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

    Thanks Steve. Well I'm not considering to bid for those even thought that they look very tempting. Pages like this usualy provide some additional info about the man and sometimes, if you are really lucky, a photo of him. At least now I know a little more about Stevenson's military service.
  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I had a quick look for more information on line, but there is nothing for him of any additional interest. An incoming passenger list in 1937 is about it.
  3. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

  4. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    That is a very nice collection. Seems that Jones is one out of three officers who were awarded with DSO for their actions during the battle at Sittang. Maybe there are more but so far I could only find three: Jones (CO 16th Indian Infantry Brigade), Keegan (CO 1st KOYLI and only one who was awarded DSO only for Sittang) and Burton (Brigade Major 46th Indian Infantry Brigade).
  5. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Hi Enes,

    Yes I agree. Better with the medals of course, but sold from a very reputable medal dealer. I will keep me eye on it and also the medals to Stevenson which have just 4 days to run at auction.

    Best wishes

  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

  7. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Stevenson's medals were sold tonight for £810 plus £12 p&p. :eek: Out of my league and not really in my collecting sphere in any case.
  8. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    It's definitely too expensive for me too. I don't know what are the usual price for this kind of memorabilia but it sound a little overpriced to me. Jones collection was sold for a reasonable price but still not sure is it worth paying just for ribbons and nothing else.
  9. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    It's definitely too expensive for me too. I don't know what are the usual price for this kind of memorabilia but it sound a little overpriced to me. Jones collection was sold for a reasonable price but still not sure is it worth paying just for ribbons and nothing else.

    I agree Enes, just the ribbons seems rather pointless. We shall see what pops up next.
  10. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Beginner's questions on this topic.

    I've had my appetite whet by reading Dawns Like Thunder: Retreat from Burma, 1942 by Alfred Draper and Smyth's own account in his later autobiography Milestones.

    I've also had a glance at these two files:
    CAB 106/176 The Bilin River action & the disaster at Sittang Bridge 1955
    CAB 106/172 Account of defence of Martaban & Action at Sittang Bridge


    1) Does Smyth's later account of the events at Sittang differ from his earlier pass at the subject in The Only Enemy?
    2) Has a book been published exclusively or predominantly on the affair?
    3) Which materials at the National Archives (War Diaries / Reports / Accounts) offer the most interesting perspectives on these events.

    Thanks in advance for any guidance.
  11. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    1) I can't answer as I still didn't read any of Smyth books

    2) No, there isn't a single book that exclusively or predominantly covers the Battle at Sittang. So far, in my opinion, your best choices are Dawns Like Thunder and Burma 1942 - The Japanese Invasion by Ian Lyall Grant (which is also probably the best book about the First Burma Campaign)

    3) I have WDs of all battalions and brigades that were present at Sittang and some of the artillery units. WDs of 2/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles and 1/7th & 3/7th Gurkha Rifles (one file, WO 172-966, don't bother with files which covers battalions separately) have good account reports. In some others like those of 2nd KOYLI give some details, majority of the Indian Army units are quite brief. Don't have WD for 17th Indian Division so can't tell how much details its provide about battle.

    If you have any more question feel free to ask
    bamboo43 and Charley Fortnum like this.
  12. jonwilly

