Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Peacock behind the lines in Burma

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by davidbfpo, Mar 28, 2024.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    This week a South African author provided a copy of an article by the officer himself, which was published a few years ago as part of a book on Rhodesians who served in WW2. His name was unknown to me and the formation he commanded that became known as Peacock Force, which was part of Operation Character (with Karen tribal support) in the Otter area.

    I have made very few amendments and keep the content / tone as written.

    Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Peacock DSO, MC, Southern Rhodesian Forces att Force 136

    In early 1943 I was privileged to lecture to the 7th Indian Infantry Division on jungle craft and jungle warfare. I created some controversy by condemning much that was written in Training Pamphlet No. 9, Jungle Warfare, and the principles advocated by some training teams which, to my mind, tended to make troops road-bound and vulnerable to any mobile enemy. I stressed repeatedly the need for mobility, which can only be achieved by a soldier who has been trained to live for at least ten days on carefully selected rations carried by him, and thereafter to live on the country for far greater periods as occasion might demand.

    It seemed to me that our strategy and our tactics revolved around our cumbersome motor and animal transport, our often quite unsuitable equipment, supplies and stores and standardised battle drills which were largely concerned with defence. Mobility which favours large-scale deployment, quickness in manoeuvre, the choice of fighting on one’s own ground, swift attacks and withdrawals, had been sacrificed to the gods of red tape and to the lethargy of many leaders whose tactics depended on their own physical disabilities or disinclination to face discomfort and hardship. Mechanisation favoured such tendencies and, in broken country, confined our strategy and tactics to the main roads and paths. In other words, we had become road-bound.

    In the recently concluded campaign in Burma the casualties inflicted by guerrillas were enormous and any soldier who reads the reports must be struck by the extraordinarily high rates of the Jap casualties as compared with those of the guerrillas. I have recorded nearly 3 000 Japs killed in the Otter area at a cost of thirty-four raw levies. This must be remarkable in the annals of any war and can be explained in only two ways: either by grossly exaggerated claims or by strategic and tactical measures which should be very closely studied by our training authorities.

    In regard to the first possibility, I would be reluctant to write on this subject if it were not for the fact that the signs of the slaughter we made on the Mawchi Road and other main escape routes in Otter area are, even now, plainly evident. Elements of 19th Indian Infantry Division which have advanced up the road have already seen and remarked on these signs and the numbers of casualties inflicted. In the latter stages of the operation the Japs were so demoralised that they left their dead lying alongside the main road and in the motor-transport trucks destroyed by us. It should be noted that these men were not the worn-out remnants that tried to escape to Siam across the Sittang River but the well-equipped troops of the Jap 15th Division, the 113th Regiment of the Jap 56th Division and other elements who were veterans of both Burma and China campaigns.

    Mobility, infiltration and guerrilla tactics are part of a Jap soldier’s training and he is perhaps better fitted to cope with guerrillas than any other soldier in the world. The question immediately comes to mind: why then did he suffer to raw, untrained levies heavy casualties in the ratio of eight to one? The answer is that he committed the crowning error of becoming road-bound and attempted to defend his lines of communication by sitting on them. After the first actions which revealed his strategy I had little fear of the outcome, and did all in our power to confine him to the road.

    There were other factors besides loss of mobility which contributed to his discomfort, namely, supplies to us by air which increased our mobility and the use of explosives as offensive weapons. The Jap could not fathom the latter and I suspect that our own army is equally ignorant of the power that lies in this weapon and with which we killed quite thirty to forty per cent of our total bag.

    During the first three months of the operation, the Jap could have wiped us out by detaching a battalion of his troops for the purpose, and by following his normal ruthless and mobile procedure. Our raw levies could not have coped with highly trained, disciplined and hardy troops, backed with a high degree of mobility and knowledge of guerrilla tactics. His was a strategical misappreciation followed by the gross error of trying to defend the road by static forces, an impossible task in afforested hills against a highly mobile enemy. He made disconnected attempts to attack our outposts and to follow up our raiding parties, but failed to formulate a plan based on mobility. In most cases we merely eluded him in the forests and he fell into our ambushes and traps. Except for the first fight for our base at Sosiso, which it was then essential to hold, and before it was ringed round with our mobile outposts, we never fought a battle in the true sense of the word. We struck and withdrew through our own traps, but set them for our pursuers to explode. Every sub-area and outpost was tied to base by strings of runners and wireless intercom, and was never static.

    So much for our own strategical appreciations and Jap misappreciations. In our tactics we depended mainly on mobility, which was second nature to our wild Karenni, and the patrol technique and battle drills used by our P Force in the Chindwin. The art of handling explosives and accessories, as well as setting controlled booby-traps, was passed on to the levies by the trained demolitionists of P Force and as much of discipline, control, weapons, tactics, and circumstances admitted; which was not much. Nevertheless, in the sequel they served our end and contributed to the astonishing figures of dead Japs and living Karenni. The Jap showed remarkable courage, fair tactical appreciation, and astonishing, though noisy, philosophy in the matter of dying; but he produced nothing exceptional in counter-tactics. Having put himself on the defensive and sacrificed mobility, he lost half his advantage straight away and never recovered the initiative. Doubtless he had lost some of his heart as a result of the general course of the war; nevertheless, his state points a moral and a warning which we would do well to observe in our future considerations in respect of a soldier’s training.

