Dah Force

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by Maybole1599, Jul 13, 2014.

  1. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

    Major John Kennedy, The Poona Horse, The Chindits and Dah Force

    John Kennedy was born 10.3.1915 at Neston, on the Wirral Peninsula, near Liverpool. His father was Major Arthur Julius Rann Kennedy who was at that time stationed in the Ypres Salient with the Royal Field Artillery. All John's brothers spent their careers in the forces, no doubt influenced by their father, however Julius had been the first of his family to join the military since 1690. John's grandfather Lord Justice Sir William Rann Kennedy, a man who as a Gladstonian liberal inclined away from military matters in general.

    At any rate in the 1930s John joined the Poona Horse, a regiment in the Indian Army. The 17th Queen Victorias Own Poona Horse rwas formed from the amalgamation in 1922 of the 33rd Light Cavalry and the 34th Poona Horse. The men of the regiment consisted of the sons of Indian farmers - Rajputs, Kaimkhanis and Jats, mainly from the states of Jodhpur and Jaipur. Both the 33rd and 34th had previously had a long and proud history in the Indian Army, dating back to the early 1800s. The regiment consisted of 600 men, with 150 men and horses in each of four squadrons. The British officers in rotation at any given time numbered around seven.

    Upon the outbreak of war in 1939 The 17th Poona Horse inevitably exchanged their horses for armoured cars and after a period of retraining were sent to fight in the North African theatre in 1941.

    It is not clear when or why but whilst his regiment was posted to North Africa, John was sent to the East where he was eventually posted to the new Chindit force under General Orde Wingate. It may be that he had some linguistic skills which suited him to the campaign against the Japanese - he did interrogate Japanese prisoners after the war. His horsemanship would have been very useful as mules were the only transport in the jungle and their care was of paramount importance. They could be tricky to handle at the best of times notwithstanding their incredible hardiness. According to his son, John had a lifelong love of horses (as did all his family) and an encyclopaedic knowledge of equestrian ailments.

    Burma was a peculiarly difficult terrain as a theatre of war. The rivers run north to the south as do the towering ridges and valleys. In attack or retreat these conditions posed an almost impossible challenge for a modern mechanised army.

    By early 1944 Major John Kennedy was attached to a unit almost unique in the British Army - Dah Force. He had already been seriously injured in fighting the previous year which had led to his longterm hospitalisation but now he was second in command of this curious unit.

    The force was made up mostly of Burmese Kachin tribesmen, from an ethnic group that was loyal to the British. By contrast, many other Burmese detested the British and more or less supported the Japanese as liberators from the British colonial system that had ruled their country since Victorian times.
    The British had made a catastrophic retreat through Burma, virtually to the Indian Border in 1942. They had managed to stem the Japanese advance but initially found the Japanese too vigorous and superior in jungle warfare tactics.

    Eccentric Major Orde Wingate was acquainted with Churchill and managed to convince him and the other Allied Commanders that a force operating behind Japanese lines in Burma would have strategic advantages. The force was named the Chindits. In particular the Americans were interested in helping the Nationalist Chinese under Chiang Kai Shek in their struggle against the Japanese, and believed that a push to the Burma - Chinese border would encourage the large Chinese Army to bring their forces to bear on the enemy. This was a faint hope as it turned out. The Nationalist Chinese had all their work cut out in China itself, sandwiched between Mao's Chinese communist army and the Japanese forces who had occupied their country for a decade. At the time the Allies were encouraging Chiang to work with Mao - but actually the communists had no intention of helping their countrymen - they preferred to leave the Japanese - whom they regarded as a temporary visitors to their country - to wear the Nationalists down. Also the Chinese had a more indirect concept of fighting which did not fit well with the thrusting Western military style.

