Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Decisive Battles: Kohima 1944

Battle of Kohima Dates: 6 APR - 31 MAY 1944

Forces Engaged: Great Britain -
for the purposes of this discussion we're going to limit the scope to the actions and forces that met near the little town of Kohima in the Assam Hills in April, 1944. For the British 14th Army, the garrison at Kohima in 4 APR 1944 consisted of an assortment of odds and sods, including:
Infantry:1st Assam Regiment (which had been conducting a fighting withdrawal since 1 APR and was probably down to no more than 400-500 infantrymen)

4th Bn, Royal West Kent Regiment (Queen's Own) - about 450 infantrymen
A total of about four companies of infantry; one each from the 3rd Bn, 2nd Punjab Regiment, 1st (Garrison) Bn, Burma Regiment, 5th Burma Regiment, and 27 BN, 5th Mahratta Light Infantry - about 200-300 infantrymen
3rd Assam Rifles (-) (The Assam Rifles were not truly infantry but a native constabulary employed in Nagaland, but by 1944 could act fairly effectively as light infantry given logistical and fire support)
The Shere Regiment (-) (a recently recruited outfit from the Kingdom of Nepal, less detachments)

Artillery: 1x25lb cannon and crew

Armor: None

Combat Support.Combat Service Support: Various small units and detachments including engineer, signals, medical, transportation, field kitchen and bakery, pioneer, and administration elements.

Approximately 2,500 all arms under COL Hugh Richards

Note: On 6 APR supporting elements of 161 Brigade, 5th Indian Division were several miles west of the main "boxes" at Kohima, including divisional artillery and two infantry battalions. In addition, aviation assets of 221 Group RAF flying out of Imphal provided close-air and logistical support for the garrison. By mid May the British forces had grown to two divisions including several armored units and a massive aerial umbrella...

Imperial Japanese Army (大日本帝國陸軍, Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun) - 31st Division (第31師団 Dai-sanju-ichi Shidan) consisting of:
Infantry: 58th Infantry Regiment (COL Takada), 124th Infantry Regiment (COL Fukuoka), 138th Infantry Regiment (COL Nara) Each Imperial infantry regiment was notionally composed of three roughly 1,000-man battalions plus regimental troops for about 3,800 infantrymen per regiment.

Artillery: 31st Mountain Artillery Regiment (About 900 artillerymen in three battalions with 12x75mm mountain howitzers per battalion for a total of 36 cannon.

In addition, Japanese infantry units carried on the now-obsolete tradition of "battalion guns"; light artillery directly attached to infantry units. Each battalion had 2x70mm Type 92 cannon (really almost more of a heavy mortar; a very short range, high-angle weapon)

for a total of 18 of these things. And the regiments appear to have had a regimental gun battery of 4x75mm field guns for a total of 12x 75mm cannon. The total number of field artillery cannon assigned to 31st Division was supposed to have been 48x75mm howitzers and 18x70mm howitzers; it is difficult to tell how many of these weapons made it through the Naga Hills to Kohima, but some did, as the battle reports will show.

Armor: IJA infantry divisions were assigned an "tankette company", largely kitted out with Type 94 九四式軽装甲車 , Kyūyon-shiki keisōkōsha "94 type light armored car" or TK tankette (TK is the abbreviation of Tokushu Keninsha, "special tractor") There is no evidence to suspect that the 31st Division managed to get their tankettes anywhere near Kohima or ever intended to take them there.

The division also had engineer and transportation regiments, each about 800-900 troopers each.

Our best guess is that the division was down to about 70% strength by the time it arrived at Kohima, so from the original 20,000 all arms probably 14,000 all arms under LTG Satō Kōtoku (佐藤 幸徳)

Although 15th Army and the overall IJA higher (Burma Area Army) should have had air support I can find little or no evidence that it was used effectively or at all in the Kohima-Imphal Campaign. I can find little or no information about the Army Air forces supposed to have been supporting the U-Go offensive except notes that the RAF had effectively gained control of the air by early 1944. So for all practical purposes the IJA at Kohima had no aviation assets whatsoever. Whatever the Furious Division (烈兵団 Retsu Heidan) gained at Kohima would be through its own efforts.

Note: Again, this is not a typical "Decisive Battles" post. For one thing, the battle of Kohima (and the related battle of Imphal) as well as the overall 1944 Burma Campaign have been extensively covered elsewhere, as I will discuss in the Sources section below. This is the second in the series of "The Imperial Japanese Army of WW2 - What Went Wrong" posts (the first was Bataan this past January, the third, on Kalkhan-Gol, follows in May...). I don't want to talk so much about the events of the battle itself as what it exposed about the IJA and why I consider it far and away the least effective and least modern of the major combatant armies in WW2 perhaps outside of Italy's. So while I do want to cover the basic events of the battle the bulk of the post will discuss what Kohima tells us about the IJA, its strengths and weaknesses.

Sources: Again, since this is a blog we'll concentrate on the online references for this engagement.

The Wiki entry is surprisingly good, and is a worthwhile starting point for any websearch on Kohima. Another worthwhile source if the History Learning Site's entry for the battle. The British 2nd Division Association has a web page that discusses the engagement, although largely repeating the information available on the other two sites.

Several of the British units that fought at and near Kohima have websites discussing the units' role in these engagments. The Queen's Regiment is one, and here's a fascinating one from the 7th Bn, The Worcestershire Regiment, that features extracts from the war diary of one CPT H. Swinson, who continues the great British tradition of military raconteurs.

We'll hear more from him later.

Perhaps most appropriate for us living today is the Commonwealth War Graves site Forever India that talks about the engagements and the monuments raised afterwards to the men who never left Imphal and Kohima.

Worthwhile written works include:

Perhaps the single most worthwhile source is Field Marshal Slim's own 1956 account Defeat into Victory. Hard to get any more authoritative than the man who directed the British side of the battle.

