(CNN) — In a cataclysmic year during which the whole world has been beset by Covid-19, gone almost unnoticed is the 75th anniversary of the end of the last great catastrophe to befall our planet — WWII.
But even within the context of that extraordinary war, there are amazing battles that have been forgotten.
One such slice of history is the Battle for Kohima-Imphal, which was a decisive turning point in the war. It ended with the first major defeat suffered by Japanese forces in the Burma theater and thwarted their ambitious plans to invade India.
The two northeastern states of Manipur and Nagaland and their capitals of Kohima and Imphal formed the critical frontier for British India in their war against Japan on the Burmese front.
A key route ran from the British supply base at Dimapur through Kohima up on a ridge in the Naga Hills and down to Imphal in a small encircled plain in Manipur and from there into Burma, the country known today as Myanmar.
“Operation U-Go” was an audacious plan by the Japanese military command to capture this road by using three divisions to attack simultaneously south and north of Imphal and to directly take Kohima. Had it succeeded it would have given them the critical springboard they needed to launch an all-out attack on British India.
Today’s visitors to Kohima will see no traces of that long-ago battle.
The urban sprawl of the town has covered up the hills over which it was fought.
But there is a World War II museum (entry Rs 50) located within the Naga Heritage Village about 10 kilometers south of town.
Displays include a diverse range of weaponry, tabletop models of battlefields, soldiers’ uniforms and historic photographs from both warring armies, though little attention has been paid to organization or detail.
Even the interesting war documentary that plays in the background is spoiled through poor acoustics and badly positioned display cases, which obstruct the screen.
The British and Muslim soldiers are commemorated through simple elegant bronze plaques laid out in neat rows and terraces, while the names of their Hindu and Sikh compatriots who were cremated are inscribed on a separate memorial at the top of the cemetery.
It is impossible not to be moved by the quiet beauty of the place and the heartrending messages on the gravestones from the families of the fallen heroes.
Remembering the battle
The Japanese attack caught the British by surprise as their High Command had not expected the enemy to move so swiftly and in such large numbers through the thick jungle and mountainous terrain.
They cut the Kohima-Imphal road and quickly surrounded the British garrison defending Kohima.
Over 16 crucial days beginning on April 4, 1944, the much smaller British Indian force of 2,500 men held off 15,000 Japanese troops who had laid siege to the Kohima ridge.
In some of the bitterest close-quarter fighting of WWII, the battle raged the length of the ridge with the Japanese gradually pushing back the British defensive perimeter on Garrison Hill inch by bloody inch.
At one point the opposing troops were so close that they were dug in on either side of the tennis court belonging to the District Commissioner’s bungalow.
Notably, the cemetery was built over the exact site of the battle on Garrison Hill and you can still see the lines of the famous court where the opposing sides faced off.
Raghu Karnad, author of “Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War,” said of the battle: “The DC’s tennis court served as the killing ground for a new sort of desperate and bloody match. If Kohima fell, all of eastern India might fall to the Japanese occupation — if Kohima stood, it would begin the rollback of the great Japanese advance on the Asian mainland.”
Relief came at the 11th hour with elements of the British 2nd Division breaking through the Japanese roadblocks to reach the beleaguered Kohima garrison on April 20.
Near the entrance of the cemetery is a memorial to the 2nd Division, which bears the poignant inscription: “When you go home tell them of us and say, ‘for your tomorrow, we gave our today.'”
Over the next few weeks fighting raged on simultaneously in Kohima and Imphal. The battle, often referred to as the” Stalingrad of the East,” drew to its bloody end with British forces gradually overwhelming the starving Japanese troops.
The Japanese commanders had underestimated the tenacity with which the enemy would defend their positions and also the overwhelming British air superiority which allowed them to continually replenish their forces with men and materials and to pound Japanese positions incessantly.
Broken in spirit and with no food and supplies, the remaining Japanese forces were chased out of Imphal and back down the Tiddim road into Burma, having tasted defeat for the first time in history.
The Kohima War Cemetery is filled with the plots of British and Indian servicemen who lost their lives in the defense of Kohima, numbering 2,340 in all.
The Japanese paid a huge price with their 85,000-strong 15th Army eventually counting 53,000 dead and missing, mostly due to starvation, disease and exhaustion. The British sustained 12,500 casualties at Imphal, while the fighting at Kohima cost them another 4,000 men.
And what of the Naga tribesmen on whose land this alien war for global domination was fought?
This was warfare unlike anything they had experienced before, with the devastating bombing and shelling of their villages causing immense loss of life, homes and livelihoods.
Those who were captured by the Japanese suffered conscripted labor, beatings and summary executions.
After the war, in the words of Easterine Kire — Naga author of “Mari,” the first insider story of the Japanese invasion — “the new normal that awaited the Nagas was to shape their lives in a whole new direction, not necessarily of their own choosing.”
Visiting the Imphal battlefields
Unlike the hills of Kohima, it is possible to see the battlefields where the titanic Imphal struggle played out, 140 kilometers south.
This is where the main thrust of the Japanese attack came with the 15th and 33rd Divisions of the 15th Army taking on the 4th Corps of the British 14th Army.
The fighting was extremely brutal and intense, raging in the hills surrounding the Imphal plain. The remoteness of the area and the rugged terrain have kept them relatively pristine and private groups now lead tours taking in the main battlefields, airfields, cemeteries and war memorials.
