In April 1945 at the Force 136 training camp in Ceylon known as ME25, a team of six men was formed up for operations east of the Salween River in south east Burma. There were two Captains in the team, Harold Hall and David McNaught Lockie. Their W/T operator was Sergeant Thomas Cain. The three British men were joined three Karen Burma Rifles, Jemadar Saw Accord, Havildar Saw Ghaw, and Tun Yin. Between them, there was bags of experience in clandestine operations. Both Captain Hall and Sgt. Cain had been in France; Lockie had been part of Phantom. Tun Yin had been deployed on Operation Bottom and Saw Ghaw on Operation Corton, both SOE operations in Burma. Saw Accord had been a soldier since 1933. They were to need all of this experience when they became hunted by around 8000 Japanese troops.
Captain Lockie Captain Hall
One of the aims of the Tiger team was to locate the personnel of Operation Antelope, who had been off air for the last six weeks. Deciding on a ‘blind drop’, ie landing without a reception team on the DZ, Hall went off in a Beaufighter to recce the Dawna Range where Burma borders Siam:
A DZ was selected and the decision to launch made. All men and stores landed safely on the night of the 28/29 April 1945. The RAF Dakota crew were praised for excellent work, with all packages landing on the DZ, enabling the site to be cleared by dawn.
At dawn on 29 April, Saw Accord contacted some villagers who reported that there were no Japanese in the vicinity, but that they had seen a party of British and Burman soldiers recently. This intelligence was confirmed by a village headman who was hiding the team, so Tiger met Antelope at Shanywathit on 2 May. The two operations stayed together for ten days and received drops of stores and personnel. The personnel were two officers from V Force, Captains Bennett and Flack. Contact was made with Calcutta and Tiger was told to stay in the area, while Antelope was ordered south towards Kawkareik, moving off on 9 May.
The Tiger team very swiftly recruited 75 levies, and moved south to he Palonyathe Valley to establish a camp. News of the SOE team spread and an intelligence reporting system was easily established. With levy volunteers now up to 250, training commenced in platoons of 30 men and included live firing as they felt secure enough. It is also noted that there was no problem with feeding their recruits. Orders came through that Tiger was to commence operations against the Japanese from the middle of May.
With the growth and success of the intelligence network under Captain Lockie, it was decided to split the team so that Captain Hall took charge of offensive operations. Communications between the two groups would be by runner, as Lockie would keep the W/T to send intelligence back to India. Lockie based himself near Pa-An, while Hall split his platoons up to cover the road where the Japanese were beginning to retreat south along the east bank of the Salween from Moulmein.
The Japanese ‘threatened the villagers with death and the burning of their villages if any of their soldiers were killed annd so to prevent this the villagers used to advise the Japs not to go down the tracks where they knew ambush parties were situated.’ Another tactic was to forcibly recruit porters from the villages at a proportion of one to three Japanese soldiers, mixing them in the column, to dissuade ambush parties from firing on their own folk. ‘Both of these arrangements proved to be very effective’ so many ambushes between Kamamaung and Pa-An were never sprung. There was one successful ambush near a village called Kyundaw where up to 70 Japanese were killed. Although the SOE levies involved suffered no casualties, ‘many levies decid[ed] that the job was too dangerous for them and so at least 50 asked to be released.’ Their release was accepted and the platoons reorganised so that there were seven platoons left. In the next ambush, just two shots were fired by Captain Hall, and two Japs killed. Again, there was a ‘mass desertion of the Levies’, prompting another reorganisation.
Intelligence then came in that about 3000 enemy forces were retreating through Kamamaung. Instead of setting ambushes, because this 3000 was known to include Indian National Army (INA), Burma Defence Army (BDA) and some Chinese personnel, an attempt would be made to induce them to surrender. Local Burmans, Indians and Chinese were recruited to start secret conversations with their brethren, which led to the desertion of 150 Indians along with some of the BDA and Chinese. Some of the INA chose to join the Levy forces to fight the Japanese, others handed in their weapons and made for India. The Burmans and Chinese stayed in villages with their own people.
During this same period, ‘a party of saboteurs had been organised’. Armed with plastic explosives and with delayed fuses, these homemade devices were used on houses and rivercraft. They apparently ‘paid a good dividend’, destroying ‘three large transport boats loaded with Japs’ and a house with about 50 Japanese in it.
At the end of June, a bridge over a chaung at Hlaingbwe was blown in half. This was because the Japanese had based themselves in a couple of villages and were using trucks to bring in food supplies pillaged from the surrounding countryside. The demolition party was chased by the Japanese but managed to get away. The bridge was out of action for a month, and a permanent guard was placed on it once repaired. The repair was not good enough for trucks, only bullock carts now able to cross.