Leslie Edward's 2009 Kohima: The Furthest Battle: The Story of the Japanese Invasion of India in 1944 and the ‘British-Indian Thermopylae’ is given universally good review at Amazon. I did not get a copy but it sounds like a must-read for the serous student of this engagement.

Fergal Keane's 2001 Road of Bones: The Epic Siege of Kohima 1944 won the British Army "Book of the Year" award; I have no idea what the value of that is but suggests a worthwhile read.

And Robert Lyman has produced two works about the battle and campaign: Japan’s Last Bid for Victory: The Invasion of India, 1944 in 2011, which is said to be a very excellent work, and an earlier work with Peter Dennis for Osprey, Kohima 1944 which is the usual mix of decent text, maps, and photos/pictures that characterizes this series.

The Campaign: To understand the battle of Kohima and the whole Burma campaign you have to go back in history, to the Japanese war aims and to the British history of colonization in India.

Imperial Japan's motivation for starting the "Great Pacific War" was pretty simple; it needed petroleum for its armed forces in China and the oilfields were held by the Dutch in the Indonesian archipelago. Everything else - the attacks on the U.S. in the Philippines, the French in Indochina, and the British in Singapore and Malaya - was simply to secure the lines between the petroleum in the Dutch East Indies and the Home Islands.

But once the IJA had seized the British territories along the South China seacoast it was confronted with a dilemma; those territories were no more defensible against a British counterattack than that had been against a Japanese attack. The vast British reservoir of men and material to the west in India would be a constant threat. The Japanese gains needed strategic depth, and that meant that the British forces in Burma needed to go.

Add to that the nuisance of the Burma Road. Taking a chunk out of that supply route would help strangle their old enemy the Nationalist forces in China. Together these objectives pulled the IJA 15th Army into Burma in early January 1942.

The initial conquest of Burma was quick, aided by a number of the usual early-war Allied clusterfucks; the British Burma Army was an undertrained and undersupplied trainwreck, the Nationalist "forces" were their usual shambolic selves, the Burmese climate and terrain were horrific. And Burma exposed what was becoming increasingly obvious elsewhere; that the British Empire was founded on economic sand. Britain flat-out couldn't afford to fight more than two modern campaigns, and between the Middle East and the defense of Britain itself there was little or nothing to spare for Burma.

Wartime stress was also widening cracks in the supposed "jewel in the imperial crown", India. Indian independence activities - the "Quit India" movement - was tearing up the eastern areas of Bengal and Bihar through which troops and supplies had to move as well as sucking up "reliable" British and Imperial units. And famine - which was a consistent feature of colonial India - was hammering Bengal, which also sucked up resources and hindered war production and preparation.

So by May, 1942, the British Far East forces were pinned back to the eastern borderlands of India, sick, battered, and hung down.

This part of British India was called Assam in the Forties. It was then pretty much what it is now; a lightly-peopled frontier that was very little changed from preindustrial times, dominated by steep, thickly jungled hills and the numerous threads of the Brahmaputra river system. It was probably a welcoming place for the tribes that had lived there for centuries but for troops fighting mechanized warfare it was a bloody nightmare.

Here's what the diarist from the 7th Worcestershires has to say about the Assamese hill country:
"It was silent in the jungle . . . .

Sometimes in the evening the wind would creak through the bamboo trees, waving their tall green branches against the sky; or sometimes the leaves would rise from the ground and dance onward a few steps before falling to sleep again; or the monkeys way up on their jungle roof would quarrel and screech and squeal in excitement, then swiftly swing into the leafy distance; but these temporary sounds could not break the eternal silence any more than a pebble churn the surface of a pool. Nor could the cooks rattling their dixies, nor the troops patrolling along the paths, nor any of the sounds of an army in training.

The silence of the jungle is not the silence of the town, nor the open fields, nor the downs, nor the plains, nor the high mountains; it is the stifled silence of one who waits seeing his enemy bare before him. The troops knew and feared this jungle silence; they spoke in hushed voices or walked glancing about them. At night, though they slept side by side, the sentries would hear them crying out, the nameless fear having entered their dreams, look round them, then lie back to sleep again. Some became sick and others sullen, but all felt the dull stifling of the heart.

It was cold in the jungle. The men dug themselves down into the earth, slashed bamboos and unrolled them to make their beds, wove branches for a mattress, and huddled together in their blankets for warmth. But at night the dew dripped down from the tree-tops and the air would turn to a frozen breath. At Reveille there were few men who would strip to waist, for the cold stream water burned on the flesh. The morning sun would not penetrate the jungle; sometimes a thin beam would creep down the paths and paint the bamboos at a bend with gold, or sometimes skim along the roof ; but no warmth would reach the men on the ground till breakfast was eaten and work begun."
The IJA had learned to use the thick vegetation of Southeast Asia to offset their technical shortcomings. Not overburdened with artillery and armor and traveling largely on foot the Japanese infantry had adapted the German infiltration tactics of 1918 to their plans; they would probe until they found gaps in the Allied "lines" (nearly unavoidable in the dense foliage and rough terrain), slip through and reassemble across the Allied supply and communications routes.

This gave the Japanese infantry a reputation as "masters of the jungle"; the Allied troops in Burma developed bugout fever, and as soon as Japanese forces turned up behind them tended to bolt for safety, abandoning supplies that the Japanese with the threadbare logistical organization used to continue their advance.

1943 brought something of a stalemate to Burma. The British forces were still suffering from logistical and tactical problems and the so-called Arakan Campaign was a bloody mess. The attempt to regain some Burmese ground fell apart on the usual issues - British and Indian units were still fairly useless in the jungle, command and control was still iffy, and supply was hampered by the terrain and weather.

