Many of the SOE officer’s post-operational reports are scathing about how they felt the Army took the pressure off the Japanese in Burma once Rangoon was liberated in May 1945. While this is arguably slightly unfair in that most of Slim’s divisions had been locked into contact with the enemy since at least March/April 1944, and completed an extremely challenging advance of 800 miles or so from Kohima to Rangoon, it is clear from the archives that SOE had some signifiant worries. many of those worries are expressed in the following document, which has been reproduced in full:
Tac Hq Force 136
27th June, 1945
Brigadier John Anstey,
My dear Brigadier,
For some time past I have had the impression that both you (Kandy HQ) and S.A.C.S.E.A. have written Burma off as finished from an S.O.E. and a military point of view.
I was well aware that this was not true before I left Calcutta but I had not realised until I came down here just what a very large part Force 136 is playing (and will I think continue to play) in the Burma Campaign – which is not finished by any manner of means.
The position at the moment is that there are still about 10,000 (or more) Japs to the west of the Rangoon/Toungoo road. There are no less than five of our divisions deployed to deal with these. In addition the Army are using as a screen (controlled through our LOs) about 5000 B.N.A. and A.F.O. In fact a great deal of the forward actions are being fought by them and Army include the casualties inflicted by B.N.A. and A.F.O. among those of the Regular Forces (see below).
Even with the Burmese Forces it would appear that Army are not dealing very effectively with the Japs since they have allowed about 3000 to escape across the Sittang to the East (Character area) in the last 2/3 weeks. The balance appear to be building up for a serious attempt to repeat the manoeuvre in force. In spite of Army’s dispositions I wuld not be surprised if they succeed, for their main obstacles will be the Sittang and the weather, and not our forces which appear to have developed a most depressing lack of initiative since taking Rangoon.
That is the Army picture – 5 divisions versus 10,000 Japs and a likelihood of the Japs gaining their objective which is escape through the Character area.
Now for the S.O.E. picture. In the field, approximately 70 officers and about 8000 armed levies against about 40,000 Japs (North of Moulmein). Rather uneven odds you will admit, but even so our levies are at least delaying the Japs as much as the Army (and without the Sittang to help them). They are certainly engaging them more frequently than the Army and from
the casualty figures they are engaging them at least as effectively.
12 Army’s own score board shows the following Japs killed since 28th May:-
- Regular Forces (including BNA and AFO) – 1835
- Clandestine Forces – 1790
Since O.S.S. have practically ceased to operate, you can assume that 95% of these ‘killeds’ are by Force 136.
In addition to that we are providing about 75% of the R.A.F. targets and I can say without fear of contradiction that the R.A.F. pay us the compliment of giving higher priority to our targets and greatly preferring them.
I pass over the fact that we are literally providing about two thirds of Army’s intelligence.
Army admit the value of our effort (though I doubt if they realise its magnitude) and allowing for their own supply problems they are doing what they can to help. I find the senior officers of both Army and R.A.F. most cooperative and free of red tape.
I know S.A.C.S.E.A. and you must look ahead and that your task lies in the future rather than the present, but I write this just in case you really do feel that Burma Section has practically packed up (as we all hoped it would do by the break of the rains).
If you judge our effort by present day casualties (and allow for B.N.A. and A.F.O. efforts bbeing included in the Armys’) we are killing more of the enemy than the whle of 12 Army. If you judge it by numbers of enemy engaged, we are doing far more, and that with 70 officers in the field against Army’s 5 Divisions plus. I don’t think S.O.E. can claim such a record in any other theatre of war.
I now see little likelihood of our operations (Character, Wolf, Dilwyn etc.) closing before Sept./Oct. and it may be several months later. I hope that in casting around for staff, aircraft and other equipment, you will NOT look on Burma as a milch cow. It isn’t!
All officers in the field are working under the most appalling climatic conditions, to which I can testify from personal experience. So far we hav been extraordinarily lucky in our casualty and sickness rate. I anticipate that the sickness rate will increase heavily as the rain season advances and as officers tire. At the best we may be able to get some assistance from Army, but the more you ask from Army the more they claim to be doing the job themselves, and I always understood that S.O.E. liked to be able to do the job themselves – and take what credit was due. The credit is due here – in no small measure – but I hope you will allow us to try and finish the job so far as possible with our own resources.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that the figures quoted above have all been checked today from Army sources, so you need not hesitate to quote them. I am sending an additional copy of this letter which I hope you will forward to C.H.M. in London so that he and they may realise the true position.
27 June 1945
Copy for Commander Force 136
” ” Commander Group ‘A’ Force 136
SACSEA = Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia (Mountbatten)
BNA = Burma National Army led by Aung San
AFO = Anti-Fascist Organisation
LO = Liaison Officer
CHM – Colin Hercules Mackenzie, commander of Force 136