20th Division 1945

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by zahonado, Jun 11, 2014.

  1. zahonado

    zahonado Well-Known Member

    Can anyone give a brief rundown on where the division went in 44 in Burma. Is this the 20th Indian division? Which regiments/units were in it? I think they went down through Mandalay towards Rangoon but any pointers would be helpful. Dates etc very useful. Presumably Mandalay in early May, and Rangoon June? Thanks.
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  3. zahonado

    zahonado Well-Known Member

    Thanks Owen..I always forget to look in the most obvious places!
  4. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Try one of the following series for the moves of the 20th Indian Infantry Division:

    Kempton, Chris. Loyalty and Honour: The Indian Army September 1939 – August 1947: Part I Divisions. Milton Keynes: Military Press, 2003. Kempton, Chris. Loyalty and Honour: The Indian Army September 1939 – August 1947: Part II Brigades. Milton Keynes: Military Press, 2003. Kempton, Chris. Loyalty and Honour: The Indian Army September 1939 – August 1947: Part III. Milton Keynes: Military Press, 2003.


    Hughes, David; Ryan, David A.; and Rothwell, Steve. The British Armies in World War Two: An Organisational History. West Chester, Ohio: George F. Nafziger, 1999-2008.
    - Volume 9: The Indian Army – Part 2; The Indian Army in the East, 2006.
    - Volume 10: The Indian Army – Part 3; The Indian Army in the East, 2008.
    Rothy likes this.
  5. 5thindiandivision

    5thindiandivision Indian Division

    Copies of some of the 20th Ind Div booklet for 1944 which may help.

    Let me know if you need any more.



    Attached Files:

    davidbfpo likes this.
  6. reddevon

    reddevon Member

    glad to see the Devons get mentioned a couple of times, Is there more to this booklet?
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    The Divisional Commander, General Gracey, is the focus of a book published in 2014 by Palgrave: 'Vietnam and the Unravelling of Empire General Gracey in Asia 1942-1951' by T.O. Smith, an Associate Professor of History at Huntington University, USA, who speciality is in decolonisation and political violence in South and Southeast Asia.

    Palgrave's website shows there is a chapter on the 20th for Burma 1942-1945, a two page preview is available: Vietnam and the Unravelling of Empire - General Gracey in Asia 1942-1951 | T. Smith | Palgrave Macmillan

    This chapter details the care Gracey exercised in preparing the 20th for war.

    I have been unable - yet - to find a library which has the book! SOAS, RUSI, NAM, IWM for starters.

    It is available still via: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vietnam-Unravelling-Empire-General-1942-1951/dp/1349496561

    The division's British battalions were removed in April 1945: https://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/CGSC/CARL/nafziger/944PIAA.pdf

    Last edited: Jun 6, 2019
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  8. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    YouTube today pointed to a Mark Felton documentary 'Britain's Vietnam war'; it is only eight minutes and reaches a remarkable conclusion:
    At one point the film refers to British, Indian and Ghurkha troops - when we know the British units had been withdrawn before Saigon.
  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I finally got to read the book @ The British Library this week: 'Vietnam and the Unravelling of Empire General Gracey in Asia 1942-1951' by T.O. Smith, an Associate Professor of History at Huntington University, USA, whose speciality is in decolonisation and political violence in South and Southeast Asia.

    It was good read, detailing his leadership of the 20th Division in the Burma Campaign (although minus a list of which formations were under his command) and that towards the end the division had two motorised brigades added. I will add my notes another day.

    Amongst the discoveries were his part with a tiny mission in Cambodia to supervise the Japanese removal, made slightly difficult by Thailand's successful 'small war' against the French to seize several western provinces.
    Charley Fortnum likes this.

    JITTER PARTY Well-Known Member

    114 Fd Regt?
  11. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    My original information was that the division's British battalions were removed in April 1945: https://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/CGSC/CARL/nafziger/944PIAA.pdf

    That link no longer works, although the Nafziger collection is huge and is available via: The Nafziger Collection of Orders of Battle

    Looking for an alternative I found this for the 20th Indian Division: https://wikivisually.com/wiki/20th_Infantry_Division_(India) It has a section on the 114 Field Regiment, and yes they remained with the Division and went to Saigon.