It was also at Arakan that the Allies first encountered the IJA gift for bunker-building; the damn things were built like fortresses, incredibly well concealed, and provided murderous interlocking fields of fire for the defenders.

Japanese artillery, while never numerous and relatively immobile and thus fairly useless in attack, proved vicious in defense. Bunkers and defensive lines could be pre-registered and preplotted fires called in on the Allied attackers; Japanese defenders had no fear calling in fires on their own positions and that was ruinous for the exposed Allies trying to force the positions.

So the British forces in eastern India - now organized as 14th Army - backed off and regrouped. Its new commander, LTG Slim, had different ideas about how to fight the Japanese in the jungly hills of Assam:
"The basic premise was that off-road mobility was paramount: much heavy equipment was exchanged for mule- or air-transported equipment and motor transport was kept to a minimum and restricted to those vehicles that could cope with some of the worst combat terrain on Earth. The new doctrine dictated that if the Japanese had cut the lines of communication, then they too were surrounded. All units were to form defensive 'boxes', to be resupplied by air and assisted by integrated close air support and armour. The boxes were designed as an effective response to the tactics of infiltration practised by the Japanese in the war. Slim also supported increased offensive patrolling and night training, to encourage his soldiers to lose both their fear of the jungle and their belief that Japanese soldiers were better jungle fighters."
Using these tactics and techniques the British had some success in Burma in early 1944.

This engagement was something of a rat-scramble. The British tried another attack into Arakan, the Japanese responded as they had in 1943, with a counter-attack the succeeded in surrounding a portion of the attackers; the so-called "Admin Box".

Using Slim's tactics the Admin Box held. The Japanese were unable to secure their "Churchill rations" and had not anticipated either the 360-degree defense or the effectiveness of the Allied aerial resupply and interdiction. Thousands of Japanese soldiers died of starvation and disease. The British then eventually evacuated the Arakan area because it was just a nasty malarial swamp; the Japanese regained it and held on until the collapse in 1945.

So at the beginning of the 1944 campaigning season - the summer monsoons made any sort of major military activity impractical - everyone was back to where they had been in late spring 1942; the British clinging to the far western edge of Burma and Assam in India, the Japanese still trying to close off the Burma Road and hang on to what they had gained in Burma as things got ugly for them back in the South Pacific.

At this point the sparkplug for the fight at Kohima starts sparking; 牟田口 廉也, LTG Mutaguchi Renya, commander of the IJA 15th Army since March 1943.

Mutaguchi was an interesting guy, and not in a particularly good way. He was one of these guys who see every problem as a nail and themselves as the Big Hammer. He had been a player in the 皇道派 (Kōdōha) ultranationalist faction in the Army during the Twenties and Thirties, and was thoroughly saturated with the belief that the mystical Japanesy-ness of bushido and the old-school traditional pre-Western ways was capable of defeating the effete Europeans and their industrial warfare.

He was also apparently kind of an asshole personally. Almost all of his division commanders either outright hated him or were deeply suspicious of his glory-hunting and willingness to see everyone else die for his country so long as he got the credit for the win.

Mutaguchi had been beating the drum for attacking the British in Assam for a year. The Wiki entry for Imphal summarizes some of what was in his head:
"His motives for doing so appear to be complex. He had played a major part in several Japanese victories, ever since the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937, and believed it was his destiny to win the decisive battle of the war for Japan. He may also have been goaded by the first Chindit expedition, a raid behind Japanese lines launched by the British under Orde Wingate early in 1943."
Another factor may have been the insistence of the Indian National Army leaders that defeating the British in Assam would inspire a nationalist uprising in India. Certainly part of the motivation was political; the leader of the "Free India" movement, S.C. Bose, was tight with the commander of the Burma Area Army.

Mutaguchi's plan was in the mold of the IJA grand tactics of the Forties. A two-division assault on British defenses centered on the Assamese town of Imphal would draw the Allied attention there and immobilize the British reserves. While all eyes were on Imphal the third 15th Army infantry division, Sato's 31st, would swing around to the north and overrun Kohima (cutting the land route to Imphal) and seize the large supply depots around Dimapur. This would both resupply the 15th Army and starve out the Imphal garrison.

Mutaguchi's plans were also based on a number of assumptions, almost all of them incorrect.

- He assumed that the British and Indian troops were still the same mooks the IJA had whipped in Burma in 1942-43, with the same tactical and logistical weaknesses. The lessons of the Admin Box had not been absorbed.

- He also assumed that the attackers would solve their logistical problems by a combination of capture and bizarre innovation. For example, he proposed to herd cattle and buffalo along the jungle tracks to act as self-propelled rations. This worked about as well as you'd expect to if you herded a bunch of cows along vertiginous jungle tracks; most of the future beef tonkatsu fell into ravines or died of malnutrition or disease.

- He also assumed that the Allies would suffer from the same engineering and pioneering shortcomings his own troops did and would be without armored and artillery support; he left his tanks and most of his cannon back at the staging areas.

Perhaps the single worst miscalculation the 15th Army commander made was the choice of unit to make the Kohima attacks. Sato, 31st Division's commander, was convinced from the get-go that Mutaguchi was all eaten up with victory disease and was grossly underestimating the logistical problems the 31st would face. He was on record with his division staff that they might all starve to death.

And there were personal issues, too; Sato thought Mutaguchi was an idiot who thought with his sword arm - he called him a "blockhead". Sato has also bee on the other side of the IJA factional fight (the Toseiha side) and considered Mutaguchi's notions of mystic Japanese bad-assery dangerous hoo-ha that would get him and his boys of the Furious Division killed.

Still, IJA discipline was still intact in late winter 1944, and so in mid-March Sato's troops moved off down the thready jungle tracks towards their objectives. Operation U-Go was on.