    I think I have said enough to draw attention to the necessity of incorporating in a regular soldier’s training a very large measure of a guerrilla’s mobility and guerrilla tactics; and in particular the very easily acquired knowledge of handling explosives as an offensive weapon. It would be a tragedy if the experience of Force 136 personnel were not used by the Regular Army to reinforce its own, on the whole excellent, methods.


    In Burma the main rivers and the main ranges of hills lie north and south on Burma’s western border. The Karen Hills lie between the Salween and the Sittang Rivers, and still further south between the sea and Thailand to the watershed of the Tenasserim River varying from one hundred miles to fifty in width. This area of heavily afforested hills is populated by about two million Karens of Mongoloid race, intermediate in character to the Chinese and Siamese to the east and the Burmese to the west.

    There are many marked geographical variations among the Karens, apparent in various customs, dialect and dress and on the borders of Burma, Thailand and the Shan States, the people, often from intermarriage, have assimilated the characteristics of their neighbours. Nevertheless, they regard themselves as the Karen people and have a strong aversion to being mistaken for other races and particularly the Burmese, with whom they have long-standing feuds. The word Karenni is generally employed to denote these peoples of the Karen Hills.

    It is a rugged land: dense humid forests in the valleys and intermediate hills, cold pine-clad slopes on the hills at about 6 000 feet. Permanent cultivation is rare in Central Karenni and rice planted in the ashes of felled and burnt forests is the main crop. The small hamlets of ten to fifty houses buried in the forests have few pretensions to comfort, none to artistic value, and the standard of living is low and mainly drawn from the economy of the forests and the staple of planted rice – a simple people animistic in religion, kindly and peace-loving.

    From the Salween River to the valley of the Sittang River a wide range of forests and hills contained some two million people known as the Karenni. Subjugated by the Jap, intensely loyal to the British, their value as a great potential levy and guerrilla force, was known. P Force was given the honour of parachuting into their hills and becoming the nucleus of Operation Character, which converted a subjugated people into a fiercely patriotic one that struck the Jap in his own conquered domain.

    The Karenni looked to the British for protection against the incursions of their neighbours. Isolationists to a degree and non-progressive, they occupy a pathetic position in this century of progression, and in their disinclination to change their simple ways lies the root of their loyalty to Britain and the Pax Britannica which has maintained them as a people. A peaceful and kindly individual will reveal depths of stubbornness and a tenacious fighting spirit absent in more worldly and sophisticated beings.


    Although in command of only one Operation Character area, I have been concerned with many of its phases since inception. Moreover the Character operation in the Karen Hills was opened with three special groups of the Force known by my name, which were dropped by parachute at the same time and place into Karenni, and were destined for the three main Character areas.

    The operation, as a whole, has been successful. Primarily the credit lies in the people of the Karen Hills, whose record of unswerving loyalty is second to none in the Empire, and whose known loyalty alone justified an operation so far ahead of our invading army. Their work and their endurance throughout have been magnificent.

    Secondly, credit must rest with the three Groups of P Force and attached Jed teams, which accepted the hazards of a blind drop into a country which had been under the domination of the Japs for three years, and of whose state of subjugation or otherwise very little was known. Curiously enough, eighty per cent of the men in these groups were Burmese whom I had recruited in the Chindwin Valley in 1943.

    Thirdly, I would like to acknowledge our debt to the RAF who supplied us with food and stores by air and who took the most abominable risks to find and approach our dropping zones, by day and by night, often under the most appalling weather conditions.


    When the Japanese overran Burma in 1941-1942, they could make very little of the Karenni, who took up arms wherever a British leader appeared and fought stubbornly in the face of hopeless odds. When all but the redoubtable Major Seagrim had gone, they maintained the resistance under him till he gave himself up to save them from persecution. In the bad years from 1942-1945, they lived sullenly in their hills in passive resistance till the British should return.

    When we parachuted into the Karen Hills in February, 1945, a little band of ten British ranks and sixty Karens and Burmese soldiers, they rose in their hundreds and gathered round us long before Mandalay fell and the strength of the British army prevailed over the Japanese, and never looked back through the weary months that followed of heavy fighting, persecution, penury and starvation.

    The Burmese and Karen guerrilla force that I had raised in the Chindwin was the spearhead of the invasion of Burma. I raised an army in the Karen Hills behind the Japs and eventually had 3 000 riflemen under my command with over twenty officers. My groups spread out, and cut off the lines of communication of the Japs between Burma and Siam; other groups followed. I gave the lead and the operation was one of the most successful in this campaign, and the people responsible were Peacock’s Force. Four groups of my Force led the assault, and with the levies that gathered round them they became a great army which killed over 12 000 Japs east of the Sittang River. I was in the central group which cut the main line of communication.