    Wingate was regarded as a loony by many, not least for believing literally in and constantly referring to the Bible, and frequently looking for God's Will in the ebb and flow of the campaign like a latter day Moses. (He had spent some time organising Jewish fighters in Palestine early in the War.) He had other odd behaviours such as carrying an onion around and biting it as if it was an apple - offering it on occasion to his troops.
    Wingate was not stupid however and he knew that fighting in the jungle would take his men to the very edge of their tether, and thus he introduced some rules of engagement not seen in any other branch of the British Army of that time. Soldiers could be executed or abandoned in the jungle if they disobeyed orders. Men too severely injured to be brought back were left behind, with a grenade with which to kill themselves. In all of World War 2 only the Russian Army saw such ferocious disciplinary methods.
    The Burmese jungle was a terrible place. The men had to fight on regardless, even when exhausted and riddled with diseases such as dysentery. Units would return from months of fighting and footslogging literally up and down mountainsides, decimated and terribly sick. Even the sick and wounded would have to walk, unless in particularly grievous condition, as the mules were piled up with equipment and supplies.
    The exotic jungle scenery did at least appeal to some - Frank Baines, who served in Brigade HQ during Thursday waxed lyrical on the subject of the scenery and the wildlife in his memoirs.
    Gliders and transports would ferry units to remote drop points. Supplies were dropped and injured men collected by air when possible, but the humid climate made visibility particularly difficult for the American Air Force and RAF planes to do this.
    Dah Force was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel D.C. 'Fish' Herring, not a military man though he had served in the Burma Rifles. Like many senior officers in the Chindits, he was an eccentric and Wingate's unconventional approach appealed to him. He did not want regular British troops in his unit, as he believed, probably rightly, that their dietary requirements and lack of acclimatisation to the humid tropical jungle rendered them unsuitable for the campaign. However there were some regulars in the force, presumably to assist in training the guerilla army that Dah Force would be fostering behind Japanese lines. Gurkhas fighting in the British Army particularly distinguished themselves in this theatre. There were no Gurkhas in Dah Force but Morris Force, which worked in conjunction with Dah Force, consisted of Gurkhas.
    During the early part of 1944, Wingate and his commanders planned an operation named 'Thursday' which involved five substantial formations being dropped behind enemy lines - one of which was John Kennedy's unit, Dah Force. The thinking behind Thursday was tortuous and the debate rages to this day as to it's validity.
    Harrassment and interdiction of enemy supply lines was part of it, but linking up with the Nationalist Chinese was the main purpose of the offensive.

    Dah Force were to be dropped by glider in a jungle clearing east of the Irrawaddy River code named Templecombe. Officially they were there to recruit more Kachin tribesmen and complement the efforts of Morris Force which comprised the 4th and 9th Gurkha Rifles which were to be landed at Chowringhee; (named after the main street in Calcutta), again east of the Irrawaddy. Morris Force were to make their way to the mountains flanking the road from Bhamo (in the region where the Kachins lived) to Myitkina and mount raids on the enemy from a base there.
    This road was one of the main supply arteries for Japanese General Tanaka's army. However as far as Thursday was concerned, the main effort was aimed at disrupting the railway rather than this road. It was hoped that the Nationalist Chinese in Yunnan would be encouraged to join in in operations against the road.

    Thursday was launched 5th March 1944. There were three months left till monsoon would render operations in the jungle too difficult to continue.

    John Kennedy's unit were landed at Broadway as it turned out, as Templecombe was still held by the Japanese. Broadway was the main base for Thursday - and saw the landing of 9250 British and American men and 1200 animals (mostly mules) plus artillery and supplies. It had an aerodrome with a full complement of fighter aircraft. Wingate was ecstatic at the results of his planning. The achievement of this deployment alone was quite astonishing, given the difficulties of operating in Burma at the time.

    In actuality Dah Force were not there to raise levies or harass the Japanese lines along the Bhamo-Myitkina road at all. They had secret orders, and were instead sent off, footslogging across the wide Irrawaddy River towards the distant Chinese border. Despite their irregular nature, it was a fact that Herring reported directly to Wingate rather than to the Special Operations Executive which had its regional headquarters in Calcutta. This was to become a severe problem very shortly. Dah Force were a British version of the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) Detachment 101 missions of which there had been many since the invasion of Burma (for more on this read 'OSS: Behind Japanese Lines' by Richard Dunlop). Detachment 101 were a joint US-British venture, through the auspices of US General Stilwell.