    jonwilly Junior Member

    Gents Roy Hudson is now 98 years of age and living in a very nice Care Home just north of Chiang Mai, where he has been since his wife passed on 2 years ago.
    I normally visit about twice a month and other long term friends visit regularly.
    Roy is slowly calming down over the matter of the Sitting Bridge, go back 10-15 years and he would get very vocal on the subject.
    Roy says he prepared and fitted the charges fired by electric detonation and these where the ones that brought the 2 spans down.
    Roy was never happy with Jack Smyth V.C., M.C. and M.P. as he hid his medical condition of a painful Split Arse, not familiar with the correct medical term.
    When Roy got wound up he often used to say that the person who lost Burma was the Governor of Burma Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, who has insisted that Tenasserim, the long spine running down between the Indian Ocean and Siam/Thailand be defended and all prepared demolitions dismantled.
    Smyth lost 16th brigade defending Moulmein, for the jap could cross from Thailand at any of the old classic invasion routes between Burma/Siam and did so.
    I mention in a previous post of the visit we had in CM of the last serving Flying Tigers, who came to dedicate a Memorial to one of the men lost in a raid on CM airbase.
    The Royal Thai Army provided a honour Guard and Bugler and following the 'Parade' with Royal British Legion in attendance one of the elderly Yanks 'Tex' approach and asked if Major Roy Hudson was present. He was told Yes and the he requested to be introduced, adding He's Not a Violent Man is he? No luvverly chap and introductions where made. Delighted to meet you says Roy. Oh we have met before says Tex. No Surely not.
    Yes I straffed you back in 42 as you retreated to Sittang from the Blin River. Last seen the 2 old warriors where stood arms around each other, at the Members Bar of the Gymkhana Club, with a rapidly diminishing bottle of Scotlands finest between them. Roy was absent from his evening libation for some weeks following this encounter.
    I have 2 of Jack Smyth V.C. books, Leadership in War & Before the Dawn, Smyth's account of the retreat to Dunkirk and The Sittang, Smyth was a Brigade commander in France and G.O.C. 17 Indian Div Burma.

    john williams
    sol likes this.
  13. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've just done a little re-reading and two points came up.

    1) At least one author suggests that at the time Smyth gave Hugh-Jones discretion to blow the bridge he was under the impression that more of the division had crossed. Specifically that at around 04:30 when 48 Bde HQ crossed and managed to contact 17 Div HQ (over a ropey and unsecure civilian line), the brigade staff officer on the actual blower was asked whether 'Jonah' had crossed. This nickname actually referred to Brig J K Jones of 16 Bde, but the officer mistook it as referring to Brig Hugh-Jones and answered in the affirmative. Draper's book, however, debunks this claim on the grounds that Hugh-Jones was universally known as Noel. Is there a definitive judgment here?

    2) Draper also states that Smyth's less than stellar dispositions may have been influenced by the fact that an unknown staff officer from another formation had supposedly passed on a warning that a Japanese parachute assault was potentially in the offing. This sounds like pure rumour--is there any meat to add to these vague bones?

    (Edit. P. 95--"A staff officer from Army HQ in Rangoon'. Intelligence doesn't simply materialise out of nowhere. I'd like to know who this chap was and who dispatched him, one wonders if the diaries of Army HQ shed any light).

    (On my phone, so forgive lack of specifics)
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
  14. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Not sure, I'll have to check in books. I think that officer that asked for Jonah was Cowan, as both were from 6th Gurkha Rifles. I'll see what I can find.

    Defense of the Sittang Bridge was responsibility of 2nd Burma Brigade, just like over 100 miles of the Sittang River above the Sittang Bridge which was impossible task for this understrength brigade. But according to Lunt, Smyth himself ordered that 3rd Burma Rifles defend bridge even tho that CO of 2nd Burma Brigade, Brigadier Bourke, strongly protested against it. 3rd BURRIF is only about 200-300 men strong and was in quite bad shape after Moulmain. It didn't have any mortars and very few automatic weapons.

    3rd BURRIF positions were on the the east end of the Sittang Bridge, only unit on the west end was battery of Bofors guns. One company of 2nd DWR was later left on the west side to defend west side of the river. Only other unit close to the bridge was 7/10th Baluch at Mokpalin but even this unit was barely 200 men strong with just two companies, each with two platoons. Late on the 21st, 4/12th FFR arrived on the east side of the bridge to take defense from 3rd BURRIF but as men were very exhausted from march their CO decided to take positions in the morning. According to Attiqur Rahman, Adjutant of the 4/12th FFR this unit was also seriously understrength but I couldn't find any confirmation for this. On 21st, 1/4th Gurkha Rifles harbored in Mokpalin and moved toward the bridge early on 22nd. But even this unit wasn't in full strength as its C Company was missing. This unit was ordered to get on the west side of the river and defend it against possible Parachute landing on that side. Still during the day 1/4th Gurkha Rifles has sent two companies and Duke companies to the east side to strengthened defense of the bridge leaving only one company on the west side.