    On the road from Toungoo into Siam we killed 3 000 Japs: when the Japs 15th Division was racing for Toungoo to reinforce it before our troops arrived.I stopped the Japs at the road for nearly a week so that our army was able to capture Toungoo before the Jap reinforcements arrived. For this I was given the Bar to my MC. It was a long story of hardships and privations for eight months.

    The political trend in the Far East is beyond our conjecture, and the future of the Karen is wrapped in obscurity. Some of us feel bad, very bad, about their prospects, and I, who was privileged to raise and command the first of the levies in 1945 and who loved the Karenni’s simplicity and straightforward nature, am writing this as some small tribute to him, as some small measure towards the recognition he so well deserves.


    In March 1945 Lieutenant Colonel Peacock, after having been parachuted into enemy territory, raised and commanded a group of Karen guerrillas operating in the mountainous country north-east of Pegu. On 14 April he was warned that a Japanese division was moving along an axis running close to his base. The enemy’s objective was to link up with the main enemy forces in order to deny us a vital airfield and communication centre. Within twenty-four hours Peacock had established a number of roadblocks. During the following ten days, by skilful handling of his guerrillas and a nicely timed series of demolitions, he succeeded in preventing the link-up of the Japanese forces. The objective was now in our hands. In this short period his guerrillas killed 114 of the enemy, destroyed a large amount of transport and blew six bridges. Credit for this outstanding performance must go largely to Peacock whose gallant leadership and sound tactical judgement have been important contributory factors in the success of the main operations.


    During the period under review this officer, who parachuted with a party into the Pyagawpu area in February 1945, has been in command of Operation Otter operating on the Toungoo Mawchi road which has raised local levies who have killed 2 743 enemy troops and destroyed ninety-four motor transport (vehicles) besides giving much intelligence of great value to Fourteenth and Twelfth Army Headquarters. Lieutenant Colonel Peacock has displayed leadership, organising ability and tact in handling the locals, worthy of very high commendation. The outstanding courage and resource of this officer within two months turned a small, hunted party into the controlling force over a wide area.

    My brief research

    See a slim Wiki that only covers his life before WW2 and his military service: Edgar Peacock - Wikipedia His full name is: Edgar Henry William Peacock.

    He was born in India and worked in the region for sixteen years before going to Southern Africa. More bio and B&W photo on: SOE - Peacock, Edgar Henry William

    The book 'SOE in Burma' website has many entries about him and his views of his comrades. It appears to be based on his SOE file. See: The Men of SOE Burma

    Harry Fecitt, a member here, has written about him in his book 'Distant Battlefields: The Indian Army in the Second World War'.

    He was not a 'V' Force officer, he was with SOE / Force 136 (though it is likely there was some overlap with 'V' Force).

    There are two smaller articles on two other Rhodesian officers and they were far smaller, so became posts on existing threads.

    Last edited: Mar 28, 2024
    PackRat likes this.
  2. Mattey David

    Mattey David Member

  3. Mattey David

    Mattey David Member

  4. Mattey David

    Mattey David Member

  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Mattey David,

    Welcome aboard.

    The first, long handwritten note I can pick out Major (Hugh) Seagrim's name, but the rest - after a very long two days - I cannot pick out the words. There are several threads on him and his brother who died in North Africa. These appear to be the main threads:

    1) There is no main thread. If search using the forum's search option you will get just over forty responses, about a third refer to him.

    2) A similar person and it mentions Hugh: Capt Peter Robert Sandham Bankes MC attd. Western Chin Levies

    3) Post 35 refers to his brother: VC Winners - Your Country's Recipients and this: Seagrim brothers VC & GC..

    I am sure the three, small handwritten notes are all the same. can you explain please what they refer to? To me it looks like a thank you note from a Karen village.

    The Message Forms are very difficult to read, partly as I expect they are carbon copies, not the top copy.

    Would it be possible for you please to type up - what you can see - and hopefully others can suggest what the gaps are?

    What is your connection to having these items?
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2024
  6. Mattey David

    Mattey David Member

    I have a significant collection of Items from a Major Frederick Milner . Fred who had a distinguished military career was part of a Jedbough team who fought in the Karen Hills in 1945 winning the Military Cross and being recommended for a second . He trained the Karen levies in sabotage ad gained the nickname "Bren gun Milner" .The pencil written reports were carried by runners as the radio sets were not always serviceable . I hope Seeing period items from operation Character adds to your thread .
    With regard to Major Seagram who met his fate at the hands of the Japanese A hand written contemporary account from a Karen suggests he was promised good treatment from the Japanese .
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Mattey David,

    Thanks, I can understand pencil notes are difficult to read and type up! Can only ask.

    Milner did not appear here before your post.

    This is a potted bio:
    Some personal details:
    Both from: Fred Milner There are two B&W photos

    Elsewhere for his time in Canada:
    From: Camp X Officers 1942
  8. Mattey David

    Mattey David Member

    This Spider armband was worn by the Karen Levies who successfully waged a gorilla campaign against the Japanese imperial forces .
    By publicising the existence of this collection I am hoping to attract an author or screen writer.

    Attached Files:

  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Responded to your objective via PM.

Share This Page