    The Kachins or 'Jhingpaw' as the main body of this ethnic group refer to themselves, were also courted by the American OSS due to their warlike nature and hostility to the Japanese. OSS had many missions to the Kachins in the region. British SOE had established an intelligence network in the border region where Dah Force were headed. Herring was on good terms with SOE officer Shan Lone, himself a Kachin from the Burma Rifles. The area where they were headed was full of former soldiers and reservists of the Burma Rifles. Herring felt that he could wing it once he arrived, using his local knowledge and personal contacts.

    Dah Force consisted of 74 men: Herring, Captain Lazum Tang and ten other Kachins of the Burma Rifles, Major Kennedy, Captain Nimmo of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a communication detachment of 19 men from the Royal Corps of Signals led by Captain Treckman, nine Chinese of the Hong Kong Volunteers who were to liaise with the Nationalist Chinese, a platoon of 27 South Staffords under Captain Railton; a demolitions expert Sergeant Cockling of the Grenadier Guards; US liaison officer Sherman P. Joost (a member of OSS) and Private Williams of the RAMC to whom it fell to care for all the sick and wounded. The British regulars disliked the conditions intensely and took some time to get acclimatised, though they were eventually to perform admirably.

    They left 'Broadway' base on 14th March and crossed the huge Irrawaddy River on the 21st, a hazardous process given that it is a huge river and the local boatmen were of the Shan people, who were collaborating with the Japanese for reasons of self preservation. Herring and Tang had already been this way during Operation Longcloth in 1943. Some Shan spotted the contingent and informed the enemy but luckily Herring was able to get his men over the river and the Bhamo road unopposed and into the comparative safety of the jungle. They encountered a Japanese convoy on the road that night and unfortunately in the excitement the mule that was carrying Dah Force's only radio careered off into the jungle and was lost. Herring was not a man to be cowed by such events and had already arranged to meet with Captain Shan Lone, Kachin senior officer of Unit 136 SOE, at a prearranged location. Dah Force were starving by this time but he was able to lead them to a friendly Kachin village where a little food could be had. Then he sent out Kachin messengers and was thus able to meet up with SOE as arranged.

    During this mission a major problem was that tigers kept eating the mules and they were of course a threat to the men. Also posing mortal danger was the small 'krait' snake, which liked to curl up in boots for example. A bite from one of these would probably result in death if not treated immediately.

    When they arrived at the meeting place they witnessed the aftermath of a battle between 200 Chinese guerrillas working with SOE, and the Japanese. The Japanese force had been investigating a number of air drops in the vicinity. The Chinese had killed many of them and had stuck some of their heads on poles arranged around the village, whilst reportedly eating their livers.
    Notwithstanding, SOE had gathered a considerable amount of weapons and supplies from air drops and the force was in good shape. Kachins were out scouting in case of Japanese patrols. A replacement radio arrived along with additional South Staffordshires, griping about the enforced diet of leaves and roots. At this point the Japanese again attacked.

    Herring did not want his men to lose face in front of the irregulars so he prepared the men to stand and fight, but at the same time arranged for them to fall back to a prearranged position away from the settlement in case of a reverse. This was a good move, as the Japanese cunningly infiltrated the village at night and overran the position with bayonet. The ensuing fight was bloody and personal. Herring blew his whistle for a retreat and the men reassembled safely for the most part and received another supply drop. A Kachin and four Chinese had been killed in the melee and there were fifteen wounded and missing including some of the British soldiers. Campbell of SOE had injured himself whilst setting up a boobytrap. The South Staffs had fought well under brave Captain Railton who was last to leave the scene of battle and was almost captured by the enemy.

    A light plane of the Air Commando evacuated Campbell on March 27th, an amazing feat for the pilot from this mountainous forested terrain, but a frequent occurrence in the Burma Campaign. The plane dropped a doctor to tend to the injured and sick, one Major Faulkner of the RAMC. He did much to help bolster the spirits of the hard-pressed force and also tended to the needs of the local Kachins who had joined Dah Force. They lay low whilst sending out scouts in conjunction with Shan Lone and his people, who by now were under Herring's command. This is another clue as to the true nature and original purpose of Dah Force.

