The Missing Men of 146 Tank Regt, 1 Feb 1943, Burma - POW or not?

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by PackRat, Jan 13, 2018.

  1. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Could anyone knowledgeable with POW records kindly check these names? These nine men were all from 'C' Squadron, 146 Tank Regiment, and reported missing on 1 Feb 1943 during the failed attack on the FDL Chaung at the Donbaik front, Burma (First Arakan Campaign). They are mentioned in the regiment's diary on 15/2/43 but I don't have the complete record so not sure what actually happened to them.

    Lt. P.H.T. Thornton
    Sgt Dennis
    Cpl Willie
    Tpr Carpenter
    Tpr Bedford
    Tpr Lister
    Tpr Heywood
    Tpr Inman
    Tpr Nicholson

    They are the crews of three of the eight Valentines involved in the attack, and all became stuck at the start of the action when they attempted to cross over a creek right behind the notorious 'Sugar 5' bunker. 4621502 Tpr Bird was killed in the same attack when a captured British 2-pounder anti-tank gun penetrated the turret ring (tank commander was also wounded in the leg by this). The rest of the tanks withdrew shortly after.

    Looking at the map of the chaung below (from 99 Field Regt diary for March), the grid references from other sources suggest that they got ditched yards from the bunkers ('S4', 'S5' etc.), and 8 Mountain Battery at one point was putting shrapnel onto the tanks to drive back a Japanese infantry rush. It seems hard to imagine that they were able to escape, or even survive, but I'm not sure where to look next to find out.

    99 Fd Regt.jpg
  2. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    This is a draft of a section I've written about the attack as part of the research I'm doing on my grandfather's exploits during the war (he was with 130 Field Regt in the Arakan, supporting this action), posting just in case anyone is interested. Any corrections or additions very welcome!

    * * *

    'C' Squadron at FDL Chaung, 1 February 1943

    Bringing tanks to the Donbaik front was a considerable achievement given the difficult terrain, and it was hoped that they would provide a crushing blow to the Japanese defensive line which would allow the infantry to push through to Donbaik and beyond. The attack went badly wrong, however, and the War Diaries of 130 Field and the other units involved in the day's events give an unfavourable account of 'C' Squadron's performance.

    The Plan

    The tanks were to advance to the eastern edge of FDL Chaung, where they would meet up with the forward company of the Dogras (who should have been emerging from the jungle and preparing to assault along the chaung, east to west towards the sea). The tanks were to 'soften up' the enemy before the Dogras attacked, driving along the northern edge of the chaung towards the sea, dealing with Japanese strong-points on the way, then turning south at the beach, crossing over the mouth of the chaung and driving back along the same line, heading east towards the jungle, this time along the southern edge of the chaung. The Brigade's Bren-carriers were to accompany the tanks for additional fire support. Once the chaung was dealt with, the tanks were turn south and push on towards Donbaik. All artillery units (494 and 316 Batteries of 130 Field Regiment, plus 8 Mountain Battery and the recently-arrived 'F' Troop of 472 Battery, 99 Field Regiment) were to fire a mix of smoke shells and high explosive concentrations on the enemy positions to support the attack. 130 Field's Survey Section had already identified new positions close to the enemy line that they would move the guns up to as soon as the chaung was neutralised.

    Colonel Nicholson’s Account

    According to Ronnie Nicholson, the tanks and carriers started late and were further delayed at a nullah along the route, missing the correct crossing point and having to reverse out. As they approached the start line at the jungle's edge, three tanks became stuck when they attempted to cross a nullah branching off from the main chaung [this can be most clearly seen on the coloured map from 99 Field Regiment above, the nullah emerging around the middle of the chaung and snaking north, with 'S5' near its end]. The rest avoided this obstacle and began their advance westwards to the sea, moving parallel to the main chaung and staying around 200 yards from it. They were shelled by Japanese mortars and an anti-tank gun but proceeded well, until:

    To everyone's amazement, on reaching the W end of the CHAUNG they turned NORTH instead of SOUTH and after circling about on the beach, firing their 2-prs, returned to harbour near 8 Mtn Bty... It was a very serious blow as all hope had been pinned on the success of the tanks which had failed to achieve anything and had lost 3 of their number.”

    The anti-tank gun (another captured British 2-pounder) was soon knocked out by artillery, and repeatedly shelled with shrapnel to prevent its crew from returning. Shrapnel was also used against Japanese troops as they attempt to rush the three disabled tanks. Three tanks and some of the carriers returned to the beach later in the afternoon to engage enemy machine-gun posts, but were soon driven back again by heavy mortar fire.