Hemant Katoch, a pioneer in WWII tourism in Manipur says of these tours: “Only when you see these places for yourself do you finally comprehend the enormity of what had happened here during WWII.”
The most recent addition to the WWII tourism circuit is the Imphal Peace Museum, which was inaugurated in June 2019, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal.
Funded by two Japanese foundations, the museum is intended to be a symbol of peace and reconciliation and is located at the foot of Red Hill where the Japanese were finally routed.
To broaden its appeal, the museum focuses not just on the actual battle (depicted using a timeline, maps, artifacts and photographs) but also on the post-war transition in Manipur and present-day arts and cultural life.
For the many Japanese visitors who lost their ancestors in this epic battle and for whom there are no graves and cemeteries to visit, it offers a chance for closure, reminding us that in war there are no true victors, only losers.
Pelosi: Covid relief deal could still happen before Election Day
On Friday, Pelosi told CNN she sent Mnuchin a list of concerns “that we still had about ‘what is the answer?'”
“My understanding is he will be reviewing that over the weekend, and we will have some answers on Monday,” she said Sunday.
Pelosi said she’ll not hold out to see whether Democrats win the White House and the Senate and keep the House after in the Nov. 3 elections to pursue a bill more to Democrats’ liking. Instead, she said she’ll continue working to get a relief bill passed “as soon as possible.”
The speaker went on to say that a relief bill could be passed as soon as this week in the House, but that it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it would go to the Senate floor.
McConnell has largely steered clear of stimulus talks recently and many GOP senators are opposed to the $2 trillion deal being discussed by Pelosi and Mnuchin. On Tuesday, McConnell softened his stance a bit, saying he would allow the Senate to vote on a Pelosi-Mnuchin agreement — assuming that first Trump agrees to sign it.
Earlier Sunday on CNN, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “We’ve identified those Senate Republicans most likely to vote” for the relief deal to pass. But he said Republicans will not blindly pass the bill without first reading its terms fully.
“We are not Nancy Pelosi. We are not going to vote or opine on a bill and pass it before we have read it,” he said.
one man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with ‘the family’
4 min read
At times searing in his criticism of those he holds responsible for trashing the prospects of the Labour party, Gisela Stuart finds Matt Forde’s new book both entertaining and insightful
Matt Forde’s “Politically Homeless” is like an episode from the Archers’ in the early months of the lockdown. One man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with “the family”. To be fair to Forde, unlike the Archers, he does make you laugh.
We often think of political parties as families, and there is a reason for that. We like some members more than others, every so often we have a big row, but eventually we find a way of rubbing along. And we have secrets; things which we either all know to be true, but we would rather not talk about or which we hope will go away if we ignore them long enough. Even when things get really bad, we rarely pack our bags and, move in with the family on the other side of the road.
Matt Forde is as entertaining as he is insightful and like many of us, he wants to get back to the days when Labour was in government, invested in Sure Start centres, schools and hospitals, introduced a national minimum wage and ended boom and bust.
Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser. The joys and tribulations of by-elections, ministerial visits, and photo calls. Needs must, and if that means dressing up as a chicken and stalking Charles Kennedy, then so be it. He is generous in naming some MPs he’s worked with who genuinely cared about their constituents and even occasionally said “Thank you”. He thought the late Tessa Jowell “made you behave better by her just being there” and he is right.
Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser
But he is searing in his criticism of the string of events which started with Ed Miliband trashing the achievements of the Blair/Brown governments and culminated with the party electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He barely hides his contempt for the MPs who put a Marxist on the ballot paper. He wonders if those who did so to “broaden the debate” were gutted because they couldn’t find a fascist.
Anyone who is still in doubt about the mountain Labour has to climb only needs to read his chapter on Stoke on Trent. A collection of six towns, represented by three Labour MPs, where the local council was so divided that a grand coalition of Britain’s three biggest political parties could only muster a majority of one against a collection of BNP and independent councillors who were either hard-left ex-Labour or had never been part of any political party.
Corbyn’s Labour Party hoped that by ignoring the stain of antisemitism, which became attached to the party as a whole, it would just somehow go away, which of course it didn’t. But there is an even bigger secret much of today’s Labour Party tries to not talk about. It is the simple fact that the whole point of a political party is to win elections. If you are not in power then you can’t make the changes necessary to help the people you claim to care about.
Jacqui Smith, when she was chief whip, used to remind MPs that the “worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”. Entertaining as opposition might be, it can’t be your purpose.
It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have a good heart-to-heart with our friends about the state of the party, drown our sorrows with a glass of wine and have a good laugh, but we can give each other Forde’s book as a Christmas present.
Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston is a Non-Affiliated peer and was Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston 1997-2017
Politically Homeless by Matt Forde is published by Quercus
Nasa moon announcement: What is on the Moon?
The US space agency, Nasa, has revealed conclusive evidence of water on the Moon.
Unlike previous detections of water in permanently shadowed parts of lunar craters, scientists have now detected the molecule in sunlit regions of the Moon’s surface.
Nasa has said it will send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024.
But what does this new discovery mean for this mission and future missions to the Moon?
What else is on the surface of the Moon?
BBC Science Correspondent Laura Foster explains.
Video by Laura Foster, Terry Saunders and Mattea Bubalo.
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