Also during June, airstrikes were called in on a Japanese concentration in Hlaingbwe, ‘the results being quite satisfactory’ and ambushes were successful in the Kamamaung area with Japanese casualties thought to number around 70.
By July, it was estimated that 8000 Japanese troops were in the area, having retreated south from the Shan States. A rumour was started by the Tiger team to the effect that there were 2000 British troops in the Dawna Range, and this rumour ‘circulated like wild fire among the Japs’. As a result, it was thought that these Japanese troops were tied up looking for the threat to their flank, rather than opposing the main Allied forces on the Sittang front. Other rumours started included that the Emperor had committed suicide in Japan. Reports then followed that Japanese officers and men had committed suicide on hearing this news.
Since the Japanese were reliant on the Burmese villages for their food supply, Tiger urged the villagers to hide their food and livestock in the jungle, and refuse to give the Japanese anything. The result was that ‘the people co-oprated so well that the Japs were forced to call a special meeting in Hlaingbwe’ where they promised to treat the villagers better if they would only provide them with food. The villagers refused and so the Japanese found it harder to survive. It seems to have also spurred them on to greater efforts to hunt down the SOE teams.
While Tiger had been spreading rumours, Captain Briant of team Antelope with about 40 Levies had been forced on the run after being attacked in the Kawkareik area. The Japanese followed hot on Briant’s heels and it resulted in the Tiger HQ being attacked two days after Briant’s arrival. Luckily, they were informed of the coming attack about an hour before it was put in and so they managed to escape safely. By now, Japanese forces were focusing their efforts on finding the SOE teams, and there was a bounty on Captain Hall’s head. The name of Captain Hall was known to the Japanese as a friendly headman had been tortured and he gave up all he knew.
With bands of 150 Japanese sweeping the countryside searching for them, Tiger and their Antelope compliment found their movements restricted. Nonetheless, a Japanese supply store was attacked and destroyed along with 29 Japanese soldiers, but this prompted reprisals against the locals.
A few days after the attack on the supply depot, Captain Briant moved off to set up ambushes but he was betrayed with the result that he was shot. Tun Yin was captured and tortured, and forced to talk. He was later bayoneted and buried alive in Takara. Later, a suspect was caught and handed over to 63 Infantry Brigade of 17 Division, but details have been redacted from the file.
‘By this time the situation became very sticky’ and with no W/T to find out what was going on, Tiger decided to lie low. Captain Hall went to hide with a priest in the foothills of the Dawna range while the Levies lived in villages posing as ordinary villagers. The Japanese changed their tactics and dressed as locals hoping to infiltrate the SOE networks. They were successful at least once, as Kan Htoo, ‘one of our best platoon commanders’ had his throat cut by an imposter.
On 12 August, a W/T and operator arrived so that Tiger was able to find out how the war was going. They decided to continue to lie low and wait for the next big attack by regular forces, but the surrender came three days later. This did not prevent some Japanese from continuing to hunt for Hall, who they had named Tha Kho Gyi Na Khaung Gyi: ‘Big bandit with a big nose’. The 104 Battalion of the BDA also continued to cause trouble, raiding villages, which prompted an appeal for help from the Levies. Tiger were able to ‘stop all their nonsense and things calmed down.’ After this, the Tiger platoons turned into a police force, patroling the area to deal with dacoits, which was approved of by the Army which was yet to make it into the area. An idea of the scale of dacoity is presented; 22 dacoits were caught red handed and while some were handed over to the police in Moulmein, ‘the odd one was shot here and there.’ A band of 500 was ordered to surrender, some of whom did so at Martaban.
The Tiger team disarmed the Japanese 58 Regiment at Pa-An, and continued to provide security and intelligence from the area until regular forces and the Civil Affair Service arrived. This included things like stopping the Japanese commander in Kamamaung from killing bullocks he had seized from villages and returning them to their rightful owners, and making sure Levies were given jobs in the police or forestry business.
Operations like Tiger and Antelope have not really had much mention, in my book or others. It is clear, however, that the two teams were under significant pressure in July and August, and that managing to survive with 8000 Japanese hunting them down was no mean feat. The deaths of Captain John Ernest Briant and Tun Yin are particularly sad in that they were betrayed so close to the end of hostilities. The nature of Tun Yin’s death is also particularly grim.
In his personnel file, Briant’s mother wrote to SOE thanking them for sending on her son’s belongings. She also wrote: ‘The report of his death was a shock to us both. My husband did not survive it, and died in hospital a few weeks ago.’