Dismiss Notice
A reminder that, as is traditional around here, the forum will close for 20 minutes (11/11/19) around 1100, for Armistice Day.
~A

A Close View of the Disaster at the Sittang Bridge

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by sol, Aug 21, 2010.

  1. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Hi sol,

    I am just reading a book at the moment that features the Sittang Bridge fiasco. It is written by an Australian journalist called WG Burchett. It is primarily about his days reporting on Chinese actions and reactions to the events in 1941-42.

    He and a colleague were the first civilians to attempt to drive out of Burma (Lashio) all the way to India in a Jeep!

    The book is a fascinating read, because it comes from a different perspective (non-military) and involves the Chinese, who were such an unknown quantity back then. He even hints that the Chinese warned America and Britain that Pearl Harbour was on the cards, but that this was ignored by the two powers.

    Every book I have read on Sittang from just about every level of the British Army vilifies the decision to blow that bridge. So many of the men who became POW's in Rangoon Jail found themselves on the wrong side of that bridge in 1942.

    Bamboo.
     
  3. wtid45

    wtid45 Very Senior Member

    And I would recommend this book I am fortunate to have a signed copy. [​IMG]

    Blow the Bridge is a remarkable story of a young soldier thrust into the Far East conflict in the Second World War. It is a tale of courage, confusion, tragedy and humour.
    Lance Corporal C.G. Nicholls, 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellingtons, relates his personal account of one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war – fighting the Japanese in Burma leading to the eventual demolition of the Sittang Bridge.

    For the survivors that remain some sixty years on it will stir memories, while for those born after the war it represents an historic piece of writing which will help us all understand the sacrifices made by our gallant young men.
    A gripping read.
     
  4. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    I'm currently reading Grant's superb book "Burma 1942: Japanese Invasion" and it give much details about the Sittang Bridge disaster (It is absolutely the best book about fall of Burma that I ever read). Unfortunately there isn't too much personal accounts about this battle. Both Brigadier Hugh-Jones and Major Orgill mentioned in the story above committed suicide after the war, Hugh-Jones because of his decision to blow the bridge.
     
  5. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    And I would recommend this book I am fortunate to have a signed copy. [​IMG]

    Blow the Bridge is a remarkable story of a young soldier thrust into the Far East conflict in the Second World War. It is a tale of courage, confusion, tragedy and humour.
    Lance Corporal C.G. Nicholls, 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellingtons, relates his personal account of one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war – fighting the Japanese in Burma leading to the eventual demolition of the Sittang Bridge.

    For the survivors that remain some sixty years on it will stir memories, while for those born after the war it represents an historic piece of writing which will help us all understand the sacrifices made by our gallant young men.
    A gripping read.

    You are lucky one Jason because it is really a rare book. 2nd Duke's were quite badly mislead by higher command during this battle and because of this it unnecessary suffered heave losses in its first action after arrival to Burma.
     
  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I have read/seen a personal account of the decision to blow that bridge somewhere in a magazine. It was extremely scathing of those officers involved. I will see if I can remember where it was and dig it out for you guys.

    Bamboo.
     
  7. andy007

    andy007 Senior Member

    Thanks for posting those books lads. I have always wanted to learn more about the incident as a very good friend of mine was unfortunately on the wrong side when the bridge was blown,but fortunately survived the incident and the war to still with us today. I am not sure what Unit he was with but do know that he was possibly the only Officer that made it out with a group of about 160 men. His name is W.T. Roy for those that might come across it.
     
  8. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    This whole tragic incident, IMO, can be traced to several facts, set within the turmoil of those days:

    1.- Smyth just wasn't himself, hiding from his superiors the illnesses he was suffering.

    2.- He and Hutton just couldn't agree on the way to conduct the campaign; imagine that with the enemy hard on the heels of the Burma Army...

    3.- Wavell kept interfering with politically-minded orders, straight from London via Delhi, which just weren't coherent with the true turn of events.

    4.- The order given to the 17th Indian to halt its "advance away from the Bilin", for almost a day and a half, while within practical reach of the bridge and salvation, even though temporary.

    5.- Faulty intelligence, which kept HQ and beyond under the impression that the enemy was nothing but a rabble of short-sighted third-rate soldiers, not worth of the almighty British (Indian) army.

    6.- Almost non-existent General Staff work, coupled with an 1800's civilian administration.

    No wonder someone panicked and gave the order to destroy the bridge, dooming a lot of brave men to a long and hellish captivity. At the time the demolition charges went off, not a single Japanese combat unit was close enough to the eastern side bridgehead so as to even temporarily harass safe passage.
     
  9. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Those are only some of the mayor factors which led to the Sittang disaster. But they are not all. It was product of many things: too much bad decision, too much bad luck, but probably most serious of all them too long neglecting of threat before it was became too late.
     
  10. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    but probably most serious of all them too long neglecting of threat before it was became too late.

    Yes, I forgot to mention 150-something years of colonial mentality; the far superior white master and the little brown (or yellow) boy you have to take by the hand through life.
     