The Engagement: 31st Division crossed their line of departure on 15 MAR 1944, moving northwest in a broad front but slipping along the narrow trails that wound through the Assamese hills. First contact was made by the 58th Infantry north of Imphal on 20 MAR; the Allied unit, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade were driven back after the six-day Battle of Sangshak and lost 600 guys. But they knocked down 400 troopers from the 58th and delayed that unit - which had the most direct march to Kohima - for a week.

The other piece of good luck that came out of Sangshak was capture of some 31st Division documents that blew the gaff; LTG Slim now knew that the division's objectives were Kohima and Dimapur. This was crucial; 14th Army had disregarded the Kohima sector as impassable and had posted a minimal covering force in Kohima and had nothing other than support units at Dimapur. Slim sent a rocket to his superior asking XI Army Group for a release of additional reserves to strengthen the Kohima area.

These reserves turned out to be 161st Indian Infantry Brigade and 24th Mountain Artillery Regiment Indian Artillery which were flown into Dimapur. And the British 2nd Division was alerted to move from its depots in south and central India to the Assam front.

Kohima itself is dominated by a north-south ridge studded with hilltops.

The only road from Dimapur to Imphal runs along the east side of the ridge. At the time of the engagement the ridge was what the British would have called a "hill-station", the administrative and residential complex for the colonial administration of the Nagaland District. The house of the administrator was located along the road, complete with true colonial accessories such as formal gardens and a tennis court. The local gentlemen's clubhouse stood on a terrace overlooking this little pied a terre, all set amid the dense forests of the Assamese hills.

A local town, Naga Village spread over the so-called Treasury Hill and Church Knoll to the north. Other eminences, such as "GPT Ridge" Aradura Spur, rose to the south and west.

British and Indian combat support and service support troops were camped along the ridge, giving names to various features such as "Field Supply Depot or FSD Hill".

LTG Slim had the same grand tactical vision as his opposite number Mutaguchi; he saw Kohima as no more than a roadblock or a delaying position. The real objective were the supply depots around Dimapur, and therefore 161 Brigade was held in position west of Kohima to cover the more critical position. Only a portion of the brigade - a company of the Rajputs and 4th Bn, Royal West Kent Regiment - managed to reinforce Kohima before 31st Division arrived and cut the road from Dimapur. The Kohima garrison was surrounded and the battle of Kohima had properly begun.

The details of the fighting are well described elsewhere; for about eleven days the defenders withstood a nightmarish succession of infantry attacks and shelling. The only drinking water point, on GPT Hill, was overrun on 6 APR as the British and Indian defenders were driven in to a relatively small perimetr on Garrison Hill. Before thirst could force their surrender a small spring was uncovered on the north side of the hill.

The north end of the ridge, around and within the regional Deputy Commissioner's bungalow, was a ridiculously vicious miniature death-struggle of the sort that seems to develop in protracted engagements.

The so-called "Battle of the Tennis Court" locked the West Kents and Assamese (from both the Assam Rifles and the Assam Regiment) with units of the IJA 58th Regiment in a regular WW1-style trench battle, with no man's land as the net and the two sides dug in within a short grenade-toss of each other along the sidelines.

Aerial resupply and artillery support from 161 Brigade helped hold the Kohima positions, and this dogfight went on from about 8 APR to 18 APR; the worst night coming on 17/18 APR when 31st Division troopers overran the DC's bungalow and Kuki Picquet and cut right through the defensive box. But the Japanese troops were whipped, couldn't managed to push on over the top of Garrison Hill, and by the morning of 18 APR elements of the British 2nd Division, 161st Indian Brigade and Lee-Grant tanks from XXXIII Corps cleared the north-west of Garrison Hill and opened the road from Dimapur.

But the Furious Division wasn't beaten yet. The now-pointless fight continued another month. The Japanese positions on the tennis court were cleared 12 MAY by an infantry-tank assault led by U.S.-made Lee (M3) tanks of 150 Regiment Royal Armoured Corps. The next day Japanese troops were spotted abandoning their positions not under pressure.

Sato's men were largely undone by British tactical stubbornness, aerial superiority, and logistical disaster, with the supply problems perhaps the most critical. Almost no materials reached 31st Division after 6 APR.

The Naga hills themselves provided little provender and were dangerous to forage; the Naga hillpeople were not pleased to see these strange Asian invaders and enjoyed the opportunity to indulge in the headhunting forbidden by the British authorities. Japanese foraging parties tended to simply disappear into the jungle...

LTG Sato informed his Army commander of his supply issues on 13 MAY: “Because of the rain and starvation there is no time. Decided this division, accompanying the sick and wounded, should move to a point where it can receive supplies.”

Mutaguchi's reply was characteristic of the man: “It is very difficult to understand why your division should evacuate under the pretext of supply difficulties, forgetting its brilliant services. Maintain the present position for ten days. A resolute will makes the Gods give way.”

But a resolute will cannot fill an empty belly or reload an empty rifle.

By mid-May the Allied forces, now over two-division strength, were driving in the Japanese positions north and south of Kohima Ridge. LTG Sato informed his superior that if he was not resupplied by 1 JUN he would have to withdraw. In the first week of June what was left of 31st Division began to filter southeast, and then east.

The retreat was horrific. Whatever supplies and food had been pushed up from 15th Army rear had been used up or eaten by the line-of-support troops who were as starved as the grunts. Japanese troopers literally dropped dead along the jungle trails, drowned in creeks, and were abandoned under trees. Their pursuers from XXXIII Corps, 2nd British and 7th Indian Divisions, had little to do other than walk carefully behind this deathmarch and police up the equipment from the bodies.

On 22 JUN the lead XXXIII Corps elements met 5th Indian Division advancing north out of Imphal.

The Outcome: British grand tactical victory with strategic consequences.