    Shan Lone panicked at this time and radioed for help to Wingate, who responded by giving the impression that Morris Force was heading over to help. In fact this was not the case, the Gurkhas of Morris Force were heading in the direction of Mytkina.
    Then tragedy struck the whole Chindit campaign, with the death in a plane crash of Wingate himself. Lentaigne, who was at this time seriously ill from drinking contaminated water, with Brigade HQ Column, was given overall command of the Chindits and Thursday. He had a reputation as an able officer from the time of the Burma Retreat but clearly he did not have the political clout or vision of Wingate. Frank Baines, who was with Lentaigne in the Brigade HQ Column, felt that Lieutenant Colonel Morris should have taken over, that Lentaigne's personal morale had collapsed at this time. From here on, the Chindits were really controlled by the American General Stilwell who cared little for the welfare of the British and Ghurka troops - he harboured a strong animosity towards British people in general. Moreover he cared little for the hit and run tactics of the Chindits, preferring instead either the covert ops of the US-led Detachment 101 Kachin units or else conventional assault. The conventional tactics would prove very costly to the lightly supplied and under-supported Chindits. They were only really suitable for guerrilla warfare and long range reconnaissance - if that. Perhaps the caste structure of the British Army did not readily lend itself to guerrilla war. It seems that the British did not give the Kachins in their command anything like the freedom of operation that Detachment 101 did.

    Nevertheless Dah Force continued to exert pressure on the enemy who expended much resource trying to catch this small unit operating in their backyard. As a result Morris Force, which would have been far easier for the enemy to detect as they constituted a large presence, were relatively free to attack convoys, blow up bridges, roads and a ferry.
    Dah Force had been ordered to stay north of the Taiping River which conflicted with his plan as it put him far from the homeland of the tribespeople he relied on for support. Dah and Morris Force were both badly neglected by the post-Wingate Chindit high command in terms of supplies and air support. In fact from what Baines says, it seems their part of the Thursday mission was now being ignored and Lentaigne was content for his rival for command of the Chindits to languish in the jungle, far across the Irrawaddy.

    By mid April, Morris Force were contacted by Captain Tang of Dah Force and led to Herring's base. From here they continued to cause significant damage to the Japanese rear areas until mid May. Wingate's hit and run approach seemed to have paid off and the troops looked forward to a return back to India with their heads held high. Sadly, General Stilwell had other ideas. Apparently uncaring of the terrible physical condition of the men and their few numbers, or the horrendous terrain, the American ordered them to join up with the allied forces who were still attacking the Japanese stronghold of Myitkina. The terrain was appalling and full of Japanese who did their usual best to oppose the progress of Morris Force. A heroic effort by the Gurkhas meant that they actually linked up with the Myitkina force but Stilwell accused them of neglecting their duty by taking so long - a shocking accusation. To be fair his own American troops reportedly wanted to shoot Stilwell, and questioned if he was an American.

    Whilst the airport was seized by OSS Kachin forces relatively quickly, Myitkina was not. It could have been taken quickly but for poor tactics by the Chinese who managed to fluff their attack and trigger a major reinforcement by the Japanese. The stronghold eventually fell to the Allies and the Chinese in August. The retreating Japanese were cut to pieces by OSS Kachin ambushes.

    Captain Lazum Tang of Dah Force, a major Kachin Chief, joined up with US special forces, from this time until the end of the War. Sadly he lost his wife, who was murdered by the Japanese, and one son who died of illness. His other son lived and went on to be educated in the US.

    The people of Northern Burma took the war to the Japanese behind their lines and were instrumental in driving them out of the country altogether. The concept of Dah Force and of Detachment 101 was thus vindicated. It was the lowland peoples of Burma who had supported the Japanese who formed the new post-independence government however, much to the horror of the highlanders who would have preferred British - or even American - rule.

    John Kennedy survived Operation Thursday and went on to interrogate Japanese prisoners after the War. On leaving the army he followed the vocation of so many of his ancestors, education, and taught all over the Far East and Europe for the next 30 years.

    He was in the Far East when he was taken ill. He was flown home by special arrangement with the RAF to hospital in Worcester, England where he died on 22nd October 1973. He was cremated at Cheltenham. He left two sons.

    The Kachins are still fighting the Burmese government.

