 33rd, to encircle and destroy British and Indian forces on the Imphal Plain. His third Division, the 31st commanded by Lt Gen Kotoku Sato, was to strike west to cut the road between the great supply depot and railhead at Dimapur, thus preventing reinforcements from going to the aid of IV Corps.
The road was to be bisected at the small hill station of Kohima, which sat at the pass through the hills. Once this was achieved, Mutaguchi further planned to head off into India proper. He had been convinced that the Indians would then rise up in support against the British. This, the Japanese claimed, was the start of their “March on Delhi”.
The British knew that the Japanese were heading towards Kohima but they didn’t fully appreciate the vast numbers and the speed of approach. The Japanese 31st Division comprised approximately 13,500 men and they were almost racing over mountains, despite the dense covering of primary jungle.