The Impact: Kohima-Imphal effectively broke the IJA 15th Army; the losses in men and material couldn't be and were never recovered. When 14th Army advanced into Burma the following year it was practically a walkover. The failure of the U-Go Offensive has been compared to Stalingrad, a disaster from which the IJA in Southeast Asia never recovered.

But why did this attack fail so disastrously? What had happened that had so changed the two armed forces engaged so as to reverse the British disasters of Malaya into the British walkover in Burma in three years?

Well, here's what I think:

1. The IJA suffered from a great excess of "warriorness" There's a sort of a saying about how amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk about logistics; like all sayings its as much false as true. But in general good fighters were promoted in the IJA; good logisticians - or good strategists, or good innovators - were not. In my opinion the IJA produced a fairly good bunch of company commanders. Even their best commanders had fairly serious issues with logistics; Yamashita in Malaya, Homma in the Philippines. And for all that tactical maneuver was expected grand tactical or strategic maneuver was considered effete Western caprioling; Homma was effectively relieved for not being brutal enough at Bataan.

2. And even tactically, the IJA was crude even by the standards of 1941 and never improved. As we'll see in May, the IJA never really bothered learning the lessons of armored warfare, and against a mobile opponent was brutally mishandled, first at Khalkhin-Gol in 1939 and again against the Soviets in 1945. And, to an extent, that's understandable; the IJA was designed to fight against the Chinese, who were pathetic, and in the islands of the South Pacific where armor was not a critical skill.

But even the slower, simpler skills of infantry combined-arms were largely beyond the IJA. The Japanese Army in WW2 never developed an effective infantry-tank team. Japanese artillery was effective enough in defense but slow in attack and typically undersupplied at all times (another facet of the IJA's logistical shortcomings). Despite having respectable individual aircraft in 1941 the IJAAF never developed an effective close-support or aerial resupply system.

In fact, the single biggest element I see in the IJA's tactical bag of tricks was stagnation. The IJA never developed anything they didn't have in 1941; new tactics, new techniques, new equipment. They were great at static defense. They had some early successes maneuvering against enemies who were less competent tactically than they were; the British and the Americans in 1941, the Chinese pretty much anytime. But the Allies grew steadily better at warfighting, at doing everything from shooting, moving, and communicating to supplying themselves with new and better weapons. The Japanese never did.

3. The IJA had real command problems that it never solved, although this might have been more of a "Japanese" problem than an Army problem. Kohima is a classic illustration of everything wrong with IJA generalship. Almost everyone involved thought LTG Mutaguchi was an idiot whose plan was smoke and mirrors; nobody was willing to put the blocks to him. Meanwhile, LTG Sato's most dangerous course of action would have been to mask Kohima while driving on Dimapur - Slim worried that he would do just that. Instead, the 31st Division just threw itself at the defensive boxes on Kohima Ridge again and again; Mutaguchi doesn't seem to have tried to find out what Sato was doing or control him, and Sato doesn't seem to have bothered to find out what his commander's intent was. The entire C3I system in 15th Army and 31st Division was completely adrift, and nobody did anything until too late and the troops were dying of starvation in the jungle.

I understand that a big part of Japanese masculinity (at least in the Forties and among the sorts of guys who became Army generals, if not today) was that you didn't argue and bicker with one another. Everyone was supposed to have this amazing group-mind sort of thing that came from being all Japanese-y and culturally homogeneous. You could "disagree" but through a complex system of indirect signals and non-words that the recipient was supposed to just "get".

Well, it didn't work in this case and seems to have done fairly badly elsewhere. I'm not sure what that all ties up with, but it sure killed a lot of poor bastards in the Assamese hills for no damn good at all.

Regardless of the whys, the whats and wheres of Kohima are damning to the IJA. Before Kohima things were not going well for the Japanese war effort in Southeast Asia; after Kohima, and Imphal, things went from bad to worse. The war was lost.

All that was left was the killing. The monument at Kohima to the dead of the British 2nd Division sums it up bitterly but well:
When you go home
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.
Touchline Tattles: I'm afraid I really can't do better than our Captain Swinson. So here's his tale of the End of the Battle of Kohima:

"A few days after the road was open, orders came through that the Brigade would move down into Imphal for a rest. The Brigadier proposed riding down for a recce. with his gun-man. The road winds down out of the mountains and on to the grassy plain. What a relief to find a piece of flat ground again and a straight road instead of the eternal hair-pin bends every hundred yards or so!

We had a look at the Rest Camp allotted to us, then went along to 4 Corps H.Q. to see the B.G.S. As it was about one-thirty, he wasn't in his office, so we went along to "A" Mess to find him. I might mention that the H.Q. consists of well-built bashas on the side of a woody hill, and to get at it you have to cross the air-strip and then filter through whole covies of C.M.P.'s. In "A" Mess we found more brass hats than I've ever seen in one room together. Two Corps Commanders were there, their B.G.S.'s, not to mention B.G.A.'s, C.R.A.'s, and full Colonels. Lunch was finished and the mass of red was having coffee in the ante-room. The Brigader pushed his way in and I followed. In a corner I found a solitary subaltern: I didn't know him, but I fell on his neck like a long-lost brother. He was the only officer within three ranks of me. We introduced ourselves.

"Good morning," he said, "will you have a beer?"

"A beer?" I echoed. "I thought you were besieged and we were relieving you."

"Besieged?" he asked in a pained voice. "Whatever made you think that? We've been all right. Do have a beer. There's plenty in the Mess."

I accepted with alacrity. It was good stuff when it arrived, and I said "Cheerio" and swigged it down. Then unaccountably (to the subaltern) burst out laughing. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Anything wrong?"

I thought of the weary, beerless months we'd spent trying to relieve these people. "No, nothing wrong," I said, "but it's a bloody funny war, isn't it?"