  11. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    I didn't mean exactly on that. More on the constant changing of command responsible for defense of Burma between London, Far East Command in Singapore and India Command in Delhi (which was only of all of them that can provide reinforcements for Burma), not providing adequate training and equipment for its small garrison, defense facilities where almost non existent, communications were poor, air defense negligible etc etc ...
     
  12. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    I didn't mean exactly on that. More on the constant changing of command responsible for defense of Burma between London, Far East Command in Singapore and India Command in Delhi (which was only of all of them that can provide reinforcements for Burma), not providing adequate training and equipment for its small garrison, defense facilities where almost non existent, communications were poor, air defense negligible etc etc ...

    Well, I DID mean that. Colonial attitudes led as much as obsolete equipment and training to the '41-42 rout, and beyond that, to the demise of the Western Empires, not only in the Orient.

    However, I fully agree with you. You want a command scheme that's a bl**dy mess? Try the Churchill-Wavell-Hutton-Smyth structure; even Alexander got sucked into the whirlpool when he was ordered to defend Rangoon with the shadow of an army, but was able to get out more or less intact.
     
  13. jonwilly

    jonwilly Junior Member

    Roy Hudson aged 90 is still alive and in reasonable health.
    I am due to have lunch with him next Thursday.
    He is always willing to talk on his time in Burma, the events of the Sittang Bridge, strafing by the RAF & Fying Tigers one of whom he met a couple of years a go, a story in it's self.
    Some years ago Roy got into a debate in the Sappers Corps Magazine, with his former C. RE 17 Div and Gen Smythe VC.
    Roy was awarded a 75 Pound prize for the best letter of the year.

    john
     
    Rothy likes this.
  14. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    I'm glad to hear that. Maybe he would like to share with us some other stories about his service in the war.
     
  15. jonwilly

    jonwilly Junior Member

    I'll ask him,
    however say, two years ago he decided to, Do A Blog, as a pup of say 88.
    In Post war Malaya he obtained a Civil Pilots Licence and wrote up a tale or two.
    He had that many reply's and requests for information that he withdrew the Blog.
    He was 'Baffled' by all the fuss over what he considered his normal way of life.

    Roy loaned me a copy of Sir Jack Smyth's 'Leadership in War 1939-1945'.
    Smyth was a contemporary of 'All' the up and coming Brit Commanders of WW II and he records his views on them and their campaigns, men he knew well.
    In his book he also gives his view on the Debacle of Sittang.
    I have read several other accounts since.
    Smyth wanted to fight His Division in a Divisional Battle on ground of his choosing. 'The System' prevented this and he was forced to commit 17 Div, brigade by brigade.
    17 Div was a strange formation. Infantry trained to operate as Lorried Infantry, all supply and coms wagon bound. They where trained and equipped for deployment in Mid East and like all troops untrained in Jungle warfare.
    Then Two Brigades where detached and sent to Singapore. Smyth who has raised 19 Div is appointed GOC 17 Div and two replacement Brigades are found to add to 17 Div Headquarters and remaining infantry brigade.
    Smyth never denied he gave what he considered the correct Order. Destroy The Sittang Bridge.
    Like his friend and contemporary Arthur Percival of Singapore fame, Smyth took the Rap, for the loss of Burma.
    Two battles where the odds where Stacked High against the Man on the Spot and The System was allowed to get away Scott free.

    john
     
  16. jonwilly

    jonwilly Junior Member

    I am not hopeful on any more information from Roy Hudson. I informed him of the artical said to be from an interview in 2007.Below is part of his reply.

    'There is a lot of rot in the introduction of the website you quote . For example, those on the wrong side after the Sittang bridge was demolished being. "taken prisoner or killed". Some may have been, but not many.

    In my article published in the RE Journal I state that "after the bridge was blown up, the Japs took no further interest in the battle" and that "many of those in 17 In Div were able to cross the river, with Smyth crediiitng himself with a figure of 3,000." These include the complete party of about seven members of my own platoon. I have ceased "putting history right" on this matter! '

    Still if my 'OC' is up to lunch this week a couple of Beers Singha may change his mind after an excellent Indian Curry.

    john
    He really is a marvelous old soldier.
     
  17. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Hi John, thank you for your attempt. Mr. Hudson is right, many succeeded to cross the Sittang River to fight another day.
     
  18. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Enes,

    I was looking through some new medal auctions and came across the medals for Lieut-Colonel H.A. Stevenson of 7 GR. On the description was this mention of his papers at the National Archives.

    Is this something you are aware of?

    http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C374111
     
  19. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Hi Steve,

    Yes, I'm aware of this document. Fact is that similar if not the same account could be found in the war diary of the battalion created by combining 1/7th Gurkha Rifles and 3/7th Gurkha Rifles after the Battle at Sittang. I already have this war diary which is, although short, one of the most informative about the battle. But still I'm planning to obtain this documents in the future only there are currently some others documents with higher priority on my list. I now have war diaries of almost all infantry battalions and brigades that were present at Sittang during the battle. Only those of 2nd KOYLI and 2nd Burma Brigade are missing. Thank you very much for thinking on me.

    Who are selling those medals, do you maybe have a link?

    Enes
     
  20. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

Share This Page