    Hope that helps clarify.
  12. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    A review of the book 'Vietnam and the Unravelling of Empire General Gracey in Asia 1942-1951’ by Professor T.O. Smith[1], which was published by Palgrave in 2014[2].

    Note this book is not military history, but a political history built around General Gracey's activities.

    The author has written two other books on the period:

    1. Britain and the Origins of the Vietnam War 1943-1950[3]

    2. Churchill, America and Vietnam 1941-1945[4]

    Smith poses the question without Major General Douglas Gracey[5] would Vietnamese nationalism have flourished and been without thirty years of war? Dunn[6], an earlier writer, portrayed Gracey as a proficient soldier betrayed by his superiors, in particular Lord Mountbatten, Commander South-East Asian Command (SEAC) and his command being held hostage to fortune.

    I learnt, to my surprise, that Gracey’s role included Phnom Penh, Cambodia; where there was a Japanese occupation force and no French military presence.

    There is a chapter on Gracey’s command of the 20th Indian Division[7], from 1st April 1942 onwards; which he decided to train as a jungle warfare formation (reliant on animal and air logistic support), which fought in defensive and offensive roles in the Burma campaign. When the return to Burma in offensive action the division was reinforced with two mobile brigades (a phrase for road mobile I expect). It appears that this chapter is based on Gracey’s own unpublished divisional history[8] which is held in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives @ Kings College London.

    Smith concludes the chapter with ‘He remained at heart a company commander…The hallmarks of his command being: discipline, mobility, speed, education and information’.

    Onto Indo-China then and Smith notes ‘In 1945 London remained blissfully unaware of the complications that awaited British-Indian forces on the ground in Indo-China’ (pg.37).

    It was imperative that Gracey ‘Pursue purely military objectives’ in contrast to Mountbatten’s personal assurance to the French High Commissioner to Indo-China that he would do his best as an Allied commander to look after French interests (pg.43). Peace enforcement was the only option; a phrase that was then largely unknown to politicians.

    Gracey faced the prospect of a bloodbath in southern Vietnam, especially in Saigon, which had a large French civilian population and very few French troops were present. I noted there is no reference to the police, so perhaps the Japanese had dispensed with them when they ousted the Vichy French government in March 1945.[9]

    In northern Vietnam by agreement – within the Japanese surrender and Allied policy – there was a Nationalist Chinese occupation force, although Smith indicates they were more interested in plunder and were sympathetic to the Viet Minh (the Communist-led nationalists).

    In the south and the focus is on Saigon Smith notes whilst the Viet Minh were present other nationalist, non-communist groups existed. Plus in those uncertain times looting and communal violence was a factor in the absence of capable and willing enforcement of order.

    Others have written on the role of the American OSS in northern Vietnam and I learnt from Smith that on the 26th September 1945 the Viet Minh killed (some argue by mistake) the Saigon OSS head, a Lt. Col. Dewey[10], ironically after Gracey ordered him out of Saigon for sedition. The Viet Minh also attacked the OSS HQ in Saigon for several hours, knowing that the OSS were sympathetic to Vietnamese nationalism, until Gurkhas arrived. The Saigon OSS stance Smith adds was at variance with official policy in Washington DC.

    Smith is very critical of a letter he sent to a British Labour Party MP, Tom Driberg[11], which was full of hand wringing and self-belief (Pg.48).

    In an unusual move Mountbatten’s Chief Political Adviser, Maberley Esler Dening, became a whistle blower in a despatch to the Foreign Office, London; stating that Mountbatten constantly ignored the advice of those he commanded and described him as a ‘obsequious sycophant desperate that British-Indian operations in southern French Indo-China would not tarnish his professional reputation or SEAC legacy’(Pg.56).

    There is a short chapter on Gracey’s role in Cambodia; a mission headed by a British Lt. Col. with a platoon of Gurkhas and two newly arrived French commando companies (who failed in their first mission) and released Allied POWs. There was a Japanese Army division (8k), air force elements and police.

    Gracey’s orders were essentially to maintain essential services and prevent the slaughter of the civilian population. The cabinet’s orders alas were contradictory. Maintain law and order (using Japanese troops in reality) to prepare for the return of French control, but not to provide the shipping necessary to get French troops to Indo-China.