    While there is a suggestion that it is possible that Japanese will try parachute assault on the west side of the bridge, all infantry units, except one company of the 2nd DWR was on the east side of the river. 1/4th Gurkha Rifles was sent on the west side on the 22nd to defend it against possible parachute attack, it still send more than half of it effective strength at that time plus Duke's company on the east side. While it could be debated that 1/4th Gurkha Rifles could be better used on the east side all this happened on the 22nd not before, and poor state of the bridge defense prior of 22nd is almost entirely Smyth mistake.
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  15. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    That's all very interesting, Sol; thanks for letting me pick your brain. In general, then, you're saying that if Smyth was concerned about parachutists, he'd left himself pretty thin on the ground on the west bank, which suggests he wasn't actually considering it likely.

    A source for the first claim that Smyth thought 2/3 of his remaining division had crossed is here:

    We Gave Our Today

    I have no idea whether that is a reputable source as I have never read it. It doesn't specify who the officer at division was, but I should have thought that if it was Cowan he would have been named.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
  16. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    It is questionable how much control Smyth had over units once he moved divisional HQ from the Sittang Bridge. Hugh-Jones was actual commander on the spot but he only had under his command units on the east and west end of the bridge. All in all elements of just four infantry battalions, 3rd BURRIF, 1/4th Gurkha Rifles, 4/12th FFR and 7/10th Baluch but not a single of them was at full strength. His primary task was to defend the bridge and try to establish contact with the rest of division south of bridge and he had very limited resourced to do anything more than just keep Japanese away from bridge. Even if Japanese had conduct parachute attack he could do a very little against them.

    I'll see what I could find about this.
  17. veronicad

    veronicad Well-Known Member

    Blow the Bridge, by C.G. Nicholls. 2nd Battalion The Duke of Wellingtons. Relates his personal account of one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war fighting the Japanese in Burma. The Dukes war diaries do not compliment Smyth nor Hugh Jones. Smyth later not receiving another command. Jones, early after WW11 left his clothes on the shore line, walked into the sea, suicide?
  18. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    According to Burma 1942: The Japanese Invasion by Ian Lyall Grant & Kazuo Tamayama, the warning came on the 20th and was from Brigadier Davies, chief-of-staff to General Hutton. It reported that Japanese parachute troops had been seen in Thailand and may be tasked with capturing the bridge intact by landing on the west bank.

    This book is highly recommended. The three chapters that cover the Battle of Billin River to The Battle of Sittang Bridge cover forty-seven pages and are admirably clear in explaining a confusing situation. This section does not cover the fallout with Wavell, which is described in a further eight pages.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  19. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Grant and Tamayama book "Burma 1942 - The Japanese Invasion" is definitely the best book written about the 1942 Burma and probably the best about war in Burma in general. It is very detailed, covers both side, had superb maps and lot of images. It is highly recommended to anybody interested in events during the First Burma Campaign. Only problem is that it is so rare, and few copies available online could reach quite a high price.

    Nine days before the Battle of Sittang, on the 13th February, Japanese dropped paratroopers on Palenbang on Sumatra Island, DEI. I couldn't find from where transport airplanes took of but it is possible that they were based either in Thailand or Malaya. So possibility of landing paratroopers on the other side of Sittang Bridge could not be discarded.

    In my opinion it is wrong to blame Hugh Jones for disaster. He was put into impossible position, only one unit of his Brigade was with him, he had barely enough troops to hold the bridge, there was simple none left to conduct any serious attack from that side to brake to the rest of division. He didn't have almost any contact with cut off troops, all info comming from struggles who provided distorted image about status of those units east from the bridge. Neither of two closest units to the bridge from the south side, 1/3rd Gurkha Rifles and 2/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles had any wireless radio sets left and even them didn't know if British are still holding the bridge or not. Yes Hugh Jones couldn't live with the fact that he ordered destruction of the bridge, with Smyth's permision, and commit suicide after the war but from everything I read about the Battle I personally don't think that he could do more to prevent disaster.

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