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Birthday Girl

We don't really know what day you were born, and neither do you. Your mother left you outside a little rural filling station near the town of Dongguan some time in the spring of 2005 and the Chinese adoption official responsible for you probably assigned the "auspicious" day closest to what he assumed was your birth day as your "birthday". He didn't know you, and probably didn't much care; he was just doing his job.

And we didn't know you, either. We traveled across the Pacific in pursuit of another little girl, a girl who turned out to be damaged, too damaged to adopt. By the time we met you we were reeling from the heat and the distance and the emotional trainwreck of the preceding week. We barely had time to pick you up, bundle you and your little "Funky Dog" bottle and your tiny yellow plastic sandals onto an airplane, and ride the long way back home. We had no idea who you were, or who you'd be.

We had no idea whether you'd be serious or silly, giddy or glum, outgoing or introverted. Whether you'd like to run and play or sit and read. Whether you'd be gentle or rough-and-tumble. Whether you'd be an "easy" child to raise, or a struggle. Whether, like some people, you'd come with your own happiness inside, or whether you'd have a lifetime of struggling against woe.

So far I'd say we've been pretty damn lucky. The girl we got was the girl who loves Ponies and sewing and cartoons and loves to laugh and make silly jokes, who loves to cuddle and play and shines from the love and joy within like a warm window on a cold, dark night.

So even though this may not be exactly seven years from the day you took your first breath, it's close enough for us; we're lucky to have you, small one, lucky that we've had this time together, these five years and change, years of watching you grow in size and in knowledge and in heart. Answering every one of the hundreds of questions you ask every moment, hoping to help you to the young woman you're going to be.

Happy Birthday, then, sweetheart. No matter the how or when, this is your day, and ours to celebrate you.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Terror Abroad

In case you were taking a break from domestic news and wondering who's killing innocent people overseas, well, in Bangladesh it's mostly the people working for Bennetton, the Gap, and J.C. Penney;
"The plan would ditch government inspections, which are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and establish an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh, with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions. The inspections would be funded by contributions from the companies of up to $500,000 per year.

The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world's largest clothing brands and retailers — including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M — but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly.

At the time, Wal-Mart's representative told the meeting it was "not financially feasible ... to make such investments," according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press."
Well, I, for one, am glad that our corporate "citizens" are not knuckling under to the tyranny of those irresponsible Bengalis who seem to hold the misguided belief that things like workplaces that don't collapse or catch fire are some sort of "right" rather than a privilege of being in a Free Market.

I'd have more to say but there's a terrific sale today down at Wal-Mart, and I have got to pick up a pair of Levis; always low prices there, y'know?


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spy vs. Spy: Bay State Fathead Edition


Good to know that only the most cunning and hardest-core of the fiendishly cunning hardcore Mooslim evildoers lurking behind the arras of Islamofascism can evade our highly trained Homeland Security colossus and harm us;
"After being read Miranda rights, the Boston bombing suspect in custody, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has stopped talking to authorities, officials tell the Associated Press. "The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings acknowledged to the FBI his role in the attacks but did so before he was advised of his constitutional right to keep quiet and seek a lawyer, U.S. officials said Wednesday,"
This guy has been in the U.S. since he was nine and has never, EVER watched a TV police show. Or cop movie.


Had NO clue that crime suspects lawyer up and dummy up.

Until they told him.

Remind me - how the hell did this fucking idiot figure out which side of the pressure cooker to put the boomy-stuff in?

And this is the latest Fiendishly Cunning Mooslim Evildoer? Man, they gotta be vacuuming the bottom of the gene pool over there in Scary Islamofascistic Caliphate-wannabe Terrist LandTM.

(h/t to Doghouse Riley for the update.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flying with their own wings

Once again my compa Chris Singer is there “fustest with the mostest,” so I won’t add anything other than a recommendation to read his match report from Portland Thorns FC’s first ever victory, the 2-1 win over the visiting Seattle Reign this past Sunday. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also direct you to the by-now-indispensable JonannaW’s report over at Stumptown Footy.

Having been in the North End for the match I thought I’d just add some of my own observations from Section 109.

In the stands:

The numbers. The last time I recall seeing the old Civic Stadium this full for a women’s match was the last time the U.S. women’s national team played here. in 2012, and that crowd was less raucous and less partisan than Sunday’s. I can understand how the Thorns FC players and coaches were impressed. While I don’t expect the stands to continue to be quite that packed, I think we showed our colors as Soccer City, USA, and those colors were bright red and white.

The overall sensibility inside the Shed was very different from a Timbers match. I think the effect of the large general admission seating section (the entire lower bowl all the way around to Section 110) and the smaller size of the Rose City Riveters supporters group had the effect of diluting the fervor of the North End. I think that this will sort itself out over the season, as louder and more vertical will gravitate towards 107 while the quiet sitters will move away.

One effect of “early days yet” seems to be that there was some confusion on where exactly “general admission” was located. The event staff was quite definite; all the 100 sections ending at 110. But the couple behind us at the west end of 109 had reserved seats for that section, and so did another group of five sitting where we first sat. We had no trouble finding other seats, but hopefully Thorns FC and Jeld-Wen work this out quickly; having supporters dueling over places to sit or stand won’t help anyone focus on the match.

The other issue that club, supporters, and venue will need to work on figuring out is “who stands”? On Sunday pretty much everyone across the North End over to 108 was standing. But in our section the confusion began; several whole areas were sitting, some behind supporters who were standing. This didn’t seem to be a big issue when the ball was 20 yards or more from the end line, but when a player worked the ball down into the near corner it forced the sitters to stand to see the play. This jack-in-the-box jumping up noticeably increased in the second half as Portland repeatedly attacked Seattle’s goal, and I can see this becoming an issue in the future as some solid citizen objects to those yobs standing in his way. The Timbers’ North End match supporters have worked this out pretty well; you know going in that everyone is going to stand so you either stand or move.