    Remarkably given demands on shipping and other priorities the USA allocated eight ships to move 7.7k French troops to Saigon, with 14k awaiting shipping. The British Cabinet reconsidered its initial refusal after Ernest Bevin and General Slim intervened (Pg.86). At this time there was a political and military disaster in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), another SEAC responsibility, where nationalist forces were in command fighting a British-Indian force, so Gracey’s troops were required there. So getting French troops into Saigon quickly was needed. The USA agreed to provide the shipping for the second French force.

    An aspect of this period not covered before in my own reading was rice production. Stability was needed to ensure production, not only for local demand, but also Hong Kong, India and Singapore. Northern Indo-China faced a famine, so rice was needed there for the civil population; the nationalist Chinese troops were seizing their needs. An exchange was agreed, 2.5k tonnes of rice for a 2.5k tonnes of coal all supervised by a British detachment. Rice was also flown into Saigon from Cambodia; the railway system and water transport had been damaged in wartime Allied bombing and sabotage afterwards by Viet Minh supporters (who were rounded up and expelled by the Japanese under Gracey’s orders).

    The disagreements between Gracey and Mountbatten continued. In 1947 a valedictory despatch by Mountbatten was very critical of Gracey, to which he responded. Smith notes that in the run up to Partition Mountbatten suggested Gracey became the Governor of East Bengal – so were Gracey’s action in Saigon level-headed or did he blatantly exceed his orders?

    Gracey’s military career continued after Partition, he became the new Pakistani Army Chief of Staff (1947-1948) serving Jinnah and then became Army Commander (1948-1951). Smith has a chapter on this period, notably on the convoluted role during the Kashmir crisis and avoiding a full-scale war with India.

    As an aside in August 1947 the Pakistani Army had four Pakistani Lt. Colonels and a year later had eight hundred British advisers; whilst the larger Indian Army had five hundred.

    (Corrected passage) In my opinion Smith mistakenly writes that in February 1949 during the Abadan (Persia / Iran) crisis over Iranian seizure of the British-owned and operated oilfields Gracey ordered a British Major General Frederick Loftus-Tottenham to take his division into Iran. I have been in contact with Smith and he has checked his source:
    I am not an expert on the crises that affected Anglo-Iranian relations in this period, but on-line research found there was no active crisis in February 1949 and the Iranian oilfields were in the southwestern corner of Iran - a long way from the border with Pakistan. Whereas when Force 401 (see next paragraph) was deployed the oilfields and Abadan refinery were just over the border.

    Previous research found that Major General Loftus-Tottenham had been in Basra, Iraq with Force 401, a reinforced British Indian Army brigade, due to the difficulties over the nearby Abadan oilfields and refinery. They withdrew in mid-1947.

    Other sources

    On a very quick search I found pointers to other’s work:

    In the journal ‘Small Wars & Insurgencies’ in 2006 ‘A ‘Post-war’ War: The British Occupation of French-Indochina, September 1945–March 1946’, this is behind a pay wall, but the reference list is free to view. Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09592310600671596

    A 2014 paper for a conference hosted by the Japanese MoD: The 20th Indian Division in French Indo-China, 1945-46: Combined/joint Operations and the ‘fog of war’ by Daniel Marston, a historian of the Indian Army and COIN.
    Link: http://www.nids.mod.go.jp/english/event/forum/pdf/2014/08.pdf

    Dunn’s book is based on his 1979 PhD thesis, with a different title, with 795 pgs. and is now free to view via: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/29525/1/10731681.pdf


    [1] See university bio: Tim Smith | Huntington University

    [2] See: Vietnam and the Unravelling of Empire: General Gracey in Asia 1942-1951: Amazon.co.uk: Smith, T.: 9781349496563: Books

    [3] Published 2007 see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Britain-Or...1943-1950&qid=1584279007&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr0

    [4] Published 2011 see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Churchill-America-Vietnam-1941-45-Smith/dp/0230298214/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=Churchill,+America+and+Vietnam+1941-1945&qid=1584279103&s=books&sr=1-3&swrs=E6733420E032C986544AE53C92CB34BB

    [5] See a slim: Douglas Gracey - Wikipedia

    [6] ‘The First Vietnam War’ by Peter M. Dunn (pub. 1985)

    [7] A 1945 divisional list is on: 20th Infantry Division (India) - Wikipedia

    [8] See for details: King's Collections : Archive Catalogues : GRACEY, Gen Sir Douglas David (1894-1964)