    Captain da Costa’s Account

    Captain da Costa, commanding the tank detachment, wrote a detailed report on the action for 146 Tank Regiment's War Diary. The Regiment had been engaged in training for a major amphibious landing at Akyab Island, expected to take place as soon as the Mayu Peninsula had been secured, and so was busy improvising the waterproofing of tanks and practising loading onto landing craft when da Costa’s half-squadron received sudden orders to assist at Donbaik. These are some of the key points about the action on 1 February raised by Captain da Costa:
    • The tanks 'harboured' at 642857 [near the artillery positions] at 0200, and at 0730 the tank and carrier commanders went forward to walk their approach route. They then held a conference to go over the plan using air reconnaissance photographs, during which is was noted that there were problems with the 'net' [radio communications between the tank crews].

    • Moving in two troops of four tanks, they reached the start line and commenced their attack. One tank "appeared to nose dive from apparently solid ground and to reverse out but no track grip"; two other tanks of this troop were lost from sight due to smoke; it later transpired that they too had become stuck.

    • In the second troop, the troop leader's tank was hit by an anti-tank gun through the traverse ring, which locked the turret in place and killed the operator, also wounding the tank commander in the leg. The following tank was hit by a machine-gun burst, which smashed the radiator louvres and set off the smoke dischargers, impairing visibility for the others.

    • In several of the tanks, the Besa [the machine-gun mounted in the turret alongside the 2-pounder cannon] jammed solidly, possibly due to ammunition problems caused by the humidity, greatly reducing the Squadron's firepower.

    • Upon reaching the beach, Captain da Costa tried three times to turn the troop around without success, flying the 'rally' pennant from his turret as wireless communications had failed. While on the beach they were mortared heavily, and the suspension on his tank was penetrated. As they withdrew, the engine of the tank with the smashed radiator seized and it had to be towed by Captain da Costa's tank beyond range of the mortars.

    • Upon regrouping, they swapped out the jammed machine-guns, picked up ammunition and made running repairs, and had three tanks ready for action within an hour. At 1600 the Brigade Commander ordered them back into the battle, and they advanced up the coast, again having problems with the terrain, reaching the defensive line held by the Rajputs a little after 1700.

    • From here they attempted to fire on the enemy positions but were again mortared heavily. The Besa machine-guns in two of the tanks jammed once more, and one tank had its mudguard smashed down onto its tracks by a mortar round, followed by an electrical system failure. An officer of the Rajputs signalled the tanks to get out [most likely because they were attracting mortar fire onto his position].

    • The position of the unit by the end of the day was 1 tank fit for service (but with a failed radio), 4 tanks unfit, and 3 tanks missing. 1 Officer and 8 Other Ranks were missing (the crews of the ditched tanks), 1 officer wounded and one O.R. killed.
    After the action, it was reported that the unit was surprised by three things: the bad ground, the strength of the enemy (which they were unable to see) and the repeated failure of the Besas. Although they stood by for some days ready to attempt another attack, the Brigade Commander eventually ordered the remnants of 'C' Squadron to leave. Before he went, da Costa visited a vantage point on Twin Knobs to see the three tanks ditched around 'Sugar 5'; it was clear that they were unrecoverable.
  3. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    PackRat likes this.
  4. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    PackRat likes this.
  5. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member


    PackRat likes this.
  6. KevinBattle

    KevinBattle Senior Member

    CWGC Concentration Report may give more info

    I'd assume overwhelmed, captured and executed, if not already dead.
    PackRat likes this.
  7. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I think harkness has answered your question in effect. But I can confirm that none of the listed men found there way to Rangoon Jail as POW's. Which is where the majority of long term prisoners of war were sent during the campaign in Burma. There were soldiers from the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers and Royal Inniskillings held at Rangoon Jail having previously been captured in the Arakan region, so the potential was there.
    PackRat likes this.
  8. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Thank you very much all, it did seem unlikely that those poor chaps would get away from that position but I thought maybe some of them could have made a run into the nearby jungle since friendly infantry was only a few dozen yards away.

    What file does that list come from, harkness? Is there a date associated that tells us when they moved from 'missing' to 'presumed dead'.
  9. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

    The entries are from the 'British Army Casualty Lists 1939-1945' available on FindMyPast.

    As for the dates:


    The Men:
    PackRat likes this.
  10. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Thank you very much for this excellent information.
  11. Sorry to revive an old thread, however, I am currently researching this action myself.

    Bryan Perrett's book, "Tank Tracks to Rangoon" states, when talking about the action, that:

    "...da Costa took three tanks along the beach in an attempt to rescue Thornton and his men. No sooner had he turned inland than the Japanese artillery reacted with a barrage which denied further progress, and a further attempt by the infantry was similarly thwarted. The fate of Thornton and the crews of No. 11 Tp, which had been his pride, will never be known, but their passing and the manner of it was not forgotten by 146 Rgt."

Share This Page