The Riveters did fine work Sunday, keeping the energy high and mixing in enough familiar TA (but non-Timbers specific) songs and chants with new Thorns FC material to keep the noise level up. The Thorns FC songs were a trifle sotto voce; this, too, will strengthen with time and familiarity. Special kudos to Sunday for her awesome Rosie the Riveter outfit; we already knew she was brilliant for her work as a Timbers capo; she was a rock on the main capo stand Sunday and she’s already bringing the heat to the visiting teams.

The title of this post, by the way, comes from the Thorns FC unofficial slogan, She Flies With Her Own Wings, which is one English version of the State motto Alis volat propriis. The Thorns' season ticket holders were all about sporting a handsome scarf with that motto knitted into it; it’s impressive the diversity of scarves this club and its supporters have created in just a few months…

On the pitch:

After a shaky start against Kansas City away, Thorns FC looked an order of magnitude better against Seattle Sunday. I thought that some of this had to do with the relative strength of the KCFC midfield compared to the less-active, looser-pressing Seattle unit. But I think a lot of it had to do with better composure and better organization in the Thorns midfield and backline.

For all that, Portland still needed almost 45 minutes to work out how to consistently push the ball up to the forwards. From what I could see a huge part of this was Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock, who was a complete beast both offensively and defensively. She went in hard on every tackle, had a nasty instinct for closing down passing lanes and in attack was a pest and a caution all match. Rachel Buehler and Kathryn Williamson, the Thorns FC centerbacks, had trouble with her all match and her persistence paid off with a 74th minute goal.

Buehler seems to help settle the Thorns FC backline, but Williamson (who seems like a decent CB but nomination for “player of the week” last week was…confusing, to say the least, given the defensive breakdown that led to the Cuellar goal) was nowhere in sight when Fishlock’s mucker Keelin Winters knocked Buehler down to free her pal up for the easy strike. Over the course of the match the back four looked solid, but the confusion as the ball bounded about in front of goal was a nasty reminder that this unit has very Timberesque moments when soccer just flies out of the room. Parlow-Cone is surely talking to them about that this week…

Karina LeBlanc’s bicolor mohawk was ridiculously awesome; so was her steady keeping, though she was relatively untroubled most of the match she was blameless on the Fishlock goal.

It is interesting to watch Christine Sinclair’s evolution from a Abby Wambach-style frontrunning striker into a trequartista. I understand why Parlow-Cone has moved her back; her tackling behind the ball and her service to Morgan and Washington up front make all the difference in midfield. Allie Long is working hard, but without Sinclair in the #10 position the midfield was overrun at KCFC. Sinclair adds there what she did upfront; a combination of skill and muscle that stymies the opponent and frees the Thorns FC strikers. More than ever I am awed by this woman’s gifts; she is truly a great player and it is a gift to watch her play.

In the end:

Portland has shown Thorns FC some love, and at 1-0-1, Thorns FC have returned that affection with a great start to their season. Their next opponent is Chicago; the Red Stars drew the Reign 1-1 the opening weekend, bombing Seattle keeper Betos with 14 shots, 9 on goal. This should be a real test for the Thorns FC organization in back. The defenders will have to have a solid 90 minutes than we’ve had up ’til now. But I’m confident – Onward, Rose City!

I should add this odd little tale before I go, though.

I picked up our tickets on the Saturday before the match; parked off 17th and walked down Morrison to the box office at the north face of the field. The woman in the ticket booth glanced up over her cat-eye glasses at me when I asked what was open for Sunday and informed me in a smoker’s voice that the only reserved seats open were at the far southwest end near the visitor’s section.

“That’s terrific…” I replied, “I had no idea that the tickets had sold so well.”

“Well, yeah, that’s Portland…” she rasped, pulling off my tickets and shoving them through the hole in the window. “…but Portland ain’t the whole league, y’know.”

We looked at each other for a moment; both of us, I think, remembering all those other professional women’s soccer leagues come and gone.

And I pocketed the tickets and walked back down the street.

The Great Gun of Athlone

The Easter Rising of 1916 was probably not something my Scots grandfar liked to celebrate.

My Scots forebears were not Scots but "Scotch-Irish" which is to say they were the thugs the English planted in "The Pale" around Dublin and in the North to keep the boot on the neck of the Catholic proles. They and theirs went a long way into making the bloody calvary that has been the history of the Six Counties since the Rising cleared the way for the founding of free Ireland. The "Ulster Scots" have long been the Boers of Europe; stiff-necked bastards who could fuck up a child's birthday party.

On the 97th anniversary of the Éirí Amach na Cásca it's worth remembering, amid our rush to hate and fear "terrorism", that one man's "terrorist" is another's freedom fighter, and one man's "military tribunal" is another's "judicial murder".

And to recall a time when men like James Connolly openly fought for the working man and woman, when those of us not in the two-yacht family stood together, holding strongly to the now-"outdated" notion that the rich and the well-born were (and are) no more our friends than the wealthy farmer is the friend to the sheep, the cow, or the pig.

(h/t to Pierce for the outstanding cover of the Ballad of James Connolly.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

They will be with us always

The house is quiet now. Missy jogged out of her bed to the couch in the front room but immediately curled up there and went back to sleep; the other two - my Bride and the Boy - are our slow risers and have yet to wake. So I get to site here at the laptop near the front window and watch the gray Sunday begin.

I'm not sure whether the brown-streaked song sparrow is one sparrow or two, but it (or they) have been coming regularly to the platform feeder my family has set up outside the window. One of the few gains from the loss of Miss Lily is that Fat Nitty has never been an enthusiastic huntress, and with the Terror of the Backyard biding safe in a ditch we can resume putting out treats for the local birdlife. Nothing exotic; the song sparrows, a pair of chickadees I suspect of nesting in the Oregon grape, and a single massive scrub jay that arrives to standoff with the other local gourmand Mister Eatee the squirrel.

