Advice on researching Japanese unit movements in Burma

Discussion in 'Research Material' started by George Pritchard, Dec 13, 2018.

  1. As part of an ongoing research project I need to find out which Japanese units my great-grandfather's artillery regiment would have faced during his time in Burma from 1944-45.

    I've seen the war diaries so I have a list of places where the regiment went over the course of those two years but I need to figure out how to discover the Japanese regiments he would have been engaged with. I have a couple of Japanese historians I'm going to reach out to for help but if these leads fall through I'll be a little stuck.

    Any advice would be hugely appreciated, thanks,

    bamboo43 likes this.
  2. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    Brigade and Divisional HQ diaries are an excellent source of information for this. If you can determine which division and brigade group his regiment was supporting at a given time you can dig into diaries further up the chain of command. I found HQRA and 'G' Branch diaries especially useful. For example:

    36 Division HQ 'G' Branch 11th November 1944
    6 S.W.B. and 9 R Sx still held by determined resistance about 1 mile NORTH of PINWE, where we considered there were 300 enemy with two 75mm guns. 6 S.W.B. killed at least 8 JAPS from whom
    identifications of 119, 128 and 151 Regts
    [were recovered] confirming our theory that the whole of 53 Div was on our front.

    72 Brigade HQ 14th April 1945:

    Wounded Jap captured by 2 Border identified 114 Regt. Three Japs captured by SWB at KANDAW and MATAINGDA all stragglers. Identifications one 15 Div – one 53 Div Fd Arty Regt – one 8 Coy 2 Bn 213 Regt 33 Div. All were evacuated to Div HQ or MDS after spot interrogation by Nisei personnel.
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  3. lionboxer

    lionboxer Member Patron

    I concur with PackRat that you should read as many war diaries as you can as these will contain snippets of info and intelligence reports. Years ago when I researched and wrote my book I was fortunate enough to find and contact the last known Japanese soldier who actually fought against my father. It's difficult but possible to do though now most of these veterans have passed on. But at least you have the internet to help now which I didn't have.
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  4. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member Patron

    I whole-heartedly agree with the two earlier posts by PackRat and lionboxer.
    As a basic list, if we are only talking Japanese Regiments in Burma:

    Infantry: 16, 29, 51, 58, 60, 67, 106, 112, 113, 114, 119, 121, 124, 128, 138, 143, 144, 146, 148, 151, 153, 154, 168, 169, 213, 214 and 215.

    Artillery: 49 and 18th Mountain.

    Armoured: 14th Tank.

    There were probably others.
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  5. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    2nd Division
    • 4 IR
    • 16 IR
    • 29 IR
    15th Division
    • 51 IR
    • 60 IR
    • 67 IR
    18th Division
    • 55 IR
    • 56 IR
    • 114 IR
    31st Division
    • 58 IR
    • 124 IR
    • 138 IR
    33rd Division
    • 213 IR
    • 214 IR
    • 215 IR
    49th Division
    • 106 IR
    • 153 IR
    • 168 IR
    53rd Division
    • 119 IR
    • 128 IR
    • 151 IR
    54th Division
    • 111 IR
    • 121 IR
    • 154 IR
    55th Division
    • 112 IR
    • 143 IR
    • 144 IR
    56th Division
    • 113 IR
    • 146 IR
    • 148 IR
    24th Independent Mixed Brigade
    • 138 Ind Bn
    • 139 Ind Bn
    • 140 Ind Bn
    • 141 Ind Bn
    72nd Independent Mixed Brigade
    • 187 Ind Bn
    • 188 Ind Bn
    • 542 Ind Bn
    • 543 Ind Bn
  6. Many many thanks folks, really useful information!
  7. Thanks a lot, could you please tell me what IR stands for?
  8. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    IR = Infantry Regiment
  9. Shiny 9th

    Shiny 9th Member

    If you can track down any books or accounts about the battalions referred to above , namely SWB or 9th Royal Sx ,you might find more detail about the Japanese troops involved. I don't have any details about SWB books but I recall a description from Murray Gillings, "The Shiny Ninth" about the unusually tall and strong Japanese soldiers they fought against in one encounter. Geoffrey Fosters account of Thec36th Division might be worth reading. A well informed account . My book below does not give details of any individual Japanese units but is one soldiers account of time with 9th in 44 and 45.
  10. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    George, in which regiment of the Royal Artillery your great-grandfather served?
  11. He was in the 1st Medium Regiment, RA
  12. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Well, I'm way better with info about infantry units then artillery but seems like 1st Medium Regiment RA served under XV Corps in Arakan and XXXIII Corps in the Central Burma.