    [9] See: Japanese coup d'état in French Indochina - Wikipedia

    [10] See: A. Peter Dewey - Wikipedia

    [11] See: Tom Driberg - Wikipedia
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2020
    Wobbler, Charley Fortnum and Chris C like this.
  13. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have just found a reference to 114 Field Regiment was the only all-British unit in the 20th Division in Indochina. It is within a sentence in 'Gurkha Tales: From Peace and War' by J.P. Cross. See: Gurkha Tales: From Peace and War, 1945 u 2011: Amazon.co.uk: Cross, John: 9781848326903: Books

    Google Books displays the chapter by Cross on his time with 1/1 Gurkha: Gurkha Tales

    According to Dunn one 114 Field Regiment handed over to the French forces one battery of equipment before leaving.
  14. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

  15. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have long had an interest in the British role post-VJ Day in French Indo-China, after reading many years ago a very slim paperback by the late George Rosie[1] whose book was published in 1970 ‘The British in Vietnam: How the twenty-five year war began’. [2] It was and remains for many a controversial book, notably for the accusations made that General Douglas Gracey, the commander of the 20th Indian Division, assisted the French to assert colonial control[3].

    Field Marshal Slim summed up the efforts of Gracey and the 20th Indian Division as follows: ‘Gracey was faced with the most difficult politico-military situation in allied territory, which he handled in a firm, cool, and altogether admirable manner’[4].

    [4] Marston uses this citation from Slim’s Defeat into Victory, pg. 532.

    [1] For background see: Rosie, George 1941– | Encyclopedia.com

    [2] The paperback is now published online: http://www.bannedthought.net/Britai...eBritishInVietnam-GeorgeRosie-London-1970.pdf

    [3] For those interested in the controversy the Prologue in Peter Neville’s book ‘Britain in Vietnam: Prelude to Disaster 1946-46, published in 2007 provides an excellent overview of published works and is free to read via: Britain in Vietnam: Prelude to Disaster, 1945-46 (Military History and Policy) - PDF Free Download
  16. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Just spotted this YouTube recording of a talk given on 'The RAF in French Indo-China 1945-6' by Stuart Hadaway, a RAF historian (54 mins; which I will watch another day):
  17. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    In 2008 I attended a reception at the Japanese Embassy for a charity that focused on reconciliation between the Japanese and their former prisoners and adversaries. (It is not well known but the Japanese state has channeled financial support for the aging Far East POW, whose medical and support needs in old age have been exacerbated by their ill treatment in WW2.)

    Among the fascinating people who attended this event I met a man who had commanded a mixed force of Gurkhas and Japanese soldiers escorting a convoy to collect arms and ammunition to rearm the disarmed French in Indochina. His force was ambushed by the Vietminh and his mixed force of former enemies drove them off.
  18. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    An update on Post 16 and the talk 'The RAF in French Indo-China 1945-6', the author started his research in 2007 (then at the RAF Museum).

    There were two RAF squadrons deployed to Saigon: No.273 with Spitfires VIII and later XIV and No. 684 with Mosquitos (for photo-reconnaissance) and yes, the later did have problems with the glue melting plus the attention of termites.

    There are a number of slides with additional information and my selection may not be yours:

    At 7.46 The Objectives
    At 8.24 The Command Structure (made simple)
    At 9.55 Wing Commander Walter Cheshire's recollections - including "write your own mission brief" and he has written his memoirs (Post 41 provides a link) and his Wiki: Walter Cheshire - Wikipedia )
    At 14.35 A list of the RAF ground elements, with two RAF Regiment squadrons (all based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, near Saigon and used in later wars. See:Tan Son Nhut Air Base - Wikipedia )
    At 16.46 The off-duty joys of Saigon and the puzzle of working with former enemies against a previously unknown enemy
    At 24.38 The quality and use of Japanese Air Force transport aircraft (known as Gremlin Task Force)

    In the Q&A the author refers to the general view of RAF personnel; the quote was found in an article published in 2017:
    From: Gremlins And Masterdom – Britain’s Vietnam War
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2021
  19. Laochra Beag

    Laochra Beag Active Member

    Know anywhere to buy Military Press? They weren't responding to email? Thanks John
  20. Laochra Beag

    Laochra Beag Active Member

    For 20th Div. The 16th Light Cav (Indian A/C) was attached. Anyone have any details on composition of this unit?

    Thanks. John

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