One of the greatest battles of World War II was fought at – surprise, surprise – in a sleepy little village in north-eastern India. The battle was as important as the Battle of Stalingrad, if not bigger, and is both acknowledged by war chroniclers and veterans of the British army.
“was one of the greatest battles of the Second World War, rivalling El Alamein and Stalingrad, though it still remains comparatively unknown. However, to the men who fought there, it remains “The Battle". - Arthur Swinson http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/10008053/Second-World-War-clashes-named-as-Greatest-British-Battle.html
In 1944, thick forests enveloped the hilly states of Nagaland and Manipur in the then remote north-eastern part of India. The Japanese had successfully reached Burma as part of their Burma Campaign, an important operation in the far-east theatre of World War II. The British were firmly entrenched in India and all that the Japanese had to do to create an opening was to knock down the door at Imphal and Kohima, some 50 kms from the Burmese border.
The British made a mistake even before the battle began. They were confident that the Japanese would never make it through the forests between Kohima and the Burmese border. But the Japanese did make it and surprised the British by attacking Imphal and in a subsidiary operation, Kohima. If the Commander of the Japanese forces, Sato succeeded in Kohima, he could have advanced to Dimapur and then Assam.
What followed was a bloody battle which lasted 64 days till May, 1944. In Kohima the fight consisted of hand to hand battles around a tennis court and a couple of hills.
Sato and his commanding officer miscalculated the rations that were required for their forces. The 5000 oxen as food was simply not adequate for his army. The Japanese lost and between 5000 to 7000 Japanese and INA men and 4064 British and Indian soldiers were martyred in this battle for Kohima.
The conversation between Sato and his CO Mutaguchi towards the end of the battle, captured the mood of the Japanese forces .
Mutaguchi – “Retreat and I will court-martial you.”
Sato replies – “Do what you please.”
In the context of India’s future, a Japanese victory in this battle would have changed the winds of India’s destiny. Because assisting the Japanese was the Indian maverick Subhash Chandra Bose and his army, the INA. A Japanese victory would have meant;
a. The British would have been forced to vacate India much earlier than when they actually did in 1947
b. The politics of India would have changed as Subhas Chandra Bose would have piloted the future course of the country rather than the Nehru family
c. It stopped the Japanese forces in their tracks after their successful Burma Campaign and the Japanese influence over India turned out to be a no-show
The War Museum in Kisama and the Kohima War Cemetery will leave a lasting impact on visitors. The Guwahati War Cemetery is comparatively more staid in history as the soldiers buried here were from the hospitals nearby. Two Japanese soldiers are said to be buried here, though I could not trace them in the cemetery.
Today, any history buff who visits Kohima will most likely shed an invisible tear when he sees a signboard signalling the road to Imphal.
P.S – The missing Japanese soldiers in the Guwahati War Cemetery puzzle has been solved. In 2012, Japanese officials exhumed the remains of eleven buried soldiers in an effort to to the bodies back home.