    Mayor Japanese formation in Arakan at that time was 28th Army with 54th and 55th Infantry Division. So these are two primary formation that regiment could faced in Arakan. 55th Division was there longer, I think that 54th arrived in Arakan in 1944. 72nd Mixed Infantry Brigade was also at some time attached to 28th Army but I think that was during 1945, not sure.

    Here you can find a video of 1st Medium Regiment RA, filmed while supporting 20th Indian Division bridgehead over Irrawaddy at Myinmu, during 1945.


    I think that this bridgehead was opposed mostly by units from 31st and 33rd Division from 33rd Japanese Army. You can probably find more by cross-reference WDs of 1st Medium Regiment of RA with WDs of units of 20th Indian Division. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to try with XXXIII Corps WDs as I expect that they could have more info about General Troop Disposition, both Allies and Japanese.
    PackRat likes this.
  13. Incredibly useful stuff Sol, thank you so much. I'll take another trip up to Kew soon and have a look at those WD's. I've emailed those Japanese historians so hopefully they should come back to me with some useful information.

    Perhaps I should explain why I'm going into all this effort. I'm making a documentary film about my efforts to return a military good luck flag (called a Hinomaru Yosegaki) to the descendants of its former owner. I'm told that Japanese units in WWII were often comprised of men from a certain area, so once I'm left with a handful of likely units that the man may have served with, I'll also have a list of locations in Japan to focus my attention.

    It won't be easy as Japan has very strict privacy laws but many similar items have been returned in recent years so it's not impossible.

    Attached Files:

  14. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    I mentioned in this earlier thread that your great-grandfather's regiment briefly came under control of 36 Division HQRA in the Arakan during the relief of the Admin Box and the build up for Operation Markhur. On the night of 5th March 1944 1 Medium Regiment was overrun by a Japanese raiding party about 30 strong which infiltrated the 29 Brigade HQ & arty area and the Regiment took a number of casualties in hand-to-hand fighting and had several guns put out of action by magnetic mines. Some of the enemy party was killed at close-range within the Regiment's perimeter and (speculating wildly) this would have been a prime opportunity for the flag to have been picked up.

    I have found no indication of the unit these raiders belonged to, though they probably would have removed any identification before the mission. According to the oral history of James Douglas Wilkes they arrived in the area in a captured British truck, and 130 Field Regiment's diary suggests they were impersonating Indian troops.

    The only regimental ID mentioned in the 36 Division HQ 'G' diary is about a month earlier:

    4 FEB 1944 ARAKAN posn deteriorates. JAPS turning flank of 7 Ind Div. 112 Regt moving SOUTH WEST towards 7 Div Adm Box.

    According to Sol's list 112 IR was 55 Division, but I can't say if this was the unit that raided 1 Medium's gun pits. I didn't have time to copy all of the appendices in that diary, though, so there may be further intelligence reports hiding in an appendix that may be worth looking for if you're visiting Kew.
  15. Okay great stuff, thank you, I'll be sure to look at those diaries as well when I visit.

    I think that raid on the 5th March was a likely point for it to have been picked up too.
    There were a couple of other instances where the 1st Med Reg came face to face with Japanese troops according to their WDs. For example three Japanese troops including and officer were killed roughly a year later on the 13th March 45 when ten Japanese troops 'entered the area' of a battery of the regiment. I think they were under command of the 20 Indian Division at the time but will need to double check.

    Aside from these two, there another two similar of close contact with the Japanese, where I'll be focusing my attention.
  16. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Well you have to consider that there is a lot of ways that someone could obtained that flag not just by direct contact with enemy. Unless you have some evidence that it was taken in combat, you have to take into account possibility that it was taken after Japanese capitulation or bought from somebody as there was a lot of stuff, like Samurai swords, available after Japanese surrendered.
  17. Yes you're right, I have no idea how or where he acquired the flag so this is just one line of investigation I'm taking. If the flag was picked up by another regiment in another part of Burma then I'm not currently sure how I'll get around to finding his family but I'm sure with enough persistence I'll figure it out.

    I know the name of the solider and the names on the flag (which are almost entirely male which makes me think they might have been his fellow comrades) so I have something to go on at least.

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