    In conclusion it seems that there was a hidden war in Burma, one waged by Special Forces OSS Detachment 101, SOE Force 136 and Dah Force. The footsoldiers in this hidden war were the Kachin and Naga headhunters and these troops were able to use modern weapons and combine them with their superb junglecraft and ability to live off the land on grubs and raw monkey. These men were often unseen by the regular troops, but were usually scouting ahead of them, picking off Japanese advance parties and in many cases even annihilating large formations with the kinds of tactics that the Viet Cong used to such great effect against France and the US. In contrast it was always an uphill struggle for conventional Allied forces to even sustain life and health in the jungle. The conventional forces would have done much better however, if their commanders had ensured that they had appropriate medical attention regarding tropical diseases whilst in action. Sadly for the Chindits this was not the case.
    sol likes this.
  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Thanks for posting this bio Maybole1599.

    Herring, Nimmo, Tang and Cockling were all veterans from the previous years Chindit expedition, so this is of great interest to me.
  3. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

  4. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

    You are welcome. I also received information for this article from John's nephew Will Kennedy who knew him well and John's son David Kennedy, my first cousin once removed. John was a great character. It is rumoured that he once took a Labrador into battle.
  5. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

    I would like to know for certain what befell Dah Force when Morris Force marched off to Myitkina.
  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Hi Tim,

    I am no expert on Chindit 2, but I understand that Dah Force was evacuated around the 22nd of June. They left behind some of the Kachin soldiers and one medical officer, one Signals officer and radio operator named Bert Reeves. This group were to round up any British personnel lost to their Chindit columns during Operation Thursday and who had been protected and cared for by local Kachin villages.

    I also know that Captain Bill Howe from SOE had been flown in to assist Dah Force around the beginning of April, he had been in and out of Burma since the initial retreat in 1942.
  7. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

    Been googling again.

    In Richard Dunlop's book OSS Behind Japanese Lines he states that Dah Force went on to Myitkina despite their diminished numbers. A heroic effort, but I cannot see what they would have been able to contribute to what was a conventional siege. Stilwell was a shocking general.

    Thanks for giving the extraction date - that is great.


  8. Rothy

    Rothy Well-Known Member

    I came across an account of Major Kennedy's experiences with the Burma Frontier Force 1939-1942 in a National Archives file, WO 203/5697. From 1941 and through the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942 he commanded the Mounted Infantry Column of F.F.1, Burma Frontier Force until he was wounded on 10th April 1942. A summary biography follows:

    John Richard Tatham Kennedy born, 10th March 1915.
    Commissioned to the Unattached List as 2nd Lt., 29th August 1935.
    Appointed to the Indian Army as 2nd Lt. (502 AI), 17th November 1936.
    Promoted to Lieutenant, 29th November 1937.
    Seconded and served as Assistant Commandant with the Bhamo Battalion, Burma Frontier Force from 22nd September 1939 to 1940.
    Married Beulah Mildred Geneveive Willes at Bhamo, 1940.
    On Duty in the Northern Shan States with the Burma Frontier Force, early 1941.
    Column Commander, Mounted Infantry Column, F.F.1, Burma Frontier Force, 1941 to April 1942.
    Temporary Major from 31st March 1942.
    Wounded and relieved of command of the Mounted Infantry Column, F.F.1, Burma Frontier Force, 10th April 1942. Evacuated and operated upon on a hospital ship near Magwe. Took no further active part in the campaign other than to walk to India, mid-April to May 1942.
    Promoted to Captain, 29th August 1943.
    As Major, attached to "Dah Force" during the Second Chindit Operation and was badly wounded, 1944.
    As Captain, Special List (ex Indian Army), promoted to Major, 29th August 1948.
    As Major, Special List (ex Indian Army), retired, 1st January 1949.
    Died, Worcester, 22nd October 1973

    If you are interested in Kennedy's account of his time with F.F.1 I have transcribed the account and can send if you PM me.

  9. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member

  10. Hebridean Chindit

    Hebridean Chindit Lost in review...

    Hi Tim... Barton's Narrative notes them moving out from Broadway on 11th March...

    Attached the map of part of their initial movements...

    Attached Files:

  11. Maybole1599

    Maybole1599 Member


    Thanks so much for this.


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