I was watching this little bit of Nature and thinking about the end of the Boston Bombing Week.

With the older brother - who seems to have been what passed for the "mastermind" of this business - full of holes as a colander we may never find out what the hell was going on and why. Certainly the likelihood of some sort of international jihadist conspiracy seems...unlikely. All the jihadi groups have denied these mooks, and their oddball odyssey Thursday and Friday - ambushing a campus cop, carjacking and careening through the streets tossing homemade demo out the car windows - makes them seem more and more like the couple of homicidal losers that Uncle Tsarni called them.

This hasn't stopped any- and everyone from using this episode as a platform for calls for this, that, and the other. My pals Lisa and jim over at RAW have a post up scolding the local security folks for their slipshod laxity in not securing the Marathon finish area better. Various pundits have drawn all sorts of inferences from this; everything from questioning the mental health system, the immigration system (despite the simple reality that the younger Tsarnaev was nine when he arrived here - nine!), to other calls for better security and more thorough assessment of the "threat".

I'm going to add to that but to perhaps something of a different end.

I'm going to suggest that we will ALWAYS have a Tsarneaev or two to strike at us.

For two reasons;

First, because we are and, I hope, will remain a relatively "open" society. I agree with jim and Lisa; the Boston Marathon organizers could have done more to make the route secure. When I go to soccer matches my bag and every bag is searched at the gates, and the gating and exclusion at public venues has become fairly standard. The price of safety is eternal inconvenience.

But I think back to the other big urban events like Seattle-to-Portland. The finish area is almost unsecurable; you have people arriving and departing all through the day. Riders with saddlebags, supporters with backpacks. Vendors, journos, and the whole thing ends in the park right between a mall, a big movie theatre, and the tram stop. To make that area secure you'd make a traffic jam and bottleneck that would make STP and everything around it slam to a stop.

Flick through the pictures I've posted. This is just one year's accumulation of the public events I've attended; me, personally. In one year, in a single mid-sized American city. And every single one of these events was just as open as the Marathon finish area. You could drive right up to them and park within car-bomb radius of a crowd of several hundred. You could walk amid the crowd with a backpack or tote bag competely un-inspected or unexamined.

Street fairs. Bike races. Sunday Parkways. Bridge Pedal. Saturday Market.

COULD make all of them utterly secure? Sure, you could.

But there's a cost there, not just in access but in thought. To really secure all of those venues would be a great deal of cost and personal committment; I'm not sure that anyone has any real idea of how much it would cost.

But, even more significant, you have to get the people, all the people; the organizers, the attendees, the competitors, the law enforcement and security agencies...into the sort of mindset that Israelis have to have; you have to have everyone on the constant lookout for the slightest hint of a threat. Every package, every backpack, every empty vehicle, every "odd stranger" has to be considered a danger.

You have to build that "fortress under siege" mentality into your people. Into your culture.

You have to see every venue as a potential massacre, and everyone as a potential enemy.

And we can do that. Of course we can.

But do we want to?

But, second, the other reality is that there will ALWAYS be human beings who want to do us harm.

They may be simply violent losers, more Tsarnaevs, more Columbine or Newtown shooters. There is almost no way to prevent a person from killing people if they're willing to work hard enough. You can make it more difficult. But stop them? Never.

And - giving consideration to the "Islamic" angle so many people have thrown at this - there are also some mindsets that will never live easily alongside each other.

Think about it this way; even if we stopped the "War on Terror" this minute. If we pulled every drone and every covert agent from every Middle Eastern country. If we halted every dollar and every round of ammunition sent to some loathsome dictator we support because he's friendly to the U.S. or supports our Middle Eastern policy. If we backed away from reflexively supporting the Greater Israel conservative faction. If we became scrupulously "neutral" in the great secular versus sectarian conflict over Islam now ongoing.

Would that bring us "peace" with the sorts of people who want an "Islamic Caliphate" in the Muslim world, the sorts of mad dreamers who founded outfits like Al Qaeda and Hizb-ut-Tahrir?

How could it?

The United States ideal represents everything that that sort of person finds appalling and dangerous. A nation founded on the ideal - often violated in practice, yes, but, still based on the notion - of personal and religious liberty. Open to "dangerous" ideals like the legal and social equity of men and women, the acceptance of homosexuality, even atheism. Tolerant of sexual liberties to the point of libertineism. Women in uniform. Personal choices on everything from abortion to educating women. You can almost hear the conservative mullahs shudder.

So in that sense they do, and will, always "hate us for our freedom". But not in the way that someone like Limbaugh or Coulter or Beck mean it; indeed, the sorts of Islamists who would like to bomb and shoot Americans for ogling nudie pictures and cuddling up to feminists and gays would probably get on famously with Operation Rescue and the boys down at the local John Birch Society.

And to make "peace" with these sonsofbitches really would be to have to change our society in some very fundamental ways, ways I cannot see happening if we are to remain true to our national ideals as I see them.

I hope that the nasty business of last week will, in some way, produce something of value. Some better way, perhaps, to help prevent this sort of brutality from striking somewhere else some time in the future.

But it may not.

Update 4/21: And this sort of idiotic crap doesn't help. "The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans." And you know this, McCain, how? By your extraordinary political ESP, the sort of brilliance that gave us Backwoods Barbie? And King, do I remember you calling for this when your IRA pals turned up in Boston back in the day? And Graham - is this what you had in mind when you were quoted as saying ”We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” back in August?

Fuckadoodledoo, you gormless pinworms, we don't even know what these two gomers were in business to do, much less why. And you're already insisting on replaying the worst-selling of "Dubya's Greatest Hits" as covered by Obama?

Christ, but we're screwed.