In 1942, the Japanese unceremoniously threw the British out of Burma and captured Singapore, inflicting on the British the worst defeat in their history. The Japanese were victorious through airpower, night attacks, jungle infiltration, and encirclement. The road bound British and Commonwealth Army didn’t stand a chance. What was left of the British Army limped back into India.
The British 14th Army’s Commander, Lient Gen William Slim, who was a corps commander in the battle for Burma in 1942, made a very detailed, public, and brutally honest assessment of his leadership and his soldiers training after the defeat. He vowed it would not happen again. More importantly, Slim also took note of the Japanese tactics. Based on these assessments, he gave his army a thorough retraining throughout 1943. He divorced his army from the roads and replaced his trucks with mules and cargo planes. His army fought upon the principle that in the jungle, if they were surrounded, then the infiltrating Japanese were also. He had a small offensive in October 1943, but it was a disaster. So he retrained his troops, again. This time until they got it right. At the very beginning of 1944, Slim believed his troops were ready.
In January 1944, one of Slim’s corps, the Indian XV Corps, commanded by Lieut Gen Philip Christison, attacked down the Burmese Arakan peninsula against the Japanese 28th Army. The offensive was initially successful. However, the Japanese counterattacked using their standard jungle infiltration and encirclement techniques and soon the XV Corps divisions were cut off. But instead of panicking and retreating, as they had in 1942, the brigades and battalions formed defensive “boxes” in the jungle. These defensive boxes relied on aerial resupply, had 360 degree security, and forced the Japanese to maneuver around them. They would be the anvils upon which the hammer, the reserves, would destroy the Japanese.
One such box was the XV Corps administrative area or the “Admin Box”. The Admin Box was 1200m wide and consisted of headquarters, supply and communications troops, engineers, anti-air gunners, artillerymen, two squadrons (read companies) of M3 Lee tanks and a single battalion of infantry under the command of Brigadier Geoffrey Evans who was sent to lead the defense. 8000 Japanese troops of the Sakurai Force, under Japanese MajGen Tukutaro Sakurai surrounded the Admin Box and on the 5th of February, attacked.
For the next two weeks, the fighting in the Admin Box was continuous, hand to hand, no holds barred, and without quarter. The rear echelon troops held their own against the Japanese, and Slim’s tactics and training eventually paid off. While the Admin Box was steadily receiving supplies from the air, the Japanese were slowly starving. The Japanese were astounded by the advancing reserve divisions who were operating as effectively in the jungle as they were. Soon no supplies were reaching the Sakurai Force and they themselves were surrounded. On 22 February 1944, one of Sakurai’s brigade commanders refused to lead another attack until food and water were brought forward. The Japanese counter offensive stalled and was rolled back from that point on.